August 2011 Archives

IPR Wars - will Patent Trolls cost the US its poll position?

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The current US dominance of the software and content industries is critically dependent on  acceptance, however reluctant, of its global enforcement of domestic Patent and Copyright Laws - despite their known weaknesses and abuse. Three years ago I blogged on the possible effects of recession and changes in the economic balance of power on that acceptance. This morning I read the BBC cover of the attempts by a Patent Troll to tax the Apps market and the previously unpublicised responses of Apple and Google to this threat to their future revenues.

This opens a can of worms. The worms are linked to a variety of minefields.  

One of my Grandfathers was a senior patent officer. When he retired he was presented with a folder of the fifty or so patents for long-life light bulbs that he had adjudicated which had not been brought to market during the life of the patent. They had been filed, or subsequently bought, by those who wished to ensure they did not go into production. I remember him pointing out six which were finally launched in the 1960s, as "new" breakthroughs" - after the patents had lapsed.  

Internet censorship trial brings London to a halt?

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This morning I thought my router had failed set about installing the new one I bought some time ago - only to run into "error 651". Only then did I think to use the Vodafone broadband on my netbook to look up the BT broadband service status - a found their was massive outage across most of London. I reconnected my old router and within minutes the service was back. But what caused such a widespread outage? An exchange flooding or .... ?

Unless we have divine intervention, alias "rain stops play", this week-end will see whether arresting 10% of those involved in last weeks riots, detaining most of them and giving draconian sentances to those found guilty of trying to organise copy-cat riots over insecure social networks has worked. If not our current mix of semi-nationalised professional policing and legal ritual may finally succumb to the pressures for change and embrace genuine community/partnership policing.  

It cannot survive (any more than the Coalition can do so) if suburban and out-of-town shopping centres are torched and trashed while the police are busy protecting Notting Hill and the City Centres. So what can technology do to address the long-standing problems it has helped bring to a head?   

 

Lessons for UK PLC from the loss of Autonomy

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The purchase of Autonomy by HP shows breathtaking vision but the impact of Government tax policies (both US and UK) on the purchase should not be under-estimated. It is unlikely the purchase would have taken place but for the way the US tax system discourages companies from repatriating their overseas cash balances to reinvest at home with a marginal tax rate of 35%. Other world-class UK companies like Imagination Technologies and ARM are said to be at similar risk - at keast until such time as we sort out the risk/reward ratios on offer to entrepreneurs and risk investors. But the implications go wider

 

HP/EDS runs the world's largest and most mature Open Source/Cloud operations after those of IBM.  Autonomy provides engines that are set to transform not just the compliance and information processing operations of HP's largest and most profitable customers in Financial services, Pharmaceuticals, Defence and Aerospace. The engines look set to transform the way such businesses organise R&D and run mainstream operations. The price reflects the shrinking revenue and profit streams HP would have faced had IBM or Oracle bought Autonomy and they had to play catch up while also bypassing the ARM IPR. 

 

RIPA and the Riots: Give the Police the same rights as the Press

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I have just received a comment which links my recent posts on the need to review RIPA and PACE (to remove the paralysis by paperwork that led to police being overwhelmed on the first nights of the recent riots) and on the need to put the phone hacking scandal into the context of computer hacking and the increasingly common sale of our on-line personal information by who-ever can access it to who-ever will pay.

" ... in view of the phone hacking scandal, it seems a bit out of balance that there is the public interest defence available to the press retrospectively after they have acquired information by illicit means.  They need no prior authorisation before using such methods, unlike our intelligence services."

Should we not give the police a similar defence - alongside the right to use whatever they found as evidence in court ?

Answers should fit on one side of the Wailing Wall, with a summary that will fit on a Blarney Stone.  

Is the missing BDUK £100 million for the Enterprise Zones?

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Yesterday I gave a cautious welcome to the announcement of the BDUK funding for Local Authorities. Almost immediately I received an e-mail from a conspiracy theorist pointing out that there was a missing £100 million, between the headline £530 million and the amounts announced for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I think he wanted an examination of the cost of running BDUK itself lest it be vanishing in consultancy, co-ordination and procurement overheads.

Today we had the announcement of the next round of Enterprise Zones, each of which is to have superfast broadband by 2015. Are these connections to be funded from the BDUK allocations announced last week or are they to be funded from the £100 million that has not yet been allocated?

Either way this poses a problem for those City Centres, like Manchester, Birmingham or many of the Inner London Boroughs, which do not have superfast broadband except for those businesses willing and able to pay for leased lines.

Will they be able to bid for the European money due to be made available later this year or will the inner city jobs haemorrhage accelerate?

We need to put Broadband into the context of the need for an integrated policy for investment-led economic recovery. Hence the logic of the Information Society Alliance - EURIM policy studies.  The Enterprise Zones are a good idea, although it would have been better if HMG had listened to, for example, Pfizer before it took the decision to leave Sandwich after nearly a decade of agonising. But they are not enough.

We need to spread the approach to every  town and city with a University or FE College capable of acting as a local support base for reskilling the workforce with the skills of the future - at all levels from support technician to  graduate designers and developers and post graduate researchers.

We also need to extend high speed broadband to give access to world-class learning programmes from rural homes and workshops: akin to the programmes for car mechanics in the isolated communities of the US Mid-West to do degrees in mechanical engineering (orginally moderated from the University of Cambridge in an early example of mutually beneficial global outreach) which helped the University of Pheonix become the largest for-profit University in the World.

Will Councils have to choose between PSN Compliance and BDUK Funding?

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The announcement today of the £360 million of funding towards rural broadband is welcome news. Whether that funding really will acheive the supposed objectives depends, however, on the small print. The covering letter from the Secretary of State to Local Authority Chief Executives says that "BDUK's funding would need to be matched by local funding to make the necessary investment viable to the private sector. This could come from local authorities' own resources, European funding or other sources. BDUK funding will only be available from projects where a local authority commences a procurement that is approved by BDUK". 

I have been critical of the procurement framework for which BDUK did an OJEU and PQQ because it failed to live up to the objectives stated in the business model they had previously issued. I note that there was even a Freedom of Information Request to find out the reasons for the difference. There are signs that things have been moving on albeit how far and how fast is unclear.

Now, that the OJEU for the PSN  framework has been published, together with a range of guidance material on the new Government Procurement Solutions website , the time has come to issue a clear statement as to how the apparent contradictions are to be reconciled. The alternative is to accept the logic of the "big society" and respond to local proposals provided they meet basic criteria for state aid, fair competition and international standards for quality of service and inter-operablity.   

This is particularly important given that the EU is supposedly about to make available 7 billion euros, subject to  compliance with Commission guidance. The Dutch material and the list of judgements to date on which I blogged a couple of months ago might well make a good start point for looking at what that guidance is likely to be.   

If not, some Councils may have to choose between BDUK funding and that from Europe. Others may have to forgo that on offer from local communities, including of uncharged wayleaves and contributions to infrastructure costs from land-owners, other utilities property developers and local businesses willing to pay up front for globally competitve access.

P.S. I should add that I still look forward to being told that I am wrong and that the contradictions have now been addressed.  

 

RIPA and the Riots - is an emergency review needed?

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We have had facile suggestions about blocking and monitoring the mobile communications services used by the rioters and looters and equally facile responses that these are unthinkable or unworkable. The exchanges mask serious issues regarding the current practical working of the legislation covering communications surveillance. Some of the issues need to be addressed as a matter of urgency before the authorisation routines collapse in disarray. Others should be taken at leisure.

The current routines are a bureaucratic nightmare that get in the way of efficient operational response while doing little or nothing to protect against genuine abuse.  We need democratically accountable governance frameworks for real-time co-operation not just for the delayed transfer of data for subsequent analyis   

Meanwhile co-operation between the Police and the Mobile Operators is delayed and constrained by a mix of RIPA and interpretations of Data Protection legislation which forget the exemptions for co-operation with law enforcement).

The mobile operators are, however, well aware that any voluntary co-operation has to be viewed in international context (Twitter in Iran, Vodafone in Egypt, Android in China). They have to be able to quote democratically accountable "orders to comply" lest they be "damned if they do and damned if they do not".

Do the recent riots make a new business case for Cloud computing

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In his blog on the impact or otherwise of the recent Cloud outages caused by lightning strikes in Ireland, Cliff Saran points out the small size of one of the best known Cloud operations - selling surplus capacity on a global on-line retail operation. I have blogged before on the amorphous nature of Cloud computing and the way is used to embrace almost anything from a repackaging of the operations that EDS (now part of HP) and IBM have been running for the US Department of Defence for over 40 years to an on-line test environment.

The torching of businesses over the last few days by the rioters who looted them has opened up a new business case for the on-line, off-site, data back-up that is an integral feature of cloud computing. I had thought the torching was to destroy the evidence (including locally stored surveillance video) but it now appears it was also an anarchic revenge on all who had refused them jobs and "respect".

Either way, whether the smoking heap of wreckage was a small business in a city centre, a superstore in a retail park or a national distribution depot for consumer goods, the case for having off-site processing and data storage has suddenly become much stronger. But the vulnerabilities of data centres to power problems and of communications networks to similar disruption (including lightning strikes and cable theft) also need much greater attention.

Hence the importance of the Information Society Alliance (EURIM) work on Shared Infrastructure issues as part of the policy study on Opening Britain for On-line Business.  I am particularly glad that one of the main UK suppliers of Cloud Computing has just volunteered  to help lead the work on the inter-operablity interfaces needed to help support resilient and secure services, with fewer of the vulnerabilities than other parts of the world.   

Blackberry (not Twitter) versus Airwave for control of the streets

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I have been correctly criticized for failing to point out that the Blackberry has been the fashion accessary of choice for "rappers", "elders" and their followers ever since it was used by Obama as his communications device of choice. Twitter is used mainly by middle class hangers-on and spectators.

That raises the way in which the police have failed to keep up with up with the use of technology to strip out layers of paperwork and improve command and control. A case in point is the disintegrated and sclerotic operational communications systems which enabled the ambushing of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall earlier this year.

Perhaps a first step should be an emergency issue of Blackberries. The police could then listen in to the rioters' communications (pins courtesy of the mothers of the rioters and the afro-carribean business community who are appalled by what is happening) and have a comparable, rapid response, command and control capability.

Among the sillier ideas in the newspapers today were to shut down the communications networks used by the rioters (and many of the rest of us) and to have whole call centres monitoring twitter traffic.

By contrast we should be using the technologies already available to identify, track and trace mobiles used at riot and looting locations so as to pick up individual users while on the move or to map (in real time) the movement of flocks of potential rioters and looters. 

The critical need, however, first identified over 35 years ago, is to make effective use of the ICT technologies available even then, to streamline and automate police paperwork and reporting routines. With the technologies now available it should be possible for offenders to charged on the spot if appopriate, even if they cannot be reliably identified (because most of the biometric devices do not work nearly as well as claimed).  

 

The Twitter Riots put the Surveillance Society on trial

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The time lines for the Tottenham Riots and subsequent assaults on Enfield, Walthamstow and Brixton show clearly how Twitter enabled small groups to rapidly develop tactics for distracting the police while their elders looted the local trading park. Now we will see whether the technologies used to enable the Iranian secret police to track down and incarcerate dissident Twitterers are used to do likewise to those who organise the incineration of inner city shopping centres for criminal gain. If not we will know that the great RIPA debate was, and is, dishonest: even if the technologies work, we do not have the competance and will to use them, or they are being used for the security of the state, not of its citizens.

In my previous blog entry on the riots I referred to the use of footage from the surveillance cameras and the RFID chips and serials numbers to track and trace the looters. It has been put to me that the torching of the Jewellers in Tottenham and later of Aldi and Carpetright was to destroy the evidence being logged by the surveillance cameras while the discarding of packaging was to "lose" the RFID chips. That raises the interesting question of whether surveillance cameras that do not transmit in real-time to a remote location are more of a threat than a benefit. It also indicates the need to put the RFID chips inside the product rather than the packaging.

And what about looting raids which begin by taking out the communications infrastructure, as happened when the IRA was actively "fund-raising"? And what about when shutting down "civilian" mobile communications is part of the response?  This adds a new dimension to Broadband and Communications debates, particularly with regard to infrastructure sharing, resilience and business standby routines.    

The immediate question is, however:

Will the suppliers of surveillance technology give the police the skills they have not got (quantity and well as quality) to use the evidence available to arrest most of the arsonists and looters to short order so that are in custody awaiting trial in time to enable the Notting Hill Carnival to be a joyous celebration?

If so, we should be able to rapidly rebuild confidence that the Surveillance Society works for good as well as ill - despite the many problems that will still have to be addressed.  

If not ....

"Want to roll Tottenham to loot?" - the power of Twitter

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Acording to cover in the Daily Mail of the riots and looting in Tottenham and Wood Green,  Twitter was used to summon the under-classes on London to help themselves, once it had  became clear that the police were not going to stop them. Now we will see whether the "surveillance society" has any meaning.

Will there be footage from working cameras to identify the looters?

Will RFID chips and serial numbers be used to locate the stolen electrical goods?

Will the Twitterers be traced and prosecuted for incitement?

Or is all the brouhaha over the power of surveillance technologies and the consequent threats to civil liberties merely a game between those selling that which does not actually work very well, (if at all), in the real world and those who believe them, (whether because they are gullible or because they are paranoid or both).

In my "Warlords versus Merchants" blog I referred to the risk of London becoming a muggers paradise in 2012 with the police busy on-line or on anti-terrorise or crowd control duty. Last night we had a foretaste of what might be to come.

Would round-the-clock monitoring of potentially criminal communications have enabled pre-emptive action as soon as the tweets appeared - and would that have been in time?

Or would it merely have led to even fewer men available to take physical action when needed?

And would your answer be different if your home and/or business had been one of those looted and gutted by fire?

Were the Kurds and Turks of Wood Green who mobilised to protect their businesses homes the only rational people last night?

That last question brings me back to the on-line world. Would we be better off if we took a similar approach to the policing of cyberspace, accepting not only that we need "Partnership Policing for the Information Society" but that the partnerships have to be led by those who wish their customers to transact with them on line? 

Last week I chaired a small workshop to plan the Information Society Alliance - EURIM exercise to take victims' eye look at impersonation . We came to a similar conclusion to that of the shop-owners of Wood Green. But being nice middle-class citizens we would like to legitimise the approach by working with and through the relevant law enforcement agencies where possible - following Peelian policing principles . Peel's constables had, of course, the Riot Act, as interpreted by Lord Justice Mansfield after the Gordon Riots, as fall back. The same law applies on-line as off-line. I feel sure the ghost of Lord Mansfield would have a suitable interpretation to cover on-line riots.          

 

Warlords versus Merchants: the real battle for the control of cyberspace

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The current hype in support of additional US and UK government spend on cybersecurity has prompted me to return to my "Warlords versus Merchants" theme. It is not that I do not believe that Governments should not spend more on cybersecurity. It is that I believe they should begin by listening to those who have been under more sophisticated attack for longer. They should  listen to the banks and the on-line gaming companies - because that is where the money is. In parallel they should listen to the pharmaceutical companies - because sophisticated attacks to steal their IPR have also been going on since they first started using on-line communications - well before the rise of the Internet.

I take the Chatham House Rule seriously. It is common for speakers to be allowed to release their own comments but I will not say where I have delivered the script that follows, who my audiences have been or their reactions. Suffice it to say that I have been asked for repeat performances for a variety of high-level audiences because the discussion that it stimulates helps make sense of some very muddled debates.   

Government Shared Services: tunnel vision or myopia: did the authors read the evidence to the PASC enquiry?

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The day after the PASC report "Government IT: a recipe for rip-off"  we have the release of the strategic vision for Government shared Services . The good news is that it is very short so there is no excuse for not reading it.

The bad news is the mix of tunnel vision, inconsistancy and myopia in the "lessons learned" to date and the consequent two part strategy. There is a need for robust input to the Cabinet Office ERG team looking at plans to migrate to the future "model" lest this grow into another "rip-off".

Lessons 1 and 5) simplify to a contradiction. independence is an important incentive but efficiency gains are proportionate to the level of mandation. If you have to "compel" then it is probable that the incentives are wrong, or the policy is wrong, or both.

Lesson 2) Delivery of shared services is no more a core Government skill than the delivery of anything else, but Government has greater potential for economies of scale than anyone in the private sector. Most of the savings form shared services relate to HR and Payroll. The private sector has outsourced these because of the complexity of government imposed tax and employment legislation. The savings from a holistic approach to simplification and standardisation in co-operation with a panel of major private sector employers (not consultants) would be worth a tax cut of tens of billions in helping stimulate UK economic recovery - as well as cutting tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions from HMG spend.

Lesson 3) Charging structures are indeed one of the main excuses for not sharing services across departments - but that is because of the lack of incentives for finding efficient and equitable solutions compared to those for resisting change. The answer is to change the blance by providing more interesting, secure and/or better paid futures for all who help.

Lesson 4) Shared services do indeed comprise a range of standardised components - and the way to bring this about is to focus on inter-operability standards so that the components currently available can be brought together in solutions that evolve over time.

There is also a need to look at the lessons from local government and  the private sector with regard to those "sharing" exercises which led to improved service at lower cost and those which did not. There is also the experience of major private sector players like IBM, which came back from near death by spinning out, rather than outsourcing, functions that were not core to its business. The motivational effects of such a policy are very different. So too is the subsequent quality of service.  

 

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