call +44 20 7096 1079


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.

, ,

[Read more] (8 comments)

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.

, ,

[Read more]

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.

, ,

[Read more]

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 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 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.


[Read more]

google plusdeliciousdiggfacebookgooglelinkedinstumbleupontwitteremail