Europe in the Driver’s Seat

Today I woke up to wonderful news. CERN has discovered the Higgs Boson particle, the so called “God” particle and the EU parliament has voted against ACTA. This is a great day for science and for freedom of expression.

What do these mean? Well, the Higgs particle is supposed to be the particle that gives everything else mass. It is the actual building block that everything in our universe is supposedly built upon. Why do I say supposedly? Well, the discovery is with a 5 sigma confidence. This is a really good, but in many cases they like to have 9 sigma. What does that mean in layman’s terms? So most testing is looking for a probability of less than 5% that this could happen by pure happenstance, or random error. This means that 95% of your data bear out the test your trying to answer. This happens around 2 sigma where sigma represents a standard deviation. Most products are made with safety specifications around 2 sigma, maybe three sigma (99.73%). The values that we’re talking about are so high, that you’re starting to get into the range of lottery winning (or plane accidents for that matter) likelihood for 5 or 9 sigma. With such high confidence you actually start to run into a greater likelihood of missing the actual signal than for it to not actually be there. You are being so strict on your data requirements that something that actually is the real signal is ignored by your data set.

Does this change my daily life? No not at all. We won’t be able to do anything functional at this level for more than a century if ever. We’re still working on the results of Einstein’s theories and how to apply them. We haven’t really gotten quantum computing working or any of the other cool things we’re working on (teleporting light and particles for example). However, it does give us a greater understanding of how the universe works and we’ve had to develop a lot of new technologies to detect these particles. The technologies could be very useful in the future for completely unrelated applications.

ACTA is a very different story. I’ve talked about it in the past and mentioned how much of a risk it was to the openness of the internet and to our society as a whole. The largest political body in Europe has decided to reject ACTA. The vote wasn’t even remotely close. Our hard work has paid off and the treaty is effectively dead. In the US it hasn’t been ratified by the Legislative branch and is really only going to be between the US and Morocco, which really isn’t going to be very effective. This is fantastic news and I’m extremely excited about this.

Unfortunately, we can’t just take a break, we have to keep working on the main reason why these laws are even brought up for vote in the first place. The USTR is currently negotiating the TPP which is starting to be viewed in a similar fashion as ACTA. I believe that we’re on the right path for stopping these types of legislation and treaties.

Way to go Europe in two major things.

Protecting the internet

As I mentioned in my blog post from yesterday, the internet is extremely important. We all know that. It’s fun to use it’s become an incredibly important part of our economy and will continue to grow in general importance. In some ways Thomas Friedman is correct in the book the World is Flat, the internet has increased the ability for people all over the world to compete in the same way. However, where he goes wrong is that he assumes that this flattening and economic importance will protect the internet.

Unfortunately this isn’t the case. We, the users of the internet, will have to continually work to protect the internet from special interest groups that seek to control its use. We have seen this in the US with SOPA/PIPA and with ACTA in Europe (And now Trans Pacific Partnership). A small group of companies in an industry that isn’t really able to innovate is attempting to dominate the manner in which the internet is being used. Unfortunately, despite these efforts, there are already more agreements in the works. The most recent in the US is a bill being pushed by our dear friend Lamar Smith from Texas. Yup, same guy that did SOPA he’s pushing a law that will require all ISPs to collect data on their users and store it for over 6 months. In addition websites are going to be required to collect similar data. The goal of the bill is to prevent child pornography.

This type of law is also being considered in Canada and there was a recent protest where a twitter user was pretending to be Vic Toews. This has rather upset Mr. Toews an MP there. However, these bills essentially destroy any sort of privacy on the internet. In many cases web companies simply hand over data to law enforcement agencies and governments without any need for a warrant or a court order. Twitter is one of the few companies that puts up a fight about user data. As users we really don’t know how often our data is being handed over to any sort of governmental organization.

In addition to these individual laws and treaties China and Russia want the UN to become a governing body over the internet. I think this is a very interesting idea, however with the two countries that are pushing this change it also has cause for concern. Both of these countries really work to control the access of information for their respective peoples. A treaty at this level may make it more difficult for individual country’s industries really impact laws relating to the internet and freedom. I am going to be watching this very carefully.

As users we need to be aware of these sorts of developments and make sure that we are active in protecting the thing we all love and use on a regular basis. The internet.

The ACTA has been signed

For those of you who aren’t aware the US and many other countries have signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement or ACTA. This law provides a legal framework for nations across the world to enact something similar to the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This framework gives additional control to law enforcement and copyright holders. Something also abnormal about this trade agreement is that the US claims that it doesn’t need congressional approval. I find this extremely odd, as it’s part of the charter of the legislative branch to approve trade agreements. Additionally, as I’m not a lawyer, I don’t understand what’s inherently different in the ACTA from the South Korean Free Trade Agreement, which has been stalled since Bush II.

At this point the EU hasn’t signed the agreement yet. France and Germany have both enacted some already strict laws in regard to the number of strikes an infringer can have before they lose internet connections.Of course there are some serious issues with the approaches that are used to accuse copyright infringers. most of them deal with how to identify a suspected infringer. At this time France’s first three strike infringer doesn’t know how to do that. Additionally, in Germany, where a legislator wants a 2 strike law, the same legislator has already violated this before the law has gone into affect.

I believe that these cases really indicate that legislator really don’t understand how the internet and copyright works. It’s clear from the DMCA that they don’t and neither do judges. However, I think that Judges are starting to seriously figure out what’s going on with copyright and the controls that are being put into place. Recently in several districts judges have severed joint cases of copyright cases, because most of the IP addresses, which are typically associated to a region or city, were outside the jurisdiction of the court they are being tried in. Additionally, some judges are noting that IP addresses aren’t people and other people could be using the IP address. Even more recently a judge writes that in the DMCA suggest if you own a DVD it’s ok to rip it.Which is something that the DMCA is trying to prevent. DMCA was design to prevent circumventing the copy blocking technologies. It made it illegal.

Overall, the ACTA is a huge blow for advocates of reducing or eliminating copyright. I seriously hope that if this trade agreement does have to go through the US congress that it will be rejected. It’s a law that doesn’t take into account the current technologies and what culture really means.

Fortunately, not all governments support the ACTA. In fact Brazil has created an interesting framework that is the antithesis of ACTA. It is designed to support privacy, encourage usage of Creative Commons copyright(left) protection and have true net neutrality.