Misc. internet

Various ranting topics today - some smaller things that might not make it to a post in themselves, but under the name "Misc. internet" here they are.

Denmark - big brother nation

Back in 2002, after the 9/11 scare, the Danish government made a law that requires ISPs to log internet traffic for 1 year (http://www.themis.dk/searchinclude/lovsamling/Retsplejelovens_kapitel_71.html - text in Danish). The law was enacted essentially to help in terrorism-related police-investigations, but of course there's no such limit to the law. The effect of the law is to put a burden on ISPs (having to log and store data for 1 year) while gaining no clear benefit - how will you ever sift through such data? Worse still, the law was useless from the start: exempt from logging were publicly available internet-spots such as internet available through public libraries, internet cafes, hotspots, etc. Thus, Danes were being watched, while anyone wanting complete anonymity could have it if the wanted it (which, presumably, terrorists do). In other words, big brother legislation at it's worst: no benefit for the Dane, only less freedom.

Recently, a work-group under the ministry of justice have been reviewing the laws for logging of internet traffic. If you were naive, you might have hoped they would come up with the proposal of scrapping the laws. If you were cynical, you might have thought they would come up with a scheme to log all internet traffic. However, I have no idea what it would take to foresee the level of idiocy they actually came up with: requiring logging of all internet traffic and denying anyone access to the net if they do not provide personal ID for logging. There's a quick run-through of central pointers on Jacob Mchangama's blog as well as arguments as to why this is insane. Not that you would ever need arguments: the ignorance and stupidity behind the proposed changes cannot be overlooked by anyone with a minimum of common sense.

I'll post just one point from the blog: if the changes would make it into law, foreigners would not be able to use internet cafes or hotspots in Denmark - because they would not be able to identify themselves properly.

I completely fail to understand how anyone making propositions such as these can hold down a job in the Danish government. How can you not be sacked for idiocy on this level? Why do we not have laws, that imprison bureaucrats and politicians alike when they strive to implement big brother conditions? They would be so much more useful than what the incompetent fools have put in place over the last 10 years.

International organisations

On an unrelated note (perhaps not quite: the topics of laws and internet are shared), the annual BeVolunteer (the legal organisation behind BeWelcome) general assembly is being planned. The organisation is close to dead (there have been no meetings of the board for the past year) and this is more or less the last chance to do anything about it. What's needed is volunteers: people with motivation to do something about the status quo. The old volunteers have either burned out themselves or burned other volunteers out - so that currently, what's left is the BW site and almost nothing more.

Why did things come to this? One reason was the level of bureaucracy and fighting over what the rules/regulations specified. As in any organisation, we had people with different motivations: some wanted to just get going with the work, others wanted to spend countless hours getting all the small print perfect. The main reason for the latter is that BeWelcome was born out of frustration with the dictatorial state of Hospitality Club - the statutes as well as the rules and regulations were thus a product of the scare, that Hospitality Club would try to do a hostile takeover (not entirely unfounded: read http://bewelcome.info/ for more).

The strange thing is, that all involved in BeVolunteer have the idea that the organisation is very hard to change: you need to get a certain amount of members to show up at the general assembly and convince them that the statutes need changing. In fact, while talking to one of the board directors, both of us assumed that the GA would need to be physical, i.e. that people would actually have to show up at one place - and that if you couldn't attend, your only choice if you wanted a say was to delegate your vote to someone physically present. However, that is simply not the case! The rules and regulations for BeVolunteer specify that:

TheĀ Board of Directors defines the way the assembly is held. It may be done face-to-face or by virtual techniques (instant messaging / video conference etc.).

However, the GA has never been held like that, nor was it ever proposed. Our (mistaken) beliefs about our own organisation actually get in the way of changes that we need to make and could make! We never managed to truly get away from our notions of what an organisation like BeVolunteer is, so we never managed to find out what it can be - even though we actually have rules in place to allow for cooperation between people that are very far apart and have zero chances of meeting at the same place and same time in required numbers for a GA.

What can one learn from this? I actually started this part of the post firmly believing that the statutes for BeVolunteer were to blame for the impossibility of changing it's structure - but they're not. Instead, what has been limiting us - in my view - is our mistaken ideas of what the limits were. We wasted much too much time trying to settle on what we should and should not do. We did not spend nearly enough time doing. When people started getting that "eyes glazed over" look at meetings - that should have been warning bells telling us that now was the time to shut up and get down to business. Maybe that way, we wouldn't have lost as many motivated members - and maybe BeWelcome would then still have a future.