Archive for the ‘freedom of speech’ Category

It’s beginning to look like the name of a Guns N’ Roses album.

The leaders of two opposition parties are being held without charges after participating in a forum critical of the country’s new 2013 constitution law. A trade unionist is also being held.

Sadly, Mr. Bainimarama’s government is not an unpopular one, (and for all I know he does good work on issues other than civil liberties and has done some genuinely good things post-coup, it’s somewhat difficult to get news on anything except the aborted attempt to change their flag. The expat Fijians I know all seem to think he’s done well) but still, it really needs to get its act together. Arresting the leader of the opposition is a serious thing, and while I absolutely do think that MPs are subject to the law like the rest of us, there should be no question of illegality for a peaceful gathering to discuss the constitution. That’s not a security concern in a democratic country, it’s people exercising their rights to freedom of assembly, which no longer exists in Fiji. Now, if there were evidence they were stockpiling arms or planning another military coup, that would be different, but I think it highly unlikely that’s the case, given that one of the opposition party leaders turned himself in.

Biman Prasad‘s house has been searched for documents and a laptop has been seized by police, presumably on the hunt for something appropriately “subversive” to charge him with so he can be arrested as a threat to governmental security. For his political opinions. This is exactly the sort of thing that “freedom of expression” is supposed to prevent, and without that right, Fiji really doesn’t have even the dregs of democracy it could lay claim to before, and its elections are a complete farce, as opposed to merely slanted in Frank Bainimarama’s favour.

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So lately we’ve seen some right-wing politicians in the USA come out swinging against the idea of Net Neutrality. The current favoured talking point about why they’re doing this is that Net Neutrality is a form of price control. For those who aren’t aware, the internet has informally functioned on a system described as “Net Neutrality” for most of its lifetime- until recently. It’s the principle that internet traffic should work like phone calls. That is, barring certain exceptions for law enforcement reasons, all traffic should be forwarded to its destination without interference or delay.

The argument that Net Neutrality is a price control relies on people not understanding how the internet works in order to be persuasive. They argue, look, you pay your Internet Service Provider to deliver you content. Why shouldn’t the content provider have to pay for this? They’re getting content delivered to you for free.

Only someone who has never had to deal with the realities of hosting a website would say this. Everyone who puts up a website pays hosting fees either directly or indirectly. If you have your own server in your home, you pay your ISP for the ability to upload certain amounts of bandwidth. For small websites that probably works fine. You might instead pay a specialised hosting company to perform this service for you as well, in which case, they manage the server. You also pay a fee to have a human-readable address (like “google.com”) to the Domain Name Registry Service.

Sites like WordPress.com that offer “free” hosting services for certain types of content manage these fees for you and gamble that they can make money off advertising on your pages. Ending Net Neutrality would essentially open anyone hosting content to blackmail from large ISPs. They could block access to services that compete with them or their parent company, (so you wouldn’t be able to use the internet to move your service to a new ISP, for instance, or if your ISP owns a video streaming service, they might block or dramatically slow down competing services to the point they don’t function) and they could slow down sites hosted by large content providers if they refuse to pay for so-called “fastlane service” in order to extract extra fees. (in reality, they would be paying to get out of a slow lane that had been newly invented, as currently all “lanes” travel at the same speed)

This won’t just affect customers of one ISP, either. Internet traffic uses a system called “routing” that has regional servers direct your traffic. You’re often passing through six or ten intermediary servers when you request internet content. If just one of those intermediary servers slows or blocks content, it effects the whole route. Other ISPs who don’t support this sort of behaviour would need to develop systems to skip biased parts of the internet that don’t forward traffic on a neutral basis.

It’s as if someone actually had the power to mark a speed limit on a section of the ocean, or actually block it off altogether. The way ships are navigated would have to change.

The other argument used by opponents of Net Neutrality is, as I’ve alluded above, that the ability to prioritize certain types of traffic allows them to offer better service- that is, they can fast-lane the things that are important to their customers.

This is a better argument, but it’s still wrong. If prioritising internet traffic is helpful, (and I can see why it would be) a better way to handle it would be to allow software developers to opt in to having certain internet traffic handled slowly. This would allow things like periodic e-mail checks to be deprioritised, (because do you really need to know the instant you receive a new email?) but manual e-mail checks to go through at a full speed that might be slightly faster, and it would also let developers expose options to have all internet traffic sent at full priority.

That puts whether your traffic is handled as a priority in your hands, and the hands of people who actually design software, and whose job it is to know when an internet request needs to be fast or slow. Centralising the priority of internet traffic with ISPs leads to situations like torrent throttling, which slows down things like peer-to-peer video game updating in order to also discourage pirating of TV and blu-ray content, or at worst political censorship by ISPs or simple anti-competitive behaviour like mentioned above.

The worst thing is that if this happens in the USA, it sabotages the Internet for everyone else as well, given the large amount of traffic routed through the USA. It would pose big routing issues for any New Zealand or Australia-based ISPs wanting to avoid slow service. All internet users should be crossing our fingers that a Democrat (most likely either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton) ends up winning the USA’s next presidential election, otherwise this is going to be a problem we have to deal with.

What follows is an analysis of declared fundraising activies by New Zealand Political Parties. Raw data can be found here.

I am limited in my analysis that a lot of small fundraising for Parties comes from memberships, and that very few donations under $1,500.00 (hereafter: $1.5k) are declared under our system.

Total FundingFirstly, the Grand Totals. Pretty obviously, they break down into four tiers.

First tier, multi-million dollar parties, including total Internet and Mana donations, National donations, and Conservative donations and loans. (Notably, only the conservatives took out loans)

Second tier, donations over $100k, including the Greens, (yes, they declared more donations than Labour. This may as usual be due to the Greens actually following the rules and declaring everything- unknown!) Labour, ACT, the Mäori Party, and NZ First.

Third tier, Focus New Zealand and the ALCP, who both raised significant amounts despite not being in Parliament.

Fourth tier, nominal amounts for United Future and Ban 1080. $0 donation returns are excluded.

Secondly, dollars raisedFundraising ratio per seat.

(The sorting is still by Total Funding, so you can compare the size of their ratio to their total funding)

Note that parties relying on electorates vastly outraised other parties for declared donations on this basis. National and the Green Party raised more money than the other list Parties, and NZ First and Labour are largely in proportion to their support bases.

fundraising bands

(click to view alone, it’s too large to fit in a post!)

Finally, a giant chart grouping the fundraising types into bands.

Note that no party in Parliament declared significant donations from small sources. This is likely due to the limits of our disclosure laws- parties ought to still track and declare the total amount of small donations ideally.

The multi-million dollar parties all received almost all of their donations from large sources, with only National raising any notable amount from medium sources.

Of the other parties in Parliament, Act and the Mäori Party relied on a majority of large fundraising, and everyone else a majority of medium fundraising.

In closing: This was an election with a ridiculous amount of influence from donors over $15k, anonymous donors over 1.5K, and donations protected from disclosure. This is emblematic of a broken funding system, where too much poltical energy goes into funding. We may need to rethink on what basis we allow political donations, because this doesn’t look like a contest of ideas, it looks like a contest of billboards.

(more…)

Let’s say one coalition group bans certain kinds of protest, with disproportionate penalties for those involved, removes democratically elected regional representatives and refuses to reinstate full elections for the area, and proposes to allow our international spying agency to spy domestically, despite also having a domestic spying agency for that job, and then refuses to answer questions on the matter.

The other coalition group proposes to use some seed money to build houses which it will later recoup, and to set up a single-payer system to keep power prices down while still allowing generators to make a reasonable profit.

One of these coalitions could be forgiven for comparing the other to an authoritarian regime like the Soviet Union.

If you thought it was the first one, then you either have no idea about what being an authoritarian means, or you’re a National Party hack. (because at this stage, who’s even left in the Act or United Future parties, and does the Maori Party really ever want to go into coalition with National again?) I wouldn’t care to speculate between ignorance and malice, however.

The single payer model has been shown to work very well in cases where there is a captive market, like for power and healthcare, where consumers can only choose between providers, but have little choice about whether to buy or not. This is well-tested policy, which anyone who took an interest in politics as anything other than a points-scoring exercise should know. This is the first strong policy announcement by Labour and the Greens, and it was presented as a complementary approach with both parties adopting synergistic policies, and competing in a friendly manner for our vote.

Both parties’ job now is to keep following this precedent. Labour has finally realised it has room to its left, and the Greens have welcomed them to the club again. If Shearer can restrain himself from moving back right, and maintain genuine populism instead of the fake middle-of-the-road sort of nonsense we were seeing before, we could be looking at the beginning of a change in government.

Firstly, good news: Huge congratulations to the tens of millions of netizens who participated all around the world in the blackout to inform people about SOPA and PIPA. Everyone who cares about technology even slightly now knows about those outrageous bills and the guilt-by-accusation approach to piracy they espouse, and as this tactic is still relatively new, it had an amazing effect on both houses of the US congress, flipping many sponsors of both SOPA and PIPA firmly into the “opposition” category of the bill, with the usual gormless comments about needing to “read it more carefully” or “more thorougly research the implications”- which means they thought they could coast through and not bother to actually analyse the bill because it had so much support from rights-holders.

This is a victory, but it’s also just a reprieve- SOPA and PIPA were just new versions of COICA, which was similarly disgusting, and New Zealand has had its own brush with guilt-by-association copyright laws before, too, which it also took local blackouts to defeat.

Finally, there’s been excellent stories about SOPA and PIPA all over the mainstream journalist sources recently, to highlight only a couple, there is a great piece written by Dan Gillmor up at The Guardian, a great summary of SOPA and PIPA by Rachel Maddow, and Chris Hayes’ Up With Chris has a video panel discussing SOPA, and a blog that rebuts the fact-light defense of SOPA on the video panel courtesy of Joe Sestak.

 

Now, onto the mixed news: Megaupload is down, in a joint operation between New Zealand police and the FBI that saw four arrests and a $10 million asset seizure, and the seizure of Megaupload’s domain name. The accusations against Megaupload and its sister company are very unclear, and it’s murky precisely what actions are being claimed to have broken the law on the charges being laid- including conspiracies to commit racketeering, money laundering, and copyright infringement, and some of it seems to centre on what I like to call the “blind eye” fallacy, which is that because individuals in the company may have been able to cite examples of infringing content that were not taken down, the people running the company were responsible. I hope that the police plan to actually show that at the least, the people they arrested were criminally liable or criminally negligent in their actions. It’s very disturbing to me that middlemen are being held liable for enforcing copyright- I’m not sure the onus should be on megaupload to prevent infringement when they aren’t actively notified by rights-holders, as the precedent of intellectual property rights cases has been that rights-holders are responsible for objecting to misuse of their ideas in order to maintain their rights. Time (eww, I know, but they’re doing good journalism this time) has more on the “Mega Conspiracy”, as authorities are calling it.

If having to establish evidence that copyright infringement is happening is too hard for the incredibly wealthy rights-holders in Hollywood that are largely responsible for DMCA notices, then I don’t think they ought to be allowed to ask for arrests, or for content to be taken down. The presumption should be that content is licenced until someone complains, and even then, legally, the assumption should be that content doesn’t infringe copyright until it is proven to be (a) work that has been copyrighted by someone else, (b) no valid licence is produced, and (c) proven that the use did not fall within fair usage provisions of legal copying, derivative work, or sharing. That’s a high standard, but legal action should have to meet a high standard. More on other options rights-holders have in a subsequent post, because this one is huge already.

 

Anonymous, a activist/hacking (or “hacktivist”) collective that operates entirely under pseudonyms, (there’s also more to say about Anonymous, which I will get to, I promise, but I’d sum them up provisionally as “very zealous ‘good guys’ on issues of freedom of speech, who break the law in order to defend its principles”) has launched counterattacks on several rights-holders’ sites, and also on the department of justice, taking down those sites. While I absolutely oppose holding service providers responsible for piracy they aren’t notified of, these counterattacks may be premature, and may generate some degree of sympathy for rights-holders among more conservative citizens. Assuming the trial of those arrested is timely, we should wait to see what kind of evidence is presented before condemning authorities- but of course, that’s not Anonymous’ style.

You’ll also be amused to know that currently The Pirate Bay has rebranded itself as “The Promo Bay”, a function which to some degree it no doubt serves, and has lambasted Hollywood rights-holders with a press release on SOPA, making very good points about how Hollywood was built on (legal) copyright violation. I’ll have some opinion posts on the details of piracy soon, seeing that’s the big issue at the moment.

On strike

Posted: January 18, 2012 in freedom of speech, technology
Tags: ,

While SOPA has been stalled by popular opposition, PIPA is still going ahead, so due to the inability to shut the blog down for the day, I’m simply going silent and linking you to the SOPA Strike redirect, which is actually really good.

For those of you that don’t follow tech news or American Politics, let alone the intersection of them, we’ve had some great news recently: the President of the USA, who has been barely sufficient on so many issues, has finally come out swinging on the side of free speech and innovation against the two twins of censorship, the Protect IP Act of the US Senate, and the House of Representatives’ “Stop Online Piracy Act.” He hasn’t outright threatened that the laws will get vetoed no matter what, but he’s implied that they’re heavily flawed and he can’t support them as-is. Hopefully he will expand on that and avoid the devils on his shoulder that so often prompt President Obama to compromise for the detriment of his country and the world.

While I oppose piracy in general, (as an amateur programmer I have a cat in this YouTube video, to switch up a popular metaphor) I think that to some degree it’s a necessary evil to allow us to have national sovereignty, freedom of speech, and innovation on the internet, and laws like SOPA and PIPA reinforce that impression. I also like to combat it or support people who fight it by investing their customers in the continued development and success of a product in the case of software. I can understand the film industry at least is unable to take a more creative approach here, simply due to the nature of their product. And so of course both of these bills have massive support from entertainment industries, with most of the push coming from large film makers, but there are also some technology traitors, including the ESA and several domain registry companies. (I recall GoDaddy was on this list for a while, who you should already be switching away from if you use, because they are a terrible company for other reasons)

What SOPA and PIPA propose, essentially, is that the government be allowed to censor any site containing pirated material with extreme prejudice, stripping away their DNS, (the ability of you to reach their site with a .com address the way everyone normally uses the internet, as opposed to entering an IP number you had bookmarked) and then heaping on an extra helping of economic sanctions, barring advertisers in the USA from using those sites, and cutting off payments through online services like Paypal, much like was done to Wikileaks through right-wing pressure. It gets worse from here, but I’ve already told you enough that you should see the core of the problem.

The US government having an infrastructure to censor the internet is an incredibly scary proposition. It’s this whole notion of building walls and fences again, but in the name of profits for movie tycoons, the USA would be doing it with information, effectively putting them in a position where they could become the thought police, or at least shut down independent media, after it only just started up again with podcasts, YouTube videos, and blogs.

Let’s get into the truly Orwellian stuff: To be considered a pirate under these laws, you don’t have to host a significant amount of pirated material. (There’s an amendment to PIPA that redefines the law down to that, which would make it merely objectionable as opposed to horrendous) You don’t even need to have someone uploading pirated data to a video or file sharing site that you’ve missed. You don’t even need to, personally, write a link to a site with pirated material. No, it’s much easier than that. You can simply fail to take down a link in a comment to a site that may contain a single, obscure pirated file somewhere.

SOPA and PIPA consider site owners responsible for what their users post. All a big business needs to do is continuously post links to pirated content until they flood the ability of the site to moderate their comments, and tip off the rights holders to get their competitors embargoed and censored. This is taking that childhood game of “stop punching yourself!” to a whole new level. It is not exaggerating to say that this could kill the internet as we know it- under these laws, tech giants like Facebook and Google wouldn’t be able to get started.

Some major sites are still planning on going dark this Wednesday (US time, naturally) to raise awareness that these bills are still under consideration by the US congress. (congress temporarily backed off both of them previously due to public opposition) I thought it might make more sense to just talk about it in advance, as I’m running a blog and all. 🙂

edit: Wikipedia, one of the most searched sites on the internet, has agreed to join the blackout tommorow.