A forgotten man and a bowl of Japanese goldfish

Wendy M. Grossman on the difficulties of managing data online

"I'm the forgotten man," Godfrey (William Powell) explains in the 1936 film My Man Godfrey.

Godfrey was speaking during the Great Depression, when prosperity was just around the corner ("Yes, it's been there a long time," says one of Godfrey's fellow city dump dwellers) but the reality for many people was unemployment, poverty, and a general sense that they had ceased to exist except, perhaps, as curiosities to be collected by the rich in a scavenger hunt.

Today the rich in question would record their visit to the city dump in an increasingly drunken stream of Tweets and Facebook postings, and people in Nepal would be viewing photographs and video clips even if Godfrey didn't use a library computer to create his own Facebook page.

The EU's push for a right to be forgotten is a logical outgrowth of today's data protection principles, which revolve around the idea that you have rights over your data even when someone else has paid to collect it. EU law grants the right to inspect and correct the data held about us and to prevent its use in unwanted marketing. The idea that we should also have the right to delete data we ourselves have posted seems simple and fair, especially given the widely reported difficulty of leaving social networks.

But reality is complicated. Godfrey was fictional; take a real case, from Pennsylvania. A radiology trainee, unsure what to do when she wanted a reality check whether the radiologist she was shadowing was behaving inappropriately, sought advice from her sister, also a health care worker before reporting the incident. The sister told a co-worker about the call, who told others, and someone in that widening ripple posted the story on Facebook, from where it was reported back to the student's program director. Result: the not-on-Facebook trainee was expelled on the grounds that she had discussed a confidential issue on a cell phone. 

So many things had to go wrong for that story to rebound and hit that trainee in the ass. No one – except presumably the radiologist under scrutiny – did anything actually wrong, though the incident illustrates the point that than people think. Preventing this kind of thing is hard. No contract can bar unrelated, third-hand gossipers from posting information that comes their way. There's nothing to invoke libel law. The worst you can say is that the sister was indiscreet and that the program administrator misunderstood and overreacted. But the key point for our purposes here is: which data belongs to whom?

Lilian Edwards has a nice analysis of the conflict between privacy and freedom of expression that is raised by the right to forget. The comments and photographs I post seem to me to belong to me, though they may be about a dozen other people. But on a social network your circle of friends are also stakeholders in what you post; you become part of their library.

Howard Rheingold, writing in his 1992 book The Virtual Community, noted the ripped and gaping fabric of conversations on The Well when early member Blair Newman deleted all his messages. Photographs and today's far more pervasive, faster-paced technology make such holes deeper and multi-dimensional. How far do we need to go in granting deletion rights?

The short history of the net suggests that complete withdrawal is roughly impossible. In the 1980s, Usenet was thought of as an ephemeral medium. People posted in the – they thought – safe assumption that anything they wrote would expire off the world's servers in a couple of weeks. And as long as everyone read live online that was probably true. But along came offline readers and people with large hard disks and Deja News, and Usenet messages written in 1981 with no thought of any future context are a few search terms away.

"It's a mistake to only have this conversation about absolutes," said Google's Alma Whitten at the Big Tent event two weeks ago, arguing that it's impossible to delete every scrap about anyone. Whitten favors a "reasonable effort" approach and a user dashboard to enable that so users can see and control the data that's being held.

But we all know the problem with market forces: it is unlikely that any of the large corporations will come up with really effective tools unless forced. For one thing, there is a cultural clash here between the EU and the US, the home of many of these companies. But more important, it's just not in their interests to enable deletion: mining that data is how those companies make a living and in return we get free stuff.

Finding the right balance between freedom of expression (my right to post about my own life) and privacy, including the right to delete, will require a mix of answers as complex as the questions: technology (such as William Heath's Mydex), community standards, and, yes, law, applied carefully. We don't want to replace Britain's chilling libel laws with a DMCA-like deletion law.  


Wendy M. Grossman’s Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of all the earlier columns in this series

Image: CC-AT-NC-SA Flickr: mark_am_kramer

Mixed media

After attending BigTentUK and OpenTech 2011, Wendy Grossman reflects on the relationship between technology and the law

In a fight between technology and the law, who wins? This question has been debated since net immemorial. Techies often seem to be sure that law can't win against practical action. And often this has been true: the release of PGP defeated the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) that banned the export of strong cryptography; TOR lets people all over the world bypass local net censorship rules; and, in the UK, over the last few weeks Twitter has been causing superinjunctions to collapse.

On the other hand, technology by itself is often not enough. The final defeat of the ITAR had at least as much to do with the expansion of ecommerce and the consequent need for secured connections as it did with PGP. TOR is a fine project, but it is not a mainstream technology. And Twitter is a commercial company that can be compelled to disclose what information it has about its users (though granted, this may be minimal) or close down accounts.

Last month, two events took complementary approaches to this question. The first, Big Tent UK, hosted by Google, Privacy International, and Index on Censorship, featured panels and discussions loosely focused on how law can control technology. The second, OpenTech loosely focused on how technology can change our understanding of the world, if not up-end the law itself.

At the latter event, projects like Lisa Evans' effort to understand government spending relied on government-published data, while others, such as OpenStreetMap and OpenCorporates seek to create open-source alternatives to existing proprietary services. There's no question that doing things – or, in my case, egging on people who are doing things – is more fun than purely intellectual debate.

I particularly liked the open-source hardware projects presented at OpenTech, some of which are, as presenter Paul Downey said, trying to disrupt a closed market. See for example, River Simple's effort to offer an open-source design for a haydrogen-powered car. Downey whipped through perhaps a dozen projects, all based on the notion that if something can be represented by lines on a PowerPoint slide you can send it to a laser cutter.

But here again I suspect the law will interfere at some point. Not only will open-source cars have to obey safety regulations, but all hardware designs will come up against the same intellectual property issues that have been dogging the net from all directions.

We've noted before Simon Bradshaw's work showing that copyright as applied to three-dimensional objects will be even more of a rat's nest than it has been when applied to "simple" things like books, music, and movies. At BigTentUK, copyright was given a rest for once in favor of discussions of privacy, the limits of free speech, and revolution.

As is so often the case with this type of discussion, it wasn't long before someone – British TV producer Peter Bazalgette - invoked George Orwell. Bizarrely, he aimed "Orwellian" at Privacy International executive director Simon Davies, who a minute before had proposed that the solution to at least some of the world's ongoing privacy woes would be for regulators internationally to collaborate on doing their jobs.

Oddly, in an audience full of leading digital rights activists and entrepreneurs, no one admitted to representing the Information Commissioner's office. Yet given these policy discussions as his prelude, the MP Jeremy Hunt (Con-South West Surry), the secretary of state for Culture, Olympics, Media, and Sport, focused instead on technical progress. We need two things for the future, he said: speed and mobility.

Here he cited Bazalgette's great-great-grandfather's contribution to building the sewer system as a helpful model for today.Tasked with deciding the size of pipes to specify for London's then-new sewer system, Joseph Bazalgette doubled the size of pipe necessary to serve the area of London with the biggest demand; we still use those same pipes.

We should, said Hunt, build bandwidth in the same foresighted way. The modern-day Bazalgette, instead, wants the right to be forgotten: people, he said, should have the right to delete any information that they voluntarily surrender. Much like Justine Roberts, the founder of Mumsnet, who participated in the free speech panel, he seemed not to understand the consequences of what he was asking for.

Roberts complained that the "slightly hysterical response" to any suggestion of moderating free speech in the interests of child safety inhibits real discussion; the right to delete is not easily implemented when people are embedded in a three-dimensional web of information.

The Big Tent panels on revolution and conflict would have fit either event, including Wael Ghonim who ran a Facebook page that fomented pro-democracy demonstrations in Egypt and respresentatives of PAX and Unitar, projects to use the postings of "citizen journalists" and public image streams respectively to provide early warnings of developing conflict.

In the end, we need both technology and law, a viewpoint best encapsulated by Index on Censorship chief executive John Kampfner, who said he was worried by claims that the internet is a force for good. "The internet is a medium, a tool," he said. "You can choose to use it for moral good or moral ill."  


Wendy M. Grossman’s Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of all the earlier columns in this series

Image: CC-AT-NC-SA Flickr: lespounder (Les Pounder)

OpenTech 2011

Video from OpenTech 2011

We spoke to several of the speakers from this years OpenTech. In order of appearance; Jim Killock (Open Rights Group), Sam Smith (the organiser of Open Tech), Bill Thompson (pundit), Rufus Pollock (Open Knowledge Foundation), Chris Taggart (Open Corporates), Ade Oshineye (Developer) and Nishma Doshi (Open Rights Group). 

You can go here for more video and information on this years OpenTech.

Image: CC-AT Flickr: psd

The world we thought we lived in

Wendy M. Grossman on the way technology is portrayed on TV

If one thing is more annoying than another, it's the fantasy technology on display in so many TV shows. "Enhance that for me!" barks an investigator. And, obediently, his subordinate geek/squint/nerd pushes a button or few, a line washes over the blurry image on screen, and now he can read the maker's mark on a pill in the hand of the target subject that was captured by a distant CCTV camera. The show 24 ended for me 15 minutes into season one, episode one, when Kiefer Sutherland's Jack Bauer, trying to find his missing daughter, thrust a piece of paper at an underling and shouted, "Get me all the Internet passwords associated with that telephone number!" Um…

But time has moved on, and screenwriters are more likely to have spent their formative years online and playing computer games, and so we have arrived at The Good Wife, which gloriously wrapped up its second season on Tuesday night (in the US; in the UK the season is still winding to a close on Channel 4). The show is a lot of things: a character study of an archetypal humiliated politician's wife (Alicia Florrick, played by Julianna Margulies) who rebuilds her life after her husband's betrayal and corruption scandal; a legal drama full of moral murk and quirky judges (Carob chip?); a political drama; and, not least, a romantic comedy. The show is full of interesting, layered men and great, great women – some of them mature, powerful, sexy, brilliant women. It is also the smartest show on television when it comes to life in the time of rapid technological change.

When it was good, in its first season, Gossip Girl cleverly combined high school mean girls with the citizen reportage of TMZ to produce a world in which everyone spied on everyone else by sending tips, photos, and rumors to a Web site, which picks the most damaging moment to publish them and blast them to everyone's mobile phones.

The Good Wife goes further to exploit the fact that most of us, especially those old enough to remember life before CCTV, go on about our lives forgetting that everywhere we leave a trail. Some are, of course, old staples of investigative dramas: phone records, voice messages, ballistics, and the results of a good, old-fashioned break-in-and-search. But some are myth-busting.

One case (S2e15, "Silver Bullet") hinges on the difference between the compressed, digitized video copy and the original analog video footage: dropped frames change everything. A much earlier case (S1e06, "Conjugal") hinges on eyewitness testimony; despite a slightly too-pat resolution (I suspect now, with more confidence, it might have been handled differently), the show does a textbook job of demonstrating the flaws in human memory and their application to police line-ups. In a third case (S1e17, "Heart"), a man faces the loss of his medical insurance because of a single photograph posted to Facebook showing him smoking a cigarette. And the disgraced husband's (Peter Florrick, played by Chris Noth) attempt to clear his own name comes down to a fancy bit of investigative work capped by camera footage from an ATM in the Cayman Islands that the litigator is barely technically able to display in court. As entertaining demonstrations and dramatizations of the stuff net.wars talks about every week and the way technology can be both good and bad – Alicia finds romance in a phone tap! – these could hardly be better. The stuffed lion speaker phone (S2e19, "Wrongful Termination") is just a very satisfying cherry topping of technically clever hilarity.

But there's yet another layer, surrounding the season two campaign mounted to get Florrick elected back into office as State's Attorney: the ways that technology undermines as well as assists today's candidates.

"Do you know what a tracker is?" Peter's campaign manager (Eli Gold, played by Alan Cumming) asks Alicia (S2e01, "Taking Control"). Answer: in this time of cellphones and YouTube, unpaid political operatives follow opposing candidates' family and friends to provoke and then publish anything that might hurt or embarrass the opponent. So now: Peter's daughter (Makenzie Vega) is captured praising his opponent and ham-fistedly trying to defend her father's transgressions ("One prostitute!"). His professor brother-in-law's (Dallas Roberts) in-class joke that the candidate hates gays is live-streamed over the Internet. Peter's son (Graham Phillips) and a manipulative girlfriend (Dreama Walker), unknown to Eli, create embarrassing, fake Facebook pages in the name of the opponent's son. Peter's biggest fan decides to (he thinks) help by posting lame YouTube videos apparently designed to alienate the very voters Eli's polls tell him to attract. (He's going to post one a week; isn't Eli lucky?) Polling is old hat, as are rumors leaked to newspaper reporters; but today's news cycle is 20 minutes and can we have a quote from the candidate? No wonder Eli spends so much time choking and throwing stuff.

All of this fits together because the underlying theme of all parts of the show is control: control of the campaign, the message, the case, the technology, the image, your life. At the beginning of season one, Alicia has lost all control over the life she had; by the end of season two, she's in charge of her new one. Was a camera watching in that elevator? I guess we'll find out next year.


Wendy M. Grossman’s Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of all the earlier columns in this series

Image: CC-AT-SA Flickr: watchwithkristin

Power seeks to extend control over internet

Call for creative action in protecting the internet, by G8 vs Internet

The internet is the place where we meet, speak, create, educate ourselves and organize. However, as we are at a turning point in early web history, it could either become a prime tool for improving our societies, knowledge and culture, or a totalitarian tool of suveillance and control. After 15 years of fighting the sharing of culture in the name of an obsolete copyright regime, governments of the world are uniting to control and censor the internet.

The black-out of the Egyptian net, the US government's reaction to Wikileaks, the adoption of website blocking mechanisms in Europe, or the plans for "internet kill switches"[1] are all major threats on our freedom of expression and communication. These threats come from corporations and politicians, unsettled by the advent of the internet.

As a host of the G8, France's president Nicolas Sarkozy wants to step up centralized control over the internet. He has convened world leaders to a summit aimed at working towards a "civilized internet", a concept he borrowed from the Chinese government. By creating fears such as "cyber-terrorism", their objective is to generalize rules of exception in order to establish censorship and control, thereby undermining free speech and other civil liberties.

They will package this policy using words like "democracy" and "responsibility", but look at their acts. Sarkozy has already enabled disconnection of citizens from the internet and the censorship of online content in France.

The internet allows us to express our opinions universally. The internet unites us and makes us strong. It is a space in which the common civilisation of our diverse planet meets. Our imaginations, through all kinds of media we create and publish, help us protect our rights and a free internet. As world leaders gather at the end of this month, we must all come together and use our creativity to reject any attempt at turning the internet into a tool of repression and control.

[1] See also, the seizure by the US government of hundreds of domain names, or the copyright fundamentalists turning internet companies into a privatized police and justice using the PROTECT IP Act in the US, the Copyright enforcement initiatives and the Great European Firewall project- cf. point 8 – in Europe, and ACTA everywhere, etc.

To learn more, visit http://g8internet.com/



Image: CC-AT-NC-SA Flickr: Barack Obama a>

The danger of the Kindle lending library

Ian Clark on why he is afraid of Amazon

Amazon has recently announced that it would allow its ebooks to be available for lending via Overdrive and, consequently, Kindle owners would be able to borrow ebooks from their local libraries ebook service.  Of course, for those of us that have been keen to support ebook availability in public libraries, this was good news.  

Kindles are the most popular ereader on the market, mainly because they are cheap and have an appealing user-friendly purchasing system.  Much as I like my Sony Reader, it is not the easiest for purchasing books (although it sure looks a damn sight more attractive than the Kindle).  However, it is not all good news, and some aspects of the announcement should cause alarm amongst information professionals.

A number of concerns have been raised by librarians, particularly in terms of the addition of an extra format to the Overdrive catalogue set against a backdrop of budget cuts.  Would libraries have to purchase another file format?  Apparently not.  A whole host of other questions have been raised too.

Will this represent a change in pricing and licensing models for titles? Will self-published authors on Amazon's platform have a chance of being on library "shelves" now? Can library patrons opt out of linking their Amazon accounts to their library account? How much check out information will Amazon have access to? How will that change if someone purchases a title they've borrowed?

But a far more important question is raised as Kindle becomes ever more dominant.  As Mike Cane (a fellow Kindle hater) put it last year:

How many Kindles are now out there vs ePub devices? If there are MORE K, then isn't *K* the goddammed "standard" for eBooks now!?

How long will it be until Amazon wakes up to public libraries offering Kindle eBooks — as they have with Adobe DRMed ePub? Will we soon see an agreement between Amazon and OverDrive? Or will Amazon snub OverDrive and directly woo public libraries?

The iPad cannot borrow eBooks from public libraries. They use Adobe DRM.

If Amazon gets public libraries on board, it would be the death of ePub. [my emphasis]

This is the really big question behind Amazon's announcement.  The fact that Amazon does not support the open standard has always been a fundamental objection of mine.  The fact that this deal could effectively end the attempts to establish an accepted open standard is a very worrying development indeed.  Amazon already have close to a monopoly of the ebook market.  The death of ePub would effectively rubber stamp Amazon's monopoly.

It goes without saying that a monopoly is a very bad thing for consumers in any market.  A monopoly in the provision of information could be a very dangerous thing indeed.  We have already seen Amazon remove books and journals from people's devices without warning, can they really be trusted to act responsibly with such a monopoly?  I'm not sure they can.  

A monopoly in the provision of access to information is a very dangerous thing.  Unless Amazon decide that the Kindle should support ePub, I see no reason to end my personal boycott of the device.  In fact, as futile as I know this is, I would encourage others to do the same until such time that Amazon supports ePub and encourages an ebook market that truly benefits the consumer.  As Mike Cane writes on his blog:

'Amazon now has more power than any other book company on earth. And yes, you damn well better be afraid of this.'

I am. Are you?


Ian Clark is currently completing an MSc in Information and Library Studies at Aberystwyth University and is a founder of Voices for the Library. He tweets as @ijclark



Image: CC-AT-NC-SA Flickr: ...-Wink-...

Lay down the cookie

Wendy Grossman argues that targeting cookies in the fight to protect privacy is not the right approach

British web developers will be spending the next couple of weeks scrambling to meet the May 26 deadline after which new legislation require users to consent before a cookie can be placed on their computers. The Information Commissioner's guidelines allow a narrow exception for cookies that are "strictly necessary for a service requested by the user"; the example given is a cookie used to remember an item the user has chosen to buy so it's there when they go to check out. Won't this be fun?

Normally, net.wars comes down on the side of privacy even when it's inconvenient for companies, but in this case we're prepared to make at least a partial exception. It's always been a little difficult to understand the hatred and fear with which some people regard the cookie. Not the chocolate chip cookie, which of course we know is everything that is good, but the bits of code that reside on your computer to give web pages the equivalent of memory.

Cookies allow a server to assemble a page that remembers what you've looked at, where you've been, and which gewgaw you've put into your shopping basket. At least some of this can be done in other ways such as using a registration scheme. But it's arguably a greater invations of privacy to require users to form a relationship with a web site they may only use once.

The single-site use of cookies is, or ought to be, largely uncontroversial. The more contentious usage is third-party cookies, used by advertising agencies to track users from site to site with the goal of serving up targeted, rather than generic, ads. It's this aspect of cookies that has most exercised privacy advocates, and most browsers provide the ability to block cookies – all, third-party, or none, with a provision to make exceptions.

The new rules, however, seem overly broad.

In the EU, the anti-cookie effort began in 2001 (the second-ever net.wars), seemed to go quiet, and then revived in 2009, when I called the legislation "masterfully stupid". That piece goes into some detail about the objections to the anti-cookie legislation, so we won't review that here. At the time, reader email suggested that perhaps making life unpleasant for advertisers would force browser manufacturers to design better privacy controls. 'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished, but so far it hasn't happened, and in the meantime that legislation has become an EU directive and now UK law.

The chief difference is moving from opt-out to opt-in: users must give consent for cookies to be placed on their machines; the chief flaw is banning a technology instead of regulating undesirable actions and effects. Besides the guidelines above, the ICO refers people to All About Cookies for further information.

Pete Jordan, a Hull-based web developer, notes that when you focus legislation on a particular technology, "People will find ways around it if they're ingenious enough, and if you ban cookies or make it awkward to use them, then other mechanisms will arise." Besides, he says, "A lot of day-to-day usage is to make users' experience of web sites easier, more friendly, and more seamless. It's not life-threatening or vital, but from the user's perception it makes a difference if it disappears." Cookies, for example, are what provide the trail of "breadcrumbs" at the top of a web page to show you the path by which you arrived at that page so you can easily go back to where you were.

"In theory, it should affect everything we do," he says of the legislation. A possible workaround may be to embed tokens in URLs, a strategy he says is difficult to manage and raises the technical barrier for web developers.

The US, where competing anti-tracking bills are under consideration in both houses of Congress, seems to be taking a somewhat different tack in requiring web sites to honor the choice if consumers set a "Do Not Track" flag. Expect much more public debate about the US bills than there has been in the EU or UK. See, for example, the strong insistence by What Would Google Do? author Jeff Jarvis that media sites in particular have a right to impose any terms they want in the interests of their own survival. He predicts paywalls everywhere and the collapse of media economics. I think he's wrong.

The thing is, it's not a fair contest between users and web site owners. It's more or less impossible to browse the web with all cookies turned off: the complaining pop-ups are just too frequent. But targeting the cookie is not the right approach. There are many other tracking technologies that are invisible to consumers which may have both good and bad effects – even web bugs are used helpfully some of the time. (The irony is, of course, regulating the cookie but allowing increases in both offline and online surveillance by police and government agencies.)

Requiring companies to behave honestly and transparently toward their customers would have been a better approach for the EU; one hopes it will work better in the US.


Wendy M. Grossman's web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of all the earlier columns in this series

Image: CC-AT Flickr: norwichnuts

Changing the course of the debate on piracy

Joe Karaganis, lead author of the report on Media Piracy in Emerging Economies, speaks to ORGZine about his work

Joe Karaganis, lead author of the Media Piracy in Emerging Economies report, speaks to ORGZine about his work. He tells us why the approach to tackling piracy needs to change, and why the relative disparity in prices of goods such as CDs & DVDs in emerging economies compared to the US & Europe has made a surge in piracy inevitable.

You can buy the report for yourself here.


Image: CC-AT-NC Flickr: luiznavarro (Luiz Navarro)

Middle East conflicts continue to target journalists

ARTICLE 19 Executive Director Dr Agnes Callamard on the current situation in the Arab world

From Morocco to Bahrain, everyday people have taken on the cast iron hold of dictatorships and absolute monarchies resulting in an extraordinary collective awakening that has paved the way for epochal change in the region. The youth movement, which lies at the core of the uprisings, continues to play a prominent role in the pro-democracy and pro-reform demonstrations, which have swept through the region, unabated by government clampdowns or concessions.

To date, there have been revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, a civil war in Libya, major protests in Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Oman, Iran and Yemen and minor protests in Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Western Sahara. The protests have also triggered similar unrest outside the region, including in Azerbaijan. Fuelled by unemployment, restrictions on freedom of expression and government corruption, the protests proved to be the ultimate litmus test for government’s tolerance of freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, across the Middle East and North Africa.

The response from a number of governments has included indiscriminately firing on protesters - resulting in at least a thousand deaths and thousands of wounded - shutting down the internet and phone lines, the jamming of Al-Jazeera’s satellite and other international broadcasters, and further clamping down on press freedom whilst also offering concessions in some cases. A clear example of this dichotomy is currently unravelling in Syria, where the entire Syrian cabinet resigned as a concession to protesters on March 29 2011 but where security forces killed at least 25 pro-democracy protesters in Homs on April 17 2011.

The determination of the protesters across the region to keep the movement “peaceful,” and their success at doing so despite significant state violence has been commended by the international community. These men, women and children who have taken to the streets are part of an unprecedented movement that has built sufficient momentum over the past months to influence the current scope of events. How we, the international community, respond to this movement and support the transition process in post-revolutionary countries such as Tunisia and Egypt, will come to define our work in the region for years to come.

ARTICLE 19 urges Arab states to grasp this opportunity to begin a process of real democratisation, with the respect of freedom of expression at its core. The transition and reform processes require, and should be based on, freedom of expression and freedom of the press, transparency, and the ability of all, men and women, religious and other minorities and vulnerable groups, to speak out and participate equally and without fear in the reform process and the democratic running of their country.

The stability of the region relies on such stewardship. ARTICLE 19 is also calling on Arab governments to hold an independent and transparent investigation into the violations that have taken place over the last months, determine all responsibilities, including the line of command, and bring to justice those responsible. The right to know is a fundamental human right which takes on particular importance in situations, such as those in the Arab world, where people are disappeared, imprisoned, beaten and tortured, or worse still, killed in mysterious circumstances and secrecy.

As one Egyptian activist succinctly tweeted during the protests there, “we use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world.“

Today, more than ever, access to electronic media, the ability to spread ideas online and the cyber activism that this enables have emerged as essential elements to popular movements for greater freedom and, perhaps more surprisingly, even essential to 21st Century revolutions. This is the human rights revelation of the extraordinary cascade of revolutions which are springing up across the region.

In Tunisia, grassroots and independent digital activists such as Nawaat and Tunileaks and bloggers including Fatma Riahi, all of whom the regime had tirelessly sought to repress, played a key role in disseminating information during the uprisings. While the protests that eventually led to the toppling of Ben Ali took root in the rural and marginalised heartlands of Tunisia - far from the national and international spotlight - coverage of the subsequent police brutality, sniper shootings, and wounded protesters in hospitals first came via posts on Facebook and Twitter, and in footage on Flickr and YouTube.

Although the ripple effects of the uprisings differ from country to country, the ongoing persecution of journalists and cyber activists remains a serious cause for concern for ARTICLE 19. Against this backdrop of continued unrest, a disturbing pattern of violence, harassment and intimidation against journalists, cyber activists and bloggers covering widespread civil unrest is emerging. There have been widespread allegations of human rights violations and disappearances during the prodemocracy protests, and many journalists, human rights defenders, bloggers and cyber activists have been detained in a number of countries, including in Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria.

Accusations of torture of protesters and journalists especially in Syria and Bahrain are beginning to emerge, as the scale of government clampdowns is emerging. ARTICLE 19 calls for the immediate release of all imprisoned peaceful protesters and political prisoners, including journalists and bloggers that are being detained in the context of pro-democracy protests. In addition, the authorities should immediately investigate and disclose the fate and whereabouts all those who are missing, and immediately inform their families.


The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has documented more than 80 attacks on the press since political unrest erupted in Libya last month. They include four fatalities: Ali Hassan Al Jaber, a Qatari cameraman working for Al-Jazeera, Mohamed Al-Nabous, a Libyan journalist and blogger and more recently, two photojournalists were killed - Vanity Fair’s Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, a US photojournalist working for Getty Images.

According to reports, there has been 49 detentions, 11 assaults, two attacks on news facilities, the jamming of Al-Jazeera and Al-Hurra transmissions, at least four instances of obstruction, the expulsion of two international journalists, and the interruption of internet services.

At least 18 journalists and media workers, including at least six Libyan journalists and nine foreign journalists are missing or in government custody. The disappearance of foreign media workers started taking place shortly after the Libyan authorities asked journalists from different international news outlets to leave the country within 24 hours.

The government has also decided not to issue new visas for journalists who wish to cover the unfolding conflict. Amongst the scores of disappearance cases, ARTICLE 19 received reports from Benghazi that three journalist Hassan Zeitouni, an Algerian journalist, Majdi Hilal, Egyptian cameraman and Mohammad Al-Shoueihdi, 26-year-old Libyan cameraman from Benghazi went missing in Ajdabiya in the late afternoon of April 6 2011 when they drove out of town towards the frontline around al-Breiqa.

The first news of their detention came on April 8 2011 at midnight, when Libyan national TV showed Zeitouni criticising Benghazi and praising Tripoli. According to reports, there are good reasons to believe that he did so under pressure. Since then, Zeitouni has been released, but the whereabouts of Hilal and Al-Shoueihdi have yet to be established. The families of the disappeared journalists have not heard from either of them. ARTICLE 19 is calling on Libyan authorities to immediately provide information on the whereabouts of all journalists detained or missing in Libya.


In post-revolution Egypt, the freedom of expression situation in the country took a major blow when the Egyptian military introduced a new requirement requesting that local print media obtain approval for all mentions of the armed forces before publication. In a letter to editors dated March 22 2011, the director of the Morale Affairs Directorate of the Egyptian military, Maj. Gen. Ismail Mohamed Othman demanded that they do not “publish any (topics, news, statements, complaints, advertisements, pictures) pertaining to the Armed Forces or to commanders of the Armed Forces without first consulting with the Morale Affairs Directorate and the Directorate of Military Intelligence and Information Gathering, as they are the authorities specialized in reviewing such issues, [in an effort to] ensure the security and safety of the homeland.”

The first casualty of this law is Maikel Nabil, a blogger who campaigned against conscription and criticised the army's role during anti-government protests , and who was arrested on March 28 2011, after criticising the military in his blogs. According to reports, his blog posts and comments on social networking website Facebook were used as evidence against him in the trial. ARTICLE 19 is calling on the Egyptian military authorities to remain true to the spirit of the revolution, to repeal the requirement requesting that local print media obtain approval for all mentions of the armed forces and to immediately release blogger Maike Nabil.

ARTICLE 19 is concerned with the slow pace of reforms initiated, particularly with regard to the 30-year-old state of emergency which is still in place. ARTICLE 19 calls for all provisions of the Emergency Law to be repealed.


As the crackdown on human rights defenders, political activists, protesters and journalists reporting on anti-government protests continues across the country, cases of torture and ill treatment in detention are emerging. In Madaya, a suburb of Damascus, the capital, four seventeen-year-olds, were recently handcuffed and taken from their classrooms for spraying anti-government graffiti. This follows on from an incident last week which saw fifteen teenagers arrested for writing anti-government graffiti on walls in Daraa.

ARTICLE 19 has also received reports from family members of journalists who have been forcibly disappeared and whose whereabouts remain unknown, including the Alabiya.net reporter Mohamad Zaid Mastou. Zaid Mastou was arrested on April 6 2011 by Syrian authorities while he was in a cyber cafe in Damascus. According to eyewitness reports, Zaid Mastou was beaten by government authorities during his abduction before being taken off to an undisclosed location. Zaid Mastou had returned to Syria few days before the outbreak of demonstrations in the last month and was covering the confrontations between security forces and protesters for Alabiya.net. His family have not received any news from him since his arrest.

Despite numerous requests, government authorities have refused to provide his family with any information. The situation in the country remains critical: Over 350 individuals have allegedly been killed since the protests began, at least 120 since Friday alone. The security forces have shown no restraint, using live fire ammunition against unarmed protesters. The vast majority were killed for expressing their views in the context of peaceful protests.

ARTICLE 19 is calling on the Syrian government to put an immediate stop to the heavy handed and violent crackdown on the protests and the protesters and resulting violations of key human rights, including the right to freedom of expression. In addition, ARTICLE 19 is also calling for an immediate independent investigation into the killings, use of torture and ill treatment, and other violations committed by government forces.


At least 30 people have been killed since anti-government protests by Bahrain's Shiite majority began in February. Hundreds have been detained in the crackdown on the rebellion. Last month, the Sunni-led state saw the worst sectarian clashes since the 1990s after mainly Shia protestors, emboldened by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, took to the streets. As part of a crackdown on pro-democracy protestors in the Gulf Arab Kingdom, a human rights lawyer and at least two doctors have been detained, and there have been at least 4 reported cases of deaths in custody.

In addition, Zakariya Rashid Hassan al-Ashiri, a blogger who moderated and wrote for a website that covers news and other developments in his village of al-Dair, died under mysterious circumstances while in government custody on April 16 2011. He was charged with disseminating false news and inciting hatred, the BBC reported. Karim Fakhrawi, founder and board member of Al-Wasat, the country's premier independent daily, also died in custody under mysterious circumstances. The government has accused Al-Wasat of “deliberate news fabrication and falsification.”

Since then, the government has announced it will file criminal charges against three of the paper's senior editors and has deported two other senior staffers. Fakhrawi died on April 12 2011, a week after he was apparently taken into custody. ARTICLE 19 is calling on the Bahraini government to put an immediate stop to the heavy handed and violent crackdown on the protests, and the violation of the right to freedom of expression, including the right of the press to report on the events. ARTICLE 19 calls on Bahraini authorities to conduct an independent and transparent investigation into the death in state custody of both Al-Ashiri and Fakhrawi, and into the killings, use of torture and ill treatment, and other violations committed by the Bahraini security forces.


ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works around the world to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech. Dr Agnes Callamard is executive director at ARTICLE 19

This article was originally published here and is licensed under CC BY 3.0


Image: CC-AT Michael von Bergen


Wendy M Grossman looks at the iPhone tracking 'scandal' and argues that it is just a symptom of a wider problem!

Modern life is full of so many moments when you see an apparently perfectly normal person doing something that not so long ago was the clear sign of a crazy person. They're walking down the street talking to themselves? They're *on the phone*. They think the inanimate objects in their lives are spying on them? They may be *right*.

Last week's net.wars ("The open zone") talked about the difficulty of finding the balance between usability, on the one hand, and giving users choice, flexibility, and control, on the other. And then, as if to prove this point, along comes Apple and the news that the iPhone has been storing users' location data, perhaps permanently.

The story emerged this week when two researchers presenting at O'Reilly's Where 2.0 conference presented an open-source utility they'd written to allow users to get a look at the data the iPhone was saving. But it really begins last year, when Alex Levinson discovered the stored location data as part of his research on Apple forensics. Based on his months of studying the matter, Levinson contends that it's incorrect to say that Apple is gathering this data: rather, the device is gathering the data, storing it, and backing it up when you sync your phone. Of course, if you sync your phone to Apple's servers, then the data is transferred to your account – and it is also migrated when you purchase a new iPhone or iPad.

So the news is not quite as bad as it first sounded: your device is spying on you, but it's not telling anybody. However: the data is held in unencrypted form and appears never to expire, and this raises a whole new set of risks about the devices that no one had really focused on until now.

A few minutes after the story broke, someone posted on Twitter that they wondered how many lawyers handling divorce cases were suddenly drafting subpoenas for copies of this file from their soon-to-be-exes' iPhones. Good question (although I'd have phrased it instead as how many script ideas the wonderful, tech-savvy writers of The Good Wife are pitching involving forensically recovered location data).

That is definitely one sort of risk; another, ZDNet's Adrian Kingsley-Hughes points out is that the geolocation may be wildly inaccurate, creating a false picture that may still be very difficult to explain, either to a spouse or to law enforcement, who, as Declan McCullagh writes know about and are increasingly interested in accessing this data.

There are a bunch of other obvious privacy things to say about this, and Privacy International has helpfully said them in an open letter to Steve Jobs.

"Companies need openness and procedures," PI's executive director, Simon Davies, said yesterday, comparing Apple's position today to Google's a couple of months before the WiFi data-sniffing scandal.

The reason, I suspect, that so many iPhone users feel so shocked and betrayed is that Apple's attention to the details of glossy industrial design and easy-to-understand user interfaces leads consumers to cuddle up to Apple in a way they don't to Microsoft or Google. I doubt Google will get nearly as much anger directed at it for the news that Android phones also collect location data (the Android saves only the last 50 mobile masts and 200 WiFi networks). In either event, the key is transparency: when you post information on Twitter or Facebook about your location or turn on geo-tagging you know you're doing it. In this case, the choice is not clear enough for users to understand what they've agreed to.

The question is: how best can consumers be enabled to make informed decisions? Apple's current method - putting a note saying "Beware of the leopard" at the end of a 15,200-word set of terms and conditions (which are in any case drafted by the company's lawyer to protect the company, not to serve consumers) that users agree to when they sign up for iTunes – is clearly inadequate. It's been shown over and over again that consumers hate reading privacy policies, and you have only to look at Facebook's fumbling attempts to embed these choices in a comprehensible interface to realize that the task is genuinely difficult.

This is especially true because, unlike the issue of user-unfriendly sysstems in the early 1990s, it's not particularly in any of these companies' interests to solve this intransigent and therefore expensive problem. Make it easy for consumers to opt out and they will, hardly an appetizing proposition for companies supported in whole or in part by advertising.

The answer to the question, therefore, is going to involve a number of prongs: user interface design, regulation, contract law, and industry standards, both technical and practical. The key notion, however, is that it should be feasible – even easy – for consumers to tell what information gathering they're consenting to. The most transparent way of handling that is to make opting out the default, so that consumers must take a positive action to turn these things on.

You can say – as many have – that this particular scandal is overblown. But we're going to keep seeing dust-ups like this until industry practice changes to reflect our expectations. Apple, so sensitive to the details of industrial design that will compel people to yearn to buy its products, will have to develop equal sensitivity for privacy by design.


Wendy M. Grossman’s Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of all the earlier columns in this series

Image: CC-AT-SA Flickr: bojo (Bobbie Johnson)

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Wendy M. Grossman responds to "loopy" statements made by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt in regards to censorship and encryption.

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