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Facebook and the 2011 London riots

Be careful what you write. In R v Blackwell [2011] EWCA Crim 2312, Lord Judge CJ offers this blunt description of the role played by “modern technology” (principally Facebook, Blackberry’s BBM protocol, Twitter and SMS messaging) in the recent London riots. Rejecting the appellants’ argument that incitement via Facebook was a less serious offence because it did not lead to criminal activity in the real world, his Lordship commented:

[73] We are unimpressed with the suggestion that in each case the appellant did no more than make the appropriate entry in his Facebook. Neither went from door to door looking for friends or like minded people to join up with him in the riot. All that is true. But modern technology has done away with the need for such direct personal communication. It can all be done through Facebook or other social media. In other words, the abuse of modern technology for criminal purposes extends to and includes incitement of very many people by a single step. Indeed it is a sinister feature of these cases that modern technology almost certainly assisted rioters in other places to organise the rapid movement and congregation of disorderly groups in new and unpoliced areas.

FCC adopts new network neutrality rules on unstable jurisdictional ground

After months of consultation and over 100 000 submissions, the Federal Communications Commission has adopted an order which requires providers of a “broadband internet access service” to comply with its three principles of network neutrality:

The Commission adopts three basic protections that are grounded in broadly accepted Internet norms, as well as our own prior decisions.

First, transparency: fixed and mobile broadband providers must disclose the network management practices, performance characteristics, and commercial terms of their broadband services. Second, no blocking: fixed broadband providers may not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices; mobile broadband providers may not block lawful websites, or block applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services. Third, no unreasonable discrimination: fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic.

The big change in the final order is that it now partially encompasses mobile broadband providers, which the order prohibits from blocking competitor voice services, such as Skype or Google Voice. Of course, the rules seem to permit throttling under the guise of “reasonable network management”, which in practice could serve to render the competing services all but useless. Transparency obligations apply across the board, which can only be a good thing for consumer choice and effective competition. As carriers continue along the path of vertical integration, neutrality will only become a bigger regulatory issue.  Read more »

High Court of Australia grants leave to appeal iiNet ruling

Today the High Court of Australia granted leave to appeal against the decision of the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia in Roadshow Films Pty Ltd v iiNet Ltd. I haven’t been able to uncover a copy of the transcript or a list of the grounds of appeal, but the appellants are likely to contest the Full Court’s approach to determining authorisation liability, its construction of the copyright safe harbour provisions, and its finding that iiNet was not provided with reasonable notice of infringement.

iiNet CEO Michael Malone said he wasn’t surprised by today’s decision, but called on the industry to come to a “workable” solution to piracy problems. “I know the Internet industry is eager to work with the film industry and copyright holders to develop a workable solution,” Malone said. “We remain committed to developing an industry solution that sees more content readily and cheaply available online as well as a sensible model for dealing with repeated copyright infringement activity.”

The respondent, iiNet, now has two weeks in which to file a notice of cross-appeal; it will presumably wish to contest Emmett J’s creative reading of the disconnection policy requirement, and his Honour’s ‘checklist’ of steps to put iiNet on notice (at [209]-[211]). There is also a costs issue to be determined. Watch this space!

Guardian interview with Professor Tim Wu: the Internet as a teenager

The Guardian is running an interview with Professor Tim Wu, who recently published The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires . I’m about three quarters of the way through the book, which offers a refreshingly detailed comparison between regulation of early communications networks in the 19th and 20th centuries and the future of the internet. The interview offers a good summary:  Read more »

Digital avatars as risk-free social substitutes: Scruton

Philosopher Roger Scruton offers this Hegelian critique of our growing digital lives:

This process of raising ourselves above the animal condition is crucial, as the Hegelians emphasized, to the growth of the human subject as a self-knowing agent, capable of entertaining and acting from reasons, and with a developed first-person perspective and a sense of his reality as one subject among others. It is a process that depends upon real conflicts and real resolutions, in a shared public space where each of us is fully accountable for what he is and does. Anything that interferes with that process, by undermining the growth of interpersonal relations, by confiscating responsibility, or by preventing or discouraging an individual from making long-term rational choices and adopting a concrete vision of his own fulfillment, is an evil. It may be an unavoidable evil; but it is an evil all the same, and one that we should strive to abolish if we can. Transferring our social lives onto the Internet is only one of the ways in which we damage or retreat from this process of self-realization.

European Electronic Communications Package moves closer to UK transposition

The UK government is preparing to transpose Directive 2002/21/EC on a common regulatory framework for electronic communications networks and services (the Framework) into UK law. The Framework is a new regulatory package that will affect how service providers supply email, telecommunications and internet access services, but it seems to have received very little attention.

The Framework consists of five related Directives:

  • the “Framework” Directive (2002/21/EC);
  • the “Access” Directive (2002/19/EC);
  • the “Authorisation” Directive (2002/20/EC);
  • the “Universal Service” Directive (2002/22/EC); and
  • the “E-Privacy” Directive (2002/58/EC).

Several provisions from the Framework are worth noting briefly. (Further detail can be found in a recent discussion paper of the Department for Business Innovation & Skills, entitled Implementing the Revised EU Electronic Communications Framework.)

Security and integrity of computer networks

First, the Access Directive includes a number of provisions which impose new obligations on service providers to meet security and availability standards, and to notify certain network breaches to competent authorities. Article 13a provides as follows:

Article 13a Security and integrity  Read more »

WikiLeaks roundup: a selection of the best analysis

The WikiLeaks controversy continues to capture headlines and provoke vitriol from governments around the world. Most reactions, however, have been surprisingly unsophisticated. Commentators repeatedly conflate WIkiLeaks the platform with its spokesperson, Julian Assange (who is, whatever your opinion of the man, largely irrelevant), assume the platform’s actions are unlawful (probably not — and this is the very question to be determined), or believe that shutting down WikiLeaks will stop the leaks (it won’t).

US Senators have called for pressure to be placed on American companies to abandon WIkiLeaks, and for media outlets to be criminally investigated, while others have called for Assange’s prosecution and even assassination. France has called for the site to be banned from French servers (good luck). Assange has been detained on what will probably turn out to be trumped-up sex charges. Geoffrey Robertson QC and a specialist team from Doughty Chambers have stepped in to fight extradition.  Read more »

Google bookstore: closed platform or platform innovator?

Has openness become a mere buzzword?

I’m not arguing that “openness” is a bad thing in the tech business. What I’m saying is that it is not an unmitigated virtue, and it’s not necessarily the first thing people should care about when they’re shopping for a product. I’m glad that Google has introduced its new bookstore, because the e-book industry would obviously benefit from more competition. But I’d be even happier if Google wasn’t touting half-closed openness as its store’s main selling point. In the absence of real openness, Google ought to have something that Amazon doesn’t: more books, cheaper books, prettier books, books with more functions, more reviews of books, better recommendations, some kind of social-networking integration—something, anything, that would distinguish it from the bookselling herd. Calling something “open” isn’t enough, especially when it’s actually closed.

Survey finds free internet downloads primary music source for teenagers

A survey of 47 000 teenage internet users has found found that 33 per cent nominated ”downloading from the internet without paying” as their primary source of music. While this doesn’t necessarily imply piracy, it looks pretty grim for the content industries, and lends weight to previous surveys suggesting that a majority of adults had engaged in file-sharing at some point. According to iiNet, 50 per cent of ISP traffic is now BitTorrent, and 97 per cent of BitTorrent trackers deal in copyright works.

In a survey of more than 47,000 of its members worldwide, the site, which caters to 13 to 18-year-olds, found 28 per cent of the 574 Australians who responded nominated ”downloading from the internet without paying” as their primary source of music. That compared with 37 per cent who purchase music online and 20 per cent who buy CDs.

Australian teenagers are even more law-abiding when it comes to movies, with just 26 per cent admitting they ”at least sometimes” download or stream movies, compared with a global average of 46 per cent.

British ISPs to face regulatory pressure over internet pornography

Representatives of the Her Majesty’s government will meet with ISPs and lobbyists to discuss whether, and how, access to internet pornography should be controlled.

The meeting comes days after Tory backbencher Claire Perry said the availability of such materials is like ‘a fire is burning out of control’. The Member wants mandatory access controls on 18+ material, and called upon ISPs to provide them. Although details were unclear, it looks like some kind of mandatory ISP-level blocking system, subject to an opt-in after age verification.

Assuming, for sake of argument, that this is justified (and it may not be), who should implement the access controls? Ed Vaizey commented that he had ‘a huge amount of sympathy’ for Perry’s request. Does this signal a new era of content regulation in the United Kingdom? Sadly, it would not be at all unprecedented.

In other censorship-related news, a copy of the so-called ‘Google blacklist’ (keywords that will not autocomplete in the main search box) has been leaked (NSFW).