Red Alert

Archive for the ‘internet’ Category

Why a spy-free internet should be a human right

Posted by on June 14th, 2014

Last Wednesday I had an opinion piece published in the Dominion Post titled Why a spy-free internet should be a human right. Unfortunately it hasn’t been put online (still) so I can’t link to it.

However I have posted below the fuller version of the piece I submitted to the Dom Post. An edited version was published.

New Zealand: a nation of  digital pioneers or laggards

On 10 June 2013 Labour made the first public statement of concern just days after news broke that the equivalent of the GCSB had been routinely monitoring US citizens’ phone calls, texts and social media activity. Our voice was joined by hundreds of thousands of Kiwis as the National Government, abetted  by Peter Dunne, pushed two pieces of law through Parliament to provide the GCSB with wide ranging invasive powers which extend into all of our technology companies and reduce their ability to innovate without asking for permission first.

We New Zealanders place a very high value on our open democracy. But without privacy, there can be no democracy. How can you even consider dissent when the state is listening to everything you say? Of course security also is necessary for democracy, but there needs to be a balance between them. The recent revelations about surveillance show this balance has been ignored.

John Key has told us that security is more important than anything, but he didn’t say why. Through Snowden, we now know about the mind-boggling reach of state surveillance into citizens’ homes. New Zealand’s link through the five eyes network raises questions about our role in the US-led global surveillance network and the impact of that surveillance on the relationship between the New Zealand state and its own citizens. It is frightening that this has been done in the name of security by the free world.

Half of New Zealand’s population has a Facebook account. Three quarters of households have an Internet connection and 60% of us have smartphones. We are becoming completely reliant on the Internet and the technologies that make it work. Our financial systems rely on data storage and secure electronic transactions; our personal data is stored and manipulated by companies and government, yet we now find that the information security we depend on for the security of our data and our economy as been deliberately undermined to make surveillance easier.

Labour says that access to the Internet should be a right just like the right to free expression. This is more than rhetoric. Any prospective government in 2014 should make this policy, and must make the internet off-limits to government interference.

Our current Bill of Rights Act dates back to 1990 when almost no-one had heard of the Internet, let alone used it. How things have changed! Labour has proposed a Digital (or Internet) Bill of Rights setting out what we can all do online. The Greens also have proposed declaratory piece of legislation along the same lines. The Internet Party has proposed reforming the Privacy Act, reviewing surveillance laws and strengthening human rights protection and Internet freedom. All these approaches have merit and we want to see a discussion among New Zealand’s excellent legal, tech and human rights-focused community. It is essential that we protect citizens’ privacy, encourage innovation and keep New Zealand a progressive country with a responsible approach to its own national security. We should take care to get it right, but we should not take too long.

These things will have a profound impact on society, and position us as a pioneer or as a laggard in the digital world. A Labour-led government will drive and implement a digital rights framework. We will do this alongside an inquiry into our surveillance agencies, in particular the GCSB, and we will recast our security laws. We say that our citizens should not be exposed to blanket mass surveillance.

The National Party and the right are disinterested, perhaps deliberately because this discussion leads to uncomfortable questions about surveillance and privacy. But the parties on the left have the public’s ears and their hearts.

New Zealand has always been a forward-looking nation. Recognising Internet access as a fundamental human right and enshrining it as part of our civil society is our next progressive step. As Sir Tim Berners Lee, creator of the world wide web, recently said, “unless we have an open, neutral internet…we can’t have open government, good democracy, good healthcare, connected communities and diversity of culture.” If we don’t act to avoid the digital divide becoming entrenched we risk lack of digital access resulting in second-class digital citizenship.

New Zealand would certainly not be alone in enacting such a bill or declaration. Brazil as already adopted one. There is a bipartisan movement in the US Congress to do so. The movement is becoming global, and New Zealand must be part of it. Labour envisages a dynamic public interaction with the progression of rights-friendly digital legislation.

By forging a rights-friendly approach to the Internet and data issues, New Zealand will establish its reputation as a digital hub for innovation. More tech companies will be attracted here and more start-ups that need digital connectivity will be able engage effectively with the rest of the world. New Zealand’s emerging digital economy relies on its reputation as a trustworthy place to do business and to promote innovation. Secretive surveillance laws and uncertain rights around the Internet are a threat to this. Labour is committed to match security laws with strong privacy protections and to protect our civil liberties.

Across the globe people are demanding the right to access the internet, the right to privacy, free speech and to a neutral internet.  Without these there can be no open government, no good democracy, no connected communities and no diversity of culture. Just as the Internet transcends national boundaries, a Labour-led government will work with other countries to agree a common set of principles and rights on the Internet. We challenge the other parties in New Zealand to agree to do likewise. We embrace the multi-stakeholder approach of our very own Internet NGO, InternetNZ, which was worked to ensure a framework that keeps governments and corporates at arms length from controlling the Internet.

An international standard, which articulates not so much the values of Western democracy, but the values and importance that underlie an open internet. Is not this truly new and ground-breaking evolutionary thinking and does it not show how the internet is transforming the world away from traditional notions of governance?

Let us recast ourselves as the pioneers of digital thinking and not remain laggards. Our small country has leapt before into unchartered waters based on our shared beliefs in what is right. We can do it again.

The internet. The new frontier

Posted by on April 1st, 2012

Vanity Fair on who should/could control the internet and whether it’s even possible to. Affects all of us. Great graphic. Worth a read.

World War 3.0

TWO FUTURES? Privacy, piracy, security, sovereignty—the divisions on these issues reflect an even deeper split between those who want tight control and those who want unfettered freedom.

When the Internet was created, decades ago, one thing was inevitable: the war today over how (or whether) to control it, and who should have that power. Battle lines have been drawn between repressive regimes and Western democracies, corporations and customers, hackers and law enforcement. Looking toward a year-end negotiation in Dubai, where 193 nations will gather to revise a U.N. treaty concerning the Internet, Michael Joseph Gross lays out the stakes in a conflict that could split the virtual world as we know it.

Stephen Doyle
Read the rest here

The sky is rising… at last some decent data emerging

Posted by on January 31st, 2012

Have been sent this link several times in the last few minutes.
Will post again on this issue as there’s quite a bit to discuss.

Has the internet decimated the entertainment industry or are we living in a new renaissance for both content creators and consumers…

Obama recently scuttled SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) in the US, but it’s likely another bill will emerge that gives the entertainment industry mroe control over internet distribution of material.

In NZ, the TPPA talks have highlighted increasing concern around our ability as a nation to control our own innovation and creative works and raised questions about our ability to implement our own copyright laws.

Today it appears that the traditional vested interests behind the entertainment industry have been fudging things a bit:

The Sky Is Rising!
For years now, the legacy entertainment industry has been predicting its own demise, claiming that the rise of technology, by enabling easy duplication and sharing — and thus copyright infringement — is destroying their bottom line. If left unchecked, they say, it is not only they that will suffer, but also the content creators, who will be deprived of a means to make a living. And, with artists lacking an incentive to create, no more art will be produced, starving our culture. While it seems obvious to many that this could not possibly be true, since creators and performers of artistic content existed long before the gatekeepers ever did, we’ve looked into the numbers to get an honest picture of the state of things. What we found is that not only is the sky not falling, as some would have us believe, but it appears that we’re living through an incredible period of abundance and opportunity, with more people producing more content and more money being made than ever before. As it turns out… The Sky Is Rising!

I haven’t read it fully yet, but  am relieved there is some decent data emerging at last to demonstrate the clear success of new business models which provide content via the internet quickly and at a low cost.

I hope NZ won’t get left behind

A nation of makers #8

Posted by on January 24th, 2012

The ODT reports today yesterday:

Dunedin-based technology company PocketSmith is one of six finalists in the BNZ Start-Up Alley competition.

The competition is to help grow New Zealand’s web and technology start-up businesses.

Pocketsmith has a competitive personal finance management tool that allows users to track their expenses.

Pocketsmith is part of the University of Otago’s Centre for Innovation Distiller community.

I first visited Pocketsmith at the Distiller about two year’s ago. They were starting to make an impact then. The Distiller is a group of people (they call themselves technopreneurs) who work on their own projects, but work co-operatively and sometimes collaborate. They share space, ideas out of their creative enviroment comes great ideas. They call it social entrepeneurship.

NBR wrote about them mid last year;

PocketSmith co-founder Jason Leong told NBR his company’s success was all down to the power of open source development, the software-as-a-service (or SaaS) model for delivering your product over the internet, and the viral power of social networking and professional community sites.

Read more about how they have become a success story here.

Good on them.

Farrar on censorship

Posted by on January 18th, 2012

This morning, this is what David Farrar blogged on the US SOPA Bill which was blocked by Obama:

My views are simple. No Government should censor the Internet.

Earlier this morning he was on Radio NZ commenting (in his role as right wing commentator)  on the NZ on Air fiasco saying it is:

 “perfectly reasonable for programmes that NZ on Air fund to have small scheduling restrictions during politically sensitive periods.

So it’s ok to censor the broadcaster and use the government agency that funds it to restrict New Zealander’s access to well produced evidence-based documentaries that raise legitimate concerns about important issues facing the nation during an election campaign.

But we mustn’t censor the internet. According to Farrar.

Inconsistent. I don’t agree with the scheduling of many programmes on television. I certainly don’t think that politicians should be interferring in, when and if material can be shown on television during an election campaign. If the issue was lack of balance, then there are places to complain. The BSA and the Electoral Commission. That’s what should have happened.

NZ on Air should never have got involved in the issue. That they did, appears to be because of inappropriate politically motivated pressure.

Suggestions that publicly funded programmes should not be aired during an election campaign reveal serious cracks in our democratic process and must be resisted.

How important is IP to our economy

Posted by on January 17th, 2012

Last night a proposed law passing through the United States Congress was blocked by Obama.

California congressman Darrell Issa, an opponent of Sopa, the Stop Online Piracy Act, said he had been told by House majority leader Eric Cantor that there would be no vote unless there is consensus on the bill.

Congressional leaders are preparing to shelve controversial legislation aimed at tackling online piracy after president Barack Obama said he would not support it.

The tech community has fought hard to stop Sopa and a rival bill, Protect IP, also known as the Enforcing and Protecting American Rights Against Sites Intent on Theft and Exploitation Act, or the e-Parasite act. Websites including Reddit and Wikipedia are planning to “go dark” on Wednesday in protest against the legislation. Issa said he remained concerned about Protect IP, which will go before the Senate on 24 January.

But both bills now look severely damaged after the White House came out firmly against their biggest proposals at the weekend.

“Let us be clear – online piracy is a real problem that harms the American economy, threatens jobs for significant numbers of middle-class workers and hurts some of our nation’s most creative and innovative companies and entrepreneurs,” the White House said in its first official comment on Sopa and Protect IP.

However, the White House said it would not support legislation that “reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risks or undermines the dynamic, innovative global internet.”

Though it doesn’t get a lot of coverage in mainstream media, and it’s not a well understood issue, the battle between the entertainment industry and the technology sector has been raging for some time. (Rupert Murdoch has weighed into it in the last few days as well).  The biggest manifestation of that battle has been the row over online piracy and the punitive laws  that countries across the world are being pressured to comply with. Laws that include a provision to disconnect people from the internet from infringing copyright. Laws concerning patents are also under the spotlight.

In New Zealand, there’s a law waiting to complete its passage through parliament which excludes computer software from being patented. The Commerce Committee recommendation, which was accepted by the then Minister Simon Power, believed this would free up NZ software developers to be innovative without fear of being trampled on by big patent suits. Copyright was seen as the appropriate form of protection for software (which is built on code), along with music, books and other creative endeavours. But that law has sat on our books for more than 18 months.

There have been worrying signs for a while that New Zealand’s creative and innovation sector could get caught up in the international battle being waged.

In December, Paul Matthews, the head of the NZ Computer Society wrote a column about how how changes to NZ’s patent law could be caught up in the negotiations going on for the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

I’ve been watching the SOPA issue develop over the summer with concern. Others may have views about the implications for NZ and our part of the world.

Thankfully Obama has stepped into the fray. The issues are complex. Online piracy is an issue. But it’s mostly an issue because ordinary people can’t access the material they want easily through legal means. Sensible laws are required to protect creators and their intellectual property. Laws and policies are also required to help promote new business models that use the enormous power of the internet to give people more access to services and material and to help spark innovation.

What lies behind this is about who controls the internet. Thankfully the White House seems to understand that.

The two bills aim to tackle online piracy by preventing American search engines like Google and Yahoo from directing users to sites distributing stolen materials. The bills would also allow people and companies to sue if their copyright was being infringed.

The White House expressed concern about both these elements and about passing legislation that threatened the openness of the internet. In the online statement it said any new legislation must be “narrowly targeted”.

Vikram Kumar, the CEO of InternetNZ, a respected and thoughtful think tank, also wrote about the two US laws in yesterday’s NBR. He warned of threats to our national interest by:

laws written by powerful corporates and expeditiously passed into law word-for-word.

He was echoing the sentiments of internet guru Lawrence Lessig,  who spoke at last year’s Nethui in NZ about the corruption destroying the United States’ democratic foundations.

Chris Keall from NBR wrote about the streetfight battle in yesterday’s NBR.

These issues aren’t always easy to get your head around. But like most things they have some principles at their core. Ownership of intellectual property is one. Intellectual property  means exclusive rights to a variety of intangible assets, such as musical, literary, and artistic works; discoveries and inventions.

Yesterday I got a tip off that the mysterious visit to our shores by a high powered US delegation of congress and senate reps last week wasn’t just about a first-hand look at Christchurch’s earthquake damage. Talks were also being held about the TPPA. Who with? and what was the substance?

I think New Zealand needs to consider its own best interests and the importance of our intellectual property and innovation to our own economy. Quantifying that should be a priority. We can’t sell ourselves short.

We are a lot more than a high protein export nation.  I’d like more discussion about this issue across the parliament. The copyright debates we’ve had in the last few years are just a subset of a much bigger economic discussion. What is the value of our IP to our nation?

Great site for a wet summer’s day

Posted by on December 22nd, 2011

Not that I hope there are many.  Papers Past looks great.  H/t John Pagani.

I found this in two minutes. Opposing Mallards playing cricket in Jan 1869. One got 11 wickets in the match – but made two ducks.

Filed under: internet

Morality tale #2

Posted by on August 14th, 2011

Social order, corporate dominance vs free speech and the taming of the internet. How important is this?

Can and should governments be able to shut down social media and disable citizens access to the internet during times of social unrest? And if they can do that, what else can they do? Have a read of this:

One of the anti-riot measures recently suggested by British PM David Cameron is to prevent rioters from using Twitter and other social networking websites. Such a tactic, which was slammed as a trick resorted to only by authoritarian governments in the past, has had a great impact on world media.

The bold measure indicates that Britain is at its wit’s end on how to stop the country’s worst riots in decades.

Cameron’s suggestion to block social networking websites smashes basic concepts of freedom of speech in the West, which always takes the moral high ground in criticizing the reluctant development of Internet freedom in developing countries.

The violence has brought a comprehensive and diverse influence on the whole of the West. Created by globalization and the development of the Internet, the headache of governance suffered by developing countries has now spread to their developed peers.

Democracy and freedom of speech should have their pragmatic connotations and denotations. The Chinese edition website of the Financial Times carried an article on Friday titled “What is the bottom line of freedom of speech?” Fanned by the rapid development of the Internet, the requirement for freedom of speech is trespassing the boundaries of the current political system in the West, it warned.

I wrote a post in January about this after the riots in Egypt when the government attempted to shut down the internet. Back then it seemed unthinkable that a western democracy would contemplate such a thing. But in the UK that’s what’s now being discussed.

There is a much wider context to this debate. It’s called net neutrality. And yes, it’s about power and vested interests. So watch out.

Net neutrality is the guiding principle that preserves the free and open Internet. Net Neutrality means that Internet service providers may not discriminate between different kinds of content and applications online. It guarantees a level playing field for all Web sites and Internet technologies. But all that could change.

I believe any government should be very very careful before it rushes out in the heat of the moment promising to shut down communication channel in order to preserve social order.  Doing that affects all of us. And some fundamental principles upon which our society and our political system is built.

Can we work together on some things?

Posted by on July 4th, 2011

The internet was conceived on the ideas of equality and access. People sharing and making new things happen.

In the spirit of this, I participated in a panel discussion last Friday at NetHui in Auckland. The topic was  government and openness. What it might look like in 2020.

During the discussion I asked my fellow politicians on the panel, Nikki Kaye, National and Gareth Hughes, Green, if we could form a cross parliamentary group to see where we could find some commonalities on the important issues facing us in becoming more open.

They agreed. Our first meeting could be this week. We’ll keep you posted.

If you’d like to see the panel discussion click here

One of the most powerful of speeches…

Posted by on July 3rd, 2011

Late last week I spent a day and a half at NetHui in Auckland. Couldn’t make the full 3 days. It’s a new initiative, organised by InternetNZ.

It will be an annual event. That all MPs should attend and all of you.

It was all about the internet. What it means for us. What the opportunities and the scary challenges are. And that it’s about equality.

Lawrence Lessig was the keynote speaker.

Some takeout messages:

  • Kids, dropouts, outsiders have been the innovators and have developed the major changes on the internet
  • The internet is about reviving a culture of passive consumption to re-creating a culture of sharing, participation and making new stuff.
  • The need for truth tellers about the network.
  • The enormous challenges for policy-makers and law makers. One of which is for politicians to move away from a culture of being funded  and therefore influenced by private interests. To halt law-making by lobbyists. And consider other ways.
  • How NZ could become a beacon of light in showing the way forward on many of the issues that arise because of the internet

If you watch nothing else for a while, watch his speech. It’s on Youtube in 3 parts.

Part 2 is here

Part 3 is here

It’s time for a complete review of our copyright laws

Posted by on June 4th, 2011

I agree with this.

It’s time for a complete review of our IP laws in NZ.

UN Report Says Internet Three Strikes Laws Violate International Law
Friday June 03, 2011
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression has released an important new report that examines freedom of expression on the Internet.  The report is very critical of rules such as graduated response/three strikes, arguing that such laws may violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Canada became a member in 1976). Moreover, the report expresses concerns with notice-and-takedown systems, noting that it is subject to abuse by both governments and private actors.

On the issue of graduated response, the report states:

he is alarmed by proposals to disconnect users from Internet access if they violate intellectual property rights. This also includes legislation based on the concept of “graduated response”, which imposes a series of penalties on copyright infringers that could lead to suspension of Internet service, such as the so-called “three strikes-law” in France and the Digital Economy Act 2010 of the United Kingdom.

Beyond the national level, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) has been proposed as a multilateral agreement to establish international standards on intellectual property rights enforcement. While the provisions to disconnect individuals from Internet access for violating the treaty have been removed from the final text of December 2010, the Special Rapporteur remains watchful about the treaty’s eventual implications for intermediary liability and the right to freedom of expression.

In light of these concerns, the report argues that the Internet disconnection is a disproportionate response, violates international law and such measures should be repealed in countries that have adopted them:

MMP and the focus on Lusk

Posted by on May 13th, 2011

I’ve done some slightly cryptic posts over the last week or so following a flow of information from three sources about the role of Simon Lusk, inter alia, in the Brash coup.

Much of that is now a matter of record. The coup was financed by John Banks. Lusk became a consultant following a Joyce recommendation. Franks law firm also provided services. The fee was $30k.

The objective was to reinvigorate Act. No one told Joyce Brash’s negatives are higher than Hides.

It was run while Key was offshore. English was not informed by Joyce.

Lusk has been contracted to help run selection campaigns as well as electorate campaigns. Neither his role nor that of Cameron Slater have been transparent.

The prize now is the anti MMP campaign for which resources are now being organised. $100k +.

Lusk is an expert in political “black arts”. He even does reviews on the topic.

My posts have been designed to get Simon Lusk out of the shadows to ensure we know who is running things, if in fact he gets the contract.

Texts from Auckland

Posted by on May 10th, 2011

Txts from Banksy 1

Txts from Banksy 2

Txts from Banksy 3

Twenty questions Part III

Posted by on May 8th, 2011

Simon Lusk1Simon Lusk2

1. Who is this guy?

2. At whose funeral were arrangements made?

3. Who was the matchmaker?

4. How much did Brash pay and who funded it?

5. Was support for Joyce part of the agreement?

ps. Might end up being more than twenty questions at the rate the tips are coming in.

The terrible twos

Posted by on May 5th, 2011


Today Red Alert turns two.

It’s funny but we seem older. Not sure about wiser. But we are a credible and established force in the New Zealand political blogosphere.

Most Labour MPs blog . Most of us are active on facebook. Many of us are on Twitter. These are our real voices. We don’t always agree with each other, but we do share common values.

We’re focussed, we’re pretty tough and we have hearts. We also have ideas.

Most importantly we say what we think so we can talk to you; our readers, commenters, critics and supporters. Tell us what you’re thinking about us and don’t hold back (within reason).

What do you like about us, what do you want from us?

PS: And I promise the edit function on the comments is coming

Some facts:

  • 3,545 posts
  • Most posts: well who do you think? Trevor Mallard 1020
  • Next most posts: me on 519 (I’m a bit behind)
  • Newest poster: Annette King
  • Interesting new regular posts: Play of the Day, Tweet of the Week

PS: I forgot to thank my fellow moderators. Trevor, Grant and Chippie (Mr Hipkins). We work well together. We have occasional intense discussions, but we exercise our responsibility fairly and without prejudice (as long as you don’t cross the line). For those who disagree our moderation policy is here.

State intervention in social media

Posted by on April 30th, 2011

The importance of social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter is evident. The latest example is what appears to have happened in the last couple of days in the UK with Facebook removing dozens of profiles from its site, causing an outcry from campaigners trying to organise anti-austerity protests this weekend.

The Guardian reports:

The deactivated pages include UK Uncut, and pages created by students during last December’s university occupations.

A list posted on the Stop Facebook Purge group says Chesterfield Stop the Cuts, Tower Hamlet Greens, London Student Assembly, Southwark SoS and Bristol Uncut sites are no longer functioning.

Administrators for the profiles say hundreds of links between activists have been broken in the run up to the May Day bank holiday. When users click on URL links the message “the page you requested was not found” now appears.

Online news site Ekklesia reported that:

The social networking site Facebook is facing massive pressure from campaigners, civil liberties activists and journalists tonight after suspending a series of UK-based ‘political’ accounts.

In what University College of London students, UK Uncut and others are calling a ‘purge’ – coinciding with police action against radical and dissenting groups on the day of the royal wedding – more than 50 Facebook pages have been put out of operation.

Among those affected have been Save NHS, Rochdale Law Centre, Tower Hamlets Greens, Bootle Labour, Bristol Bookfair, Westminster Trades Council and London Student Assembly.

Specifically anti-cuts and student protest groups are also targeted. Only progressive or radical groups seem to have been impacted.

At first Facebook refused to comment, but after grassroots digital action and national media reporting (including the Guardian newspaper and Channel 4 television news), the company responded to protesters by suggesting that their action related to a a technical “violation of terms issue” relating to the “wrong” kind of page.

A spokesperson told Channel 4: “The reason all of these profiles came down at once is simple. Facebook’s security tools constantly work to maintain our real name culture by removing profiles that are ‘fake’ or don’t belong to an individual person, but rather a campaign, an animal, or an organisation.”

But critics say this does not explain the apparently selective effect of the action.

It appears there’s been cooperation between the State and a major online networking site to address perceived or actual threats surrounding the Royal Wedding.

The issue for me is not so much whether Facebook should ever interfere with an activist page. Sometimes there may be good reasons, and every online social media site, including Red Alert, must have some rules and standards and make them clear to everyone.

But  what if what appears to be arbitrary censorship and take downs occur, which may have political motives? Affecting the ability of citizens to lawfully protest and object to government policies, or dare I say. Even the Monarchy? That’s the issue. How do you guard against that?

Why Key needs to get offshore advice on broadband

Posted by on April 21st, 2011

I’ve known Bruce Parkes for years. Straightshooter. Like him. Always knew where he came from. Believed Telecom should use it’s superior market position to slow competitors entry.

But with the High Court judgement quoted below showing how he illegally tilted the playing field in Telecom’s favour he can not be the principal policy advisor on a plan which abolishes regulatory oversight of Telecom’s broadband. It gives them a blank cheque to overcharge much of the country for a decade.

Even before the court decision the sector was revolting. This revelation means that there needs to be a quick expert inquiry into both the decision to favour Telecom and the process that resulted in a very unusual decision.

Because of the vested interests involved the expert(s) will have to come from offshore.

The judgement said interalia:-

The senior Telecom executive named by High Court judge Rodney Hansen in his judgment penalising the telco for historic breaches to Commerce Act, is now a senior civil servant with oversight of the government’s broadband investments.

Bruce Parkes is currently Deputy Secretary at the Ministry of Economic Development for the Energy and Communications Branch. Among his responsibilities, according to his profile on the MED website, are ICT policy and the Ultra Fast Broadband plan. “In conjunction with Crown Fibre Holdings, this group will continue to implement work on the ultra-fast broadband policy, with the immediate aim of settling initial negotiations with potential providers,” reads the profile.

The internet and the future: the music industry

Posted by on April 17th, 2011

This is the first of a series of posts on how the internet is shaping our future. Imagine if a consortium of internet companies decided to buy out the music industry.  Get rid of labels and sell music direct to consumers, cheaply. How might that change the nature of things?


New Zealand’s passing of copyright law this week has sparked a fresh round of intense debate and scrutiny on how to address  the behaviour of a large number of New Zealanders on the internet who are illegally downloading music, movies and other content.

Many people either do not know they are downloading illegally or don’t feel they are doing anything wrong.

And for many, its the easiest way to get access to what they want to hear or watch.

Unfortunately,  the creators of that content (the artists) miss out on payment.  The traditional distributors of the content, the movie studios and music labels wield considerable influence in New Zealand and around the world in convincing governments to pass strict laws to prohibit filesharing. But they are slow to develop new ways to distribute their content easily and legally  to people via the internet.

But they’re not slow to use their muscle to protect their outdated business models.

What do they expect people to do? The pressure is mounting as we’re all seeing by the intense reaction to the Copyright Law this week.

What if things were to change? Would the need for such copyright laws still be necessary if people could easily, legally and cheaply access what they wanted, when they wanted it.

Consider this, an extract from a piece written by UK-based open government and open source advocate  Glynn Moody

… the music industry is economically quite small and unimportant compared to the computer industry. And yet somehow – through honed lobbying and old boy networks – it wields a disproportionate power that enables it to block innovative ideas that the online world wants to try.

On a rational basis, the music industry’s concerns would be dwarfed by those of the computer world, which is not just far larger, but vastly more important in strategic terms. But instead, the former gets to make all kinds of hyperbolic claims about the alleged “damage” inflicted by piracy on its income, even though these simply don’t stand up to analysis.

… how about if Google *did* buy the music industry? That would solve its licensing problems at a stroke. Of course, the anti-trust authorities around the world would definitely have something to say about this, so it might be necessary to tweak the idea a little.

How about if a consortium of leading Internet companies – Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Baidu, Amazon etc. – jointly bought the entire music industry, and promised to license its content to anyone on a non-discriminatory basis?

At the very least, the idea ought to send a shiver down the spine of the fat-cats currently running the record labels, and encourage them to stop whining so much just in case they make the thought of firing them all too attractive to the people whose lives they are currently making an utter misery….

It’s quite possible this is based on Google spin. But it’s certainly interesting to contemplate. I’d like to see a major shake-up in both industries.

And I think governments have a responsiblity to ensure that consumers are able to access content: music, movies, entertainment legally and in a competive environment where they have choice and fair prices. And where there is a thriving environment for the creators (those inside New Zealand). The debate needs to be about how we make that happen. Yes?

No New Zealander can be disconnected from the internet

Posted by on April 14th, 2011

Today a new Copyright Law was passed in New Zealand. As a result, no New Zealander can be disconnected from the internet for illegal file sharing.

Labour negotiated with the Government on this Bill. We could have chosen not to and simply opposed it.

If we had, today I would be lamenting that New Zealand now had a law where people could, and would be, disconnected from the internet.

High moral ground. But empty ground.

Being in Opposition isn’t always about opposing. Sometimes you can make an impact on laws. There are times when negotiating an outcome that improves a law is better than taking a high moral stand and ending up with something that you, and many in the community, fundamentally can’t live with.

That’s what Labour’s done.

There’s been an intense reaction to the Bill in social media. I acknowledge, understand and am sympathetic to many of the criticisms and concerns raised by people who are deeply discomforted by having a termination provision in the law even if it is on ice.

The government’s bottom line was to have termination in the Bill. Ours was to not support it. The compromise position was to leave it in but require the Minister to put what’s called an Order In Council into effect to switch it on. This is very  unlikely to happen.

The onus is now on the creative industries to prove there is a case to terminate access and that the notice system is not working. Rather than oppose it outright, we preferred to compromise to ensure New Zealanders are not denied access to the internet.

Account suspension remains in the bill and could theoretically be used in the future, but any Minister who implements termination will have to wear the consequences. It won’t be a Labour Minister.

Evidence before the select committee strongly indicated that sales of music and movies on the internet were going up, not down, and that the industry remains viable and strong, if needing to change the way it distributes material.

The fundamental issue here is why so many people illegal downloading and sharing material. This law will hopefulyl have the impact of educating more people who are illegally filesharing and don’t understand it is illegal. I would hope that New Zealanders do not condone illegal filesharing.

I strongly support and stand by Labour’s position. We are not the government. We could have remained on the sidelines and thrown stones. That would have meant a bad law and New Zealanders facing disconnection. We are fundamentally opposed to internet disconnection.

So we compromised. I think New Zealand is in a better place today because of that.

Here’s what I said in Parliament last night in the second reading

The Great Broadband Sell-off

Posted by on March 18th, 2011

Yesterday’s FEC hearings on the Telco Amendment Bill were remarkable.

By the end of the day it was starkly obvious that the Bill hands a gold-plated license-to-kill to Telecom under the guise of ‘structural separation’.  No-one, not even Govt members, could deny that.

Don’t take my word for it: check out the Commerce Commission submission, or (bipartisan) Internet New Zealand’s, or Vector’s, or TelstraClear’s – all here.

The Bill seeks to lock in a “regulatory holiday” by preventing the Commerce Commission from exercising its current oversight for 10 YEARS.  NO other country in the world has done that, and it would be illegal in Europe. It may be in breach of NZ’s WTO obligations here.

Despite that Telecom had the gall to ask for longer! And to weaken the purpose clause of the Telco Act to boot! Have they lost their PR mind? Do they want to channel the ghost of abuses past?

Fair trading “equivalence of inputs” rules between the network owner (Telecom) and wholesale competitors would be watered down so much as to be unenforceable.  Arms-length trading rules currently in Telecom’s Operational Separation Undertakings become “optional”.

And so on.  It’s so patently obvious it is not even worth repeating all the examples.

No wonder Steven Joyce wanted the hearings over in indecent haste.

The result of this great leap backwards to the 1990’s will be much higher prices and less choice for consumers for a decade.  YOU will pay for this sleazy deal.

So WHY has the National Government done this?

Roger Douglas summed it up – it is a “legislative subsidy”: National is ‘selling the law”.

In plain speaking, National in the last election over-promised ultra-fast broadband to 75% of Kiwis for $1.5 billion.  But rather than being a clean subsidy there were massive strings attached, requiring a commercial return through the hopelessly conflicted Crown Fibre Holdings.    The numbers just did not add up.

Hence no rollout for 2½ years, and Steven Joyce is worried about his reputation.

But instead of fronting the problem honestly and getting the whole industry to be part of the solution while building a vibrant competitive market, National has done a side-deal with the incumbent telco that leaves everyone else worse off and the market beggared beyond belief.

That will set back innovation, chill investment and deliver less broadband at higher prices than necessary for a decade to come.

As if Kiwis aren’t facing enough price rises without paying too much for their broadband as well.