The Parliament Hillbillies in Ottawa: Episode 02 - Wave of the future, baby

The 3'rd episode of the The Parliament Hillbillies in Ottawa is available. There are many topics this week of interest to a digital rights activist, from copyright (Bill C-60, audio recording media levies), to accountability/transparency of the software potentially being used for the next census, to the CRTC hearings on the implementation of the "don't hesitate to call" (they didn't call it that) legislation.

It was great to hear politically minded people talking about technology law (copyright, etc) that are outside of the "usual suspects". These are not people who have spent years studying this stuff, but picked up on a few issues very quickly. Their focus was on the overall issues of copyright, and whether copyright should be pragmatic and reflect the actual usage of technology (allowing a new generation of creators to harness business models that respect modern technology).

They also spoke about the problem with the term of copyright for photography being obfuscated. Rather than having a fixed number of years from the date the photograph was taken (the current sensible copyright act), special interest groups were able to get a change in Bill C-60 which would make it based on the date of the death of the unknowable photographer (plus an excessively long amount of time, currently 50 years with the extremists wanting to increase it). This would effectively lock away photographs for more than twice the term of copyright that they have today, destroying most future re-use by future generations of creators.

I suspect the issue is like motion pictures where the industry wants to ensure that the media that movies are stored on had long-since decayed away before they fall out of copyright, ensuring that the movies can never fall into the public domain.

They don't appear to be professional technical people, but understood the truth that if you can hear/see something you can record it, and there is no "technical" fix to this problem. It is interesting what they would think about the discussions about the "Broadcast Flag" which is not a technical measure to protect copyright, but a legal mandate which allows the current generation of content distributors to effectively unilaterally control the production and use of technologies that are "capable of" distributing content. As Cory Doctorow says it: the people who have a legal monopoly on creating a specific record are seeking (and gaining) a new monopoly on all record players, and with it all recording, editing, distribution and playback devices.

I think the Census issue is actually the most pressing of what they spoke about. They reference a story in by Kathleen Sibley that talks about the need for software to be downloaded and run on peoples personal computers.

Let me make one blanket statement: Any security mechanism which requires that a user install a specific brand or implementation of software onto their computers can never improve overall security. What this is doing is outsourcing the risk from one organization, in this case the Census bureau, onto another party, in this case private citizens.

Computer security has a number of purposes: one is to ensure the privacy of stored or communicated data, and the other is to ensure that the owner of a computer (and not some third party attacker) is in control of the computer. With this tool we are being forced to blindly trust the vendor choices that the Census bureau made, and effectively circumvent our own computers security by allowing this unknown third party control over our computers. This is a huge risk both to the personal privacy and personal control of the citizen-owned technology.

True security would have the Census bureau making their software choices, under considerable public scrutiny, and citizens would run their own software that is trustworthy to them.

Any software that a government uses to automate government policy, such as the software being discussed here, should be as accountable and transparent as the policy that it is automating (See: Code is Law). This means that all the software involved in the electronic gathering, storage and communication of census information should be available under ATIP.

I am interested in working with PHBO on this, including any possible ATIP requests that they might want to make to get the details on the software (including source code) that will be used.