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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Why the US Pulling Out of the UPU is a Big Deal

Yesterday, the US initiated the process for pulling out of the Universal Postal Union (UPU). This 144 year old institution is responsible for multilateral negotiation which sets rates at which packages approximately 5 pounds or less can be shipped. In age where government postal services competes in the market with companies like FedEx and Amazon, it seems absolutely absurd that a UN specialised agency is responsible for shipment rate setting in the 21st century.

While this might seem like a very boring and mundane situation, it is in fact a big deal. This has nothing to do with Trump and how the US is dealing with foreign affairs. This has to do with the US signalling that it is finished with institutions, which have been captured by certain countries with special interests, which use international organisations to legitimise their national agendas. In a statement, the US Chamber of Commerce said that the system is “exploited by a handful of countries.” Unfortunately, this trend occurs widely across the UN system and multilateral organisations. Take a look at the WTO and the UN Human Rights Council, for example.

Another case in point is the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Like the UPU, the ITU was founded over 150 years ago in order for international negotiations of telegraph exchanges to take place. Currently it is responsible for global spectrum harmonisation, satellite orbital assignment and telephone numbering. However, in the 1980s a majority of member states agreed to use the ITU to set call termination rates between international calls. The US opted out of this process because telecommunications was liberalising and competition among telecoms companies as well as governments allowed for lower termination rates and a market based system. Arguably, this allowed for the dial up days of the Internet to emerge and develop rapidly.

I can raise many issues with multilateral institutions in the 21st century. Most of these institutions have a number of national members of the dictatorship persuasion that wish to control new and emerging technologies primarily developed and run by the private sector. I have written about this here, for example. However, the point that I wish to make here is that old institutions that are no longer fit for purpose need to die so that new institutions and organisational arrangements can emerge, as Douglas North noted. Within the UN, nothing ever dies.

The EU really doesn’t like tech – can we leave yet?

“In an almost direct clash of intentions, the GDPR has effectively banned the use of blockchain technology in Europe because of its immutable nature. The GDPR offers the power back to the individual to edit and delete data which falls into the hands of centralized authorities, but when there is no centralized authority, there is no need for data to be moved around. This is the crux of the GDPR’s clash with blockchain. So, what happens to Europe and the next technological wave?”

Darryn Pollock, columnist for Forbes.

The “blockchain” technology is a distributed ledger that allows information to be securely transferred without the need for third-party authentication, which could mean that many of the settlement and custody functions provided by banks – the sort of “plumbing” of finance we take for granted – could be done far faster, and at less cost. Although the crypto currencies that sit atop of this technology have their fair share of sceptics, the blockchain tech. is seen by banks as a potentially revolutionary one. While people complain that some London-based jobs could leave London if the UK has a clean Brexit and leaves the Customs Union (not to be confused with access to the European market as such), I would wager that blockchain will be far more important in affecting financial employment overall.

And yet the EU, with its usual plodding, bovine way, has enacted data protection rules (GDPR) that could blight this new technology, as well – as we have already seen – add layers of costs to organisations of all kinds. Coupled with the recent vote by MEPs to impose intrusive and costly controls on the internet, I’d hope that all those Millennials whom we are told are full of so much love for Brussels might wake up. This doesn’t of course mean that British politicians aren’t capable of enacting plenty of daft laws, but it’s usually a sight easier to lobby for change at a national level than try to persuade hundreds of millions of voters in 28 countries to change.

So as Tim Worstall likes to argue: can we leave yet?

The Shadow Education Secretary wants to make teachers more vulnerable

The Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner MP (Lab), has called for a ban on anonymous online accounts.

The education spokesperson also called for social media companies to ban anonymous accounts, complaining at a fringe event organised by the Guardian in Liverpool that most of the people that abused her online did so without using their real names.

Rayner said that social media firms should take greater responsibility for their users and complained in particular that Facebook seemed to have indicated that politicians should accept a higher level of abuse.

When asked what she thought about social media, Rayner said: “One of the first things they should do is stop anonymous accounts. Most people who send me abuse me do so from anonymous accounts and wouldn’t dream of doing it in their own name.”

Rayner conceded that using real names would not stop abuse but “it would certainly help a little bit. I think they should do more, they do have a responsibility for online”.

As I mentioned earlier, Angela Rayner is the Shadow Education Secretary. That ought to mean that she is aware that teachers, like MPs, are often subject to harassment. The Times Educational Supplement had an article on that very subject just a few days ago: “Why your social account is not as private as you think”. It began:

The teacher’s Facebook account was set to private. She was certain of that. Yet, in the past week, she had received four friend requests from former pupils. She could not work out how they had found her.

So, as I am a researcher at the Greater Manchester Police – and her friend – she asked me to take a look. Within 10 minutes, I had not just found her, but I also had her full name, her partner’s name, the school she worked at, the name of one of her children and multiple images of the street she lives on.

The writer, Chris Glover, proceeded to give ten tips that teachers should employ to protect themselves: 1. Keep accounts separate. 2. Vary usernames. 3. Check posts about you. 4. Beware of public posts. 5. Review privacy settings. 6. Don’t follow your school account. 7. Avoid using your real name. 8. Change the friends-list setting. 9. Switch off location. 10. Delete dormant accounts.

Following the above advice should help ensure that teachers can enjoy participating in life online while minimising the very real risk of being tracked down by former or current pupils bearing a grudge, or simply by people whom it is best to keep at arms length for professional or safeguarding reasons.

Until a Labour government gets in and makes Nos. (2) and (7) illegal outright, and demands that all of your personal details are held in one place by a social media company so as to be conveniently available for hackers and identity thieves.

“The European Commission only has to win once”

Following on from Johnathan Pearce’s recent post about the EU Copyright Directive, I found this comment by a user called Ask_Me_Who in Reddit Europe. It dates from the first turn of the ratchet, back in June, but in the light of what has happened since it is more relevant than ever:

MEP’s can not create, amend, or reject proposals. They can act as a method of slowing them, requesting changes or rethinks of proposed policies, but if the other (unelected) parts of the EU want to force through a proposal they can just keep pushing it until it gets through in the knowledge that elected MEP’s will not have the power to propose future updates, changes, or abolition of legislation.

The European Commission only has to win once and it can never be repealed without the European Commission wishing it so. The people, as represented by elected MEP officials, have to win every time as they do not even have the option to vote in representatives to reverse a decision. This is the ‘democratic deficit’ that even pro-EU supporters widely acknowledge when they call for democratic reforms to the MEP system.

If you want to bring up the UK, the European Parliament works similarly to the House of Lords. The difference being that the Lord’s have been deliberately striped of much of their power specifically because they do not represent the people, while the MEP’s have never been given the power needed to actually represent the people.

EDIT- And if you think that’s depressing, since the Treaty of Lisbon (2007) lobbying has been an officially recognised and encouraged part of MEP’s decision process under the re-brand “European interest representation”. 30% of former MEP’s go on to work as lobbyists for major industries. Yeah, the people who only have to slip up once can accept weekly fancy dinners and then go on to make €€€ working for companies who give zero shits about what general public’s well-being.

Another example of the EU ratchet in action. No wonder they adopted the use of the neverendum so readily.

Do not read this!

The BBC reports:

European Parliament backs copyright changes

Controversial new copyright laws have been approved by members of the European Parliament.

The laws had been changed since July when the first version of the copyright directive was voted down. Critics say they remain problematic.

Many musicians and creators claim the reforms are necessary to fairly compensate artists.

But opponents fear that the plans could destroy user-generated content, memes and parodies.

Leaders of the EU’s member states still need to sign off on the rule changes before the individual countries have to draft local laws to put them into effect.

The vote in Strasbourg was 438 in favour of the measures, 226 against and 39 abstentions.

MEPs voted on a series of changes to the original directive, the most controversial parts are known as Article 13 and Article 11.

Article 13 puts the onus on web giants to take measures to ensure that agreements with rights-holders for the use of their work are working.

Critics say that would require all internet platforms to filter content put online by users, which many believe would be an excessive restriction on free speech.

Article 11 is also controversial because it forces online platforms to pay news organisations before linking to their stories, something critics refer to a “link tax”.

Julia Reda MEP, who has fought hard against this, says,

Catastrophic Article 11 vote: The European Parliament just endorsed a #linktax that would make using the title of a news article in a link to it require a license. #SaveYourInternet #SaveTheLink

and

Article 13 vote: The European Parliament endorses #uploadfilters for all but the smallest sites and apps. Anything you want to publish will need to first be approved by these filters, perfectly legal content like parodies & memes will be caught in the crosshairs #SaveYourInternet

A small silver lining to the cloud is that this move by the EU is particularly unpopular with just that crowd who usually love the EU most.

Samizdata quote of the day

And if someone died—for real Twitter addicts, that’s Asshole Christmas. If you could make a facile point that reinforced your team’s political stance on the day someone collapsed in front of his wife and kids—you were a true hero, the Twitter version of a captured pilot resisting torture in a POW camp. Except your prison was your mother’s basement, or your half of a Brooklyn apartment covered with Cheetos.

Jamie Kilstein

EU votes yes to copyright reform

The EU, or at least 15 out of a committee of 25 MEPs, has voted yes to the link tax, censorship machines and meme banning bill, previously written about here by Natalie Solent. There is still a possibility it could be blocked. From The Next Web:

However, there is a way to change that. Plenary is the European Parliament’s tool to bring matters out of committee and put up for a vote in the Parliament itself, i.e. have all 751 MEPs vote instead of only 25. But there needs to be enough support in Parliament for this to happen, so opposers have already started campaigning for a plenary session.

Julia Reda is saying that this new vote could happen on 4th July. The Save Your Internet campaign site has information and is urging people to write to their MEPs.

Two days before the EU (probably) votes to end the free internet. Should we care?

In two days, on 20th June, the European Parliament Legal Affairs Committee will vote on the proposed Copyright Directive.

By design the process by which the European Union makes laws is opaque. They would have been quite happy to slide this past the slumbering European public, but some people have woken up to the fact that it is an ill-drafted and authoritarian piece of legislation.

Opposition within the EU is being led by Julia Reda, a German Pirate Party MEP. Here is her summary page on the proposed law. Article 11, popularly called the “link tax”, and Article 13, popularly called “censorship machines”, are particularly sinister.

As it stands Article 11 would mean the end of blogging:

Anyone using snippets of journalistic online content must first get a license from the publisher. This new right for publishers would apply for 20 years after publication.

And if you think that sounds bad, wait til you see Article 13:

– Freedom of expression limited: Upload monitoring software cannot tell infringement apart from legal uses like parody, specifically enabled by exceptions and limitations to copyright. Filters also frequently malfunction. As a result, legal content will be taken down.

– Independent creators harmed: Platforms will receive instructions as to what content to automatically remove from large commercial rightholders. When independent creators have works removed by filters that are covered by exceptions or otherwise misidentified as infringing, they will effectively be deemed “guilty until proven innocent”, having to fight to have their legal creations reinstated.

– Surveillance risk: The proposal requires the installation of what amounts to surveillance technology. Due to high development costs, content monitoring technology will likely end up being outsourced to a few large US-based providers, strengthening their market position even further and giving them direct access to the behavior of all EU users of internet platforms.

– Startup killer: This requirement places a huge burden on internet companies and discourages investment in user-generated content startups, preventing EU competition to the targeted dominant US platforms from arising, effectively locking in YouTube’s dominance. (See Allied for Startups)

– Unintended targets harmed: Community projects like Wikipedia would likely need to implement such filters, even though they only accept freely-licensed uploads. Code hosting platforms would also be affected, “undermining the foundations upon which Free and Open Source Software is built”. As would scientific repositories, “undermining the foundations of Open Access”.

Interestingly, this proposed law is bitterly opposed on the usually pro-EU Reddit Europe. See this post currently “stuck” to the top of the subreddit.

There and elsewhere I have seen commenters – particularly the young, computer literate generation that are more usually seen rolling out pro-EU banners at Labour party events – state that this issue alone has turned them against the EU. At a time when both Government and Opposition waver in their resolve to stick to the result of the referendum it is at least arguable that we should be glad when the EU’s velvet glove slips to show the iron fist underneath.

I am not going to spin this out. I think we should care. Letting freedom be significantly curtailed for 450 million people for temporary political advantage and the chance to say, “I told you so” seems a poor bargain. If the EU succeeds in passing this law, Theresa May will be taking notes. Julia Reda has a “What you can do” page. For the sake of our friends in Europe, and for our own sake here in the UK, I think that if you are a UK or EU resident you should do those things.

But perhaps you disagree?

Samizdata quote of the day

Sometimes I think maybe I’m becoming too strict as I age. Maybe this is all a natural evolution of a technology. But I can’t close my eyes to what’s happening: A loss of intellectual power and diversity, and on the great potentials it could have for our troubled time. In the past, the web was powerful and serious enough to land me in jail. Today it feels like little more than entertainment. So much that even Iran doesn’t take some — Instagram, for instance — serious enough to block.

I miss when people took time to be exposed to different opinions, and bothered to read more than a paragraph or 140 characters. I miss the days when I could write something on my own blog, publish on my own domain, without taking an equal time to promote it on numerous social networks; when nobody cared about likes and reshares.

That’s the web I remember before jail. That’s the web we have to save.

Hossein Derakhshan, who is speaking at State of the Net in Trieste today

Anyone know how the new EU internet censorship & link tax law will affect the UK?

According to Lucian Armasu of Tom’s Hardware, in one week’s time I might no longer be able to link to Lucian Armasu of Tom’s Hardware and quote him like I’m about to do. Or have I misunderstood? I hope I have, because this sounds serious:

EU Expected To Pass Censorship Machines, Link Tax On June 20

As soon as June 20, next week, the European Parliament will vote a draft legislation proposed by the European Commission (EU’s executive body). Critics have attacked the proposal as being quite extreme because it could impact many digital industries too severely.

Censorship Machines (Article 13)

One of the biggest issues with the new EU copyright reform proposal is the Article 13, which mandates that websites that accept user content (anything from videos to online comments) must have an “upload filter” that would block all copyrighted content that’s uploaded by users. Critics, such as Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Julia Reda, have also called upload filters “censorship machines.”

Under the censorship machine proposal, companies would be required to get a license for any copyrighted content that is uploaded to their site by its users. In other words, websites would be liable for any content their users upload to the site. It goes without saying that this could significantly hamper innovation on the internet.

For instance, YouTube or a site like it, probably wouldn’t even exist today if the site would have been liable for what users uploaded from day one.

Link Tax (Article 11)

The “link tax” proposal in Article 11 of the copyright reform directive is another idea that’s not just seemingly bad, but it has also failed in countries such as Spain and Germany, where it has already been attempted. Instead of getting companies such as Google or other publishers to pay for the links, or article excerpts and previews, those companies simply stopped linking to content coming from Germany and Spain.

To make matters worse, the EC will allow EU member states to decide for themselves how the link tax should work. This seems contrary to the Commission’s “Digital Single Market” objective, because it will create significant complexity for all online publishers operating in the EU. They will have to abide by all the different copyright rules in the 27 member states. Existing fragmented copyright laws in the EU is one of the reasons why services such as Netflix took so long to arrive in most European countries, too.

Reda believes that a link tax would significantly reduce the number of hyperlinks we see on the web, which means websites will be much less connected to each other. Additionally, the link tax could boost fake news, because real publishers may require others to pay for linking to its content, but fake news operations evidently will not. These groups will want their content to be spread as easily as possible.

Reda also said that the link tax would be in violation of the Berne Convention, which guarantees news websites the right to quote articles and “press summaries.”

I have heard of Julia Reda MEP before. She sits with the Greens in the EU Parliament but don’t hold that against her; she is actually a member of the Pirate Party. She is fighting the good fight.

The EU vs. the Internet

Samizdata quote of the day

At the end of a week in which the House of Commons defeated Labour’s draconian plans to regulate the press, the Tories revealed their own draconian plans to regulate the internet. The culture secretary, Matt Hancock, has pledged to make Britain ‘the safest place in the world’ to be online. But when the world’s ‘safest’ internet is currently found in China, where access is heavily restricted and censored by the state, it becomes clear how terrifying the government’s safety agenda really could be.

Fraser Myers