February 28, 2007 | Jason Kitcat

Committee on Standards of Public Life call for halt of May e-voting pilots

Yesterday, Sir Alistair Graham, chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, called for the 2007 electoral pilots in the UK to be halted, in a speech to the Association of Electoral Administrators conference. Sir Alistair's committee has recently published a report on the Electoral Commission calling for major reform of both the commission and our electoral system, particularly with regard to fraud.

Sir Alistair is proving to be a strong, independent new voice in the debate concerning our electoral system. His speech today made every point we would like to make and then some. Even though electoral fraud undermines voter confidence, is the DCA's and the Electoral Commission's focus on increasing participation causing them to turn a blind eye to fraud? Given existing problems with fraud and unsatisfactory systems for combating fraud, is it appropriate to rush ahead with pilot schemes?

Sir Alistair also argued that the government had been entirely misleading in their use of statistics from Northern Ireland, which has a much stricter electoral regime than the rest of the UK. Sir Alistair argued that in the long term new measures in Northern Ireland had not been damaging to participation as the DCA had argued, and that we should be replicating those measures across the rest of the UK.

The debate continued on BBC Radio 4's The World at One where Sir Alistair argued that the DCA's priorities were wrong, saying that "we should be concentrating on safeguarding the integrity of the current voting system rather than experimenting in remote systems which are bound to carry a high risk".

In an absurd argument, David Monks, Chief Executive and returning officer for Huntingdonshire, stated that if we don't pilot new voting technologies the fraudsters will have won by preventing changes which benefit society and meet our new modern lifestyles.

Finally, DCA minister Bridget Prentice MP replied to Sir Alistair by saying that he was "just plain wrong". She didn't accept any of his arguments whatsoever. She also ignored the implications of this week's visit by a Council of Europe delegation assessing whether the UK's electoral system needs to be monitored for fraud, along with many former Soviet republics.

We briefly met the Council of Europe delegation on Monday, giving them copies of the ORG e-voting briefing pack. They seemed to be deeply concerned by the level of worry about fraud in the UK. Indeed, my analysis of 2006 opinion research for the Electoral Commission shows that the public clearly want secret and secure votes ahead of anything else like convenience. Furthermore, political issues were shown to be the main barriers to turnout and not ease of voting.

As Sir Alistair puts it, "deep-seated voter disengagement will not be solved by tinkering with the mechanics of the electoral system".

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February 23, 2007 | Becky Hogge

IPRED2 vote delayed

Good news from Europe! It seems the European Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee (JURI), will not be voting on whether to criminalise intellectual property infringement until 19 March. The vote had previously been set for next week.

So there's still time to write to your MEP on the issue.

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February 22, 2007 | Michael Holloway

Renew for Freedom: March 26th deadline to escape database state

Act now, protect yourself later - renew for freedom! If you are aged 16 or over, you are strongly advised to renew your passport immediately. Please pass this important information to friends, family and colleagues.

No2ID's sterling work against the database state continues with Renew for Freedom, a website helping us avoid forced registration on the ID scheme database. This fantastic resource breaks down the lunacy that is the Identity Cards Act 2006, explaining why we must resist and ways for activists to help the growing opposition to Tony Blair's ID scheme. In particular, the site includes two great factsheets: 'Take a hike, Tony', is directed at those applying for their first passports and Factsheet 2 is directed at those renewing their passports. There's even a 'promote us' page featuring buttons and banners.

The March 26th deadline applies to us all but in particular if you're applying for a first adult passport, as you otherwise become a guinea pig in the ID card scheme, surrendering personal information to any and all state agencies (and contractors) who request it. Those renewing their passport are also advised to do so ahead of March 26th, or otherwise lose your personality and privacy to the database. Furthermore, if that's not reason enough, miss this deadline and you'll face an intrusive interview and lengthy delays in receiving your documents.

Please, please forward this information via your networks to raise awareness of this useless scheme.

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February 20, 2007 | Becky Hogge

ORG at BarCampLondon2

Over the weekend approximately 150 technophiles gathered for BarCampLondon2, an über-geeky conference on all things related to the web and an ideal opportunity to spread the word about ORG.

In addition to ORG supporters talking generally to people about ORG and digital rights issues, the programme included the following presentations:

  • ORG - The British EFF: Protecting Your Bits (Glyn Wintle). A general introduction to ORG, current issues and how to get involved.
  • e-Voting: World Domination Is Ours! (Sheila Thomson). A spoof evil-dictator presentation, pointing out the strengths of traditional voting methods and how e-voting makes it much easier to control the outcome of an election. It was captured on film by Ian Forrester

By the end of the conference there was a noticeable buzz of conversation about ORG and a stream of people heading off to find out more.

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February 14, 2007 | Suw Charman Anderson

links for 2007-02-14

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February 13, 2007 | Suw Charman Anderson

links for 2007-02-13

  • Glyn:The "processing key" has been successfully extracted. This key can be used to gain access to every single Blu-Ray and HD-DVD disc, by passing the DRM. Once again a DRM system that took years to design has been cracked in weeks. DRM systems are broken so quickly because they are grounded on some thing that is scientifically bankrupt, the idea that you can keep a secret from some one from whom you have told the secret.
    (tags: DRM)

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February 12, 2007 | Michael Holloway

Gowers critiqued

Thanks to Jordan Hatcher for reporting an AHRC Research Centre for Studies in IP open forum, which discussed The Gowers Review of Intellectual Property. The discussions had a strong Scottish flavour, but the criticisms reproduced here also apply generally.

Gowers' strengths * Improving the research exception in patent law, to bring greater flexibility and greater growth to the sciences). * Copyright exceptions for distance learning and library / archival purposes. * An Office of Fair Trading investigation of collecting societies was welcomed for potential benefits to artists and authors. * Rejection of 'music industry' calls for an extension of the copyright term extension for sound recordings

Gowers' weaknesses * The system of voluntary registration of copyright would not be effective. Most orphan works that museums and libraries (in particular) are interested in are of the type that would never be registered (such as family photos). * The recommendations to improve patent quality are welcome, but unlikely to actually improve patent quality. In addition, the recommendations failed to recognise work that is already ongoing on in this area. * The recommendation for a private copying exception for format shifting is generally unworkable. (How does one regulate the allowance of a single copy per new media format? Creating a legal right to do so would be unlikely to produce change in consumer behaviour. Gowers' structural faults

* Not enough time given to comprehensively review the area of law, or the 440+ public submissions * The Gowers Review was characterised as an instance of ‘evidence influenced ‘ policy making rather than the ‘evidence based’ approach that the Report itself claims to take (although - notes ian Brown - even this is an improvement on the bad old days of 'evidence free' IP policy). * A bigger question, which Gowers failed to address, is which Ministry should be ‘the one’ to deal with IP — although it was suggested that a cross government body on IP may be preferred.

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February 11, 2007 | Becky Hogge

Write to your MEP: JURI to vote on IPRED2 at the end of this month

IPRED2, the European Union’s second intellectual property enforcement directive, is going to the vote at the end of this month. The European Parliament’s committee on legal affairs, JURI, will be voting on several amendments to this mammoth bill which threaten to turn IP infringement from a civil offence into a criminal one. Your MEP needs to know now why this is a bad idea.

The FFII are calling IPRED2 “The Prosecution Paradise Directive”:

“All over Europe piracy and counterfeiting of ‘intellectual property rights’ are already prosecutable (TRIPS art 61). The Criminal Measures IP Directive adds disproportionality. The European Commission proposal is not limited to piracy. All commercial scale infringements will be crimes, the proposal criminalises IPR disputes that are essentially of a civil nature and occur between legitimate commercial enterprises. Even untested rights, which may soon evaporate in a civil court cases, become grounds for prosecution. And the rights holders may assist the police.”

The Open Rights Group has written this letter to all the UK MEPs sitting on JURI to express its concern at the proposed directive.

But we need your help too. Please take some time to write to your European representatives and let them know your personal concerns. You can find out who your MEPs are at WriteToThem.

There’s a lot about IPRED2 to object to (and even a little bit to encourage) in the proposed directive. If you focus on one issue and explain how it affects you, your MEP is much more likely to sit up and listen. Keep your letters succinct and polite and if you can, back up what you’re saying with clear references – the FFII IPRED2 website has lists of external opinions and background information, as well as analysis of each of the proposed amendments, which should get you started.

Remember, MEPs, like MPs, are unlikely to appreciate or respond to copy-and-pasted form letters, so please take the time to put down your concerns in your own words. Ask your MEP to forward your concerns to Nicola Zingaretti, the JURI rapporteur, or to their closest JURI colleague.

IPRED2 will criminalise “infringements on a commercial scale”. But what does this actually mean? Amendment 43 says this means “any infringement of an intellectual property right committed to obtain direct or indirect economic or commercial advantage; but excludes acts carried out by private users for personal purposes not centred on profit”. This definition is too broad. Here are some approaches to this issue you might like to consider.

  • The law could criminalise the 35 million Europeans who, according to a report by Forrester research published in February 2004, have downloaded music from filesharing services.
  • It could criminalise professional investigative journalists who may sometimes have to infringe copyright in order to bring important information to the attention of the public.
  • It could criminalise the owners of websites where users provide the content

Alternatively, you might like to write to your MEP in support of Amendments 72 and 74, which ask for a fair use provision to ensure that people who use copyrighted work for teaching, news reporting, research or criticism are not criminalised.

Whatever you choose to write, please let us know if your MEP responds.

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