Tuesday, 1 July 2014

What Is Right, What Is Legal, And Why It Matters

The above tweet is important because one of the replies to it throws open a Pandora's Box of unintended consequences. But then, I believe in the rule of law. When you think the rule of law either doesn't apply to you or is a voluntary arrangement in which you arbitrarily decide which laws to obey, it's not going to occur to you to check your bedfellows to ensure they don't have fleas as long as they agree with you.

We must uphold the rule of law

As I've said I don't know how many times, I'm basically conservative and one of the cornerstones of my (moderate) conservatism is an unwavering belief in the importance of upholding the rule of law. It's not right when our government decides that due process is an impediment to justice, and it sure ain't right when we do so, mostly because it leaves us with no standing to complain about it when it happens to us.

So where does Snowden fit in all of this? I contend that he was upholding the US Constitution, the highest law of his country, and as a patriotic act, he exposed the unconstitutional malfeasance of his government, as was his legal duty per his oath of allegiance. That Snowden will no doubt be watching his back for the rest of his life while being excoriated in some sections of the media as a traitor to his nation is nothing like the threat of being punished for pirating software or movies because the nasty ol' distributors won't let the market set the price of their offerings.

Can the Pirate Party take its place in government?

I'm pleased to see that Pirates are getting into office but the fact that we've got no one in Parliament over here yet tells me we're not being seen as the solution. Being in Parliament would give us a say in law-making. It's the difference between being a noisy special interest group and a serious contender to watch out for.

Can people who break the law make the law? As long as we're being depicted like this, we've got no chance at gaining the momentum UKIP has. They're organised and have the media's attention, whatever they say. We need to get that. They're not afraid to stand up for their views. Neither are we, but we have yet to capture the public imagination by portraying our agenda as their problem, which we could solve if they'd only go and vote for us.

Now personally, I think that promoting middle-out economics and decrying the waste of taxpayers' money on the surveillance state and subsidies for the very rich — while they struggle — would be more likely to get people on side than discussing surveillance being invasive and calling for IPR to be reformed to spur investment. Unfortunately, the powers that be ain't us, and they own the narrative on IPR. We need to board their ship and plunder it of narrative power so that our story is the one being told; IPR is bad for business by limiting who can innovate.

When what is legal is wrong

As I said, I believe in the rule of law, and one of the laws I'm keen on is the Data Protection Act, which, in theory, prevents my data from being misused. I was alerted via a retweet from Glyn Moody that something wicked — in the shape of "Midata" — this way comes.

midata is a voluntary programme the Government is undertaking with industry, which over time will give consumers increasing access to their personal data in a portable, electronic format.

Isn't that nice of them? "Industry" gets first call on it, of course, but then we will get "increasing access" to our personal data in a portable, electronic format. But the Data Protection Act says, in Section 7: Right of access to personal data.

(1) ...an individual is entitled—
(c)to have communicated to him in an intelligible form—
(i)the information constituting any personal data of which that individual is the data subject, and
(ii)any information available to the data controller as to the source of those data

Read it again: we already have the right to see all data being held about us and learn who is holding it, and to receive that information in an intelligible form. It's actually easier and more convenient to receive it in a digital format than to print off loads of paper and post it. These people want to trickle it down to us in digital format, selling it as a benefit that empowers us when it actually empowers others at our expense.

Market populism, the idea that markets are a far more democratic form of organization than democratically elected governments is thereby exposed as nonsense: the truth is, we on the demand side don't have the power the supply side has. "Take it or leave it" isn't much of a choice, and unless there is a massive consumer backlash against the participating companies, pretty much everyone will go along with this latest insult to our personal sovereignty with barely a whimper of complaint, damning the rest of us to suffer with them.

The right to be forgotten on search engines

As has been pointed out in Techdirt many times, the EU's Right To Be Forgotten laws can only problems via censorship as people have links to information they don't want to show up in search results removed from them because this doesn't remove them from the sites where they are held.
Welcome to Google’s new blanket notice that all name-based searches are now subject to censorship... 

Notices, according to a source familiar with how Google is handling these, are supposed to appear for any non-celebrity names, when someone does a search using one of Google’s EU-specific search engines. For example, here’s one from a search at Google UK:

That’s for a search for “emily white,” which is a fairly common name in the UK. Which Emily White asked for content to be removed? There’s no way to really know. And, in fact, no Emily White may have made a request at all.
...Our source says that Google is trying to avoid singling out any individual, so by putting notices for all names, that’s prevented.

Hat tip to Steve Lodge.

Now imagine the problems that Emily White would have if she had a web-based business that used her name. A right to be forgotten request by someone else called Wendy Cockcroft would cause massive problems for me. I'm trying to make money off my website by selling advertising and for that I need eyeballs, which would be denied me in search results in the EU edition of Google and Bing, etc. That's the problem.

What is right is not always the same as what is legal. What is legal is not always the same as what is right. The trick is to learn what the difference is and apply it where appropriate.

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