Saturday, 23 April 2016

How Reputation Affects Legislation

Debating cartoon by Wendy Cockcroft
I hate being told what to do by people who don't care about me. It's why I'm anti-authoritarian despite the fact that I'm socially conservative. I firmly believe in the importance of the rule of law but we'll only have that if the law is upheld and the Twofold Principle

The individual must be free to act and the will of the people must be respected.

is at the heart of law-making. When it's not, legislation can actually cause more problems than it solves. I've discovered some examples of this recently.

The internet has no borders

Every major government is trying to regulate the internet in some way, shape, or form, the result of which is that the rest of us are forever finding ways to route around their efforts to control us. And if it's not the governments, it's media bosses or copyright holders, etc. Sometimes, to my vast amusement, these crash into each other.

Ad blockers

I love Techdirt and quote from it all the time because it's basically my tech tabloid; the news is posted in an easy-to-read writing style in digestible chunks. It's where I get most of my tech information from. While Mike Masnick realises that he's got to make money to pay his staff, etc., and is always looking for new sources of revenue, he also realises that ads can and do annoy people so he's absolutely fine with people using ad blockers to peruse his excellent website. Besides, as staff writer Karl Bode pointed out, ads can and do eat into your data allotment if you're browsing the internet on a mobile device.

The thing about ad blockers is that they block malware, including trackers, etc. Per privacy activist Alexander Hanff, this is actually breaking EU privacy laws.
He got a bit of a hammering for it on Twitter, but on Techdirt Mike Masnick says:

Hanff has made it clear that he's going to use this "opinion" from the EU Commission to go after a ton of websites using anti-ad block systems:
Of course, from the sound of things, if Hanff is correct in his analysis, this could make things trickier for EU sites that want to use anti-ad-block software, as they'd have to first get users' consent, and give them some level of control (possibly allowing them to just bypass the ad blocker check entirely). - Guy Argues That Anti-Ad Blocker Systems Violate EU Privacy Laws, by Mike Masnick for Techdirt

The anti-adblocker software in use on Forbes and Wired is already eating into their readership. It's pretty damn hard to read Computerworld articles for the same reason. I don't see what the big deal is, anyway. Once you find a way around the anti-adblockers and view the content, you don't immediately click on all the ads you see before you. Then, when you've purged your PC they can't even use whatever information they gleaned from your visit there, so why bother? As I've said any number of times, your own conduct does more to influence your reputation than anything else, and this is yet another proof. Anti-adblockers have a bad reputation; people perceive them as an intrusive nuisance at best, a corporate surveillance tool at worst. And in the EU, Google has a bad reputation.

VPNs and privacy tools

We use VPNs at work for security. They protect you from tracking and for the most part enable an anonymous browsing experience. Well, that's the theory. What with encryption being under fire and efforts being made to undermine our privacy at every point by our own governments, don't be surprised to find that VPNs are up for grabs, too.
If you read through the comments on this tweet you'll find that the Chinese are working on a takeover of Opera software, which makes the browser and the VPN embedded in it. Reuters confirmed this on Thursday 21st April. Now the Chinese have a reputation for attempting to Censor All The Things! so imagine the fun to be had when Opera users browse the internet, not realising that Chinese Big Brother is watching them. For those who do, game over. They will switch to a less intrusive system. In government, encryption and VPN use has a reputation of being used by the Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse. This, they claim, is why they're trying to ban it. Butter the popcorn, people: Western governments perpetuating the reputation of China being hostile to freedom of expression, etc., will have to shut up about the evils of privacy tools, shut up about China's all-encompassing surveillance, or carry out some impressive gymnastics in sophistry to justify their own hypocrisy in attempting to enact laws that impact on our personal privacy.


Over at Ars Technica, we have been warned about the UK government's push to increase the severity of punishments for unauthorised filesharing.

The UK government has confirmed that it wants to bring in legislation increasing the maximum sentence for online copyright infringement to 10 years of imprisonment, despite widespread objections and doubts about its feasibility. - UK ploughs ahead with plan for 10-year jail term for online file sharing, by Glyn Moody for Ars Technica

There are reputational reasons for this:

  1. copyright is increasingly being treated like tangible property
  2. infringement is being treated as actual theft
  3. the UK government is committed to expanding copyright due to FTA commitments

When people believe things to be true because the idea appeals to their personal prejudices (particularly where money is concerned) it's very hard to convince them otherwise. I've had personal experience of the all-pervasive influence of the copyright lobby: a personal friend actually told me that copyright ought to be treated in exactly the same way as physical property. He changed the subject when I asked about title deeds for emails and blog posts, since under the law this blog post is copyright. However, even a brief reading of the history of copyright will tell you that it's always been temporary and is not actual property. We also know due to the information that's been made available to us that CETA and TTIP demand extra "protection" for copyright, so our government is under the cosh and it knows we know it's under the cosh, so expect the stupidity to continue.

International considerations

That laws differ from country to country is a given. The fun starts when one country tries to trump the laws of another country using FTAs such as CETA and TTIP. Or when the wrong president gets elected because We the People are sick of the same old neoliberal policies that come in two flavours: Culture Wars and War or less war. Again, it's a reputational thing and once you understand it, the lulz keep coming till the laws are enacted and then it's your problem, too.

Hate makes strange bedfellows 

To my vast amusement, the avowed enemies of certain groups are finding themselves singing from the same hymn sheet with regard to the hot button issues, e.g. radical neofeminists + right wing religious authoritarians. Now I'm finding that people who don't like President Obama are a heck of a lot less keen on the idea of President Trump. Recently, there was a debate in Parliament about the possibility of banning him from Britain. Bearing in mind the fact that saying rude things on the internet can get you arrested and he doesn't have diplomatic immunity as far as I know, this is for his own good. In fact, Britain has quite the reputation for this, so don't be surprised if he ever gets invited over here but says, "I'll pass." Mind you, that privilege is reserved for the plebs; Boris Johnson, who has a reputation for racism, seems to get a free pass when it comes to having Plod knock on the door. What makes me laugh here is I know Johnson doesn't like Trump, but maybe it's because they have so much in common, he's been mistaken for the other fellow. Now imagine those men, whose reputation for buffoonery exceeds their actual buffoonery, making the laws that affect us. Funnily enough, it may not be so bad. The Brexit brigade may well save us from TTIP by exasperating the Americans and Trump is against it on protectionist grounds. Which puts anti-FTA campaigners on side with these two? The mind boggles.

When authoritarians collide

There's nothing like an international heavyweight bust-up to get the popcorn popping, the beer in the cooler, and the deckchairs out so we can watch the show in comfort. While I'm not a fan of Libertarians in general on account of their anti-democratic tendencies, it's got to be said that when they are right, they are right. And Simon Lester of the Cato Institute is certainly right that if Canada makes marijuana sales legal, this could trickle into the liquor and pharma trades, thereby ending up with ammo from CETA or TTIP to sue governments that keep the stuff illegal. Whatever your stance is on the War on Drugs, it'll be rendered moot since FTAs trump democracy via investor-state provisions and the threat of being sued. So you might as well get the popcorn out and gleefully watch as the moral panic machine knocks seven bells out of the corporate profits at all costs faction. At the heart of this is reputation: criticising capitalism is widely regarded as heresy while the moral panic party want us all to worry about the effects of narcotics on our sanity, etc.


It's important to note the role of reputation in legislation because it's what so often underpins the choices being made. That what people believe and what is actually true makes the difference between good and bad law. This is why the democratic process is important: if we leave law-making to authoritarians we can't be sure of which authoritarians will be making the rules by which we live, or whether they'll be basing their policies on empiricism or ideology.

No comments:

Post a Comment