[LINK] Stallman: 'Threats to a Free Digital Society' - 21 Sep 2010

Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au
Tue Sep 21 17:02:41 EST 2010

Threats to a Free Digital Society
Richard Stallmaan
Tue 21 Sep 2010, WCC, Brisbane

[UNCHECKED NOTES taken while Richard was speaking, and sent as he  
finished his presentation.  Caveat:  They're bound to be at least  
partly WRONG (Richard has chastised me on a previous occasion ...).]

1.  Surveillance

Technologies to make Stalin proud
In the UK, car travel tracked by computer
Internet monitoring, at least of conversation participants

Being conducted in both 'free nations' and dictatorships
Data retention enables retrospective analysis by future dictators, in  
order to identify individuals and social networks

Economic barriers against location and tracking are being broken down  
as data collection becomes automated
Eavesdropping mode is available on current handsets?
20 years ago, an invitation to carry a tracking-device would have been  
declined;  but [almost] everyone now does

Australian Government doesn't want premature debate of their  
surveillance proposals.  (It's always too early to debate the question  
until it's too late to discuss the question).

2.  Censorship

A platform for convenient censorship.
Not just countries like China, but Denmark blocks, and the list is  
secret - or was until Wikileaks published it.

Australia is currently considering such a plan.
It's less well-known that Australia already censors the Internet.
Wikileaks is on that list.
EFA linked to a political web-site, and was threatened with an $11,000  
per day fine unless they broke the link, e.g.:
There's also a great deal of scope in Australia for accusations of  
assisting terrorism.

3.  Restrictive Data Formats

Works are published in formats that restrict users.
Audio and video are increasingly distributed in secret formats.
Access requires a Non-Disclosure Agreement, and a copy of the  
'standard' can only be leased.
Many sites use Flash, and reverse-engineering is both difficult.

Some formats are open but patented, e.g. MPEG2 for DVDs, but also MPEG4.
Companies are hesitant to distribute free software that accesses these  
Patents are granted for mere ideas which make trivial developments on  
previous ideas, and software producers are subject to lawsuits by  
multiple patent-holders.

4.  Software Out of Users' Control

Proprietary software controls users in the sense that the user is  
limited to the capabilities the proprietor permitted.

Free is not about price, but about:
0   to run the program as you wish
1   to study the source-code and change it as you wish
2   to help others by redistributing the program to others
3   to contribute by distributing your modified version to others

Proprietary software may contain features that benefit the proprietor  
and work against the user, e.g. MS Windows, with spyware and backdoors.
This represents takeover of the user's device.
He understands that these capabilities are in mobile phone OS as well.
DRM as Digital Restrictions Management.
Apple also through iTunes, but getting worse on iPhone and iPad.
Remote application deletion is enabled.
Adobe Flash Player take it gratis, but it has malicious features,  
incl. Super-Cookies for Surveillance which enable cross-identification  
between remote organisations.  Delete it NOW.

The Amazon swindle, aka the Kindle eBook reader, because of the  
digital handcuffs that undermine traditional freedoms of readers, such  
as buying a book anonymously;  and the freedom to give or sell the  
book - you only get a limited licence, not ownership;  and the freedom  
to keep as long as you wish and read as often as you wish.  A backdoor  
can remotely delete books.  Another sends people's notes back to Amazon.
They did it with '1984' - something he couldn't have made up.
They then promised not to ddo it again, unless ordered to do so by the  
State.  "I don't find that comforting".

With free software, malware can be found and removed, and the new  
version checked by others, and further distributed.  It's not a  
guarantee, but 'many eyes' is some defence, compared with no defence.

Software as a Service (SaaS) is a special challenge.
You create a new dependency.
The software might even be free;  but users have foregone that freedom  
by relying on someone else's device instead of their own.
And modifications made by the service-provider can't even by inspected.
Spyware and backdoors are likely to be inherent.
And the user's data is hostage to the software and hence the provider.  
  This may be merely accidental rather than malicious, but it still  
denies freedoms.

5.  The War on Sharing

Digital technology facilitates distribution of published works.
It's tremendously beneficial, and many people do it.
But commercial publishers don't want us to do it.

They attack in two ways:
-   they try to turn technology against users
-   they seek draconian punishments for people who share
They demand punishment (disconnection) without trial, purely on the  
basis of their accusation that the user has infringed their copyright.
They demand punishment even for people who run infrastructure such as  
open networks that are not password-protected.

Child porn filtering would establish capabilities that can be used for  
additional forms of filtering [including denial of service for  

Lobbying of Congress achieved the DMCA, to restrict use of software,  
even a link to a URL overseas which makes a cracking tool available.
In France, possession of a cracking tool is punishable by imprisonment.

There are other ways to support artists.

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