Post-Revolution Egypt Arrests Activist Blogger

I was fortunate to see Alaa Abd El Fattah speak both at PDF over the Summer and just last week at the Silicon Valley Human Rights conference. Every time I have heard him give a talk, I am impressed by his courage, conviction and the way he brings home the personal scale of much of what has happened as part of the Arab Spring. Alaa constantly serves as a reminder that technology alone is not enough, whether that is blogging or social networks; what matters is by whom and how these tools are used.

Even as Alaa spoke at SVHR, he was facing charges back home in Egypt for speaking out against the use of military courts and trials when the time has clearly come to restore the civil and criminal justice systems. Curt Hopkins at ReadWriteWeb has a bit more background both on the current charges and Alaa’s past activism. Upon returning to Egypt after SVHR, Alaa was imprisoned on these charges.

The organizers of SVHR, Access Now, have organized a campaign in support of Alaa, seeking his freedom. Please consider participating.

Annual Day Against DRM

The music industry may have largely given up on digital rights management, a largely ineffectual set of technologies meant to interfere with the simple and ubiquitous act of copying digital files, but the risks inherent in digital locks are as present as ever. Film studios must think that somehow their application of this technology is different, that this time it will work. As book publishers experiment with electronic editions, they also assume any such digital versions must be locked down to prevent their livelihood from being stolen out from under them.

Thinkers much brighter and more articulate than I am have pointed out that strategies relying on DRM proceed from rather flawed assumptions. Above all other things what the personal computer, and its descendants like smart phones, does best is to make perfect, infinite digital copies. Coding a thin veneer over this is comparable to trying to contain a rabid badger with a cardboard box. It willfully ignores the inherent nature of the situation. Hence business models based on digital technologies would be far better served to embrace the very abundance enabled.

Sadly as much as DRM is still a live issue I suspect most readers, viewers and listeners still rarely run afoul of the arbitrary speed bumps raised by DRM. When they do odds are good it comes as a complete surprise. I still have conversations with friends and acquaintances on a distressingly regular basis explaining why they cannot freely move their digital files to different devices, alter their format, or otherwise make full use of the medias consistent with their expectation that they full own the files and everything it should be possible to do with them.

The Free Software Foundation’s Defective by Design campaign has set today aside to keep attention on the problems surrounding DRM. If like me out of a desire for harmony you’ve stopped harassing your friends and acquaintances proactively most of the time, a Day Against DRM is a good excuse to momentarily set aside that policy. People continuing to buy technology and media that contains DRM props up the content producers’ incorrect view that DRM does anything other than intermittently punish honest users.

Check out the Defective by Design page for the day for ideas. At a minimum there are plenty of very understandable hypothetical problems of which the average person may run afoul that you can share to make the point. While no one is advocating for piracy and the mass copyright infringement that entails, we all should have a right to own digital media and do with them just about anything that makes sense within the realm of personal use.

Act Now Against Latest Rushed, Secret Trade Agreement

EFF is calling for folks concerned over the constant ratcheting of copyright maximalism to speak out against The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

[The] trade agreement currently being negotiated by the United States and eight other countries: New Zealand, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Like previous U.S. free trade agreements, the TPP includes a chapter on Intellectual Property. Based on previous U.S. free trade agreements like the U.S.-Korea FTA, it is likely to export controversial parts of U.S. Copyright law like the DMCA’s ban on circumventing digital locks without any of the exceptions and limitations that have enabled technological innovation, user generated content and education, to flourish in the U.S.

It may be tempting to see this as less of a concern than ACTA, to which EFF compares it. The negotiating parties are quite a bit different even if TPP is being discussed under the same veil of secrecy and on just as rushed, if not more so, a timetable.

The risk with intellectual monopoly enforcement being crafted absent the public interest in any trade agreement is that once some new rules or powers gain a toehold anywhere, they inevitably make their way into future such negotiations. EFF has a laundry list of the enforcement measures tabled by the US, often the main instigator for increasingly broad, over reaching enforcement.

Read through the list and see if the prospect of these measures becoming the international standard bothers you as much as it does me. If so and any of your elected representative are on the two relevant Congressional committees, please use the provided form to act.

Don’t Let TPP Become the New ACTA: Contact Your Lawmakers and Demand Transparency! EFF

Join Letter Against Irish Copyright Censorship Amendment

The P2P Foundation has a letter drafted by Saor Cultur Eire (Free Culture Ireland) in protest of the latest draconian legislation being snuck into law in Ireland. The letter includes links for more information, among them the BoingBoing story that brought it this development to my attention. If you live in Ireland, read the letter and consider signing on. If preserving cultural creation is the desired outcome, online censorship and disconnection regimes are provably not the right means to effect it.

In response to rushed amendments to Irish Copyright law, P2P Foundation

Submit Comments on ACTA to USTR Today

The FSF has been running a campaign against ACTA as it is being mulled over by the office of the US Trade Representative. Bradley Kuhn of the Software Conservancy has a timely reminder to act by submitting a comment now before time runs out. He has plenty of details about how to share your thoughts, including a link to the FSF campaign, as well as sharing his own comment if you need inspiration.

Everyone in USA: Comment against ACTA today! Bradley Kuhn

Join PK’s “Internet Strikes Back” Campaign

The current rules the FCC is pushing for network neutrality are far from ideal. I am not even entirely settled on what makes the most sense in terms of outcomes and how to reach them. However, I disagree with the current movement in Congress to strip the FCC of its ability to make and enforce these rules.

On Friday at the annual Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference, Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) railed against Net Neutrality as “basically the fairness doctrine,” “nationalization of the Internet,” and “regulating political speech” and promised to overturn it.

This is far from a constructive, critical response and I happen to agree with Public Knowledge that it requires a response. A legitimate debate about network neutrality needs to be kept alive, not utterly derailed by this subjective, partisan rhetoric. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will be holding a hearing on this very subject this Wednesday. Public Knowledge is organizing a calling campaign for Thursday in response.

I urge you to read through their announcement and consider signing up. Network neutrality isn’t an unalloyed good, to be sure, but we need to move past loaded rhetoric to building the tools and policies necessary for an empirical understanding of what is at stake and how to arrive at the most desirable outcomes in terms of free expression and innovation.

The Internet Strikes Back to Save Net Neutrality, Public Knowledge

Act Now in Support of Patriot Act Reform

Apologies that this is coming so late in the day but not too late. Some measures of the Patriot Act are set to expire at the end of this month. The Senate Judiciary Committee is to convene to review them tomorrow. EFF has posted an action alert to aid concerned citizens in contacting their elected representatives to urge a reigning in of powers under the Act. This dove tails with EFF’s analysis of documents recovered through dogged FOIA requests that show a sustained and clear pattern of abuse of these very powers.

Contact the Senate Judiciary Committee Today to Support Reforms to PATRIOT Act! EFF

UK Action Alert Against Updated Surveillance Plan

Cory at Boing Boing shares this action alert from the foks at the Open Rights Group.

This Kafka-esque “Intercept Modernisation Plan”, was stopped near the end of the last government, but was quietly revived in the 2010 Spending Review. While billions of pounds is being slashed from education, welfare and defence, the government plans to waste vast sums trying to snoop on our emails and Facebook communications.

If you live in the UK, sign the ORG petition. Better yet, find the contact info for your elected representatives and write or call them about the Plan. You may want to take a look at the efforts of Digital Due Process for more detailed talking points as it speaks to the same urge behind IMP as similar efforts to update surveillance laws and requirements here in the US. I know the site is US specific and aimed at the ECPA primarily but the more detailed you can be in your correspondence and conversation about the issues, the better.

Brits: Email the gov’t to stop plan to spy on every email, Facebook post, tweet, etc!, BoingBoing

Act Now Before IP Enforcement Bill Passes in the Senate

As a bit of US policy making, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act seemingly sprang up out of nowhere last week. As part of a wider push to coopt copyright infringement for other purposes, in particular censoring speech, it is just the latest element in a distressing trend.

The EFF has not only had some excellent analysis of the bill but now warns that the sponsors appear to be trying to fast track the bill through the Senate. It could be put up for a vote as early as tomorrow. EFF has put together an action alert on the issue. You might also consider calling your senators today or tomorrow morning to press the point.

USTR Seeking Public Comment

Rashmi at Public Knowledge has some good news. The USTR is seeking comment from copyright, trademark and patent holders. This is a golden opportunity to make a persuasive argument, en masse, for balanced copyright. She has very detailed instructions in the post, including where to make your comments and the specific docket you must reference. The deadline is February 16th. See the ACTA tag on my site or the EFF action alert of ACTA for information to consider when compiling your remarks.