Wikileaks analysis Part 1: Some notes on transparency

There's been a lot of discussion of Wikileaks and it's high-profile founder, Julian Assange, recently. Some of it tittle-tattle led mainstream news stuff, and some more reasoned critical analysis.

I've come acoss a few good blog posts that have spurred me to spend time thinking about Wikileaks and the deeper implcations the site-cum-organisation might have for contemporary media and politics. 

As often happens, my intention to post short, pithy comments in response fails and I end up postng longercomments than planned.

So I thought I'd round them up into a couple of blog posts about Wikileaks and a couple of central themes.

In this first post, I responded to a couple of big questions Jed Hallam asked about Wikileaks and its effect on transparency, particularly from the perspective of the individual.

Jed asked whether the fall-out from Wikileaks will mean that people (and I'd presume this term can apply at both a individual and collective, organisational level) start "behaving themselves [...] thus destrying any risk of being found out".

Or perhaps things will go the opposite way with people becoming "ultra-concerned about their privacy" online as possibly evidence by phenomena such as whitewalling (amply demonstrated by Drew)

FInally, Jed asked whether "the world will totally change and people will become totally relaxed about who they are and what they do – every tweet and Facebook update will become accountable for and Eric Schmidt will die a happy man."

I argued that we'll end up with a mixture of two and three. There's a possiblility Julian Assange will see the effects of his "secrecy tax" come to fruition but I'm not too sure in my comment:

Yes, people can leak documents on the web. But they have to get them first. Geert Lovink’s 10 Theses on Wikileaks is relevant here as he makes the claim that Wikileaks only offers a quantitative difference to existing whistle-blowing, not a qualitative one.

Plus, Wikileaks is the antithesis of transparency. We don’t know if the leaks are accurate or planted. Nor do we know how WLs operates, how it chooses or edits material, for example.

Secondly, how likely in realist terms will it be for the government or state or even corporations to become ‘squeaky clean’ in case they’re exposed?

Cory Doctorow wrote a great Comment is Free piece after the G20 protests in London where crowd-sourced citizen journalism content exposed police involvement in the death of Ian Tomlinson, despite their initial flat denials.

Doctorow argued that transparency is nothing unless justice is done. What happened next? The policeman in question was acquitted and faced no further charges.

Transparency in this context only *reinforces* the feeling of disempowerment, helplessness and frustration with existing power.

WIll the US will clean up its military and diplomatic procedures as a result of Wikileaks?

Sadly, I think not. Although I do agree the web will demand some changes at the edges of organisational behaviour, it will outdone by a reliance on information management – both internally and externally – rather than drive significant – and certainly ethical – changes to corporate and organisational behaviour.

For example, the media were circulated D-Notices ahead of the #Cablegate release so it’s very possible what gets reported in the press is still only half the story – and what I’ve read so far isn’t really “news” (e.g. middle eastern leaders wanted to invade Iran (Shock!) and the US urged diplomats to spy on UN members?

Hardly ground-breaking when it was reported years ago that MI6 is/was actively spying on UN delegates.)

I do however, agree, that the web may well change the ability of governments/states and corporations to censor information (Trafigura was a good case in point from a corporate perspective) but of course, all governments and states need to do is move up the food-chain and start blocking/censoring the source of information.

See this very recent story of the UK police applying direct to Nominet to gain take down powers for websites engaged in “criminal activity” as a perfect example.

Of course, criminal activity is subjective but I would imagine that as long as websites are engaged in publishing harmless entertainment they'll be fine.

Which leads me to your third proposition. I agree…. people are ncreasingly opening up and putting more and more personal information online.

And at a day-to-day level I like this idea. I do believe it will force the public and private sector to adopt similar approaches and further push transparency as a tool/outcome to a certain degree.

But equally, I don’t think this will ultimately make for a more equal or even balance of power. The use and abuse of this by corporations, governments and states will no doubt over-ride any greater benefit for the greater good. The Cybernetic Hypothesis has more to say about this.

And this, I think, might bring us full circle.

Two post-event analyses of the #DEBill by me

As you might have seen in my previous
somewhat splenetic call to action
against the Digital Economy Bill the past few
weeks have been spent with my blood pressure rather high.

Perhaps out of therapy – or merely because
it’s offered a fascinating case study of how social media can be used to
potentially open up some form of direct democracy – I’ve pulled together a
couple of blog posts on the subject.

The posts broadly cover the use of social
media to campaign against the bill and the – I argue – ground-breaking way Twitter
was used to report the crucial debates in real-time as well as engage with
politicians mid-debate.

The first post was published over on We
Are Social's (i.e. my work's) blog
while the second was guest posted over at Royal Holloway University’s
New Political Communications Unit blog
.

Enjoy!

The digital industry must act now to stop the Digital Economy Bill

The way the UK’s Digital Economy Bill was created by Lord Mandelson and the music industry was  staggering in its audacity and truly disgusting. There was no attempt to veil the fact that the legislation was patently designed to protect the content industries; support executive salaries (and don’t for one second think that this will protect artists’ revenues. It doesn’t and it won’t) and insulate industrial busienss models form the creativity and innovation opened up by the Internet. It was also clear that the Bill would directly impact on citizens and consumers’ personal freedom and rights.

Outstandingly, as this vile piece of legislation has passed through the democratic process (and having been party to some of the to-ing and fro-ing of amendments in the Lords, I use that term loosely) the application of corrupt, money-driven, corporate, executive-serving self-interest has reached even loftier heights of shame.

I won’t dwell on the passion Lord Mandelson has shown in seeking to drive the Bill through the Commons without democratic debate; nor the disgusting collusion shown by all mainstream parties to date in order to gratify big business by preventing a debate; not even the appalling silence from both my own MP, Stewart Jackson, and Lord Clement Jones, who tabled a catastrophic amendment in the Lords at the behest of his content producing clients for at his firm DLA Piper. Without any doubt he is truly a vile, greed-obsessed man more passionate about protecting his client’s interests and his personal wealth than individual, human right.

Instead I want to call on my friends and peers that work in the digital and technology industries and issue a call to action: stand up for democracy; stand up against authoritarian, corporate-driven legislation; stand up for what is right.

The effects of the Digital Economy Bill as it stands will have serious implications for everyone. Us digital media types won’t be able to stop off at a café for a coffee and check our emails because free, open wifi will be shut off. Our children won’t be able to do their homework or learn about the wonders of the wider world because the household has been disconnected without evidence after someone has been suspected of 'illegally' sharing a large file.

But simply, if the Digital Economy Bill is passed we'll be faced with a bleak future where the stupefied consumers of Huxley’s Brave New World are now being shown the Orwell 1984 treatment.

Please. Please. Please. Act NOW before it is too late. Wake up from your stupefaction and do something:

This is an important announcement…

Those that know me may be surprised that I haven't yet blogged about the government's appalling behaviour to take a fat wad of cash from the music industry in return for turning a blind eye to the amazing power the internet is bringing every facet of humankind and instead amending British law so that we can all take a giant leap backwards in terms of digital rights.

This is purely done to ensure that the UK's moronic entertainment industry executives get to keep their fucking enormous salaries until they retire, upon when they can also cash in their even more enormous fucking pensions.

But that's not all: in case the government wasn't sure that this is a totally fucking stupid idea that might cost them votes, they're also criminalising young people (some might say the electorate of the future), potentially breaching individuals' universal human rights and into the bargain Lord Mandelson has also opted to award himself the personal power to amend copyright laws willy-nilly with the barest minimum of parliamentary oversight.

This (and a whole lot more evilness, such as the loss of free public wifi) is wrapped up in a nifty Bill announced in last month's Queen's Speech called the Digital Economy Bill.

If you want the biggest, most hilarious of laughs, take a look at what I predicted and indeed hoped might be in the Bill when the initial consultation phase was announced last year.

Here's what really happened:

  1. Lord Carter appointed to consult on Digital Britain 
  2. Lord Carter speaks with various people and turnsout a not-perfect but very respectable white paper
  3. Lord Carter moves on
  4. Digital Britain progresses
  5. Lord Mandelson meets David Geffen and host of other music industry chiefs
  6. Lord Mandelson reverses pretty much everything that made sense in the original white paper and announces plans to turn himself into the Digital Witchfinder General

Your help is needed…

Here's what you can do now to help:

  1. Join the Open Rights Group (disc: I'm on the board) to help them lobby for sanity to be amended back into the bill and protect your future online rights
  2. Sign the Downing Street petition, signed by the likes of Stephen Fry, Graham Linehan, and loads others
  3. Adopt your MP to make sure they know about the insanity of what the Digital Economy Bill will inflict on the public

We need your help *NOW* – Mandelson is adamant that the Bill gets passed before they lose the chance to fuck us all up by shutting down the internet. Please take on one of the actions aboce and help spread the word by Tweeting, emailing or Facebooking this post.

Thank you.

EXCLUSIVE: Dick Fedorcio, Met Police blogger engagement and my part in it…

 

G20 officer hides badge

I published a blog post earlier this year in which I questioned the Metropolitan Police's approach to social media and criticised what I perceived to be the wrong organisational attitude.

Rather than looking to embrace social media, listen, adapt and respond to the public and earn the reputation it deserves, comments made by the Met's Director of External Affairs, Dick Fedoricio, in a PR Week interview suggested otherwise:

"If I was seeking to
manipulate people, it would raise a question about how that reduced our
integrity. To be leaning on someone to say "give us a good blog" starts
to raise some ethical issues.
"

I wanted to return to this issue for a couple of reasons. Primarily, I was shocked (but unsurprised) to see that according the Evening Standard, the Met has now requested that all imagery of its officers hiding or obscuring their badges be removed from photo libraries and image databases (hiding numbers means officers can't be (easily) identified and is an illegal tactic usually performed to allow police to act with impunity while committing – often violent – offences against the public).

While the Standard accuses the Met of trying to "re-write history", a member of the public gets it right in a comment posted on the story:

"If people start uploading such images to Facebook and Twitter, will
they get their collars felt? We seem to be heading in that direction."

Leaving aside the jusdgement of which direction society is heading, the issue of whether material incriminating authorities published publicly in the social web can be removed remains – as does the question: what power do authorities have to, in DIck's words, "manipulate" or "lean on" someone to force removal?

Following the G20 the Met has signed up 6Consulting and Radian6 to run social media monitoring for the force so it's very likely that any 'offending' material will certainly be identified. That said, I return to the point I made originally which was that this approach reveals a traditional command and control communications culture at the Met which will not fit in the distributed, complex, networked world in which we now live.

I mentioned there were a couple of reasons I wanted to blog about this topic again. That's the first, the second is much more personal.

After my previous post in which the Met's Dick Fedorcio told PR Week that he will "not go as far as interacting with bloggers" he went right ahead by 'interacting' with me.

So how did he interact with me? Was it a comment left on my blog post examining the Met's approach to social media? Was it an email explaining the Met's decision not to interact with bloggers? 

No. Instead Dick left me a voicemail on my work phone. Why he phoned me at work I don't know (especially given my blog states clearly it's a personal site and encourages contact via my personal email address).

Dick's voicemail was rather aggressive (I'm sure this was unintentional) and stated that he worked for Scotland Yard (again, this is confusing, but I'm sure he meant the Metropolitan Police).

He advised me, in a rather intimidating fashion, that if I planned on blogging about the Met againI  should give him a call in advance.

Now I'm sure Dick meant only well by his inadvertently aggressive and intimidating phonecall advising I seek permission before blogging about the Met, but it seems clear to me that the Met are doing blogger engagement, despite what they tell PR Week.

Plus ca change…

Technorati tags: Dick Fedorcio, Metropolitan Police, blogger engagement

Three quarters of people would switch to alternative free news if Rupert Murdoch has his way

Pcuk-harris-poll-paid-content-reader-intentions-o

Since Murdoch made his announcement about pushing for pay-walled content on his titles there's been a lot of discussion about how the future of online content is 'paid for'.

Well, frankly I don't buy it (literally) and thankfully PaidContent:UK has come up with some research that proves the wider public also don't want to buy it either.

According to a write up in the Guardian, PaidContent's research shows that

If … favourite news site begins charging for access to content, three quarters of people would simply switch to an alternative free news source…
  • Just 5% of those readers would choose to pay to continue reading the site.
  • 8% would continue reading the site's free headlines only.
  • 12% of respondents are not sure what they would do.

I really hope this is an accurate representation of how the battle for paid for vs free content plays out.

The risk, of course, is that several major news sources follow Murdoch into paid-for content limiting the offering of free content.

But then I suppose that's why Murdoch and his minions/family are targeting the BBC so vehemently. As long as the BBC continues to serve up quality news courtesy of the license fee then surely his paid-for business model fails.

But then thinking about it, even if Murdoch succeeds in getting the mainstream BBC locked up, what happens to BBC World Service. It's 100% funded by the British Government's Foreign and Commonwealth Office – so surely this outlet will continue to deliver quality, state-sponsored broadcasting?

Tags: paidcontent, Rupert Murdoch, BBC

Locking down the future and what you can do to help

As a communicator with an understanding of the Internet, I’d always advise my clients that the web is fundamentally changing the ways we communicate, consume and produce media and culture and in order to survive (or at least stay relevant) they need to adapt.

Similarly, the web is making findamental changes in almost every other industry touched by society and culture and ditto they must adapt to maintain relevant in the networked world – both now and in the future.

However, when it comes to the music, film and entertainment industries it seems that they are investing heavily in preserving the past, rather than acknowledging where the future will lie.

Sadly, one result of this is a horribly flawed EU Directive which proposes doubling the current term on music copyright.

This action is opposed by all of Europe’s leading intellectual property research centres and makes little economic, technological or cultural sense. But don’t take my word for it. The UK-based Open Rights Group (disclosure, I volunteer time to support ORG) has produced this nifty little video explaining the issues at stake.

Having just finished Lawrence Lessig‘s Remix (review to follow) this is a major issue which not only risks atrophing the economy but also criminalises the next generation of artists/creators.

You can add your support in the following ways:

  1. Invite your MEP to attend the 27 January event on your behalf (you can get their contact details here: UK residents; Other EU residents)
  2. 3) Invite your MEP to sign the Sound Copyright petition
  3. 4) Ask your MEP to watch the Open Rights Group’s cartoon “How copyright term extension in Sound Recordings actually works”

Happy 2009 (unless the government gets in the way)

Guardin

As a rule I try not to 'do' predictions or resolutions at New Year. But I thought I'd flag how the UK Government plans to not only resurrect it's data intercept modernisation programme, but to outsource it as well, according to the story in today's Guardian.

Personally, I find the route down which our digital rights are being taken in the UK extremely worrying especially given the much more progressive and sustainable direction being taken in the US by Obama's incoming administration.

On the cards for 2009 we have the revised plan for the data intercept modernisation programme (being driven by the security and intelligence agencies), Lord Carter's Digital Britain initiative (any info anyone?) and plans to take a tougher approach on copyright/file-sharing.

Ironically, the latter two also present major opportunities to kick-start the UK economy if handled correctly. But let's wait and see shall we…

Happy New Year to all and here's to a prosperous 2009!

Technorati tags: UK Government, Data Intercept Modernisation Programme, Digital Britain, 2009

Using social media to start a debate over transport

In a previous life I used to lobby the UK government and public for safer roads so I have a slightly higher knowledge of transport policy than the average person in the street.

In light of this  I thought I’d respond to a request from Staniforth and Labourhome’s, Mark Hanson, who is currently helping campaign for a Manchester congestion charging zone.

The initiative (which has the backing of some noted local residents) goes to a city-wide referendum on December 11th and of it gets the go-ahead could be seen as a template for other major UK cities. Interestingly, I also happen to have an intimate knowledge of Leeds city centre transport which would also benefit for a massive injection of public transport and car reduction.

Mark, it’s fair to say, is one of a small number of Labour campaigners taking action in the social media space. Firstly by driving online debate about key issues such as this and then providing grassroots members with a platform for open discussion via Labourhome.

Reflecting this, campaigners for the congestion charge are using a Youtube video to raise awareness of the issue:

To be honest, it isn’t the world’s greatest video – but it is an importent step in using video-sharing and comment/discussion threads to allow an important issue to be played out.

The opportunities for greater investment in public transport is definitely something which we should be looking at. While the government has made some significant progress towards tackling major transport issues, it looks likely that roads may well be returning to the frontline of the political agenda.

In the pre-budget report announced a couple of weeks ago the government proposed making £700 million available for road construction - most likely in an attempt to drive domestic growth to tackle the economic downturn.

It’s a difficult time where short-term economic investment will have to be measured against long-term environmental and social investments. I know which side I would like to see the government prioritising.

Technorati tags: Manchester Congestion Charge, Transport Innovation Fund, Road Safety, Transport

Doc Searls on digital capacity building in the new admnistration (and what Lord Carter can learn)

A few weeks Doc Searls laid down his vision for how the incoming President Elect could use the Internet to stimulate the US economy. coincidently, Docs’ post came about a month after the UK government’s Department for Business, Economy and Regulatory Reform (BERR) launched its own plans for using the digital economy to regenerate the UK’s economic fortunes. I have my own concerns about BERR’s plans for what it calls ‘Digital Britain’ which I laid out recently. Doc’s vision is inspirational however, and the UK government should read his blog post carefully. In case it doesn’t however, here’s a few things worth noting.

Doc outlines a number of key issues for consideration but at the core of his vision is the need for greater infrastructure – specifically “fiber-optic” – although a solid case for wifi is also made.

And then what to do with this increased infrastructure? Doc believes that it can only lead to greater productivity among everyone – individuals as well as small businesses; thus boosting, creativity, production, consumption, the economy and mankind:

“new devices based on open source technologies demonstrate how easy it is to scaffold and build innovative new products and services that make money and expand the scope of civilization.”

However, one of the major barriers to this potential great leap forward lies not in the impracticality of increasing infrastructure nor does it lie in the predicted costs of the investment program (estimated at $300bn).

No, the big barrier to making this significant economic and social step forward lies in the thinking and strategic mindset with which the government and business approaches the issue.

To quote Doc again:

“We can’t see the potential for that [digital economic] growth as long as we’re blinded by phone and cable company offerings, which treat the Internet as the third act in a ‘triple play’. Even though most home phones are now digital, we still “dial” to connect and get billed by the minute. And while analog cell phones are gone, even “smart” digital phones are locked up by phone companies and their phone-making partners. Next February [By 2012 in the UK] all over-the-air television broadcasting in the U.S. will go digital, matching cable and satellite TV distribution systems that have been digital for years. Yet we still watch “programs” on “channels,” just like we started doing in 1950.”

Doc’s argument is for an American market, but there are clear parallels with the UK and its current situation – not least the shared desire of national Governments to inject stimulus into their domestic economies.

Which is where I want to shift my focus to the UK. In the US they are still riding high on the optimism of a new administration. Doc’s post is aimed as a piece of pre-emptive advice for Barack Obama. Here in the UK, the Government has already unveiled its plans to use the Internet to improve the economy. My concerns are that its planned review will not even head in the right direction, let alone go far enough down the right route to really make a break through.

In fact, researching this post I googled ‘Digital Britain’ to see if there was an update on the Carter Review. I found a Marketing Week article from earlier this month (this in itself maybe gives us a steer on the *actual* aim of the Digital Britain review).

The article revealed the review team assembled by Lord Carter. These experts are (in no particular order):

  • TV presenter and child psychologist – Dr Tanya Byron
  • Chairman of Japanese investment bank, Nomura International – Francesco Caio
  • Chairman of the Digital Radio Working Group – Barry Cox
  • Editor of political magazine, The Spectator – Matthew d’Ancona
  • Former ITV commercial chief – Ian McCulloch.

So all in, a well qualified team of digital experts.

Doc ends his post by urging Obama:

to make constructive and realistic suggestions about what this new administration can do in just one area of infrastructure investment: expanding connectivity and network capacity in ways that open innovation and growth opportunity for everybody.”

I wonder in which direction Lord carter’s review will go? Towards greater infrastructure investment and opening up peer production; or towards regulation and centralised creative production?

Technorati tags: Carter Review, Lord Carter, Digital Britain, BERR, Doc Searls