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August 21, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

BBC Radio Five (not quite so live)

Have to pop over to BBC TV Centre tomorrow to record an interview about this digital rights group that I'm helping set up, and data retention. The interview will be aired overnight, during the Blog and Podcast Hour. When I get more details, I'll let you know, but I'm guessing it'll be easier to listen after the event via their streaming than to stay up all night wondering what time it's on.

(Originally posted on Chocolate and Vodka.)

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August 16, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

Data retention in 15 words

40,000 terabytes of useless, illegal communications traffic surveillance data, paid for by you, the surveilled.

(Originally posted on Chocolate and Vodka.)

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August 16, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

Data Retention in the EU - Your Digital Rights at Risk

OK, so here's the data retention story, which I'm going to try to write without recourse to (too much of) the EU jargon that seems to choke these sorts of things. Some is inevitable, and I apologise for that in advance. This is the deal. The UK, France, Ireland and Sweden are trying to push a directive on data retention through into EU legislation which would force all member countries to compel all telecommunications and internet service providers to save information about the use of their services by us, the public (document 8958/2004). They say that this is for 'the purpose of prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of crime and criminal offences including terrorism', but whilst it would have far-reaching consequences, the benefits appear to be non-existent. As Heinz Kiefer, president of the European Confederation of Police, pointed out: "The result would be that a vast effort is made with little more effect on criminals and terrorists than to slightly irritate them." (1) The data to be saved and retained would include what is called 'traffic data', which is things like your geographical location when you make a call or switch your phone on, the telephone number you called, the duration of your call, and your user data. (Note that your phone service provider has to know where your phone is so that it can direct calls to it. Every time you move from one mobile mast cell to another, your move would be recorded.) They wouldn't actually save the call itself, so they wouldn't know what you said, but they'd know who you spoke to, where you were when you made the call or had your phone switched on, and how long you spoke for. SMS traffic data would also be saved. Internet communications would be similarly logged, with the IP addresses of all sites you visited being recorded, along with your MAC address (which identifies the computer you are using), username, email addresses and a logfile of every sent and received email. Quite how they are going to record you MAC address, given that it goes no further than your home router, I'm not sure, but it's in the list of data they want. All this data would be kept for a minimum of six months or one year, depending on data type, and a maximum of 36 months. If that doesn't immediately send chills down your spine, then it should. In short, the government will be keeping track of all your conversations and communications, and the cost of that spying is going to show up on your phone bill. But worse will be the damage to your civil and human rights. The lack of any meaningful checks and balances in the system means that there's a high risk of abuse not just from the government, but potentially from the private sector too. And the benefits from all this will be negligible at best, illusory at worst. Who would want this data and why? So who would be able to access this data? Well, any surveilling authority deemed 'competent' by its government in any country could request access to your data. In the UK, the list of 'competent' bodies (2a, 2b) is long and comprises central and local government departments, namely:

  • The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • The Department of Health
  • The Home Office
  • The Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions
  • The Department for Work and Pensions
  • The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment for Northern Ireland
  • Any local authority within the meaning of section 1 of the Local Government Act 1999
  • Any fire authority as defined in the Local Government (Best Value) Performance Indicators Order 2000
  • The Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency
  • The Scottish Environment Protection Agency
  • The Civil Nuclear Constabulary
  • A Universal Service Provider within the meaning of the Postal Services Act 2000
  • A council constituted under section 2 of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994
  • A district council within the meaning of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972
  • The Common Services Agency of the Scottish Health Service
  • The Northern Ireland Central Services Agency for the Health and Social Services
  • The Environment Agency
  • The Financial Services Authority
  • The Food Standards Agency
  • The Health and Safety Executive
  • The Information Commissioner
  • The Office of Fair Trading
  • The Postal Services Commission
  • The Independent Police Complaints Commission
  • The Office of Communications
  • The force comprising the special constables appointed under section 79 of the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 on the nomination of the Dover Harbour Board
  • The force comprising the constables appointed under article 3 of the Mersey Docks and Harbour (Police) Order 1975 on the nomination of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company
  • The Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland

It is, as you can see, quite a long list, and questions have to be asked as to why some of these bodies would need to access your communications traffic data. Why on earth could the Postal Services Commission need to know where you were at any given time? What relevance does your internet usage have to the Financial Services Authority? Here are some of the reasons (3) that these bodies might be able to use to justify snooping through your data:

  • in the interests of national security
  • for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime or of preventing disorder
  • in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom
  • in the interests of public safety
  • for the purpose of protecting public health
  • for the purpose of assessing or collecting any tax, duty, levy or other imposition, contribution or charge payable to a government department
  • for the purpose, in an emergency, of preventing death or injury or any damage to a person’s physical or mental health, or of mitigating any injury or damage to a person’s physical or mental health

OK, national security and crime prevention and detection are to be expected, but 'economic well-being of the United Kingdom'? I can smell the potential abuse from here, and that's before considering that the tax man can examine this data as well. Slip a train ticket that wasn't actually yours into your expenses? Well, the tax man can check to make sure you were really where you said you were. Practicalities The practical ramifications of forcing telecoms companies and ISPs to retain this volume of data for between one and three years are huge. According to a report by Alexander Nuno Alvaro (4), this would produce 20,000 - 40,000 terabytes of data, at today's traffic levels. That's 20 - 40 million gigabytes, enough to fill 5 - 10 million DVDs. (Note: Alvaro is unclear whether that's over a year, or longer.) All that data would require storage, and the volume of data produced can only increase as broadband usage increases, as it inevitably will. Telecoms companies and IPSs will be forced to create new storage systems; to change and expand their in-house processes and resources for secure data archiving; and find capacity for processing and analysing the data to answer security authorities' enquiries. This is going to cost millions of Euros. Alvaro estimates that each traditional telecoms firm would have to invest €180m a year, with operating costs of €50m. The costs for ISPs would be far higher. The new directive suggests that the government will pay a subsidy to ISPs, something which was previously suggested in 2002. Then, Web Host Industry News (5) reported that the cost of the UK government's eventually abandoned Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act would 'far exceed' the £20 million estimated by the government. AOL estimated that it would cost them £30 million alone, with a similar running costs - it's not hard to do the maths to see that figures for the whole industry would come in at sky high levels. You can guess who would eventually pay for all this. You. Whether in the form of more expensive phone and internet services, or through your taxes. And the chances are that many small ISPs wouldn't even survive the implementation of the directive, thus killing competition and leaving only the biggest ISPs to divvy up the market. UsefulnessThere is, to date, no evidence that such a huge data retention scheme would prove useful. To quote Alvaro again:

"Given the volume of data to be retained, particularly Internet data, it is unlikely that an appropriate analysis of the data will be at all possible. "[...] one search using existing technology, without additional investment, would take 50 to 100 years. The rapid availability of the data required seems, therefore, to be in doubt."

In short, even if they could gather all this data, and even if that data was useful data, they don't have the capacity to search it. Data mining remains a concept that seems like a good idea, but turns out to be at best highly difficult, and at worst impossible to actually implement. The problems with data mining and analysis remain unaddressed in the current draft proposal. There are further questions over how the data retained could be verified. How can you check such a huge amount of data, and against what? Equally, the directive fails to take into account circumvention of these data retention plans by the use of proxies, voice over internet protocol (VoIP), encryption, or service providers based in outside of the European Union and therefore not subject to European law. Criminals would find it relatively easy to avoid having their data harvested and stored, thus rendering the entire directive pointless. Everyone would be tracked, except for the criminals. Alvaro again:

"Individuals involved in organised crime and terrorism will easily find a way to prevent their data from being traced. Possible ways of doing so include using 'front men' to buy telephone cards or switching between mobile phones from foreign providers, using public telephones, changing the IP or e-mail address when using an e-mail service or simply using Internet service providers outside Europe not subject to data retention obligations."

Furthermore, EDRI (European Digital Rights) discusses a report published by the Dutch Erasmus University (6) about the 'usefulness and necessity of data retention for law enforcement purposes', the 'first public research in Europe into the actual use by law enforcement of historical traffic data'.

"The researchers looked at 65 police investigations that were provided by the Dutch ministry of justice as good examples of the usefulness for traffic data for law enforcement. They conclude 'in virtually all cases' the police could get all the traffic data they needed, based on average availability of telephony traffic data of 3 months. The researchers also warn they can't qualify the usefulness of these data as direct or indirect evidence, or the representativeness of the sample of cases for law enforcement in general."

In other words, the level of data retention demanded by this proposal is beyond that which is actually required for effective police investigations. Yet the researchers who wrote this report still recommend data retention. In fact, their recommendations are harsher than those contained with the UK's directive, but are based on 'talks with several anonymous police representatives', and thus amount to no more than a 'police wishlist'. There is no provision within the directive for any research to be carried out prior to the directive being forced through parliament to assess either the impact of such legislation on the telelcoms and ISP industries, nor on the practicalities of implementation, nor on the necessity for such measures. Legality The measures being proposed are not only disproportionate, they may also be illegal. The first way that they might be illegal is to do with the way that the European Union is governed. The government of the European Union is split into three areas, called Pillars (7). The First Pillar is the European Community pillar and it deals with economic, social and environmental policies. The Second Pillar is the Common Foreign and Security Policy pillar, which deals with issues around foreign policy and the military. The Third Pillar is the Police and Judicial Co-Operation in Criminal Matters pillar, previously called the Justice and Home Affairs pillar. Directives that come under the First Pillar get treated differently to those which come under the Third Pillar. Without wanting to get too deeply into this, what the UK is trying to do is to rush the directive through under the Third Pillar because by doing so they can circumvent the checks and balances that would apply under the First Pillar, thus denying the European Parliament any proper say on the directive. This tactic is actually illegal. EDRI reports that the European Parliament will take the Justice and Home Affairs Council (which deals with stuff in the Third Pillar) to court if they try to get this directive passed through the Third Pillar. The position that this whole imperative is illegal is backed by the European Parliament's Committee on Legal Affairs and the European Commission's Legal Service, and discussed in more detail in Alvaro's report. Despite this, Home Secretary Charles Clarke is determined that this directive should be pushed through under the Third Pillar during the UK's Presidency of the European Council, which ends 31 December 2005. Human rightsThe second way that this directive may be illegal is that it may contravene the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that any such measures for the monitoring and storage of data must:

  • be laid down by law
  • be necessary in a democratic society
  • serve one of the legitimate purposes specified in the Convention

It seems pretty clear that this directive can't fulfil these three basic criteria and so is incompatible with European human rights law. Any move to indiscriminately collect data violates the right to the presumption of innocence, not to mention privacy, and would dismiss the controls already provided by the existing Privacy and Data Communications Directive. Unanswered questions I've seen no discussion on data verification or security, both of which will add to the expense of data storage by the telecos and ISPs. I've seen no discussion over accessibility - who should actually be allowed to use this data? What checks and balances will be put in place to ensure that the data is not misused? In the UK, it seems that there will be very little done to ensure that abuse is prevented. Why should you care? It's very easy with issues like this to glance over the story and wonder why you should care. You're innocent, you've got nothing to hide, so why should you bother about whether or not the government knows stuff about you? 1. The cost. Whether this project is funded by the EU or the telecos/ISPs, you will pay for it, through either taxes or increased costs of phone calls and internet access. The costs are likely to be vast, and that money's got to come from somewhere. That where is your pocket. You will end up paying for being put under surveillance. 2. Your rights will be abused. Your civil and human rights are going to take a flogging if this directive goes through. Your right to privacy, to a private live and private correspondence, your freedom of expression and association, the presumption of innocence. All these basic rights are under assault and if we don't protect them, we'll find ourselves in the sort of society our forebears fought to protect us from. 3. Your data - and innocence - will be at risk. There are no data protection provisions in this directive. Thus we cannot assume that the only people who will search this data will be those law enforcement officials with a real, demonstrable need (if such a thing exists). Because of the lack of detail over who will be deemed 'competent' to access it, we have to assume the worst and that any government agency will, quite legally, be able to find a way into the database and that they will be able to abuse it. By this data's very existence, we lower the bar to suspicion, and turn everyone into a potential criminal. 4. Technology spreads. Just as soon as the technology required for this sort of data harvesting, retention and analysis - technology which currently does not exist - has been created, it will find its way into the hands of the private sector and, quite possibly, criminals. We've already seen that national police databases are open to abuse, with at least one case of a police officer running unauthorised checks on behalf of a foreign embassy official (8). The insurance industry has in the past been accused of raising premiums for anyone who has had a gene test regardless of the result, and has been put under a moratorium (9) for using gene tests to determine when assessing insurance applications. Imagine what they could do if the had access to your web browser history and could see which health-related sites you visited. 5. This directive will not significantly help the security and intelligence agencies, or the police, to combat crime or terrorism. There exist already plenty of powers for the monitoring of telecommunications by known or suspected criminals or terrorists. All this directive will do will be to create a massive data dump which won't provide any value to the authorities. From Statewatch (10), Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:

"After the dreadful terrorist attacks in London on 7 July 2005 it is absolutely right for the intelligence and security agencies concerned with finding the perpetrators to have all the necessary powers. "If this proposal was limited to tackling terrorism that would be one thing but it is not. It will put everyone in the EU under surveillance, be used to tackle crime in general and potentially could be used for social and political control. The agencies already have the powers to place suspects under surveillance and this will add little to the existing intelligence - it will simply build a bigger 'haystack' from which to find the same number of needles. "It is understandable that governments want to respond to the tragedy but to put in place a system that: makes everyone in the EU a 'suspect', which is potentially open to misuse and abuse, and which has no data protection provisions at all would seriously undermine the democracy that is being defended."

6. Escalation. The initial push for this directive came from the United States. On 16 October 2001, President Bush requested that the EU relax its data protection directives which stood as an exemplar for the rest of the world. In 2002, the EU passed the Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive (2002/58/EC), which allowed member states to compel the retention of personal information data, but only when explicit legislation had been passed, and only when it was necessary, appropriate, and proportionate in a democratic society. Only Italy and Ireland chose to do so. The United States, however, has held back from introducing such legislation, but if this new directive is passed in the EU, it will have all the ammunition it needs to propose equally strong, or stronger, legislation at home. As, indeed, will any other country wishing to go down this route. We can then assume that should the issue come up again for discussion in the EU, precedents will have been set and future amendments or new directives will only become more and more draconian. So what can you do? Well, you can sign the EDRI petition, and you can email or fax your MP or MEP and tell them that you oppose the directive. And you can blog about it. We need to get this issue out into the light so that more people - individuals, journalists, and MPs alike - become more aware of the travesty that Charles Clarke is trying to perpetrate. It only takes an objection from one of the 25 member states to stop this. It's imperative that we act in order to secure that objection. We have until 12 October 2005 - that's just eight weeks - to kick up enough of a fuss that the Justice and Home Affairs Council reject the Framework Decision (which would later turn into the Directive) at their meeting. However, their informal meeting, at which arms will be twisted and brains washed, is scheduled for 8/9 September, which is less than four weeks away. If you want to support a campaign against data retention, amongst other issues, don't forget to sign our pledge so that we can get going. __________________ Footnotes: (1) EDRI: Europarl protests against UK push for EU data retention http://www.edri.org/edrigram/number3.14/retention (2) Lists of competent bodies http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2003/20033172.htm http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2005/20051083.htm (3) Reasons for examining the data http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2000/00023--c.htm#22 (4) Alexander Nuno Alvaro's draft report http://www.europarl.eu.int/meetdocs/2004_2009/documents/DT/553/553885/553885en.pdf (5) Web Host Industry News: Data Retention Costs Too High, Say ISPs http://www.thewhir.com/marketwatch/isp121602.cfm (6) EDRI: Dutch study fails to prove usefulness and necessity data retention http://www.edri.org/edrigram/number3.13/retention (7) Wikipedia entry on the Three Pillars of the European Union http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_pillars_of_the_European_Union (8) BBC: Officer on misconduct charge http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london/3073753.stm (9) The Wellcome Trust. Loading the dice: Genes and the insurance industry http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/en/genome/geneticsandsociety/hg14f002.html (10) Statewatch: Call for mandatory data retention of all telecommunications http://www.statewatch.org/news/2005/jul/05eu-data-retention.htm Further links: New EU Commission proposal data retention (20.07.2005) http://www.edri.org/docs/EUcommissiondataretentionjuly2005.pdf Last UK prepared version of the JHA working document on data retention (29.06.2005) http://www.edri.org/docs/Data-retention-council-draft-29062005.pdf EDRI: New EU Commission proposal data retention http://www.edri.org/edrigram/number3.15/commission FIPR: Surveillance and Security http://www.fipr.org/surveillance.html Data Retention is no Solution Wiki http://wiki.dataretentionisnosolution.com:81/index.php/Main_Page Write To Them http://www.writetothem.com/ Fax Your MP http://www.faxyourmp.com/ Thanks to Danny O'Brien and Ian Brown for ongoing discussions, clarifications and pointers. (Jeeze, I don't think I've ever done thankyous at the end of a blog post before!) Originally posted at Chocolate and Vodka. , ,

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August 14, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

Grokking data retention

I can't quite believe that it's 1.30am and I'm sitting here reading up on data retention and the new directive/framework being proposed by the UK for Europe. It's really ugly stuff, and I'll blog more on it once I've got my head round it. What amazes me - in a way, although also not - is that one can go through life quite unaware of the crap that goes on. Quite blissfully unaware. Then you start to think a bit harder about what's happening, and it's like picking the scab off a wound, only to find out that it's deeper and more badly infected that you had originally thought. Suddenly, you not only feel compelled to pick off the rest of the scab, but you also start to have visions of scalpels and maggots. I've had an interest in digital rights for a while now, but with the birth of our new digital rights organisation, I am doing much more research into what's going on in the UK and Europe, and it's not pretty. Our civil rights are being eroded away from under our noses, and yet there's hardly a mention of it in the press. Everyone has learnt to call people who download music as 'pirates', even though the real pirates are the ones that run their own pressing plants in Asia and produce millions of fake CDs and DVDs. But only a tiny minority of people are aware that our right to privacy, to freedom of expression and association, our civil and human rights, are being attacked by the very people who should be protecting them. We're working pretty hard at the moment, in between such minor things as earning a living, to get our digital rights organisation into a position where we can launch when the pledge matures, and the more I look at what's going on the more eager I become to start taking action, to do something about the abuses visited upon our rights by our government, by the European Union, and by big business. Just let me at 'em. Originally posted on Chocolate and Vodka. , ,

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August 10, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

Big Brother is tracking you

Wired reports on a Department for Transport pilot scheme to test RFID chipped car numberplates here in the UK, with battery powered chips that can broadcast their identity up to 300ft. Considering that we don't have that many toll bridges or roads here, and the congestion charge is limited to London, I wonder what the justification for this would be. What problem do we have that RFID chipped plates would solve?

If they want to use RFID chips to allow people to pay bridge tolls or the congestion charge, why make them embedded in the number plate and not a hand-held device one could leave in the glove compartment or transfer from car to car? If it's about geolocation of stolen cars, well, we already have transponders you can buy that can do that for you.

So what is it about? Identifying speeding motorists as they go past speed cameras? Would the rise in income from fines justify the cost of chipping 25 million cars on our roads? Or is this about location and prosecution of tax and insurance evasion? Trouble is, the DVLA claim they can do from their desks now just by checking their database, so that's not a compelling argument either.

So let's see: The government are wasting our money testing an expensive solution that doesn't actually solve any real problems and which no one in their right minds would want. If they tell us it's for 'security' and to 'crack down on terror'... well, words fail me.

Originally posted on Chocolate and Vodka.

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July 28, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

The right to digital freedom

Danny O'Brien writes about our UK digital rights project in The Guardian today. Hopefully this will get a few more people to add their names to our pledge. In less than a week, we've managed to attract 450 people to promise their support to us, we've had emails from individuals who want to do more than just give us money, and we've had both interest and support from journalists who see a clear need for an EFF-like organisation here in the UK.

Since Saturday, I've been obsessively refreshing the PledgeBank page, watching the count go up - sometimes in increments of one, sometimes in huge bounds. The response has, I must admit, surprised me as I rather thought we'd get pledges from a few dozen of the people who were there at OpenTech, and that would be that. Instead, we have reached nearly half our target within just five days.

I suspect, however, that attracting that last 550 people will be a lot harder than persuading the first 450, which is where you come in. Somewhere out there, in the blogosphere, are another 550 people who feel passionately enough about protecting their digital freedoms that they'll support our endeavour. We just need to reach them, so if you want to support us, please blog.

Additional links: my initial post; Cory's BoingBoing post; and Danny's post about how this got going, from which:

What can you do with a monthly budge of 5000UKP a month? Well, at the risk of sounding "Just Five Pounds Will Free This Poor DRMed Document And Let It Roam Free In One of Our Free Range Open Standards", we did some back of the envelope calculations after the talk, and agreed we could do something: Probably two staffers and an office.

One would act as a media conduit. Half our problem in the UK right now is that the press just don't have anyone in their address books that they can confidently call about on these issues. As Rufus said, most of the time they just run music industry press releases as news. The biggest lesson for me with NTK was that your best way to influence the agenda, and generate support, is to generate stories, and point people to the right experts. Just having someone at the end of a phone, handing out quotes and press releases, and pro-actively calling journalists to make sure they know what's going on, putting them in contact with all the other orgs in this area in the UK, is half the work.

The rest of the job is actual activism (one person can do a lot, if they don't need to cram all their white paper writing, research, and lobbying between contract coding sessions, and finishing their university degree) and bootstrapping more funding.

UPDATE: We're also now on BBCi. Pretty good level of interest for a project that currently doesn't even have a name.

Originally posted on Chocolate and Vodka.

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July 23, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

Defending digital rights in the UK

I've had a few meetings with Danny O'Brien from the Electronic Frontier Foundation over the last few weeks, talking about the possibility of starting some sort of EFF-like organisation in the UK and generally volunteering myself to assist. At the moment, the digital rights activist community in the UK is somewhat fragmented and I believe that there's a real need to provide to the organisations that exist some tools with which to share knowledge and encourage collaboration, and to draw new people into the various related debates.

We started the debate today with the Where's the British EFF? panel discussion at OpenTech, and a straw poll of the audience at the end showed that there is support for such an organisation. After the session was over, Danny set up a pledge drive on Pledgebank, in order to raise some money to get things moving.

"I will create a standing order of 5 pounds per month to support an organisation that will campaign for digital rights in the UK but only if 1000 other people will too."

- Danny O'Brien

Already we have 20 people signed up - just another 980 to go before 25 Dec 05. If you believe that we need to protect out digital rights here in the UK (and Europe) then please do make that pledge.

I'm really very excited about being a part of this. Over the last year I've got more and more involved in copyright and digital rights activism, and I'm delighted to have the opportunity to do more.

Originally posted at Chocolate and Vodka.

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July 23, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

OpenTech 2005

Here at OpenTech 2005, feeling very much in my natural habitat: surrounded by fellow geeks. Although a bout of delayed jetlag knocked me out a little this morning and I spent the second session sitting in the hallway talking to Alan Connor, who was suffering dreadfully from a hangover and thus was pretty much in the same state of mind as I.

The session I chaired, Practical Open Content (with Rufus Pollack, Paula le Dieu, Steve Coast and Tom Chance - thanks guys!), went pretty well I think. We discussed various open content projects, including Science Commons, Remix Reading, Free Culture UK and Open Street Maps, and the various issues faced by them. It was all videoed, and as usual I feel a bit of a loss about what was said because I was so busy concentrating on it that I can't remember it. I'm sure someone somewhere took notes, but it was a good discussion with interesting questions from the audience.

Because I'm feeling a bit tired, I haven't taken notes of everything. In fact, there's just the BBC Backstage launch and the discussion about launching a British/European version of the EFF. I'm sure that others have taken notes, so maybe try the Opentech tag on Technorati. Oh, and don't forget the Essential OpenTech 2005 Primer, which is just ace.

BBC Backstage
Ben Metcalfe announced the official launch of BBC Backstage, wherein the BBC make various bits of their content available for non-commercial use - as they put it 'use our stuff to build your stuff'. He went through a bunch of slides explaining what sort of stuff they are releasing and how, and what sort of stuff you might like to think about building with their stuff.

Really cool examples:

- Dynamite, which is a site remixing BBC Travel news, local news, Flickr, weather and Google maps. Ubercool.
- BBC News Front Page Archive, which shows every change made to the front page of the BBC News site, e.g. the archive of July 7th. (Related fact: BBCi was fielding 50,000 hits a second yesterday.)
- Rebotcast Reads BBC News, which is a podcast of a bot reading the news

He also announced a competition for BBC Backstage developers, to encourage people to come up with prototypes that demonstrate new uses for the BBC's programme schedule data and win actual real prizes such as a server. Geek bling!

Should there be a British EFF?
Ian Brown, Rufus Pollock, Danny O'Brien, Cory Doctorow

Missed Ian's short talk, sorry.

Rufus, has worked with FFII, UKCDR, Friends of the Creative Domain. But rather go through the organisations, why we are having these discussions because these issues that relate to the knowledge economy are suddenly becoming very important. Similar to the environmental issues from the 60s onwards when it became important. So there is a whole spectrum of groups who are working in that area - there is no single solution to how we organise activism and policy etc. Those of us here believe in an open approach but there's not a lot of representation, e.g. at a political level, and in the media they are not taking both sides of the debate. At the basic level, we need to have a group that people, e.g. journalists, know they can call. FFII does get calls, but that's only just started happening. But we need a spectrum of people - extremists and the guys who cut the deal are required, we need people to say XYZ is unacceptable, to stir things up, and the people who then actually do the deal.

Cory, from the American EFF. EFF is not a legal defence organisation, but they take very narrow cases which can change the law. They have no funding or resources to be a defence organisation, although they have contacts. EFF didn't start out to be an impact litigator. It was founded and funded by some people who wanted to defend people in need, so they hired attorneys and it developed from there. Do grassroots organisation, work on policy/standards/treaties and lobbying, but what we don't do very well is grassroots stuff that goes beyond letter writing and sending us a cheque. There's a real concern that if there were chapters of the EFF that they would stray from the EFF's position and could end up in court arguing against themselves. Are now leading some free software project, but need other things, say for designers, and any UK organisation needs to consider that. Cory is the entire EFF staff in all of Europe. Often bad laws are created by a sort of too-fro process by edging things forward on two fronts. Cory is here to work on the issues where American laws might have an impact on European laws. In the States, had a big victory for the Broadcast Flag, but in Europe there is a similar initiative that goes further than the Broadcast Flag did, and that's the sort of thing that a European/UK activist group should be addressing. You don't need to be a geek to understand some of these issues.

Questions from Danny: What works and what's missing?

Ian - what doesn't work is membership organisations, and things such as FIPR or No To ID which is a single issue thing and costs only £10-£15 to join, haven't been successful. It's not that people don't like joining (look at Greenpeace or the RSPB), but for some reason these things haven't worked as well as in the US. Activism in terms getting people to write to MPs for e.g., doesn't seem to work either, and when people write it doesn't really work in getting MPs to change their mind if it goes contrary to party line. Lobbying is better, e.g. House of Lords are far more interested in digital ID than the House of Commons, especially Labour MPs.

Rufus - potential approaches, we are lucky that we care about something and that's what motivates people. Abstract issues are difficult, but concrete things involve people. Pitch actual examples to the grassroots, not the concepts, e.g. all software developers would be affected by software patents, but open source people were the most involved in the campaign to resist them. So getting people engaged is to look for people who are affected. Often membership organisations bootstrap from donations, although often membership orgs don't pay their own way. Will be difficult to run a policy organisation on volunteers - activists yes, but not policy. If you're doing to talk to the government and press you need funding, which is hard to get in the UK. Can provide a community and try to grow it, but without funding it's difficult.

Cory - EFF doesn't take government money. Here think tanks can get money, but activists can't. EFF has built coalitions with other activists groups and that works very well. Appeals to the constitution also works, e.g. with strong crypto they used a free speech argument which worked rather than the arguments about technical issues. Human rights issues are very strong and powerful. There is the European Court of Human Rights, and it overrides local law and it's important to look at that, because young lawyers will do it for free. Letter writing campaign, even duplicative letters, work in the US. If you get someone to write a letter, even a duplicative letter, introduces them to actually doing something. Appealing to industry does not work in the US.

Danny - Money's what's missing. Historically, every few years the idea of organising a big thing comes up. Danny's done this and money is lacking.

Stef Magdalinski - We can do a lot without money, theyworkforyou cost £2k, and has gone round the dot.com millionaires and asked for money and they just vanish. Having given up on the UK guys, the US guys have made their money globally and shouldn't we ask them to fund a global project.

Danny - there's more than just dot.com billionaires, there are organisations that are in this area. But because we are used to doing this on a shoelace, and there's no access to these people.

Richard Alan - Ex-MP. Was in the house of commons. Letter writing does work. Any MP that got 100 letters on an issue would act. Making it concrete is important, you have to make things relevant to people, say 'this is what will happen to your constituents', then that is concrete. Money is important and has been lacking. Another thing is about liberty, because although we have a Liberty, they muddy the waters by focusing on human rights.

The Rest
Back in the hallway, mainly cos their's wifi here. Probably not going to take anymore notes, but has been a damn good day.

Originally posted on Strange Attractor.

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