Crypto Wars 2.0

I was invited to give a talk at Oxford University on Crypto Wars 2.0 for the Cyber Security DTC that is jointly ran by Oxford and Royal Holloway. I have given a talk on the Crypto Wars at Durham in the past but this talk was a combination of a revisiting the the Crypto Wars today, but also a look to the future. I have produced a podcast of the talk and the slides are available here.

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Business History – Banks, births, and tipping points

We have a new piece published in Business History, Complexity in History: modelling the organisational demography of the British banking sector. Continuing our work modelling the British banking sector we have responded to the very interesting comment by J Bissell, “The decline in the British bank population since 1810 obeys a law of negative compound interest“, on our original paper. This gave us the opportunity further discuss the role of modelling in understanding historical processes and present some more recent insights into the development of the banking sector. We where also able to revisit the Tipping Point in the sector and question whether it is indeed a tipping point at all.

Garnett, Philip, Simon Mollan, and R. Alexander Bentley. n.d. “Banks, Births, and Tipping Points in the Historical Demography of British Banking: A Response to J.J. Bissell.” Business History 0 (0): 1–7.

J. J. Bissell, “The decline in the British bank population since 1810 obeys a law of negative compound interest”. Business History Vol. 59 , Iss. 5,2017

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33C3 – Proposed EU Copyright Law – Not Fit for Anything

Another highlight from 33C3 was Julia Reda’s talk about the proposed EU copyright law, Copywrongs 2.0. I say highlight, only because it was an interesting and compelling talk, the law itself is an absolute lowlight. To say that the proposed law is not fit for purpose is an understatement, and there is a question as to whether it is designed for purpose has less to do with protecting creators and more to do with protecting an industry struggling with an outdated business model.

The reform is a final parting shot by the outgoing EU commissioner Günther Oettinger. His proposed reform to EU copyright threatens freedom of expression by making simple things like linking to content (a central tenet of the the internet) a breach of copyright. This is obviously madness.

The proposals seems to be the product of some intensive lobbying by what are often referred to as ‘old media’. Some news publishers, mostly those who are struggling to adapt their business models to the 21st century, want to charge search engines and social networks for the links displayed in searches or embed in users posts. Essentially charging for the traffic sent their way. The other culprit is the music industry, struggling in the world of YouTube. Personally, I particularly don’t want to see the newspaper industrial disappear, especially in the world we live in today, but this isn’t the answer.

So what does the proposed law prohibit? As written sharing small sections of news articles e.g. on a blog or a personal website (such as this one) without a license from the publisher will be an infringement, for as long as 20 years after the article was originally published. This is crazy, the point of doing that is to drive traffic to the original story, the newspaper industry seems to be shooting itself in its foot.

As its stands the EU Commission has not proposed any exceptions based on the size of the snippet, or for individuals, or for non-commercial purposes, and providing a link to the source isn’t enough. This essentially means you have to have a license to reference or attribute a quote. What this means for newspapers quoting each other I don’t know, or for academic work.

Not only can you not link on social media, it would also seem that indexing the web in general would be impossible without licensing, and thus essentially impossible. In fact, any and every site in existence would have to ways of filtering out copyright infringements.

What about collaboration? The affect such a law would have on site that foster collaboration is also not clear, but likely to be bad. For example GitHub would have to put in place the filtering technology to search for source code that someone wants to keep of the site. Even if that code was written under some open source licenses. Also in trouble would be Wikipedia, and anyone using data from the web for training of AI or similar.

So what is Günther Oettinger trying to do? Does he just have no understanding of the internet, and it would seem copyright? He is known to be in favour of big business, and seems to be close to the publishing industry. At best its a misguided attempt at protecting an outmoded business model. What happens now is down to people doing a bit of lobby of our own. Is there any point in Brits getting involved? Yes, for one there is a chance that the UK will mirror some EU laws, at least initially and we don’t want this one. Also we can do our bit to help out our EU neighbours.

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33c3 – Syrian Archive

On of the most interesting and important projects reported on at the 33c3 was the Syrian Archive project. This is an immensely important project that is impart documenting the Syrian conflict, including the human cost, but is also trying to help work towards a lasting peace in Syria. A major component of this work involves the curation of documentary evidence.

This includes evidence gathering and documentation of incidents; the acknowledgement that war crimes and human rights violations have been committed by all sides; the identification of perpetrators to end the cycle of impunity and the development of a process of justice and reconciliation.

syrianarchive.org

The project which started in 2014 collects data, often in the form of images or video, from citizen journalists on the ground in Syria. The goal being to create an evidence based tool that can be used by journalists, HRDs and lawyers. The collected data is then securely stored on backed up servers, reducing the potential for loss of evidence. The project also builds meta-data for the evidence, which is often lost (particularly if the video is uploaded to social media services which often strip out the meta-data). Meta-data is often extremely important for the verification of the evidence as it helps to locate an incident temporally and spatially.

They also work to ensure the integrity of the data, including by producing a hash code of the data at the point of upload. This ensures that the evidence cannot be tampered with at some later point. All this is done through a range of simple tools. The result is a verifiable, searchable, and secure data repository that is accessible to anyone. The archive also allows for evidence to be cross referenced across multiple sources, and multiple platforms, helping to verify the claims.

This work is of great value as often in wars all sides seek to hide the full extent of their impact on the civilian population. The database has already proved instrumental in determining the facts around an air strike that wrongly hit a Mosque in Syria. Claims and counter claims cast doubt of the real events, with the Russian ministry of defence claiming that the Mosque was still intact, but witnesses claiming it had been destroyed. The data set allowed investigators to verify that a Mosque had been hit, and only that the name of the Mosque was incorrectly reported, leading to the confusion. Both the actual incident, and the claimed incident, can both be recorded in the database. The archive also allows the use of tactics or weapons to be tracked across multiple events, such as the use of chemical weapons.

The openness is key to this project, and links with some of my own research. We live in a world where different interested parties will make claims and counter claims about news or events. This makes it hard to determine which claim is best supported by the evidence on the ground. What this archive, and others like it, do is allow anyone to make an assessment of the evidence available, perhaps enabling them to understand the events in question better.

The talk was presented by Jeff Deutch and Hadi Al-Khatib, thanks to them for letting look at the slides again for reference. The videoed talk is linked below.

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Panama Revisted

The people over at The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists have updated the released panama data. Its not clear to me if that is more data than they had already released, or that this time it is a ready made Neo4J database. They provide two versions of the database, Windows and Mac. Its easy to get it to work in Linux, just copy the graph.db file from out of the archive into the databases directory of your Neo4J install.

I made a quick query to look for officers with the same address. Seems there some, it would need something more sophisticated to did any deeper.

MATCH (n:Officer)–(a:Address)–(m:Officer) RETURN n,a,m LIMIT 25

graph

 

 

 

 

 

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The ‘System’ vs Donald Trump

I have been thinking about what Donald Trump means for the ‘system’, by system I am thinking about the complex system that is the US Government Machine and its associated parts. Part of my thinking is that systems of Government have learnt how to persist, they have adaptive to promote and maintain their own existence. The internal system dynamics and relationships are an evolved, and are an emergent property of the ‘system’. The people in the system don’t even really know they are part of it. You could make the argument that this is plausible as a Government needs to be transparent enough to its citizens so that they don’t revolt, but not too transparent that they revolt. This adaption is a buffer between the people and the Government, and allows the system to persist (not statically, its a quasi-stable state). Its not just the Government that as adapted to this way of persisting, its the media, the elite etc etc. The laws, process, norms and culture make it hard to radically alter the system quickly without a massive shock or tremendous effort.

It does bring us to the question of Trump. Trump is a major upset to this entire system, he is a massive shock. So the question is, is the ‘system’ just going to grind him down into nothing. Has the US state ‘system’ seen enough Trumplike behaviour that there are emergent process that will just kick in and slowly squeeze him until he disappears. Maybe the position of stable state will move a bit, its always moving, but not much.

The other possibility is that he is enough of a disruption or shock that the whole system just breaks apart, and self-organises into something completely new… That could produce anything.

I am not sure which is worse.

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