Archive for the ‘information’ Tag

Richard Stallman: How the Swedish Pirate Party Platform Backfires on Free Software

Richard Stallman: How the Swedish Pirate Party Platform Backfires on Free Software

The bullying of the copyright industry in Sweden inspired the launch of the first political party whose platform is to reduce copyright restrictions: the Pirate Party. Its platform includes the prohibition of Digital Restrictions Management, legalization of noncommercial sharing of published works, and shortening of copyright for commercial use to a five-year period. Five years after publication, any published work would go into the public domain.

I support these changes, in general; but the specific combination chosen by the Swedish Pirate Party backfires ironically in the special case of free software. I’m sure that they did not intend to hurt free software, but that’s what would happen.

The GNU General Public License and other copyleft licenses use copyright law to defend freedom for every user. The GPL permits everyone to publish modified works, but only under the same license. Redistribution of the unmodified work must also preserve the license. And all redistributors must give users access to the software’s source code.

How would the Swedish Pirate Party’s platform affect copylefted free software? After five years, its source code would go into the public domain, and proprietary software developers would be able to include it in their programs. But what about the reverse case?

Proprietary software is restricted by EULAs, not just by copyright, and the users don’t have the source code. Even if copyright permits noncommercial sharing, the EULA may forbid it. In addition, the users, not having the source code, do not control what the program does when they run it. To run such a program is to surrender your freedom and give the developer control over you.

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Warning for firms that set up trade union blacklist

Warning for firms that set up trade union blacklist

Major companies which set up and funded a secret blacklist to deny work to thousands of trade unionists will escape prosecution, it emerged today.

A judge fined a private investigator who operated the covert blacklist but said he was not the only person responsible but was financed by big “high street” companies. Major firms in the construction industry will be officially warned that they will be prosecuted if they set up a new blacklist.

Affected trade unionists said they were disappointed that companies which had wrecked workers’ lives had appeared to get away with it. They angrily confronted the private investigator, Ian Kerr, who hid his face as he was driven away.

Kerr, 66, was fined £5,000 at Knutsford crown court, Cheshire after admitting keeping a clandestine database of 3,000 workers for the past 15 years.

The court heard that more than 40 construction companies had given £600,000 in the past five years to Kerr’s agency to record personal and employment details of allegedly troublesome workers.

Man behind illegal blacklist snooped on workers for 30 years

Man behind illegal blacklist snooped on workers for 30 years

A private investigator who pleaded guilty today to running an unlawful blacklisting service on building workers has been snooping on trade unionists and political activists for more than 30 years, the Guardian can reveal.

Ian Kerr, of Stoke Heath, in the West Midlands, faces an unlimited fine or prison term after he admitted at Macclesfield magistrates court that he had illegally run a secret database of 3,200 workers, in breach of privacy laws, through an agency known as the Consulting Association.
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Building workers at the hearing applauded after the chairman of the bench, Adrian Long, passed the case up to the crown court because his sentencing powers under the Data Protection Act were “woefully inadequate”.

The prosecution was brought by the information commissioner, Richard Thomas, after it emerged that Kerr, 66, sold the data to businesses including Balfour Beatty, Sir Robert McAlpine, Laing O’Rourke and Costain, some of the UK’s largest construction companies.

Blacklisting of union members by companies to be outlawed

Blacklisting of union members by companies to be outlawed

The government is to outlaw the use by companies of covert blacklists that have prevented trade unionists from getting work. Ministers have been forced to act after a watchdog exposed widespread blacklisting in the construction industry this year.

The move, due to be announced tomorrow by Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, follows pressure from trade unions and 100 Labour MPs.

It has been welcomed by Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, who said: “It is outrageous that unscrupulous employers have been victimising trade unionists through shady blacklisting practices that have no place in a democratic society.”

Blacklisting re-emerged as a political issue in March when the information commissioner, Richard Thomas, closed down a private investigator who had compiled an “extensive intelligence database” of 3,000 workers. Thomas accused 40 construction firms of buying personal data about workers they wanted to vet before employing them.

The firms were alleged to have paid the private investigator, Ian Kerr, to check his files for details of each worker’s trade union activities and conduct at work. The files were said to contain warnings about workers such as “ex-shop steward, definite problems, no go”, and “poor time-keeper, will cause trouble, strong trade union”.

Protesters have turned the tables on Big Brother state

Protesters have turned the tables on Big Brother state

Critics of the spread of closed-circuit television, government databases and intercept techniques have long been complaining about the surveillance society. The Big Brother state has, we have been told, encroached on every aspect of our private lives — criminalising us for putting the wrong rubbish in the wrong bin, spying on what school we send our children to and collating details of our e-mails.

We are becoming a “police state”, or so the people protesting during the G20 summit would have us believe. But those protesters do not appear to have realised that they have turned the tables on the prying state.

Violent demonstrators were caught on camera, but the images of criminality allegedly perpetrated by police officers are causing more of a stir. Journalists, protesters and passers-by photographed and filmed what appear to be acts of police violence against people who posed little threat. Police officers have been suspended and face possible criminal charges.

Around the City of London, investigators are harvesting CCTV from street and shop cameras to trace Ian Tomlinson’s contact with police before he died.

The Met has ordered a minute-by-minute trawl through its own footage and promised to act if it discovers misconduct by its officers.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission has a unit investigating the alleged assault on Nicky Thomson, which goes under the name “G20 YouTube investigation team”.

At any demonstration these days you will find members of FITwatch — activists dedicated to filming the police’s own camera units, or Forward Intelligence Teams.

Cops wanted compulsory DNA cards

Cops wanted compulsory DNA cards

Civil servants considered including DNA or iris biometrics as well as digital photographs in the ID card scheme and the police wanted carrying the cards to be compulsory, just released documents reveal.

The Office of Government Commerce has finally bowed to legal pressure from trade mag Computer Weekly and released the two Gateway reviews into the national ID scheme. It has taken four years and numerous court hearings to get the two reviews, from 2003 and 2004, released.

The review noted: “The Police felt that the absence of any obligation to carry or produce identity cards would substantially remove the administrative savings and some of the other advantages that Identity Cards would offer.”

The 2003 review said: “Biometrics. Opinion seems divided on how effective or dependable biometrics will be. There is little past experience, in the UK or elsewhere, to go on.” There is no evidence of any technical consultation or other attempt to answer these questions.

Construction unions demand Olympic blacklist ban

Construction unions demand Olympic blacklist ban

Union leaders are demanding the Olympic 2012 site is purged of all blacklists held on construction workers.

A host of contractors working on the games were among 40 firms exposed last week by the Information Commissioner’s Office as members of the Consulting Association which held sensitive data on 3,213 workers.

Olympic Stadium builder Sir Robert McAlpine is believed to have spent nearly £30,000 last year alone on information to vet potential employees.

Unite joint general secretary Derek Simpson is calling for an immediate probe into all Olympic contractors caught up in the Consulting Association scandal.

He said: “On the basis that many of the employers concerned will be winning billions of pounds worth of public and private sector work, the government should announce an immediate investigation into the practices that exist in the industry.”

Laing O’Rourke and the blacklist database

Laing O’Rourke, a UK-based construction company, has a history of conflict with its workforce. In 2004, workers for the company in London took part in strike action which was met with support from a range of sources, including the anti-capitalist and direct-action movements. Industrial action has also occured at the company’s work on Heathrow Terminal Five.

It should not be surprising, then, to note that the company appears on the list of companies who made use of the “blacklist database” produced by “The Consulting Association” (a name truly gargantuan in its vagueness), which warned employers of workers who were active trade unionists, among other issues. Some of the comments on particular workers can be found here.

‘Do not touch’ – the covert database that kept union activists out of work

‘Do not touch’ – the covert database that kept union activists out of work

For years, 66-year-old Ian Kerr has run his business quietly in a first-floor office in the Worcestershire town of Droitwich. There was no nameplate for his premises, which was protected by a green door, and workers in the neighbouring shops either failed to notice him or thought he was a little mysterious.

“Oh yes, Ian,” said one. “He has been there for years. We never really knew what he does – probably works for MI5 or something.”

Kerr did not work for the security services, but the world he operated in was certainly a private one, and it can be exposed today because of an investigation by the office of the information commissioner, Richard Thomas.

Thomas, whose watchdog is entrusted with maintaining the public’s privacy, believes Kerr has spent 15 years compiling and maintaining a huge database on 3,200 workers from around the country.

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Details of workers’ trade union activities and past employment conduct were recorded on cards.

One individual was said to be a “poor timekeeper, will cause trouble, strong TU [trade union]”. Another card referred to a member of the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians as “Ucatt … very bad news”.

A member of the Transport and General Workers Union was described as “a sleeper and should be watched”. One entry on a worker simply said: “Do not touch !”

New from Wikileaks

Today, Wikileaks – a transparency group and host of innumerable classified documents from governments, businesses, religious groups and others – released a document from the Department of Homeland Security prepared prior to the Republican National Convention in 2008. In it, the DHS lays out its understanding of potential targets and the connections made between different groups.

Wikileaks also now hosts a database giving information on Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, as previously reported by Haaretz.