New World: Politicians and policymakers don’t understand where wealth comes from. They don’t understand the very basics of why capitalism works, they don’t understand how the wealth of a nation can increase – and as a result, almost every single policy is counterproductive to a country’s competitiveness. This is despite the observation that the free market builds wealth due to one of the simplest of reasons, and once policymakers understand this, a completely different support structure would emerge.
Politicians and activists frequently regard the economy as a zero-sum game, where somebody must lose for another to gain. This is despite the quite trivial observation that we have built quite a lot of wealth from the Ice Age up until present day, and almost nobody is as bad off today as everybody was during the Ice Age. In this, it is baffling why politicians and pundits focus on redistribution, when the focus should be building of wealth.
But it’s counterintuitive for politicians to focus on building wealth, because doing so requires relinquishing control. Regulators can’t build wealth and competitiveness. They can only destroy it to various degrees. A lot of this comes from not understanding just why, and how, capitalism and the free market works to increase overall wealth, and not just redistribute it.
The free market brings 179,000 people out of extreme poverty every day. Not politicians. Not foreign aid. Not seized and redistributed wealth (minus the usual cuts to the redistributors). In my work in the European Parliament and elsewhere, I have rarely met a politician who understands the very fundamentals of why capitalism builds wealth – despite it being so ridiculously simple.
Capitalism works because it is voluntary.
It works because people seek to maximize their wealth, on a completely subjective basis. Some people value free time, some value money, some value happiness, some value rare Pokémon. That’s fine, all of it. The only thing you need to do as a politician is to get out of the way of millions of people trying to maximize their own value by trading something with other people.
In order to maximize overall wealth, you want to maximize the quantity of voluntary trades. That’s it.
Since every trade is voluntary, both voluntary parties consider themselves gaining in value from the transaction. This is key. As a result, a voluntary transaction adds value to the nation as a whole. Every voluntary trade adds a small bit of value, with both parties having gained from it, and maximizing wealth is about merely maximizing these voluntary trades on a purely quantitative basis. The more trades you have, the more increases in value you get.
Now, every person’s perception of “value” is arguably subjective. Some of it can be measured in terms of GDP, other subjective value is just happiness in various forms. The good part about the many forms of value is that you don’t have to concern yourself with this at all; people’s completely subjective understanding of value is much better than yours when distributed across millions of people.
The distributed free market is better even at determining and valuing the precise definitions of “value” than any bureaucrat has ever been.
Now, compare this with how politicians today try to “build wealth” or “create jobs” and thump themselves over the chest about it.
It usually involves creating horrible burdens on every single transaction. At a minimum, a receipt must be created (usually with penalties for not offering it). Moreover, transactions must be summarized to some kind of tax authority at regular intervals, and often to more than one authority. Meticulous bookkeeping is required – not for your sake, but for the sake of authorities. All this creates a wet blanket of unhappiness smothering the will to make voluntary transactions.
And then, of course, other politicians have the idea that regulated transactions are good for wealth, transactions which aren’t voluntary and therefore contain at least one losing party, if not two. These don’t build wealth. They may make the politician or regulator look good, but they aren’t a transaction in the free-market sense because they’re not voluntarily agreed upon by two consenting parties.
To top this off, all of the burden is usually directed toward subsidizing obsolete industries because they’re a vested interest and/or contributed a lot to somebody’s election campaign.
Politicians basically behave toward the free market and wealth-building like drunken elephants trumpeting about in a porcelain factory.
No, I don’t have an illustration for that.
Let’s do a thought experiment if we really wanted to create wealth in a nation, and just quantitively maximize the number of voluntary trades. How far can we go in making a nation competitive in this measure?
We’re eliminating all requirements to tell authorities about your transactions. No wet blanket of despair. That means no income taxes, no sales taxes, no bookkeeping requirements. You let people trade and be happy. This means you can’t have a corporate registry, there’s no regulation of employment (as that’s a special form of regular transaction), there’s possibly not even a concept of a corporation at all. There’s just people trading and taking entrepreneurial investment risks. Such risks can be detailed contractually in a project-by-project basis to eliminate the need for bankruptcy law and therefore the need for corporate legal entities and the heavy supporting authority bureaucracy.
There is still a need for a social safety net of some kind, not for compassion reasons, but for straightforward competitiveness reasons. You could solve this with a universal basic income like Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman have suggested. That would also be cheaper than building a bureaucracy for somehow determining who’s “worthy” of support. With such a general safety net, you create competitiveness for the nation overall as a lot more people will try out business ideas in entrepreneurship.
Society as a whole benefits from a risk-positive environment, and if you can provide a mechanism where anybody can try any stupid commercial idea without risking becoming homeless and indebted, more people will innovate and take risks – and the society using this mechanism will get a competitive edge.
So what you need is a population register with people who qualify for UBI (citizens or similar). You also need a land registry, for reasons I’ll be returning to. But that’s it. All other registers can be scrapped. Every one. Car plates, driver’s licenses, corporate registers, boat registers, every other database that requires data collection, and therefore puts obstacles in the way of maximizing the sheer quantitative amount of voluntary trades.
All this is perfectly doable today. It’s just that politicians think that Regulating More is the answer to creating wealth. It’s not, obviously. They Regulate More instead of focusing on something really simple – like the mere quantity of voluntary trades – and just doing everything possible to maximize that number, to get rid of obstacles for voluntary trades. As it turns out, you don’t even need taxes. Taxes require paperwork. There are ways to fund a state-construct maintenance that don’t require taxation and therefore don’t require paperwork.
I’ll be returning to that with a proposal for a Simplified Taxless State in a three-part series over the coming days.Syndicated Article
Repression: All governments of the world are cracking down on privacy and increasing mass surveillance, sometimes in the name of copyright enforcement, sometimes in the name of fighting terrorism, sometimes because they just want to. There’s a pattern here of similar things in the past – something is horrible, horrible, horrible, until the point where fighting the phenomenon just looks silly, counterproductive, and inhumane. Cannabis is there today, and it’s going to be years if not decades until it’s just as silly to fight people sharing knowledge and culture with each other, trying to brand them as awful people.
The striking pattern here is that people in power may regard an issue as completely peripheral, even downright uninteresting – like powerholders regard copyright – and still use the push from legacy industry interests as an excuse to get what they really want, like the copyright industry demanding mass surveillance.
Nixon declared war on cannabis… what year was it again? Oh nevermind exactly what year, it was as far back as when Nixon was president, which says a whole lot more than an exact year (it was 1968). His campaign advisor has since gone on record saying they knew all along they lied about the dangers of drugs, but that declaring war on them helped them shatter the communities that threatened Nixon’s re-election, specifically the hippies that opposed the Vietnam war.
“Did we know we [the Nixon administration] were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” — John Erlichman
The pattern seems to be that social breakthroughs, getting rid of the old taboos, happen in a few areas first that test the waters, and when nothing bad happens, the floodgates open. Bloomberg did a good feature of it from a US perspective, analyzing US breakthroughs like women’s suffrage, marriage between people of different skin tones (which was once illegal!), and other similar issues.
“A few pioneer states get out front before the others, and then a key event—often a court decision or a grassroots campaign reaching maturity—triggers a rush of state activity that ultimately leads to a change in federal law.” — Bloomberg
When it comes to privacy in general, and sharing music, movies, culture, and knowledge between each other in particular, we can tell that we’re not at the “okay, this policy is just silly, everybody’s doing it and nobody cares” phase yet. Everybody’s sharing and nobody cares, except the copyright industry, and the powers that be are using every excuse of that industry to crack down and toughen existing laws. Even though everybody who knows something understands that the laws are not just ineffective, but counterproductive and silly, there’s no room for such thinking where the lobbyists of legacy industries roam unchallenged.
It took some 50 years to get to the “okay, this persecution is just silly” phase with cannabis. Let’s not make it fifty years with sharing and digital civil liberties.
Privacy remains your own responsibility.Syndicated Article
Cryptocurrency: Cryptocurrency will cripple governmental ability to collect taxes, and they won’t see it coming. When it’s already happened, expect major changes to take place in how society is organized on a large scale – but also expect governments to act in desperation to retain control.
As bitcoin launched in 2009, most early adopters saw its disruptive potential. While bitcoin has stalled for some time approaching a valid use of the term “stagnation”, cryptocurrency in a larger context is still just as disruptive. In 2011, I stated that bitcoin (cryptocurrency) will do to banks what e-mail did to the postal services. This is not just true, but it will be even more brutal to governments, and by extension, governmental services.
Now, governments love anything that smells like innovation, because it means jobs, this magic word that smells of magic unicorns to anybody in government. Therefore, people who like innovation are nurturing this bitcoin thing, this cryptocurrency thing, this ethereum thing (as if governments made a difference, but still). Lots of startups in tip-of-the-spear financial technology means that their government may get a head start over other governments. They have no idea that cryptocurrency will radically scale back the power of government, not just their own one, but also all those other governments over which it seeks a competitive edge.
Individual people in government can also love bitcoin because it gives them something to do. More specifically, it gives them something to regulate. Fortunately, other people in government see that this gives them something to do, which is to hold those government regulators with an overdeveloped sense of order somewhat in check. You’ll hear no shortage of wannabe regulators saying that “bitcoin is bad because it’s being used in crime and contraband trade!”, to which I usually respond, “well, bitcoin is a currency, so I mean you put it in relation to the US Dollar, which then… is not used in crime and contraband trade, is this the argument you’re using to support your position?”, at which point the discussion generally changes topic.
This completely disregards the observation that bitcoin and cryptocurrency were designed to not submit to regulation in the first place. Well, at least not governmental regulation. It is heavily regulated – but by its source code, and by its source code alone.
The reason this will cripple today’s governments — today’s idea of what a government is and does — is because today’s economy is built on one layer doing actual work and three layers of abstraction on top.
At the first and bottom layer of our economy are the individual people doing all the actual work.
The second layer on top of the first is the abstraction we call corporations, which is a way to organize our economy and optimize transaction costs.
The third layer on top of the second would be banks, which handle money for corporations and individual people in a middleman gatekeeper position.
Finally, the fourth layer is the government, which takes advantage of the banks’ gatekeeper position to siphon off taxes from money flows in order to fund itself and governmental services. In other words, layer four completely depends on layer three for its operations – or at least for the relative simplicity of funding its operations.
Now, what bitcoin and cryptocurrency do is make away with the banks – cutting them out of the loop entirely, making them redundant, obsolete, dinosaurified. This resulting absence of anything where banks used to be creates an air gap between the functional part of the economy – people and corporations – and governments who want funding.
The way governments want to tap all money flows in order to fund itself is not entirely unlike how the surveillance agencies want to tap all information flows in order to have an information advantage. In this way, the deployment of cryptocurrency is to tax collection what deployment of end-to-end encryption is to mass surveillance. The government can no longer reach into money flows and grab what it wants, but will be dependent on people actively sending it money. The government can’t point a gun at a computer and have it give up its money; you can only make a computer operator feel very sorry for not voluntarily producing the keys to that money. So the government is no longer able to collect taxes without the consent – even if coerced and forced consent – of the people being thus collected.
The deployment of cryptocurrency is to tax collection what deployment of end-to-end encryption is to mass surveillance.
Governments, and individual people in government, have no idea about this bigger picture. They’re far to wrapped up in things-as-usual to notice. They won’t see it coming until it’s already happened.
When this happens, there will be no shortage of people in government who suddenly want to regulate cryptocurrency – only to find out it will be as effective as regulating gravity. When this happens, government as we know it will be redefined from a coercive Colossus able to take what it wants and do what it wants into a construct that actually depends on people wanting to fund it. This will be a very interesting time to live in. While today’s governments will see themselves as getting crippled, I suspect most citizens will regard it as unquestionably healthy that governments will actually begin to depend on the approval of the people at large.
We’re just beginning to see the changes to society that the Internet brings. This is one of them.
(Note: I write cryptocurrency and not bitcoin on purpose here, just as I’d prefer proclaiming the success of social media over the success of Myspace.)Syndicated Article
Corruption: Net Neutrality is being discussed again, and it’s important that your friends understand why this concept is crucial. Instead of explaining it in typical technical terms, it’s usually better to draw parallels to if we hadn’t had infrastructure neutrality in other fields. Roads are frequently mentioned; I find electricity to be a much better example to get the point across.
Imagine if all your kitchen appliances only worked with one power company. The electricity they provided was somehow coded so that only their fridge, their freezer, their stove, and their washing machine could be used when their power is in your outlets.
Imagine the cost of switching to a better power company. Cheaper, more reliable, less smug. You’d have to replace all your home appliances. Every single one. Pretty much like moving from the US to Europe or vice versa, to double or half the voltage in the power outlets. The cost of replacing everything, everything, would be prohibitive. Therefore, the power company could pretty much charge you anything they wanted that was less prohibitive than buying new appliances for your entire household.
And of course, that power company would be the only company selling the appliances that are compatible with their particular power. Forget about choice. No Miele, no Samsung, not even any Ikea. Why would they care about choice? You need to use their power, anyway, so it’s not like you can walk away from the table if you don’t like it. They don’t need to get a quality manufacturer in China, or India, or Vietnam. Some startup in Burma or Laos will do fine.
This is infrastructure neutrality as applied to electricity. This is why we need infrastructure neutrality as applied to the Internet.
For once one power company has started doing this and gets away with it – a so-called “vertical bundling” that they claim is “free market practice”, which basically tells their customers that their satisfaction is worth less than what you scrape off from the underside of your shoe – all the others will follow, if there’s a small number of providers like there typically is with infrastructure. The customer lock-in effect is so enormous, the executives will be salivating over how much they can overcharge.
Now, compare this to your cable companies. We’re so used to Game of Thrones just appearing on HBO, some other show just appearing on just another place, and another on some other, et cetera, that we don’t reflect on it.
But the scenario without electricity neutrality is not imaginary. It used to be exactly like that, with power companies requiring only their particular electrical equipment to be connected.
We’re just used today to some industries getting away with this (entertainment) and some not (roads and electricity), and expect that today’s particular situation is somehow natural. But this was not always so. In electricity’s infancy, the described scenario with incompatible power companies was exactly how it was, with different energy companies delivering different types of power that were utterly incompatible with each other. Most notably, this was a technology fight between Edison and Tesla (and Tesla’s power solution won worldwide).
This is why we need net neutrality, this is why we need infrastructure neutrality in every kind of infrastructure.
Last but not least, don’t forget John Oliver’s take on net neutrality, who was (is) instead suggesting it should be called “preventing cable company fuckery” to paint a more illustrative picture of it:Syndicated Article
Copyright Monopoly: In a previous column, I outlined how the copyright monopoly is fundamentally, irreparably incompatible with privacy at the conceptual level. While the copyright industry may appear behind the times — even outright dumb — it is a mistake to believe they’re unaware of this incompatibility. To the contrary, their persistent and consistent actions show they’re trying to erode privacy at every level and every turn in order to tip the balance toward preserving their distribution monopoly at the expense of civil liberties and human rights.
To talk of human rights and civil liberties are at risk when you’re doing something that’s technically illegal – such talk can easily come across as exaggerated and hyperbolic, even objectively false. In this case, there would be no shortage of people who dismissed people who share knowledge and culture — file-sharers and streamers – as mere criminals trying to excuse something illegal. It’s a little reminiscent of people who yell “that’s against the Constitution” at every corner when they see something they either don’t like or insist they have a right to do.
However, in the particular case of people sharing movies, music, and TV series, there’s an authority on the matter that is hard to dispute – the European Court of Human Rights, the foremost international human rights court that supersedes even the constitutions of 47 developed countries. This court has ruled super clear that interference with people’s right — yes, right — to share and partake of culture and knowledge freely is indeed a violation of human rights:
For the first time in a judgment on the merits, the European Court of Human Rights has clarified that a conviction based on copyright law for illegally reproducing or publicly communicating copyright protected material can be regarded as an interference with the right of freedom of expression and information under Article 10 of the European Convention. Such interference must be in accordance with the three conditions enshrined in the second paragraph of Article 10 of the Convention. This means that a conviction or any other judicial decision based on copyright law, restricting a person’s or an organisation’s freedom of expression, must be pertinently motivated as being necessary in a democratic society, apart from being prescribed by law and pursuing a legitimate aim. It is, in other words, no longer sufficient to justify a sanction or any other judicial order restricting one’s artistic or journalistic freedom of expression on the basis that a copyright law provision has been infringed. Neither is it sufficient to consider that the unauthorised use, reproduction or public communication of a work cannot rely on one of the narrowly interpreted exceptions in the copyright law itself, including the application of the so-called three-step test […]
Note how the Human Rights Court specifically states that undisputably breaking copyright law is insufficient for a conviction thereof – a prescribed law of code is just one of the three criteria that must be fulfilled to justify breaking the human rights charter. This, just by itself, is a legal bombshell. (It doesn’t stop people from getting convicted, but raises the bar a lot.)
This is consistent with my previous column where I describe how and why enforcement of the copyright monopoly online is utterly incompatible with privacy as we know it – for infringements take place in private communications that may both be used for super-protected communications like leaking evidence of abuse of governmental power to the press under protection-of-source laws, and for sharing music and movies, and if you’re going to make the latter discoverable, you’re also negating the legal protection of the former.
The copyright industry not just agrees with this analysis, but understands it deeply and has integrated it into their strategy.
To the copyright industry, the conflict between human rights and the exclusive distribution monopoly is crystal clear, and to them, nothing can get in the way of the exclusive distribution rights we know as copyright — nothing must be allowed to. Therefore, when it is recognized that the judiciary must prevent convictions based on the exclusive rights alone, and that privacy rights (as guaranteed by the law and government) get in the way of enforcement of the copyright monopoly, the copyright industry opted for a two-pronged approach:
First, the copyright industry strived to circumvent the judiciary altogether, aspiring for the right to go full Dredd and become judge, jury, and executioner.
It did so on multiple fronts. The most famous attempt would probably be the introduction of a Three Strikes scheme, where the copyright industry would be given the right to shut off a household’s internet access — that’s an entire household’s access — on the basis of three accusations of sharing in violation of the monopoly. (And as we all know, the copyright industry never makes mistakes.) The legal fight in the European Parliament was very telling, with one single word making all the difference: prior. The fight was over whether people subject to such exile from modernity should have access to prior legal due process — as in, the copyright industry wanted to shut people off first, and then, while shut off, only then could they seek legal redress. In effect, they wanted a right to circumvent the judiciary and shut hundreds of thousands of people off the net as a big-hammer collective punishment, scaring people into submission from the prospect of losing all contact with modern life.
Of course, such a scheme would require the copyright industry to have some jurisdiction over what Internet Service Providers could and could not do. We’ll be returning to that shortly.
France was first out with a three strikes scheme, creating a new authority – the Hadopi – which was tasked to shut down the Internet for misbehaving households (or households the copyright industry accused of misbehaving, anyway). The European Parliament saw through this attempt of the copyright industry’s, with the help of a lot of activists, and made the practice blatantly illegal in all of Europe. The relevant legislation even sported something called “the Hadopi test” – meaning that if the law code didn’t outright ban Hadopi, three strikes, and everything smelling remotely like it, the law wasn’t properly written yet. The European law passed a wording passing this test, and with that, three strikes was completely illegal in all of Europe – no state was at liberty to send people into exile from modern society by shutting off their household’s Internet access on mere accusations from an offended obsolete industry.
The end result was that the copyright industry couldn’t shut people off en masse as was planned, but had to resort to talking in “education efforts” in their PR material with regards to forcing Internet Service Providers to do their bidding. It was an enormous win for civil liberties in Europe and elsewhere.
However, the copyright industry has also tried suing ISPs directly to get a judicial order forcing them to censor the Internet on their behalf. While not technically circumventing the judiciary, it’s still avoiding dealing with the human rights issue as such on the prerequisite case-by-case basis. Perhaps most infamously, IFPI – the international record industry association founded in Mussolini’s Italy – sued Eircom, the largest Irish ISP, for the right to install “filtering” (censoring) equipment directly into their network. Yes, you read that right: a private industry demanded the right to silence any conversation it didn’t like, just because it felt (feels) entitled to do so.
Second, in order to erode and curtail privacy rights, the copyright industry sought a forced conscription of the Internet Service Providers to act as police on their behalf. In this way, the copyright industry would be able to introduce both proactive non-governmental censorship and mete out extrajudicial punishments, circumventing and curtailing the human rights “problem”.
In order to mete out these extrajudicial punishments – typically threats of a lawsuit, “pay up or else”, also known as copyright trolling, the more neutral speculative invoicing, the Hollywoodesque “an offer they can’t refuse”: in order to do this, the copyright industry obviously needed to know who’s operating behind an IP address. (This isn’t technically identifying user data, as ruled by courts, but the industry wasn’t deterred.)
In order to do this, it needed two separate legal mechanisms:
First, it needed the legal right to coerce an ISP to give out identifying information behind an IP address, something even the Police didn’t have the right to demand for mere everyday infringements of copyright.
Second, it needed a mandatory retention time for ISPs for such data, enabling retroactive surveillance or the everybody’s a suspect principle, so ISPs wouldn’t be able to protect the interests (and civil liberties) of their customers and delete the data immediately, thereby preventing the copyright industry from demanding it a week or so later.
The first mechanism was achieved by the IPRED federal law in Europe, which I described in a previous column, the law which was spearheaded in the European Parliament by the spouse of the CEO of Vivendi Universal, one of the big four record companies. This law is still in effect, and for a time, the copyright industry did indeed have more far-reaching powers to invade people’s privacy than even the Police. (The Police have rightfully argued that this is bad, but instead of reverting the private industry’s private policing rights, the governmental police instead argued they should have the same authority. They mostly do, today.)
The second mechanism, forcing ISPs to retain data so it could be demanded later, has been one of the most controversial things to happen to Europe (and elsewhere). The directive – the federal law – was passed in the European Parliament on December 14, 2004, and was called the Data Retention Directive. It basically required ISPs to store all identifying subscriber data for some period of time, at least six months, turning this privacy violation from “absolutely forbidden beyond direct billing needs” to “mandatory”. The European Supreme Court (the ECJ) struck it down as utterly unconstitutional in April of 2014, almost a decade later: the Court didn’t just nullify it onward, rather, the law was ruled so grotesque a violation of human rights it was retroactively ruled to never have existed.
It’s trivial to find massive copyright industry support for both of these mechanisms, not just in public consultations to law proposals, but pretty much at every trade show and political gathering at the time the laws were discussed.
In summary, the copyright industry understands full well that its distribution monopoly is incompatible with human rights, and is working consistently to remove those human rights in order to maintain enforcement of its commercial distribution monopoly at any cost.
Privacy remains your own responsibility.Syndicated Article
Copyright Monopoly: Britain and France have been the primary copyright hawks in the EU, pushing for stronger distribution monopolies and harsher penalties at every turn. With Brexit in the cards, and a possible Frexit following this spring’s French elections, a hypothetical future EU copyright law looks much more sensible. Let’s review the dynamics at play.
Britain has already voted to exit the European Union, and with the possiblility of Marine le Pen winning the presidency in France, along with a campaign promise to leave the eurozone and/or the entire EU if she wins, there’s a possibility France will also be preparing an exit soon. In order to understand what impact these developments may have on future copyright legislation, let’s take a look at the dynamics at play over the last decade and how France and Britain have used their influence on the Union.
When the EU massively expanded eastward on May 1, 2004, the copyright industry realized the expansion would mean a permanent shift against evermore-policies of evermore-copyright: Eastern Europe isn’t fond of this rich-man’s-protectionism scheme at all. Therefore, the copyright industry tried their damndest to get everything they could crammed through the door before the expansion date, the date Eastern Europe would get their voting rights in the Union, in the so-called IPRED federal law (“directive”) – the IPR Enforcement Directive. This legislative package gave the copyright industry more far-reaching powers than the Police in many European states. Yes, you read that right: it gave the private copyright industry the right to break anonymity and privacy in many cases where the Police weren’t allowed to.
The idea was to cram much more into the directive, including four-year prison sentences for sharing music, but time was running out toward the EU expansion date, and so everything contested was cut out in order to pass what had been agreed on (IPRED), with the four-year-prison parts and more pushed out to a later successor package, IPRED2. This successor directive failed and was withdrawn in 2010, since power had indeed shifted permanently. The intended IPRED2 directive also had the side effect of criminalizing a lot of open-source software development, as it also criminalized patent infringements – something that has always been a purely civil issue – and that contributed to scuttling it as a Generally Very Bad Idea.
So how does this relate to France? That federal law which gave the copyright industry more powers than the Police, the original IPRED, was spearheaded in the European Parliament by a French Member of European Parliament (MEP) named Jannelly Fourtou. Jannelly is married to Jean-Réné Fourtou, who was the Chairman and CEO of Vivendi Universal during this time. Yes, this means that Vivendi – one of the big record labels – was essentially writing draconian European copyright law in 2002-2004.
France continues to be draconian in this area. One of the MEPs infamous for harsher industrial protectionism was the French Marielle Gallo, who was one of the people fighting hardest for the passage of ACTA, even in the face of massive protests across Europe. (“I know better what these people need than they do”, is an authentic quote from her in Parliament on the matter.) Gallo was defeated in the matter and no longer works in the European Parliament, having been replaced by people who hopefully understand the Internet just a little bit better.
So much for France. So what about Britain? Well, Britain is currently preparing laws that enable ten years in prison for sharing music and TV. Does that sound sensible to you – that sharing music with a stranger is worse than, say, aggravated sexual assault? Britain with its record industry (that’s record industry, as in making small silly round pieces of plastic, as opposed to music industry) has been a major powerhouse in the EU.
In other words, without these two draconian powerhouses, the much more sensible powerhouses like Poland will instead set the tone for industrial protectionism in Europe, leading to completely different policy moving forward – one where the old record labels don’t get to dictate policy. While there are a few other draconian countries, like Denmark, they’re of small influence compared to the big players.
This reasoning, of course, ignores the much bigger picture that a potential European Union without Britain and France is not the European Union as we know it today but something entirely different. But as this post has shown, that can also be a good thing, at least from some aspects.
As a final sidetrack here, it’s interesting to note that Britain and France are the only two countries in Europe with the kind of two-party system that the United States has, and which was constructed to resist temporary fads of populism at the cost of having a high inertia to actual change. Therefore, when real change happens (like with the Internet arriving 20 years ago), such countries will be the slowest to see its policy adapt to new circumstances. This is interesting to watch in the light of these countries clinging the hardest to old structures.
Meanwhile, and especially in times of change, privacy remains your own responsibility.Syndicated Article
Belgium: Several European countries will start requiring photo ID from passengers to ride trains, similar to airport identity checks. The requirement concerns the high-speed Thalys and Eurostar services in Europe, with the vague goal of “tightening security and tracking criminals”. Activists said this would happen when useless security theater appeared in airports – it will just spread, but people dismissed the idea at the time as preposterous, probably because it still is.
Reuters reports that Belgium, Netherlands, and France intend to have passenger lists and passport checks in place on high-speed trains by the end of the year. This is despite all three countries being part of the European Schengen zone with borderless and paperless travel – similar to how you don’t need to show papers when traveling between states inside the US or Canada.
When the airport security theater was rolled out, spearheaded by the USA following September 11, 2001, many privacy and security professionals criticized it for being intrusive and ineffective, respectively. Most notably, security guru Bruce Schneier pointed out that the only thing that really had a positive effect on security was the locked cockpit door, with a half-nod to armed air marshals as another possible measure that actually works (though being an air marshal is apparently one of the most boring jobs ever, with a horrible turnover combined with long and expensive training).
As a tragic side note, that one positive security measure – locked cockpit doors – has instead resulted in the death of 144 people.
The rest just doesn’t work. It’s theater, security theater. There’s even a YouTube channel with a guy constructing explosive devices and weapons only out of things he buys after the security check on airports.
And of course, it’s violating people’s privacy – their privacies of movement and of location. (In the TSA case, also their privacy of body.)
When these identity checks and this security theater appeared at domestic flights (at least domestic Scandinavian flights, which were as unchecked as bus rides before 9/11), activists warned of a slippery slope that politicians would like it so much, despite it being utterly ineffective, that train travel would be next. Everybody dismissed the idea as absolutely ridiculous. And it is. It is just as ridiculous when being forced onto train stations this year, as it already is at airports. We’ve just gotten used to it at airports already.
“The bullshit this generation puts up with as a temporary annoyance, the next generation will instead regard as the natural order of society and how things have always been.”
Germany is refreshingly choosing to not participate in these identity checks. It would increasingly seem that Germany is the only contemporary country who learned anything from totalitarian near-history, the only country that really has it in its blood, bones, and marrow that civic rights are there for a reason and are not to be taken lightly.
Make careful note at this time of the little remark at the end of the Reuters story: “The scheme will not be enforced… on bus services.” This is the first time I see somebody even mentioning the possibility of having a photo ID requirement to ride a bus. The idea has been conceived.Syndicated Article
Civil Liberties: Asia Nikkei has just reported that the Trump administration has formally withdrawn from the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a protectionist agreement masquerading as a free trade agreement. This also indicates certain termination of the corresponding TTIP agreement. Before the champagne pops open, though, it’s important to realize that something else will happen instead, and we don’t know what: these policies go back a full four decades.
Since the late 1970s, the United States has projected industrial dominance across the world by tying aggressive trade negotiations to its foreign policy. This was a bold and unusually aggressive move in the 1970s which was recommended by the ACTN, the Advisory Committee on Trade Negotiations, a committee which was headed by Edmund Pratt Jr – the head of Pfizer – and which reported straight to President Carter.
The background to this tectonic shift in the late 1970s was basically Toyota. When the geopolitical strategists in the United States observed that the American public actually preferred Japanese cars over the freedom-loving (and gas-loving, and spare-parts-loving) cars of ole American Detroit, it was written on the wall that the United States could no longer compete on industrial production alone. Putting America first, a number of committees tried putting in place international agreements that would ensure America’s status as king of the hill even in the face of superior industry elsewhere – essentially a very advanced form of rent-seeking.
The American negotiators first went to the United States WIPO with this proposal, where they were rather unceremoniously kicked out on the street, the United Nations seeing the proposal for the rent-seeking that it was. Instead, they needed to hijack another forum and convert it to what they wanted, and there were many to choose from. The choice fell on the GATT forum, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trades.
Through a series of sessions where countries were played against each other, GATT was slowly converted into something called “GATT-plus” at the time, where a new global trade agreement would honor protectionist monopolies of the United States – particularly Hollywood’s distribution monopolies in the form of aggressive copyrights and the pharma industry’s monopolies on manufacturing drugs – in exchange for being able to trade at all. This way, it didn’t matter if Japan had better cars, or indeed, better everything. The world would pay rent in any case. (Of course, such a scheme only works while the US has a majority of the internationally recognized exclusive rights, but in the 1970s, China was nowhere near overtaking the US in quantity of patents and other monopolies).
Once finished, this new agreement was named TRIPS – and a new body was created to oversee it and supersede GATT. This new body was named the WTO, the World Trade Organization.
With the Internet entering the stage, the copyrights in this agreement started to collide with basic liberty – specifically, privacy. Where our parents had had the right to send an anonymous letter containing anything they wanted without it being opened in transit, powerful forces in the copyright industry wanted to curtail this liberty for our digital children, on the simple basis that “they can’t make money if anybody can send anything to anybody else anonymously”.
Not that it should matter; tomorrow’s civil liberties should never have to take a back seats to preserving yesterday’s business models.
Quite notably, even when these agreements were sold with the argument that they don’t change existing laws or only cause minor changes, it’s important to understand that the agreements also lock out the possibility of future reform. Their entire purpose is basically to tie the hands of legislators.
In order to understand just how critical enforcement of the copyright monopoly is to the United States geopolitical dominance, we can look at what happened when Russia applied for entry into the WTO. The point of controversy was a site named allofmp3.com, a site which sold mp3 files at far below record-level rates, and did so completely legally under Russian law as it was classified as a radio station, albeit a digital one.
The United States demanded it closed. That was the only notable American demand for Russia’s accession.
So let’s back up here a little: two former mortal enemies who had held each other at nuclear gunpoint 24-by-7 had come to the negotiating table and agreed to settle their differences. The United States could have asked for anything, absolutely anything. And so what did it ask for?
It demanded that Russia close a bloody record store.
This is when you start realizing the scale of importance of these frameworks. They’re not free trade agreements, they’re domination insurances.
On June 1, 2006, the New York Times reported that US trade negotiators have warned Russia that the continued existence of AllOfMP3 could jeopardize Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization. This was reiterated by the United States Trade Representative Susan Schwab in remarks to the US Chamber of Commerce on September 28, 2006. — Wikipedia
Fast forward to 2010 and “TRIPS-plus”, known as ACTA (deceptively named the Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement). This was going to be yet another ratcheting up of protection of US industries across the globe – among other things, it would put generic drug production in India out of business. But in this case, the Internet rose up in response to the copyright industry overreach against liberty and managed to defeat ACTA in the European Parliament on July 4, 2012.
There is no small irony in Europe asserting its independence from American special interests as momentously as this on July 4 of all dates.
Without the European Union, which is the world’s largest economy, there would be no global ratcheting up of protectionist agreements. (China was the probable target of the ACTA framework, seeing it was the only major economy not a party to the negotiations.)
And so with the defeat of ACTA, liberty activists knew that the trade negotiators would come back and try again. It’s their 9-5 job, after all. But they wouldn’t hinge success on European consent again. Therefore, in the next round, the trade negotiators went west from the US and east from the US in separate trade agreements essentially saying the same thing, but independently from each other, avoiding the ability for the European Parliament to put en end to the whole shebang as disappointingly as last time around.
The westbound post-ACTA agreement across the Pacific was to be called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TPP.
The eastbound agreement across the Atlantic was to be called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
All this has a straight line in history back to the WTO, the Carter era, and Toyota overtaking Detroit.
The TTIP had run aground in negotiations with Europe – one negotiator mentioned that in several years, not one single of the 20-plus points in the agreement had come to closure – and in particular, something called the ISDS proved controversial: a framework where corporations cound sue entire countries for making unfavorable laws in the face of their business model. Yes, it is exactly as insane as audacious as it sounds. For a prime example, see when Philip Morris used such a framework to sue Australia for requiring plain cigarette packages.
This is why it’s very interesting to see the Trump administration announce a withdrawal from the TPP. It ends 40 years of United States trade policy. While some are calling Trump’s policies “protectionist”, that’s not necessarily true – these policies since the 1970s have been protectionist if anything.
So it remains to be seen what the U.S. Trump administration will do instead. I have a hard time imagining all the built-up rent-seeking will just be dropped on the floor.
If you want to read more about these background events, I can recommend the book “Information Feudalism: Who owns the knowledge economy?” by Drahos and Braithwhite. It’s a bit heavy, but shows through deep interviews with the 50 most involved people what really happened behind the scenes when the WTO came into existence.
Meanwhile, however, liberty online just got a major reprieve from the aggression of the copyright industry (who gets to dictate major parts of these agreements). That’s something inherently positive.
Privacy remains your own responsibility.Syndicated Article
Cryptocurrency: The third Satoshi Roundtable has just concluded in Cancún, Mexico. The Roundtable is a private gathering of 100 movers and shakers within the bitcoin industry, with no media present, and it’s held under Chatham House rules – meaning everybody can use the information shared at the meeting, but never disclose who said what or their affiliation.
First, it can be acknowledged that an event like this can feel like elitism to those who are not invited. Nevertheless, it must be argued it is a very efficient way to make shit happen, and seeing there’s nothing preventing anybody from inviting people to a relaxed meeting, there’s nothing inherently wrong with doing so just because the whole world isn’t invited. This is the third annual Roundtable (and yes, the knight on the picture is the Roundtable mascot).
These are my impressions, and I’m taking the liberty to be blunt. Being blunt saves time that is otherwise needed to guess what people meant.The good
First, the meeting was superbly arranged by the Bitcoin Foundation and Bruce Fenton. It was set in just the type of location which makes it easy for participants to hang around the meeting venue instead of taking a taxi to whatever favorite other venue and splitting up, which makes all these magic spontaneous small meetings happen.
For me as a Nordic person, it wasn’t too bad to come to 27°C in the air and 23°C in the water in January, either. Not to mention the intense sunlight. (The sun doesn’t rise in large parts of Scandinavia this time of year.)
It was also a breath of very fresh air, after having felt the antagonistic attitude and tensions in online discussions, to see people meet and honestly try to exchange perspectives and gain understanding. In short, people are behaving not just like civilized adults, but like humble thought leaders. You’d never believe this if you just participated in online discussions.The outstanding
The productivity in a meeting like this is amazing. It’s so intense, you’re having high-impact discussions with everybody you meet, every five to ten minutes at tightest. Almost every single interaction leads to cooperation opportunities. Meeting so many other movers and shakers in such a tight spacetime means there’s an ignition of opportunity pretty much with every person you speak to.
I also had very fruitful and frank – even blunt – discussions with people who represent ideas and objectives seemingly diametrically opposed from mine in the bitcoin sphere, and there was a humility in the air and a willingness to listen and understand that is plain inconceivable if you are judging by the online toxicity. Again, I’m not allowed to disclose whom or their affiliation, but they deserve a metric ton of credit for the attitude. You know who you are.
I’m leaving Cancún with eleven actionable items I wouldn’t have had without meeting all the amazing people here, just one of which would have been sufficient to justify the trip and attendance.The beautiful
“Blockchain technology is an extinction event to traditional financial institutions. Like the dinosaurs, a few will survive by morphing into agile birds at a small fraction of their previous weight and size, but most will just die.”
I’m not allowed to disclose who said this, but I think it’s a beautiful quote. Roger Ver also posted the first part of it on Twitter, similarly without disclosing who said it, as is appropriate.
There was also a call for leadership among the people present – “we need to act like the leaders we are, and not tolerate bad attitude in the discussions: at the very least, we need to act as good examples and not foster a bad atmosphere”. This was very refreshing to hear and was met with applause.The bad
The major bitcoin discussions concerned segwit and the present deadlock. As it’s taking most of the energy right now, I’m also going to devote a lot of space to those impressions. There were many hours of discussion with (a non-identified subset of) people present calling for “segwit adoption and activation now”, plain and simple, with frustrated expressions that Chinese miners are “blocking progress” by not signaling, deploying, and activating segfault, basically “because they should be doing so”.
In a speaking slot of mine, I stood up and made the observation that we (people in the room) are acting like a Toyota boardroom who are trying to make a decision that every family should buy the latest Toyota model. “It doesn’t work like that”, I said. “We’re not the Soviet Politburo commanding a planned economy. The reality of the situation is that we’ve made the market an offer, and the market is rejecting our offer.” I made the point that thinking the market should behave differently, no matter how good your reasons, is not going to make the market behave differently in the slightest. The Toyota boardroom doesn’t get to decide what car a family should buy, and the present company does not get to decide what code miners run on their own machines. The world isn’t fair, but instead of complaining about it, play the cards you’ve got on your hand. Give your client what they want and you both benefit.
Some people seemed to take to this argument. Most didn’t, appearing to be stuck in the mindset that miners are there to serve the community, as opposed to the actual objective, serving themselves only as a rational economic actor.
I find it really, really frustrating that you have a room full of otherwise hyperintelligent people, who were told in very clear terms by the Chinese miners what those miners want about a year ago (a hardfork increasing the max blocksize limit for the present type of transactions to at least 2 megabytes), and today, you have the same people asking in frustration why Chinese miners are not adopting segwit when those miners said in bright blinking cleartext a year ago what it is they want, and it is not segwit. The lack of understanding the customer perspective comes across not just as substandard, but appalling to the level of downright confusing.
The conclusion from this meeting appears to be to do mostly nothing and just expect segwit to activate, possibly lowering the activation threshold (which would not go over well at all). I find that disappointing, because it means that 44 weeks from now, when segwit has definitely failed to activate (when the activation window closes), there will be a flurry of confused activity as what to do next. So in 52 weeks, we’ll be at another Satoshi Roundtable with absolutely no progress at all, if this is the only path worked on.
The alternative, of course, is that a hard fork happens in the meantime. There are at least four levels of hardfork that can take place, and the most likely is that enough miners just switch to a non-Core bitcoin distribution with a higher or dynamic blocksize limit – the second easiest level of hardfork.
I am aware of several hardfork initiatives, at three different levels, that are already underway with work progressing. I predict and anticipate an actual fork event to take place six to 18 months from now. And it’s not going to be “firing Core” as some would frame it; more accurately, it’s going to be “firing Blockstream”. The open question would be if such an event happens in time to preserve bitcoin’s first-mover advantage over other, technically superior coins – my crystal ball is very hazy on this point.
Overall, my assessment is that bitcoin is lacking project management. There’s no clear vision of what the community wants bitcoin to be, who the customer is, or what problem it should solve. This is maybe best illustrated by the rather random statement “It’s now clear that microtransactions have been priced out by rising transaction fees”, as one person stated in the meetings.
Yeah, bitcoin just lost two billion users, and it was presented like a freak, unforeseeable, completely unpreventable accident – like a volcano erupting. In reality, it was foreseeable for years and completely preventable. It’s okay to not prevent such a catastrophic loss of userbase as an active choice or as a choice of whom to target – but it’s not okay to merely observe “oh and by the way, this just happened”.The ugly
The meeting started with the observation that there are now 70,000 transactions in the backlog. Despite this, a subset of the participants insist that there’s absolutely no problem with network capacity. It’s as if that subset of participants and another subset (including me) are living in different realities.
A further subset of people – I am still not going to name or imply an affiliation because Chatham House rules – insist on the importance of not taking risks with the bitcoin network. This comes across as completely counterfactual to me. We’ve seen a capacity ceiling approach for two years, and now we’ve hit it – how can you talk about not taking risks at the same time as you completely ignore the approaching and completely predictable capacity wall for several years? To many, this would come across as some form of arrogance, but calling it that would be to assign bad faith. I don’t believe in bad faith in this company; I prefer to assign the phenomenon to tunnel vision.
I’ve seen segwit rationalizations that doing a hardfork would take 12 months “and we must choose a fast path now”. Well then, the right thing to do would have been to start executing that hardfork lifting the blocksize limit a year ago, when miners declared loudly and openly that this is what they want. But that wasn’t done, and here we are a year later.
The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is today. –Chinese proverb
Of course, this argument could be trivially rebutted by claiming that something has been done: segwit. But in my blunt world, it’s results that count, and segwit is not happening. Again, this was completely predictable with a modicum of project management.Conclusion
In conclusion, it was a very productive meeting that was superbly organized and executed. Some of my preconceptions were shattered, particularly with regard to attitudes and professionalism; others were more or less confirmed, particularly with regard to stances and action plans of various actors and actor groups, as well as my assessment of the political situation at hand.
After this meeting, I’m very bullish on bitcoin’s future. There’s one thing I believe in more than ideas, and that’s people. Specifically, people with the ability to execute those ideas — and there’s a ton of them here. They’re not going to let bitcoin die silently with a whimper, but something will happen to resolve this deadlock, and it’s going to happen sooner rather than later with all this energy around. I cannot predict what that event is — as I said, I’m aware of three hardfork initiatives myself — but I am quite sure such an event will come from somewhere.
Copyright Monopoly: Enforcement of copyright is fundamentally, conceptually incompatible with privacy of correspondence. You can't have the sealed and private letter in existence at the same time as you enforce copyright, once communications have gone digital. This is the reason you see VPN companies and other privacy advocates fight copyright enforcement and copyright law: because society has to choose between privacy and copyright, and basic civil liberties are considered more important than one particular entertainment business model.
Why is a VPN company interested in copyright law? Why does a VPN company even question copyright law expansion and enforcement? Why do the most appreciated internet operators talk back a lot to the copyright industry – and are appreciated by their customers for that very reason? Why does the net generation generally say, as a blanket statement, that copyright law just has no place in an Internet world?
Is it, as some would claim, because BitTorrent users make up a majority of the paying customers of a VPN company or an internet operator? That the net generation just wants everything for free? That the VPN company profits from protecting criminals? You know, there are people who would actually claim this with a straight face, apparently serious. The facts are clear on the matter, though: BitTorrent usage is neither a majority reason for using a VPN, nor are heavy-bandwidth users particularly profitable. And the net generation has no illusion about everything-for-free being sustainable or even desirable – but they do defend their liberty ferociously.
No, the reason successful VPN teams are critical of copyright enforcement goes deeper. Much deeper. It has to do with the basic passion for privacy that led a founder to create a VPN company in the first place, and for passionate co-workers to share the vision of privacy being a civil liberty worth defending.
There is a little-acknowledged conflict between enforcement of the copyright monopoly – which is a governmentally-sanctioned private monopoly on distribution, duplication, and transmission of certain bitpatterns – and private correspondence as a concept. When I open a digital communications channel to somebody, I can use that channel to transmit private correspondence (thoughts, ideas, feelings), for which there is a constitutional right to privacy. But I am also technically able to use this channel to transmit a piece of music, at TV show, or a movie, which would typically be illegal – a violation of the copyright distribution monopoly, and there is no shortage of people who do.
Thus, the key observation here is that the infringements of copyright used to be visible to the naked eye in a public location – they could be a printed book for sale in a bookstore, or an unlicensed concert — but the infringements have now moved into private correspondence, into the protected private sphere. An active BitTorrent is a set of ones and zeroes that arrive at and leave my computer, interspersed with all the (other) private things I do on the same computer: browse sensitive information, send mail, advise political dissidents, et cetera. I could also be using email or chat channels to violate copyright, for that matter, at the same time as I’m sending anonymous evidence of governmental abuse to a reporter on another channel. The only way to discover the illegality of a small part of the aggregate bitstream my computer is transmitting is to capture and analyze all of it. Thus, we’re now at a point where enforcement of this distribution monopoly has become irreconcilable with keeping the very concept of private communications.
There's no way to say that private correspondence is still as completely protected as it's always been, but copyright-infringing data transmissions are not. They're mixed in with each other now, mixed with each other forevermore, and the only way to tell which is which is to look at the aggregate stream, pick it apart, and analyze it. The act of sorting requires observation. At the point somebody has sorted the private correspondence into legal and illegal, it is no longer private, by definition. Thus, the only way to maintain the concept of privacy is to prevent the observation, and as a consequence, prevent the discovery of infringements of the copyright distribution monopoly. There is no middle ground. None. It’s one or the other: privacy or copyright.
This is why a privacy company fights against copyright enforcement. It follows from that company’s very existence, which in turn usually follows from a deep passion for civil liberties on behalf of the founder and co-workers.
“If I send you an e-mail, that e-mail may contain a piece of music. If we are in a video chat, I may drop a copyrighted video clip there for both of us to watch. The only way to detect this, in order to enforce today’s level of copyright, is to eliminate the right to private correspondence. That is, to eavesdrop on all the ones and zeros going to and from all computers.
There is no way to allow the right to private correspondence for some type of content, but not for other types. You must break the seal and analyze the contents to sort it into allowed and disallowed. At that point, the seal is broken. Either there is a seal on everything, or on nothing.
So we are at a crossroads. We, as a society, can say that copyright is the most important thing we have, and give up the right to talk in private. Either that, or we say that the right to private correspondence has greater value, even though such correspondence can be used to transfer copyrighted works. There is no middle ground.”
— From the book The Case for Copyright Reform
Curiously, a lot of people seem to defend the copyright distribution monopoly in a vacuum – as if there was no cost to upholding it, as if there were no bad effects down the road, only somebody making money in a vacuum. “They get to decide how the fruit of their labor is distributed. How is that a bad thing?” Well, it is a bad thing when the consequence of that principle is that nobody gets to communicate in private anymore. It is a very bad thing. And that is, indeed, its consequence. Many seem to reason along this line:
“Because I (we) make money from this legal construct, it is just and righteous, and therefore this legal construct has a right and an obligation to keep existing, no matter what else happens.”
Worse still, some take the stance that infringing the distribution monopoly is “stealing”, despite this being obviously false from moral, philosophical, economic, and legal standpoints. Yes, legal – even the U.S. Supreme Court says that infringing the copyright distribution monopoly isn’t related to stealing, and U.S. courts have grown so tired of this false rhetoric they’ve even banned the copyright industry from using such terms in court, quite an unusual and far-reaching measure.
It can be debated whether there is a tangible loss of income involved; studies show the income to artists from direct copyright is “insignificant” when taking a statistical view and comparing it to overall creator income. Regardless, and this is an important point, even if maintaining private correspondence and thereby preventing copyright enforcement does result in a loss of income for some people, it is still the right thing to do: civil liberties do not get to compete with business models, and no entrepreneur has the right to dismantle civil liberties such as privacy just because they claim they can’t make money otherwise. These two concepts – foundational civil liberties and a particular business model – are concepts that reside on completely different levels in our society.
The reason this conflict receives so little political acknowledgment most likely has to do with the two concepts being in different departments, and nobody (so far) having considered the issue important enough to do a cross-department prioritization. Copyright and other forms of Industrial Protectionism typically reside in a Department of Commerce, and basic civil liberties like privacy typically reside in a Department of Justice or similar.
So there are two sides of a scale here that are utterly, completely irreconcilable, and society must choose one of them and abandon the other. On one side of the scale is private correspondence at the conceptual level, or at least whenever it happens in a digital environment, which is increasingly all correspondence there is. On the same side, as a consequence of the right to private correspondence, are also freedoms of the press and freedoms of assembly and opinion. Meanwhile, on the other side of that scale, we find a distribution monopoly for an entertainment industry — a monopoly which enables a few centralized business models for entertainment and arts, but isn’t remotely required for the vast majority of the conceivable entertainment business models. When valuing these two sides of our scale against each other, which side has more weight and importance to society as a whole? It should not even be a matter of discussion.
Of course, there is also the issue of a law that cannot or must not be enforced. Some people claim that there’s nothing wrong with the law, just with its enforcement. But the existence of an unenforced law is not justified the first place, and serves only to undermine respect for the legal system as a whole. After all, the text of law cannot be separated from its enforcement in practice.
There are many other civil liberties that are grounded in privacy, such as freedoms of speech, expression, and assembly; also the freedom of the press. These are also at stake. The Freenet philosophy is unusually clear about this:
“Of course much of Freenet’s publicity has centered around the issue of copyright, and thus I will speak to it briefly. The core problem with copyright is that enforcement of it requires monitoring of communications, and you cannot be guaranteed free speech if someone is monitoring everything you say. This is important, most people fail to see or address this point when debating the issue of copyright, so let me make it clear: You cannot guarantee freedom of speech and enforce copyright law. It is for this reason that Freenet, a system designed to protect Freedom of Speech, must prevent enforcement of copyright.” — Freenet Project philosophy
On the other hand, once you acknowledge that privacy must take priority over today’s distribution monopoly enforcement, you can instead reap all the positive rewards of every single human being having 24-by-7 access to all of humanity’s collective knowledge and culture. Just as when libraries appeared, the effect of this is not to be taken lightly. Moreover, all the tools for this effect have already been rolled out, all the infrastructure built, everybody already trained. All we need to do is to remove the ban on using it.Syndicated article
Copyright Monopoly: When the copyright monopoly was reinstated in 1710, the justification was that of publishing being many orders of magnitude more expensive than authoring, and so without it, nothing would get published. But the Internet has reversed this assumption completely: publishing is now many orders of magnitude cheaper than writing the piece you want to publish.
The copyright monopoly, as we know, was created on May 4, 1557, when Queen Mary I introduced a complete censorship of dissenting political opinions and prevented them from being printed (and thus the “right to copy” was born as a privilege within a guild, by banning all wrongthinkers of the time from expressing ideas). This stands in contrast to France’s attempt at banning the printing press entirely by penalty of death in at least two aspects: One, England’s suppression was successful, and two, the suppression has survived (albeit mutating) to present day.
After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which is a point of pride in that no blood was shed (at least none that mattered to the history writers), people were really really really tired of the censorship, and wanted to end it promptly. Thus, the monopoly that was the foundation of copyright – the exclusive right to the London Company of Stationers to print anything in the country, in exchange for letting it pass by the Crown’s censors first – the monopoly of copyright was not renewed as the law required, and lapsed in 1695.
Yes, the copyright monopoly ceased to exist in 1695, after having been in effect since 1557.
The post-revolution British parliament would have none of it.
The formerly very profitable print shops, having operated under a repressive monopoly upholding political censorship, though — they would petition Parliament again, and again, and again, to reinstate their lucrative monopoly, but to no end. Parliament just wouldn’t introduce something like it again. What’s really interesting here isn’t the fact that the printers gathered their families on the steps of Parliament to weep for bread to their children, but the arguments they used, and what didn’t happen:
First, they argued that nothing would get printed if they didn’t get their monopoly back, as they couldn’t make a profit. The extremely noteworthy part of the argument is that they didn’t argue nothing would get created – but that nothing would get printed.
Second, the authors had no interest whatsoever in this construct. The printers and publishers were the ones arguing for the monopoly, claiming to speak on behalf of authors, and presented the idea that authors should “own” their works and have such “ownership” transferrable by contract — knowing full well authors would have no choice but to sign their rights away to the previous vested interest.
The British Parliament bought this line of reasoning, unfortunately, sending us down 300 years (and counting) of suppression of speech by those who have most to profit from suppressing it. This date – the reinstatement of copyright on April 10, 1710 – this is what the copyright industry deceptively calls “the birth of modern copyright”, in an attempt to conceal or dissociate from copyright’s origin as political censorship.
The real meat here lies in understanding that the entire underlying assumption, and justification of this construct, was that publishing was far more expensive than writing. Setting up a print shop required considerable investment and labor in order to distribute works, whereas writing just required pen, paper, and time.
“Far from viewing copying as theft, authors [in 1700] generally regarded it as flattery. The bulk of creative work has always depended, then and now, on a diversity of funding sources: commissions, teaching jobs, grants or stipends, patronage, etc. The introduction of copyright did not change this situation. What it did was allow a particular business model — mass pressings with centralized distribution — to make a few lucky works available to a wider audience, at considerable profit to the distributors.” — Copyright historian Karl Fogel
The Internet has completely reversed this assumption. Thinking in terms of time required, the effort required to publish is now approximately the equivalent effort of writing a few words – here in WordPress, it involves moving the mouse to the upper right corner, placing the cursor over “Publish”, and pressing the left mouse button. Thus, we can observe the following:
Where the reintroduction of the copyright monopoly – the “modern” copyright monopoly – was justified by publishing being several orders of magnitude more expensive than authoring, the Internet has made publishing several orders of magnitude cheaper than authoring, completely reversing the original premise.
Of course, there will be no shortage of people who profit from an artificial limitation, once it is in place. You could easily argue today that X and Y must not change, because A and B profit from the status quo — and so, the copyright industry readily claims that so and so many thousand jobs are upheld (“created”) by this artificial and harmful limit. But really, what kind of an argument is that? Who has the right to prevent the passage of time because they benefit from a lack of change? This is effectively the copyright industry’s single argument today.
And that industry will let nothing stand in its way – in particular not civil liberties such as privacy. They have consistently tried to erode basic freedoms under the guise of preserving the status quo, when what they’re doing is denying our children the liberties that our parents had, such as the ability to send an anonymous letter to somebody.
New World: The Police wants the cooperation of a robotic witness to a murder case, requesting Amazon’s help in recalling what the domestic robot “Echo” heard in the room. Robotic witnesses have been a theme in science fiction for a long time — and yet, we forgot to ask the most obvious and the most important questions. Maybe we just haven’t realized that we’re in science fiction territory, as far as robotic agents go, and explored the consequences of it: what robot has agency and who can be coerced?
People were outraged that the Police would consider asking a robot – the Amazon Echo – what happened in the recent murder case, effectively activating retroactive surveillance. Evenmoreso, people were outraged that the Police tried to coerce the robot’s manufacturer to provide the data, coercing a third party to command the robot it manufactured, and denying agency to the people searched.
In Isaac Asimov’s The Naked Sun, a human detective is sent off to faraway Solaris to investigate a murder, and has to interview a whole range of robot servants, each with their own perspective, to gradually piece together how the murder took place. A cooking robot knows about the last dinner of the victim, and can provide details only of that, and so on. Still, each and every robot have a perfect recollection of their particular perspective.
When reading this story in my teens, I didn’t reflect at all over the concept of a detective interviewing robots of the victim. Once robots had data and could communicate, it felt like a perfectly normal view of things to come: they were witnesses to the scene, after all, and with perfect memory and objective recall thereof to boot. If anything, robots were more reliable witnesses and more desirable witnesses, because they wouldn’t lie for their own material benefit.
Today, we don’t see a toaster as having the agency required to be a legal witness. We surely don’t see an electronic water meter as being a conscious robot. We don’t consider our television set to have agency, and being able to answer questions about what we do in our living room, what it saw us do in our living room and heard us say, the way a robot could be asked in a science fiction novel.
But is checking an electronic water meter’s log file really that different from asking a futuristic gardener robot what happened? And if so, what is the difference, apart from the specific way of asking (reality’s robots aren’t nearly as cool as the science fiction ones, at least not yet)?
Our world is full of sensors. That part can’t be expected to change. On Solaris, there were ten thousand robots per human being. I would not be surprised if there aren’t at least a hundred sensors per household already in the Western world.
It comes down to ownership of – and agency of – these hundreds of sensors. Are they semi-independent? Can they be coerced by a government agency, against their owner’s consent? Can a government coerce a manufacturer to coerce their robots, negating property rights and consent rights?
These questions are fundamental. And their answers have enormous privacy implications. If society decides that today’s sensors-with-some-protointelligence are the equivalent of science fiction’s future Asimovian robots, then we’re already surrounded by hundreds of perfect witnesses to everything we do, all the time.
The science fiction authors wrote stories about how robots obeyed every human command (the “second law”). The writers don’t seem to have anticipated with a large enough importance that humans have always used tools – and therefore also robots – to project force of conflicting interests against each other. When one human orders another human’s robot to betray its owner, as in the Amazon Echo case, which human has priority and why?
Privacy remains your own responsibility.Syndicated article
Repression: Ethel Hülst had saved for some old-age luxury all her life, cash-in-mattress style, and wanted to exchange her old-issue-note savings for new-issue banknotes. Faced with demands of proving where her cash came from, she could not produce receipts that would have been older than a decade. The Central Bank denied her an exchange of issue, having her life savings expire into invalidity.
The Swedish Central Bank is in the middle of an exchange of issue, changing old-issue banknotes and coins for new issue. This is something that happens regularly in most or all monetary systems – an upgrading of the banknotes and coins in circulation, supposedly done via a fair and controlled process.
But when Ethel Hülst, 91, tried to exchange her life savings in cash of 108,450 Swedish krona ($12,000; €11,300), she was denied the new issue in exchange for her old notes. The justification was that she was unable to prove that the money had been earned in an honest way, as defined by the government, with the burden of proof on old Ethel.
These are rules against ordinary Joes and Janes supposed to prevent money laundering and terrorism, which accomplish mostly nothing at the same time as the biggest banks are the biggest perpetrators (in the scale of billions-with-a-B) – the same banks that are supposed to enforce these petty rules onto small savers.
Of course, the rules weren’t in place when Mrs. Hülst started her life savings, so how could she possibly know she would have needed receipts from the time in question, twenty or forty or fifty years down the road? That was absolutely inconceivable at the time, that the government would not honor its own cash. (Something that, for one reason or other, has always been inconceivable — despite ample data points to the contrary.)
“She was asked if she’s been laundering money or involved in organized crime. I think our elderly, just like my mother, get rather offended by the government assuming them criminal”, says Anders, her next of kin. “She never afforded herself anything, not even a hearing new hearing aid. Saving what was possible for a rainy day was almost a reflex.”
Sadly, shortly after the bank had refused to honor her life savings, and the administrative court sided with the bank in the matter of refusing her now-invalid banknotes, she passed.
“The bank doesn’t save statements longer than ten years”, continues Anders, implying that it was a ridiculous rule to retroactively come up with a requirement for twenty-year-old receipts. “When mom was told the bank no longer had any statements from the time in question, she gave up. She felt as though the government was stealing all her life savings, and that was it.”
Her financial privacy was, paradoxically, done right. Saving in cash is not only private: with banks giving you zero interest – nil-and-zero risk premium for having the money in the possibly-insolvent bank – it’s also financially sound to have physical control of your store of value. The key message is instead that central banks can’t and shouldn’t be trusted.
Bitcoin users are not affected. Your privacy, finanical and otherwise, is your own responsibility.Syndicated Article
Global: It begins: Amazon’s constantly-listening robotic home assistant was near a domestic murder case, and now the Police wants access to anything it might have heard. There have been similar cases in the past, but this is where it starts getting discussed: There are now dozens of sensors in our house. Do we still have an expectation of privacy in our home?
A recurring theme in the dystopic fiction of the 1950s was an everpresent government watching everything you did, as witnessed in the infamous Nineteen Eighty-Four and many others. Adding to the dystopia, starting in the 1970s with movies such as Colossus, computers are typically added to the mix of watching everything all the time.
However, these fictional dystopias all got one critical thing wrong in predicting the future: the government never installed cameras and microphones in everybody’s home. We did. We did it ourselves. And we paid good money for them, too. A smart television set — with infrared cameras built in, watching the people watching the television set as well as listening to them — costs good money that we happily paid.
“The television set received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the government plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live–did live, from habit that became instinct–in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.” — 1984
And now, the police wants access to all of it, not unlike in the brilliant short movie Plurality. In news this week, the police has just requested access to the recordings made by an Amazon smart unit in the home in order to solve a murder.
Of course, it always starts like this. A murder case. One murder case. The next time, it’s an assault rape case. The public opinion wants blood, and privacy has no value compared to catching a killer or rapist. So somebody, somewhere with authority, decides that privacy doesn’t apply in cases “like this”. Then, the government notes this mechanism has already been used for “felonies” – severe crime in general – and decides to apply the same rule for tax evasion, a decision which has no support in public opinion, but which is a crime that the government considers severe. A few more years, and the blanket privacy invasion is used to sue teenagers sharing music and to issue the mundanest of parking tickets.
(I want to point out that this ridiculous example of a slippery slope is exactly what happened with the hated mandatory Internet logging laws in Europe. They started out against murder cases and mass-murder terrorism, and before even a decade had passed, the privacy invasions were used against “all crime, including ticket-level misdemeanors”, and the copyright industry had special private access to the surveillance data for the purpose of suing people. This isn’t made up, it’s exactly what happens. The European Supreme Court struck that shit down as utterly unconstitutional, but it took a decade.)
The question is as disturbing as it is important. Legally speaking, do we still have an expectation of privacy in our own home? Especially when we installed equipment for the express purpose of listening to us and watching us?
As the Snowden movie came out, it was highlighted yet again that our mobile phones are constantly-wiretappable microphones, as the movie version of Edward Snowden took everybody’s phones and put them in a Faraday cage in his hotel room. How long until this is an ordinary reflex with ordinary people, and not just the most knowledgeable? “You had to live — did live, from habit that became instinct — that every sound you made was overheard…”
Legally speaking, do we still have an expectation of privacy in our own home?
There are dozens of microphones and cameras in an ordinary household today. Not to mention all the other sensors: Wirelessly connected scales, cooking equipment, lighting, cars, toothbrushes, energy sensors, fridges. All connected. All wiretappable. If you haven’t used the “calm” color setting on the lights in your home in a while, the government has the ability to know. If your body fat increases, or if you don’t brush your teeth regularly. If you change your coffee grind, or switch to stronger espresso. If you undercook your meat. The list goes on.
There are five separate and important aspects to this.
The first question is if law enforcement can plant surveillance on suspects of serious crime, using their own equipment. Most people would agree that this is reasonable.
The second question is if law enforcement can retroactively activate surveillance, as in the murder case above. As this requires watching and listening to everybody, all the time, it completely eliminates the concept of privacy (even if, as the police tends to argue, only a small fraction of collected data is used for later investigations: the same was true for letters in East Germany — they were all opened and analyzed, but only a small fraction of them were forwarded for later action).
The third question is if law enforcement can legally use your equipment against you: this requires breaking into your equipment and effectively taking control of it. This is a completely separate topic from the first question, which assumes law enforcement is using (and paying for) its own equipment to violate your privacy. Five years ago, it was uncovered that the German Federal Police had broken into ordinary people’s computers to wiretap people – and with root access comes access to webcams and microphones, too. This is a deeply unsettling concept, one that gives national security employees a dangerous conflict of interest, as they’re supposed to be keeping people safe but can use people’s not-being-safe to make their own job easier, if this is permitted.
The third-and-a-half question is if law enforcement can coerce a third party to wiretap you retroactively, like Amazon or Google, eliminating your agency in the matter.
The fourth question is inter-country espionage, such as when the United States NSA broke into Belgacom (the Belgian national telecom operator) and wiretapped the entire European executive and legislative branches, in addition to Angela Merkel’s personal phone. While outrageous, espionage at this level has always existed and to some degree it’s up to every country to protect its own assets.
The fifth and final aspect is the notorious insecurity of all the connected things. The technology sector has only started to learn how to make secure software, including frequent patches. Other industries who are adding connectivity as a bonus feature – scales, fridges, toasters – will be notoriously insecure, won’t patch, and will be around homes for decades.
This discussion is just getting started. Privacy remains your own responsibility.Syndicated article
Europe: Fake news has always been around for humor purposes, but the real “fake news” scares happen when the establishment is so used to getting away with lying, that any alternate narrative is demonized as factually false, irresponsible, and dangerous.
“The Onion” was next to “The Economist” in the newspaper stands for almost two decades. “Weekly World News”, which one-ups most British tabloids with regular Elvis sightings and vivid descriptions of two-mile fish orbiting in the rings of Jupiter, is still next to “Foreign Policy” in the same newspaper stands. This was never considered problematic in the slightest. Why, then, is a unified establishment screaming bloody murder about “fake news” all of a sudden?
To see the pattern here, it helps to know a little history – let’s look at the great “Fake News” scare of 1530. It has a lot of elements similar to ours today.
“The statements that make [established] people mad are the ones they worry might be believed. […] If Galileo had said that people in Padua were ten feet tall, he would have been regarded as a harmless eccentric. Saying the earth orbited the sun was another matter. The church knew this would set people thinking.” — Paul Graham
After the Black Death hit Europe hard around 1350, the monasteries were chronically short on manpower. The families that had used to send a child or two to become monks or nuns simply needed all their kids to work in the fields, to ensure food production, before such luxuries as manning the monasteries could even be considered. Therefore, any work that required involving monasteries became increasingly steep or scarce for the coming century.
This is relevant as those monasteries were the only places that produced books, all of which were in Latin, and all of which were in complete synchronization with the messages of the Catholic Church, the owner of the monasteries and therefore the owner of all mass media at the time. To compound the situation, the same owner also employed all the news anchors – the village preachers, who were the ones who read the books (in Latin) and translated them to the common tongue in villages.
A book was hideously expensive to produce. Not only was each page copied by hand, but the pages were made from animal hides: it was estimated that a single book may require the hides of as much as 300 calves. We don’t have a lot of comparative numbers from Europe of the time, but we do have them from elsewhere: a fine book in the Islamic world of the time could cost 100 dinars, with the annual paycheck required to support a middle-class family being about 25 dinars. Put differently, the prospect of buying one single book would consume an entire family income for four years – or in the $500k to $1M range in today’s value.
Gutenberg was convinced his invention would strengthen the Church, as the ability to mass produce books from a single original would eliminate all the small copying errors invariably introduced in the manual book production process. It would therefore, he argued, improve the consistency of Christian bibles. The result was the exact opposite, through mechanisms Gutenberg did not foresee.
To the day, almost a century later, Johannes Gutenberg combined the four inventions of the squeeze press, oil-based inks, metal movable type, and cheap rag-based pages to produce the first printing press. All of a sudden, books could be mass produced cheaply, and there was an enormous profit motive to be made in producing books for the common people. You could accurately and shamelessly call it an undercutting of the monastery business. (“How will the monks get paid if we allow cheap copying technologies?”)
Gutenberg was convinced his invention would strengthen the Church, as the ability to mass produce books from a single original would eliminate all the small copying errors invariably introduced in the manual book production process. The result was the exact opposite, through mechanisms Gutenberg did not foresee.
It’s important to remember here, that through the media cartel of the medieval ages (where the Catholic Church produced all news and reported all news), that there was an absolute gatekeeper position over the narrative. The Church could essentially claim that something was true, and everybody would believe it. This is a very powerful position, being the gatekeeper of true and false – one that is prone to abuse without any opposition, or competition, in reporting. As it turned out, the Catholic Church would indeed come to abuse this power quite egregiously, and paid the price for it.
What Martin Luther protested was only superficially the selling of salvation to raise funds: fundamentally, he was objecting to abuse of the gatekeeper position over truth and lie for the gatekeeper’s material benefit.
In the late 1400s, the Catholic Church needed to raise money, and came up with the idea of selling forgiveness for sins, the basic idea being that you didn’t need to be a good person to gain the favor of the Church (and divine beings), you only needed to be Rich. A priest, monk, and theologist named Martin Luther took particular exception to this message, seeing how it stood in complete opposition to everything the Church was supposed to be about, and nailed his 95 theses to the church door in 1517.
These 95 theses outlined how the entire practice of selling divine forgiveness was based on falsehoods, fabrications, and fiction. However, it’s important to look at the bigger picture here: what Martin Luther protested was only superficially the selling of salvation to raise funds. More fundamentally, he was objecting to abuse of the gatekeeper position over truth and lie to twist the narrative for the gatekeeper’s material benefit.
This is where the story should start to feel familiar with modern day conflicts over the Power of Narrative.
Luther was excommunicated – banished, exiled – in 1521. This was one of the graver punishments administered, short of the death penalty, and the only thing remaining for somebody thus punished was normally to leave for foreign lands. However, in Luther’s case, he was given refuge in lands siding with him instead of the Catholic regime, ultimately setting off a century of civil war over the Power of Narrative.
The final death knell came when Luther published bibles in German and French using the new printing press, the so-called Luther Bibles, first published in 1522. These set off shockwaves, as they were 1) distributed by the cartload in the streets of Paris and France, 2) were readable by the common people without translation by the clergy, and 3) didn’t cost the equivalent of a million dollars each.
The Church immediately went into a panic, as they had instantly lost their gatekeeper position. No longer were they able to stand unchallenged when they were reading from the Bible in Latin, as people could – and would – verify the claims made, using their own direct sources. And as it turned out, a lot of the things that had been claimed – selling salvation among them – had been baloney of the highest order with no support in the Christian Bible as claimed.
The Catholic church went on a rampage and a crusade against this new spread of ideas that would challenge its narrative, and in particular, against the technology which enabled people to challenge its narrative. Copying books cheaply and efficiently instead of paying four annual salaries for a single book – the audacity, the outrageous heresy! How dared people copy books themselves without respecting the Church? Obviously, books could only be properly copied in monasteries, to ensure proper quality.
(“How will the monks copying books get paid otherwise?” was as much a smokescreen then as it is today.)
The church kept up the pressure against the printing press, as it saw all the resulting non-sanctioned news channels as completely fake, not just being wrong, but being dangerous. They were irresponsible. They were deliberately spreading misinformation – at least the Church saw it that way, a Church which was institutionally incapable of unlearning that it was no longer the single source of information and would no longer have whatever outlandish claim accepted without question.
However, the nobility and royalty of the time were certainly paying attention to the Church. After all, the Archbishop installed Kings, so there was a mutual dependence for power between the clergy and royalty at the time. Therefore, when the Church exclaimed the sky is falling (“there is fake news everywhere! We must do something!!!111!!one!”), the royalty tended to listen.
As a result, on January 13, 1535, the French King Francis I signed into law the death penalty by hanging for using a printing press at all. Yes, you read that right: there was a death penalty for making unauthorized copies. The justification for the law, as still readable in the preserved logs from 1535, was to “prevent the spread of misinformation and false news”.
So the gatekeepers of knowledge and culture in 1530, on losing their gatekeeper position over the narrative, didn’t counter with higher-quality reporting, but instead attacked the technology enabling competition, calling it out as spreading misinformation and irresponsible fake reports. Does any of this seem… familiar?
The law was a complete fiasco. Once people had learned to read competing reporting, there was no unlearning it. The law was repealed shortly thereafter. England went another route to prevent the success of the printing press by establishing a censorship regime with printing monopolies, known as copyright, but that’s a story for another day.
As a final touch, let’s consider the words of Paul Graham, in his excellent essay “what you can’t say”: “No one gets in trouble for saying that 2 + 2 is 5, or that people in Pittsburgh are ten feet tall. Such obviously false statements might be treated as jokes, or at worst as evidence of insanity, but they are not likely to make anyone mad. The statements that make people mad are the ones they worry might be believed. I suspect the statements that make people maddest are those they worry might be true. […] If Galileo had said that people in Padua were ten feet tall, he would have been regarded as a harmless eccentric. Saying the earth orbited the sun was another matter. The church knew this would set people thinking.”
Privacy and narrative remain your own responsibility.Syndicated article
Copyright Monopoly: A Hamburg court has ruled that certain links were illegal when they were pointing at photos that were posted in violation of copyright. This ruling follows the worst fears of a previous ruling by the European Court of Justice, and creates many problems for the future.
The court in Hamburg has ruled that the operator of a website was violating the distribution monopoly known as copyright when they posted a link to an image, an image which was posted under Creative Commons, but where the posting did not comply with the license terms. Not only was the website operator unaware of the infringement of the original post, but the original poster was also unaware.
This ruling is a substantial and disastrous overinterpretation of the precedent established in the European Supreme Court (the ECJ, the European Court of Justice) earlier this year in the case of Geenstilj v Playboy. In that case, the Dutch site Geenstijl had posted links to leaked images from Playboy, images published without Playboy’s permission, and the ECJ was asked to rule on whether such links constituted infringement (assuming that the publication-without-permission of the Playboy images did).
This was a case that had the copyright industry salivating: they have been trying to establish for over a decade that links are illegal if they link to material that violates the distribution monopolies, and in particular, going after any links-to-links in what they hoped would be an indefinite chain of liability. So far, courts had thrown them out wholesale and for good reason. For the first time, a case of this caliber was in a continental Supreme Court: were you allowed to link to things that themselves constituted an infringement of copyright? The case had enormous implications for the file-sharing witch-hunt and “speculative invoicing” (what we normally would call “systematic fraud by copyright trolls”).
When that ruling was handed down by the ECJ, the Court established two things:
1) When you post a link with a profit motive in a commercial setting, you can be expected to have the burden of verifying that the link points at non-infringing material. (Geenstijl lost the case.)
2) However, this burden of verification does not apply at all to non-commercial settings.
Therefore, this ruling set off a cascade of reactions between “yay, the copyright industry lost, they cannot go after links posted by ordinary people” and “the sky is falling, because now links can potentially be illegal”.
To be fair, I thought this was a ruling I could live with, in my analysis. I’ve personally been working for the past ten years to constrain the copyright construct to only cover commercial and for-profit activity, essentially constraining its application to commercial publishing, and this ruling seemed to be completely in line with that ambition. If somebody makes a deliberate and knowing link to infringing material with a direct profit motive to that specific linking, and can be found liable for that, then that was a price I was ready to pay for having all other sets of actions declared outside the scope of the copyright monopoly. But as it turns out, it wasn’t really that easy.
Note that the ECJ talks about “links posted for profit”. They are putting a very high emphasis on the direct profit motive on the posting itself, as was undeniably the case with Geenstijl linking to the Playboy images front row center.
In contrast, the Hamburg case has overinterpreted this as links published anywhere within the scope of a generally for-profit operation, which is easily three orders of magnitude larger scope. A link posted on a casual staff blog of a physics-research subdivision of a retail company would have to be subject to rigorous inspection. This is arguably completely different from a high-profile article front row center of the entire operations, the purpose of which is nothing but pointing at those Playboy images. (Julia Reda of the European Parliament expands on this problem in Ars Technica.)
There are at least two more obvious problems with this:
1) Interpretation of the copyright distribution monopoly is hard. It involves cases that frequently enough go to Supreme Courts for ruling, and yet, here’s a court putting the burden of compliance on completely unskilled employees posting any and every link. There’s definitely a chilling effect here as people will strive to avoid any gray area. Further, do remember that the copyright industry is frequently found abusing its own abusive rules.
2) Links are not static. The web keeps changing and any link you post, even with rigorous inspection, is fully capable of pointing at something completely different the next day, without your knowledge or intent. Is it the intent of the Hamburg court that we must inspect all our links, all the time? Moreover, inspect them for changes to the terms of the material linked to, even if the material is the same? The burden and liability is insanely high and unpredictable.
The tensions keep rising and something’s gotta give. This is still a fight between the 21st century and the 20th century.
Ars Technica also has a good writeup by the excellent Glyn Moody. At present, it’s unknown whether this case will be appealed.Syndicated Article
Global: There is a “war on cash” going on from the central banks, trying to reduce the usage (and personal storage) of cash. This is something that makes sense as a power move against the common people in a time of forced negative interest rates, but it is a shocking reduction of liberty and privacy (of finance), not to mention that the official justifications don’t hold a shred of water. What’s really behind this trend?
Would you like your government to have more insight into your personal finances than you have yourself? That’s where we’re heading with the ongoing “war on cash” – into a world where every transaction is not just loggable by the government (or a government-coerced agent), but where you can also be held responsible for anything and everything you buy and sell.
There’s both a carrot and a stick in this scheme of making everything traceable and trackable. The stick consists of outright bans on cash transactions – several European countries have banned cash transactions exceeding 1,000 euros. Uruguay has banned cash transactions over $5,000. Even Switzerland has proposed banning cash transactions over 100,000 Swiss francs (admittedly a high number, but once a government declares a right to ban cash transactions, the number is a matter of degree and not principle).
The carrots and incentives for not using cash, meanwhile, mostly take the form of making it easier to pay using cards. The latest example of Amazon Go, a brick-and-mortar store where there’s no checkout at all but just just grab what you want and leave, is one example of such a carrot. It is undeniably more convenient than standing in an annoying checkout line. Combine this with various fees for withdrawing cash from your own account in the bank, and the incentives become clearer.
But why pursue this direction? There are many conceivable reasons for wanting to eliminate cash from circulation altogether. ZeroHedge has homed in on the elimination of cash being an absolute necessity to maintain a zero-interest (or even negative-interest) policy, which in turn remains necessary to prevent a financial bloodbath. Others have talked about the costs inherent in transporting cash in armored cars, or the risk of robbery being eliminated.
From a national policymaking perspective, though, the general excuse seems to be to “make it difficult for organized crime”. This was the excuse behind the elimination of the 500-euro note, for example.
But from a national perspective, this excuse makes absolutely no sense at all. At the national level, the game is to dominate other countries. Petty organized crime is not really relevant at that level, unless it is useful in the context of dominating other countries. And that’s where we find that this excuse – this “we need to be tough on organized crime” – is a complete Maskirovka, a complete façade, an utter lie. It doesn’t make sense at all.
The notion of a currency being used as a default currency in global organized crime is a concept that has geopolitical strategists positively salivating.
Organized crime – which in many cases is just free and consensual non-aggressive trade which is still governmentally banned – is a significant part of the global economy, an estimated ten per cent. A very significant part, one that uses large amounts of currency in cash format. If you’re responsible for dominating other countries, one of the best and safest ways to do this is to pull strings that increase the value of your currency. We know from supply-and-demand lessons that this can take the form of causing the demand for the currency to increase.
If your currency is the default trade currency for organized crime (which I’d rather call “free and consensual trade” to a large degree), this brings an enormous benefit to your economy as a whole – it has been estimated that it means as much as 25% higher standard of living, for everybody. Given this number, there are two immediate and obvious observations:
1) A crackdown on cash transactions with the excuse of “combating organized crime” is utter bollocks of the highest order. When you’re working on the national policy level, you’re doing your utmost to have organized crime use your currency and nobody else’s. It’s the equivalent of printing lots of free money – roughly the equivalent of 10% of the world’s GDP.
2) More concerningly, given the enormous benefit of having organized crime use your own currency, what concern is more pressing than this – 10% global GDP essentially for free – that is the actual cause for these actions to fight cash?
Liberty and privacy, including financial privacy, remain your own responsibility.Syndicated Article
När nyheten dök upp om att PKU-registret skulle utredas för att öppnas upp för polisanvändning, så missade jag helt att det även öppnades upp för användning av försäkringsbolag. När jag läste en artikel om det, kunde jag inte för mitt liv begripa varför det ens inkluderades i en utredning. Jag trodde inte att kommersiellt intresse skulle vara meriterande för att ens övervägas få tillgång till ett forskningsregister.
Jag kan emellertid inte förutsätta att det handlar om kommersialitet. Jag vet faktiskt inte den riktiga anledningen bakom. Eftersom jag råkade stöta på nån artikel eller så, där Anders Ygeman (S) uttalade sig kring utredningen drog jag en fråga till honom på twitter. Som jag inte fått svar på.
Emma Bouvin tipsade mig om kommittédirektivet bakom utredningen, där just försäkringsbolagen nämns. Jag erkänner att jag inte riktigt kan utläsa anledningen till varför det finns med, men uppskattar verkligen att få feedback. Jag blev även tipsad om att det möjligen är Morgan Johansson som är pappa till utredningen.
Hela diskussionen om varför försäkringsbolag ens är med i utredningen består av spekulationer och gissningar. Visserligen inte helt från det blå, men ändå. “Det är väl bra att det utreds”, sa någon till och med, och det är väl aldrig principiellt fel att göra ordentligt grundarbete. Såklart.
Men jag erkänner att det ens utreds är för mig lika främmande som att segelsällskapet i Årsta skulle utredas för att få tillgång till PKU-registret. Jag skulle vilja veta varför. Direktivet hintar om nån EU-relaterad motivation, samt något om “second opinion” vid patientskador. Vad nu det betyder och innebär. Varför det kommit med i utredningen, är för mig fortfarande mest bara underlag för gissningar.
Jag passade på att ställa frågan till några försäkringsbolag, om de har någon insyn i detta. Det är ju rent av möjligt teoretiskt att de inte ens bedrivit lobby om detta, eftersom det inte finns någon “paper trail” att tillgå. Utan riktig information och transparens, så är det skitsvårt att ha en synpunkt över huvud taget om man har lite stolthet. Vem vill låta som en konspiratorisk dåre, liksom.
Jag får lov att nöja mig med att peta på omgivningen om att jag inte får svar. Det är emellertid jättesvårt att undvika gissningar och spekulationer även om det. Kanske handlar det om min personliga oförmåga att inhämta information, kolla källor osv. Kanske är det strategier kring kommunikation. Kanske lite av båda – och andra saker jag är för oinsatt för att ta hänsyn till.
Jag kan ha ställt frågan till helt fel person. Men jag hade i och för sig uppskattat om Ygeman informerat mig om vem jag borde fråga istället då – hade varit jätteenkelt kan man tycka. Det är en lite trist spaning att en seriöst, icke-konfrontativt ställd fråga inte får svar. Dels ur ett öppenhetsperspektiv, men berör även en nivå av samtidens behov av källkoll. Kanske är det till och med symptomatiskt för det ömsesidigt låga förtroende som existerar mellan politiker och väljare.
Vi är inmålade i ett ganska omöjligt politiskt hörn idag, när det gäller massövervakning. Trots att övervakningen i sig inte förhindrar terrordåd, finns det inga som har det politiska modet att riva upp de lagar som idag gör det möjligt att övervaka alla medborgare på olika sätt. För, om det händer något, om ett terrordåd genomförs efter ett sådant beslut, så blir det konsekvenser och man kan riskera få bära skulden.
En av anledningarna till att det inte fungerar är för att det försvårar för analytiker pga mängden information. Det är en ond cirkel på alla sätt och vis. Det fungerar inte med massövervakning för att förhindra terrorism, och det går inte att ta bort massövervakningen för det är så tätt sammankopplat med förhindrande av terrorism.
Kritiker av den slentrianmässiga massövervakningen stöter på det här problemet från andra hållet. Att förespråka brottsmisstanke, relevans eller rent av proportionalitet tolkas oftast som att man inte är intresserad av att fånga in terrorister. Narrativet är så hårt knutet till att övervakningen ska göra det jobbet, att samtalen om problemen inte går att föras.
Nu är massövervakning användbart för andra saker. Politisk dissidens kan spåras och kartläggas. Man kan zooma in på helt lagliga, men obekväma, personer. Man kan antagligen redan idag använda det till att följa och påverka opinion så man får politiska fördelar, det är bara en tidsfråga innan det blir vardag. (När möjligheter finns, tenderar de att användas.)
Fortfarande lider debatterna av att riskera framstå som en foliehatt, när ämnet är på tapeten. Eller som indikerat tidigare i texten – vara nån som inte tycker att kriminella ska sättas i fängelser. Ur ett politiskt perspektiv är det galenskap att förändra det som inte fungerar. Ur ett opinionsbildande perspektiv är det galenskap att kritisera det.
Politikerna bär en stor del av ansvaret som dragit poängerna så hårt, men vi bär även som medborgare ett stort ansvar som inte klarar av debatter som inte är polariserade: vi vill ha de enkla förklaringarna, det svarta och det vita. Och detta är ett globalt problem, inte bara något som vi har att tackla på hemmafronten.
Som kritiker av det som pågår känner jag ofta ett slags ansvar för att komma med en politisk lösning. Ett alternativ. Problemet är bara att det är just den reflexen, att framstå aktiv, att ”göra något”, som gjort att vi hamnat i den här situationen från första början. Vi trängs alla i det här inmålade hörnet.
Jag upplever det emellertid som viktigt att allmänheten en gång för alla förstår att massövervakningen inte fungerar mot det som vi drillats att förstå det som. Det var då, det var under debatterna. Idag lever vi med det, och kan se att det inte gör det jobb som det var sagt att det skulle göra. Förhindra terrorism.
Att ändra narrativet till “ensamma galningar” har säkert hjälpt till en del för att skingra fokuset på denna dissonans i samhället, men borde inte få göra det som jag ser det. Det blir inte mindre terrorism för att man väljer andra ord. Det får plötsligt inte vara okej att säga att det är svårt, eller rent av omöjligt, att hitta terrorister. Det är något vi inte borde gå med på.
När vi väl förstår att massövervakning inte gör jobbet vi övertalats att det är viktigt för, är det läge att ställa frågan vad det används för istället. Kanske är det en ända att börja nysta i, som kan leda nånvart.
Det pratas om att PKU-registret ska tillgängliggöras för polis, för att hitta människor som begått brott. Det finns ju där – det hjälpte till att hitta Anna Linds mördare, inte minst. För vissa är det självklart att man då ska utvidga forskningssyftet (som många ställt upp och lämnat dna-prov från sina nyfödda till). Ett gott syfte, eller nåt.
Jag har funderat mycket genom åren på det där med att vi idag inte tycks ha några problem med att leva i ett övervakningssamhälle. De allra flesta jag pratar med i vardagen tycker inte att det är bra, men det existerar inte något reellt motstånd.
Det är bara så himla konstigt att vi är där vi är idag. Skulle kravet ställas rakt ut – ”ni måste som medborgare acceptera att ni ständigt är redovisningsskyldiga vad det än gäller” – så skulle vi antagligen inte gå med på det. Vi har lärt oss det gång efter annan, att ett sådant samhälle är ett helvete att leva i.
Ändå så fortsätter politiker att smyga in just den här sortens verklighet, hela tiden. Det skulle aldrig falla dem in att säga att vi inte har rätt till något privatliv, det handlar i princip alltid om att hitta de som begår brott av olika slag. Terrorister är väl det mest använda argumentet i de här sammanhangen.
Vi har blivit lurade gång efter annan av politiker, som sen blir inröstade igen. Om och om igen. Vi blev lurade när det gällde FRA-lagarna – den där kontrollstationen dök aldrig upp, nån utvärdering av deras arbete syns inte till, och nån redovisning av konsekvenser och eventuellt drabbade av felaktigheter existerar inte.
Jag ser politiker som lovade att det skulle vara en bra, rättssäker process, sitta dagligen och komma undan på sociala medier, som om de aldrig sagt såna saker. Många är i grunden bra politiker antar jag, men deras svek när det gällde FRA borde inte vara så lätt glömt. Om man ens förstår att de svikit. Det kanske finns de som verkligen trodde på dem, 2008, och deras ”punkter av åtgärder”, och tror att det är en välfungerande process. Det är det inte.
Ibland kan vi se det i medier, när SIUN prickat FRA. (Tio gånger enligt TT, hittills, har jag förstått – media rapporterar det knappt längre.) FRA har ingen skyldighet att göra något åt dessa. SIUN har ingen möjlighet att sätta något tryck på dem och i år ska Datainspektionen utreda dem, och gissningsvis vara precis lika tandlösa. Själva systemet är upplagt så att FRA är självgående och gör sin grej, utan redovisningskyldighet eller ha något ansvar för eventuella konsekvenser. Det var vad lagarna som drogs igenom 2008 gjorde.
Datalagringsdirektivet är ett annat exempel. Det skulle endast röra sig om grov kriminalitet, terrorism, människohandel som trafficking osv. Det var superviktigt att våra data sparades (till stora kostnader) för att förhindra kriminalitet ingen av oss vill stötta. Det drog ut på tiden, Sverige blev till slut ”tvungna” att föra in direktivet sa de. De sa att de tyckte att det var ett skitdåligt direktiv, men vi var tvungna. Så det fördes in till slut.
Och så gick EU-domstolen och dömde ut direktivet, som bröt mot flera regler om mänskliga rättigheter och rätten till privatliv. Då beslutade samma politiker som uttalade missnöje över att vara tvungna, att de minsann vill behålla det. Och alla de där kriminella som man vill åt med hjälp av datalagringen? Fildelare.
Så nu vill polisen ha tillgång till ett forskningsregister för att kunna klara upp brottslighet. Finns det något förtroende kvar för en något sånär etisk bedömning eller rättssäkerhet finns med när detta planeras? Nej. PKU-registret tas nu upp igen (det har provats tidigare) och folk anses idag vara “mogna” för att acceptera det här. Också. Väl värt att fundera på varför politiker resonerar så.
Riksdagen har under de senaste 15 åren underminerat våra rättigheter något enormt. Och de har lurat oss i princip hela vägen, för att få till det. Varför? Ingen aning. Kanske handlar det om politisk teater där de framstår ”göra något”, kanske handlar det om dumhet. Det är ju väldigt lätt att tänka sig att de är korkade när de föreslår så idiotiska saker som statliga trojaner.
Kanske handlar det om renodlat maktsug som leder gud vet var. Kanske något så löjligt som att vilja vara kompisar med stormakter som köper och säljer data dagligen.
Jag vet inte. Ingen av oss vet. Och det borde göra fler än mig förbannade. Men framför allt borde det göra alla försiktiga i att acceptera ytterligare ändamålsglidningar från stat och myndighet. Vi måste börja lära oss att det är sånt här som händer varenda gång. Inget riksdagen gjort hittills, har indikerat något annat.