Quotulatiousness

August 18, 2014

“It’s strange that the oldest literature becomes the model for the digital age”

Filed under: History, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:04

Harvard University Press is putting all 520 volumes of the Loeb Classical Library online beginning in September:

When James Loeb designed his soon-to-be-launched series of Greek and Roman texts at the turn of the twentieth century, he envisioned the production of volumes that could easily fit in readers’ coat pockets. A century later, that compact format is still one of the collection’s hallmarks. Beginning in September, however, the iconic books will be far handier than Loeb had hoped: users of the Loeb Classical Library (LCL) will have the entire collection at their fingertips. After five years of dedicated work on the part of the library’s trustees and Harvard University Press (HUP), which has overseen LCL since its creator’s death in 1933, the more than 520 volumes of literature that make up the series will be accessible online. Besides allowing users to browse the digitized volumes, which retain the unique side-by-side view of the original text and its English translation, the Digital Loeb Classical Library will enable readers to search for words and phrases across the entire corpus, to annotate content, to share notes and reading lists with others, and to create their own libraries using personal workspaces.

LCL managing editor Michael Sullivan, whose position was created earlier this year to supervise the virtual library, said that the digitization project is “a major leap forward in the history of the Loeb.” According to HUP executive editor-at-large Sharmila Sen, the launch of the digital LCL marks “a moment of rebirth” for the historic collection. She explained that in the years preceding the library’s 2011 centenary, the trustees and HUP administrators began to think about how to make the LCL “relevant to the twenty-first century.” Even though online databases of Greek and Latin literature have existed for years, said the library’s general editor, Jeffrey Henderson, a classics professor at Boston University, the digital Loeb will be unprecedented in its accessibility and scope: for the first time, readers without knowledge of Greek and Latin will be able to explore a vast range of the classical literary heritage online through high-quality, modern translations. He added that the project, which cost the LCL foundation more than $1 million, will serve as a model for the digitization of other HUP series, noting, “It’s strange that the oldest literature becomes the model for the digital age.”

Consolidating a vast literary corpus involving two different alphabets into an interconnected, elegant, and easy-to-use website required much behind-the-scenes work, Sen said. Designing the software for the digital library and transferring the data have concluded, she noted, but the project overseers view the current product — which will be available by subscription to institutions and individuals — as only a 1.0 version. The website will be a dynamic workspace, Henderson pointed out, adding that user feedback will help the editors increase its functionality.

H/T to Colby Cosh for the link.

August 14, 2014

QotD: How to create a depressive society

Filed under: Health, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

The widespread perception that almost everyone else was a moron — why, just look at the things people post and say on the Internet! – would facilitate a certain philosophy of narcissism; we would have people walking around convinced they’re much smarter, and much more sophisticated and enlightened, than everyone else.

Marinating in the perception that most people are stupid, hateful, sick, and needlessly cruel would undoubtedly alter people’s aspirations and ambitions in life. Why strive to create a new invention, miracle cure, remarkable technology, or wondrous innovation to help the masses? It would be pearls before swine, a gift to a thoroughly undeserving population that had earned its miserable circumstances. The hopeless ignorance and hateful philosophies of the great unwashed might, however, spur quiet calls for the restoration of a properly thinking aristocracy to help steer society in the correct direction.

If we wanted to build a society designed to promote depression, we would want to make children seem like a burden. Children are a smaller, slightly altered version of ourselves; Christopher Hitchens described parenthood as “realizing that your heart is running around in somebody else’s body.” To hate life, you have to hate children. If they are a form of immortality — half of our genetic code and half of our habits, good and ill, walking around a generation later — then a depressive society would condition its members to hate the possibilities of their future.

If we wanted to build a society designed to promote depression, we would want to make old age seem to be a horrible fate. (It is the only alternative to death!) Our depressive society would want to not merely celebrate youth, but we would want to constantly reinforce the sense that one is approaching mental and physical obsolescence. A celebrity who appeared much younger than her years would be celebrated and everyone would openly demand to know her secret. The unspoken expectation would be that anyone could achieve the same result if she simply tried hard enough. We would exclaim, “Man, he’s getting old!” in response to those who didn’t look the same as when we first saw them.

We would want to make sure that appearances not merely counted, but that attractiveness is preeminent. That anonymous and yet public realm of the Internet would ensure that anyone in the world could safely mock the appearance of others to a public audience and then return to picking Cheetos out of his chest hair.

Jim Geraghty, “Robin Williams and Our Strange Times: Does our society set the stage for depression?”, National Review, 2014-08-12.

August 2, 2014

“So that’s what the economists at Treasury mean by ‘priming the pump’”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Humour, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:28

Kevin Williamson explains that the government is staffed by deviants under-employed workers who have to find ways to spend their time in the office creatively:

Behind closed doors, in private offices off Washington’s corridors of power, there are a lot of mouses getting double-clicked, if you know what I mean. At the Environmental Protection Agency, a senior official spent so much time watching pornography while on the federal clock that the Office of the Inspector General dispatched a special agent to look into it — and the official continued watching porn while the OIG agent was in his office. At the Federal Communications Commission — which, among other things, polices pornography — employees routinely spend the equivalent of a full workday each week watching porn. At the General Services Administration — which, like the FCC, has a lot of fingers in a lot of pies, being charged with minimizing federal operating costs — employees spend up to six hours a day watching porn on the taxpayers’ dime. At Commerce, paralegals were paid upward of $4 million to do no work — any guesses how they filled their days?

It’s a lucky thing that federal employees have such good insurance plans when it comes to workplace-related troubles such as repetitive-stress injuries: One especially heroic employee at Treasury viewed more than 13,000 pieces of pornography in the space of a few weeks, surely setting some kind of gherkin-goosing record in the process. I assume he told his superiors he was busy debugging his hard drive.

If war is politics by other means, as Clausewitz insisted, then administration is a tug of war.

A very lonely tug of war.

It is not just pornography. Federal employees fill their days with online shopping, watching television, trolling dating sites in the hopes of having a relationship with someone other than themselves and the nice webcam ladies at Smut.com

But look on the bright side:

The fact that our bureaucrats spend their days working as amateur snake charmers is, counterintuitive though it may sound, the good news. Rather than fire these tireless onanists, the federal government should upgrade their broadband and invest in … whatever matériel these ladies and gentlemen need to keep up their fearless campaign of hand-to-gland combat. If their brains ever get full use of the blood supply while they’re in the office, mischief surely will ensue.

Better their hands are in their pants than on the levers of power.

July 30, 2014

Another view of the Endarkenment – “a treasure trove of top-shelf heterdox samizdaty badness”

Filed under: Media, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:12

Andrea Castillo tries to outline the “Dark Enlightenment” (or “neoreaction”) for libertarians and other as-yet-unenlightened readers:

A puckish new brand of right-wing radical subverts the postmodern power machine each day over Twitter and RSS for fun and praxis. It’s a real hoot to watch. These rudely triggering firebrands are denounced by the people who matter as wrong-thinking zealots of the most problematic variety — to the masochistic vindication (and occasional sacking) of our impish dissidents. Their freakish messages seem almost tailored to demand attention in our outrage-driven world of social media signaling. Libertarians, meet the neoreaction.

Where to begin? We might think our post-scarcity anarcho-capitalist sex-positive brunch-laden anti-war techno-utopian open borders global activism is pretty avant garde, but these guys have moved on to fashion intellectual foundations for the glorious reinstatement of the rightful House of Stuart (among other anachronisms). They’ve been blowing up the extended artisanal blogosphere in a big way. We’re going to get lumped in with this crew more and more as they gain exposure (they’re not happy about it either), so you should probably know what we’re up against.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m vaguely aware of some of the leading lights (or should that be “leading darks”) of this movement, but with one or two exceptions, I’m not aware of the details of their beliefs. I’m still not convinced they’re as “big bad” as they and their detractors seem to think they are.

Maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves. This motley band of techno-futurists, traditionalists, seduction artists, funnymen, reluctant Sedevacantists, inconvenient ethnonationalists, monarchists, communitarians, general heretics, homebrewed evolutionists, and one dedicated Jacobite to guide them all is perhaps easier for libertarians to initially understand through what they commonly oppose than for what they separately advocate. It’s simpler than you might think.

You could say that these cats take Carlyle, Hobbes, and Darwin pretty seriously. They, like our premier techno-libertarian emissary, do not believe that freedom and democracy are compatible. They reject egalitarianism to a consistency that would have impressed even our old grizzly Bard. Some of them out-Hayek Hayek on social justice, too. Like Mises, they intuit and repudiate the anti-bourgeois mentality of political and cultural Marxism. According to the neoreactionary narrative, these false gods beguile and confuse the masses of unwitting postmoderns into worship of the Cathedral.

Understanding Moldbug’s Cathedral is key to understanding this Dark Enlightenment. Think of it as a public-private partnership that promotes and protects the entrenched secular Puritan paradigm (long story) that neoreactionaries believe runs the world. Or, in the parlance, it’s a cosmos sprung from a taxis that justifies the progressive right of the International Community. Take that rascally State we all rail against and add its cultural allies. Voilà: you have #realpolitik.

July 28, 2014

US government department to be replaced by Google

Filed under: Business, Government, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:18

The National Journal‘s Alex Brown talks about a federal government department facing the end of the line thanks to search engines like Google:

A little-known branch of the Commerce Department faces elimination, thanks to advances in technology and a snarkily named bill from Sens. Tom Coburn and Claire McCaskill.

The National Technical Information Service compiles federal reports, serving as a clearinghouse for the government’s scientific, technical, and business documents. The NTIS then sells copies of the documents to other agencies and the public upon request. It’s done so since 1950.

But Coburn and McCaskill say it’s hard to justify 150 employees and $66 million in taxpayer dollars when almost all of those documents are now available online for free.

Enter the Let Me Google That for You Act.

“Our goal is to eliminate you as an agency,” the famously grumpy Coburn told NTIS Director Bruce Borzino at a Wednesday hearing. Pulling no punches, Coburn suggested that any NTIS documents not already available to the public be put “in a small closet in the Department of Commerce.”

H/T to Jim Geraghty for the link. He assures us that despite any similarities to situations portrayed in his recent political novel The Weed Agency, he didn’t make this one up.

July 25, 2014

QotD: The singularity already happened

Filed under: Media, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

The gulf that separates us from the near past is now so great that we cannot really imagine how one could design a spacecraft, or learn engineering in the first place, or even just look something up, without a computer and a network. Journalists my age will understand how profound and disturbing this break in history is: Do you remember doing your job before Google? It was, obviously, possible, since we actually did it, but how? It is like having a past life as a conquistador or a phrenologist.

Colby Cosh, “Who will be the moonwalkers of tomorrow?”, Maclean’s, 2014-07-24.

July 15, 2014

The economic side of Net Neutrality

Filed under: Business, Economics, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:41

In Forbes, Tim Worstall ignores the slogans to follow the money in the Net Neutrality argument:

The FCC is having a busy time of it as their cogitations into the rules about net neutrality become the second most commented upon in the organisation’s history (second only to Janet Jackson’s nip-slip which gives us a good idea of the priorities of the citizenry). The various internet content giants, the Googles, Facebooks and so on of this world, are arguing very loudly that strict net neutrality should be the standard. We could, of course attribute this to all in those organisations being fully up with the hippy dippy idea that information just wants to be free. Apart from the obvious point that Zuckerberg, for one, is a little too young to have absorbed that along with the patchouli oil we’d probably do better to examine the underlying economics of what’s going on to work out why people are taking the positions they are.

Boiling “net neutrality” down to its essence the argument is about whether the people who own the connections to the customer, the broadband and mobile airtime providers, can treat different internet traffic differently. Should we force them to be neutral (thus the “neutrality” part) and treat all traffic exactly the same? Or should they be allowed to speed up some traffic, slow down other, in order to prioritise certain services over others?

We can (and many do) argue that we the consumers are paying for this bandwidth so it’s up to us to decide and we might well decide that they cannot. Others might (and they do) argue that certain services require very much more of that bandwidth than others, further, require a much higher level of service, and it would be economically efficient to charge for that greater volume and quality. For example, none of us would mind all that much if there was a random second or two delay in the arrival of a gmail message but we’d be very annoyed if there were random such delays in the arrival of a YouTube packet. Netflix would be almost unusable if streaming were subject to such delays. So it might indeed make sense to prioritise such traffic and slow down other to make room for it.

You can balance these arguments as you wish: there’s not really a “correct” answer to this, it’s a matter of opinion. But why are the content giants all arguing for net neutrality? What’s their reasoning?

As you’d expect, it all comes down to the money. Who pays more for what under a truly “neutral” model and who pays more under other models. The big players want to funnel off as much of the available profit to themselves as possible, while others would prefer the big players reduced to the status of regulated water company: carrying all traffic at the same rate (which then allows the profits to go to other players).

July 10, 2014

Throwing a bit of light on security in the “internet of things”

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:36

The “internet of things” is coming: more and more of your surroundings are going to be connected in a vastly expanded internet. A lot of attention needs to be paid to security in this new world, as Dan Goodin explains:

In the latest cautionary tale involving the so-called Internet of things, white-hat hackers have devised an attack against network-connected lightbulbs that exposes Wi-Fi passwords to anyone in proximity to one of the LED devices.

The attack works against LIFX smart lightbulbs, which can be turned on and off and adjusted using iOS- and Android-based devices. Ars Senior Reviews Editor Lee Hutchinson gave a good overview here of the Philips Hue lights, which are programmable, controllable LED-powered bulbs that compete with LIFX. The bulbs are part of a growing trend in which manufacturers add computing and networking capabilities to appliances so people can manipulate them remotely using smartphones, computers, and other network-connected devices. A 2012 Kickstarter campaign raised more than $1.3 million for LIFX, more than 13 times the original goal of $100,000.

According to a blog post published over the weekend, LIFX has updated the firmware used to control the bulbs after researchers discovered a weakness that allowed hackers within about 30 meters to obtain the passwords used to secure the connected Wi-Fi network. The credentials are passed from one networked bulb to another over a mesh network powered by 6LoWPAN, a wireless specification built on top of the IEEE 802.15.4 standard. While the bulbs used the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) to encrypt the passwords, the underlying pre-shared key never changed, making it easy for the attacker to decipher the payload.

July 8, 2014

QotD: “Why you are wrong” – an all-purpose internet argument template

Filed under: Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

I disagree with you. I understand where you’re coming from, but I believe you’re mistaken, and I’ll explain why you are wrong.

First of all, the data backs up my point. I have facts out the waz. Your data are flawed, old, biased or incomplete. The people who collected your data are in prison for fraud or took funding from an evil billionaire who lives in a castle on a mountain where there is always lightning. My facts are bulletproof. They were gathered by humble grass roots researchers who love America and hate cancer. You can be forgiven for not having the same information that I do. People on “your side” don’t like to discuss data that annihilate their arguments. [...]

More important than the data, though, is that my argument is just. I can see why you made the argument that you did, but you’re forgetting a whole host of injustices, tragedies and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” style flying specters that would be loosed upon millions of people if you had your way. What I’m saying is that the moral arc of the universe bends towards my argument.

MLK.

Respect.

History has proved me correct on this point time and time again. From the Bible to the Renaissance to the Depression and WWII, my point was cemented repeatedly by real events and real people who suffered under the regimes of dogmatic fools like you. There are several authors who have made the very point I am making more eloquently than I have, and you can buy their books and read them in your spare time, which I suggest you do, because right now you’re uneducated and just talking out your butt.

Joe Donatelli, “Why You Are Wrong”, The Humor Columnist, 2014-06.

July 7, 2014

What is the Canadian government hiding over TPP negotiations? Everything.

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:47

Michael Geist on the federal government’s secret dealings on the TPP docket:

The next major agreement on the government’s docket is the Trans Pacific Partnership, a massive proposed trade deal that includes the United States, Australia, Mexico, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Vietnam, Japan, Peru, and Chile. While other trade talks occupy a prominent place in the government’s promotional plans, the TPP remains largely hidden from view. Indeed, most Canadians would be surprised to learn that Canada is hosting the latest round of TPP negotiations this week in Ottawa.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) argues the secrecy associated with the TPP – the draft text of the treaty has still not been formally released, the precise location of the Ottawa negotiations has not been disclosed, and even the existence of talks was only confirmed after media leaks – suggests that the Canadian government has something to hide when it comes to the TPP.

Since this is the first major TPP negotiation round to be held in Canada, there was an opportunity to build public support for the agreement. Yet instead, the Canadian government approach stands as one of the most secretive in TPP history. Why the secrecy?

The answer may lie in the substance of the proposed agreement, which leaked documents indicate often stands in stark contrast to current Canadian policy. The agricultural provision may attract the lion share of TPP attention, but it is the digital issues that are particularly problematic from a Canadian perspective.

For example, late last month the government announced that new copyright rules associated with Internet providers would take effect starting in 2015. The Canadian system, referred to as a “notice-and-notice” approach, is widely viewed as among the most balanced in the world, providing rights holders with the ability to raise concerns about alleged infringements, while simultaneously safeguarding the privacy and free speech rights of users.

July 6, 2014

Even if you’re “doing nothing wrong”, the NSA is probably tracking you already

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Media, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:17

The argument that you’ve got nothing to worry about because you’re not doing anything wrong has long since passed its best-before date. As Nick Gillespie points out, you don’t need to be a member of Al Qaeda, a black-hat hacker, or a registered Republican to be of interest to the NSA’s information gathering team:

If You’re Reading Reason.com, The NSA is Probably Already Following You

Two things to contemplate on early Sunday morning, before church or political talk shows get underway:

Remember all those times we were told that the government, especially the National Security Agency (NSA), only tracks folks who either guilty of something or involved in suspicious-seeming activity? Well, we’re going to have amend that a bit. Using documents from Edward Snowden, the Washington Post‘s Barton Gellman, Julie Tate, and Ashkan Soltani report

    Ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike, far outnumber legally targeted foreigners in the communications intercepted by the National Security Agency from U.S. digital networks, according to a four-month investigation by The Washington Post.

    Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else.

    Many of them were Americans. Nearly half of the surveillance files, a strikingly high proportion, contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents. NSA analysts masked, or “minimized,” more than 65,000 such references to protect Americans’ privacy, but The Post found nearly 900 additional e-mail addresses, unmasked in the files, that could be strongly linked to U.S. citizens or U.S.residents.

The cache of documents in question date from 2009 through 2012 and comprise 160,000 documents collected up the PRISM and Upstream, which collect data from different sources. “Most of the people caught up in those programs are not the targets and would not lawfully qualify as such,” write Gellman, Julie Tate, and Ashkan Soltani, who also underscore that NSA surveillance has produced some very meaningful and good intelligence. The real question is whether the government can do that in a way that doesn’t result in massive dragnet programs that create far more problems ultimately than they solve (remember the Church Committee?).

Read the whole thing. And before anyone raises the old “if you’re innocent, you’ve got nothing to hide shtick,” read Scott Shackford’s “3 Reasons the ‘Nothing to Hide’ Crowd Should be worried about Government Surveillance.”

July 2, 2014

EU publishers want a totally different online model for content – where they can monetize everything

Filed under: Business, Europe, Law, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:19

Glyn Moody reports on the passionate desire of EU publishing organizations to get rid of as much free content as possible and replace it with an explicit licensing regime (with them holding all the rights, of course):

For too many years, the copyright industries fought hard against the changes being wrought by the rise of the Internet and the epochal shift from analog to digital. Somewhat belatedly, most of those working in these sectors have finally accepted that this is not a passing phase, but a new world that requires new thinking in their businesses, as in many other spheres. A recent attempt to codify that thinking can be found in a publication from the European Publishers Council (EPC). “Copyright Enabled on the Network” (pdf) — subtitled “From vision to reality: Copyright, technology and practical solutions enabling the media & publishing ecosystem” — that is refreshingly honest about the group’s aims:

    Since 1991, Members [of the EPC] have worked to review the impact of proposed European legislation on the press, and then express an opinion to legislators, politicians and opinion-formers with a view to influencing the content of final regulations. The objective has always been to encourage good law-making for the media industry.

The new report is part of that, and is equally frank about what lies at the heart of the EPC’s vision — licensing:

    A thread which runs through this paper is the proliferation of ‘direct to user’ licensing by publishers and other rights owners. Powered by ubiquitous data standards, to identify works and those who have rights in those works, licensing will continue to innovate exponentially so that eventually the cost of serving a licence is close to zero. The role of technology is to make this process seamless and effective from the user’s perspective, whether that user is the end consumer or another party in the digital content supply chain.

[...] the EPS vision includes being able to pin down every single “granular” part of a mash-up, so that the rights can be checked and — of course — licensed. Call it the NSA approach to copyright: total control through total surveillance.

Last year, when the National Post started demanding a paid license to quote any part of their articles (including stories they picked up from other sources), I stopped linking to their site. I suspect most Canadian bloggers did the same, as I see very few links to the newspaper now compared to before the change in their policy. It worked from their point of view: I’m certainly not sending any traffic to their site now, and there was never a chance of me being able to afford their $150 per 100 word licensing rate. Win-win, I guess. The EPS is hoping to avoid that scenario playing out in Europe by mandating that all content use the same kind of licensing, backed up by the power of the courts (and the kind of pervasive surveillance tactics the NSA and its Anglosphere partners have honed to a very fine edge).

Security threats and security myths

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:48

In Wired, Peter W. Singer And Allan Friedman analyze five common myths about online security:

“A domain for the nerds.” That is how the Internet used to be viewed back in the early 1990s, until all the rest of us began to use and depend on it. But this quote is from a White House official earlier this year describing how cybersecurity is too often viewed today. And therein lies the problem, and the needed solution.

Each of us, in whatever role we play in life, makes decisions about cybersecurity that will shape the future well beyond the world of computers. But by looking at this issue as only for the IT Crowd, we too often do so without the proper tools. Basic terms and essential concepts that define what is possible and proper are being missed, or even worse, distorted. Some threats are overblown and overreacted to, while others are ignored.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that while the Internet has given us the ability to run down the answer to almost any question, cybersecurity is a realm where past myth and future hype often weave together, obscuring what actually has happened and where we really are now. If we ever want to get anything effective done in securing the online world, we have to demystify it first.

[...]

Myth #2: Every Day We Face “Millions of Cyber Attacks”

This is what General Keith Alexander, the recently retired chief of US military and intelligence cyber operations, testified to Congress in 2010. Interestingly enough, leaders from China have made similar claims after their own hackers were indicted, pointing the finger back at the US. These numbers are both true and utterly useless.

Counting individual attack probes or unique forms of malware is like counting bacteria — you get big numbers very quickly, but all you really care about is the impact and the source. Even more so, these numbers conflate and confuse the range of threats we face, from scans and probes caught by elementary defenses before they could do any harm, to attempts at everything from pranks to political protests to economic and security related espionage (but notably no “Cyber Pearl Harbors,” which have been mentioned in government speeches and mass media a half million times). It’s a lot like combining everything from kids with firecrackers to protesters with smoke bombs to criminals with shotguns, spies with pistols, terrorists with grenades, and militaries with missiles in the same counting, all because they involve the same technology of gunpowder.

June 17, 2014

BC supreme court attempts to extend jurisdiction over Google’s global services

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Liberty, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:10

Michael Geist talks about another court attempting to push local rules into other jurisdictions online — in this case it’s not the European “right to be forgotten” nonsense, it’s unfortunately a Canadian court pulling the stunt:

In the aftermath of the European Court of Justice “right to be forgotten” decision, many asked whether a similar ruling could arise in Canada. While a privacy-related ruling has yet to hit Canada, last week the Supreme Court of British Columbia relied in part on the decision in issuing an unprecedented order requiring Google to remove websites from its global index. The ruling in Equustek Solutions Inc. v. Jack is unusual since its reach extends far beyond Canada. Rather than ordering the company to remove certain links from the search results available through Google.ca, the order intentionally targets the entire database, requiring the company to ensure that no one, anywhere in the world, can see the search results. Note that this differs from the European right to be forgotten ruling, which is limited to Europe.

The implications are enormous since if a Canadian court has the power to limit access to information for the globe, presumably other courts would as well. While the court does not grapple with this possibility, what happens if a Russian court orders Google to remove gay and lesbian sites from its database? Or if Iran orders it remove Israeli sites from the database? The possibilities are endless since local rules of freedom of expression often differ from country to country. Yet the B.C. court adopts the view that it can issue an order with global effect. Its reasoning is very weak, concluding that:

    the injunction would compel Google to take steps in California or the state in which its search engine is controlled, and would not therefore direct that steps be taken around the world. That the effect of the injunction could reach beyond one state is a separate issue.

Unfortunately, it does not engage effectively with this “separate issue.”

June 13, 2014

Supreme Court rules unanimously in favour of internet privacy

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:11

Some great news on the privacy front, this time a decision handed down by the Supreme Court of Canada, as reported by Michael Geist:

This morning another voice entered the discussion and completely changed the debate. The Supreme Court of Canada issued its long-awaited R. v. Spencer decision, which examined the legality of voluntary warrantless disclosure of basic subscriber information to law enforcement. In a unanimous decision written by (Harper appointee) Justice Thomas Cromwell, the court issued a strong endorsement of Internet privacy, emphasizing the privacy importance of subscriber information, the right to anonymity, and the need for police to obtain a warrant for subscriber information except in exigent circumstances or under a reasonable law.

I discuss the implications below, but first some of the key findings. First, the Court recognizes that there is a privacy interest in subscriber information. While the government has consistently sought to downplay that interest, the court finds that the information is much more than a simple name and address, particular in the context of the Internet. As the court states:

    the Internet has exponentially increased both the quality and quantity of information that is stored about Internet users. Browsing logs, for example, may provide detailed information about users’ interests. Search engines may gather records of users’ search terms. Advertisers may track their users across networks of websites, gathering an overview of their interests and concerns. “Cookies” may be used to track consumer habits and may provide information about the options selected within a website, which web pages were visited before and after the visit to the host website and any other personal information provided. The user cannot fully control or even necessarily be aware of who may observe a pattern of online activity, but by remaining anonymous – by guarding the link between the information and the identity of the person to whom it relates – the user can in large measure be assured that the activity remains private.

Given all of this information, the privacy interest is about much more than just name and address.

Second, the court expands our understanding of informational privacy, concluding that there three conceptually distinct issues: privacy as secrecy, privacy as control, and privacy as anonymity. It is anonymity that is particularly notable as the court recognizes its importance within the context of Internet usage. Given the importance of the information and the ability to link anonymous Internet activities with an identifiable person, a high level of informational privacy is at stake.

Third, not only is there a significant privacy interest, but there is also a reasonable expectation of privacy by the user. The court examines both PIPEDA and the Shaw terms of use (the ISP in this case) and concludes that PIPEDA must surely be understood within the context of protecting privacy (not opening the door to greater disclosures) and that the ISP agreement was confusing at best and may support the expectation of privacy. With those findings in mind:

    in the totality of the circumstances of this case, there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in the subscriber information. The disclosure of this information will often amount to the identification of a user with intimate or sensitive activities being carried out online, usually on the understanding that these activities would be anonymous. A request by a police officer that an ISP voluntarily disclose such information amounts to a search.

Fourth, having concluded that obtaining subscriber information was a search with a reasonable expectation of privacy, the information was unconstitutionally obtained therefore led to an unlawful search. Addressing the impact of the PIPEDA voluntary disclosure clause, the court notes:

    Since in the circumstances of this case the police do not have the power to conduct a search for subscriber information in the absence of exigent circumstances or a reasonable law, I do not see how they could gain a new search power through the combination of a declaratory provision and a provision enacted to promote the protection of personal information.

Update, 7 July: A few weeks later, the US Supreme Court also made a strong pro-privacy ruling, this one mandating a warrant for police to search the contents of a cellphone.

Politico‘s Josh Gerstein has more on the ruling in in Riley v. California:

The Supreme Court’s blunt and unequivocal decision Wednesday giving Americans strong protection against arrest-related searches of their cell phones could also give a boost to lawsuits challenging the National Security Agency’s vast collection of phone call data.

Chief Justice John Roberts’s 28-page paean to digital privacy was like music to the ears of critics of the NSA’s metadata program, which sweeps up details on billions of calls and searches them for possible links to terrorist plots.

“This is a remarkably strong affirmation of privacy rights in a digital age,” said Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “The court found that digital data is different and that has constitutional significance, particularly in the realm of [the] Fourth Amendment…I think it also signals the end of the NSA program.”

Roberts’s opinion is replete with rhetoric warning about the privacy implications of access to data in individuals’ smart phones, including call logs, Web search records and location information. Many of the arguments parallel, or are virtually identical to, the ones privacy advocates have made about the dangers inherent in the NSA’s call metadata program.

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