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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.
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
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
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,
NE1 7RU, UK
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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- Big Brother tightens his grip on the web (10.07.2008) David Farber (Aug 14)