The Information Program works to increase access to knowledge and protect civil liberties in the digital environment. The following is a roundup of news and analysis that the program team has been watching in the past week. This week’s top story is about the discovery by security researchers in Canada of malicious software targeting smartphones.
You can keep up to date on the latest stories to catch the Information Program team’s attention on our Pinboard page.
Spyware that can take over smartphones detected
Bloomberg reports on the discovery made by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab of spyware capable of infecting a range of smartphones including Android and iPhone systems: “The program can secretly turn on a device’s microphone, track its location and monitor e-mails, text messages and voice calls.” The spyware is thought to be consistent with a surveillance product—FinSpy Mobile—marketed by UK-based company Gamma International. It was discovered in samples provided to Citizen Lab by members of the security and activist community following revelations earlier this year that another tool in Gamma’s Finfisher surveillance suite had been used to target human rights activists in Bahrain. The findings... illustrate how the largely unregulated trade in offensive hacking tools is transforming surveillance.”
Bloomberg | Citizen Lab
Switzerland: Police demand compulsory DNA tests for asylum seekers
The Forensic Genetics Policy Initiative reports on demands being made by the Swiss police that all asylum seekers submit to DNA testing, so that their details can be logged in a forensic DNA database: “The idea has received widespread support after police statistics for the first six months of 2012 showed a 77 per cent increase in the number of crimes committed by asylum seekers.”
Russia: Foreign Intelligence Agency seeks propaganda software
Australia’s IT News reports on details disclosed by the Russian-language newspaper Kommersant of three secret tenders thought to be issued by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, SVR, for software to monitor social networks and automatically spread information across them. The company reported as winning the contract have denied taking part in the bid.
Rwanda: Government tightens stranglehold on privacy and free expression
Privacy International report on a draft law currently making its way through the Rwandan legislative system that would sanction the widespread monitoring of email and telephone communications: “In the name of ‘public security’ Rwandan police and security forces will be able to spy on journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers and activists who criticize or oppose the Kagame regime.”
EIFL announce winners of Public Library Innovation Program awards
Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL) have announced four winners of its Public Library Innovation Program award which recognizes “innovative services that use ICT to improve lives and livelihoods.” The winners—public libraries from Uganda, Nepal, Serbia and Chile who instigated a range of projects focused on financial literacy and economic welfare—each receive $1,500.
American law is patent nonsense
In the wake of a US court decision against Samsung for violating patents Apple holds on its iPhone and iPad, Sebastian Mallaby makes a strong case against technology patents in this piece for the Financial Times (registration required). Business Insider detail in pictures the patents the court ruled were infringed by Samsung.
FT | Business Insider
The privacy of UK citizen’s medical health records is being sold off
Professor Ross Anderson of the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) details worrying plans for UK citizens’ health data to be made available to medical researchers—including those working for large drug companies—arguing that warnings from computer scientists that the security of personal records cannot be guaranteed through anonymization procedures are being willfully ignored.
Opening access to research
Peter Suber offers an accessible introduction to Open Access and the arguments in favor of public access to publicly-funded research, while Peter Webster details the various aspects of humanities scholarship that means it lags behind the sciences in take up of the Open Access way of doing things.
Suber | Webster
Report: Chile’s notice and takedown system for copyright protection - an alternative approach
The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) has released a short report on the Chilean system of notice and takedown available to copyright holders who believe their work is being infringed online, which differs from other systems, notably the US, in requiring a court order to legitimize a takedown request.
Bibliography: History of cybernetics
A bibliography curated by University of Pennsylvania historian Peter Sachs Collopy, detailing major English-language materials that chart the history of cybernetics, the “science of ‘control and communication in the animal and the machine’ which flourished from World War II into the 1970s.”