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Tag Archives: Social Comment

Mandatory internet filtering in Australia

This is copied from an email I recently sent out to everyone in my address book

Mandatory internet filtering – I actually thought this issue was over with, but it appears I was wrong.

If you’re not already aware of the issue (which is probably unlikely), there’s a factsheet from GetUp

The latest news here is that the secret blacklist (which is secret – Freedom of Information laws have been modified to deny any kind of public oversight) has been leaked, and contains all kinds of nasty stuff, but also a fair amount of relatively benign stuff: “a slew of online poker sites, YouTube links, regular gay and straight porn sites, Wikipedia entries, euthanasia sites, websites of fringe religions such as satanic sites, fetish sites, Christian sites, the website of a tour operator and even a Queensland dentist.” The Age

The general concern is that this would be a secret, unaccountable system, a ‘loaded gun’ that could too-easily be subverted (Thailand’s internet content was originally intended just to filter out child pornography, but is now apparently used to silence sites that criticise the royal family). No western democracy has gone down this path before. Already it has been reported that there’s very little accountability to the blacklist administration process (“They have absolutely no review process whatsoever; the decision to ban content is final, and there is no judicial oversight. The decision is made by a single ACMA staffer, even someone part of a graduate process…” The Age)

That’s the worst of it – there’re other issues about the filter raising the cost of Internet access, and slowing down the Internet ‘up to 87%’.

GetUp has a petition in progress – I recommend that you sign it, if you feel so inclined:

If you’re as angry about this stuff as I am, I recommend writing a letter to Senator Conroy, as well (I wrote this one). His email address is minister@dbcde.gov.au.

Wikileaks, the website set up to hold documents submitted anonymously by whistleblowers, has apparently been brought to its knees by the huge number of requests from people looking at the leaked blacklist. Does anyone else find it hilarious that the very content the government has been trying to censor has now had a huge spotlight focused on it? Oh, man…

The summary on the Wikileaks page regarding the ACMA’s blacklist is worth a read, too. “…History shows that secret censorship systems, whatever their original intent, are invariably corrupted into anti-democratic behavior.”

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The US Digital Millenium Copyright Act

This was a paper I wrote for the third year of my Computer Science bachelor degree in 2004. It’s obviously relatively old now, but the DMCA still exists and I thought I might post it here – researching the paper was how I was introduced to the DMCA, and I was reminded of it when posting the previous article on a new Swedish law

With the advent of the ‘information age’, unauthorised reproduction of copyrighted works has become far easier. The tools to reproduce such material in any desired form are freely available, as are tools to distribute this material to others all over the world. Piracy is commonplace, with use of interned-based file sharing systems such as Kazaa and eDonkey becoming vastly widespread. 2003 revealed software piracy losses of $341 million AUD in Australia, and $6,496 million AUD in the United States (Australian Institute of Criminology).

In an environment where, feasibly, only one individual needs to purchase a copy of a work to enable the whole world to gain access, various industries – such as the music, film and software industries – are growing increasingly concerned.

An international treaty drafted by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), defined a requirement that participating parties “provide adequate legal protection and effective legal remedies against the circumvention of effective technological measures that are used by authors in connection with the exercise of their rights under this Treaty…” (WIPO Copyright Treaty, Article 11). In order to implement this requirement, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was signed into U.S. law on October 28, 1998.

The controversial act, labeled by some as unconstitutional and a threat to public liberty and free speech, states that “No person shall circumvent a technological protection measure that effectively controls access to a (protected work)” (DMCA, Section 103). It constitutes a protection of software that restricts access to copyrighted material, and outlaws any effort to circumvent this software.

Since coming into effect, the DMCA has been frequently drawn upon for purposes outside of the original expected scope of the Act. In several instances, it has been used by companies to suppress the publication of research into security flaws in their products. Prominent security and cryptology researchers are now choosing to leave their fields out of fear of the DMCA, and security conferences are leaving the U.S. for safer countries.

The DMCA has been used by Sony to maintain a monopoly over production of Playstation console games, Adobe and the U.S. Government have attacked a Russian company for writing software that enables eBooks to be read on braille displays, and a student has been taken to court after submitting a post online explaining that holding down the Shift key disables copy protection on some audio CD’s.

Contrary to the expectations of Congress, the DMCA, as stated by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “Chills free expression and scientific research”, “jeopardizes fair use”, and “impedes competition and innovation” (EFF, ‘Five Years under the DMCA’).

Read More »

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New Swedish IPRED big-content lovin’ law: “Totally F**king Bats**t Insane”

Jesper of Waffle Software writes on a directive (the IPRED EU directive) written into Swedish law recently that gives ‘rights holders’, provided that they can display ‘cursory evidence’, powers well above those of any governmental agency. Paraphrasing from Jesper’s comments, if Big Content suspects you of having involvement in copyright infringement activities (downloading from BitTorrent, etc.), they can:

  • Start a private criminal investigation against you
  • Force your ISP to release your personal information (although there’s no guarantee that an IP address associated with the activities in question directly relates to your activity)
  • Freeze your bank account and seize your home (allowing them to search the premises)
  • Threaten you with court action unless you pay a tens-of-thousand-USD fine
  • Take you to court “where you’ll have to prove your innocence without a lawyer by your side since you can’t afford one, because they froze your bank account”
  • Collect their enormous damages, and charge you for the legal fees

Read the full article, and the preceding introduction for more.

Jesper outlines some specific nasties about the IPRED EU directive, but essentially we’re at least looking at a breach of “several human rights, including the rights to privacy and due process”. We’ve had some pretty nasty laws thrust upon us in the name of Big Content recently, but this one is absolutely insane. How far are governments going to go with this? I’m reminded of the Mars series by Kim Stanley Robinson, set in the future, where countries and governments are more-or-less irrelevant, and the real powers are the big ‘multinationals’, immense international corporations who have sweeping powers, including their own militaries.

If this law actually remains in place, and is used, it will be very interesting to see what happens. As my partner Katherine commented, surely a citizen looking down the barrel of this baby can take the matter to the EU, citing human rights infringement – assuming Sweden has signed a human rights convention.

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One-way blogs are irritating; E-paper disposability

I’m annoyed by blogs that don’t allow people to post comments! One of the exciting elements of the blogosphere is the two-way nature of it, and the ability to create global discussions anywhere, on any topic, where anyone at all can comment. It’s exciting because it’s democratic and egalitarian, the way the Internet should be!

So, sites like Gizmodo that require an ‘invitation’ to get an account to post comments are quite annoying. Disallowing any rebuttal or discussion, except to those one deems worthy, seems very un-democratic!

Anyway, what put me on to this rant was this article on flexible LCD screens, which demands a comment, after their statement regarding being one step closer to the “Holy Grail of electronic displays: crumpling them up throwing them in the trash like basketballs”:

Who on earth wants to do that? How is the ability to throw away flexible screens, thereby creating more e-waste, a Holy Grail? Unless it’s just me, that seems to entirely defeat the purpose of reusable ‘E-paper’, apart from the obvious environmental issues of yet more non-biodegradable waste.

We live in such an irresponsible culture!

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Are you leaking search queries?

Recently, AOL leaked 20 million search queries to the world (as covered in a NY Times article). It listed search queries alongside user numbers, which links search terms to individuals. Although no names are listed, it is often not difficult to determine (or at least narrow down) an individual’s identity, given their search history, as demonstrated in the above article.

The privacy ramifications here are extremely worrying. Web searching is something we all do, and for some of us, often reveals all kinds of intimate details about our lives. That this search history is recorded at all is, if I may say so, an abomination; but that this was carelessly leaked by AOL is very worrying. And yes, even Google record search queries (they’re just a little more careful with it).

The appeal to government and ‘law enforcement’ groups is obvious, which makes this even more dangerous. While Google resisted the Justice Department’s subpoena, the other search engine’s capitulated.

Particularly worrisome is the international nature of many of these search engines, with data centres located outside regions that are protected by various privacy laws. Only recently, Yahoo cooperated with the Chinese government in revealing the identity of a Chinese journalist who had distributed a warning from the Chinese government about the reporting on sensitive local issues; the journalist is now serving a 10 year prison sentence.

Yahoo was forced by the local laws to cooperate with the Chinese government. While one may assume that this only affects local users, it’s quite common for data to be mirrored at several sites, ensuring adequate redundancy should a site be compromised and its data lost. Thus, it’s quite possible that Australian and American search history is stored in regions where the Government has complete control over access to this data.

The Chinese incident is sinister enough, but this is probably just the beginning.

Consequently, the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) have published an article with a few notes on how to maximise your privacy when using search engines.

Some points are:

  • Don’t put personally-identifying information in your searches
  • Don’t log in to a search engine account
  • Don’t accept cookies from your search engine

They are worth reading through; in particular, there’s some directions for Firefox users on how to configure an extension to increase your anonymity with Google searches.

Even if you don’t follow those suggestions, I recommend regularly clearing out your Google cookies. These cookies provide Google and other search engines with a link between your search queries – an identifier that ties them together. By clearing these cookies out regularly, you sever the link between past queries and future queries. In particular, do this before embarking on a particularly sensitive search.

To remove cookies in Firefox:

  1. Bring up Firefox Preferences (on a Mac, click the ‘Firefox’ menu at the top left, then ‘Preferences’)
  2. Click the ‘Privacy’ icon
  3. Click the ‘Cookies’ tab
  4. Click ‘View Cookies’, bottom left
  5. Type ‘google’ in the search bar, and remove all related cookies by selecting them and clicking ‘Remove Cookies’

In Safari:

  1. Bring up Safari Preferences (‘Safari’ menu, ‘Preferences’)
  2. Click the ‘Security’ icon
  3. Click ‘Show Cookies’
  4. Scroll down to the Google cookies, select them, and press ‘Remove’

Instructions for Internet Explorer are here (If you are using Internet Explorer, it is recommended that you switch to Firefox, which offers increased security and stability. Honestly.).

Alternatively, just delete all cookies, which probably can’t hurt.

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