What’s Been Happening Since November?

Publications, Papers and Interviews

Despite not publishing any articles since November, the last nine months have been productive. I have been working on papers for the OECD and CIGI, published articles for Chatham House, the New Statesman, and IoN magazine, and taken part in a Reuters TV interview on the so-called Snoopers’ Charter.

The Snooper’s Charter

Shortly after the election in May, the British government revived the Data Communications Bill, or ‘Snooper’s Charter’. The proposed law would require retention of metadata on a mass scale.

The Bill will require all mobile and Internet service providers to retain users’ metadata (your whereabouts, when you say what you say, to whom you’re saying it) for twelve months and make it available to the security services.

The Charter was blocked by the Lib Dems during the last parliament, but is making a comeback on the grounds of combatting terror.

However, as discussed in my New Statesman article, and in my Reuters TV interview, mass surveillance is likely to be ineffective as a countermeasure against terrorism.

“When you’re watching everything, you’re seeing nothing.” (Bruce Schneier, Data and Goliath, 2015)

There are better alternative security policy options. The most effective strategies against extremism are targeted surveillance and in-depth investigation. The Snooper’s Charter proposes a tactic that is far more effective against high-volume activity such as credit card fraud. Terrorism, however, consists of rare, exceptional events.

Above all, we should be wary of removing civil liberties on a mass scale, in the name of “security”.

Since those articles were published, existing data retention legislation (DRIPA) has been ruled unlawful by the High Court.

Published Articles

I have produced several articles covering ICANN and the impact that the new gTLD program has had on Rights Protection Mechanisms. My article on the Y2k bug was published in the Summer edition of ‘The World Today’, a bi-monthly publication for Chatham House.

In a piece for IoN magazine, I reviewed ICANN’s 2014 accounts. There’s cash in the bank, but salaries are now 55% of turnover and travel expenditure has gone through the roof. It bears saying again: ICANN needs a membership. As I put it, “Membership rights provide the script for company meetings, forcing directors to explain the company’s performance to people who have the power to fire them.”

“Membership rights provide the script for company meetings, forcing directors to explain the company’s performance to people who have the power to fire them.” (‘Swallow the Money’, IoN magazine, 2015.)

In a second IoN article, I explore the effectiveness of ICANN’s new Rights Protection Mechanisms. In the new gTLD roll-out, complex systems have evolved to deal with a small number of disputes. In fact, less than 0.1% of the Internet’s 58 million domain registrations is ever involved in a dispute.  The new rights protection mechanisms have hardly been used. Just 35,000 trademarks have been registered with the Trademark Clearinghouse, 207 cases of infringement filed with the National Arbitration Forum and 19 with the Asian Domain Name Dispute Resolution Centre. And no Sunrise Dispute Resolution cases at all. Where brand protection is concerned, should “proportionality” and “simplicity” be our watchwords in future?

My article for ‘The World Today’ revisits the Y2k bug [login required]. Nothing much happened at midnight, on Jan 1, 2000, did it? Some trains stopped in Norway. But the run-up to the non-event provided cover for much-needed systems updating around the world, and it forced governments and other institutions to think about security. On 9/11, the Federal Reserve used its Y2K business continuity plans to help keep payments systems operational.

Coming Soon

Finally, there are two upcoming papers that I have been working on for the OECD and CIGI.

The first has a working title of “Fragmentation of the Internet”. The aim of this paper is to explore the issue through a variety of lenses. Many believe the Internet’s success is down to the openness of its protocols.

We know that networks are dynamic: the forces that keep them together are the ones that could pull them apart. What do we discover looking at trends in Internet protocols? What are the impacts on the openness of the provider market at content level?

The second is a paper on the Privatisation of Human Rights for the CIGI. States are responsible for safeguarding our fundamental rights, but when they don’t take action, companies end up having to pick up the pieces.  The paper explores the risks of allowing private actors unchecked power over online life.

I explore possible solutions for those who are concerned about the privacy of their data. These include paid alternatives, cooperation of stakeholders, and limited opt-out solutions.

Both papers will be viewable from the site once published.