Posts tagged ‘politics’

Paranoia and Google Plus

After two weeks on Plus, I’ve decided:

* They have the best online photo upload and management system I’ve ever used.
* When deciding who to share content with, I usually discover that what I wanted to share wouldn’t be of interest to anybody and keep it to myself.
* Stuff that other people share is not interesting enough to warrant checking the stream.
* Google, (plus 1 buttons, analytics, chrome), Facebook (like buttons), and Twitter (tweet to your followers buttons) all have a disturbingly accurate record of my browsing habits. About 90% of the sites I visit have at least one of these buttons on them, they all execute scripts on the page, most of them set cookies.

It’s making me a bit paranoid, I already use https and noscript and selectively accept cookies, but it’s not enough, I don’t feel safe.

Privacy vs Freedom of Speech: Wikileaks

The Pirate Party of Canada has asked it’s members to vote on its stance towards the Wikileaks discussion. In most cases, the PPoC requests its members to have their own opinion, and, if ever elected, to represent their constituents before representing the party. The PPoC only has a unified stance on matters of copyright law, privacy, and free speech. The Wikileaks issue definitely falls under this category, and the party therefore needs to make a collective decision. Here, I am publishing my personal stance on the issue, regardless of the decision they make.

Every human being should have a right to privacy. If we wish to keep any detail about ourselves secret, we should have the right to do so. Legal or illegal, moral or immoral, if we don’t want some piece of data to be public knowledge, the right to privacy is paramount.

We wave this right as soon as we tell anyone our secret. Whether it is a family member, a close friend, a stranger, or everyone on Facebook, the secret is no longer ours to keep. By telling the person that secret, we have given them the right to maintain the secret, or to pass it on or publish it however they deem fit. We can request that they keep the secret, but we cannot demand it. However, that person still has the same right to privacy that we originally had. If only two of us know the secret, we both have the right to protect that secret. No-one should be able to forcibly take that secret from us without our consent.

Once a sufficient number of people knows the secret, the probability that their collective privacy will be greater than the right to gossip approaches zero. “Private knowledge” vs “public knowledge” is not a binary distinction. One person knowing our secret does not make the secret “public.” However, it means that we no longer have the soul ability to keep it private.

The other side of the coin is the responsibility to protect individual privacy. Many professional and government organizations have access to individual data about us that we may want to keep secret. Our doctors, nurses, and medical staff, our accountants and lawyers, our banks, tax agencies, and passport authorities, our driver’s license, health care, and motor vehicle registries all have access to data that they require, but we have the right to protect. They are responsible for protecting that individual data on our behalf. If they fail, data becomes public that should not be public.

So far, I’ve been talking about individual privacy. Privacy does not apply to corporations or governments. They should be held accountable to the individuals in the world, they should be required to operate transparently and openly. They are responsible to maintain the privacy of their employees, members, clients, and customers, but have no right to privacy as a single corporate entity.

Once data is made public, the right to publish that data trumps the right to privacy. This is freedom of speech. Any individual or organization who has access to data has the right to publish the data. The right to free speech does not trump the right to privacy, however, once privacy has been given up, the right to free speech is stronger.

The Wikileaks fiasco violates all of these principles. The private data of individuals was compromised. Government organizations were not operating transparently. Government organizations failed in their responsibility to protect the private data of individuals in their care. Freedom of speech was violated when both governments and corporate entities that should have been completely disinterested oppressed the publisher of the data.

I’d like to emphasize this point: Government organizations failed in their responsibility to protect the private data of individuals in their care. The failure rests squarely on the shoulders of the governments in question. Rather than attacking one (of many) publisher of the information, the governing body is obligated to fix their internal processes. Further, the corporate entities that are attacking Wikileaks should be focusing on this real culprit, not the publisher.

One less relevant note: it is true that the right to freedom of speech can be applied immorally. Consider the celebrity publications of today: the paparazzi are, by most accounts, disgustingly immoral. They violate the right to individual privacy (such violation should be illegal), but have the right to publish information once obtained. Wikileaks may (arguably) be immoral, but they are not so immoral as the paparrazzi that killed and photographed Princess Diana. Why is Wikileaks being persecuted while celebrity gossip rags are running free?

Schwag Shipping

Canada Post recently raised its shipping rates. Again. I think it’s the third time in a year, and the increase was substantial. I have considered their rates to be unfair for quite some time, and have tended to keep my shipping rates lower than my actual costs (handling fees, such as envelopes, printer ink, and tape are other costs I face). However, I had to raise the rates on most of my products today in order to cover more of the costs. Some of my more recent shipments have cost me more than the amount I was making on the products themselves.

As a government-run corporation, I believe Canada Post should be making more of an effort to keep it’s rates low and facilitate the moving of mail across this rather large country. I find it insulting that it costs so much for me to ship items to my Canadian clients. I understand the costs associated with international shipments, but with the unique size, geography, and climate in this country (it’s a tough place to live), I feel it is very important to have the infrastructure for getting both people (it is costing my $1000 for return flights to ArchCon in Toronto and back. I can fly to Vegas with 5 nights included for half that.) and parcels across the country as cheaply, efficiently, and easily as possible.

That said, most of my schwag customers are not located in Canada, and I am taking even bigger hits on my shipments to those customers. I have investigated some alternatives, such as travelling to the US to mail orders in bulk, but less often, but USPS has also been steadily raising their rates, and the savings to my customers wouldn’t cover the gas to get down there, the hassle at the border, or the added delays.

I anticipate reduced sales from these raised prices, and I apologize to those who feel it is too expensive to order Arch Schwag products. I will continue investigating cheaper forms of logistics, and hopefully I will be able to reduce the rates someday!

How (not) to submit a W8-BEN: Canadian retailers dealing with US income

As a Canadian retailer selling books on Amazon’s Createspace, (an American company), I suffer a 30% tax by the US government. (Aside: this is not a good way to promote global trade in a country that is nearer to economic collapse than ever before). Canadian residents are supposed to have this entire tax waived. In order to have the tax waived, I need to supply a W8-BEN form to Createspace. This sounds quite trivial, but the steps involved are time consuming and error prone. If you’re trying to figure out how to do this, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Get a Certified Copy of your Canadian passport. If you’re lucky enough to live near a city that has an official Passport Canada Office go there and have them certify it. Service Canada and Canada Post cannot perform this service. If, like many Canadians, you are not so lucky, you’ll have to mail it to this address:
    Passport Canada
    Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada
    Gatineau, Canada K1A 0G3

    with a letter requesting the certified copy service. It will take up to four weeks for your passport to be returned, so don’t plan any international travel. You can also get the passport certified at a US embassy or by a US notary (the IRS won’t trust a Canadian Notary).

  2. Fill out a W-7 form. This is fairly straightforward. The IRS has instructions but they don’t make much sense. Mail the form to this address, with the certified copy of your passport:

    Internal Revenue Service
    Austin Service Center
    ITIN Operation
    P.O. Box 149342
    Austin, TX 78714-9342

  3. Wait for the IRS to get back to you. In my case they didn’t. They did get the form though, because I started getting official IRS e-mail spam. They just never gave me a TIN or responded in any physical fashion whatsoever. So I had to start the process over, continuing to lose 30% of my income every month, and going without my passport for another month.
  4. Fill out the W8-BEN form. The IRS has instructions for this too. You’ll have to include your TIN in this form.
  5. Send the form to whichever company is withholding taxes from you for the US government.

After the IRS lost or destroyed or rejected my application, without telling me, I had no way to contact them to find out what had happened. There is no e-mail address on their site, no web submit form, no phone number for international service. They don’t even seem to encourage using their mailing address.

Even worse, for me, Zazzle has now also started withholding this 30%, and they refuse to send my funds AT ALL until I submit the W8-BEN. A substantial portion of my income is now being held hostage or stolen by the US government, and they are cleverly refusing to give me the information I need to free it.

Taxes are a difficult matter, and we all complain about them. Dealing with the IRS has given me a huge appreciation for how intelligently the Canada Revenue Agency has streamlined their processes in recent years. Interacting with the IRS is like using smoke signals. Interacting with the CRA is like using a telegraph. Hopefully both countries will be able to handle the simplicity of the Internet someday soon.

Canadian Copyright Consultation

The Canadian government is either making an effort or making a show of making an effort to consult with the public and other stakeholders on the issue of digital rights and copyright. I encourage all Canadians to post a response to them at this site: http://copyright.econsultation.ca/

Here is my response. The ideas and opinions expressed here are largely based on discussions we’ve had at the Pirate Party of Canada discussion forum. My opinions do not, however, necessarily reflect the opinion of the Pirate Party of Canada.

Feel free to plagiarize any parts of the following letter in your own letters to the Copyright Consultation.

—-
Dear Copyright Consultation Members,

My background: I am a freelance software developer holding a Master’s
degree in Computer Science from York University. I am an advocate of
open source software and member of the fledgling Pirate Party of
Canada. I understand the fundamental shift that Internet technology
has made on society, and am here to explain this understanding to the
lawmakers.

1. How do Canada’s copyright laws affect you?

Our copyright laws take all power away from both artists and consumers
and place that power in the hands of wealthy distribution channels
such as book publishers, record labels, and movie studios. As an
aspiring author, I cannot get my book published because the publishing
industry does not like my style. As a consumer, I cannot access music
at reasonable prices because the recording industry wants a huge cut.
I may not mind paying $20 for a CD, but knowing that the original
artist gets a small fraction of that is upsetting. I’d rather send the
entire $20 directly to the artist and download their music from
so-called “pirate” services.

The Internet is making these distribution channels unnecessary.
Authors can post books online and self-publish using online services
such as lulu or createspace. Musicians can post their music online
using Jamendo or Bittorrent. Independent movie producers can post
their movies online using hulu, youtube, or similar services. This
shift allows artists direct access to the consumers and vice versa.

The distribution channels are irrelevant; they know this and are
lobbying for laws to make it harder and/or illegal to access content
without paying them. This is like trying to pass laws that we all use
typewriters instead of e-mail because typewriters and the postal
system are no longer relevant. It serves a set of industries already
well-known for misusing artists and consumers alike.

How should existing laws be modernized?

The number one change is to reduce copyright term. Drastically.

A book published today will not be available to the public in my life
time. How is the original author compensated after his or her death?
Sony is making an obscene fortune off of Michael Jackson’s death, a
small fraction of that will go to his family. Why?

In addition, technology is now advancing at an incredible rate. a
century ago when our current copyright laws were introduced, things
moved in decades. Now they move in seconds. It could take years for a
book or recording to circulate and be heard by everyone in the
country. Now the entire world can read it in a week, and next week its
old news.

Copyright term should be shortened to 10 years for books, 5 years for
music and movies, 2 years for software, and 1 year or less for
medicinal knowledge. This would give artists and distribution channels
some compensation, but would increase the rate of knowledge growth by
at least one human generation.

Second, non-commercial sharing of data must not be illegal. It should
not be illegal for me to loan a book to a friend. It should not be
illegal for me to read a book to my friend over the phone. By
extension, I should be able to share it with them across any media or
time-frame.

2. Based on Canadian values and interests, how should copyright
changes be made in order to withstand the test of time?

The primary Canadian value at risk and often forgotten in these
discussions is privacy. We are a very private people compared to say,
the USA, although probably less private than most of Europe. Many
corporate lobiests suggest that people not be allowed to share data
they have paid for or use it in whatever way they see fit. The obvious
example is filesharing, but the logical extensions could lead to
charging to read a book every time you open it, or forbidding a person
from watching a movie at a friend’s house if they haven’t paid to view
it.

The privacy problem is that policing such laws would require knowing
every movie I watch, every book I read, and every packet I transfer
across the Internet. The authorities would have to read every e-mail
to ensure I haven’t attached an “illegal” file to it. This is clearly
a drastic invasion of privacy.

Another core Canadian value is the desire to create. Our country has a
very unique heritage with many unique works of art not created
anywhere else. If the large media outlets get their way, they will
have complete control over all creative works. They will get to pick
and choose which artists get shown to the public and which ones get
placed in the equivalent of a creative prison with no access to
potential readers, viewers, or listeners. We will be steered by US
corporate interests and our cultural works will be marginalized and
ultimately, lost.

3. What sorts of copyright changes do you believe would best foster
innovation and creativity in Canada?

As mentioned, shorter copyright term. That will:
a) force capable artists and inventors to come up with new ideas
instead of living off the fruits of a single idea for their entire
lives
b) allow capable artists and authors to ‘stand on the shoulders of
giants’ and reuse existing works in their own works and inventions.
They can constructively spend time improving existing works instead of
trying to circumvent other good ideas that they do not have access to.

4. What sorts of copyright changes do you believe would best foster
competition and investment in Canada?

Competition would definitely be served by shorter copyright term.
Companies and artists would need to continue creating, and would have
to sell their works with quality service and pricing.

Investment is a really tricky issue because it depends what other
countries are doing. I believe that if Canada had sane copyright laws,
there would be a “new-style” publishing industry cropping up here, and
artists may move to our nation to take advantage of direct access to
an audience. On the other hand, currently powerful companies would
shun investment in the new model. I believe such companies will become
irrelevant.

5. What kinds of changes would best position Canada as a leader in
the global, digital economy?

Such a question depends on what the rest of the world is doing. Canada
needs to look to Europe for inspiration as the USA has the most
powerful corporate anti-consumer backing. Europe has already elected
Pirate Party members focused on copyright reform similar to what I
have described. It is inevitable that massive reform, even revolutions
in copyright law will occur at some point; it is possible that wars
will be fought over it. Canada can be at the front of this movement by
changing our laws first, and by doing it the way we always do:
peacefully.

Dusty Phillips
—-

Pirate Party of Canada

I have never considered myself a political activist. I rarely vote, believing that “low voter turnout” is a more telling statistic than “voted for one of several fools at random”.

I’ve always been unimpressed by the Canadian democratic process. There seemed no alternative to leaving the handling of our nation in the hands of whichever babbling, bumbling bozos happen to get elected. None of them ever really did anything to directly benefit me, but they never seemed to cause much harm either.

I also never tell people who to vote for. We all have different views and needs and you have both a right to and reason for completely different opinions.

But I can advertise! If you haven’t heard about the Pirate Party and its recent success in the European Union, you may want to read up on it. Its goals are to reform copyright laws such that authors and consumers are treated fairly and distributors no longer wield the increasingly evil and technologically obsolete powers they are lobbying to protect.

If you’re Canadian, I encourage you to read about Bill C-61 and consider the implications it will have on our country’s future. Its goals are to reform copyright laws such that authors and consumers are criminals and distributors have a complete monopoly on the increasingly evil and technologically obsolete powers they currently hold.

Read up on these topics and form your own opinions. Then, if you feel angry or threatened, I suggest heading over to http://piratepartyofcanada.com and lend whatever skills you have to this nascent Canadian political party.