Tuesday, 13 March 2012

FUD For Thought: Why We're Going All 1984

Fear, Uncertainty, and its grubby little brother Doubt have been roped in by Big Business to take over the Western world and turn it into one big surveillance state. You can either zombie into it or use the democratic process to stop the madness. Who's with me? And why the flippin' 'eck is it happening in the first place?

Sometimes I worry about what people think when I go on yet another rant about the surveillance state, saving the internet, and leg it, quick! The IP trolls are coming!!!?111! As a moderate, I like to check my facts on various sources to make sure they're correct because it's embarrassing to be called out for being wrong. I actually don't spend my life wearing a tinfoil hat and predicting the end of the internet, I just want to tell people that

a) the internet as we know it is being taken over by US interests and this will will probably either curtail or break it because the internet works by connecting people. If they keep shutting websites down, sooner or later they'll block whole countries, or websites from those countries that aren't all unicorns and rainbows about them. That's censorship, and that is very, very bad. The good news is that people are aware of this and are dealing with it. We need to help and support the digital rights groups in any way possible.

b) You can't IP troll your way out of a financial mess. Silicon Valley is a war zone at the moment with all the major companies bickering like kids over patents. The trouble with patents is that they cross over in such a way that even if you're not directly copying them, you can still get sued. Even if you want to do your best to be original and not infringe, actually tracking down each patent on things that might be similar to yours is very hard to do because there are so many of them. There are companies whose whole raison d'ĂȘtre is to sue other companies for patent infringement, real or imagined. That madness is on its way over here in the form of ACTA, which is in danger of being frozen and thawed out in a couple of years when they think we've forgotten about it.

c) The minute anyone starts yelling and screaming about exploding terrorist pyjamas, please commence laughter. Do NOT, under any circumstances, take them seriously.

d) Some people, namely politicians and Eurocrats, are eating the FUD. This is possibly because they're getting fat on the FUD, or at least their wallets are. Or they're really thick and they believe that FUD is food and good for eating. No, Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Intensive Security: suck it up or the terrorists will win!

Yesterday's Guardian has an alarming report on Lockdown London. If you live in the Olympic area, this is what's happening:

In addition to the concentration of sporting talent and global media, the London Olympics will host the biggest mobilisation of military and security forces seen in the UK since the second world war. More troops – around 13,500 – will be deployed than are currently at war in Afghanistan.

During the Games an aircraft carrier will dock on the Thames. Surface-to-air missile systems will scan the skies... RAF Typhoon Eurofighters will fly from RAF Northolt. A thousand armed US diplomatic and FBI agents and 55 dog teams will patrol an Olympic zone partitioned off from the wider city by an 11-mile, £80m, 5,000-volt electric fence.

Uh, why? Are they planning to go all Syria on us? How exactly is any of that going to prevent terrorism? I'm glad I don't live in London any more. Apparently, the big security contractors have been raking it in since 9/11 by playing on peoples' fears of "the terrorists," warning them that in order to be safe, you need to turn entire countries into fortified prisons for the good of the people. Which ones? The rich ones, of course. The rest of us don't seem to count. Meanwhile I find myself asking if anyone currently in jail will be able to spot the difference when they come out.

The police seem to think it's a great thing, but have crime rates gone down? Erm, no. As I said, all that security is not for ordinary people's benefit at all. They're spending obscene amounts of taxpayer money on people who can absolutely afford to pay for it themselves. It's not fair. Use the service provided by Write to them to contact your MP about this.

Internet surveillance to catch paedophiles copyright infringers

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last three months, you can't have failed to notice the furious tsunami of outrage on the internet as the major social media, comedy, and knowledge sites — all the really popular ones — went nuts over PIPA and SOPA. These were US bills drafted with Big Content in mind, the idea being to speed up the takedowns of websites suspected of infringing copyright and enacting draconian laws to punish people for what is really ordinary internet use.

Just when we thought we'd seen them off, it transpired that this was just the beginning of the cyber wars. In the red corner is Big Content, who are encouraging the US government to take control of the internet in their interests. ICANN, which is supposed to be neutral, is actually enabling and facilitating this. I kid you not, they recently issued a "thought paper" (they mean, "how-to guide") on dealing with website takedowns. America used to be the home of the brave and the land of the free. Now it's the land of "Do what you're told, buddy. We're watching you!"

Kids get hauled into the head's office and are forced to divulge their FB passwords. Ditto prospective employees. Anything you tweet will be taken down and used as evidence against you so you can forget that trip to Disneyland. And for the love of God, don't link to unauthorized content, e.g. pirate streaming websites, or our dearly beloved government will hand you over to the US authorities with barely a squeak of protest.

The new thing is to FUD any and all surveillance legislation. If they can scare us with with the notion that the Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse are after us, and it's all right, they'll save us, we'll go along with it. The fact that what they're doing ain't effective in terms of actually dealing with terrorists, money launderers, hackers or child pornographers either hasn't occurred to them, in which case we have to educate them, or it has and they're in the IP trolls' pockets. I haven't decided which, yet, but I'm busily educating my own MP, Hazel Blears, by sending her emails that explain why the Digital Economy Act is an IP trolls' paradise and needs to be repealed, stat, before it completes its job of handing over British businesses to US Big Business. And it will, since our ISPs are being made to monitor us and they can't police us all. She could save me a lot of grief by just reading Techdirt every day, but since she doesn't even use her Twitter account, that's not going to happen, is it?

The new thing is to try to push legislation through under the guise of, "It's all for the kids." In Canada and the USA they're using child pornography as an excuse even though there's nothing in those bills specifically aimed at stopping child pornographers. It's just that it's generally seen to be political death to refuse to support any laws aimed at saving kids from perverts. The good news is, the internet is wise to it and fighting like mad to head these authoritarians off at the pass.

Patent trolling to create jobs

One of the worst excuses given for the draconian legislation being pushed to protect IP is that it creates jobs. Yeah, for enforcers like Righthaven, who are now in liquidation because the whole point of their business is to sue other people for patent infringement, real or imagined. They're going under because they kept losing their cases.

Other companies make money from licensing their products, like Britain's own ARM. They've been whinging about an anti-business culture in this country for some strange reason, before going off on a bragging tangent. They spend a fair amount of time in court enforcing their patents on their microchips, and actually make the things, but they're not the only ones who seem to spend about as much time litigating as innovating.

Now they're in the process of exporting that mess to emerging economies that can ill afford it. Thankfully, the pressure from digital rights groups is waking people up and they're starting to fight back and say no.

Are jobs really created? In enforcement companies. The losers get shut down so it can be argued that IP enforcement is bad for economies and sets up a Darwinian situation in which only the strong survive. Laws on IP enforcement have been aimed at locking down the internet and all sources of content and products so that the producers control it from start to finish. This goes against the free market that requires an easy supply and well-stoked demand to make it work properly. We also need a moneyed middle class who can actually afford to purchase all that stuff and, well, employ the peons who make it. This can't happen in the Dickensian future they're building.

What we need

I have never heard of an authoritarian society in which there was a massive economic growth spurt that made everybody better off. As a matter of fact, free societies with little if any personal regulation tend to do better economically because the people are motivated and there's nothing to stop them from innovating. Put the brakes on personal freedom and any technological advances that take place are used to keep the rich apart from the poor and they have to import what they need because they can't produce it themselves. It doesn't work.

What we need is IP reform, now, and to tell the foreign fear-mongers we're not eating the FUD any more. Then we can all sit back and watch the dosh roll in. And there will be enough to go around, because that's what it's like in a free society. If you want to make that happen, contact your MP and ask him or her to repeal the Digital Economy Act, then get hold of your MEP to ask them to get ACTA thrown out of Europe. After that you'll need to correspond with your representatives on every level to encourage them to make sensible laws that don't treat each citizen as a potential criminal. It won't happen by itself, it's up to you, and every voice counts. Come on, Internet, let's be having you!

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