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ISS migrates to Linux

Laptops for crew use on the International Space Station (ISS) are being migrated from Windows to Linux, the Linux Foundation reports.

image of International Space Station
International Space Station – now powered by penguins (as well as solar)

The reason for the migration, given by Keith Chuvala of United Space Alliance, a NASA contractor deeply involved in Space Shuttle and ISS operations was as follows:

We migrated key functions from Windows to Linux because we needed an operating system that was stable and reliable – one that would give us in-house control. So if we needed to patch, adjust or adapt, we could.

The laptops will be running Debian and those currently running Scientific Linux, a Red Hat Enterprise Linux clone, will likewise be converted to Debian, according to ZDNet.

Reposted from the chief scribe’s blog.

W3C takes a step nearer the Hollyweb; FSF responds

image with caption Stop DRM in HTML5
Hollyweb? No thanks, W3C!
The W3C, the organisation responsible for web standards (which have so far been open standards. Ed.), has taken a step away from openness now that the HTML Working Group has announced their decision to release a First Public Working Draft of the Encrypted Media Extension (EME) specification and a statement has also been released by W3C CEO Jeff Jaffe justifying the Working Group’s decision. The proposal, which is supported by the entertainment industry and the likes of Netflix, Google, and Microsoft, would endorse and facilitate use of proprietary Digital Rights Management (DRM) in HTML and thus would have a dramatic impact on streaming audio and video on the Web, as well as the development of open source software such as web browsers.

At the end of April, Defective by Design and a coalition of 26 other organisations, including Bristol Wireless, publicly opposed the proposal in a letter to the W3C (news passim). Last week, on International Day Against DRM, Defective by Design delivered tens of thousands of signatures opposing the proposal and continues to collect petition signatures.

In response to the W3c’s announcement, the Free Software Foundation‘s executive director John Sullivan has issued the following statement:

We and the 26,000 concerned individuals who signed Defective by Design’s petition so far are extremely disappointed in the W3C’s statement today. The situation is actually worse than we thought, because the W3C now appears to be bizarrely insisting that Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) is a necessary component of a free Web. We were under the impression that the standardized Web was meant to be a structure that mitigated against holders of particular proprietary technologies bullying Web users and developers, or extracting royalties from them as preconditions for participation. If companies want to do such bullying, they can do it on their own time and their own dime; the W3C should not help them or endorse them. In this statement, the W3C unfortunately hitches its wagon to the contentious and frankly irrelevant empirical claim that DRM is key to what Microsoft during the Vista launch referred to as a ‘next generation content experience.’ In adopting the doublespeak of the Hollyweb, the W3C is betraying the interests Web users have in experiencing the amazing universe of human culture enabled by the Internet. Instead, they are backing the desire of Netflix, Google, and Microsoft, to capture those users in media silos with walls enforced by proprietary software and criminal law like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (and similar laws around the world). Despite the W3C’s claim to have listened, we do not feel heard. We will step up our efforts to stop them from committing this terrible error, including issuing a comprehensive refutation of this statement’s reasoning.

Snooper’s Charter: the undead rise again

Yesterday the world witnessed an annual bit of Ruritanian pantomime that passes for the unwritten British constitution in action: the state opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech.

According to a report in today’s Guardian, it would appear that the so-called Snooper’s Charter (news passim) is proving harder to kill than a particularly stubborn vampire.

This emerged from the text of the Queen’s Speech which gave the go-ahead to legislation, if required, to deal with the limited technical problem of there being many more devices including phones and tablets in use than the number of IP addresses that allow the authorities to identify who communicated with whom and when.

Published at almost the same time, a Downing Street background briefing note on investigating online crime says: “We are continuing to look at this issue closely and the government’s approach will be proportionate, with robust safeguards in place.” The note also reportedly states: “This is not about indiscriminately accessing internet data of innocent members of the public (yes it bloody well is! Ed.), it is about ensuring that police and other law enforcement agencies have the powers they need to investigate the activities of criminals that take place online as well as offline”

At this juncture, it’s worth pointing out that we don’t know who is advising the government, but those advisers don’t seem to realise that an IP address can never be linked to a single human being, no matter what they do.

Civil liberties organisations are also worried by the rise of the Snooper’s Charter from the grave. Emma Carr, deputy director of Big Brother Watch, said: “The Queen’s Speech is clear that any work should pursue the narrow problem of IP matching, nothing more, and does not mandate the government to bring forward a bill. It is beyond comprehension for the Home Office to think that this gives them licence to carry on regardless with a much broader bill that has been demonstrated as unworkable and dangerous by experts, business groups and the wider public. It is not surprising that some officials may want to keep trying, having already failed three times under two different governments, to introduce massively disproportionate and intrusive powers, but that is quite clearly not what Her Majesty has put forward today”.

As is also helfully pointed out by The Register, the Home Office spent the past 5 months completely rehashing its proposed Communications Data Bill following a mauling from a joint committee of MPs and peers in late 2012. Consequently, it’s hard to believe that the work Theresa May’s department has done on the redrafted bill to date will not – once again – appear before Parliament and predicts it could make reappearance in the 2014 Queen’s Speech, the last one before the next general election in 2015.

So, it looks like the lobbying will have to continue, perhaps assisted by holy water, wooden stakes and garlic for more efficacy. 😉

In the meantime, we recommend readers download and use the Tor Browser Bundle to preserve their privacy whilst browsing.

Thursday is GAAD

We learn from Accessible Bristol that tomorrow, Thursday 9th May is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). On that day people all over the world will be coming together to spread the word about accessibility and Accessible Bristol will be among them.

Throughout the day the Accessible Bristol team be on Twitter answering your questions about technology and accessibility, as well as tweeting useful accessibility tips and resources.

Tweet your questions to @AccessibleBrstl and use the #GAAD hashtag to keep track of Global Accessibility Awareness Day activities.

However, Accessible Bristol also has a challenge for the people in Bristol and the South West for 9th May and challenge you to do at least one of the following things on 9th May:

  • Go mouseless for an hour (touch screen devices don’t count);
  • Surf the web with a screen reader for an hour;
  • Create a captions file and share it with the video’s owner;
  • Write a blog post or make a video about the way you use and experience the web.

Wikimedia Commons smartphone app released

image of My uploads view of the Wikimedia Commons app
My uploads view of the Wikimedia Commons app
Wikimedia Commons is a great resource: nearly 17 mn. freely usable media files that anyone can use for any purpose and to which anyone can contribute too!

Contributing to Wikimedia Commons is also getting easier: it’s now possible to transfer images to the Commons database from an Android or iOS smartphone using a free and advert-free mobile app. Features include the ability to view a stream of your contributions, upload multiple files and export to Commons using – if you’re on Android – that phone’s share functionality. Your images will also be tagged with the GPS co-ordinates if GPS tagging is turned on.

Wikimedia points out that by uploading your files to Commons, contributors will be doing more than if they just shared them with friends: they’ll be contributing the goal of spreading free knowledge around the world and sharing their work with billions of Wikipedia readers around the world (Wikipedia is the fifth most visited website in the world. Ed.).

The Android app is available from Google Play, whilst the Apple Store features the iOS app.

Read the Wikimedia blog article for more details.

Illegal procurement favouring Microsoft killed off by Portuguese court

On 27th April the administrative court of Almada, Portugal, declared a €550,000 contract between Microsoft and the Municipality of Almada to be illegal. The technical specifications of the competition launched by the municipality prevented any company other than Microsoft and their partners from submitting a bid.

This ruling is especially significant as it clarifies that a widely used procurement procedure is illegal. The procedure specified the names of Microsoft products instead of general functional and technical requirements. These actions violate fundamental European rules of fair competition and systematically exclude companies that provide
services based on free software.

Unfair tendering practices in Portugal have been repeatedly denounced by ANSOL, the Portuguese National Free Software Association, and ESOP, the Portuguese Open Source Companies Association, which brought the case to court.

CERN resurrects first ever website

In honour of the 20th anniversary of the release of libwww into the public domain (news passim), CERN has resurrected the first ever website at

As screenshot of the front page of this historic site is shown below, as seen by the text-based lynx web browser.

screenshot of the world's first ever home page, as seen in lynx
The world’s first ever home page, as seen in lynx

This very first website at CERN – and in the world – was dedicated to the World Wide Web project itself and was hosted on Berners-Lee’s NeXT computer. The website described the basic features of the web; how to access other people’s documents and how to set up your own server. Although the NeXT machine – the original web server – is still at CERN, sadly the world’s first website is no longer online at its original address, but is still available if you follow the above link.

To mark the anniversary, CERN is starting a project to restore the first website and to preserve the digital assets that are associated with the birth of the web.

CMV enabling computers to detect human emotions

The Centre for Machine Vision (CMV), part of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, is one of only a handful of centres in the world dedicated to exploring the potential of machine vision. It is conducting some interesting research at present into enabling computers to detect human emotions, as well as detecting threats to health and possible security problems.

Machine vision can be used to measure the growth of skin cancers, find concealed weapons and enable computers to detect changes in human emotions.

The short video below gives an insight into some of the work currently being conducted at the CMV.

More information on the CMV’s work can be found on UWE’s website.

libwww: 20 years old today

The H Online reminds us that 20 years ago CERN in Geneva gave Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau official permission to release the libwww library free of charge, according to Berners-Lee, “to create a server or a browser, to give it away or sell it, without any royalty or other constraint”.

Since then this act of altruism on the part of CERN has had a profound effect on the world of communications. libwww (Library World Wide Web) is a highly modular client-side web API for Unix and Windows, as well as being the name of the reference implementation of this API. It can be used for both large and small applications, including web browsers/editors, robots and batch tools.

Its more modern replacement is considered to be libcurl.

You can read more about libwww on Wikipedia.

We write to Sir Tim Berners-Lee

As reported yesterday, Bristol Wireless is a signatory of the letter below that was submitted to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) on 24th April 2013 (news passim).

Dear Sir Berners-Lee [sic],

We write to implore the World Wide Web Consortium and its member organizations to reject the Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) proposal. As prominent organizations defending Internet and computing freedom, we join the more than fifteen-thousand Web users who have already signed Defective by Design’s petition against EME. This disastrous proposal would change HTML, the underlying language of the Web, to make it accommodate and encourage Digital Restrictions Management (DRM). EME is sponsored by a handful of powerful companies who are W3C members, like Microsoft and Netflix. These companies have been promoting DRM both for their own reasons and as part of their close relationships to major media companies. DRM restricts the public’s freedom, even beyond what overzealous copyright law requires, to the perceived benefit of this privileged, powerful few.

The W3C’s work is crucial to the continued integrity and interoperability of the global network. We recognize the need for the W3C to respond to the changing landscape of the Web and to reconcile the interests of multiple parties. But ratifying EME would be an abdication of responsibility; it would harm interoperability, enshrine nonfree software in W3C standards and perpetuate oppressive business models. It would fly in the face of the principles that the W3C cites as key to its mission and it would cause an array of serious problems for the billions of people who use the Web.

First, in the process of rendering media, every required browser plug-in is a metaphorical gate where restrictions can be enforced. Since DRM requires denying users their right to modify the plug-ins and other relevant programs, it is by nature incompatible with free “as in freedom” software. Because of this, browser plug-ins designed to play media under the EME specification would all be proprietary, and widespread adoption of this plug-in system would pressure more and more Web users to sacrifice their computing freedom in order to view media. Enshrining nonfree software in HTML itself would comparatively diminish the values of freedom, self-actualization and decentralization so critical to the Web as we know it.

Second, EME is inconsistent with W3C’s stated principles. It would damage the Web’s interoperability by spurring a new proliferation of the plug-ins for playing DRM-encumbered media. Since each plug-in option could have unique hardware and software restrictions, this would move the Web away from universal compatibility and toward a more fractured state. Therefore, adopting EME would run counter to “global interoperability,” an explicit commitment of the Open Stand standards guidelines to which W3C is a signatory.

The W3C’s official vision statement also “recognizes that trust is a social phenomenon, but technology design can foster trust and confidence” and asserts that the W3C’s mission includes “building trust on a global scale.” A specification designed to help companies run secret code on users’ computers to restrict what they do on the Web would severely undermine that trust. The only trust being built here is between media companies calling for DRM and their powerful allies promoting EME in the W3C.

Some have said that EME is not itself a DRM scheme, and so is compatible with the principles underlying the Web. But this is a willfully blind attempt to hide from the bad publicity around DRM. EME has no purpose other than providing a hook in HTML on which to hang digital restrictions. EME author Mark Watson has even stated that “Certainly, our interest is in [use] cases that most people would call DRM.” Claiming that EME adds no DRM to the Web is like saying (in the words of the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Peter Eckersley) “We’re not vampires, but we’re going to invite them into your house.”

Another misguided defense of the proposal is that DRM applied to streaming media is just the same as renting videos at a store or borrowing books from a library and is therefore ethically acceptable. But this position ignores the historical context of DRM and the direction in which media is heading. Applying such restrictions to streaming media may seem less harmful now, when “ownership” of most media is still possible by storing it on a personal hard drive. It is quite possible, however, that this option will disappear as companies create a system in which media is only available via streaming — where they are able to control who views what when with which software. In that situation, the role of DRM will be even more critically important.

Even in the present day, and even if it is applied only during streaming, DRM is not equivalent to restrictions involved when renting physical copies, because it requires computers to permanently treat their own users as hostile. Plug-in software may claim only to serve the purpose of decrypting streaming media, but since it is proprietary, users won’t be able to see what that software is actually doing. There have been many examples in the short history of DRM of such systems providing attack vectors or otherwise doing much more than advertised, behind users’ backs.

As the Web becomes an ever more vital medium for media, culture, commerce and communication, the base of stakeholders in the W3C’s decisions is widening and diversifying. But ratifying EME would represent the narrow interests of entrenched software firms with strong ties to the entertainment industry. Though it is not in the W3C’s power to prevent these companies from implementing DRM on the Web, endorsing EME would constitute an abdication of responsibility to the core goals of the W3C and the Web-using public. We call on the W3C to reject EME and any other provision for DRM in World Wide Web standards.


Bristol Wireless
Call The Ninja
Canadian Pirate Party
Creative Commons
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Fight for the Future
Free Culture Foundation
Free Software Foundation
Free Software Foundation Europe
Free Software Foundation India
Free Software Foundation Latin America
Gatsby Media
IT for Change
Junge Piraten
Modern Poland
Open Knowledge Foundation
Open Technology Institute (of the New America Foundation)
Pirate Parties International
TheWayoftheWeb Ltd
Pirate Party of Sweden
UK Pirate Party

The letter was also copied to Dr. Jeff Jaffe, W3C’s Chief Executive Officer, Philippe Le Hégaret of the W3C and the W3C’s HTML5 Working Group.

If you believe in open standards for the web, we’d urge you to join the thousands of other people who’ve signed the Defective by Design petition against EME in HTML5.

Bath Uni student named in top 10 ‘brilliant’ young web developers

image of Bath University student Jack Franlkin
Bath University student Jack Franlkin
A student from Bath University’s Department of Computer Science has been shortlisted in the 2013 ‘.Net Awards‘ as one of the top ten ‘brilliant young web developers’ to watch.

Jack Franklin is a 3rd year BSc Computer Science student who is currently on his placement year with Kainos in London as a Software Engineer. He was Chair of the Bath Student Computer Science Society in his second year of study and has also worked as a student ambassador for the department.

His tutor, Alan Hayes says: “Jack is one of those students who makes the most of every opportunity available to him. He continues to impress as he progresses through university, and is set for great heights in the future. We wish him all the best with the .Net awards and commend his achievement in being named ‘one to watch’.”

Read the full story on Bath University’s site.

Is the Snooper’s Charter dead?

If one believes the words of politicians, the Snooper’s Charter (news passim) is dead.

Earlier this morning Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg appeared on a phone-in programme on London radio station LBC. When questioned by a caller on the Communications Data Bill (aka the Snooper’s Charter), he is reported to have answered:

What people dub the snoopers’ charter, that’s not going to happen – certainly with Lib Dems in government.

LBC also kindly caught the Deputy Prime Minister on video.

We would, however, issue a note of caution here. Although Mr Clegg has ruled out the Snooper’s Charter for the time being, expect more draconian surveillance proposals to come boomeranging back like a dodgy Friday night curry. After all, the Snooper’s Charter itself is just the last Labour government’s Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP) wearing new clothes.

Bath University researches internet and cognition

bath_uniThe University of Bath has an interesting research project on the books at present, investigating the relationship between attention and internet use and is looking for volunteers.

This study consists of two phases. In phase I, participants will be asked to complete an online questionnaire measuring their internet use, different aspects of personality traits and questions related to mental health. The total time to complete the questionnaires will be about 15 minutes.

In phase II only a selection of individuals who completed the online questionnaire will be invited to attend the university’s Psychology Lab for further testing. Attendees will be asked to complete some questionnaires measuring different aspects of internet use in relation to specific internet applications (online gaming and social network sites), as well as completing two computer-based tasks. The experiment will last about 30 minutes.

Participation is completely voluntary. In order to be eligible to participate in the experiment, participants will need to have experience using the internet, be aged 18 years or over and have normal to corrected vision.

Participants completing the online questionnaire but who are not selected for the second phase of the experiment will have the opportunity to win a prize draw for a £50 Amazon voucher. Participants who are selected for the second phase of the experiment will receive a payment of £10 pound for their time.

All the data collected will be kept confidential.

Anyone interested in taking part in the research you can fill in the online questionnaire, whilst those who would like more information about the project are advised to email Maria Nikolaidou: mn325 (at)


Along with many prominent organisations around the world dedicated to defending internet and computing freedom, such as the Free Software Foundation, Free Software Foundation Europe, Bristol Wireless will be signing a letter to be sent to the W3C, the web standards consortium, to protest against proposals to include Digital Rights Management (DRM) – in the form of so-called Encrypted Media Extensions proposal (EME) in HTML5 and thus exclude free software browsers from being compatible with many web pages and unable to display their content.

For individuals, there’s also a petition that you can sign against the proposal. The aim is to get 50,000 signatures by 5th May.

image with caption Stop DRM in HTML5
Hollyweb? No thanks, W3C!

Many prominent individuals, such as digital rights campaigner Cory Doctorow are also lending their support to the campaign. Cory has written the following in The Guardian:

The W3C has a duty to send the DRM-peddlers packing, just as the US courts did in the case of digital TV. There is no market for DRM, no public purpose served by granting a veto to unaccountable, shortsighted media giants who dream of a world where your mouse rings a cash-register with every click and disruption is something that happens to other people, not them.

Snooper’s Charter: open letter to ISPs

image of eye staring back from screen

Today the Open Rights Group, Big Brother Watch and sent an open letter to the UK’s major ISPs – BT, Sky, Virgin and TalkTalk – and others, asking them to stand up for their customers against the excessive surveillance of UK citizens proposed under the government’s illiberal Communications Data Bill (news passim).

We reproduce the open letter in full below.

Sent to:

Neil Berkett, Virgin Media
Jeremy Darroch, Sky
Dido Harding, TalkTalk
Warren Buckley, BT
Jeremy Woodrow, Royal Mail
Ronan Dunne, O2
Richard Tang, Zen Internet

One year ago, it became public knowledge that the Government intends to introduce legislation relating to communications data. We did not learn of this in Parliament, but in media leaks.

It has become clear that a critical component of the Communications Data Bill is that UK communication service providers will be required by law to create data they currently do not have any business purpose for, and store it for a period of 12 months.

Plainly, this crosses a line no democratic country has yet crossed – paying private companies to record what their customers are doing solely for the purposes of the state.

These proposals are not fit for purpose, which possibly explains why the Home Office is so keen to ensure they are not aired publicly.

There has been no public consultation, while on none of your websites is there any reference to these discussions. Meetings have been held behind closed doors as policy has been developed in secret, seemingly the same policy formulated several years ago despite widespread warnings from technical experts.

That your businesses appear willing to be co-opted as an arm of the state to monitor every single one of your customers is a dangerous step, exacerbated by your silence

Consumers are increasingly concerned about their privacy, both in terms of how much data is collected about them and how securely that data is kept. Many businesses have made a virtue of respecting consumer privacy and ensuring safe and secure internet access.

Sadly, your customers have not had the opportunity to comment on these proposals. Indeed, were it not for civil society groups and the media, they would have no idea such a policy was being considered.

We believe this is a critical failure not only of Government, but a betrayal of your customers’ interests. You appear to be engaged in a conspiracy of silence with the Home Office, the only concern being whether or not you will be able to recover your costs.

We urge you to withdraw your participation in a process that in our view is deeply flawed, pursuing a pre-determined solution that puts competition, security and privacy at risk in an unprecedented way.

With best wishes,

Jim Killock, Executive Director, Open Rights Group
Nick Pickles, Director, Big Brother Watch
Sam Smith, Technologist, Privacy International

Bundestag: “Stop granting software patents”

Germany’s Bundestag (Parliament) has adopted a joint motion against software patents, urging the German government to take steps to limit the granting of patents on computer programs.

In the resolution (German, PDF), the Parliament says software patents restrict developers from exercising their copyright privileges, including the right to distribute their programs as free software. Patents help to create monopolies in the software market, as well as hurt innovation and job creation. The Parliament calls on the German government to ensure free software development is not restricted by patents.

“Software patents are harmful in every way and are useless at promoting innovation,” says Karsten Gerloff, President of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE). “We urge the German government to act on this resolution as soon as possible and relieve software developers from the needless patent-related costs and risks under which they are currently suffering.”

Software patents are illegal under the European Patent Convention. However, the European Patent Office has granted tens of thousands of patents covering software, as a result of which software developers constantly risk being accused of patent infringement, giving rise to legal uncertainty which is costly for large companies and potentially deadly for smaller ones.

The Bundestag’s resolution reminds the German government that, under the EU’s Computer Programs Directive, software is covered by copyright, not patents. It calls on the government to put the directive’s “copyright approach”
into practice finally and to make German law more definite on this matter. It also points out that restrictions imposed by patents are incompatible with most widely used free software licences.

Bristol’s no. 9 bus, now with added wifi

image of FirstBus bus
The fares may be eye-watering, but the wifi’s free!
Last June FirstBus introduced free wifi on its X1 bus service between Bristol and Weston Super Mare (news passim).

In the last couple of days, our sharp-eyed volunteers have noticed that First’s no. 9 service now have large ‘Free Wifi’ stickers in their windows.

For those unfamiliar with Bristol, the no. 9 service is a circular service that runs between Bristol Temple Meads, the Centre, Redland, Clifton and then back to the Centre and Bristol Temple Meads.

Whilst we welcome any improvements in connectivity, we would question why First hasn’t also introduced this enhancement to its services to less prosperous parts of the city, such as Knowle West, Hartcliffe, Withywood, Southmead, Sea Mills, Lawrence Weston and others, given the ubiquity of internet-capable smartphones.

Perhaps FirstBus would like to comment below.

Snooper’s charter – latest news round-up

image of Home Secretary Theresa May
Home Secretary Theresa May
The pressure is continuing to mount on the UK government’s proposals to monitor all of the UK’s internet and telecommunications usage and store users’ communications data under Home Secretary Theresa May’s proposed Communications Data Bill, also know as the Snooper’s Charter.

On Saturday, the Daily Telegraph reported that the Home Office is facing legal action unless it reveals key details of its so-called Snooper’s Charter.

Home Secretary Theresa May has so far declined to explain a proposed “filtering” system which would allow officials to trawl through the public’s private emails, text messages and other messages sent through the internet. However, the Information Commissioner has now ordered the Home Office to publish the advice that ministers received on the design, cost and risks of the new filtering system by 11th May. If the Home Office fails to comply with the Information Notice issued by the Commissioner last week, it will be judged as being in “contempt of court”.

In response, a Home Office spokesman – after the obligatory and totally unconvincing reference to serious criminals, paedophiles and terrorists – said: “The proposed request filter will further protect privacy by discarding all data not directly relevant to an investigation.”

On the same day and in the Telegraph again, another report revealed that police forces are routinely snooping on people’s email and phone call details hundreds of thousands times a year stating that a survey conducted using Freedom Of Information laws found that 25 police forces made 506,720 requests for people’s “communications data” over the past three years.

This hasn’t gone down well with a former Tory shadow home secretary, David Davis MP, who stated: “It is frankly not good enough that the government is considering introducing a snoopers’ charter without even being able to tell us what they have used communications data for in the past – and indeed not even be able to tell us how many times they have done so.

“The Government should come clean with parliament and tell us exactly how the powers they currently have been used in the past, and tell us for example, whether they have been using it across the country for traffic offences.”

Earlier today Big Brother Watch reported that The Times carried a front page report that a group of ten leading academics and computer science experts have added their voices to the growing chorus of objection over the Communications Data Bill and have written to the Prime Minister. The text of their letter is reproduced in full below.

Dear Prime Minister,

One year ago, we learned that the Home Secretary intended to resurrect plans to monitor every British person’s Internet activity. One year on, the plans remain as naïve and technically dangerous as when they were floated by the last Government.

Parliament does not have a good track record in legislating for the Internet. The most recent foray, the Digital Economy Act, has proven both unworkable and unhelpful, while more feasible alternatives were ignored and taxpayers’ money was poured into a technically inept political totem.

It seems that government has not learned the lessons of that ill-fated legislation and is intent on trying to foist onto the Internet a surveillance system designed for landline telephones. Many of the technical experts consulted are people that will profit from the plans, whether they succeed or fail. Outside independent experts have not been meaningfully involved in any way. There is little evidence justifying existing EU requirements for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to retain records about use of their own services, according to studies by the Max Planck Institute, Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office, and the Dutch Erasmus University.

Consumer confidence in network security is an essential foundation of the digital economy and the trend is towards encrypted communications to large websites. The Communications Data Bill cannot do anything effective about this shift. The provisions to force ISPs to monitor how customers use third party services will be expensive, will hinder innovation and will undermine the privacy of citizens visiting specialist websites (such as advice on pregnancy, HIV and mental health) without giving the police any new effective tools to monitor criminals who chat via social media. The bill combines high financial and privacy costs with low benefits for real police work. The money would be better spent on more police officers, on improving our police forces’ computer forensic capabilities, and on international collaboration to tackle cybercrime, than on yet another IT project that already shows the classic symptoms
of becoming a failure.

While putting the UK’s internet-based business community at a significant competitive disadvantage, the Bill will be copied by less democratic regimes around the world, undermining decades of British foreign policy.

We the undersigned urge the Government to abandon the Communications Data Bill and to work with the technical community and the police to meet the real challenges of law enforcement in a connected world, rather than imposing a policy that poses a significant risk the UK’s economic and political interests.

Following this site’s last post on the Snooper’s Charter (news passim), the chief scribe was pleased to be contacted by a lawyer associate who pointed out to him that the government’s proposals would breach the long-standing confidentiality between both doctors and their patients and lawyers and their clients. Furthermore, the Snooper’s Charter would also be in contravention of the 1998 Human Rights Act, which provides inter alia that it is unlawful for a public authority to act in such a way as to contravene rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Snooper’s Charter: Whitehall to be twinned with Pyongyang?

image of Kim Jong-un with binoculars
Theresa May’s new friend?
Ben Hammersley, an adviser to 10 Downing Street on the Tech City (aka Silicon Roundabout. Ed.) project, has emerged as the latest critic of the government’s proposed Communciations Data Bill or Snooper’s Charter (news passim).

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Hammersley is quoted today as saying:

As a society, it would be stupid to build the infrastructure that could be used to oppress us. It just never works out well, because even if you’re using it for good stuff now, the fact that we don’t know who is going to be in charge in ten years’ time means that we shouldn’t give them free toys to play with.

In a previous podcast, Ben Hammersley is also on record as comparing the government’s plans to the situation in North Korea:

They are quite open about the fact that they want to have records of everybody’s online communications. I advise the Government on stuff and my advice was laughing at them quite hard for about an hour and then writing a policy paper which told them it was nonsense.

The idea that the internet is like the postal service or like the copper line phone network in that it can be monitored in such a way is hilarious, because it can’t be technologically speaking, unless you become North Korea. Unless you become massively draconian you can’t either monitor propery or censor completely the internet.

Big Brother Watch, Liberty, the Open Rights Group and Privacy International have also written jointly to Home Secretary Theresa May protesting that they’ve not been properly consulted, saying: “We remain concerned that the legislative process continues to be conducted within an unnecessarily closed process.” This reflects Bristol Wireless’ own experience when we asked to be consulted on the Bill (news passim).

In the Home Secretary’s own party, Dominic Raab MP has also described the Bill as ‘irresponsible’.

We would urge the Home Secretary to listen to the government’s critics on this matter – something which British governments are not particularly renowned for doing on any matter.

National Library of Scotland seeks Wikipedian in residence

Wikimedia UK logoAre you looking for a temporary job? Do you enjoy editing Wikipedia and can you teach others to do it too?

If the answer to these questions is yes, a current vacancy at the National Library of Scotland may interest you.

The National Library of Scotland and Wikimedia UK are joining forces to support and host a Wikimedian in Residence at the Library. This is a unique opportunity to help enrich Wikipedia and its sister projects and share with the world the resources and knowledge from the Library’s collections and to involve librarians, members of the public and researchers in contributing to articles on Wikipedia, the world’s largest open source project.

The position will be for a fixed term of 4 months, with a salary of £30,000 p.a. pro rata. The closing date for applications is 6th May 2013.

More details here.