News Digest: Lessons from Syria’s Internet Blackout

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 Syria’s internet blackout, which highlighted how vulnerable counties around the world are to similar blackouts.

You can keep up to date on the latest stories to catch the Information Program team’s attention on our Pinboard page.

Syria disconnects from the internet for four days
Many sources report on Syria's internet blackout, which lasted from Thursday, November 29 to Sunday December 1. CDT's write–up highlights two of the best: 1) Renesys Blog's “Could it Happen In Your Country,” which shows that many nations, especially in Africa, have so few internet access providers that disconnection is a matter of a few phone calls or power cuts; and 2) Ars Technica's technical analysis. EFF reports on how a few (estimated at less than 1,000) Syrians managed to stay online and that soon after reconnection malware was back targeting Syrian activists.
CDT | Renesys Blog | Ars Technica | EFF | EFF2

U.S.: Supreme Court to review gene patents
Wired reports that the Supreme Court of the United States has agreed to review a case filed in 2009 by the American Civil Liberties Union against the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for awarding patents to the research company Myriad Genetics on genes known to indicate early signs of breast or ovarian cancer. In August 2012, the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York upheld the patents.

Open Knowledge Foundation launches Open Sustainability working group
OKF has created a new working group dedicated to tackling climate change and creating a sustainable society by opening up all data relevant to sustainability, including CO2 information, climate data and temperature records, environmental impact assessment of products and services, emissions and pollution information from companies and governments, energy production data, and ecosystem health indicators. Anyone may join the working group by signing up to the mailing list.

Publishers, writers, and collective management organizations push European Union for stronger copyright law
Intellectual Property Watch reports that rights holder groups such as the European Writers, the Federation of European Publishers, and the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations have sent a letter to European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso urging that the EU should resist calls to broaden exceptions to copyright law, even for education and libraries and instead should back stronger copyright.

Follow WCIT live
To improve both reporting accuracy and transparency at the World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT), the specialist information service .Nxt has put all the preparatory documents online in searchable HTML format with commentary explaining their implications and highlighting changes (free membership required for parts of the site). The site is following the proceedings live with commentary from its owner, Kieren McCarthy, a journalist and long–time specialist in this area. Following this and other international pressure, the International Telecommunications Union has opened up the plenary sessions to the public via Webcast.
NXT Site | Webcast

The feudal nature of modern computing
In this essay, security expert Bruce Schneier argues that the extreme level of control exercised over today's popular tablets and smart phones by their makers (Google, Apple, Microsoft) is creating “feudal security” with all the issues of fealty and control the analogy implies: “Trust is our only option.” Elsewhere, this chart from the Electronic Frontier Foundation analyzes and compares the characteristics of the main e–readers: privacy, tracking, compatibility with other formats, and data–sharing.
Schneier | EFF

Leaked U.S. proposals for the Trans–Pacific Partnership Agreement
In this analysis, Knowledge Ecology International studies five articles that make up the U.S. proposals for enforcement of intellectual property rights to be embedded in the TPPA. The leaked text reveals that the U.S. wishes to introduce numerous measures to increase the rights of rights holders including enhanced enforcement.

Software to digitize small and rural libraries
In this Webinar, EIFL presents several speakers discussing digitization projects in small and rural libraries in Armenia and Georgia using the OpenBiblio open source integrated library management system.

Artificial Intelligence: an Existential Threat?
In this half–hour radio discussion for Voice of Russia, host Tom Spender, Nick Bostrum (Oxford's Institute for the Future of Humanity), Mark Bishop (Department of Computing, Goldsmiths), Noel Sharkey (professor of artificial intelligence and robotics, Sheffield), and Wendy M. Grossman (the compiler of this digest) discuss robots, AI, consciousness, fully autonomous weapons, and existential threats to humanity in the light of the founding of the Cambridge Project for Existential Risk.

Open access: saving lives
In this op–ed in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Peter Suber and Darius Cuplinskas cite open access to scientific research based on the Budapest Open Access Initiative guidelines as the key factor that enabled a 15–year–old high school student in Maryland to invent a 3–cent test for pancreatic cancer.
Op–Ed | Open Access Recommendations

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