Data retention: an unworkable law devised in bad faith

Girl with a dead canary. Source: wikipediaYou should probably know, dear readers, that a journalist information warrant to secure data retention for this website does not exist and is not currently being applied for.

This statement may now render me liable to two years in an Australian prison.

Sorry to any regular readers who don’t like partisan rants. Leave the page now. Normal service will resume shortly. Maybe.

I’m cross because both main parties in the Australian Senate agreed to pass a very flawed bill on data retention. Here is just one of the many ridiculous and offensive clauses taken from the third reading of the bill, which was voted into law quite comfortably by people who should know better about technology and who have little regard for human rights. I am happy to  break this law flagrantly and will continue to do so until it is repealed. The statement at the start of this post might be breaking Section 182A of the new Act in two different ways. I encourage all Australians who care about privacy, government overreach or poor legislation to put the statement on their websites and emails, then turn themselves in to the police. Don’t worry if you don’t have a computer – to attract a two year jail sentence you can just speak the phrase into your phone.

182A  Disclosure/use offences: journalist information warrants

(1)  A person commits an offence if:

(a)  the person discloses or uses information; and

(b)  the information is about any of the following:

(i)  whether a journalist information warrant (other than such a warrant that relates only to section 178A) has been, or is being, requested or applied for;

(ii)  the making of such a warrant;

(iii)  the existence or non‑existence of such a warrant;

(iv)  the revocation of such a warrant.

Penalty:  Imprisonment for 2 years.

You can read more, and take part in the campaign to #stopdataretention.

Watch the deceptively softly-spoken Senator Scott Ludlam’s critique of the bill.

the Australian Government still can’t tell us how much it will cost; most importantly, they can’t tell us how they would protect the data which is now going to be something of a honey pot for people with malicious intent – and most importantly, they can’t tell us how trapping and storing the private information and the records of 23 million innocent people will make us safer or reduce the incidence of crime.

Finally, thank you to the 16 senators who voted against.




How Non-profits can benefit from Twitter

Marketing blogger Seth Godin has expressed his dismay that non-profit organisations don’t appear in the top 100 Twitter users. He thinks this is a tragic lost opportunity for marketing and he may be right. After all, we can guess that Twitter is working fine for the likes of Ashton Kucher, Britney Spears and Perez Hilton (although given the number of tweets Kucher has apparently made in the eight months since joining it’s surprising he’s found time to sleep. Perhaps he has an army of Tw-obots, all programmed to tweet till they drop).

But doesn’t the top 100 list itself give us some clues as to what is going on? The homogeneity of the list surely indicates something about Twitter and its users. They seem to be very interested in ‘stars’ who have music, concerts and merchandise to sell, and a pop culture ‘image’ to promote/offer. Is this really the best forum for non-profit organisations? I guess it can’t hurt to try…

A way of testing this would be to look at the top ten non-profits on Twitter, find out how they’ve used the medium and see to what extent the lessons learned might be transferable. Any takers?

One issue with all this is that of ‘early adoption’ of technology. Let’s face it, non-profit organisations have never been great at this. And it’s not clear that they need to be. If Seth is right, the first cabs off the rank will be big winners, but my guess is that the rest won’t suffer all that much. It’s not as though we are about to run out of things to be altruistic about if we don’t hurry. By backing no technology they also won’t suffer the early adopter problem of backing the wrong (or suboptimal) technology.

If they think they can get away with not Twittering, they will. Dare it be said they might have better things to do with their time?

How to choose the best online citation tools

Just as I finally get used to loving Zotero, it looks like Mendeley is set to claim my heart. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, these are on-line citation tools for academic research and writing. They use various different methods for collecting and manipulating metadata relating to books, journals, papers and websites – and then linking it all together automagically. They hold out the promise of automating activities that until now have been painstaking and laborious for researchers, and of creating new opportunities for collaboration that never existed before. But there is a down side. Continue reading “How to choose the best online citation tools”

Normal service is about to be resumed

Thanks for staying put while my computer had a very big melt down, while I reset my system with Ubuntu, and while floods and storms meant my broadband connection was down  for several days. It’s enough to make me embarrassed to be mentioning the phrase ‘resilient systems’. But fear not, Fourcultures is back online and what passes for normal service will continue very soon….

Sucks so hard it blows…

ubunchu-extractNever thought I’d find a use for that phrase, but a certain (unco-)operating system has given me the perfect excuse. I think we all know what I’m talking about. In fact it sucks so much I’m finally going to give the new Ubuntu a serious try. Having used Knoppix before to resurrect a dead PC and finding it worked a treat, Linux does not scare me, oh no…