Monday, January 10, 2011

Welcome to 2011!

Happy new year, gentle readers, slightly belatedly, and for Pangloss it's all new indeed: new job, new title (Professor of E-Governance), new workplace (Strathclyde Law School) and new abode (back in Auld Reekie). All of this makes me very happy if in the short term, slightly, dishevelled, abandoned, hyper and well, fill in the adjective of your own choice :)

Please note AGAIN my new email address is and my snail address should you conceivably need it is

School of Law

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Graham Hills Building, Level 7 (GH 7.13)

50 George Street

Glasgow G1 1QE

If any of you can remember the achingly long time ago before the festive season, the burst pipes (oh so don't ask) and the Snowpocalypse, you may remember we were a little exercised about Wikileaks. The nice people at Practical Law Company (PLC) asked me to write a briefing on what issues might be involved for the UK legal system, and you too can read it for free here. Basically I think the key issues are:

- were criminal offences committed of DDOS by UK residents? (almost certainly yes)
- is merely downloading a tool which can be used to help commit DDOS a crime? (yes, though proof of intent may be tricky)
- can IP addresses of attackers be captured & UK ISPs be asked to help identify such persons (yup)
- can ISPs in UK conceivably be asked to block Wikileaks sites or domain names? (A. probably not, unless by some back door means such as invoking copyright laws under s 97A of the CDPA, or by some hitherto latent common law power which would need at least a High Court application in England & Wales or Court of Session in Scotland, and still be pretty uncertain).

The last point, though it seems farfetched, is a topical one given the ill judged comments by Ed Vaizey just before Christmas suggesting that all online "adult sexual materials" sites should be blocked "at source" by UK ISPs , with only adults then allowed to opt back in. Beyond the obvious difficulties of definition of such sites, over blocking, under blocking, the herculean task of assembling such a list, most of which will be overseas, evasion, ULL-jumping, VPNs, proxy servers, the fact that kids are better than adults at hacking this, etc ad nauseam, the simple fact is that such blocking solutions don't work and don't scale on practical terms unless you're willing to devote the resources and the Stalinist control of a country like China to such a pursuit. Just look at Australia for the trouble it has caused there in a smaller country with far fewer ISPs and far more history of state censorship than here.

I'm all for thinking of the children, really (actually, to be honest, as a child's rights lawyer on the side I also wonder if anyone has paid attention to the emergent minor child's right to autonomy, see Gillick, see future possible ECHR applications..?) but right now this seems like an expensive, embarrassing, largely pointless red herring to go down. IF parents want to stop kids accessing porn, there are many good products out there to allow them to do it at home eg |Net Nanny and its ilk. The Daily Mail will like it though :-)

But more than ALL that, what worries me is the huge possibility for scope creep here. As I have noted often, often before, once you have one scheme for blocking huge amounts of URLS without transparency or accountability in place, what is the temptation to start adding other URLs to it you don't like? High , in my cynical opinion. (And whatever the government means by blocking sites "at source" this will have to involve an Internet Watch Foundation style blocklist - because every single adult site closed down by its host service in UK will simply shift to a host abroad in under 24 hours. Indeed the Telegraph story seems to clearly indicate an IWF type list would be used : "Ministers now want companies to use the same technology to stop children accessing adult images".)

So on a brighter more positive start to the new year, here's a few events I plan to be at, be running , be speaking at, and so forth:

Workshop on Free and Open Communication on theInternet (FOCI), to be held February 24-25, 2011 at Georgia Tech in Atlanta,Georgia (invited expert speaker)

BILETA, Manchester Metropolitan University, 11th-12th April

3rd Web Science Conference, Koblenz, Germany - June 15-17

GikII in Gothenberg, Sweden!! GikII goes Scandinavian hardcore:) , contact Matthias Klang for info - 27-28 June

SCL Policy Forum, London, Herbert Smiths, September 15-16th - I'm curating this one on a theme of the new shape of European regulation as the DPD, ECD and other major instruments head for reform.

1 comment:

Laurence said...

Congrats on your new role Pangloss! And good piece on Wikileaks. If my memory serves me right, 'future of the law' guru Richard Susskind was at Strathclyde too. Such eminence!
Laurie Kaye