I only came upon this group whilst listening to an interview on BBC Backstage between Ashley Highfield and Mark Taylor (of the OSC). I'm afraid I forget the representative's name from the ORG who was there, as well as a number of other guests. Rather than blabber on about the iPlayer again - I've been thinking a lot about individual freedom and responsibility.

A couple of weeks back I was listening to a Radio 4 program on the subject of "When do Children become Morally Responsible?" It was quite a shocking programme, as one of the core "yardsticks" used for and against the argument was the James Bulger case. However, the main thing to come out of the programme were that the "psychology experts" and the social services were arguing that the age of Moral Responsibility should be raised to 16, or even 18 - anyone under that age is not morally responsible. With that in place, a murderer at 17 would be assumed not mature enough to have realised that what they were doing was wrong, so therefore was not a murderer. I know that by taking rules to their extreme, you're bound to find "shock hypothetical situations" which do not follow the spirit of the law, but surely we can agree that the far majority of (and probably the entirety of sound-mided) 17 years olds can judge the moral implications of murder.

I don't want to prioritise what I am about to say above the question of moral responsibility - but at what point should computer users be responsible for the software on their computer? Some people would say that if the user does not agree with the End User License Agreement (EULA), then they should not install the software. However, EULAs are often very long - and in many cases seem irrelevant to an end user. Imagine sitting down to your freshly bought PC - along with a suites of applications and games - and realising you don't agree with the EULA. Taking it all back to the shop doesn't appear to be a viable alternative, so I'm guessing 99.9% of the time you'll ignore it.

This is assuming that the software is bought and legal at all - "Re-installing Norton Internet Security 2001 for the 6th time to take advantage of the free 12 months of updates you got when you bought it for £30 back in 2001" as an example of "breaking the rules." The EULA now becomes irrelevant - you're operating the software illegally. "SO WHAT?" - it's not like there are any computer police that come round and check your disks for illegally downloaded software. Well no.. not specifically - but with the birth of the internet.. they don't need to come over to see what software you're running.

It had puzzled me as a teen why Microsoft couldn't tell who was illegally downloading updates to an "already registered" version of Windows and put a stop to it. Well, in 2006 they realised and started doing it.. but few people have really got into any trouble for it... more often than not they've just found another way to circumvent Microsoft's checks and continue as normal.

However, software licenses where software is concerned appear irrelevant to the user -but what about "information licensing?"

Information Licensing

In the past, this was more a question for academics and indistry. If they has ideas which needed to be protected, yet shared, then it would have to be licensed. Patents are one example, copyright, trademarks, the (c) sign and the (r) sign - they're all examples of people protecting what's theirs. Do we no longer care about what we own - or are we ignorant?

I hate to say it but I think it's ignorance that's causing most of the issues around us today. I read not so long ago that Virgin Mobile ran an advert along the lines of "get a thumb friend, not a pen friend" on a bus shelter - with a picture of a geeky girl underneath. This picture of the geeky girl was legally used from the website Flickr - where as one of the condition of joining, you agree to publish your photos under a specific Creative Commons License. The fact that this girl was rather upset being called a geek (especially all over international media since she made a fuss) was not the fault of Creative Commons, or Flickr - but the girl herself for not reading the EULA. Do you think she understood that? That's funny, her team of lawyers didn't either. Lucky for her, the fuzzy and well meaning Richard Branson had the pictures removed from circulation. [1]

The same is true of Facebook. Well not really.. but similarly. Can you delete a facebook account? (no) - but you can "de-activate it until you wish to return." Delete it.. no. Can you delete a photos of facebooks servers? (no) - but you can remove all published links to that photo - so only those who know that actual photo URL can access it. Go on = have a go :)

We're being careless with our information. Everything I type on this blog is being cached by Google. They have more information on me than I have in my filing cabinet. They probably know me better than my mother knows me. They know a unprecedented amount. No one company before the digital age could have ever expected to know what Google knows. It's why their advertising is so ubiquitous on the web. The more they know, the more they can target you, the more you're worth to advertisers. What you don't want to do it give yourself to them. If there's an embarrassing video/photo of you on the internet - you want to get rid of it. If you wrote something in anger, and was to remove it.. you want it REMOVED. No way - not any more. Wake up and smell the coffee.

Where the Open Rights Group come in.

The Open Rights Group campaign to make sure your information is used the way you want it to be. Your digital rights need to be upheld by someone. If you bought a CD in the past, you could play it in whatever walkman you liked. Buy a tune from itunes, and you have to use an iPod. Is that right?

The Open Rights Group exists to do 5 things:

  • To raise awareness in the media of digital rights abuses
  • To provide a media clearinghouse, connecting journalists with experts and activists
  • To preserve and extend traditional civil liberties in the digital world
  • To collaborate with other digital rights and related organisations
  • To nurture a community of campaigning volunteers, from grassroots activists to technical and legal experts

In the move to digitisation "traditional civil liberties" are being eroded by a new-found ability to restrict or exploit users. The Open Rights Group aims to respect the rights of all parties, yet maintain the liberties to which we have become accustomed. Whilst this issue appears to be one for the technically competent or the nerds, geeks and hackers - it's one for every person who uses a computer, or has information about them digitised. That means every person living legally in the UK.

I urge you to look into supporting the Open Rights Group not as a matter of charity, but as a matter of responsibility. As with many things, the novelty of new ability and technology deprecates the old. Moving databases, services and infrastructure onto new technology was a question of whether we "could," and a failure to look at whether we "should." Unfortunaltely, HMRC have recently provided us with a first-rate example of a system that promotes running before walking. Anyone with access to a confidential 25 million user database should not be able to copy that database onto CD - encrypted or not. Even that is a moot point when you consider the who thread of events. Why should the NAO even need the database in the first place. If my auditors asked to see the credit card records of my customers, a simple "No" would suffice. These are the things that need protecting - and that is the role of the ORG.

[1] ed. I hope I got the right company, but I may be wrong.. I didn't want
to ruin the story though as it's "eventfully accurate."