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 reports on the vote in the US House of Representatives to pass CISPA, a draft law that is critiqued for attacking fundamental privacy rights.
You can keep up to date on the latest stories to catch the Information Program team’s attention on our Pinboard page.
US: Controversial cybersecurity legislation sails through the House
TechPresident reports on the vote in the US House of Representatives to pass the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), a draft law campaigners argue attacks fundamental privacy rights. Following news of the vote, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) vowed to take the campaign against CISPA, “a bill that would allow companies to bypass all existing privacy law to spy on communications and pass sensitive user data to the government,” to the U.S. Senate. Fight for the Future are asking concerned citizens to join an online protest through the campaign site “Sites not Spies.” This CNet report provides details of CISPA’s provisions, its history and context.
TechPresident | EFF | Sites not Spies | CNet
U.S.: Digital Public Library of America launches
This week saw the launch of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), which aims to make the holdings of America’s research libraries, archives and museums available online. The Harvard Crimson reports on the history of “the first national digital public library in the world” (a similar, Europe-wide project, has existed for some time—see www.europeana.eu), and on the cancellation of parties to celebrate the launch in the project’s Boston hometown out of respect for those affected by events in that city this week. Writing in the New York Review of Books, Harvard’s University Librarian Robert Darnton relates the project to the historical American belief in the free flow of ideas. Meanwhile, the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Jonathan Gray outlines his aspirations for the project.
Report | Darnton | OKF | DPLA
UK: Privacy international sues for details of investigation into surveillance export firm
Privacy International has filed an application for judicial review of the decision of the UK’s tax authority, HMRC, not to release information about the potentially unlawful export of surveillance technology by UK-based Gamma International. FinFisher, a surveillance software package developed by Gamma, has been sold to governments in 25 countries including Bahrain, Egypt, and Turkmenistan. HMRC is responsible for enforcing export regulations in the UK, regulations which have recently been updated to stop surveillance technologies developed in the UK from being used in repressive regimes.
Pakistan: Bytes for All petitions Pakistani courts over YouTube block
A case against the Pakistani government for their decision to block YouTube after Google refused to take down material from the site deemed offensive to Islam had its fourth hearing last week. The case is brought by Pakistani NGO Bytes for All and supported by the Media Legal Defense Initiative. The petitioners argue that the decision to block the whole of YouTube is disproportionate, as well as being ineffective.
U.S.: ACLU shops network operators to authorities over smartphone security
The Washington Post reports that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has lodged a complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) arguing that mobile network operators are in breach of their duties to their customers by not ensuring operating systems on Android phones used on their networks are updated with the latest security fixes.
Europe: Civil society coalition demand protection for net neutrality
More than 80 organisations represented by European Digital Rights (EDRi) and the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) have written to the European Commission demanding legal protection for net neutrality. To coincide with the letter, EDRi have designed a timeline showing key developments in net neutrality in Europe.
Letter | Timeline
Brazil: Marco Civil needs support!
The Mozilla blog explains why the Marco Civil—Brazil’s Internet Bill of Rights—continues to deserve support. Although valuable safe harbor provisions regarding copyright infringement have been diluted thanks to the influence of commercial interests, the bill still contains good net neutrality and privacy safeguards. Legislators held a public seminar on the legislation this week.
Smithsonian seeks Wikipedian in Residence
Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian Institute is seeking a Wikipedian-in-Residence to increase the volume and visibility of Smithsonian holdings across Wikipedia by engaging Smithsonian staff with the Wikipedia community and culture. The deadline to apply for this summer intern position is April 30.
The oligopoly problem
Writing in the New Yorker, Tim Wu argues that oligopolies are now the norm in American industry, and that competition regulators therefore need a new approach. Wu was recently seconded to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
Why transparency matters
Oxfam’s Paul O’Brien implores USAID administrator Raj Shah to put USAID in the top 10 percent most transparent donors by the time he leaves his job. He argues for a focus on giving power—and not merely “stuff”—to the citizens of countries receiving aid: “Teach a man to fish with a high tech rod, and you will feed him for a lifetime. Unless of course, someone steals all the fish, the water gets polluted, or the government sells off the access rights!”
I was a political astroturfer
Writing for Salon, A.M. Gittlitz relates his days as a paid-by-the-hour protester for astroturf group Citizens for Access to the Arts: “The rally was indeed about the arts—it was, itself, a piece of performance art in which politics and business blended and became indistinguishable.”
Open access aids science research
U.S. Republican representative Jim Sensenbrenner writes in Politico in support of legislation that mandates free public access to publicly-funded research.
Be careful what you like
Global Voices provides a useful analysis of the privacy implications of Facebook Graph search.
Why are our medicines so expensive?
Writing in the EU Observer, Els Torreele of the OSF Access to Essential Medicines Initiative explains the outdated innovation models keeping up the price of life-saving medicines, and argues that this is no longer just a problem for patients in the developing world.
Competition, control and the funder
The comment from Robert Cheetham of Azavea at the bottom of this piece for TechPresident on the Knight News Challenge is required reading, giving the perspective of a commercial supplier in competition with funder-supported projects and drawing some surprising conclusions.
Video: Anil Dash on “the web we lost”
Entrepreneur and writer Anil Dash addresses an audience at Berkman’s Center for Internet and Society about the ongoing privatization of the online public sphere.