April 2012 Archives

Is Vodafone about to make history of the BDUK Broadband Strategy?

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This morning I received a note from my stockbroker on the Vodafone take-over of Cable and Wireless pointing out that they will have acquired both the UK's largest business broadband network and the largest global network of submarine cables - albeit many of the circuits of both are jointly owned and operated. The take-over is not yet home and dry but no other player is likely to offer anywhere near same amount, given that HMG would almost certainly block a Chinese take-over. 

When the deal was first mooted my stockbroker advised me to sell BT shares. Once the deal was consumated and Vodafone had started paying for the upgrade investments that are long overdue, he expected to see BT's backhaul revenues stagnate as they faced real competition for the first time in a decade. BT would also face a double whammy as Vodafone and Telefonica/O2 competed to offer ubiquitous broadband (fixed and mobile) across the Urban markets of the UK, decimating the fixed line revenues of BT and Virgin.   

Sir Humphrey's dream of a return to a monopoly telecoms infrastructure for monitoring and surveillance, as well as regulation, lies in ruins (unless the agony is prolonged by disappointed Cable and Wireless shareholders seeking a better price from another suitor). The Leveson enquiry may have temporarily crippled the UK's other world-class communications provider - Sky. But already we can see a return to an effective duopoly with other serious competitors in the wings.

I think my stockbroker was wrong about the long-term effect on BT's share price. There is more than enough business for all. But local councils pondering the BDUK framework will almost certainly get a better deal if they ensure their investments in community broadband (urban or rural) require the use of global inter-operability standards so that they can multi-source across operators on a non-exclusive basis. in this context they should take another look at the small print of the Westminster Council deal with O2. It is much much more elegant solution than the BDUK framework in its current state.  

Are we about to see another case of market forces overcoming regulatory failure?

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What is missing from the debates over RIPA, IMP and Data Retention

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The Scrambling for Safety debate last week generated more heat than light, save that law enforcement would prefer the money to be spent on facilities to turn what is already on offer into usable information. So are we merely arguing about an expensive job preservation scheme for Martin Horwood's constituents (he is LIbDem MP for Cheltenham) allied to a gravy train for the suppliers of mass storage devices, and a sharp tilt of intra-UK telco and ISP playing fields in favour of BT while those wanting to avoid surveillance use steganography to communicate via off-shore operators?  

At the heart of the problem is the sincerity of those who they say that all they want to do is to preserve the status quo. Unfortunately  the status quo they assume was never quite like that - and, even if it was, would not be fit for purpose in the world of today, let alone tomorrow.

Scramble for Safety but not to protect Children

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Why did so many of those at Scrambling for Safety yesterday think they should also be in combat with the authors of the report of the Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection. If the battle is between "techies for responsibility avoidance" and "parents for informed choice", I know whose side I would be on.  

On Thursday I attended the launch of the report of the Inquiry into Online Child Protection so I had heard what was said, not just what was reported.  I recommend you read the report in full before jumping to conclusions. I also listened to the Today Programme this morning. The trailed cat fight between Belle du Jour  and Claire Perry MP,  with Sarah Montague  as umpire, did not materialise. They were clearly on common ground. Even so, the report for the BBC website contrived to turn it into the adversarial discussion the editors had wanted.


Yesterdays blog entry was fiction - I hope

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For the avoidance of doubt, I have added a footnote to my blog entry on DCMS Broadband strategy yesterday to point out that it was intended as satire. It is not (to the best of my knowledge) based on any known documentation, whether a draft script for an episode of 2012 or Cabinet Office papers for release in 2030

The DCMS "Olympics First" Broadband Strategy: the pieces fall into place

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"Delay rural broadband to prevent distraction until BT, the Mobile Operators and their contractors have completed the upgrades and testing necessary to serve the games venues and prevent communications melt down in urban areas during the August 2012".

* [See P.S. at end - this quote is fiction - any resemblance to reality is concidence] *

If that was indeed the strategy, it was Gallic in its logic and Germanic in the ruthlessness with which it has been applied.  If not, then the normal Whitehall mix of SNAFU and improvised duplicity has been remarkably fortuitous. I am, for once, more than half inclined to believe in conspiracy rather than cock-up.

Whether or not what has happened was the result of strategic discussions, DCMS Ministers have indeed been far more concerned over the Olympics than over broadband.

More-over it appears to be a strategy that has worked. 


Is EURIM about to become the Digital Single Market champion?

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The draft Data Protection Regulation contains "necessary ambiguities" in order to achieve agreement on "harmonisation". Those ambiguities create yet more legal and regulatory uncertainty confusion of the type that make its easier to organise cross border transactions via services based in the USA. The consequences get in the way of the Digital Single Market. They help drive billions, perhaps tens of billions, of taxable revenues off shore. They are a significant factor in European economic stagnation.

Are the ambiguities necessary to secure agreement on wording really worth the cost?

Or should we accept that  "unison" is impossible, scrap the drive to "harmonisation" and instead focus on that which gets in the way of a Digital Single Market and of economic recovery, let alone renewed growth.

The accronym EURIM, originally stood for "European Informatics Market". The founders believed the focus of European policy should be to create a genuine free trade area. Malcolm Harbour MEP (one of the Directors of EURIM)  recently chaired a round table in London to look at the issues that need to be addressed in order to make a reality of the Digital Single Market meeting and the contribution that EURIM and its members could make, working in co-operation with the members of the European Internet Foundation.

This agreed three strands of work,
  • to review the initatives on Data Protection, Sharing, Surveillance etc
  • to look at cross-border Payment,Tax and Dispute Resolution and
  • to look at cross-border IPR issues (e.g. why can't you use BBC iPlayer in Brussels)
The wording of the report of the first meeting of the sub-group tasked to look at the Data Protection initiatives is polite - for example:

"There is a need to update data protection law, to fix obvious problems and help make a reality of the single market as an attractive place in which to locate and do business. Most of the concerns expressed by the Group relate to ambiguities and lack of clarity and consistency in definitions, including of personal data, leading to different interpretations with the risk that these can only be resolved in the courts. Lack of clarity also means the cost of compliance cannot be known with any certainty. This could not only get in the way of the further development of a Digital Single Market but could increase the incentive to organisations which wish to sell across national borders to base the operations involved outside the reach of the directives."

The underlying reality is, however, devastating in its economic impact.

It looks as though part of the forward programme of EURIM, as it moves from being "the very "model of a modern lobby" (note the omission of the word "group" because it is the lobby, not one of the groups jostling for position) to "The Information Society Alliance", will be the creation of a cross-cutting "Digital Single Market" work stream.

The challenge is to get uppliers of on-line products and services (currently obsessing about "communications data retention") to recognise the need to work alongside their customers (who are similarly affected by irational and conflicting requirements to retain, secure or delete  transaction content) and the consumer groups (who want genuine choice).  

The prize is a genuine digital single market and economic growth. Are they up for it. Or is it easier and more profitable to go with flow and move operations to the USA, Canada or the Far East - from Hong Kong to Sydney, from Singpaore to Mumbai?  
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Choosing a Mayor for the Information Age : congratulations to Salford Labour party

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Ian Stewart is probably the only mayoral candidate who understands what the Information Society is about - and I include those for London. I was intrigued by the comment that accompanied the news of his selection by Salford Labour Party as their candidate. It totally misses why he is so suited for the job. He is the man who did more than anyone else to help get the Media City to Salford. Without his footwork in the early days they would have ended up with little more than that mix of high-tech warehousing and unsold yuppy flats that is the legacy of so many of the other projects in the so-called "Renaissance of the North".

It is not just the BBC. Salford was on the way to becoming the electronic gateway for China to Europe, despite the efforts of Westminster, Whitehall and Brussels, before the BBC got in on the act. The reasons are much the same as those which led Felixstowe to become the Chinese maritime gateway - local vision and quiet hard graft. Salford had the added bonus of the former IT Institute - one of the first UK Universities to welcome Chinese students with open arms, recognising the opportunities as well as challenges that they brought.

I have worked with many politicians from the main parties over the past forty years. Ian Stewart is one of the few who had an innate grasp of where the broadband multi-media and visual  technologies were leading us, without being carried away by the hype. It also helps that he is such a nice man.   

He will, of course face challenges that would baffIe Superman and I hope that my support, given that I have no vote in Salford, will not detract from his support in other quarters.
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Ignorance in motion - Commission starts bid to regulate the Internet of Things

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Those idiotic laws from Brussels all begin with a seemingly innocuous "consultation". That for the laws the Commission will draft to regulate the Internet of Things has just been issued.

Do not be fooled. This consultation is important.

Unless it leads to a mass, pan-european vomit, backed by serious campaigns from those who see the threat to both civil liberties and economic competitiveness, this is the first step on the way to a regulatory nightmare that, whatever the supposed objectives, will protect major players from liability and allow the state to monitor everything that moves, while crippling UK/EU-based innovation from smaller players.  

P.S. My own submission (as a "concerned citizen") disagrees with all the motherhood statements and repeats in every comment box the following (with variations):

"While I believe much of the above is needed, it should be developed by industry and professional bodies on a global basis to meet their current legal liabilities. I believe strongly that the Commission/EU should make no new regulation regarding the Internet of Things - whether to add regulatory burdens or to limit responsibilities and liability under existing law."



 
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Is UK Design Law fit for purpose ?

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If UK design law fit for purpose, and it not what should be does. Stop whinging and and tell the IPO what you think, I have just received an e-mail as below - I might quibble on the time allowed for response - but it should help concentrate the mind:

Online Questionnaire - The Utility of Design Law

This is a unique opportunity for you to contribute to building a better design law regime in the UK.

British design makes a major contribution to the economy, but as the recent review of IP and Growth, commissioned by the Prime Minister, made clear:

'the role of IP in supporting this branch of the creative economy has been neglected'.

The Intellectual Property Office has therefore commissioned Speechly Bircham and Mountainview Learning to explore the effectiveness of design law in the UK and to research ways of bringing the IP system up to date by examining:

      - how effective the current UK design protection system is seen to be;

      - whether designers and design based companies believe they can access justice;

      - the effectiveness of remedies available for design infringement; and

      - barriers to enforcement of design rights.

The recommendations from the report prepared by Speechly Bircham will inform Government policy.

Your involvement

We hope to gain a broad insight into the way in which design law operates in practice.  We are therefore keen to hear your views on (amongst other matters) the actual and perceived efficacy of design law, the benefits, disadvantages and availability of the various remedies available to address design right infringement and your proposed improvements to the current design law regime.

In this regard, we would be grateful if you could take the time to participate in the online questionnaire, which is being undertaken by Speechly Bircham and Mountainview, and which will help us understand whether the scope of the law relating to design and the structures and methods of protecting the aspects of design which you consider to be valuable are in your view "fit for purpose", and if not, why not?  The link to the questionnaire is set out below.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/designrights

Kindly note that the date for completion of the online questionnaire is 20 April 2012.

Thank you in advance for your time with this.

Kind regards

Andy Smith

Business Co-ordinator

Economics, Research and Evidence Team

Intellectual Property Office

Dept. Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) Concept House Cardiff Road S. Wales

NP10 8QQ

(0) 1633 814249

www.ipo.gov.uk


==========================

 Comment from Nicholas Bohm:

I tried to leave the following comment on your blog on this topic, but it was rejected as spam (!):  I leave it to you whether to find a way of getting it to your readers' attention.

"The consultation seems to be aimed at discovering whether designers are satisfied with the state of the law (i.e. whether it effectively protects what they think ought to be protected).

This leaves unaddressed the question whether the law suppresses activities which ought not to be prevented. If any readers of this blog have faced threats of action under the design protection laws for things they thought they should have been free to do, I would like to urge them to respond to the consultation in order to redress the balance.
"

I apologise if anyone else has been unable to post comments. This is a moderated blog and they should come through to me to accept or reject. I normally accept, whether or not I agree,  provided I know the provenance of  the comment and it is not actually libellous. I do not think I have rejected any comments other than obvious spam but I am no longer receiving this so I suspect the CW spam filter may be an over officious. So please feel free to contact me direct or via EURIM -  I am still as "consultant" to them. 

Scrambling for Safety - an emergency conference on Internet surveillance

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FIPR Announces:  Scrambling for Safety - an emergency conference on Internet surveillance

I reproduce the announcement below, without comment, because there are only 200 places - less those already booked, including my two. I may blog again on this later, if I can make time. I am having a very busy couple of weeks when I thouht I would be bale to catch up.

"On the first of April, the Sunday Times carried a story that the Home Secretary planned to expand the scope of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. Some thought this was an April Fool, but no: security minister James Brokenshire confirmed the next day that it was for real.

FIPR is organising a "Scrambling for Safety" conference on April 19th to work out what this could mean. Speakers include Shami Chakrabarti, David Davis MP, Sir Chris Fox QPM and Trefor Davies. It is organised jointly with the LSE, the Open Rights Group, Big Brother Watch, and Privacy International.

FIPR and Privacy International organised eight previous Scrambling for Safety conferences while the last government was considering the RIP Act and the regulations that followed it. Our goal is to bring together different stakeholders interested in surveillance policy for an open exchange of views. The conference is open to the public, but you have to register. For the programme, and registration, visit http://www.scramblingforsafety.org

Professor Ross Anderson

Chair, FIPR

 

Immortality and the Internet: what happens when you die?

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Yesterday during a discussion to plan the forward programme of the EURIM Information and Identity Governance group it was pointed out that you need to include your passwords with your will to enable the executors to get access to your on-line accounts.

This morning I was making a small dent in my e-mail backlog and found a name missing from the lists related to the 40th re-union of my class at business school. I googled him and found a long series of entries in business directories but no e-mail contact.  I kept looking and eventually found a tribute, posted after his funeral - four years ago!  

It does not mention his time at business school but at our 25th reunion we were generally agreed that if you measured "success" as "after tax life style", Gerald Burton had done better than most of London Business School's MSc06 (albeit some might quibble about Paddy Barwise, David Davis and Peter Lampl).

If you read to the end, I think you will agree not only that we were right, but that Gerald is almost certainly highly amused that, as far as the web is concerned he is 90% immortal, electronically as well as spiritually.

I wonder what his views are on Vivian Reding and the "right to be forgotten".

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Which is more important anti-terrorism or anti-fraud ?

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The headline arguments against proposals to require Telcos and ISPs to retain communications data to enable the security services to do targetted traffic analysis, (akin to that used to support on-line advertising or unravel botnets) fail to address the risk that unnecessarily retained and insecure data is a common start point for the systemic fraud that is now costing the UK more than defence and education added together.

There is an urgent need to update and rationalise the current jungle of UK and  EU  legislation which mandates the retention or deletion of data (including transactions and personal data, not just not message addresses and headings) according to how many angels are on the head of a regulatory pin. There is also a need to streamline and clarify the routines under which such data can be brought together in support of law enforcement, civil as well as criminal.

Ministers have been talking of "industry-led partnerships" against e-Crime for some time. Their officials now need to be ready to listen to what the new "leaders" have to say - including on how they can help win the war against terrorism without destroying an economically vibrant and democratically accountable on-line society. 

The failure to listen and act accordingly is costing business (not just ISPs) £billions in compliance overheads and the UK and EU economies £tens of billions in taxable revenues as transactions and searches are routed via the US, Switzerland and other stable off-shore nations - where regulatory certainty and stability are given the priority they deserve.

The proposals concerning the mandatory retention of traffic data by Internet Service Providers  need to be debated alongside those for the mandatory retention of transaction data by mainstream business (in case it is needed by a consumer protection regulator) because both are already being brought together by on-line search engines and retailers under contract law (the small print you "signed" when you downloaded that app or signed up to that "free" service) in support of behavioural advertising as well as of "footprint analysis" to reduce the risk of fraudulent transactions in your name. Some of those merged files appear secure. Others have already been looted by organised crime.    

Attempts to separate out the different issues are disingenuous. I added a comment on my attempt to make an anonymous donation to Big Brother Watch to one of my blogs that added the issues of Copyright and its enforcement to the mix. I should perhaps add the footnote to that story. I handed a small wad of used bank notes to Nick Pickles over a coffee.

Last week I chaired a meeting of the Conservative Technology Forum on Ubiquitous Computing. We focussed on the positive side of chips with everything - e.g. cutting energy costs by 30 - 50% with intelligent devices, buildings and shared infrastructures. One of negative sides is the vast amount of data that will be generated - especially if all building circuits are fully loaded with dummy traffic to prevent traffic analysis being used to identify when they are unoccupied. If  ISPs have to log all of this in case it might be needed by the surveillance services ...     

One of the EURIM activities of which I was most proud was the work we did to bring sense to the original debates over RIPA and Electronic Signatures: in the face of the near impossibility of drafting legislation that reflected what was actually wanted. The problem was not just that those fronting the policy had neither the security clearances nor the technology background to understand what was actually intended and how it was likely to be achieved.

I have been helping my successor assemble a EURIM - EIF policy study team to look at the actions necessary to enable economic growth within an effective Digital Single Market. The  planning session on the organisation of joined-up scrutiny of the Draft EU Data Protection Regulations reinforced my conviction that we will only get a sensible discussion on these proposals if we widen the debate on their potential economic impact well beyond the Information Security/ISP/Techology community to include mainstream business users, beginning with Financial Services and On-line Retailers.

I personally believe that an update of RIPA, to remove the bureaucratic paperchases that get in the way of the identification and removal of IT-assisted malpractice (including bullying, stalking and fraud as well as terrorism) is essential. But we also need to recognise US experience that over 40% of notice and take down requests come from commercial rivals alleging IPR infringements. I believe we will not get legislation that is fit for purpose unless we have robust public debate, across the EU as well as in the UK.  In that debate we have to recognise that data that is not secured and maintained is vulnerable to systemic abuse.

Businesses who take the security of high value customers seriously (as opposed to those who wish to use their profiles to sell advertising) are therefore likely to bring an even more "robust" set of attitudes to this debate than last time - when the breakthrough came after the Treasury finally appreciated that banks really were quietly moving operations to serve high wealth individuals out of the UK, having taken the opinion of Counsel and been told the practical impact of RIPA when juxtaposed with "Mutual Assistance" et al.                 

You may have noticed that the Chancellor announced £325 million in the budget with a target of removing £14 billion of Benefit Fraud. Those opposing these proposals should be looking not only at how they can and should be amended to achieve the stated objectives at lower cost but also to help improve our on-line security and privacy against all those others who are monitoring our communications in order to impersonate and defraud us.

I do urge those of you who are serious about seeking constructive ways forward to join the Information Society Alliance (EURIM). You no longer have the excuse that I am Secretary General. Dr Edward Phelps is running a far more collegiate organisation. A consequence is that next year I anticipate being able to watch him succeed on several issues where I failed. That will be because he will have got the members to do the work, instead of expecting some-one else to do so. It helps that major commercial players are beginning to appreciate the damage to their businesses that will occur over the next couple of years if they do not work together to get better policy at both UK and EU level.  

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