Thursday, 10 May 2012

Will Net Neutrality Laws Save Us From Surveillance?

Ah, surveillance. That wonderful safety net that'll save us from the terrorists, child molesters, bootleggers and all kinds of... what? You mean it won't? But the government says so! And they're always right, aren't they?

Proposals to expand the surveillance state meet with resistance

I wrote last night to MP Hazel Blears to complain about the Communications Capabilities Development Programme bill. A month ago, I sent her an email to complain about the media mentions of it and this was her response:

Whilst I understand the Government is under a duty to act to protect the public, it is also important that both people and organisations are able to communicate without fear of interference and unnecessary surveillance.

As you will be aware, there is currently no legislation before Parliament proposing this measure. It has been suggested in reports that legislation on the matter may be introduced in the Queen's speech, which is due to be given in early May.

Once I have seen the content of any such legislation, I will of course be more than happy to offer my opinion on it, and let you know how I plan to vote. However as I am sure you will understand I am reluctant to comment on the potential content of any piece of legislation before it has been placed in front of Parliament.

Yesterday, the Queen's Speech laid out the CCDP proposals. When the tech blogs got hold of them, they pulled them apart.

Industry insiders met at the Scrambling for Safety conference last week to voice their concerns.

“The Home Office is trying to pretend that the CCDP is a brand new idea,” said a spokeswoman for Privacy International in advance of the conference, “[But] the principle is the same [as the Intercept Modernisation Programme]: the government should have the right to intercept everyone’s communications, all of the time, without the inconvenient requirement of judicial warrants.”

The danger is that this data will be held for data mining purposes, according to Conservative MP David Davies. He says that his colleagues in Parliament aren’t numerate enough to understand the risks of false positives and the Base Rate Fallacy.

“Do you remember Forest Gate?” he prompts, referring to the 2006 police raid. “Somebody got shot as a result of completely false information. There will be many, many more Forest Gates if we allow this to go through.” - Input/Output UK

The Register referred to the bill as "snooping" and poured scorn on the lack of technical detail and promise of safeguards.

The Queen told politicos and peers in the House of Lords:

My government intends to bring forward measures to maintain the ability of the law enforcement and intelligence agencies to access vital communications data under strict safeguards to protect the public, subject to scrutiny of draft clauses.

It's unclear if those "strict safeguards" mean that a warrant, for example, would be needed before spooks could access such data. The rough proposal appeared to only fuzzily indicate that such protection for British citizens would be provided, however.

Even the Coalition Government's partners, the Liberal Democrats, were unimpressed by the idea that internet surveillance would save us from the FUD bogeymen:

Although not many people talk about it, the technology – known to insiders as LPTRM – has already been used in some cases of terrorism, by some paedophiles and also by organised crime gangs. One reason for LPTRM’s popularity in those circles is that it is an extremely reliable and easy to use technology. It can be used with a wide range of encryption – including the equivalent of one-time pads. In the absence of human error or similar, such encryption cannot be cracked by even GCHQ and the NSA combined. - Mark Pack, Liberal Democrat Voice

Mark was referring to snail mail. Apparently, people still use it. Nick Pickles of Big Brother Watch told the Daily Mail,

Instead of scaremongering, the Home Office should come forward and engage with the debate about how we improve public safety, rather than pursue a policy that will indiscriminately spy on everyone online while the real threats are driven underground and escape surveillance.

Last year's Strategic Defence and Security Review makes for interesting reading in the context of all this. Although there are mentions of "cybersecurity," there are no specific mentions of intellectual property rights although they do speak of attacks. They've also mentioned increasing civil liberties. I wonder if they've forgotten it? I also wonder if "an outward-facing European Union that promotes security and prosperity" is anything to do with ACTA. There are several mentions of bilateral and multilateral treaties, after all. And cooperating with the private sector with regard to security.

Make no mistake, though, there's a huge difference between actual security and security theatre. The USA's TSA are increasingly coming under fire for wasting money and resources and acting unprofessionally, and reports of police brutality vie with each other over which is more outrageous in an environment in which violence towards the people they are supposed to serve and protect is considered to be normal. Do we really want this madness over here?

Net neutrality and the brewing revolution

In 2009, Iceland was caught up in the global meltdown and instead of bailing out its banks like everybody else, it let them fail, then arrested the bankers and hauled former prime minister Geir Haarde into court to face charges of negligence. He's been convicted of one and will face no punishment. Then it crowdsourced a new constitution and started all over again. Its continuing recovery and revolutionary approach to the world's financial crisis has a lot of people wondering why other countries don't do the same.

Actually, the world financial crisis continues and many people on this side of the Atlantic are unwilling to accept the austerity status quo because it simply doesn't work. Meanwhile, in cyberspace, the Dutch have decided to pass a new net neutrality law. Provisions include

  • protecting users against disconnection and wiretapping by providers except in special circumstances

  • prohibiting internet providers from interfering with the traffic of their users

  • allowances for traffic management in case of congestion and for network security, as long as these measures serve the interests of the internet user

The Netherlands is actually the first country in Europe to do this. Chile was the first country in the world to sign net neutrality into law.

The Pirate Party has been making gains all over Europe. They actually have a mayor in Germany, who is no longer an independent.

Governmental overreach is being challenged

Across the pond, Congress is questioning the seizure and return of hip hop website Recently unsealed court documents point to the RIAA as being behind it. Senator Ron Wyden clearly understood what's going on and told Techdirt:

The domain name seizures show that some agencies in the Obama administration care more about the interests of Hollywood studios and the big record labels than due process, transparency, and accountability. It is hard to believe that ICE and DOJ had Dajaz1's Fifth amendment rights in mind when they seized their property and held it for more than a year without ever being able to build a case.

Meanwhile, in the courts, New York City's District Attorney has attempted to subpoena information from Twitter regarding the account of Malcolm Harris, one of the 700 people arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge in an October 2011 Occupy Wall Street protest. Despite being ordered to comply with the subpoena, Twitter is having none of it.

A federal appeals court in Chicago recently blocked the enforcement of a law forbidding recording a police officer at work. Activists hailed the move, which removed the risk of a prison sentence of up to fifteen years for filming police activity at protests and rallies.

But some people are too entrenched in their positions to learn from their mistakes

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, in which the White House IP Czar, Victoria Espinel, suggested that voluntary agreements between rightsholders and money transfer companies to stem counterfeiting and unauthorized online distribution appeared to be working, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy said legislation is still needed.

Yesterday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder rolled out a new government-backed public relations campaign on television, radio, and the internet to get the word out about the dangers of buying counterfeit goods and the seriousness of "intellectual property theft," he said at the press conference. Don't worry, peeps, McGruff the Crime Dog is all over it and there's a FUD-filled video, which aims to both "warn" and "educate." Six major movie studios will begin using the new copyright notices this week.

The results of a U.S. and state government IT survey released this week by the public sector IT community MeriTalk have revealed that the government, in its unfettered zeal to collect any and all information, has actually got so much that it can't process it properly. This is the result of it having been collected in an unfiltered format and it's waiting for someone - anyone - to claim it and write viable applications for it.

Three days ahead of the elections in North Rhein-Westphalia, Germany’s largest and most populous state, the Piratenpartei's election program is being actively censored in schools, under the category "illegal drugs," apparently because the German Pirate Party wants to change the law to regulate, rather than prohibit, cannabis. Party Founder Rick Falkvinge is not amused.

And finally...


The Forbes article I quoted earlier has been updated. Accordingly, I've updated this section. HBO co-president Eric Kessler said in a video interview that HBO relies on television subscriptions for the bulk of its income and the idea of catering to a broadband-only market is not economically viable because the US market isn't big enough. He appears to have forgotten about the rest of us. More on this in my next post.


Net neutrality laws may yet save us from more of the above, but what we really need is intellectual property rights (IPR) reform so it's not just us being saved from governmental overreach, but Big Content — from its own stupidity and backward thinking.

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