08 May 2015

TTIP explained: The secretive US-EU treaty that undermines democracy

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), sometimes known as the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA), is currently being negotiated behind closed doors by the European Union and the US. If it is successfully completed, it will be the biggest trade agreement in history. But TTIP is not just something of interest to export businesses: it will affect most areas of everyday life, including the online world.

Opponents fear it could undermine many of Europe's hard-won laws protecting online privacy, health, safety and the environment, even democracy itself. For example, it could effectively place US investors in the EU above the law by allowing companies to claim compensation from an EU country when it brings in a regulation that allegedly harms their investments—and for EU companies to attack US laws in the same way.

Those far-reaching effects flow from the fact that TTIP is not a traditional trade agreement, which generally seeks to lower tariffs between nations so as to increase trade between them. The tariffs between the US and EU are already very low—under 3%—so there is little scope to boost transatlantic trade significantly by removing the remaining tariffs completely.

Instead, TTIP aims to go beyond tariffs, and to remove what it calls "non-tariff barriers." These refer to the different ways of doing things which make it hard for a company to sell exactly the same product on both sides of the Atlantic. Typically, different national regulations require different kinds of tests and product information, which leads to a duplication of effort that adds costs and delays to making products available in the other market.

TTIP's stated aim to smooth away those NTBs is good news for the companies, but not so much for pesky humans. What are classed as "barriers" include things like regulations that protect the environment or the online privacy of Europeans. The threat to diminish or remove them in the name of transatlantic "harmonisation", has turned the traditionally rather dull area of trade agreements into the most important focus for civil action in years, galvanizing a broad spectrum of groups on both sides of the Atlantic that see TTIP not as a potential boon, but a bane.

Read the rest of this 6,376-word article on Ars Technica UK.

24 January 2015

Urgent: Please Help Stop Underhand Attempt to Sneak in the Snooper's Charter

In an act of extraordinary contempt for both the public and democracy, four lords are attempting to insert the bulk of the Snooper's Charter in the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill in a way that means there will be almost no opportunity to debate it.  We have only two days to stop this disgraceful move by writing to members of the House of Lords, and asking them to object to this disturbing attempt to circumvent the proper procedures "because terrorism".

WriteToThem will provide you with a random person to contact, and an easy way to do so - you just have to provide the message.  Here's what I've sent to a few people there:

I hope you will forgive me for contacting you out of the blue like this, but I feel that the circumstances surrounding the attempt to introduce what amounts to an entire additional bill into the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill without scrutiny is a gross abuse of Parliamentary procedure - indeed an assault on democracy.

As the Open Rights Group notes:

"The draft Communications Data Bill, which is inserted by the amendment in nearly identitical form, was scrutinised by a joint committee of the Lords and Commons for a year.

The Committee agreed unanimously that the draft was inappropriate. None of their concerns are addressed in the clauses presented. 

The report is extremely critical of the Home Office, labelling their figures “fanciful and misleading.” It adds that they “expect the overall cost to the taxpayer over the next decade to exceed £1.8 billion [the Home Office's estimated cost] by a considerable margin"

The Committee said that “the draft Bill pays insufficient attention to the duty to respect the right to privacy, and goes much further than it need or should for the purpose of providing necessary and justifiable official access to communications data.”

Their concerns over wholesale collection and analysis of data were substantial and from any perspective would need considerable changes to be made to the draft bill, now presented as amendment to the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill."

Given those issues, as well as the more fundamental one of the entire legislative process being abused in this way, I would like to urge you to attend the debate on Monday and to express your concerns about this attempt to insert legislation into an existing Bill at the last minute.

Thank you for your help in this important matter.

19 January 2015

Incoming: Spare Slots for Regular Freelance Work

I will soon have some spare slots in my freelance writing schedule for regular weekly or monthly work. Below are the main topics that I've been covering, some for two decades. Any commissioning editors interested in talking about them or related areas, please contact me at glyn.moody@gmail.com (PGP available).

Free Software/Open Source

I started covering this in 1995, wrote the first mainstream article on Linux, for Wired in 1997, and the first (and still only) detailed history of the subject, Rebel Code, in 2001. For my book, I interviewed the world's top 50 hackers at length, and remain in contact with many of them, as well as with open source coders and companies that have risen to prominence in the last decade and a half, writing about them principally in my Open Enterprise column for Computerworld UK.

Open Access, Open Data, Open Science, Open Government, Open Everything

As the ideas underlying openness, sharing and online collaboration have spread, so has my coverage of related areas such as open access, open data and open science grown. Much of it can be found in the earlier posts on this blog, among the 1400 articles I've written for Open Enterprise, and on Techdirt, where I have published over a thousand posts.

Copyright, Patents, Trade Secrets

The greatest threats to openness comes from its converse: intellectual monopolies. This fact has led me to write many articles about copyright, patents and trade secrets, mainly for Techdirt.

Trade Agreements - TTIP, TPP, TISA

Because intellectual monopolies represent such a threat to free software and open projects, I began writing about the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) which dealt with them. In fact, I wrote a whole series of articles charting ACTA's rise - and fall.

That, in its turn, led me to write about the even more problematic Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) on an even larger scale: to date, I've written some 48 posts about it for Computerworld UK, and many more for Techdirt. Parallel to this, I've written extensively about other trade agreements: the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA).

Surveillance, Encryption, Privacy, Freedom of Speech

Partly in response to recent revelations by Edward Snowden, and the growing threat to digital rights that they reveal, I have written extensively on surveillance, encryption, privacy and freedom of speech, both for Techdirt and Computerworld UK.

Twitter, identi.ca, Google+

Although the number of people who follow me on Twitter, identi.ca and Google+ is not particularly large - around 25,000 altogether - natural selection over the years has ensured that they are highly interested in the topics mentioned above (otherwise they wouldn't still be following me.)  They include some very active users that re-tweet widely links to my freelance work.


As a glance at my posts to Twitter, identi.ca and Google+ will indicate, I read news sources in a number of languages (Italian, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Russian, Greek, Swedish in descending order of capability.)  This means I can offer a fully European perspective on any of the topics above - something that may be of interest to publications wishing to provide global coverage that goes beyond purely anglophone reporting.

14 January 2015

Please Write to Your MP to Ask for Parliamentary Scrutiny of TTIP

One of the many big problems with TTIP is the lack of democracy: it is being negotiated behind closed doors, with virtually no input from the public. The texts will be made available once the negotiations are complete, at which point it will not be possible to make changes. Even the national parliaments will be limited to a simple yes or no vote.

The MP Geraint Davies has put forward a motion on TTIP calling for more scrutiny:

"That this House resolves that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and any associated Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions should be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny in the European Parliament and the UK Parliament."

It's not much, but it's better than what we currently have, so I would like to urge you to write to your local MP, asking them to support this motion. You can do that either using WriteToThem, or more simply using the 38 Degrees site. Here's what I've written:

As you know, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated between the EU and the US is highly contentious. One of its biggest problems is the lack of scrutiny. In order to inject a little more democracy into the process - and to bolster your own key role as representative of the public here - I would like to urge you to support the motion being put forward by Geraint Davies that calls for more scrutiny for TTIP.

07 December 2014

Please Write to Your MP about Plain Packaging for Cigarettes

I was disturbed to read in the Guardian that the UK government may be wavering on introducing plain packs for cigarettes.  Failing to do so before the General Election would be seen as a huge victory for the tobacco companies, and have knock-on effects around the world. 

I have therefore written to my local MP, and I'd like to urge you to do the same, asking them to press for the relevant legislation to be laid before Parliament as soon as possible.  You can do that very easily using the excellent WriteToThem service.  Here's what I've sent:

I am writing to you about the introduction of plain cigarette packaging regulations: I was disturbed to read the relevant legislation might not be introduced before the General Election. 

As a journalist who writes about international trade among other things, I have been following closely plans to introduce plain packs around the world.  In particular, I have written about legal action by Philip Morris against both Uruguay and Australia as a result of health measures they have taken to reduce deaths and illnesses caused by smoking (https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20121226/09522221488/treaty-shopping-how-companies-tilt-legal-playing-field-investor-state-arbitration.shtml

As you know, what is particularly interesting about these cases is that they use the highly controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) process in order to claim an indirect expropriation of property.  Since the company is doing this through subsidiaries - one in Switzerland, the other in Hong Kong - it is not even clear whether those cases can proceed. However, it is evident that one of the main reasons Philip Morris is taking this route is to intimidate other countries thinking about bringing in plain packs measures.  Indeed, New Zealand has put its own plans on hold pending the result of the Australian case, which shows that strategy is having its effect.

I would therefore like to urge the UK government to place the regulations governing plain packets before Parliament as soon as possible.  This is vitally important not just for the health of British people, but for millions of people around the world.

If the UK government holds off on its plans to introduce plain packaging, this will be taken as a sign that such a move is likely to be contested by the tobacco companies.  Smaller nations that are unwilling to take the risk of losing what can be punitively expensive cases - Philip Morris is demanding $2 billion "compensation" from Uruguay, a huge chunk of its entire health budget - will be discouraged from joining the global movement to making cigarette packets less attractive to young people.

If, on the other hand, the Government is bold and moves forward with the UK legislation, this will send a very strong signal to nations around the world that it is both morally the right thing to do and feasible in practical terms.  More governments will follow the UK's lead, and it will be impossible for tobacco manufacturers to use crude legal threats to intimidate them as they find safety in numbers.

In other words, the decision on this issue could literally change the course of history in this area. This is not just about helping many thousands of people in the UK to avoid taking up smoking, with its concomitant costs, both in terms of health and money, but about saving millions of lives around the world.  I therefore urge the UK government to bring this legislation before Parliament as soon as possible: every day's delay means more unnecessary suffering and deaths.

Thank you for your help in this important matter.

31 October 2014

Response to EU Ombudsman's Consultation on TTIP Transparency

The EU Ombudsman is running a consultation on how to improve the transparency of the TTIP negotiations.  This shouldn't be hard, since there is currently vanishingly small openness about these secret talks.  However, to keep things simple, I have just one very easy suggestion, as my response to the consultation below explains:

My name is Glyn Moody, and I am a journalist who has written over 40 columns on TTIP (available at http://www.computerworlduk.com/blogs/open-enterprise/ttip-updates--the-glyn-moody-blogs-3569438/.) My comments are based on following trade negotiations closely for many years, including those for TPP, TISA and ACTA. Please find below my responses to the consultation's questions.

1. Please give us your views on what concrete measures the Commission could take to make the TTIP negotiations more transparent. Where, specifically, do you see room for improvement?

There is one one very simple measure that would make the TTIP negotiations highly transparent without limiting the European Commission's ability to keep its negotiating strategy secret - something it claims is necessary.

This would be to make all EU documents and proposals public as soon as they are tabled.

There can be no objection that this will reveal the Commission's strategy to the US side, since the latter can, by definition, see all documents once they are on the table. Releasing them to the public would therefore reveal nothing that the US negotiators did not already know. The US cannot object, since it only concerns the EU proposals, and reveals nothing of the US position (not that this should be secret.) In short, no one could possibly object, unless, of course, the real purpose of negotiations being held behind closed doors is precisely to keep the public ignorant of what is nominally being carried out in their name.

2. Please provide examples of best practice that you have encountered in this area.

Negotiations at WIPO go far beyond simply making tabled documents available, as this article explains in detail (http://infojustice.org/archives/30027). Here are the main points:

"The elements of WIPO’s transparency processes are varied. they start with ongoing releases of draft negotiating documents dating back to the beginning of the process."

"WIPO webcasted negotiations, and even established listening rooms where stakeholders could hear (but not be physically present in) break rooms where negotiators were working on specific issues. "

"WIPO set up a system of open and transparent structured stakeholder input, including published reports and summaries of stakeholder working groups composed of commercial and non-commercial interests alike."

"Transparency in WIPO continued through the final days of intense, often all night, negotiations in the final diplomatic conference. When negotiators reached a new breakthrough on the language concerning the controversial “3-step test” limiting uses of limitations and exceptions in national laws, that news was released to the public (enabling public news stories on it), along with the draft text of the agreement."

This clearly shows how complete transparency is possible, and that negotiations can not only proceed under these conditions, but reach successful conclusions.

3. Please explain how, in your view, greater transparency might affect the outcome of the negotiations.

Real transparency - for example, by publishing all tabled documents - would have a profoundly important impact, since it would offer hope that any final agreement would enjoy public support. Without transparency, TTIP will simply be a secret deal among insiders, imposed from above, rather than any legitimate instrument of democracy.

29 July 2014

The European Commission's Great TTIP Betrayal

When the European Commission was laying the foundations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership - TTIP, also known as TAFTA by analogy with NAFTA - it was doubtless hoping that the public would ignore it, just as it had ignored countless other boring trade agreements. But of course TTIP is not principally a trade agreement: it aims to go far beyond "merely" liberalising trade by attacking "behind the border" barriers.

These "non-tariff barriers" - NTBs - are what you and I call health and safety regulations, environmental protection, labour laws etc. They are all things that make life a more pleasant place - especially in Europe, where they are particularly strong; but they are also things that decrease the profits of companies that must obey them. TTIP is about removing as many of these as possible, so as to boost corporate profits.

Of course, that's not how the European Commission can frame things. Indeed, after the public began to wake up to what TTIP really meant, the commissioner responsible for leading the TTIP negotiations, Karel De Gucht, was forced to make high-profile statements denying that the agreement would lower standards:

Let me be clear on this very important point: we are not lowering standards in TTIP. Our standards on consumer protection, on the environment, on data protection and on food are not up for negotiation. There is no “give and take” on standards in TTIP.

Simple logic tells us that this can't possibly be true. If two completely different regulatory systems are to be brought together - the avowed aim of TTIP - there are only three possibilities. Either the side with the higher standards levels down; the side with the lower standards levels up; or there is mutual recognition of each other's standards. The US has clearly stated that it is not prepared to level up - it won't accept EU bans on chlorine-washed chickens, hormone beef or GMOs.

Mutual recognition, although apparently different, is in fact identical to levelling down: if both regulations are acceptable, manufacturers working to the higher set will be at a disadvantage commercially. They will therefore either relocate their factories to the country with the lower standards, which are cheaper to implement, or lobby for the higher standards to be levelled down, threatening either to leave the country, or shut down. Politicians always give in to this kind of blackmail, so EU standards would inevitably be lowered to those of the US as a result of mutual recognition.

But it has become increasingly clear that there is another way for the European Commission to circumvent its own promises that TTIP will not lower standards. The trick here is that the European Commission will lower standards *before* TTIP; so technically speaking it is not TTIP that brings about that dilution - it occurred "independently". Thus the Commission will be able to put its hand on its heart and swear blind that it kept its word not to sell out EU standards in TTIP, while at the same time changing the regulatory context in such a way that the US will be able to export things that are currently banned by strict EU legislations.

We're seeing more and more examples of this. Here, for example, is how new GMO regulations will allow US companies to bring in GM food:

Genetically modified crops could be grown in the UK from next year after the EU ministers relaxed laws on the controversial farming method.
Maize that has been engineered to resist weedkiller is the first to be approved but all commercial GM crops will not be given the green light for another 10 years.
Owen Patterson, the Environment Secretary, has long supported the introduction of GM crops in the UK and voted in favour of the changes on Thursday.
He said: “This is a real step forward in unblocking the dysfunctional EU process for approving GM crops, which is currently letting down our farmers and stopping scientific development.

Here's how the EU's Fuel Quality Directive, designed to discourage the use of highly-polluting carbon fuels, is being drastically weakened [.pdf]:

Since its inception in 2009, the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD), a European Union regulation aimed at reducing the climate impact of transport fuels, has been attacked by powerful lobby interests that do not want the EU to take action to curtail the use of particularly greenhouse gas intensive fossil fuels.
these attempts to weaken this landmark climate policy seem to have been successful. If recent media reports are correct, the European Commission has decided to significantly weaken the FQD and align its regulatory standards with the wishes of the oil industry, the US trade negotiators [for TTIP] and the Canadian government. Compared to a previous proposal from 2011, it would be considerably less effective in cleaning up Europe’s transport fuels and preventing the most climate polluting fuels, including tar sands, from entering Europe.

Most recently, we have learned that the European Commission is preparing to allow endocrine disruptors in pesticides - another key demand from the US side in TTIP. Unfortunately, the source for this information, Inside US Trade, is behind a paywall, so I can't give a link, but will just quote a couple of key passages:

One of the options proposed by the commission in a June 17 "roadmap" is to shift from the current EU approach of banning the use of all endocrine disruptors in pesticides toward a model that could allow them to be used as long as certain steps are taken to mitigate the risk. 

This risk assessment-based model is favored by the U.S. and EU pesticide industries and is the approach employed under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's "Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program." Such a model seeks to evaluate both whether a hazard exists and if it can be mitigated by limiting exposure, in order to allow the marketing of an otherwise dangerous product.

As you can see, this amounts to abandoning the EU's Precautionary Principle, and adopting the completely different risk-based approach of the US. Aside from the fact that this shows that the European Commission's promises that standards would not fall, that the EU would not be forced to adopt US approaches, and that public health in Europe would always be safeguarded, were worthless, this also disregards the EU's Treaty of Lisbon, which explicitly states:

Union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the Union. It shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay.

What's particularly interesting about the latest move by the European Commission is that the industry sources in the article quoted above point out that it represents a move to a "science-based" approach, something they have been demanding (note, too, that Owen Paterson also spoke of "scientific development" in the passage quoted above.) 

This is part of consistent campaign to paint the Precautionary Principle as "unscientific". In fact, this reframing is precisely what I predicted would happen a year ago. The key point is that "science" in the abstract does not exist: there is a continuum of good science and bad science - where the latter often includes experiments carried out by corporate scientists who miraculously produce results that match their paymaster's desires.

It's not just me saying this. Yesterday the following article appeared in the Guardian on the subject of pesticide research - the area that the European Commission wants to overhaul radically, moving towards a "science-based" approach:

Criticial future research on the plight of bees risks being tainted by corporate funding, according to a report from MPs published on Monday. Pollinators play a vital role in fertilising three-quarters of all food crops but have declined due to loss of habitat, disease and pesticide use. New scientific research forms a key part of the government’s plan to boost pollinators but will be funded by pesticide manufacturers.

That is, as I pointed out, when companies pay for research, they tend to get the answers they want.

When it comes to research on pesticides, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is content to let the manufacturers fund the work,” said EAC chair Joan Walley. “This testifies to a loss of environmental protection capacity in the department responsible for it. If the research is to command public confidence, independent controls need to be maintained at every step. Unlike other research funded by pesticide companies, these studies also need to be peer-reviewed and published in full”.

This again is something that I advocated last year. If companies want us to take their results seriously - and in principle I don't have problem with that, provide the science is sound and independent - then they must publish their findings in peer-reviewed journals and, crucially, publish *all* of their results as open data, for anyone to check and explore further. If they won't do that, we will know that they have something to hide.

In the meanwhile, expect the European Commission to start invoking "science-based" approaches to policy more and more, and that these strangely always mean that the European Union should lower its standards to those of the US, which already uses this "tainted" approach.

But however the Commission wants to package this massive shift, and whatever lipstick it puts on this particular pig (sorry, pigs, nothing personal), this is a fundamental betrayal at the very deepest level. It is truly disgraceful - not to mention ungrateful - that at every turn the European Commission seems to prefer to serve US corporations rather than the European public that pays the Commissioners' not-inconsiderable salaries. It's another reason why the whole of TTIP - not just the already terminal ISDS - must be rejected.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

26 July 2014

European Court Of Human Rights Fast-tracks Case Against GCHQ; More Organizations Launch Legal Challenges To UK Spying

Back in December, we wrote about a legal action that a group of digital rights activists had brought against GCHQ, alleging that the UK's mass online surveillance programs have breached the privacy of tens of millions of people across the UK and Europe. In an unexpected turn of events, the court involved -- the European Court of Human Rights -- has put the case in the fast lane

On Techdirt.

British Judge Rules Google Can Be Sued In UK Over Privacy Case

The battle over online privacy, and how personal data should be treated as it moves over the Internet, is being fought between the US and EU points of view in multiple ways. There is the EU's Data Protection Regulation, currently grinding its way through the legislative process; there are the discussions about the NSA's spying program, and how it impacts Europeans; and finally, there are various court cases involving US companies and the personal data of EU citizens. One of these is in the UK, where The Telegraph reports that an important decision has been handed down

On Techdirt.

A Rare Invitation To Help Shape European Copyright Law

Back in May last year, we wrote about how the European Commission's "Licences for Europe" initiative had turned into a fiasco, with public interest groups and open access supporters pulling out in protest at the way it was being conducted. The central problem was the Commission's attempt to force everything into the straitjacket of copyright licensing, refusing to allow alternative approaches to be discussed. Fortunately, its public consultation on copyright, launched back in December, and closing soon, does not make this mistake, and is broad in scope: 

On Techdirt.

Europe's Highest Court Says DRM Circumvention May Be Lawful In Certain Circumstances

One of the many problems with DRM is its blanket nature. As well as locking down the work in question, it often causes all kinds of other, perfectly legal activities to be blocked as well -- something that the copyright industry seems quite untroubled by. Here's an example from Europe involving Nintendo (pdf): 

On Techdirt.

Has The Copyright War Been Won -- And If So, Are We About To Lose It Again?

Reading Techdirt, it's all-too-easy to get the impression that copyright is an utter disaster for the public -- with current laws abused by governments, companies and trolls alike, and international agreements like TPP aiming to make the situation worse. But as Andres Guadamuz points out on his Technollama blog, things aren't quite as bleak as they sometimes seem

On Techdirt.

Microsoft Goes Open Access; When Will It Go Open Source?

Even though Microsoft is no longer the dominant player or pacesetter in the computer industry -- those roles are shared by Google and Apple these days -- it still does interesting work through its Microsoft Research arm. Here's some welcome news from the latter: it's moving to open access for its researchers' publications

On Techdirt.

In Response To Growing Protests, EU Pulls Corporate Sovereignty Chapter From TAFTA/TTIP To Allow For Public Consultation

Here on Techdirt, we've been writing about the dangers of corporate sovereignty for a while. In recent months, more and more people and organizations have pointed out that the plan to include an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in the TAFTA/TTIP agreement currently being negotiated is fraught with dangers -- and also completely unnecessary given the fair and efficient legal systems that exist on both sides of the Atlantic. It seems that this chorus of disapproval has finally been noticed, in Brussels at least: 

On Techdirt.

Big Pharma Accused Of Patent Plot Of 'Satanic Magnitude' By South African Health Minister

Here on Techdirt we've written a number of times about India's efforts to provide key drugs to its population at prices that they can afford, and how its approach is beginning to spread to other countries. That's a big worry for Western pharma companies, which see their business model of selling medicines at high prices threatened by newly-assertive nations. The latest to join that club is South Africa. 

On Techdirt.

Now That The NSA Has Made It The Norm, Total Surveillance During The Sochi Olympic Games Is No Longer Noteworthy

In addition to being an opportunity to stretch copyright and trademark rules way beyond the law, over the years, the Olympics has also become an occasion when the feeble "because terrorism" excuse is deployed to justify all kinds of additional restrictions on personal freedoms. It will come as no surprise to learn that the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Vladimir Putin's pet project, will continue the tradition

On Techdirt.

Will Monsanto Become The NSA Of Agriculture?

Monsanto is best-known for its controversial use of genetically-modified organisms, and less well-known for being involved in the story of the defoliant Agent Orange (the company's long and involved story is well told in the book and film "The World According to Monsanto", by Marie-Monique Robin.) Its shadow also looms large over the current TPP talks: the USTR's Chief Agricultural Negotiator is Islam A. Siddiqui, a former lobbyist for Monsanto. But it would seem that the company is starting to explore new fields, so to speak; as Salon reports in a fascinating and important post, Monsanto is going digital

On Techdirt.

NSA Spying Fallout Hits French Satellite Deal

Techdirt has already noted how the NSA's massive spying programs around the world are costing US companies money through lost business -- and are likely to cost them even more in the future. But it seems that the fallout is even wider, as this story from The Voice of Russia makes clear: 

On Techdirt.

Revelations About Massive UK Police Corruption Shows Why We Cannot -- And Must Not -- Trust The Spies

As Mike reported recently, the NSA has presented no credible evidence that its bulk metadata collection is stopping terrorist attacks, or keeping people safe. Instead, the argument in support of the secret activities of the NSA and its friends abroad has become essentially: "Trust us, we really have your best interests at heart." But that raises the question: Can we really do that? New revelations from The Independent newspaper about massive and thorough-going corruption of the UK police and judiciary a decade ago show that we can't: 

On Techdirt.

Why Exactly Do We Need To 'Protect' US And EU Foreign Investments Through TAFTA/TTIP Anyway?

Techdirt has already examined the issue of corporate sovereignty many times over the past year, as it has emerged as one of the most problematic areas of both TPP and TAFTA/TTIP. A fine article by Simon Lester of the Cato Institute examines a hidden assumption in these negotiations: that an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism is needed at all. 

On Techdirt.

India Developing Additional National Surveillance System; US Has No Moral High Ground To Protest

Like many other countries, India has been steadily extending its national surveillance capabilities. We wrote about its main Central Monitoring System (CMS) back in May last year, with more details in July. In news that shocked no one, we discovered in September that illegal surveillance is already taking place. And now, via The Economic Times, we learn that India has built another, completely independent system for spying on its citizens

On Techdirt.

Does The Fast Track Authority Bill Guarantee That Corporate Sovereignty Will Be One-Sided And Unfair?

Yesterday, Mike reported on the introduction of the "fast track authority" bill in the Senate, and pointed out some of its most troubling aspects. But it's a long document -- over 100 pages -- and hidden away within it are some other areas that raise important questions. Take, for example, Section 8, which concerns sovereignty: 

On Techdirt.

Latest Twist On DRM Of Physical Products: Machines Locked Down By Geolocation

Despite overwhelming evidence that the public hates DRM, companies persist in coming up with new ways to impose it in an effort to control how their products are used. Here's the latest twist, pointed out to us by @dozykraut

On Techdirt.

EU's Advocate-General Says Dutch Allowing Unauthorized Downloads Is Incompatible With European Copyright Law

Back in 2012, Ben Zevenbergen wrote a long piece exploring a complicated Dutch case that had been referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union, the EU's highest court. It concerned the home-copying exception of European copyright legislation, and hinged on the question of whether the Dutch collecting society could charge for the "losses" that result from people downloading both authorized and unauthorized uploads. That distinction needs to be made, since in the Netherlands downloading copyright material is permitted, but uploading it is not. Manufacturers of blank media claimed that they should only have to pay a lower copyright levy that covered just the downloads of legally-uploaded materials. 

On Techdirt.

Harvesting Waste Plastic In Emerging Economies As A Currency, To Reduce Pollution And Improve Lives

The very best solutions not only come up with a brilliant answer to an important problem, but often manage to help address other issues too. Here's one that seems to fit that bill, pointed out to us by Izabella Kaminska. It's called Plastic Bank, and its core idea is to address the growing problem of plastic waste on the land and in the world's oceans and rivers, especially in poorer countries. But along the way, it might achieve much more. Here's the idea: 

On Techdirt.