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Archive for the ‘Public policy’ Category

View from slopes - Bankso I’ve recently returned from a trip to Bulgaria and was struck by a country in economic and technological transition. The apartment blocks and factories, remnants of an industrial Communist era now past, clashed sharply with the modest stone-and-wood houses built by occupants who might herd goats or raise roosters in the garden. Overlaid atop this architectural tug-of-war across the countryside (no doubt simmering since the Soviet Army invaded in 1944) are signs of technological infrastructure and Western prosperity.

The billboards at Sofia airport for Hewlett-Packard and our other favourite technology companies were my first evidence that the country is growing both with through technology tools and with the innovation funds that their creator companies bring. The technology sector already accounts for 10% of Bulgaria’s GDP and the country is proud of it.

“There is no doubt the ‘old’ EU member states, for all their experience, could learn from what we have been doing in Bulgaria in terms of economic growth and competitiveness,” said Sergei Stanishev, Bulgarian prime minister, last week. Stanishev spoke in a pre-Spring EU summit in Brussels.

Stanishev’s pride wasn’t just talk — I was particularly impressed with the Bansko ski resort, boasting new Doppelmayr ski lifts and the RFID-based Skidata passes that allowed us skiers through a turnstile and straight onto the lift. Far more efficient than checking paper passes by hand! Bansko seems to have been planned out with technology and efficiency in mind.gondola at Bansko

Stanishev did admit that intellectual property protections (among other things) remain a challenge for Bulgaria to become a competitor in the world technology market. Yesterday, Bulgaria’s EU Commissioner Meglena Kuneva made effort towards laying down IP policy for the country. Weighing in on the international iTunes music debate in her capacity as European Commissioner for Consumers, Kuneva said, “[I do not find it] proper that a music CD can be played on all trademarks of players, but the music sold in iTunes can be played only on an iPod.” Taking this leadership role for the EU in such a high-stakes IP struggle could be significant for Bulgaria. Watch this space.

It appears that this beautiful country, which joined the EU at the beginning of this year, has every intention of becoming a major player in the tech economy. Today’s news announces that they have just been slated to receive €7 billion in EU funding over the next 7 years — I’m quite keen to see what they accomplish with it.

Bankso village

Updated, 15 March 2007: I fixed the mistyped pronoun indicating that Meglena Kuneva is a “him”.  She is, in fact, a woman.  Apologies for any offence caused.

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The Cabinet Office has released their e-Government framework for Information Assurance for draft consultation. The document sets forth guidelines for implementing the transformational government agenda of delivering more effective, more efficient customer-centric public services. These guidelines are intended to inform all transactions (and their supporting infrastructures) between UK government and its citizens.

The document has an interesting list of relevant legislation under appendix B, ‘Related Policy and Guidance’ (cited below).

The principal pieces of legislation that are likely to inform the IA requirements for e-Government service implementations include and are not limited to [links are added]:

  • the Human Rights Act and the underlying European Convention on Human Rights set out everyone’s right to privacy in their correspondence;
  • the Data Protection Act sets requirements for the proper handling and protection of personal information held within information processing systems;
  • the Electronic Communications Act sets the requirements for electronic signatures and their equivalence to conventional signatures;
  • the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act makes it an offence to intercept communication on any public or private network; case and time limited exemptions may be granted subject to warrant;
  • the Terrorism Act makes it an offence to take actions which are designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system;
  • the Wireless Telegraphy Act controls the monitoring of wireless telegraphy;
  • the Police and Criminal Evidence Act defines conditions under which law enforcement may obtain and use evidence;
  • the Computer Misuse Act makes attempted of actual penetration or subversion of computer systems a criminal act; the Public Records Act lays down requirements for the proper care and preservation of documentary records of government activities;
  • the Official Secrets Act lays down requirements for the proper control of government information;
  • the Freedom of Information Act lays down the citizen’s rights of access to government held information.

I’m posting this list because it illustrates what a balancing act information policy is. On the one hand, we fight to preserve open paths of communication to our legislators and civil servants; we encourage all individuals to be involved in their government; we promote citizenship and interaction through digital inclusion of those who might otherwise be marginalised. Similarly, we have charged the same government with protecting us and our communities; we want them to have full access to the ‘bad guys’ and to anticipate — even pre-empt — any threat to us. From those arguments, we should open everything to everyone!

On the other hand, we have agreed that our human rights grant us the freedom to our own confidentiality. We have also agreed, through our democracy, that the government should have some leeway in keeping information from us (particularly about each other) to deliver effective public services to us and our neighbours and to protect us from the bad guys. security
Both of these bits of secrecy mean that each party wants to maintain a certain level of control over allowing access into our conversations.

It’s a lot to juggle.

[Consultation on the e-Government framework for Information Assurance runs until 13th March 2007.]

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I’ve seen CSI, can’t they just lift the prints from the glasses?

(picture from the Guardian)

This article from Friday’s Register, Beer Fingerprints to go UK-wide, tells us that South Somerset District Council‘s pilot scheme of fingerprinting patrons of local pubs seems to have led to a 48% drop in alcohol related crime between February and September 2006.From the article: ‘Offenders can be banned from one pub or all of them for a specified time – usually a period of months – by a committee of landlords and police called Pub Watch. Their offences are recorded against their names in the fingerprint system. Bradburn [principal licensing manager at South Somerset District Council] noted the system had a “psychological effect” on offenders.’

Apparently the Government is so impressed that they’re willing to fund the scheme for ‘councils that want to have their pubs keep a regional black list of known trouble makers’. The Home Office have agreed to fund similar systems in Coventry, Hull and Sheffield, while general funding for the rest of the local authorities is to come from the Department for Communities and Local Government‘s Safer, Stronger Communities budget. The article says that the DCLG is distributing the funds through local area agreements (description sites from the central government side and from local government).

This news article fills me with so many questions I’m not sure where to begin.

  • Why is no one else reporting on this activity?? I’ve had a look at South Somerset’s, the DCLG’s and the Home Office’s sites and wasn’t able to find any news on this scheme (though that may be the fault of the search technologies they’re each using. The results I didn’t get, in general, weren’t particularly relevant). I’ve also checked Google news — nothing their either.
  • Where is the fingerprint data going? What kinds of Data Protection Act considerations have been made? How easy will it be to find out that your no-good lazy husband was in fact having a pint when he said he’d be at work late? And what about that female fingerprint in the database just before or just after him?
  • The previous point of course brings up all kinds of data-sharing questions within the government too. As seen in the Climbié debacle, the Government isn’t fantastic at sharing information when it needs to. Does that help or hurt this scheme?
  • How much has business fallen for these pubs? Is all of South Somerset okay with this?

If anyone knows more about what’s going on here, I’d love to be caught up. How bizarre to find this story slid in under the radar.

DCLG logo Home Office logo Down it goes

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