Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A response to Article 13

Managed to write to my MEPs about the awful proposed EU's Copyright Directive Article 13 - you can submit a response via ORG here, but for my own reference, this is my hastily-written missive:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to express my extreme concern about the proposed changes under Article 13 of the Copyright Directive, due to be voted on very shortly.

Having been involved in the internet and online innovation for over 20 years, and acting currently as Technical Director for a small UK company, I believe in several points:

1. That it is imperative to our economic and social resilience that  innovation and communication remain free from burdens of overhead except where proved absolutely necessary

2. That the proposed legislation will increase the cost and risk of any new innovation, with broad, damaging effects to the development of society and discourse as a whole, at a time where we require appropriate innovation and resilience

3. That the legislation will increasingly push innovation and communication into unmonitored and unmonitorable networks, with the result that appropriate support and/or integration of such services will become harder, again to the detriment of an already-fragmented society

4. That the proposed legislation relies on technology that has distinct, specific drawbacks - namely that it encourages a more centralised digital ecosystem with increased risk of lower resilience as a result, and that there are insufficient safeguards to ensuring the technical solution can be monitored, audited, and maintained effectively.

5. That the legislation would introduce a lop-sided split between responsibilities, ie. it does not make sense to rely on a more centralised structure to provide the algorithms to implement the law, but push overall responsibilities on those parties not in charge of the algorithms, but would merely need to outsource this functionality, given the excessive cost of building such a filtering service from scratch.

In short, the Article threatens the business case of any small-to-medium business incorporating user input, threatens to upset innovation and conversation to the detriment of the economy and society generally, and risks a confused legal structure to discourage further innovation.

I urge you to vigourously vote against this legislation, and to address the underlying issues in a way that is more sustainable, technically feasible, and legally clear.

Kind regards

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The joy and violence of street photography

Street photography is scary. Sometimes for the confrontational, uninvited surveillance aspect of it. But mostly for the change in rhythm, the shift in attention that's so different from how we usually inhabit our concrete landscape.

Stand still, focus on something that's always there, something right in front of you, but linger with it, hold on to it. Wait for the right passer-by. Lurk like a teenager. Shoot like a voyeur. Street photography is best when it's scary - but what is this fear, where does it come from?

Most essentially, the urban environment doesn't like us to stop and look, or to consider anything in more depth than is intended. Our gaze is constantly diverted and channeled, like passengers wandering through Ikea or a theme park. There are things we're allowed to look at - adverts, street art, signs. But the crowd of distraction blocks out everything else. And the signs we're permitted to take in do not lend themselves to reflection or critique. "Take us at face value" they say. "Accept our message, and move on."

We spend our time flicking from one sign to the next, lost in a labyrinth of relevance. The street photographer breaks all this up, rebelling against the flow of this-not-that. The street photographer has two jobs, both of which can be described as dangerous purely because they do a violence against the accepted mode of navigation - and against our own position as a result.

First, the street photographer brings attention to that which is usually ignored. The signs which grew naturally, rather than being manually designed and manufactured into place. Empty facades, modern cracks filled with weeds, social mishaps, legacy movements, machines malfunctioning... There is a wabi-sabi kick here, a celebration of the chaos and decay that comes inherently with aging and existence. There is a beautiful humility in what our processes have allowed and encouraged to happen, even though it occurs against the urban designer's original will. A fragility of control, seeping into our consciousness from all angles, stark against all those ambitions and dreams of politicians, planners, architects and artists.

Second, the street photographer brings an extreme attention to the signs which like to think they're so smart and ephemeral. The instant impact of these signs is intended to communicate to us so efficiently - longer consideration is unjustifiable in a busy context; delay is dangerous, due simply to the scale at which everything - people, traffic, information - must flow as fast as possible, like cows in an abattoir. The urban watchword is "dispatch". Street photography's second dangerous act is to look beyond this continuous dismissal - to bring a sort of hyper-attention to these symbols and scratch beneath their surface. All signs have side effects, and it is only by observing their effects for a longer duration that we can know that these are. The photographer lingers, watching. The photograph itself, formed and framed, is an item of reflection - a single moment or view lingers in and of itself. Through this slowing down of time, we can more fully question what we would otherwise ignore.

Through the eyes of the street photographer, there is no chaos in urban normality. The city is controlled, the streets are prescribed. But it is not through deliberate destruction of the environment that photography changes our minds. Instead, the camera becomes a tool to disrupt our own behaviour - the act and at of seeing the world differently is enough to disrupt the rituals and the contract that we unconsciously find ourselves caught in.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

How Oakland Occupy got things changed

Useful look back at how a local US group took on the local police surveillance happening against Occupy without much oversight. Great blend of crowd engagement, legal understanding, and careful negotiation for a long view solution.

TR: Activists always want a 100% victory. But instead what they gave us was 1) We’ll roll the project back to the port and 2) You’re right, we need a privacy policy. We were sensitive to the fact that you can’t just say “no” all the time. You have to say “yes” to something. We didn’t want this project, but we also wanted the city to have privacy policies and privacy guidelines.

LR: So they were throwing you a bone!

TR: Yes. And we took the bone, and said “we will write a privacy policy for this thing at the port, and we will restrict its activities to keep people safe. And, moreover, you’re giving us this temporary Privacy Commission; but we want a permanent Privacy Commission. Forever. And we got it.