Out of Contact

Sorry – I meant to post the fact that I would be extending the long Memorial Day weekend. I’ll be back at it on the 29th, although only catching up — not going to be much in the way of internet access happening!!

Life in the UK

Winston Smith, look out! Spy Drones Added to Britain’s “Surveillance Society”pdf

It could be the 4 million closed-circuit television cameras, or maybe the spy drones hovering overhead, but one way or another Britons know they are being watched. All the time. Everywhere.

The latest gizmo to be employed in what civil liberty campaigners are calling Britain’s “surveillance society” is a small, remote-controlled helicopter that can hover above inner city streets and monitor suspected criminals.

Unveiled in the north of Britain this week, it could be introduced across the country if deemed a success, fuelling an already intense debate over whether the “Big Brother” world George Orwell predicted is now truly upon us, or whether such scrutiny is merely essential for security in the modern era.

Peers, Networks and Opportunity

Tracking an Online Trend, and a Route to Suicide

Figures released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show that South Korea’s suicide rate stood at 18.7 per 100,000 people in 2002 — up from 10.2 in 1985. In 2002, Japan’s rate was the same as South Korea’s, but the rate in the United States was 10.2 per 100,000.

Experts attribute the increase to the stresses of rapid modernization and the degradation of rural life, but they are also concerned that the Internet is contributing to the jump. South Korea has one of the world’s highest rates of broadband access and, as in Japan in recent years, the Internet has become a lethally efficient means of bringing together people with suicide on their minds.

e-Stonia Cyberattack Followup

An old-fashioned diplomatic dispute plays out in cyberspace

Elsewhere, this might not have mattered quite so much. A defense information specialist from another newish NATO member state told me, somewhat ruefully, that his country wouldn’t be vulnerable to a cyberattack because so little of its infrastructure is sophisticated enough to use the Internet. But Estonia—“e-Stonia” to its fans—practices forms of e-government advanced even by Western European standards. Estonians pay taxes online, vote online, bank online. Their national ID cards contain electronic chips. When the country’s Cabinet meets, everyone brings their laptop. When denial-of-service attacks start taking down Estonian Web sites, it matters.

[…] Both the anonymity and the novelty may turn out to be part of the appeal, particularly if, as some in NATO now believe, the attacks are Russian “tests,” both of the West’s preparedness for cyberwarfare in general and of NATO’s commitment to its newest, weakest members in particular. Some believe the Russian government is now playing with different tactics, trying to see which forms of harassment work best: the verbal attacks on Estonia, the Russian oil pipeline to Lithuania that mysteriously turns out to need repairs, or the embargos on Polish meat products and Georgian wine.

If that is the case, then surely the lesson of the last three weeks is that cyberwarfare has a lot going for it: It creates no uproar, results in no tit-for-tat economic sanctions, doesn’t seem like a “real” form of warfare, and doesn’t get anyone worried about Europe’s long-term energy needs. NATO did, in the end, quietly send a few specialists to Estonia, as (even more quietly) did the Pentagon. A few Europeans complained a bit at a summit over the weekend, too. But there the affair will end—until the attacked Estonian government in cyberspace comes back online, better armed for the next battle.

Revising the FCC Spectrum Auction (updated)

Google Proposes Innovation in Radio Spectrum Auction

Google filed a proposal [local copy] on Monday with the Federal Communications Commission calling on the agency to let companies allocate radio spectrum using the same kind of real-time auction that the search engine company now uses to sell advertisements.

[…] “The driving reason we’re doing this is that there are not enough broadband options for consumers,” said Adam Kovacevich, a spokesman for Google’s policy office in Washington. “In general, it’s the belief of a lot of people in the company that spectrum is allocated in an inefficient manner.”

In their proposal, Google executives argue that by permitting companies to resell the airwaves in a real-time auction would make it possible to greatly improve spectrum use and simultaneously create a robust market for innovative digital services. For instance, a company could resell its spectrum on an as-needed basis to other providers, the executives said in their formal proposal to the federal agency.

The FCC’s Spectrum Policy Task Force WWW page.

The Rise of whosarat.com

Bringing the power of the “Culture” side of the New Chicago School to bear upon informants — how to right the balance? And note how easily the instruments of the database and the WWW can challenge assumptions about privacy … again: Web Sites Listing Informants Concern Justice Dept.

There are three “rats of the week” on the home page of whosarat.com, a Web site devoted to exposing the identities of witnesses cooperating with the government. The site posts their names and mug shots, along with court documents detailing what they have agreed to do in exchange for lenient sentences.

[…] “The reality is this,” said a spokesman for the site, who identified himself as Anthony Capone. “Everybody has a choice in life about what they want to do for a living. Nobody likes a tattletale.”

Federal prosecutors are furious, and the Justice Department has begun urging the federal courts to make fundamental changes in public access to electronic court files by removing all plea agreements from them — whether involving cooperating witnesses or not.

“We are witnessing the rise of a new cottage industry engaged in republishing court filings about cooperators on Web sites such as www.whosarat.com for the clear purpose of witness intimidation, retaliation and harassment,” a Justice Department official wrote in a December letter to the Judicial Conference of the United States, the administrative and policy-making body of the federal court system.

[…] Judge John R. Tunheim, a federal judge in Minneapolis and the chairman of a Judicial Conference committee studying the issue, acknowledged the gravity of the safety threat posed by the Web sites but said it would be better addressed through case-by-case actions.

“We are getting a pretty significant push from the Justice Department to take plea agreements off the electronic file entirely,” Judge Tunheim said. “But it is important to have our files accessible. I really do not want to see a situation in which plea agreements are routinely sealed or kept out of the electronic record.”

So, What Does This Mean For DRM-Free Music?

Will the private equity firm see the point? Or will they just pump and dump EMI to Warner? EMI Accepts $4.7 Billion Buyout Offer

The EMI Group, the world’s third-largest record company, said today that it would recommend to shareholders that they accept a $4.7 billion buyout offer from a private equity firm, Terra Firma Capital Partners.

EMI, which releases music by the Beatles and Coldplay, has spent years in and out of merger talks with various suitors. If approved, the deal to sell to Terra Firma would remove EMI from the public markets, where its financial problems include two profit warnings this year. But Terra Firma itself could profit on the deal by subsequently selling EMI, in whole or part, to a rival, the Warner Music Group. EMI, based in London, and Warner had been in advanced merger talks last summer. They stalled after a European Union court ruling raised questions about the regulatory approval of a previous music merger between Sony and Bertelsmann.

Reuters has another take: EMI agrees $4.7 billion offer from Terra Firmapdf

Sources familiar with the situation had previously told Reuters that EMI had opened its books in recent weeks to Warner and three other private equity groups.

Details of Terra Firma’s strategic plans will also be a blow to Warner as it had been thought that any private equity buyer might only keep the cash-generative music publishing arm and sell the struggling recorded music division to Warner.

“It believes in the digital growth opportunity in the music market, in general, and so the expectation is that the business will be held together,” said the source.

Later: Buyout firm in accord for EMIpdf

Second Guessing Municipal Wireless

Cities struggle with wireless Internetpdf

Across the United States, many cities are finding their Wi-Fi projects costing more and drawing less interest than expected, leading to worries that a number will fail, resulting in millions of dollars in wasted tax dollars or grants when there had been roads to build and crime to fight.

[…] Lompoc’s backers, though, still claim success, “even if the whole network were to be written off tomorrow,” said Mark McKibben, Lompoc’s former wireless consultant.

“Prices dropped and quality of service went up,” he said. “That’s the way a lot of cities look at it. They don’t look at business profits and losses. They see it as a driver for quality of life.”

Of course, the point is that introducing wireless should have been about integrating it into the town’s mission of “roads to build and crime to fight;” assuming that it’s just about displacing Comcast/Verizon is just foolish.

I See …

That recent spate of copyrightmaximalist ink has the smell of Astro-turf: Backers of stronger copyright laws form lobby group

Some of the staunchest advocates for stricter copyright laws have formed a new alliance designed to pressure Congress into preserving stronger intellectual property rights.

The Copyright Alliance–which launched, complete with electric-green and white T-shirts displaying its logo at a morning Capitol Hill event here–consists of 29 national organizations and companies that purport to represent 11 million workers in copyright-related industries. Those members include the Recording Industry Association of America, the Association of American Publishers, the Motion Picture Association of America, Microsoft, Viacom and Walt Disney.

The group’s members aren’t expected to agree on all the nuances of policy debates, said Patrick Ross, the alliance’s executive director.

But according to a press release, they’re all committed to broad goals like promoting the “vital role” of copyright in the U.S. economy and job market, encouraging inclusion of copyright protection requirements in international agreements, supporting civil and criminal penalties for piracy, and advocating against “diminishment” of copyright law.

Both the membership and academic advisors list are instructive on any number of levels. But it’s the “For Educators” link that really sets you up:

For Educators

It’s never too early to learn the value of copyright. In fact, every time a child takes crayon to paper, he or she has created a copyrighted work, but how many know the rights they’ve just earned?

Educators across the country recognize the value of incorporating an understanding of copyright into lesson plans, but the resources haven’t always been readily available. The Copyright Alliance, as part of its educational mission, aims to identify valuable curriculum guides and other educational resources and make those resources available to educators.

You will find some materials here, and more will be added. If you are aware of valuable lesson plans or other worthwhile teacher guides, please let us know at info@copyrightalliance.org.