Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Update 19:33: funny story on Al Jazeera English just now. Following the resignation of Mubarak, an overjoyed taxi driver reportedly left his vehicle, leaving a camera man from the network to drive it. 😎

Just one day after he signaled he would not do so, Mubarak has resigned, according to USA Today and others. Excerpt from the article: (note: some (unimportant) errors here, not introduced by me)

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has resigne.d Vice President Omar Suleiman said in a brief televised statement. His statement in full: “Hosni Mubarak has waived the office of presidency and told the army to run the affairs of the country. ”

Tahrir Square is full of joy and possibly noisier than ever.

It remains to be seen what really happened behind the scenes and how things will progress in terms of elections etc.

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Update 22:12: listened to Mubarak’s speech on Al Jazeera English. He is not leaving, and it doesn’t seem like he’s offering anything new that is significant. The crowd in Tahrir Square definitely did not appreciate it, very angry response from there. It remains to be seen what the army and other parties will do going forward; quite a confusing situation in Egypt right now with several conflicting signals.

Following many rapid events in Egypt, CNN reports on their home page:

Strong likelihood Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will resign Thursday night, CIA Director Leon Panetta tells Congress.

This by itself may not satisfy protesters’ increasing demands, such as ones reported by Al Jazeera as follows:

They want a one-year transitional period before full parliamentary elections – during which a three-person presidential council should run the country while a panel of experts write a new, permanent constitution – taking advice from opposition groups and senior, high-profile Egyptians, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

Some reports by Al Jazeera suggest a resignation might be accompanied by some set of actions, but in any case, if Mubarak steps down now it would certainly be of great symbolic value for the protesters’ interests. I would say it would no longer be a matter of if, but when, the protesters would see their efforts pay off. That is hardly to say that the journey is over, though.

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On Al Jazeera (“Inside Story – Changing the US vision of the Middle East“, February 4, 2011), in the context of the political developments in Egypt, Khairi Abaza is asked about the desire for stability in the region. He points out several times that what matters would be how stability is achieved, and if it lasts. My transcript of the video from ca. 14:17 to ca. 14:26:

[REPORTER] Yea, that’s what I’m asking, how can you reject stability?
[KHAIRI ABAZA] Stability, I mean, er, graveyards are very stable.

(It sounds like the reporter was quite amused by this.)

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On opinion polls

Update 31 Aug, 17:30: my first attempt with Google translate yielded a horrible result for some reason. A later attempt performed better than Bing Translator. Try for yourself to see what works better since I will not investigate further right now.

Update 31 Aug, 17:44: it seems I had attempted to try a Swahili-English translation by mistake. 🙂 I didn’t suspect I was that much off since it almost translated whole sentences like one would expect.

The Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter has a good article (in Swedish) on opinion polling. For an online translation, try Bing Translator or Google Translate. 1

1 Note that Bing is a bit slow (at least in this case) and requires JavaScript support in order to provide the translation step by step in your browser. Note that Bing Translator has a side-by-side view that may be useful to match Swedish original sentences with their respective English translations in a more practical manner. Other than that, it outputs reasonably comprehensible text, although there are some particular oddities (e.g. DN.se is replaced with F1racing.NET (eh…?). I vaguely recall a third alternative to use instead of Google’s or Bing’s, but I can’t find it right now.

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Software patents, ah… It’s like the seemingly never ending saga of SCO. Can’t they just leave us in peace?

Soon, the Enlarged Board of Appeal (EBA) at the European Patent Office (EPO) will decide on several questions about software patents, asked by the President of the same organization. We’ll soon find out what kind of independence might or might not exist among the various layers of the EPO… (Interesting setup, for that matter.)

The questions, and some responses from the global community, can be found on the EPO page. Notably, replies from Jacob HallĂ©n (FFII) and Philips are available there. URLs seem to be dynamic so please look these up on the page, right now under “23.10.2008 Case G3/08”. (My organization has no official submission as of yet, the deadline is the end of April.)

Sadly, the questions posed to the EBA are mined with typical EPO philosophy including their definitions of “technical effect”, “further technical effect”, “technical character”, “technical considerations” and other terminology they have used over the years. In that way they justified black being white, or more specifically the applicability of software patents (but, naturally, not “as such”).

Seeing how the specific questions to the EBA are phrased (quite some traps in there), and what is not asked, it seems clear to me that any set of answers with just “yes” or “no” is unable to speak against software patents in any meaningful way. Furthermore, if only one was to accept the premises of the questions, I submit that seemingly innocent arguments could be twisted in a number of ways to justify software patents. Nice job!

In their reply, Philips seems to have got the general idea: (page 4)

“[…] the claims define the invention in terms of the technical features […] is a technical feature if it has a technical effect. Whether this technical effect is on the computer or on the outside world, is irrelevant.”

Rough translation: “if it’s a new thing that required some thinking to come up with, and it runs on a computer, you can patent it”.

Considering how this opinion seems all too easy to find in certain circles, we have a pessimistic press release on this subject.

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Eric Brechner of Microsoft says in his blog: (emphasis added)

“When using existing libraries, services, tools, and methods from outside Microsoft, we must be respectful of licenses, copyrights, and patents. Generally, you want to carefully research licenses and copyrights (your contact in Legal and Corporate Affairs can help), and never search, view, or speculate about patents. I was confused by this guidance till I wrote and reviewed one of my own patents. The legal claims section—the only section that counts—was indecipherable by anyone but a patent attorney. Ignorance is bliss and strongly recommended when it comes to patents.”

I applaud the admission here of one of the core problems of today’s patent system; patents simply don’t serve their purpose if they don’t ensure the distribution of knowledge. Now, if software patents would at least be readable, the other problems with that concept would be even more visible…

Software patents is like patenting an element. Putting arbitrary limits on this beast won’t help, and it would be a start to reach this level of debate in wider circles when we talk about patent reform.

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Update 00:30 : fixed an erroneous statement about the “special court”.

See also: part one ; demonstrations.

All references below are in Swedish, so you may want to use Google Translate. There’s an enormous amount of information available in Swedish blogs and other media, but not so much translated material. Nikke Lindqvist has gathered links to some English resources, in particular a video published shortly after the recent demonstrations against FRA.

Ignorant government

After a long fight, and countless scandals, the Swedish government is now presenting ideas for how the already approved wiretapping law (commonly called the “FRA law”, referring to the government agency which would do the work) can be “fixed” to meet certain criticism.

This package is being presented by some as a “new law”, but it seems naive at best to expect that the fundamental errors of design can be overcome like this. I’m not sure who should be more worried about their innocent activities – Swedes, or people abroad who (knowingly or not) risk having their traffic (e-mail, phone calls, …) intercepted by FRA (that could involve a lot of countries…).

Not too long ago, though, our Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt claimed that critics didn’t understand the law (see DN and SvD), and that “everybody will benefit if the debate stops”, and not to forget the – ahem – “differences of opinion” that he had with a member of his own party. And yet here we are, with last-minute proposals being presented again. To top it off, he now says that they have “learned to listen”. How can I possibly respond to such eloquence?

Abuse seems inevitable

There are nevertheless fundamental problems which I would suspect will remain, judging by how the government has operated so far. Let me point at some of them. Firstly, FRA or another government agency may get direct access to cable-bound communication, and we’re supposed to trust that they will follow rules or not abuse this (see Henrik Alexandersson’s blog entries: 1, 2). It is not yet clear how (if at all) this will change under the new proposal.

Secondly, FRA has its own regulations for what personal data can be stored (religious and political beliefs, among other things), and they seem rather interested in mapping social interactions on a massive scale. Olof Bjarnason has a nice visualization of the “sociogram”.

Finally, there’s nothing to stop a government from redefining the purpose of available tools – this may already be under way with millions of Swedish blood samples which were obtained solely for research. (See the editorial in Expressen.) I don’t think it hurts to be a little paranoid here…

The quicker, the better?

Apparently we are to believe that the “new law” meets all standards now due to the – yet to be detailed publicly – suggested changes, but since we have already discussed the “old law”, there’s no need to prolong the discussion, right? In other words: “the law is perfect, but we’ll make it better since you insist”.

Is this a responsible way to handle legislation? I found that a Member of Parliament, Alice Åström from the Left Party, summarized it quite well:

“Flera av de förbĂ€ttringar som nu diskuteras gĂ„r i rĂ€tt rikning, men oavsett vilka förbĂ€ttringar som regeringspartierna kommer överens om kan vi inte ha en ordning dĂ€r sĂ„ hĂ€r viktiga lagar förhandlas i sista minuten och bakom lĂ„sta dörrar. Detta trodde jag att vi var överens om över partigrĂ€nserna efter integritetsutredningens slutbetĂ€nkande […] De borgerliga kritikerna av FRA-lagen sviker nu Ă€nnu en gĂ„ng. Det enda rimliga förfarandet hade varit att tillsĂ€tta en parlamentarisk kommittĂ© och börja om frĂ„n början.”

Rough translation:

“Several of the improvements which were discussed yesterday are a step in the right direction, but regardless of which improvements the governing parties agree on, we cannot have an order where such important laws are negotiated in the last minute and behind closed doors. I thought we had agreed over party lines about this after the final consideration of the Commission of Inquiry on Integrity […] The non-socialist critics of the FRA law now let us down once more. The only reasonable approach would have been to call for a parliamentary committee and start over.”

That said, it’s not yet clear what various critics will do, but it is worrying, especially considering that six of the people in question made a recent public commitment to tear up the law and start from scratch.

Politicians, wake up!

The size of this mess is increasing by the day, and there’s a significant risk that politicians will once again vote for a law which they don’t understand – or worse, vote against their beliefs. One difference this time is that they can’t claim it will be “fixed later” (not that there was much room for that in June, but some did anyhow after voting for it).

There are also talks about a “special court” which would grant permissions for wiretapping, supposedly on a case-by-case basis; it’s still unclear what is meant more specifically, a wording that has been used is “trafikstrĂ„k” – which I guess translates to something like “communication stream”. Considering the timing of this proposal, I’d say one has to love this level of creativity… Present the whole proposal first if you please, then we’ll talk.

Then again, why don’t we rewrite the whole Swedish constitution while we’re at it? One week should be enough time to review it… Then we wait a few years, and rubber-stamp the changes. Any takers?

I hope that enough politicians will wake up and put things into perspective, but if the Social Democrats are willing to deal this time, we can expect that the law is put into force, with more or less cosmetic changes. We’ll find out soon enough if anyone will keep their word…

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