Dec 312011

From this past week:

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Dec 292011

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has launched a new project, Global Censorship Chokepoints, whose mission is to track instances of censorship caused by allegations of copyright infringement.

Global Chokepoints is an online resource created to document and monitor global proposals to turn Internet intermediaries into copyright police. These proposals harm Internet users’ rights of privacy, due process and freedom of expression, and endanger the future of the free and open Internet. Our goal is to provide accurate empirical information to digital activists and policy makers, and help coordinate international opposition to attempts to cut off free expression through misguided copyright laws, policies, agreements and court cases.

There is some overlap between that project and this one, especially insofar as the state allows itself to be the enforcement arm of copyright infringement complaints.  But there is plenty of work to go around when it comes to protecting free speech around the world.  (Digital Age Defense also looks at state imposition of intermediary liability for non-IP related reasons as well.  See, e.g., attempts by the Indian government to demand content filters in order not to cause social unrest.)

Dec 292011

This article from Paid Content describes upcoming EU policy initiatives for digital content:

The project’s primary pillar is creating a “single digital market” to boost entertainment download and streaming services across borders, including by simplifying content licensing and harmonising online payments access.

Towards that end, upcoming initiatives include:

  • Legislation to simplify cross-border content licensing;
  • “Restart[ing] a dialogue among industry stakeholders on copyright levies”;
  • Revision of the Directive on enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPRED) to address online piracy; and
  • Developing “an action plan to boost e-commerce, including by making online payments affordable and secure across borders.”

The article indicates many of these items have already been detailed by Professor Ian Hargreaves’ Review Of Intellectual Property And Growth, and the UK government has already promised implement his recommendations “in order to simplify IP law for the digital and to make economic stimulus.”

Recommended measures include creating a Digital Copyright Exchange, enabling automatic licensing of orphan works, decriminalising format-shifting and backing the EC’s cross-border licensing drive.

Dec 292011

Paul Marks has a fascinating article at The New Scientist about an old example of hacking.

LATE one June afternoon in 1903 a hush fell across an expectant audience in the Royal Institution’s celebrated lecture theatre in London. Before the crowd, the physicist John Ambrose Fleming was adjusting arcane apparatus as he prepared to demonstrate an emerging technological wonder: a long-range wireless communication system developed by his boss, the Italian radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi. The aim was to showcase publicly for the first time that Morse code messages could be sent wirelessly over long distances. Around 300 miles away, Marconi was preparing to send a signal to London from a clifftop station in Poldhu, Cornwall, UK.

Yet before the demonstration could begin, the apparatus in the lecture theatre began to tap out a message. At first, it spelled out just one word repeated over and over. Then it changed into a facetious poem accusing Marconi of “diddling the public”. Their demonstration had been hacked – and this was more than 100 years before the mischief playing out on the internet today. Who was the Royal Institution hacker? How did the cheeky messages get there? And why?

There are a lot of lessons in this tale of use for us today. Continue reading »

Dec 292011

This site was designed to track when state actors interfere with private actors’ technology use. But what happens when state actors affect other state actors? From Reuters, news that Iran has blocked Britain’s website.

Britain’s Foreign Office said Iranian authorities had barred access to a Foreign Office website, “UK in Iran”, that carries information on British government policies and statements, including criticism of Iran’s human rights record.

It said the website had been added to thousands of other Internet sites censored by Iranian authorities.

No comment was immediately available from Iran.

“This action is counter-productive and ill-judged. It will confirm to the Iranian people that their government is determined to block their access to information, and to conceal from them the international community’s legitimate concerns about Iran’s policies and behavior,” Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement.

“It will also make it harder for Iranian nationals to access information about visiting the UK. And it is further proof to the rest of the world (of) the Iranian government’s dire record on freedom of speech and human rights in general,” he said.

“This action will not deter Britain from continuing to engage with the Iranian people, including through the Internet.”

The website blocking comes as escalation of tensions between the two countries, which has included the closing of embassies and expulsion of diplomats.

Dec 282011

This article in the Lancaster Telegraph suggests the practice may have ended in 2007, but between 2000 and then the Burnley Council used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) of 2000 to spy on its own staff.

The regulation was brought in in 2000 and allowed council bosses to carry out surveillance on residents they suspected of committing crimes.

The vast majority of uses of the act relate to offences such as benefit fraud, fly-tipping and anti-social behaviour.

A Burnley Council spokesman said: “The vast majority of cases where we have used RIPA authorisations were to tackle noise nuisance, anti-social behaviour, fly-tipping and benefit fraud – all things we know our residents want us to sort out.

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Dec 272011

This upcoming week’s Quicklinks was starting to have quite a few examples related to aviation safety, so I thought I’d distill them into one post. There is likely universal agreement: we want to be able to travel through the air safely. There is not, however, agreement on what sort of public policy is necessary to ensure such an outcome.

Even regarding the same safety issues there’s not consensus. For example, passengers are forbidden from using certain portable electronics during takeoffs and landings for fear they’d cause electromagnetic interference that could disable the plane’s instruments. Unfortunately, whether that is a valid concern or a modern old wives’ tale is still subject to debate. This article in the New York Times Bits blog ran some tests on various objects and noted that they did not seem to emit interference that would approach dangerous levels, even in the aggregate. On the other hand, it’s worth reading this recent article from’s Ask the Pilot columnist Patrick Smith as a counterpoint. He notes that even a minor blip in airplane instrument functionality could be risky, but moreover, the other reason to ban such devices during these periods is because they can become dangerous projectiles in case of emergency. Sure, he observes, so can books, which aren’t banned, but if one is going to draw a line somewhere this could be a reasonable place.

The other links relate to the security theater surrounding airport operations. I won’t categorize this post as “commentary” despite the preceding pejoratives because I am sure at some point(s) in the future I will use even more excoriating language to indict the shameful state of affairs that is the TSA than this here. Instead I will point to this Vanity Fair interview of security expert Bruce Schneier to describe the problem. And also link to this story about the TSA confiscating a passenger’s cupcake because the frosting was “too gel-like” and let you draw your own conclusions.

Update 12/29/11: I missed an article I’d meant to link when I wrote this. “Aviation security expert: TSA wasted $56B on junk security,” Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing, Dec. 7, 2011.

Dec 252011

Both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal Law Blog are covering news from the DOJ that a 50 year old law may not actually be a barrier to online gambling as it earlier had asserted.

The legal opinion, issued by the department’s office of legal counsel in September but made public on Friday, came in response to requests by New York and Illinois to clarify whether the Wire Act of 1961, which prohibits wagering over telecommunications systems that cross state or national borders, prevented those states from using the Internet to sell lottery tickets to adults within their own borders.

Although the opinion dealt specifically with lottery tickets, it opened the door for states to allow Internet poker and other forms of online betting that do not involve sports. Many states are interested in online gambling as a way to raise tax revenue.

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Dec 252011

Bruce Carton at Legal Blog Watch notes a difference of opinion from police in Canada regarding the propriety of tweeting the location of DUI checkpoints.

The Edmonton police believe it abets drunk driving and thus shouldn’t be done. Citing a CBC article on the subject:

“Putting lives in danger based on the fact that you want to have more followers on your Twitter account is pretty disappointing,” said checkstop co-ordinator Const. Ian Brooks.

Brooks is asking people to consider how they would feel if a drunk driver who avoided a checkstop ended up causing a collision that hurt someone.

“Maybe that one time that we would have actually picked them up and prevented something in the future, maybe that’s enabling them to commit further offences and to put everyone in jeopardy,” Brooks said.

According to the CBC, Calgary police also disfavor the practice.

“We don’t see any value in warning people in advance of how to avoid that detection,” he said. “We want them caught and we want them off the streets.”

The police in Regina share the same view. On the other hand, the police in Saskatoon have no problem with it.

Alyson Edwards, a spokeswoman for the Saskatoon police, said it will be OK if people who see a check-point share that information on Twitter.

“As a service, there is no point in ignoring the fact that people are going to spread the word amongst their friends,” Edwards told CBC News Wednesday.’

She said one goal of their check-point program is get get people to think about the consequences of drinking and driving, before they head out.

She said people who are drinking may think twice about driving, if they know officers are out.

The article about the Edmonton police quotes Doug King, an associate professor of justice studies at Calgary’s Mount Royal University as saying there was no law against such tweets.

“God forbid, you tweeted me and I got out on the road and killed someone and I was impaired, there would be no way that you could be held responsible for my actions.”

Dec 242011

Other items of interest this past week: