Friday, 30 April 2010

facebook's eroding privacy timeline

from EFF an account of how facebook's privacy policy has changed over time

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

a better use for CCTV?

Designed by Dennis Nino Clasen, is the 'Wolfgang S. Birdhouse' available from SleekIdentity

A sneeky jab at our culture’s obsession with security cams, this birdhouse looks like it’s watching your every move. Hang it near your house and your neighbors won’t dare steal your garden hose! Deter burglars while keeping Tweety birds well-fed and happy! It’s a great gift with a goofy sense of humor for the bird lover in your life. The model is called 'Wolfgang S.' a reference to the hawkish German Minister of the Interior Wolfgang Schauble who likes spying on everyone in the name of security.

Thanks to Jason Pridmore for the link

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Creative Disruption

I just came across the blog of the forthcoming book 'Creative Disruption' by Simon Waldman (Director of Digital Strategy for the Guardian Group). From the summary on the website, the book is looking at how established business interests are coping with, or engaging with new technologies. It's got a business focus, but the summary made me think about the potential implications for states, government departments, political parties, militaries etc. The 'established interests' of the pre-digital political world. (So this is a politics and technology post rather than a pure 'surveillance' one).

"Businesses that have to deal with the internet are fundamentally different
to those that are the products of it. It is great to look at Google; great to
admire Amazon, and Wikipedia is as fascinating a social and creative phenomena
as you can find. But if you are running a business that is profoundly
structurally challenged, you share very little of their corporate DNA.

Yes, everyone needs to know about their world, but thinking you can just
graft on the bits you like from them in a hope that you will ‘get digital’ is no
more likely to succeed than putting on a flashing bow tie and hoping everyone
thinks you have a sense of humour."

Waldman describes 'creative disruption' as being driven by three things, digital physics (digital files infinitely copiable, anything online is global, storage space cheaper and faster), changing consumer behaviour (desire to create, connect, challenge and control), and new entrants and entrepreneurs (where encumbants have little incentive to innovate, low barriers for entry, sparks for new ideas). He suggests that just tinkering around the edges is not enough, and that responding to these disruptions - which undeniably exist in the field of politics, will require creative thinking, agility and an ability to restructure in fundamental ways.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Govt requests to Google

Google is now publishing (with 'some limitations') the number of requests it recieves from national governments for information on users, or for removal of information.
It's available (on a map) here.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Digital Economy Act

The Digital Economy Bill recieved royal assent the other week, becoming the Digital Economy Act 2010. (pdf). The bill was passed during the 'wash-up' period at the end of the parliamentary session, meaning that it recieved limited scrutiny.

Particularly objectionable sections are the provisions in the Act for the disconnection from the internet of households where the connection has been accused of downloading material that infringes copyright. This has potentially servere implications for the digital inclusion agenda of the government. It also assumes that anybody who signs a contract with an ISP has the technical and social resources to police their family's internet useage (more info here) Writing for the Guardian, John Naughton argues:

How did this fiasco come about? Mainly because legislatures (both here and abroad) deal with intellectual-property issues in ways that are corrupt, irresponsible and inappropriate for modern technology.

The Act also appears to treat all 'internet service providers' equally in terms of measures to prevent copyright infringement. This is something that will be particularly onerous for the cafe on the corner with free wi-fi. To the point that they'll probably have to stop.

The Labour party had it's rebels: Tom Watson speaks to the Open Rights group about his opposition in Parliament to the Bill and the future discussions about online activity, rights, and copyright, and about how this is the beginning (video). "when an issue is debated in parliament, the argument has already been had". He thinks that the campaign against the bill drew more attention to it from MPs, and exposed the flaws in the 'wash up' process.

What is interesting about this area is that it seems that a number of people without much exposure to the mechanics of the political process, but with IT/technology knowledge have paid attention to that process during the passage of the bill. It might be worth keeping an eye on this area - there are surely going to be further contestations over digital rights policy. This scrutiny seems to have generated a lot of anger and irritation. For example is a site where you can find out how your MP voted on the bill. There was also a fair amount of scorn poured on MP's for technological mistakes or ignorance. This letter from 'Science in the Open' sums up some of this concern. Cory Doctrow takes it as a declaration of war

From a political science perspective, most votes in the House of Commons are determined by party position, rather than by individual stances of MPs, and most of the time, the chamber is occupied by far from the majority of MPs. Furthermore, MPs are generalists, rather than specialists, and there's no requirement to know much about the policy area they vote upon. That said, technology policy is an area of concern, with some structural issues.

There's definately work to be done on the politics of expertise. It would be applicable to both technological policy, environmental policy, and security/terrorism policy. All three areas where the ability of the generalist politician (and especially the public) to have decent information about the policy area is limited. It's a problem for democratic systems, and leads to a reliance on experts. However the question then becomes - which experts, and under what structures of accountability and oversight. In CT policy, this often the preserve of 'security experts' or classified reports from intelligence agencies. In environmental policy, it's probably the best developed, the experts are public and decisions can be made on the basis of the scientific method and peer review. Digital copyright policy just got written by experts working for the big industry players.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Parliament of hypocrites

campaigning group 'Power 2010' has published a document entitled parliament of hypocrites in which they argue that UK politicians have been playing 'fast and loose' with the personal data of the public, whilst safeguarding their own by excemptions in freedom on information practice.

parliament of hypocrites (pdf)

Monday, 12 April 2010

A Global Surveillance Society?

Tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday, I'll be attending (and currently very much looking forward to) the surveillance studies network/living in surveillance societies conference 'A Global Surveillance Society?' at City University, London.

The theme of the conference is as follows.

Surveillance is a ubiquitous feature of living in the global north, with citizens routinely monitored by a range of sophisticated technologies. Increasing levels of surveillance are typically justified by the threat of terrorism, crime and disorder, and to improve public and private services. However, surveillance is also a feature of developing societies, and manifests in different ways, with different rationales, purposes and within different systems of governance. In this conference we would like to expand and relativise understandings of surveillance as a trans-national, trans-border and trans-cultural phenomenon.

I'm really glad to see that not only is this an international conference, but that a strong theme of it is international. This is a point that I've tried to make in a paper with Ces Moore that's currently been resubmitted to a journal. That surveillance practices exist at an international level of analysis, as well as at a local level. Comparative studies are good (and necessary for working out the dynamics) but some more attention needs to be paid to the flows and interactions. For example, when looking at terrorism in India, and the surveillant responses that were being discussed, many Indian commentators looked to the use of CCTV in the UK (and its representation) as something which they should emulate to counter-terrorism. These flows of security and surveillance practices cross borders. In doing so they change, combine or discard material - being abstracted.

I'm giving a paper on thursday on the implications for surveillance theory (and practice) from the 'human security' vs 'national security' debate. It's coming from an explicitly international relations perspective. I've noticed that the idea of 'human security' has been cropping up in a few places in surveillance studies of late. This paper came out of teaching a class or two on Human Security whilst at the University of Birmingham. There's quite a literature (and practice) based around the concept, and whilst it is a different way of thinking about things to 'national security' its got some baggage - which is what the paper's about really.

There's a joint plenary session on wednesday, that I'm really interested in hearing. David Lyon and Didier Bigo will be talking about the commonalities between surveillance studies and security studies. I'm really excited about this because that's often where I find myself situated - at least when I was working at Birmingham. Security studies is much familiar ground, or at least a way of explaining my work, to people within Political Science. So it'd be great to have their perspectives on this. Personnally, I'm temtped to think there is a large degree of overlap, with some caveats - not all surveillance is security for example, and not all security politics are surveillance - but there's a lot of common logics, in addition to the important international dimension mentioned previously.

There's a section in my own paper where I try to engage with some of these questions regarding international relations/surveillance studies overlap. I'm happy with the position I've taken with that, but if some good points are made, then I'll surely be taking them into account.

I love a last minute re-write, during the conference dinner. Which has a celidh, so I'll be sitting away from that pretending my lack of co-ordination is some form of principled avoidance of what appears to be a barn dance.

I'm also happy to be chairing two panel sessions. One on politics and the other on regulation . On Tuesday afternoon, Darlis Mojarrieta Castenada, Catarina Fois, and Minas Samatas, and then Paul de Hert, Thomas F. Ruddy and Rozemarjin Van Der Hilst.

And when I can get to them, I'll be keeping an eye on the various panels and papers looking at online surveillance, given how central that is to the VOME project.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Erasing David


David Bond lives in one of the most intrusive surveillance states in the world. He decides to find out how much private companies and the government know about him by putting himself under surveillance and attempting to disappear a decision that changes his life forever. Leaving his pregnant wife and young child behind, he is tracked across the database state on a chilling journey that forces him to contemplate the meaning of privacy and the loss of it.

Definately looks worth watching. Might also be useful for prompting discussions in the VOME project.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

A Critique of ‘Unmanned Aircraft Systems: The Moral and Legal Case’ by Amitai Etzioni (Joint Forces Quarterly, Issue 57, 2nd Quarter 2010).

Etzioni attempts to make the case for the targeted use of unmanned aircraft systems to kill what he calls ‘abusive citizens’ – those combatants (terrorists or insurgents) who ‘abuse their civilian status’ to attack ‘truly innocent civilians’ and prevent military and security forces from performing their duties. This article is framed as a discussion of the ethics of these actions, but fails to do this on a number of counts, and rather is an attempted justification of the practice, that relies heavily upon un-argued assumptions and ideological foundations. This response highlights a number of these failings, initially dealing with broader concerns about the ethics of targeted killing, then focusing upon the specific impacts of unmanned aerial weapons systems.

The paper ‘Unmanned Aircraft systems: the moral and legal case is available to read here. (.pdf)

Etzioni’s paper makes an unsustainable essentialist distinction between ‘truly innocent civilians’ and ‘those that abuse their civilian status’. Because of their actions, this latter category have forfeited their rights and can be targeted for killing. The population surrounding these actors are also of security concern – they are ‘part time spies, lookouts and providers of services such as accommodations and medical care to the terrorists’ (70) To the extent that these civilians provide services voluntarily, Etzioni argues they should be treated the same as combat service support personnel. This is exactly the logic that Osama Bin Laden used to justify attacks on the World Trade centre and Pentagon, and is likewise faulty in any complex society or interconnected world economy. Applying this provision widely, would also draw attention to the large number of private sector contractors supporting western armies, and the defence industry that supports this. P.W. Singer, in his fundamental work on robotics in war raises questions about the ethics of situating drone pilots far from warzones, and asks if their combat activity makes them viable military targets despite being located ‘amongst a civilian population’.

Like many contemporary analysis of ‘asymmetric’ warfare, the article inverts the broader asymmetry, ignoring the vast technological and resource potential of one side, whilst focusing on the advantages the other side gains from their informal nature. A response to this is to revert the asymmetry and argue that the US military use their military status to their advantage, to use military force legally and openly, supported by substantial resources, logistic chains, technology and equipment. Etzioni argues that “the issue would be largely resolved in short order if the abusive civilians would stop their abusive practices and fight – if they must- according to the established rules of war “(67). Similarly, he states that ‘the main fault lies with the abusive citizens who refuse to separate themselves from the local population’ – arguing that the responsibility for any collateral damage lies with the combatants hidden amongst the population who refuse to line up neatly in open terrain to be obliterated by their technologically superior antagonist. The merging of combatant and civilian populations is in part a result of US military and technological dominance of the conventional battlespace. Far from being at the mercy of insurgents, the particular theatre of conflict is determined by their massive beneficial asymmetry in all others.

This argument that derogation from the laws of war on the part of one party somehow allows derogation from the laws on war by the other part (which boils down to crying ‘no fair!’ ) is a non started. The laws of war should not be thought of simply as rules to a game, but rather as ethical and moral constraints on right and proper behaviour. Etzioni works entirely within a utilitarian paradigm, where options should be selected purely due to their effectiveness is maximising US combat power.

Etzioni basically dismisses the legal question of the use of UAVs for targeted killing. His argument boils down to it being either legal, due to congressional authorisation to hunt down those responsible for 9/11 or that it does not matter, because international law is vague and can both US and International law changes and can be re-written to accommodate. (70).

The paper attempts to break down the distinction between UAS/UAVs and other technological weapons of war. In this it is somewhat successful and to a certain extent correct. Etzioni argues (but does not provide evidence) that there is no reason to believe UAS cause more collateral damage than bombing or attacks by special or regular forces (70). This may be true individually, however, Singer suggests that the low risk to military forces through the use of a drone aircraft may increase the willingness to order an attack. This may increase the cumulative number of attacks, and unless the UAS are proportionally more accurate and cause less collateral damage, a greater cumulative level of collateral damage. If UAV killing was replacing traditional methods of assassination, then this point would have more merit. The real concern is that the use of UAV is opening up more opportunities for assassination.

This is where the question of technology becomes apparent. One of Etzioni’s arguments on page 68 can be restructured as follows

1) Extra judicial killing is bad (he accepts this, and highlights that legal process is preferable, if possible, furthermore extra judicial killing should be regulated, with lots of oversight and command authority).
2) Terrorists and insurgents exist, and they hide among the population
3) Something must be done to prevent terrorist actions (security demands it)
4) Prevention requires either catching or killing
5) It is not possible to catch and prosecute these terrorists (too difficult or costly)
6) It is possible to kill them (because of the weaponised UAV technology).
7) If we caught the terrorists, we should grant them all human rights
8) But because of 5) we cannot catch them.
9) Because of 6) we can kill them
10) Therefore it is morally acceptable to use the weaponised UAV to kill the terrorist (providing it is regulated, based on intelligence, and the collateral damage is not too great).

The involvement of the technology is as follows. We wouldn’t have tried to capture them before, because it was unfeasible. A technology has been invented, developed and put into service that allows the possibility of killing targets. It is now feasible to kill at a distance in a way that was not possible before. The impossibility of capturing the target is actually morally irrelevant to killing them with remote weapons. The article make the un-argued for assumption that security requires prevention of terrorism rather than prosecuting the perpetrators after the attack.