Category Archives: society

refactoring the government

code.close()

The Belgian politicians are having a bit of a problem forming a new government since the last elections. This caused folks to organise a demonstration in Brussels on Sunday to make it clear that it’s time those politicians get back to work and form a government pronto.

While talking about this the whole thing somehow reminds me of refactoring software. Software that’s been having bugs and problems for years which where mended by applying patch after patch after patch, but where the code which is the actual root of the problem is never touched. In the end these patches cause more problems when the problem code has to be refactored, because those patches are fixing symptoms where they occur, causing even more issues at other locations.

So this is what I see happening now with the current formation of the government. To get through this, the patches applied over the years are causing additional difficulties and have to be cleared together with the actual problem. Reforming a country as difficultly organised as Belgium takes time. I’m just hoping that all this time won’t be for nothing in the end by forming a hasty government with (again) a half-assed solution to the problem which has been dragging on for years already.

Let’s just be a bit more patient shall we and let them do their job as they should for once, and clear up this mess created by the maintenance programmers, euhm,.. politicians.

Photo by ruiwen, cc-licensed

the lazyweb is back

I always liked the idea of the Lazyweb. You could ask a question in a blog post starting with “Dear Lazyweb” and then some bot would pick it up and post in on the lazyweb aggregation site for other people to answer or help. The idea is to post not too easy to solve questions of course (nothing you can just find with a single Google search) but you can try and tap into that vast network of organic grey cells out there and let that do the thinking for you.

The whole idea stranded due to spam at some point (bloody spammers, makes you hate them even more right?) but now it seems to have a revive on twitter. Using the hashtag #lazyweb (or simply mentioning the lazyweb keyword) might be all it takes to get that enlightening answer from someone watching the lazyweb feed. The amount of replies you get isn’t that great yet but I guess it still needs to pick up a bit, and it all depends on the questions of course.  There’s already a neato website called Lazytweet that picks up on it and joins the question and answer threads together and even gives you lazyweb points for participating. How cool is that? I have 16 points already I noticed. Sweet!

So, if you have one of those questions you just don’t know an answer too, but you have this distinct feeling someone out there probably knows exactly what you are looking for… try the lazyweb. It’s only a tweet away.

Photo by ~Jetta Girl~, cc-licensed.

why camera surveillance in mechelen won't work

The Belgian city of Mechelen is planning to put up road surveillance camera’s up on all big exit and entry roads to the city. The reason for this is -of course- the same as it always is when it comes to invading your privacy: to increase security. The plan is to scan every license plate that passes the camera and hopefully be able to stop or catch burglars more easily and scare them away from Mechelen.

I don’t have to tell you how scanning every car’s license plate invades the general public’s privacy, but that’s the price to pay for additional safety isn’t it? The problem with this solution is that it’s called a “Club solution” in the IT world.

A club solution works as long as only a small club of users (cities in this case) use it. So camera surveillance might scare off crooks, but it won’t stop them. They will move to other cities which do not have the same solution. This somewhat forces the other cities to apply the same tactic. After a while every major city will have camera surveillance in place and your solution stops working. It’ll make crime harder, but it won’t stop it. So they will return to the most profitable cities since there’s surveillance in all of them by now anyway.

I’m sure that a hardened criminal won’t be stopped by this. There’s plenty of ways to circumvent the camera’s when you think about it. Fake license plates, stolen cars, disabling the camera’s or simply making sure you bypass them by taking smaller roads.

So we end up with the public being watched at all time and crime at the same rates as it used to be. Big Brother is born one step at a time.

Photo by nolifebeforecoffee, cc-licensed

help stop the Belgian data retention rule

The European Union wants that internet traffic, phone calls and generally every form of electronic communication data (e.g. Skype) is logged and kept for 2 years. The logged data has to contain personal information to identify the user and location information such as time, date, place, length of the phone call/internet connection, the text/MMS/email-message itself.

The whole idea is to use this data to stop terrorism and crime but I don’t see how tracking the surfing behaviour or a few million innocent people is going to make it any easier in finding that needle in the haystack. Not only is this a huge invasion of each and every civilian’s privacy, it’s also going to cost a lot to set up. In the end it’s the customer of the ISP’s and phone companies that’s going to end up paying for this, as if Belgium isn’t already expensive enough when it comes down to that.

Having this information spread out of a few thousand databases is also prone to abuse or hacking. Think of what spammers could do with this kind of information, or even marketeers. They’d love to get their hands on that kind of information I’m sure.

So if you too feel like this should be put to and end, get over to bewaarjeprivacy.be and sign the petition.

we all need a pirate party

You’ve probably heard of them in the news. The Swedish Pirate Party is one that sprung from the Pirate Bay bittorrent search engine lawsuits and is a modern party which focused on issues concerning privacy and copyright which have changed considerably in the last decade due to the influence of the internet and modern technology. A while ago I heard that the Belgium government is trying to get a Big Brother bill (Dutch article) across to force ISP’s to keep records over a period of two years of all it’s customers internet usage. For one this is going to cost a shit-load which the consumer will end up paying one way or the other. We’re already one of the most costly European countries to have a broadband internet connection in without this measure, so this won’t help at all. Secondly this is also a huge infringement of our privacy. Europe suggest logs are kept somewhere in-between 6 months and 2 years. Funny that they are going for the maximum term on this. Why not take the short end and don’t bother ISP’s with the investment of keeping huge databases? The worst thing about this whole deal is the potential privacy infringements this could cause and for what? Huge databases sitting there to be exploited, hacked and sold on to the highest spammy bidder. I don’t like it a tiny bit.

So Belgium could use a Pirate Party to protect us from bills like this IMO.
Does your country have a Pirate Party?

Photo by country boy shane, cc-licensed

#iranelection

I’ve been watching the internet concerning the Iranian elections lately and I have to say that the information being delivered over the net is far more interesting than what traditional media has to offer, plus it’s a lot faster too.

A few things are quite interesting about this whole thing from an geek point of view on how the so called new media is used in the conflict:

1. Easy channels of information = easy channels for disinformation. As bloggers use blogs, Twitter and facebook to spread instant updates on what’s going on inside Iran, the government sets up fake account to spread disinformation using the same channels. Keeping your bullshit filter up when going through the information spread on the various networks is mandatory to not get suckered into the false news.

2. The firewalls have eyes. While the internet is the medium to spread news in a somewhat anonymous fashion, it’s also being actively monitored and  partially controlled by the government to try and track down protesters. The same goes for cellphone networks and SMS traffic. Public proxies and anonymizers can help to keep the identity of the bloggers safe, but those are being shut down as well. Governments all over the world are lobbying to limit the privacy of their civilians by forcing ISP’s to track their user’s actions on the net under the excuse of increasing security and fighting the terrorist threat. Once this is achieved there is no turning back and these tools can be used for less noble goals which is now being displayed in Iran. Keep this in mind next time politicians talk about forcing your internet provider to keep logs. Tools like Tor, Freenet, proxies and anonymizers are also imported for this reason.

3. Sometimes helping turns out to be not helping. People all over the world are trying to help the Iranian protesters using all sorts of geeky tricks. Unfortunately these tricks seem to be working more against them in some cases. Some people started DDos’ing Iranian websites. This turned out to be blocking overal internet traffic in Iran, including those of the protesters trying to get the word out. Retweeting messages of legit Iranians for example can blow their cover as Boing Boing mentions. Retweeting false information is another. Which brings us to..

4. Who can you trust? Trust is the major issue here. Can the blogger’s information be trusted? Can a website or forum be trusted, or is it a tool set up by the government to lure in the unwary? The gov has been said to set up so-called anonymous twitter-sites which simply log protesters accounts and IP’s for easy tracking. Trusting your Twitter or GMail account to a malicious website which then uses it to spam your friends is one silly mistake to make. But if your life depends on it you better be damn sure that site can be trusted before you hit the submit button.

5. The internet is supportive. All over the net support is being raised (noticed those green icons on Twitter?), rightfully or not. The underdog is always popular online and I frankly don’t have a clue yet who’s right and who’s wrong in this story, but by making such a fuss the government is certainly not looking like the good guys in this one. One thing I do know is that it’s important to allow free speech and that’s what the Iranian government is now trying to stop by blocking access to the net. It’s cool to see the Swedes at Piratebay have set up a forum which Iranians can use in full anonymity for example. I’m not linking directly to it here as it seems to be down at the moment, probably because of the increased traffic it’s getting right now, so they don’t need those few extra clicks coming from here.

Cyberwar is no longer science-fiction.

Photo by MisterArasmus, copyrighted so I’m going for fair-use here :)