14 March 2010

Democracy fail

Countries like China, Iran and others with totalitarian regimes are routinely castigated in the Western press for the limits they place on free speech, including on the internet. So the next target for staunch defenders of democracy should be... us?

According to Tech Liberty NZ, the Department of Internal Affairs (maybe that should be Infernal Affairs) has confirmed that an internet filter has gone live as of 1 February 2010. Two ISPs -- Watchdog and Maxnet -- have signed up, and Telecom, Vodafone and Telstra Clear have indicated that they will also sign up for it. Slingshot and Natcom have said they will not sign up. Orcon has said they probably won't.

The stated intention of the internet filter is to block access to child sex abuse images, it'll be hard for the government to resist the temptation to spread the filter's reach into other areas (political, social, economic, etc.). Especially since the list of sites blocked by the filter is secret: you're not allowed to know what's being blocked.

Now, stopping child sex abuse images is a laudable goal. I've always loathed the people who make and traffic in this stuff (especially now that I'm a father). But is this filter going to stop it?


First of all, stopping someone from viewing this filth won't stop the production of it, which should be the more urgent goal of law enforcement. To produce a child sex abuse image (I hate the term 'kiddie porn'), a child has to be abused. That'll happen whether anybody downstream views the image or not. So catching and punishing the people who make the images should be a priority.

Secondly, the filter won't stop peer-to-peer file sharing, which is apparently how most child sex abuse images are shared.

Third, anyone determined enough will be able to route around the filter, making it useless.

This filter intrudes on your right to privacy and freedom from search. A police officer can't just stop you in the street and search you, they have to have probable cause: a justified reason to execute the search that will hold up in court. To search your house, the police have to go before a judge, explain why they think they need to search your house, and get a warrant before they knock on your door. To listen to your phone conversations, they likewise need a warrant. But your internet traffic? With this filter, where you browse, what you read and watch is fair game. Regardless of whether you're going to a banned site or not, if the website you are visiting happens to be hosted by the same web server as a banned site, your traffic will go via DIA's servers.

Somebody's going to rattle off the line, "If you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about." Bullshit. We have a presumption of innocence in this country (innocent until proven guilty). A filter assumes you're guilty until it decides you're innocent.

This filter was implemented because DIA decided that it was allowed to under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993. This act mentions the internet. Once. In the definition of "service provider" (which itself is only mentioned one other time). It is definitely worrying that a government department can arbitrarily set up a censorship regime without political oversight: an unelected bureaucrat can decide what you can and cannot view, and not tell you until after you've potentially incriminated yourself.

Ben Franklin once said, "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty nor security." This filter is an assault on our liberties, and should be stopped as undemocratic. Let us decide for ourselves what we can watch and read.

10 March 2010

Ok Go's new video

From the same group that danced on treadmills (which can be seen, briefly, at some point in this music video):

06 March 2010

Another flight

Took a flight with the Wellington Aero Club today, courtesy of my mother-in-law (as a thank you for some help I'd given her with her computer). Spent about an hour in a two-seat Piper Tomahawk II mucking about around Wellington's south coast. Some glorious sights, but didn't get many photos as I was controlling the plane pretty much from the get go. Did the takeoff, cruising, a touch-and-go, and a full-stop landing with a little help from one of the instructors. Did get a chance to take a couple of pictures, plus some video clips.

It's the second time I've done one of these flights, the first time was a few years ago.

03 March 2010

The future of games?

Interesting talk to come out of DICE 2010, by Professor Jesse Schell of Carnegie Mellon University (courtesy of G4TV):

I particularly liked the explanation of why we hate the iPad (at about 17:15).

02 March 2010

How to lose your fans

Slashdot is reporting an 8-year fan-created episode in the (long dead) King's Quest series has been shutdown by Activision.

The series started in 1984 under the auspices of Sierra On-line with King's Quest: Quest for the Crown and finished in 1998 with King's Quest VIII: Mask of Eternity. When Sierra (as Sierra Entertainment) faded away, and stopped producing KQ games with the cancelation of King's Quest IX in 2002, fans stepped in and started producing their own labour of love, King's Quest IX: Every Cloak has a Silver Lining.

Fast forward 8 years, and Activision (owners of the remnants of Sierra and its IP) have issued a cease-and-desist order, effectively burying the game. Vivendi, when they controlled the IP and before they had been swallowed by Activision, had allowed development to continue under a non-commercial licence (i.e., the fans couldn't sell it and not actually call it King's Quest IX), but apparently Activision is not willing to allow even that.

Let's be clear: Activision have every right to do this. They own the intellectual property rights over the King's Quest series, so they are perfectly within their legal rights to do this. But, from a business point of view, this decision is completely nuts. Activision have no plans to revisit the series, so it's not competing against an "official" product. And the people producing the game are fans -- you know, people who love the series and are prepared to put in some work to keep it alive. All Activision are doing here is stomping over people who now might think twice before buying any Activision product.

Let's hear a big cheer for the lawyers....

Update: From Techdirt, Activision are letting the game go ahead. Common sense prevails...


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