I use Facebook. I blog. I am a registered member of various online services, as well as several offline ones. Google, Facebook, several IT forums, credit card companies, my bank, and my employer (to name a few) can develop a fairly good picture of what I do and where I go on a regular basis. They can predict what I can, and likely will, do. While these issues are important, and I continue to write about them, for this post I want to attend to public documents. Specifically, I want to think about the implications of making legal decisions and court transcripts publicly accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.
Welcome to Law, Online
As mentioned I use Google. I also use a series of other search engines, as I’m sure many others do. Some are specialized for journal articles, others for books to borrow, yet others for books to buy, and so on. Sometimes, when I’m bored, I also search for law cases to read up on (yes, I realize that makes it sound like I have too much time on my hands. It’s for research purposes, really!). Members of the Canadian public can request access to judgments that have been made in a Canadian court; while it may cost the first person to request the transcript a few dollars, subsequent visitors will face negligible costs where costs are imposed at all. Digitized judgments are increasingly placed online for major search engines index and which members of the public can access them at any time. This is done in accordance with precedent – citizens have always been able to read transcripts of court cases by visiting the court where the judgment is kept, finding the documents, and sitting down and reading them. The digitization of such documents (the argument goes) is just a natural extension of past systems of public use.
To fully function as a student in today’s Western democracies means having access access to the Internet. In some cases this means students use Content Management Systems (CMSs) such as Drupal, Blackboard, or wikis (to name a few examples) to submit homework and participate in collaborate group assignments. CMSs are great because teachers can monitor the effectiveness of student’s group contributions and retain timestamps of when the student has turned in their work. Thus, when Sally doesn’t turn in her homework for a few weeks, and ‘clearly’ isn’t working with her group in the school-sanctioned CMS, the teacher can call home and talk with Sally’s parents about Sally’s poor performance.
At least, that’s the theory.
Three-Strike Copyright and Some Numbers
I’m not going to spend time talking about the digital divide (save to note that it’s real, and it penalises students in underprivileged environments by preventing them from acting as an equal in the digitized classroom), nor am I going to talk about the inherent privacy and security issues that arise as soon as teacher use digital management systems. No, I want to turn our attention across the Atlantic to Britain, where the British parliament will soon be considering legislation that would implement a three-strike copyright enforcement policy. France is in the process of implementing a similar law (with the expectation that it will be in place by summer 2008), which will turn ISPs into data police. Under these policies if a user (read: household) is caught infringing on copyright three times (they get two warnings) they can lose access to the ‘net following the third infringement.
This is going to be the beginning of a semi-regular series where I’ll post some of the (what I find) interesting things that I’ve been playing with/working on. I expect that the its will tend to be somehow related to my work in IT, my work as a graduate student, and my persistent work in developing a redundant large storage system at home.
Bookmark Sync and Sort
I work on a lot of computers on a regular basis. I have a series of them at work, my laptop (which travels pretty well everywhere with me), and a few at home. You know, in addition to all the other computers I pass by on a regular basis. To date, the best bookmark synchroniser that I found was Foxmarks, but I wasn’t a terribly large fan of putting my data on another person’s server. In addition to that, when you send your data it isn’t encrypted (while https data will be encrypted using standard Firefox encryption, it still means that what you have bookmarked will be sent along whatever networks you happen to be operating on). Ultimately, those two matters meant that I wasn’t particularly comfortable with the Foxmarks solution.