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    This was indisputably incorrect. A case of "industrial scale" infringement meriting a custodial sentence would never be brought to a fandom producer with an audience of a few dozen fans, and made to stick. Such cases are very rare anyway. The law simply doesn't apply to these cases.However the IPO now has a problem. Altogether 28 organisations responded, with 20 supporting bringing the online law into line with physical. Eight organisations opposed. Sixty-six individuals responded. And 938 responses came from the Open Rights Group’s campaign. That’s 92 per cent of all responses.Given that the ORG’s own response was misleading, we can conclude that many of the ORG-inspired respondents were in reality answering a question different to the one the IPO had actually posed. It’s a bit like asking the public whether grapefruit should be made illegal, and you get 1,000 respondents who are adamant that bananas shouldn’t be banned. What do you then do with replies? (There is a Two Ronnies sketch in this vein, which some older readers will remember).

    We gather that the IPO is weighing up how to grapple with this thorny issue. Perhaps it could it use 1/720th of the response, on the basis that even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day.And it isn’t just slacktivist NGOs. In India, the telecoms regulator TRAI has rejected more than three-quarters of the 1.8 million responses it received on a public consultation because they were auto-generated by Facebook.Either way, the strange notion that we people would participate more by doing less, but by doing less electronically, no longer looks very persuasive. Bastard Junket Watch, a website entirely devoted to plausible-sounding technical events, has sent up the email equivalent of an emergency flare. An event company which knows very little about IT (and cares even less) is hosting a five-day "Service Delivery for Technical Professionals" course in a month or so.

    Ordinarily a course like this is about as appealing as the shower scene in a Turkish prison during stabbing season, however the company concerned DOES distinguish itself by awarding fancy looking achievement certificates at the end of the course which look impressive on the office wall.(Again) Ordinarily I usually ask the certificate printers to just ensure that the output of the printer is as adjacent to the input of the shredder as possible, however in this particular case the certificates are like gold - partly because they have gold lettering (told you they were fancy) but also because they act as a form of proof of attendance.The event company is about as interested in IT as I am in the finer points of regulation international lawn bowls' grass height, however they do put a lot of effort into their social events - which often start around the time you check in and finish about the time you check out - either from the event or life itself. They like to think of themselves as innovators. So obviously you're in need of some proof that the course was robust and worthwhile...

    The Junket Watch priority signal is because the Service Delivery for IT Professionals gig has an overview of "Investigating case studies of Service Delivery methods in local industry" - the finer print noting that the local industry they're talking about is whisky distilleries in Islay. And it's basically a five-day coach tour...Given the company's policy of not permitting all members of a support team to be absent at the same time, the PFY and I are now engaged in an unspoken competition to be the person that the Director sends. In the words of the Highlander, there can be only one...The PFY lurches into play almost immediately, laughing at the Director's rubbish jokes and promising to upgrade the RAM on his top-of-the-line Ultrabook. He choked on his words a little when he found out that the stuff was soldered into the motherboard, but then a promise is a promise.

    So here we are: the PFY with his static protected needle-tip solder reworking station, the Director's laptop on the actively static-protected workdesk (which, to my knowledge has never been used since it was installed at great cost) – and me, with my paper bag to collect all the bits left over... which always happens when you take a priceless piece of kit to bits.In a rare show of sportsmanship I did point out to the PFY the wisdom of backing up the machine prior to starting work, however he just saw this as me trying to make the job take longer than he'd promised - so his hybrid solution is to plug the drive into a duplication cradle while he does the hot work. Sneaky."Now are you sure you've got the A and B drives in the right order?" I ask. "Wouldn't want to duplicate the formatted drive over the top of the original.""Now, the memory - a relatively simple desoldering job. Starting with some desoldering braid to remove the majority of the surface solder >ssssizzle<, more flux >squish< to aid the second pass of the desoldering braid, and now the tricky part - applying a bit of heat while just prying up on the corner of the DIMM - not too much pressure because we don't want to tear the tracks off the..."

     

    "I think you may have torn some of the tracks off the motherboard there," I say, leaning in and tapping on a suspiciously barren chunk of circuit board where some pads used to be whilst dropping the remains of the paper bag in the bin. After the PFY has scraped himself off the ceiling, that is.The Home Office has admitted to The Register that among its data breach incidents last year was one in which security vetting documents disappeared from within secured government premises.Through the Freedom of Information Act, The Register has learned that the Home Office – responsible for the UK's domestic counter-intelligence and security agency, MI5 – lost documents containing "sensitive personal information relating to security vetting." In a separate incident, at least one birth certificate was lost.The documents were "lost internally between the recipient of the postal package and the vetting team" within a Home Office government building, the department admitted, adding that "the contents had not been reviewed."

    Last year we reported that the Home Office suffered 33 data breaches which were not reported to the Information Commissioner's Office, although the department has now claimed one incident was noted incorrectly.There were eight instances in which "inadequately protected electronic equipment, devices or paper documents" had been lost "from outside secured government premises", 13 instances of "Unauthorised Disclosure" and nine listed under "Other".The majority of data breaches under "unauthorised disclosure" focused on borders and immigration activity. They included a commercial partner's error in which about 150 data subjects had their details lost, although no further information was provided about who the commercial partner was, nor how the Home Office was sure about the figure of 150.Why is it that an office printer manages to churn out pages day after day without delay or complaint, yet chooses to play silly buggers the moment you are in a hurry?The green activity light is blinking nicely and my print queue is processing correctly but nothing is coming out of the printer apart from long stretches of silence punctuated by an increasingly frustrating staccato of noisy mechanical buzzes, crunches and farts.

    The clock ticks, I don my shoes and coat, ready for a quick getaway. I don’t have a vast number of sheets to print but I do want them printed right away so I can catch the train. The alternative is to hunt for a print shop close to my destination, or plead with my client on my arrival to let me use one of their printers, and that always looks unprofessional.Hee-haw-hee-haw-hee-haw-hee-haw. Guh guh guh guh guh. Whoo dang-dang, whoo dang-dang.Great, it’s gone full beatbox. Stop all that electro-grunting and just print, you techno twat.I think it has switched into pornstar mode and is trying to shag the adjacent document shredder.Opening its front panel, I pull out the tray to check the cartridges. It appears that the printer components have been celebrating Holi nine weeks early: it is swirling with multicoloured powder everywhere.I pull out the carts and deadly toner continues to trickle out. There is now multicoloured powder on the floor, my hands and swirling through the office air, seeping dangerously through my pores, darting murderously into my lungs.

    “Toner running low” reads the LCD display on the front of the machine. My printer is nothing if not a sarcastic bastard.I dash out to catch the train, paperless. I am confident there is a print shop right next to the station when I arrive, but it turns out that it has been closed down so the site can be redeveloped into yet more luxury penthouse flats.How many of these luxury flats do we need? Is the long-term plan to ensure that the entire population of central London is made up of Russian gangsters while the rest of us commute in daily from our hovels in the nearest affordable suburb, such as Inverness?Arriving at my client, I plead to make use of a printer so I can get my presentation documents done. A great deal of fuss is caused to accommodate my request, quite unnecessarily in my opinion, accompanied by a chorus of childish snorting and harrumphing by several of my client’s minions who have been forced to temporarily share their oxygen with someone who actually works for a living.Their firewall is so strict that I am not allowed to print from my laptop, so I cause more upset by forcing one minion to suspend his terribly important Facebook session so I can print from his PC.

    I log in to Dropbox, only to find that it hasn’t properly synced from my computer at home and my documents aren’t there for me to print. To save face, I output a few random business PDFs anyway, plus a few pages from a bestiality porn site so that the harrumphing tit whose PC I have borrowed can enjoy a wild-eyed visit from Human Resources later that week.In the end, I improvise at the client meeting with the help of a flipchart and a thick black pen that I keep at the bottom of my backpack for just these occasions. I duly win the contract and head home feeling more relaxed and less intent on kicking the fucking shit out of my laser printer when I get there.On the way back, I read the results of a survey which says small businesses like mine are proving resistant to office technology. Apparently, 65 per cent of us would rather write things down with a pen than manage our diaries, notes and to-do lists with tech solutions.No less astonishing is the discovery that as many as one-fifth of those questioned in the business survey shamefully admitted to relying on “nothing more than memory” to know what they are doing at any time.

    Just think, they’re using memory! In their brains! Oh, the horror.Admittedly, I have consciously cultivated my image in this column as a grumpy old Luddite but those who know me also know that I enjoy surrounding myself with tech gadgets. My grumpiness is simply the result of my honest appreciation that none of these gadgets can be relied upon in any respect whatsoever, and least of all on those occasions when you absolutely need them to work.The survey’s sign-off line giggles at twerps like me for making heavy use of smartphones and tablets for document creation without even being able to print documents directly from them. “Many who think they are up to date with business technology are often very poorly connected,” it says.Well, it’s hardly my fault that Apple has specifically designed iOS to be wirelessly incompatible with my existing printer. Expecting me to purchase a new printer to support the inadequacies of the iPhone is taking the piss. If a mobile phone’s audio speaker is weak and tinny, should I upgrade my friends and only accept calls from people with deep, booming voices?

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    Blackwood noted that there are "widespread doubts over the definition, not to mention the definability, of a number of the terms used in the draft Bill”, and the report specifically highlighted that there are "questions as to how collecting and storing ICRs is technically possible, and whether Data Retention Notices to retain all user ICRs are 'necessary and proportionate'."When such concerns were first raised, UK home secretary Theresa May dismissed them before Parliament by claiming that: “If someone has visited a social media website, an internet connection record will only show that they accessed that site, not the particular pages they looked at, who they communicated with, or what they said. It is simply the modern equivalent of an itemised phone bill.”Government must urgently review the legislation so that the obligations on the industry are clear and proportionate.
    This has been disputed, however. As legal expert Graham Smith told The Register: “We didn't read books over the telephone, but as an entirely accidental by-product of communications technology, our reading habits are now trackable.”

    Smith was further cited by the report as “pointing out that the draft Bill itself uses the term 'internet connection record' only in clause 47 and that this differs from the way in which 'relevant communications data' are defined in clause 71 (which details the powers to require retention of certain data).”The report stated that Smith “described how the scope of 'relevant communications data' depended on thirteen interlinked definitions, and concluded that 'the clause 71 power looks as if it may cover a wider range of communications data than is achieved by adding 'Internet Connection Records' to the current list of retainable communications data.'”All of which the committee found important, as any assessment of the feasibility of collecting and storing ICRs “depends on what they actually are.” The committee chair advocated that Government "urgently review the legislation so that the obligations on the industry are clear and proportionate." For many onlookers one of the most concerning clauses of the bill is 189(4)(c), as it provides the government with the ability to impose “obligations relating to the removal of electronic protection applied by a relevant operator to any communications or data.”

    The Government's line on the matter is that it has no desire to “ban or limit cryptography”, and indeed this was trotted out recently in its response to a January petition on cryptography. How service providers were expected the fulfil their obligation under 189(4)(c) while transmitting end-to-end encrypted communications was unexplained.The committee noted: “Apple and other communications companies have expressed concerns about whether the draft Bill might require them to adopt weaker standards of encryption. Apple have also reportedly stated that the draft Investigatory Powers Bill could be a catalyst for other countries to enact similar measures, leading to significant numbers of contradictory country-specific laws.”As former MP for Cambridge, Dr Julian Huppert, noted, it is “unclear what would happen if a court were to be asked to take action against an operator who was unable to comply with this power because of the fundamental nature of their product: Any decentralised communications system is likely to render this clause impossible to comply with.”

    The Government needs to do more to allay unfounded concerns that encryption will no longer be possible. The Home Office told the committee that communications service providers would be expected to serve up plaintext data when ordered to do so. The report understood that this “would not apply to content that is encrypted end-to-end before being passed to the communications provider for transmission: 'What has to be removed is the electronic protection that the service-provider itself has put on the message. It is not removing encryption; it is removing electronic protection.”The report concluded that the Government “should clarify and state clearly in the Codes of Practice that it will not be seeking unencrypted content in such cases, in line with the way existing legislation is currently applied.”Blackwood herself concurred: “Encryption is important in providing the secure services on the internet we all rely on, from credit card transactions and commerce to legal or medical communications. It is essential that the integrity and security of legitimate online transactions is maintained if we are to trust in, and benefit from, the opportunities of an increasingly digital economy.”She asserted that: “The Government needs to do more to allay unfounded concerns that encryption will no longer be possible.”

    Hack, or “Interfere with the Equipment of” the Planet!
    The report also considers "equipment interference" - hacking - and notes that it “encompasses a wide range of activity from remote access to computers to downloading covertly the contents of a mobile phone during a search.” Such interference has been consistently defended in in an environment increasingly featuring the widespread use of cryptography.In his submission, the University of Cambridge's Ross Anderson acknowledged that the “right way to get around encryption is targeted equipment interference, and that is hack the laptop, the phone, the car, the Barbie doll or whatever of the gang boss you are going after, so that you get access to the microphones, to the cameras, and to the stored data. The wrong way to do it is bulk equipment interference.”

    The report cited Big Brother Watch, which noted that “weakening a system does not mean that only law enforcement or the intelligence agencies can exploit it—'The system can be exploited by anyone who uncovers the weakness, including malicious actors, rogue states, or non-Government hackers'.”We believed the industry case regarding public fear about 'equipment interference' is well founded.
    Alarmingly clause 99 of the Snoopers' Charter would oblige domestic communication service providers to assist the Government in its hacking activities, while clause 102 wold make it a criminal offence for “any person employed for the purposes of the business of the relevant telecommunications provider” to disclose “any steps taken in pursuance” of this assistance.According to industry witnesses, this offence would be inevitable for companies who open source their code, and thus were unable to conceal anything which had been tampered with from the public. The committee reported that it believed “the industry case regarding public fear about 'equipment interference' is well founded.”

    As such, the committee recommended that the new Investigatory Powers Commissioner should report to the public on the extent to which these measures are used for security reasons, and should also “carefully monitor public reaction to this power.”Blackwood said: “It is vital we get the balance right between protecting our security and the health of our economy.We need our security services to be able to do their job and prevent terrorism, but as legislators we need to be careful not to inadvertently disadvantage the UK’s rapidly growing Tech sector.” Years ago, we were told that mass democratic participation was was going to be revolutionised by the web. One click was all it would take to effect change - if only enough people clicked. We would tweet truth to power. Instead of arranging to see an elected representative, we could fill in a handy web form. The future belonged to the web savvy, and their “swarm intelligence”. Against this, The Man wouldn’t stand a chance!Three examples this week suggest otherwise, reminding us that robo-responses are zapped faster than any shredder in the world can destroy paper.

    Last week the UK government ripped up a public consultation into the future of the BBC because almost all the responses came from one source, the pressure group 38 Degrees. The group claims to have 3 million members and organises campaigns on a range of Left-leaning issues, describing itself modestly thus:“38 Degrees is the angle at which snowflakes come together to form an avalanche – together we're unstoppable.” But 38 Degrees doesn’t look so unstoppable today.The group generated 177,000 ranty emails to the Ministry of Fun*, warning Culture Minister John Whittingdale not to “rip the heart out of the BBC”.38 Degrees didn’t put any checks in place to stop people sending multiple letters. DCMS had to pull 25 staff from their normal duties to deal with the robotically assisted avalanche, or 10,000 man-hours of work. Eventually 92 per cent of all the responses for the consultation were sourced via 38 Degrees. Whittingdale decided this was unrepresentative, scrapped the consultation, and has started it all over again.

    The EU this week binned thousands of responses to a copyright consultation generated by a Canadian lobbying group OpenMedia, a groupuscule funded by Canada’s technology industry. In December, OpenMedia declared that the European Commission was going to “copyright the hyperlink” and urged people to submit a roboform to “Save The Link”. Scared out of their wits, 75,000 people did just that.The problem was that the scare was entirely bogus. Even academics hostile to copyright declared that the EU wasn’t proposing anything of the sort. The protections safeguarding publishers large and small would remain intact.The government has another robo-problem on its plate, also caused by opening up policy to the wisdom of the slacktivists.Last summer the IPO sought views (pdf) on industrial scale online copyright infringement.This is mildly remarkable in itself; we don’t normally invite criminals to decide how long they should spend in prison, and sentencing has historically been left to our independent judiciary, not crowd-pleasing politicians. An independent judiciary is regarded as the hallmark of a free and open society. But let’s park that one for a moment.In the UK, punishments for criminal-scale infringement are different for physical and online infringement, with punishments for physical infringement, such as bootlegging DVDs, set higher – to a maximum of 10 years. But broadband is now ubiquitous, and you can “bootleg” online by operating a pirate site on a far greater scale and far more easily than you can copy physical DVDs.

    The 2005 Gowers Review recommended raising the online sentences to match the physical sentences. The consultation posed the question: “Should the maximum custodial sentence available for online and offline copyright infringement of equal seriousness be harmonised at 10 years?”Once again, a pressure group swung into action. The law shouldn’t keep pace with technology. The Open Rights Group, while acknowledging that online infringement could lead to economic losses in the millions, argued that sentences were already too tough.Like OpenMedia, the ORG raised a scare-based campaign, advising, improbably, that:“Many internet innovators, prosumers, online creative communities that create non-profit derivative works, fandom producers, etc. All these people – many of whom technically breach copyright in their activities – could find themselves facing prison sentences if making available carried a maximum sentence of ten years.”