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Big Brother tightens his grip on the web (10.07.2008)
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Thu, 14 Aug 2008 09:10:47 -0400

Begin forwarded message:

From: Brian Randell <Brian.Randell () ncl ac uk>
Date: August 14, 2008 8:26:28 AM EDT
To: dave () farber net
Subject: Fwd: Big Brother tightens his grip on the web (10.07.2008)


A colleague just alerted me to this (month old) article from the Times.

You might (still) be interested in it for IP.



<http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/the_web/article4304715.ece >http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/the_web/article4304715.ece

Big Brother tightens his grip on the web

Two decisions on either side of the Atlantic strike an alarming blow against web freedom - and common sense

Bernhard Warner in Rome
If you've ever thought that incoherence and shortsightedness were establishing themselves as the standards of the day for internet policy, the events of the past week suggest that your worst fears are becoming a reality. Last week, a New York judge ordered Google to <http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/article4263925.ece >hand over a staggering 12 terabytes of YouTube user data to broadcaster Viacom. Naturally, the American broadcaster, which is losing young television viewers daily, needs all this data to prevent its younger audience from posting clips of its programming on the net's most thriving community where, shock horror, a fan base may form to discuss, discover and share their opinions about Viacom's TV shows, music videos and movie trailers. Yes, this is a case of copyright infringement, but if you're unable to pick out the real crime here you are not alone. Let's put aside for a moment the impracticality of sifting through so much personal data (it's a volume of information comparable to all the printed works in America's Library of Congress) to tell us what we already know - viewers are posting Viacom videos to YouTube without Viacom's permission. What is enraging even sensible net users is that a district court judge could allow one of the biggest media conglomerates in the world to get its hands on our personal data that even we ourselves cannot access. Such muddle-headed decisions can turn apathetic net users into rabid privacy advocates. Expect the fallout from this decision to be felt for years to come in the form of consumer activist campaigns, boycotts and, yes, more court decisions.
Oh, but we're not done there.
On Tuesday, the European Parliament approved sweeping amendments to a package of telecoms laws that could essentially stifle the next Skype or Firefox, and make it simpler for France's three-strikes-and- you're-out file-sharing rules to become the law throughout Europe. Critics such as the <http://press.ffii.org/Press_releases/European_Parliament_rushes_towards_Soviet_Internet >Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure are calling it "Soviet-style" censorship. Just a year ago, the measures that we've seen in New York and Brussels over the past week would have seemed impossible. Turn over the personal details of millions of YouTubers, regardless of whether they've typed the letters MTV into a search bar, to a broadcaster bent on convincing us that all this attention constitutes theft? Completely illogical, we'd have said. And here in Europe, who would have guessed we'd ever be granting state regulators, prescient as they are in matters of technological innovation, the power to decide which new software applications we can and cannot use? If such an illogical system were in place a few years ago, Europeans would no doubt have been robbed of Skype, YouTube, Blogger, Twitter or any piece of software that threatens to introduce free and simple consumer interaction and thus take business away from Europe's struggling former monopolist telcos. As Benjamin Henrion of FFII ominously warns, "Tomorrow, popular software applications like Skype or even Firefox might be declared illegal in Europe if they are not certified by an administrative authority. This is compromising the whole open development of the internet as we know it today. Once the Soviet Union required the registration of all typewriters and printing devices with the authorities." The FFII also fears this legislation, known as the Telecoms Packet, will legalise mass spying on net users across Europe by jittery telcos, copyright hawks and panicky politicians. MEPs have dismissed these fears as little more than scaremongering. Yes, I agree, these sound like alarmist claims. But after the events of the past week, no Big Brother scenario would surprise me any more.

School of Computing Science, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne,
EMAIL = Brian.Randell () ncl ac uk   PHONE = +44 191 222 7923
FAX = +44 191 222 8232  URL = http://www.cs.ncl.ac.uk/people/brian.randell

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