On Saturday, I attended ORGCon 2012, the Open Rights Group’s conference. I signed up fairly late on, mostly because I had nothing better to be doing that day, and I’m pretty glad I did.
The first talk I attended was “Have warrant, will extradite – copyright cops go international”, by Graham Smith, a copyright lawyer. Very interesting and informative, in part because most of what’s said about internet-related law seems to come from non-lawyers, so it was good to hear from someone who knew what he was talking about. He warned that it would be a bit lecture-ish at times, but I didn’t find that to be a problem (though I did take notes). The gist of it seemed to be that yes, the law does allow extradition in certain copyright cases, although some cases involving extradition have stretched the criteria somewhat.
Next was “Stop Government Snooping: Why CCDP is a bad idea” by Gus Hosein and Eric King from Privacy International. Again, quite interesting; CCDP is the “Communications Capabilities Development Programme”, yet another attempt by the UK government to introduce mass surveillance of the internet and telephone networks. One particular concern expressed was the lack of details from the Home Office about what this would actually entail, since previous attempts to do this had been abandoned as impractical. They also gave some examples of the monitoring technology available; it seems that mass surveillance is a competitive market, with many companies more than happy to sell to repressive governments, and not hesitating to list as features various things that would be illegal in the UK. (One that stood out was a black-box type device that could be plugged into a submarine cable landing point and monitor all the traffic going in or out.)
After lunch was “Censorship or Child Protection?”, which was somewhat disappointing. The panel seemed to lead towards the pro-censorship side (though not as heavily as one person in the audience, who seemed to argue that “the internet is for adults”, and as such, children should be allowed only to access certain whitelisted sites, presumably so that adults wouldn’t have to be inconvenienced). There didn’t seem to be a useful conclusion from the discussion, one way or the other.
After that was “Defeating ACTA”; the most interesting part of this, for me, was the first half, from Erik Josefsson, an advisor to the Greens/EFA in the EU Parliament. I missed this at the time, but apparently ACTA in the EU has been delayed after Poland refused to ratify it (it was also Poland that stopped the Software Patent Directive a few years back). Apparently, ACTA has now been referred to the ECJ to determine whether it’s constitutional; this appears to mean that it’s effectively dead, as this process will take a significant amount of time.
The keynote was Lawrence Lessig on “Recognizing the Fight We’re In”, and probably the highlight of the day. Lessig is an excellent speaker, with a talk on what he sees as the root cause of the various attacks on copyright and civil liberties over the last decade or two: corruption in politics. It was very interesting to look at what he was saying from a libertarian-socialist perspective: while I doubt Lessig wants to smash the state and abolish private property, there was a definite feeling of opposition to big business and big government, and a preference for cooperation and regionalism (similar to the Green Party).
It was also interesting to compare Lessig’s talk with Cory Doctorow’s opening talk; while Doctorow was interesting, Lessig was making a deeper political point: that rather than focus on one campaign after another (Software Patents Directive, Digital Economy Act, SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, ad infinitum), we should also attack the root cause: a political system that allows people with money to get their way. He’s also a noticably better speaker; Doctorow noticeably read from notes, while Lessig appeared to do the whole thing from memory, or at least did a better job of hiding it. (His slides were pretty cool, too.)