Feb 132013
 

Last week the BBC contributed its thoughts to the W3C committee contemplating the Encrypted Media Extensions Proposal to the HTML standard, which would allow for more standardized video viewing across multiple platforms.  After establishing its bonafides as a source of Internet video broadcasting, it got to the point.  The proposal, it said, was was overall a helpful one as far as the standardization was concerned.  Technological fragmentation is a problem for someone who wants to make sure their video is viewable to a wide audience. Despite that enormous benefit, however, the BBC could only support the Proposal if it incorporated a DRM standard such that the BBC could pointedly control the retail market for its programming.

It’s worth questioning whether manipulating markets ultimately enlarges them — or, instead, potentially reduces them — but that’s not a subject for these pages right now.  The problem was how the BBC required the proposal to be changed in order to ostensibly enable such manipulation:

The proposed Encrypted Media Proposal looks to be a useful starting point. However, the BBC is unlikely to be able to use any such mechanism unless we feel that it is sufficiently secure that there would be the possibility of legal action in the event of bypassing it.

This is not an easy qualification: the W3C is an international body, and laws on bypassing technical protection measures vary significantly from country to country. In this instance the BBC would be looking for such a mechanism to be secure enough in the UK that it would be a “effective technical protection mechanism” under section 296zb of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (as modified by the Copyright and Related Rights Regulations 2003). We expect that other providers will look for similar assurances in their own territories, such as the anti-circumvention provisions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in the United States. (emphasis added)

To summarize, the BBC, “the world’s leading public service broadcaster,” “established by a Royal Charter” and “primarily funded by the licence fee paid by UK households” with a “mission [...] to enrich people’s lives with programmes that inform, educate and entertain,” has just lobbied an international technical standards organization charged with “lead[ing] the World Wide Web to its full potential by developing protocols and guidelines that ensure the long-term growth of the Web” such that it enables “involves participation, sharing knowledge, and thereby building trust on a global scale” to make its standards such that people could be imprisoned for using that very technology in a way the BBC did not like.

True, perhaps the BBC was only contemplating there being civil penalties, which is problematic as well. But both the DMCA and section 296zb of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 allow for state criminal enforcement when people circumvent technologies designed to control access to content, regardless of how legitimate that access would be.

Feb 082012
 

Two years ago Paul Chambers, a Twitter user in England, tweeted his frustrations about the closure of the airport in Nortern Ireland was scheduled to fly into:

“Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”

As this article in the Guardian summarizes,

A week later he was arrested by five police officers, questioned for eight hours, had his computers and phones seized and was subsequently charged and convicted of causing a menace under the Communications Act 2003.

That conviction was first upheld by the Crown Court, and a subsequent appeal has just been heard by the High Court.

Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 provides that “[a] person is guilty of an offence if he sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character.”  This case appears to boil down to whether or not the tweet was truly menacing, and by whom, and under what standard, its menacing character should be judged.

Chambers insists he meant it as a joke.  There is also no evidence that anyone actually took the tweet to be a credible threat.  In fact there is evidence that the authorities themselves did not take it to be a credible threat.  However because there was the possibility that it could have been taken as a threat, thus far the conviction has held.

Feb 052012
 

The New York Times has a report about a South Korean man who has been indicted for having retweeted tweets from the North Korean government. The charge accuses Park Jung-geun of violating the “National Security Law,” which bans “acts that benefit the enemy,” although without defining what those acts might be.

Detectives raided Mr. Park’s photo studio in eastern Seoul in the fall. They later interrogated him several times for resending such North Korean propaganda postings as “Long Live Kim Jong-il!”

In an interview in December, Mr. Park said his Twitter posts were meant to lampoon the North Korean regime. Mr. Park, a member of the Korean Socialist Party, said he supported its platform, which criticized the Pyongyang government’s human rights policy and its hereditary transfer of power.

“It was humiliating and ludicrous to have to wear a straight face and explain all my jokes to the detectives,” said Mr. Park, who faces up to seven years in jail if convicted.

Prosecutors charged that joke or no joke, Mr. Park’s Twitter account served as a tool to spread North Korean propaganda.

The article notes that prosecutions under this law have increased since the current administration took power.

In 2010, 151 people were interrogated on suspicion of violating the law, up from 39 in 2007. The number of people prosecuted on charges of pro-North Korean online activities increased to 82 in 2010 from five in 2008, according to government data submitted to lawmakers. During the first 10 months of 2011, the police deleted 67,300 Web posts they believed threatened national security by “praising North Korea and denouncing the U.S. and the government,” a sharp rise from 14,430 posts in 2009.

South Korea still blocks its citizens’ access to North Korean Web sites, though North Korea has recently gone around the firewalls by using Twitter accounts. The South’s policy has left the delivery and interpretation of North Korean announcements in the hands of a relatively small group of officials and journalists with special access to North Korean media.

Jan 232012
 

This article in the Korea Times reports that several large online presences in Korea have stopped asking for users’ resident registration numbers when subscribing to their sites. They began to ask in 2007 as a means of ensuring compliance with the government’s requirement that users provide their real names. However, the government had no means to enforce that rule on foreign websites, and it has led to instances of identity theft.

Nexon recently had the private data of 13 million users hacked. Nate and Cyworld, its sister social networking service, had 35 million users’ details compromised after being hacked. After a series of private information leaks at large businesses like Nate, Nexon, Auction, and Hyundai Capital, now virtually all the resident registration numbers of Koreans are available.

As they hold the key to entering Internet sites, criminals can collect almost anyone’s details by collecting information from two or three websites, acquiring names, phone numbers, email addresses, home addresses, office addresses, shopping records, bank account numbers and even blood types.

Some victims submitted a petition to the court last month, requesting they be allowed to change their registration number. “We are on the verge of suffering from more damage as we are forced to continuously use our leaked registration numbers with no countermeasures being taken so far,” the complainants said in their suit.

The Korea Communications Commission is now planning regulation preventing resident numbers from being held online.

Jan 232012
 

Agence-France Press is reporting that a Bangladeshi high court has ordered police to prosecute Jahangirnagar University teacher Ruhul Khandakar for sedition as a result of a comment made on Facebook. The comment, since deleted, was “[Famous Bangladeshi filmmaker] Tareq Masud died as a result of government giving licence to unqualified drivers. Many die, why does not [Prime Minister] Sheikh Hasina die?”

He was also sentenced to six months in jail for contempt of court after he failed to respond to repeated summonses to explain a Facebook posting. The article reports Khandakar has been studying in Australia and these proceedings happened without him.

It also cites a local lawyer saying that this is the first time a Bangladeshi has been ordered to be jailed and tried for sedition over comments made on a social networking site.

Jan 132012
 

Last month Kapil Sibal, acting telecommunications minister for India, floated the proposition that social networks actively filter all content appearing on their systems.  Now comes news that a judge in New Delhi also thinks web censorship appropriate.  From the New York Times:

The comments of the judge, Suresh Kait, came in response to a lawsuit, filed by a private citizen in the capital, New Delhi. The suit demands that Internet companies screen content before it is posted on sites like Facebook, Google or Yahoo, that might offend the religious sentiments of Indians. A related criminal case accuses the companies — 21 in all — of violating an Indian law that applies to books, pamphlets and other material that is deemed to “deprave or corrupt.”

A trial court in New Delhi on Friday ordered that summons be served in the criminal case to officials at all 21 companies at their foreign headquarters’ addresses.

Google and Facebook refused to comment on the case, except to say they had filed a motion in the New Delhi High Court to dismiss the criminal case.

Their motion will be considered on Monday. Continue reading »

Jan 062012
 

Public photography is an issue that frequently appears on this site because it’s a real example of technology-enabled speech that all too often authorities try to prevent.  These attempts are often egregious and never balanced out by whatever policy reasons are ostensibly behind them.  But they are particularly odorous when these prohibitions are enforced on people using photography to record the power of the police.

What’s especially insidious is the logic so often used for it, that recording people acting in public — or, more specifically, agents of the state acting in public under the color of the authority granted by the state — might somehow violate a privacy interest. Continue reading »

Jan 062012
 

The EFF has a round-up of censorship examples from around the world. Although there’s some fuzziness over the details, Belarus seems to have a law making the browsing of certain foreign websites a misdemeanor. Turkey, meanwhile, has been exploring its own filtering requirements. While arguably they are voluntary, it’s not clear exactly how voluntary they are. Furthermore, it gives the authorities creating the filtering blacklists a great deal of censorial control over information consumption in the country.

Iran, in addition to mandating user registration and video surveillance at Internet cafes, is busy trying to build a “halal intranet,” populated only with sites the government will allow citizens to see. (Compare this with “China’s Parallel Online Universe” referenced earlier.) The linked articles cite a government fear of being infected with another Stuxnet-type worm in justifying cutting citizens off from the wider Internet world, but clearly, the other measures such as monitoring Internet cafe usage is designed to quell dissent.

These aren’t the only places in the world, however, where such filtering exists. The ACLU has just sued a library in Missouri for its filtering of content the librarian deemed inappropriate. In this case the blocked content in question pertained to minority religions. But even if this particular blocking seems egregious, it’s actually fairly ordinary. In fact, under CIPA it’s mandatory. It’s worth comparing exactly how different this rule is from the Turkish filtering scheme, which ostensibly is “for the children” as well.

Jan 062012
 

This post on F-secure raises the specter of German authorities tracking suspects through clandestine use of the SMS system. (The post references an article on Heise Online that translates to “Customs, Federal Police and Protection of the Constitution in 2010 sent more than 440,000 ‘silent SMS.’”

So what exactly does this mean?

Well, basically, various German law enforcement agencies have been “pinging” mobile phones. Such pings only reply whether or not the targeted resource is online or not, just like an IP network ping from a computer would.

But then after making their pings, the agencies have been requesting network logs from mobile network operators. The logs don’t reveal information from the mobile phones themselves, but they can be used to locate the cell towers through which the pings traveled. And thus, can be used to track the mobile targeted.

Jan 062012
 

The Vancouver Sun is reporting that the Canadian government is setting up a $700,000 annual-operating budget “spam reporting centre” for people to report their unsolicited communications.

Dubbed “The Freezer,” the new centre will accept unsolicited electronic messages forwarded by individuals, businesses and organizations in Canada, including spam, malware (malicious software), spyware, short message services (SMS), and false and misleading representations involving the use of any means of telecommunications, according to Industry Canada.

The Freezer is to field reports and complaints of spam and related electronic threats and collect information that’s either voluntarily provided or publicly available. The information could then be used as evidence of potential violations and assist enforcement agencies in levying fines or other penalties.

Continue reading »