Data retention is pointless violation

Not only is data retention a potential violation of civil liberties but it now may turn out to be pointless according to the Max-Planck-Institute for Criminal Law. (via Gisle Hannemyr)

A report (PDF) from Max-Planck-Instituts für Strafrecht about data rentention was recently featured in and the online edition of Der Spiegel. Below is a summary in English.

According to the study, the logging and retention of certain telecomminications traffic data for six months that was made compulsory in Germany in January 2008 will only have mariginal effect and traffic data will be of use in as little as 0.002 % of the total number of criminal cases. This is within the marigin of statistical error and the annual variation in criminal cases solved is one hundered times greater.

This finding corresponds to estimates from Bundeskriminalamts, who in a separate study from the summer of 2007 says that data retention will incease the percentage of solved crimes “from 55 percent today to, at most, 55.006 percent.”

The Max-Planck study also shows an exponential increase in use of traffic data by law enforcement, from 5000 queries in year 2000 to about 41000 in the year 2005 (see summary and figures on pages 77, 90, and 402 in the report). In Bayern traffic data queries increased by 60 percent from 2006 to 2007 according to this report.

With respect to types of crime, 50 percent of IP-address queries concerns fraud and 25 percent concerns copyright violations. The argument that traffic data are needed to prevent terrorism is not supported by the statistics.

The study also warns about dangers from abuse due to unauthorized access to the stored data by inside or outside agents at well as the potential to use such data for “strategic surveillance” of large segments of the population.

Are we secure yet?

Thankfully the term “war on terrorism” seems to have fallen out of fashion. Unfortunately the threat of terrorism is being used to systematically and creatively remove civil liberties. At some point a society must ask itself if the security needed to prevent terrorism is in itself an act of terrorism and repression.

Unfortunately all the silliness is not confined to high government (even though a lot of the silliness originates from there). In times of tension the wacko’s, weirdo’s and sociopaths step forward and fill the lower levels of the security system. These are the working stiffs in the security system. Heady with power and filled with self importance they are responsible for degrading ordinary people all in the name of terrorism and security. In reality it’s all for their own little ego’s.

You think I may be exaggerating?  Then give me some better explanations for these:

A man trying to fly British Airways to Dusseldorf was told that he could not board the plane wearing the t-shirt he had on. The offending t-shirt had a picture of Megatron (a 40 foot tall cartoon robot with a gun as an arm).

In Canada (Kelowna Airport, British Columbia) a PhD student was not allowed to board the plane because she wore a necklace with a pendant in the shape of a gun (a silver classic Colt45, under two inches in length with no moving parts) story and photo here.

A classic example of misguided airport security in relation to clothes is Raed Jarrar’s experience at JFK where he was forced to take off a shirt with Arabic writing on it or miss his flight; new BBC article. The story upset many people but inspired some: You can now buy t-shirts from Casual Disobedience with text “I am not a terrorist” in Arabic. I bought one and it is among my favorites.

Another classic is when John Gilmore was refused carriage by British Airways recently for declining to take off a button that read “Suspected Terrorist”.

These are only examples relating to clothes or jewelry in relation to airport security – there are plenty of stories of offending clothing (political, not sexual) that have got people detained or arrested. I think I need to develop this into a full length article…

Online material and copyright

While commenting on the distinction between the professional and amateur Clair from Mummys Bracelet pointed to an interesting discussion (and here) in relation to this topic. The whole thing started when JonnyB was told be a neighbor that he was published in the newspaper The Mail on Sunday. This was news to JonnyB who found that The Mail had printed entire posts from his blog on their Blog of The Week section without permission.

OK – so it’s copyright violation. No biggie, nothing to blog about you might think. JonnyB sent an invoice and the Mail paid up. Problem solved? No, not really. The newspaper paid but it also wrote in response to JonnyB

We generally take the view that blogs published on the internet have already been placed in the public domain by their authors and, in case of amateur writers, most people are happy to have their work recognised and displayed to a wider audience.

The really strange thing that follows from this story is the misguided belief that what is online is somehow in the public domain and that these mistakes are being made not only by amateurs but also be the “professional” media. And this is despite the fact that the discussion on online copyright is almost as old as the internet.

When lecturing to my students I keep trying to push into their minds three steps:

1. Almost nothing online is outside copyright.

2. Assume everything is owned.

3. What risks will you be running by using other people material? (who do you represent)

Maybe I should start lecturing for the news media…

The Larousse goes wiki

The French encyclopedia Larousse was started for over 150 years ago is joining the Internet in a big way. They are launching their own version of Wikipedia.

Since any Wikipedia user can make changes to Wikipedia it is often criticized for having an inherent potential for unreliability. The Larousse version will have free access and enable users to contribute – but not totally freely. Anonymous contributions will not be permitted, but users who want to contribute have to sign up and their names will then appear on the article they submit. In addition to this contributions, once written, become protected.

The Larousse will also begin by putting 150,000 articles from its universal encyclopaedia online, in addition to 10,000 images.

More information at The Independent.

Many Chinese approve of censorship

There is a general assumption that people subjected to censorship are unhappy. A Pew Internet survey finds that most Chinese approve of internet regulation especially by the government (via Slashdot). The report can be downloaded here. This raises an interesting question: is censorship bad even if those who are affected by it approve of it?

Most people who argue for individual freedom would argue that it does not matter that those effected by a loss of liberty are OK with it – the very fact that individuals have lost their liberty is enough of basis to claim that censorship is bad. On the other hand such a claim would invalidate the opinions and ideas of the group who agree to being censored.

This is a tough call. Personally I do think that censorship is bad but it this is from my point of view and I am not being subjected to it.  Certain acts are unconditionally bad no matter what certain groups may believe (for example female circumcision or child pornography) but lesser wrongs are more difficult to judge.


CCTV music video

An unsigned Manchester band The Get Out Clause wanted to create a music video but did not have a camera crew so they got creative. They set up and played in front of surveillance cameras at different locations and then requested the surveillance tapes from the under the Data Protection Act and cut together a music video of the results.


The result is a very cool grainy effect – My favourite part is when they are playing on a buss! More information about the video here – Check out the actual video on YouTube!

(via Boing Boing)

Books not dead – bookshops are dying

For a long time there have been claims that the book is dead or at least terminally ill. The most recent revival of these claims was with the launch of the kindle ebook reader.

In the 1979 book The Micro Millennium, Christopher Evans forecasted that due to electronic media, “…the 1980s will see the book as we know it, and as our ancestors created and cherished it, begin a slow but steady slide into oblivion. . . . there are a number of reasons this is imminent.” Naturally Evans was wrong.

Again when the Internet became commonplace the book was given another obituary and again, judging from book sales, it was another premature prediction.

The thing is that technology will not kill the book. Technology has the ability to organize, reorganize information. It facilitates storage and searching but it will not kill the traditional book form. The book has other values that will not be easily replaced by technology. Steven Poole has written a great post on this.

Old Spines
Creative Commons License photo: Old Spines by brighterorange

So the book is not dying but the bookshop is! So this was nothing new but it was driven home to me in force when I happened to walk past one of my favorite small bookstores, it was having a moving sale (not a closing down sale).

News of a book sale usually makes me happy, but after browsing the generous 30-50% sale offers I realized that even with the discount the books were cheaper to buy new ones online. So this is not something new but I thought that a discount this large would even things out – but it didn’t.

Silly Friday

The Mayor of Graz in Austria has reacted to polls showing that almost half of the people in the city felt that listening to other people’s mobile calls highly irritating – he has now ordered that mobile phones have to be put on silent mode when their owners get on a bus or a tram. (BBC Online)

Sure it is irritating listening to other peoples mobile phone calls, but why limit ourselves to public transportation? Why not make it illegal in parks and public buildings? I am also irritated by bad taste in clothes, body odors, drunks, boisterous kids, angry pensioners and people who insist on standing in the way. So why don’t we ban the all?

communication age
Creative Commons License Communication Age by credit: Dom Dada

Attempts at banning mobiles on public transport have been tested before and failed. In Stockholm the attempts failed and now the subway has excellent mobile coverage instead. Trains have silent compartments but this doesn’t stop people from talking on their phones. Its just something everyone will have to get used to.

The Mayor of Graz may not get this and even if he believes his ban it will fail (for so many reasons). All I can say is – thank god it’s Friday!

Camera License

Not long ago in a recent awareness campaign the London police managed to link photography to terrorism.


This was silly enough and would only really have two effects – either it is ignored or it creates panic. But even worse is the example when a policeman asked a person taking photographs whether he has a license to do so…

The BBC reports that Phil Smith was taking pictures in a public place and was challenged by a police officer who asked if he had a licence for the camera.

After explaining he didn’t need one, he was taken down a side-street for a formal “stop and search”, then asked to delete the photos and ordered not take any more. So he slunk home with his camera.

Obviously the policeman was wrong but the considering the strange climate of fear and paranoia coupled with the official power of the police the potential for abuse is great indeed.