Escaping the Walled Garden

Yesterday

Yesterday I decided to leave the walled garden that UK Internet access is becoming. I went to the website of a VPN provider in another country (I chose Air VPN, an Italian company) and signed up for a one-year subscription which cost me €54.

Censorship and surveillance in the UK

Why would I do this? It was prompted by two factors which are happening today and affecting use of the Internet in the UK. It is disappointing to reach a stage where I feel an action like this is necessary for a UK citizen, however I feel it has come to that now because of two things, which have been on the way for a while and look like continuing for the foreseeable future.

It is one thing to know in an abstract sense that people living in repressive foreign countries may have to resort to measures like this in order to communicate freely and access information without being routinely monitored by their government, it is more of a shock to the system to find yourself in that position, needing to defend your freedom and privacy by direct action to avoid State-dictated intrusion.

Website blocking

Web site blocking, sad to say, is a reality today in the UK. It started quite a while ago, with the introduction by British Telecom of their “Cleanfeed” blocking system. It’s always been difficult to argue against that, because of the nature of what’s being blocked, although Bill Thompson writing in 2004 made a creditable try at doing so. About the most that you could say against the proposals were that once a system like that was in place, it would inevitably be used against other types of website sooner or later, and to wonder how often incorrect additions to the block list were made.

But… those arguments never stood a chance, because the first could be countered by claiming that it would never be used except for the most extreme illegal sites (impossible to dispute at the time, as the response would always be that it would never be extended to anything else), and the second was impossible for anyone to check because the list was secret, and even if you knew one to try, it would be a foolish thing to attempt as simple possession of such images is an offence in the UK, regardless of how or why you came by them.

So it was no surprise the system came into use, and for the most part no-one knew what was being blocked anyway except occasionally such as when Wikipedia access from the UK was restricted for a few days because an image on the article about the Scorpions 1976 album Virgin Killer was deemed illegal by the Internet Watch Foundaton (IWF) and blocked by internet providers. And it wasn’t just the image that was blocked, as it also apparently blocked the entire article, and other access such as the ability to edit Wikipedia at all from the UK, for a few days until the IWF backed down and the image was deemed not illegal after all.

Now, however, the stakes have been raised much higher. Private organisations such as the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) have recently been to UK courts and succeeded in gaining court orders for internet providers to block certain sites which the BPI and related organizations consider to be encouraging or abetting people downloading unlicensed copyright material.

So far that has been done for two sites, Newzbin 2, and now also The Pirate Bay, and if you try to follow either of the preceding links from a UK internet connection, you are likely to find that it’s blocked for you. These sites are not in themselves illegal to access in the UK, and while I don’t know so much about Newzbin, never having used it, the Pirate Bay contains links (they do not hold any content themselves) to much material which is definitely legitimate (e.g. self-promotion by independent artists), as well as links which may lead to infringing content (though it’s not always easy to tell, and could vary depending on where you are located).

In any case, whatever the merits or otherwise of Newzbin and the Pirate Bay, the extension of site-blocking like this I believe to be the wrong decision, and the wrong way to deal with a changing world in which copyright may not be enforceable the way it was with physical media in the 20th century (and that it may not even be desirable to try). It means that we really are in a walled garden now, and that further sites could be blocked in future, on very different grounds from what was originally put in place with the creation of Cleanfeed and the Internet Watch Foundation.

So this is one half of the reason why I signed up to AirVPN yesterday. I don’t have much desire to use Newzbin or the Pirate Bay, but I cannot tell what site or sites will be blocked next, and I refuse to live in a walled garden so I will do whatever I have to do in order to be able to access an open and free internet. Criminals and criminal activity can and should be pursued as necessary, in the UK and abroad, but site-blocking like this does not achieve that and is not tolerable in a free society.

Internet surveillance

The second half of why I signed up to a VPN provider is that there are proposals by the UK government to introduce routine monitoring of all internet activity, requiring ISPs to do the donkey work of actually tracking it. Something like this was proposed by the last Labour government, and scrapped after controversy, but something very like it has resurfaced under the current coalition government, in the 2012 Queen’s Speech. They may talk of “strict safeguards to protect the public” but this is not very convincing based on past experience of government promises; and I do not accept the need for the routine monitoring of all internet activity like this. I assert that monitoring proposals like this (as described here, in the Guardian) would be in breach of Article 8 (respect for private and family life), Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience, and religion), and Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Therefore I am not waiting for the current UK proposals to be enacted, and have started using a VPN provider outside the UK for all my routine internet activity. This encrypts all my communications, so that my Internet service provider can not collude with government in recording all my activity, whatever legislation is passed to the effect that they should. There are some other benefits and a few drawbacks to doing this, which I describe at the bottom of this post.

Civil disobedience

Doing this to avoid state censorship and surveillance is civil disobedience, though as far as I know signing up to a foreign VPN provider is still perfectly legal (at the time of writing) as the UK court orders blocking websites apply to Internet service providers, and not to individual UK citizens such as myself. There is no doubt however that by deciding to avoid it myself anyway, and telling others how to do the same, I am saying that I do not accept the court’s authority to impose general web blocking of foreign sites like this. I will avoid any such block anyway (whatever the ISPs do), and I will also tell other UK citizens how to do the same.

Similarly, I do not accept that any UK government has the authority to impose routine monitoring of all internet activity as proposed, as they would breach fundamental principles of our open society, and I will avoid any such measures, and I will also tell other UK citizens how to do the same, before or after they are enacted. I hope that we can stop them, partly by showing them to be unworkable by such measures, and that I won’t ever be made a criminal for asserting my freedom to communicate privately; but I won’t walk away from it either.

I did not ever particularly want to be an Internet activist, or to have to do stuff like this in the United Kingdom; but if it is necessary then it’s necessary, and we only keep our free society if we are willing to defend it. I will also continue to support other organizations which are trying to do something about these issues, such as the UK Pirate Party who have recently been hosting a proxy which allows access from the UK to the Pirate Bay. I do not know whether the party will be forced to take that down at some point, but it is possible that could happen. In any case as a member from the start in the UK and currently being active in the party as a party governor I will continue to support the political effort being made.

On getting and using a VPN provider

There are advantages and disadvantages to using a foreign VPN provider as I have now started to do, and while I recommend it as one way to help address the current threats to our freedoms from UK authorities, I also suggest that you do your own research and choose a provider suitable for your needs, as the service offered by different companies varies wildly. You can find some discussion of different providers here.

I also strongly advise that you do not attempt to use VPN anonymising services to do anything wrongful or illegal now or in future. The only possible exception I can think of is if future legislation or court decisions made the mere use of technology like this to protect your privacy and freedom of expression a matter of suspicion or a crime. In that case you would have to decide whether you were willing to comply with the directive, and allow your traffic to be monitored, whether you would carry on using privacy measures and try to avoid the radar, or whether you would continue to use the technology openly and assert that you are not doing anything wrongful (and take your lumps then if they come). I know which I will choose; your decision is one only you can make.

The advantages and disadvantages I have found from the VPN in actual use so far are
as follows:

Advantages

  • Your internet service provider cannot easily tell what the traffic you are sending or receiving is, or what websites you are accessing. Therefore they cannot track those, even if the government wants them to, although they will be able to see that you are using a proxy, and what your total bandwidth usage is. Bear in mind, however, that the websites you are accessing may be able to tell who you are, if you give them identifying
    information such as by logging in, or through cookies.
  • Similarly, anyone else on the same network as you cannot easily see any of your traffic either. This is quite useful if you are using services out and about, such as public wi-fi, or internet service in a hotel, as it means that local provider such as the pub or hotel, or any wi-fi snoopers around cannot read any of your traffic either. In this regard it acts
    as an additional security measure, alongside anti-virus or firewall protections you may be using. For some people this reason by itself is enough to want a VPN facility available.
  • You can choose (depending on your VPN service) when you log on from where in the world you want to appear from, to any websites you access during the session. This can be quite useful, as the website cannot tell where you are except for what you want to tell it, and you may be able to access sites which would otherwise say that you are coming from the wrong country. For example, if you are abroad and want to access BBC services such as Iplayer, you can proxy back through to the UK and it will still work, similarly you can appear as if you are within the USA or other countries which can sometimes be helpful.

Disadvantages

  • It’s an extra thing you have to have setup on your computer, and although it’s not very difficult it’s an extra step when you want to use the internet.
  • You might have to pay something to get a service that suits you. There could be free ones out there, but maybe you are better off to just pay a modest price for a decent service.
  • You are putting a lot of trust in the provider you choose, because they can track what you do if they want (even if they say they don’t). So you have to decide which is the lesser evil, and be careful about who you sign up with (as far as you can, anyway). Some providers  may be more trustworthy than others, so you need to do your research before choosing one.
  • Your Internet access will be slower than without the VPN, as although it normally all works seamlessly and you aren’t really aware anything’s different, everything you send or receive has to be encrypted and sent to and from the VPN proxy you are using. So you will never get quite the same speed as you would with an unencrypted connection working through your local Internet service provider.
Posted in freedom, privacy, VPN | 3 Comments

Licensed to Read?

In the modern world, it sometimes seems that everything we might want to do is regulated and controlled, and that we need a license issued by some authority to perform a given activity. Yet at the same time, each time that happens, we may suffer a loss of freedom, to a greater or lesser extent, and so when an activity that was previously unregulated becomes controlled and requires a license, we should ask questions about why that’s happening, and whether we are willing to accept that regulation.

Some regulations make a great deal of sense, in our busy society where we all have to live together one way or another, with limited space and resources, and where we inevitably affect each other. So since I am not an anarchist or such an extreme libertarian as to demand that nothing should be regulated, I accept that there are times when this makes sense, including statutory licensing and control on various activities we might undertake.

An example is driver licensing; I have to get a license before I can legally drive, and it can be taken away from me if I no longer merit it; this makes a great deal of sense to me, as getting into a vehicle, a tonne or more in weight, and hurtling around the roads at speeds of easily 50 to 70 mph (since I respect the rule of law, I try to stick to 70 as a maximum until and unless the law changes e.g. to raise that to 80 mph). Similarly, I can see the argument for vehicle licensing, for a few reasons even if not quite so compelling as driver licensing.

Another kind of license we need is to legally watch television in the UK , which you have to pay for, GBP 145.50 per year at present (2011). There was an argument for it once, when not everyone had a television, and by the nature of the technology used analogue terrestrial broadcasts were necessarily available to anyone with an aerial and a set, so the broadcast become a public good in economic parlance, both non-rival and non-excludable. Moreover, there was only one public broadcaster, the BBC, and so no choice for the viewer or listener of which TV or radio output provider they wished to use.

This has all changed now, of course; almost all of us (except a very few people who have chosen to step back from the technology), now have a television and therefore must pay a television license. This makes it effectively a flat tax at household level, nearly a poll tax (for some people who live in a house in multi-occupancy, it is a poll tax. Quite an imposition, that hits people such as students or unemployed single people who are least able to afford it hardest, enforced in a way that has similarities with criminal inspection. Worse, since access to television is now so commonplace, giving up the struggle against the inspectors, and doing without TV, means losing the freedom to listen by receiving public service broadcasting, so it’s becoming a limitation on the free accessibility of speech.

The stereotypical tabloid image that comes to mind is of a family living on benefits, but able to expect e.g. access to Sky Sports as a basic necessity; I do not propose anything like that. We should, however, review whether TV licensing still makes sense in today’s world; personally I like the BBC very much, and want to see public service broadcasting in this country continue and be available free-to-air to the widest audience.

One way, perhaps, would be to abolish the TV license, eliminating all the effort and resource put into managing that and sending out inspectors to peek into people’s bedrooms, and instead fund the BBC directly from taxpayer grant (this is what happens in Australia). What level of funding is appropriate would be a political decision, that our elected representatives should take the time to argue over and come to a suitable decision that works for all of us.

This leads on to the main subject of this post, the way we read books. As a voracious reader, I can often get through 3 or 4 books a week, fiction or non-fiction, and until recently I only really read physical books. Now I have an Android tablet, and though the technology I’m using is not quite there yet, it has passed the point of affordability and usability making it possible to prefer e-books to physical books; it’s also clear from the rate of advancing technology (e-ink displays and devices such as the Kindle) that the adoption of e-readers will only explode from here, just as the adoption of devices such as mobile phones and digital cameras did. And which, along the way, made communication and photography far more widely accessible to people in our society.

We might hope that e-books could also make our literature, knowledge, and culture more accessible than ever before as well. However, this may not be the case, and it’s not the device technology that is holding us back, but the social and legal framework around the way we use, share, and distribute information.

Last week I bought some paper books; that’s strange, you might say, since I have an e-reader that’s adequately usable, and favour e-books in some ways. So why did I do that?

The books were The Big Bang (Simon Singh), The Ancestor’s Tale (Richard Dawkins), and Snuff (Terry Pratchett). Some of these I could have got as e-books, e.g. from Amazon, but when I actually look at doing so, I find the issues start, and I either buy the physical book, even if I don’t actually want several half-bricks of paper to carry around with me, or I don’t buy anything, or I find similar but more convenient e-books from other authors and on-line vendors.

The first issue is that I only found them for the Kindle; which could be OK, as the Kindle device is technically excellent as an e-reader, except that I don’t want a Kindle as well as my tablet; for now I only want one such device, and the one I have is “good enough” that I expect I’ll use it for months and years to come; then at some point I will replace with the best available/reasonably priced alternative, whatever that might be.

There is a Kindle application for Android; but… again that’s not what I want, a Kindle application for Android. I am presently using CoolReader to read books on my tablet, and I like it very much, and want to continue using it. More to the point, I want to be able to use whatever e-reader I want, and I might switch to something other than CoolReader in future, on my present device or on future devices.

The Kindle or the equivalent application is required because the vendor/publisher wish to enforce restrictions on what I can do with the books once they are on my device; this observation is leading towards the title of this essay. If it were a physical book, it would be rather as though the publisher required that I see the words only using special approved reading lights, and only store it on special approved shelves, each of which remain in their control. That type of restriction (as well as requiring magic!) would be unconscionable with physical books, and renders e-books inferior to physical books where that can never be the case, even if otherwise the e-books would be preferable.

The next issue, after these hurdles, is the price; I bought two of books either in Waterstones, and one from an event where the author was speaking; the comparative prices I paid and could have paid are shown below:

Book Paper price Kindle price Percentage of paper price
The Big Bang GBP 7.69 (paperback) Not available Not available
The Ancestor’s Tale GBP 6.99 (paperback) GBP 5.99 85.7 %
Snuff GBP 9.49 (hardback) GBP 5.59 58.9 %
Snuff GBP 5.68 (paperback) GBP 5.59 98.4 %

Note that we need to compare to the prices that we would actually pay, not the listed RRP. As with any discounting like this, the supposed saving is entirely notional if that’s not what people pay. The Net Book Agreement is history, and even in bookstores it’s usual to take advantage of 3-for-2 and other special offers (I paid GBP10.99 for my hardback copy of Snuff in Waterstones, not GBP18.99).

The prices being quoted for the e-book are outrageous, especially given the restrictions already mentioned. The publishing and retail system are able to put a physical, hefty book into my hand for the prices shown, as well as provide enough of a margin to fund the original writing, editing, and proof-reading of the books(if this wasn’t so, across all of the books produced, they would not still be in business). And they want to charge me 85% to 95% or more of that for an e-book which will be downloaded over the ether, with none of the physical printing or other overheads and margins!?

Not only that, but they want to impose restrictions on how I use it? This is again a step backward from a physical book, as I used to get many books from libraries, charity shops, swap bookshelves, where half the fun is the serendipity of finding something unexpected, and where it’s easy to take a chance on an unknown book, when it’s GBP2.00 for 10 books, or even free from a book crossing shelf. I used to find new authors like that (and often then buy other books in that series or by that author), but with Kindle e-books there is no secondhand market for ebooks and desperately limited options for sharing a book I liked with friends.

When I buy ebooks, I will only ever buy unrestricted books, such as those I regularly purchase from the Baen webscription library. These are provided in nearly every format imaginable (I download them as zipped epub, which is portable and works very well), and the publisher does not attempt to restrict me in any way in how I enjoy those books or what I do with them.

For all this, I’m very willing to pay a reasonable price; which should still be less than I used to pay for brand new physical books. With Baen I usually pay e.g. about USD30.00 or so for maybe 6 books, often bundled; ideally I get some from an author I already know or a series I’m working through, together with one or two “wild cards” by authors I don’t know, perhaps thrown in with the bundle, or perhaps because the website tells me others who liked similar titles to me also bought it.

Also, I can put the book on any or all devices I want, read it with whatever software I want, now or in the future, and even share it with friends if I want (there is nothing that will stop me doing that, with an open format), whether or not they would have bought it or even bothered to think about downloading it. The implication of that is also that friends might sometimes push a book over to me with a recommendation, by email or instant messenger (books are small in digital files!), and one way or another I get back the same serendipity and freedoms that I had with physical books, but without the limitations of lugging dead trees around with me.

But all this brings me to the title question; do I have to have a license to read a book, in the 21st century? If the Kindle model is ascendant in future, then apparently, yes, and it will be enforced by any e-readers I can get to work with it, and then we are looking at a world rather like that described by Richard Stallman in The Right to Read.

If it is like physical books, then there is no license needed by the reader. When I bought the three books mentioned above, I bought a physical object, which I could do with what I wanted, read how I liked, and subsequently give away or even sell secondhand however I liked. The content remains copyrighted, so I can not legally make and distribute further copies without a license, but to do any of the things mentioned, and to read any other book I acquired secondhand required no license, and no further approval or permission by the publisher or author (this is known in Europe as exhaustion of rights for copyright as well as patents, and in the USA as first sale doctrine).

The ability to share and redistribute purchased books have always been important to the wide dissemination of books and literature, which I hope we will agree is a Good Thing™ for our society; but with e-books no longer tied to a physical medium, sharing like this IS COPYING, by necessity, and restricting copying leads to Stallman’s nightmare dystopia.

So we need a model that still allows sharing, and although the Baen books do still have a copyright notice that says all the usual things, the reality is that’s mostly a holdover from the way things were; they aren’t in practice restricted like that, and I wouldn’t buy them if they were. If I were to resell copies, then I think I’d agree there would be a problem, because that would be a kind of fraud (I would be implying that I was an authorized reseller); but if I share copies on a non-commercial basis, then I don’t believe there’s an issue, and Baen themselves may well gain a new paying customer as a result.

To draw this to a conclusion, I will make a confession, which is that I do possess some unlicensed e-books, and I have read them, and I’d probably pass them on to anyone who might also like them. In the world of The Right to Read this would certainly be a criminal offence; in today’s world it’s certainly unlawful, though more likely to be a civil matter than a crime, and the actual damages are probably negligible.

There are many in the present publishing and media industries who are trying to force ebooks to be “like” physical books were, to maintain their business models and distribution methods the way they worked last century. I say rather that the new electronic formats are not like physical books, and that as a society we must find a new way, just as Baen and other publishers and authors have done, e.g. J.A. Konrath, and it’s likely I’ll be buying from there as well, for unrestricted e-books in a format of my choice, and which I can print and share if I want (see the author’s FAQ).

This is why I am a Pirate, why I will not use a Kindle or purchase restricted formats, and why I will always assert the right to read without anyone’s permission or licensing, and to share with others without ceding control of our devices to publishers and vendors.

Posted in Sharing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Nominating officer resignation

I have been a member of the Pirate Party UK since it formed, and since November 2009 I have also been Nominating officer for the party, which is one of the 5 member-elected voting positions on the National Executive Committee of the party.

The time has now come for me to resign this, and for someone fresh to take on that position. The main reason for this is that it’s now coming up for 2 years since I first took the position, and I believe that’s long enough, and that it’s time to move on.

In addition, as well as a change of leader during my time, with Loz Kaye taking over from Andrew Robinson, more recently we’ve had further changes to the NEC, with Andy Halsall taking over from Peter Brett as Campaigns officer, and Gavin Meredith taking the position of Treasurer. These changes should re-invigorate the party, however since I don’t plan to stay on the NEC through the next major election cycle (London 2012) it seems right that I should stand down sooner rather than later, for a new officer to come forward and become familiar with the role.

My final reason is that since I moved to Maidenhead at the start of this year, and with other changes in my life, I should be able to put myself forward as a prospective PPUK candidate in my area, and to promote Pirate activism in the general Maidenhead-Reading-Oxford region. Now that the previous election period is over, and the changes to the NEC described are complete, I am free to stand down as Nominating officer and put my time into more local activity.

What does a nominating officer do?

Most of the time the nominating officer is a relatively undemanding NEC role, compared to for example the Leader, Campaigns Officer, or Treasurer. That is one reason why I put myself forward for that role originally rather than one of the other positions, because I knew that working full-time I would have relatively limited time, and that I might be able to serve as Nominating officer where I could not take on another role.

The essential elements of the role are:

  • The basic requirements for any officer; attend the regular weekly NEC meetings, or send apologies, and to carry out actions from those where possible and report back in either case (this might seem too basic to point out, but our experience has been that it needs to be said)
  • To sign the electoral forms to confirm our candidates to returning officers as officially endorsed. In the case of individual candidates, such as local or constituency, this is a single page of the nomination papers the candidate prepares, in the case of list elections such as Scottish regions or European parliament it’s normally the entire nomination papers.
  • To delegate the signature of these forms where necessary, e.g. if needed because of the number of candidates, or simply to ensure that it isn’t dependent on a single person. My approach has been to delegate that to Regional administrative officers, acting within the appropriate electoral boundaries, and with a longer term eye to devolving it further given enough candidates and members to support that.
  • To act for the party in administrative changes and updates to the Electoral commission. Along with the Treasurer and the Leader, the Nominating officer is required for the party to make changes and confirm actions to the Electoral commission, and in the event other officers are failing, removed, or unavailable the Nominating officer becomes a lynch-pin for recovering the situation.
  • There may also be internally assigned duties and responsibilities, according to what the Nominating officer is willing to take on and the NEC wishes to assign.

The time and effort commitment needed does escalate during an election period, and also if there are party changes such as recently, so anyone proposing to take this on should realize that it does get frenetic and there may be times when you’re under pressure.

Candidate selection itself is not strictly the nominating officer’s role, as that has to be done according to party policy and practice as determined by the entire membership and the NEC of the day, and then the nominating officer or their assigned delegates see that is carried out correctly and that when candidates are confirmed for elections they meet those requirements.

During my time, I delegated signing authority for candidates to Regional administrative officers, who acted within electoral boundaries, which I think is right from an administrative perspective (not necessarily from a campaigns or activism perspective). As the Regional administrator position is under review and may be removed or changed, it will be a matter for the next nominating officer to work out whether and how to delegate.

In addition, while I was serving I normally took responsibility for internal party elections and member votes, which seems to be a natural fit with the Nominating officer position, and is another role which would make sense to delegate in future.

For internal voting, my achievements during that time were to see that we introduced preference voting not just first-past-the-post for member votes, and for the “vote receipt” concept so that members could verify their votes, combined with the use of the OpenSTV software so that the count process was transparent and member-repeatable, and separated from the vote collection
process so that in the event of any question about electoral process it would come down either to the collection process, or the count process, but not both together.

Future directions for me

I will still be remaining an active Pirate member, and as mentioned I propose to put myself forward as a Pirate candidate and promote local activism. I also intend to put myself forward for the position of Governor for the party, as and when the next Board elections are held.

My thanks to everyone who has helped me during my time on the NEC, it’s been quite a ride at times, and the story goes on…

Posted in Uncategorized | 24 Comments

Oxford Geek Night 22

The good geeks of Oxford were kind enough to let me do a 5-minute “microslot” talk at Oxford Geek Night 22, introducing the Pirate Party and the changing politics of a digital information age.

So I’d like to thank everyone for listening to what I had to say, and also those who took the time to speak to me afterwards, and while I’m here I’d like to remind you about the Oxford Pirates monthly meeting which I’ve been organizing, the next regular meeting of  which will be at the Four Candles on Thursday July 14th.

An approximate transcript of what I said is as follows:

Sharing is Caring, Pirate Party UK

What is the Pirate Party?

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

We are a relatively new party, having been in existence since 2009.

We live in a connected world today, where our ability to communicate and share information, knowledge and culture with each other has reached unprecedented levels, making our heads spin with the sheer rate of change that we’ve seen in recent years. And just as it makes our heads spin, our governments and established politicians have been left behind, either not understanding at all what has happened, or in some cases attempting to legislate for a digital world on the basis of declaring by fiat that it should all be similar to the analogue world of the 20th century.

That doesn’t work, and won’t work, because as I’m sure people here are well aware, digital reality is more than a simple analogy of the way things used to be, only with computers added to the mix.

The reality brings both opportunity and threat to our society. On one side, the fact that all of us can potentially communicate freely and directly with anyone else on the planet brings a vast gain to freedom of association and freedom of expression, and as we’ve seen in recent months in North Africa and the Arab world it is very hard to maintain totalitarian rule when it becomes no longer possible to keep a lid on freedom of expression, communication, and access to information without censorship.

At the same time, our own governments are also running scared of what this means, and as we’ve seen with the US government and Wikileaks, and with UK government ideas about controlling or censoring information on the internet, we still have to defend our civil freedoms in the new digital world, and that’s what the Pirate Party exists to do.

Something similar happens with our art and culture, when it no longer relies on being encoded in a physical medium, but becomes digital. After changes in the law during the last hundred years or a little more, we now have enormously long copyright duration, typically lasting multiple generations. Even so, this system did not impact as directly on individual citizens in previous centuries, when publishing a book, a record, anything, took capital investment, machinery, and required both distribution and disposal of excess physical copies.

Today, with digital media, peer-to-peer filesharing has revolutionised distribution, and we can see its success both as used by open-source software and by independent artists ready to take the plunge and take advantage of this. Today we all have copying devices, usually many of them, in the computers, smartphones, and other devices around us, all of which work by copying and transmitting copies of information – which means that copyright law, as it used to apply to physical media, now has a direct impact on each of our everyday lives where it never used to before.

Whatever the reason for exerting control, whether it is because of nervous governments, ours or those in other parts of the world, afraid of the idea of their citizens communicating freely both within in their borders and with citizens in other nations across the world, or whether it is the media and publishing industries of last century, afraid because the businesses they understood built around physical recorded media are no longer viable – whatever the reasons, if we citizens are unable freely to communicate and share digital information in a connected world, then we lose our freedoms of speech and communication, and we lose the greatest part of what is made possible by being connected to each other the way we are today.

Who here believes that we should all be free to use private communications, including encryption, to connect to others wherever they may be in the world? (I’m guessing most of you).

Unless there is a reason sufficient to justify criminal investigation, I assert that we all have that right to communicate privately, without being monitored or spied upon on any routine and regular basis, whether by governments or by business interests. And if we have that freedom, all of what I’ve been talking about follows, the inability to maintain censorship or copyright on private individuals in the way that might have been possible in an earlier age.

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