January 2012 Archives

The Great Copyright Conspiracy ?

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Is the current debate over digital copyright really just a cover for the extension of Internet Censorship paid for by industry? Ian Grant, in his blog entry  "Learning to Love Big Brother" knits together a surprisingly convincing case. I have mixed views.

Until about ten years ago I was proud of the work I did on the private members bill to that extended copyright to cover computer software in the UK. We knew it was not an ideal solution but .... Now I am almost ashamed. There is, however, a relatively simple solution for some of the abuses since. Re-enact some of the key provisions of the Statute of Anne which helped usher in the Age of Enlightenment. I have never understood why the life of copyright should have been extended from 14 years before the industrial revolution, to 42 years for the age of steam and to over 70 years for the age of electronics. Given that we cannot unlaterally escape from the Berne Convention , might not the new Communications Bill (that will update the Digital Economy Act)  be used update UK penalties for breach of copyright so that these are draconian for pirating new works (say under five years old) and nominal for those where the work is over 14 years old and/or not available for inspection in the UK Copyright Libraries. Might we not also have a regime akin to that in the Statute of Anne for the mandatory licensing of "out of print" works (e.g. unsupported software) and for suppressed or opportunistic patents, so as to address the problem of Patent Trolls

Ian also caused me to revisit my past work on digital identities, privacy, surveillance and Internet governance. I looked up my presentation to the Freedom Forum event on November 10th 2000 on "What Price National Security" . The phrase the Forum chose to highlight was: "E-impersonation is going to be the most feared crime in the e-world and the punishment is global credit blacklisting - you could call it e-death." I said that governments would not be able to get their act together. Industry would have to provide the solution.

Ian's argument appears to be that they have - and that beneath the candyfloss arguments over piracy and digital identities the e-spooks now have the technology they need to track trace and remove disidents.

But how well does it work?

Compare the scene in the Bourne Ultimatum where the reporter is tracked by surveillance cameras across London to Waterloo Station with the reality around Clapham Junction from 8.00 pm on 8th August, when the shopkeepers started to try to protect their premises, through the arrival of the rioters to the subsequent attempts to use what was left of the video footage in support of prosecutions. Hence my concerns for when the rest of us are left unprotected during the great Olympic lockdown later this year.

On Monday I am due to have coffee with Nick Pickles of Big Brother Watch before the Conservative Technology Forum meeting on on-line malpratice.  I will ask Nick about their Big Brother Watch routines for accepting donations from those who do not trust the anonymity or security of the on-line world.

Has BDUK retained Pinsent Mason to do the impossible as well as unnecessary?

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I am told that BDUK engaged Pinsent Mason to write an umbrella state aid exemption for the entire UK. This is unlikely to be in place (assuming it is approved which is unlikely) before the Summer. Each county by county procurement must then seek individual state aid approval. No wonder several counties are said to be about to tell DCMS Ministers where they can put their funding.

Was that the objective? to be able to announce a programme but not have to spend the money. Hmmm.  

Meanwhile the data regarding broadband cover is said to be being massaged down, by excluding fixed wireless services from Ofcom and BDUK analyses, as well as up, by showing land-line cover which is impossible with the equipment and lines currenlty installed.

Hence the problems faced by those trying to use evidence of market failure to justify state aid - as opposed to providing support to local authorities planning mainstream economic development programmes which can be put out to open tender locally. No wonder Local Authorities are thinking of going direct to Brussels to get a slice of the EU funding available for the latter. 

I should also add that my sympathy for BT is increasing, having to be nice to BDUK while more profitable and sustainable business is postponed and, in some cases, lost for ever - because the business users who would have underpinned the investment case, with UK-based call centres and data hubs, have given up and gone overseas.  

Who exploits "Brand Me"? Is customer power sufficient?

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We have had much publicity for the policy changes made by Google and Facebook.

This morning  l received a LinkedIn message from the former Head of Information Security of a global multinational


xxx has sent you a message.

Date: 1/25/2012

Subject: Change in privacy policy of LinkedIn

Dear all,

I received the following message from a contact and I am forwarding it for your awareness and due consideration.

Without attracting too much publicity, LinkedIn has updated their privacy conditions. Without any action from your side, LinkedIn is now permitted to use you name and picture in any of their advertisements.

Some simple actions to be considered:

1. Place the cursor on your name at the top right corner of the screen. From the small
pull down menu that appears, select "settings"
2. Then click "Account" on the left/bottom
3. In the column next to Account, select the option "Manage Social Advertising"
4. Finally un-tick the box "LinkedIn may use my name and photo in social advertising"
5. and Save

How to inform your connections? Simple: Via Inbox>Compose message in Linkedin, you can send a message to 50 connections at once. All who will appreciate being informed.

Best regards

View/reply to this message

Don't want to receive e-mail notifications? Adjust your message settings.

© 2012, LinkedIn Corporation


I read everywhere about "personal information" and/or "identity" being the new money. Given how cheap it is to acquire all that it necessary to electronically impersonate most of us, I commend the Eastern European attitude to questions from those who you do not know. Never give your real name or tell the truth unless there is a good reason - because whatever you say will be collated and may be used against you sooner or later. 

LinkedIn is sufficiently useful that I will probably not change my photograph - it is significantly younger and slimmer than the reality anyway. I will , howvr, make a donation to Big Brother Watch - provided I can find out how to do so anonymously - as opposed to electronically 

The end of innocence: the erosion of innocent carrier status

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On monday I plan to attend a workshop on the current state of play with the Digital Single Market and the need to join up scrutiny of the many parallel reviews now under way - from data protection through consumer protection and disputes resolution to public procurement. Do click on the link. It is too late to try to attend but you will find ongoing links to supporting documentation which summarises most of what is going on. About the only relevant Directive intended to be left unchanged is the e-Commerce Directive - covering the "innocent carrier" status of Telcos and Internet Service Providers. But is that directive still meaningful - if it ever was?

The near impossibility of doing efficient cross border transactions within the EU means that nearly all on-line business is within a member state or via the US - except in the case of financial services when it is via London. Traffic between the US and other nations is routinely monitored by Federal Agencies. They only need a warrant to monitor intra-US traffic. And US law enforcement will seek to extradite those who do that which violates their laws, whether or not it is illegal in their own country. And US lawyers will seek to enforce that which is unenforceable in other jurisdictions. Perhaps it is time to burn down Washington again - remembering that in 1812 the British took care to destroy only government buildings. [see P.S. below for my response to comments on this]

In the UK the Leveson enquiry has finally moved from phone-hacking to e-mail hacking. In doing so it has raised awareness of the vulnerability of e-mail content to demands for access by a slew of regulators and under a wide range of legislation. Meanwhile the fuss about deep-packet inspection appears to have faded away as it becomes the start point of many of the security products and services we will all need in a world of zero day attacks. And those serious about privacy are beginning to try out products like scrambls so that only their real friends can read what they put on Facebook.

The world has moved on and the pace of change is accelerating. .

The workshop on monday is the first major event organised by Dr Edward Phelps, my successor as Secretary General of EURIM. The attendence list is impressive and I look forward to watching Ed succeed where I failed. EURIM originally stood for "European Informatics Market" - the mythical digital single market. Ed has negotiated a memorandum of understanding with the European Internet Foundation, adding co-operation on joined up scrutiny to the programme of policy studies being launched over the next couple of months.

For that scrutiny to succeed it needs to be joined up across industry sectors, including with the Banks and Retailers suffering the increased costs and vulnerabilities of having their transactions routed via the US and India, Asia or wherever the call centres have moved to. That process is also gathering pace. The time has come for those who saw me as part of the problem, not the solution, to join EURIM and help the new team scrutinise the possible solutions of the future.

I have agreed to stay on as a consultant for as long as I am needed - but am only a consultant. I now have to watch as my recommendations are turned through 45 degrees - or 90 or disregarded as being out of touch with where the world is going.

I am not sure whether I am being flattered and side-tracked when asked to write a book on how political decisions are made - based on my scripts (and past blog entries), using examples from the liberalisation and privatisation of telecoms, through the micros in schools programme, the computerisation of PAYE, the extension of copyright to cover computer software, RIPA, Y2K and the National Plan for NHS IT to our evolving Broadband and communications policies, the implementation of the Universal Credit and the fights to control/exploit our personal identities and access to on-line information. Some-one whose judgement I greatly respect has, however, said I should focus on the present and future - what should be rather than what has been or is. 

What is certain is that the time has come for me to let go, before I start doing more damage than I do good. Those taking over want me to focus on helping educate the generation below them, Therefore I will have to think about getting the youngsters ready to help fight the next war, not just the current one, let alone the last one or the one before. 

Any help from my readers - if you have got this far, would be most helpful.

[P.S. I have asked if I meant burning down only Federal Government buildings and a physical or electronic burn. My answer is: whichever will command the greatest support among those Americans who share the view expressed in a retirement speach by one of Reagan's ambassadors that - "one of the few things that unites this great nation of ours, which I am proud to have served as Ambassador, is contempt for the Federal Government in Washington" and/or who agree with President Truman's alleged (I recall it from my grandfather's copy of "Plain Speaking") comment "There are few things wrong with this great nation of ours that could not be made a great deal better by taking a hundred lawyers and hanging them all".

How and why BDUK turned gold into dross and stuffed DCMS

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My recent blog "Has BDUK stuffed DCMS" struck a chord. My attention was drawn to the "Freedom of Information Act" request by Ian Grant . Five months on and the details of who was paid to advise BDUK on its framework contracts have not yet been provided. More recently,  the FoI request from Bill Lewis goes to the heart of the problem by directly calling in question the understanding those advisors have with regard to state aid rules - with a specific example. Meanwhile that paid by Westminster and Kensington councils for technical and legal advice on their recent deal with O2 would probably not have bought a fortnight from one of the Pinsent Mason lawyers or KPMG procurement process consultants retained to advise BDUK.

The careful wording of the initial reply to Ian Grant's FoI request may be because, to save time, BDUK did not go out to tender for advice. Instead it appears to have used consultants retained under an Infrastructure UK contract. This is said by some to be the cause of their problems. I disagree. I believe the problem goes deeper. It is symptomatic of the widespread belief that Whitehall, advised by the most expensive lawyers and consultants it can buy, will know best. BDUK is not the first, and will not be the last, agency to be stuffed and to stuff its department and its department's ministers in consequence.

Broadband is an integral part of the national infrastucture. There is a good case for merging BDUK and Infrastructure UK (along with the relevant parts of Ofcom, Ofgem, OfWat et al and of DCMS and DECC!). Those retained by Infrastructure UK for expertise in private sector procurement processes are, however, most unlikely to have an understanding of the state aid and public sector procurement rules akin to that possessed by local councils and their advisors, who have had to live with these for their entire careers.

Hence the conflicts and mud-slinging over attempts to impose ill-thought (and possibly even illegal) national frameworks and processes on better (and more cheaply) advised local authorities. I will leave aside the additonal problems said to arise from the consultants' lack of understanding of how traditional, let alone modern, communications networks operate.

I am told there may now be attempts to blame the consequent delays with spending the £100 million allocated for City centre broadband projects on Brussells. The problem is, however, that funding which could have been legitimately supplied in support of job creation, economic regeneration or social inclusion projects (which happened to require the provision of ubiquitous and affordable broadband to the target area) has been turned into a multi-level bureaucratic nighmare with attempts to second guess markets and technologies.   

It is a sad example of how a sensible high level policy can be turned into "a scandal in the making" when Central Government tries to tell Local Government "how to ..." rather than "what to ..."

Luckily this is not a case where the doctrine of ministerial infallibity could or should be cited to defend the indefensible. Ministers have never said how the funding allocation processes, let alone the subsequent procurements should be done. It is not too late for them to order a radical simplification - and leave local authorities to get on with the job - asking the National Audit Office (or who-ever will take over the job from the Audit Commission) to check that they followed the law and got value for money.

There is, however, a much wider lesson. The recent haemorrhage of talent and expertise from Whitehall greatly increases the risk of central diktat over-riding local common sense.  That is not to say "Town Hall good, Whitehall bad". It is, however, rather easier to take corrective action when a Local Authority makes a hash of things - or at least it used to be - before the Audit Commission lost its way under the last Government.  
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Crony capitalism in practice? Green taxes, Smart meters etc.

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I never did understand why we were going to have to pay so much extra to energy companies to get smart meters. Just before Christmas I chaired a meeting which indicated that spending billions on separate communications networks was unnecessary: the data volumes were piddling and could be handled at much lower cost by piggybacking on broadband roll-out (whether fixed or mobile) - provided response times and resilience were fit for purpose. 

Now the backlash against the underlying smart metering " business model" has begun. I put "business model" in quotations because Which blames a government "hands-off" approach for that which might be better viewed as a cosy collusion of government, regulators and suppliers. Meanwhile the Register says it is another case of crony capitalism  inherited from the previous government. They have a case.Whatever it is, it is not a valid or sustainable "business model".

Which will do more for economic recovery - HS2 or O2 ?

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The suggestion that the funds allocated for HS2 would be much better spent on broadband has been regularly made over the past year, by businesses large and small - from Westminster to Manchester (it was a recurrent theme at the Conservative party conference). The reasons the arguments have been ignored are less than obvious - unless the announcement planned for today is designed mainly to give an excuse for postponing bottleneck removal plans for other parts of the rail network.

Meanwhile, opening up head to head competition between fixed (e.g. BT) and mobile (e.g. O2) operators to provide robust wifi, alias ubiquitous broadband, to every urban centre, in co-operation with local authorities and other utilities could do far more, far more quickly, to help transform UK economic prospects.

Is all that is needed for DCMS and BDUK to get out of the way?

Would that it were quite that simple.

But I am convinced that looking at how to bring forward investment in ubiquitous broadband, particularly to those areas (urban and suburban as well as rural) where reducing the cost of delivering public services forms a large part of the business case, is also a far better use of parliamentary time, as well as being more likely to secure the re-election of MPs in marginal constituencies who will be standing for re-election in 2015. 

Therefore don't just whinge. Write to your MP.      


What will be the biggest computer cockups of 2012 ?

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Dick Vinegar of the Guardian has just asked for my thoughts on likely Public Sector IT-related scandals in 2012 before going firm on his 500 words - he is a professional journalist and far more discplined in keeping to length.  I began by saying that I did not think we will see any spectacular failures in 2012 because ASPIRE and DWP Universal Credit are not due to go live until 2013. They were brought forward subsequent to major projects review after my blog a year ago when I warned of the dangers. There is probably still time to switch to a less risky, incremental, implementation strategy as activities on the critical path, e.g. the ID strategy, slip . We will see what happens but I doubt they will be among the disasters of of 2012.

I said that thought we were far more likely to see dead, dying and duplicated legacy systems (many of which have long passed their sell by date) put out of their misery as part of the rationalisation and transition to a Government Data Service. I also thought that the process would be expedited by data breaches among those with ineffective security , albeit more of these now appear to be occuring among supposedly secure outsource suppliers rather than among those public sector systems that are still in house.

There is survey data, (unknown provenance) that over one in five of the UK population has already been impersonated on-line. Hence my comments that it would be unforgivable if the most vulnerable in society were to be persuaded to go on-line and have their digital identities systemically compromised as soon as they came to rely on them for receipt of benefits: herding the sheep online to be fleeced.

I therefore thought that the high profile project most likely to run into trouble in 2012 would be Race On-line, unless it is coupled with Get Safe Online, Bank Safe Online and items 11 and 12 of the Fighting Fraud Together Action Plan - which refer to the need to strengthen government issued credentials and associated on-line validation routines.

Then I received the following press release from David Moss:  

You read it here first - London gets free wifi

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The mass media have finally caught up with the December 28th entry in "When IT meets politics". Note the speed of the roll-out (due for completion inside 3 months) compared to the snail-like progress of BDUK with agreeing the allocation of funds to support rural broadband, let alone allowing those receiving the funds to get with the job. Note also the implications of "convergence" as BT (Openzone) competes head to head with BT (Openreach and the "unbundled" local loop suppliers), O2 and Vodafone for the urban smartphone, on-line social networking,  browsing and transaction markets (alias ubiquitous broadband) across the UK - because no-one can afford to wait for Ofcom to finally sort out 4G spectrum.

Of course the technologies and spectrum range available are not ideal and the products and services are not yet easily substitutable or seamless (except in the eyes of Internet savvy teenagers), but needs must ... 

The other question is whether the bandwidth and service reliablity on offer will be sufficient for major business users to transition large parts of their operations direct to mobile working.

If so, how quickly will we see "trusted computing" (alias the ability to check that you are dealing with a known device in the hands of a known user at a known location) on smart phones. Is the deal between Samsung and Wave a sign of the way ahead?

In a couple of weeks I am due to chair the next meeting of the Information Society Alliance sub-group tasked to draft procurement guidance for those planning to use trusted computing products and services to deliver better significantly security at much lower cost. They will be beginning with top end security. I will ask how practical it is to move rapidly down the spectrum of applications while retaining a sustainable open market (i.e. with inter-operability standards between competing suppliers).  In the same week I will be attending a similar meeting (again organised under the aegis of the Information Society Alliance) on infrastructure sharing.

The O2 deal illlustrates the value of Local Authorities comparing notes, working together and bypassing central government attempts at "co-ordination", let alone their "advice" and "guidance"  as to what is, or is not, legal or compliant with EU law.

But does that have to be the case?

Is it really too late for central government and its agencies and regulators to play a constructive role? 

I would like to think not - but given the pressure on HMG to cut costs and overheads at the same time as it seeks to transfer responsibilities to local government  while also cutting their funding ...     

Has BDUK stuffed DCMS ? The Civil Service Staff College Case Study

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My blog on the deal between O2 and Westminster and Kensington Councils provoked interesting reactions. There seems to be agreement that it undermines the previous government's path (still apparently being follow by Ofcom and BDUK) back to a regulated communications infrastructure monopoly, albeit still privatised and overlaid with a candyfloss layer of "unbundled" local access. Just before Christmas a former regulator reminded me that Sir Keith Joseph said that there was only one thing worse than a public sector monopoly - a private sector monopoly. I must ask him whether he is among those who now see a realistic prospect of an "open" market based on international standards for operational as well as technical interoperality. They believe that Ministers and policy advisors appreciate that the competition between fixed and mobile operators to provide ubiquitous broadband access over infrastructures built, owned, managed and operated by a variety of players (from Ambridge Community Broadband to Arqiva, Babcock to BT, E2BN to Everything Everywhere etc.,) is more likely to ensure that the UK has the "best" broadband than any centrally planned and regulated solution, however many expensive consultants have worked on it. Ministers are rarely happy to "direct" officials but they are unlikely support those who stand in the way of market-driven solutions given the mounting risk of mobile melt-down this summer. 

It is, however, in the nature of politicians to interfere with markets - just as it is the nature of dominant players to "rationalise" markets in their own interests. More-over it is probable that a government reshuffle is imminant, as soon as the LibDems have agreed which of their new intake is ready for promotion to replace those who have passed their sell-by dates. If so, one suggestion to minimise the damage of interference is to move telecommunications from DCMS to a new department which brings together DECC and the Department of Transport, tasked to work with Treasury enable the private sector to bring forward the infrastructure investment programmes that are essential to UK economic recovery. The competing view is that it be moved back into BIS/DTI as part of an "industrial strategy" (alias picking winners and turning them into losers with conditional funding programmes and "co-ordination"). The idea of keeping it alongside the much sexier content industries (Culture, Media and Sport), where it has become "contaminated" with their time-consuming, lawyer-driven feuds over ownership and censorship, has no friends among those who have commented to date. 

To that end there is also a suggestion that the "Communications Act" that is in the offing be split between a bill to merge the telecommunications infrastructure responsibilities of Ofcom with those of Ofgem and of CPNI into a combined utilities regulator, (as in Germany) and a much more complex and controversial set of bills to handle the content issues on which their is little or prospect of agreement between the warring factions.

But if such changes are to help expedite infrastructure construction on the scale needed to help regenerate the UK economy, they need to accompanied by a stripping away of the layers of financial services legislation that discourage long-term, private sector investment in the UK. We have to permit a recreation of the variety of investment vehicles that funded the construction of the Victorian and Edwardian infrastructures on which we still depend.

Hence the policy studies framework that the executive of the Conservative Technology Forum will be reviewing in a couple of weeks time. I would, however, be remiss if I concluded this blog entry without including the Civil Service Staff College Case Study sent to me by a very senior former public servant. I fear that it neatly summarises the dilemma currently faced by DCMS officials. Hence the need for new thinking.

Will 2012 be the Year that convergence finally happens?

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The rise of the smart-phone as the global social networking and on-line browsing device of choice has expedited the convergence  of fixed and mobile communications into "ubiquitous broadband" - even in the UK (which went from leader to laggard during the dead-end decade of local loop unbundling). Hence the driving force behind deals which upstage BDUK Broadband policy like that of O2 and Kensington and Westminster  in much that same way that BSkyB upstaged IBA Satellite policy, two decades ago.   

Meanwhile the fragmentation of debate over privacy, surveillance, on-line safety and cyberwarfare continues to complicate the spread of cost-effective information security by design - as opposed to coating that which is inherently insecure with layers of expensive and ineffectual scareware. Will that change as more businesses realise that using the identity chips already embedded in PCs and mobile phones enables identification of the physical device with which they are communicating? The routines are not totally spoof-proof (nothing ever is), but they do enable better, faster, less obtrusive security at lower cost. They also restrict anonymity to those willing to pay for the privilege. I look forward to seeing a converged debate flushing out the hidden agendas of those who wish to see this happen, those who do not, those who wish use all to be uniquely identifiable and those who wish to have multiple on-line personas with different attributes which they can manage separately.  

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