Transparency

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How they make journalism (at TechEd): click for copy at FlickrTechEd is Microsoft’s annual developer conference, and TechEd Australia 2013 kicks off this coming Tuesday 3 September. ZDNet Australia had commissioned me to cover it, from a room much like the one pictured — just like I did last year — but now it’s all off. Because Microsoft has banned me.

On 1 August, I emailed ZDNet Australia editor Chris Duckett to accept his commission. But on 6 August, he phoned me, pissing himself laughing, to say that the message from Microsoft — I don’t know from who or how it was delivered — was a no-go. I’m banned from TechEd for “being aggressive to speakers”.

Now I, too, was pissing myself laughing. I was nearly in tears!

“Aggressive to speakers”? Let’s be clear. Any problems were about one speaker, singular. And this alleged aggression — which I’d characterise more as ridicule, mockery and outrageously hyperbolic violent imagery, as is my well-worn shtick — happened solely via Twitter.

Now I’ve thought long and hard about whether to tell this story. Personally, I don’t really care. I’m happy to avoid spending most of next week in that hell-hole called the Gold Coast, and I’ve got plenty of other things to get on with. And Microsoft does have the right to decide who they will and won’t allow into their event — especially when they’re paying.

But I’ve decided to go public because I’m a big fan of transparency — as reflected in my blog posts from 2007, Releasing the Black Hawk crash video was A Good Thing, Scaring the shit out of clients and Being Real: more notes on radical transparency.

I think you should know about this ban, because it potentially affects the quality of my coverage and analysis of Microsoft as it faces some interesting challenges — more about that another time. I’d like you to be informed consumers of my work, which is why I list all the corporate largesse I receive in my Weekly Wrap posts.

I was also under the impression that any problems which may have arisen were all sorted out at the time. Certainly no-one at Microsoft has ever mentioned any problem to me since then.

Quite frankly, to bad-mouth me to one of my commissioning editors — in an undocumented phone call, no less! — strikes me as a tad defamatory.

And without any communication with me? From an organisation that wants customers to trust it with our most intimate and confidential data? Does this not represent a glaring absence of due process?

So, in the tradition of another 2007 post, “Let’s just write that down…”, I’m just going to write it all down, and put my name to it. That’s what honest people do, right?

Come with me, boys and girls, as I tell you about TechEd Australia 2012′s keynote speaker, Jason Silva, “futurist, filmmaker, epiphany addict [WTF?], ecstatic truth lover [WTFF?], techno optimist”. Check his Wikipedia entry and personal website.

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The TechEd Australia 2012 keynote stage: click for Flickr versionThis is the log of my Twitterstream from the keynote sessions at Microsoft’s TechEd Australia 2012 conference last year. Why? Because on the basis of these tweets, Microsoft has banned me from TechEd Australia 2013.

I’ve highlighted in bold the tweets which I think were most, erm, problematic. I’ve also fixed minor spelling mistakes. To provide more context, I’ve also uploaded a CSV file containing all of my tweets for September 2012.

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The Global Mail masthead“The medium is the message”, the sole phrase that seems to remembered of Marshall McLuhan’s work, certainly held true in Friday’s story at The Global Mail, Twitter Tackles Open Government.

The piece is a follow-up to an article published on Thursday, Why So Secretive?, by OpenAustralia founders Katherine Szuminska and Matthew Landauer — a stinging attack which alleges that Australia’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) is “unlawfully obstructing over 100 Freedom of Information (FOI) requests from the general public in an attempt to maintain secrecy”.

Friday’s article centres on a subsequent discussion on Twitter between DIAC national communications manager and “avid tweeter”, as The Global Mail quaintly describes him, Sandi Logan.

In 2013, isn’t it just a bit retro to draw attention to someone using Twitter a bit? Particularly when it’s their job to respond to public comment?

Anyway, here’s what I tried to post as a comment at The Global Mail just now, only to be told: “Your comment was unable to be posted at this time. We apologise for the inconvenience.”

The medium truly is the message. The first of Logan’s statements quoted in this story contains 68 words of substantive content, counting the URLs as one word each, and 48 of those are a direct quote from legislation.

Anywhere else this would be a “brief statement”, perhaps even a “terse statement” if the journalist was wanting to pre-judge Logan’s mood on the readers’ behalf — but I was once taught not to do that because it’s editorialising.

But because Logan’s words are spread across four tweets, it becomes a “flurry”. Really?

The Macquarie Dictionary gloss for “flurry”, skipping over the literal weather-related ones, is: “3. commotion; sudden excitement or confusion; nervous hurry.”

Logan’s entire conversation reads to me as a perfectly level-headed conversation with critics. Certainly his initial comment is one simple, coherent paragraph, spread across four tweets only because the limits of the medium demand it.

Now that I’m blogging this, I’ll add my usual gripe about the headline.

“Twitter Tackles Open Government”? No, the San Francisco-based company did no such thing. Nor did the abstract communications network that operates via their servers. People tackled a DIAC staffer. And as far as I can see, all but one of the people quoted was a journalist. The medium through which that happened is hardly relevant.

A handful of journalists and sprinkling of public policy advocates is hardly representative of Twitter users as a whole. If we analysed the level of Twitter discussion about DIAC that night, in comparison with the global firehose of tweets, I doubt that we’d even see a prostate-corked dribble.

Still, a more accurate headline, such as “A few journalists question a media adviser”, would detract somewhat from the “power to the people” theme.

The icing on the cake for me is that the article is about demands for DIAC to be more transparent, and that commenters at The Global Mail are advised that “you have a lot more credibility when you use your full name”, and yet it’s bylined… “By Staff”.

Goose, gander etc, folks.

[Disclosure: I know Katherine Szuminska and Matthew Landauer, and have had dinner and drinks with them on numerous occasions. For what it's worth, I generally support their calls for more government transparency. Browsing through what I've written previously will soon reveal my attitude towards the government's asylum-seeker policies.]

Vodafone LogoI dealt with a strange request from Vodafone this week. They wanted to fix a broken link in one of my blog posts from four years ago. Not to point it to the material it was citing, but to marketing material for Vodafone’s current iPhone plans.

I reckon that missed the point of that link from 2008, but read this exchange of email and see if you agree.

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“ASIO don’t seem to realise how privileged they are compared to intel orgs in other Western democracies,” tweeted terrorism researcher Andrew Zammit (pictured) yesterday.

Zammit is a researcher at the Global Terrorism Research Centre (Monash University) and Australian Policy Online (Swinburne University), and he was responding to my blog post from yesterday, “Insulted, ASIO? That’s not really the problem, surely?” and the attached podcast.

Here are his subsequent tweets, turned into continuous prose:

CIA for example has ongoing congressional oversight (of actual operations) as opposed to our occasional parl[iamentary] inquiries, people can FOI CIA docs only a few years old (ASIO has 20-30 year exemption) and some of the CIA’s analytical roles are transparent, as in analysts will have CIA business cards whereas even an ASIO kitchen hand’s identity will be kept secret. And CIA isn’t even a domestically-focused agency. So yes, ASIO needs to be less precious about being asked questions.

I agree. From the perspective of the United States I’m a foreign national, yet I’ve spoken with officers from the FBI, NSA and the Secret Service — all of whom had business cards with their full names. The closest I’ve gotten in Australia is chatting briefly with a DSD chap, one of two attending Linux.conf.au in January this year — given names only, and I suspect that those given names were really in scare quotes.

The excuse always given is “operational security”, but I do think the world has changed. The tools and methods are surely not so different from SEKRIT agencies to private-sector security companies and even analysis in non-security realms, given that so much technology is now available off the shelf to all comers.

Surely these days OPSEC is more about protecting sources and the specific operations that are or are not being conducted?

Of course I really don’t know this stuff. I’ve never worked in this field. I’ve never even held a security clearance. I’m just an interested bystander mouthing off. But I am intrigued.

There aren’t many places in the world where you can openly accuse the nation’s top police and intelligence agencies of having an attitude problem, as I did on Monday, without being visited by the men in the van with the canvas sack. Which is a good thing.

In this week’s Patch Monday podcast, embedded immediately below for your convenience and CBS Interactive’s traffic logging, I departed from the usual format to present a personal opinion.

Data retention for law enforcement is one of the most important political issues relating to our use of the internet now and as far into the future as we care to imagine, I said, and it’s being mishandled.

The Australian government’s current one-page working definition (PDF) of what constitutes communications metadata (which can be requested by law enforcement agencies without a warrant) as opposed to communications content (which generally does require a warrant) is, to anyone with a technical understanding of how the internet actually works and is evolving, virtual gibberish.

“Dangerously immature” is how I described it.

I also raised three points where I think the version of reality being promoted by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) is wrong.

  • This is a push for more power. We conduct so much more of our lives online than we ever did on the phone, and that means the balance of power is changing. We need to have a conversation about this.
  • The AFP says quite specifically that they’re not after our web browsing activity, but I don’t see how the working document supports that argument. And other agencies, including the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), are after that stuff.
  • ASIO and the AFP constantly talk about the powers being needed to catch the terrorists and pedophiles. But the law will probably be modelled on the current law for the phone, which provides access to communication metadata to many other agencies with far less stringent accountability rules for many other, far less serious, crimes.

Please have a listen and tell me what you think.

Play

The podcast stands on its own, but I want to emphasise the thing that still disturbs me…

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If you were planning to attend the Recordkeeping Roundtable panel “Freedom of Information?” on Tuesday 22 February, well, it’s now on Wednesday 29 February. See my original post for the rest of the details, which remain unchanged.

17 February 2012 by Stilgherrian | Permalink

On Tuesday 21 Wednesday 29 February 2012 I’m on the panel for “Freedom of information?”, presented by the Recordkeeping Roundtable.

The promo sayeth:

In a connected world where information sharing is easier and has more impact than ever before, is the current framework of FOI, information security, privacy and archives laws and practices delivering the information society needs in a timely and appropriate way? This panel discussion will be about:

  • assessing the effectiveness of current information access and security laws and methods — are they hopelessly broken?
  • the culture of secrecy and withholding by government agencies
  • how technology and activism offer those with the skills and motivation some alternative and very powerful ways to access and reveal information, and
  • what can be done to address the current state of things and move to better ways of making information available when and where it’s needed.

I think I’ll be rabbiting on about the internet and stuff. Information security, digital distribution, authentication of records, WikiLeaks, Anonymous. That sort of thing.

My fellow panelists are former diplomat Dr Philip Dorling, who now leads the journalistic pack in FOI stuff; and Tim Robinson, Manager, Archives and Records Management Services at the University of Sydney. The moderator is Cassie Findlay, Recordkeeping Roundtable co-founder and digital archivist.

It’s at the Australian Technology Park, Redfern, Sydney, and doors open at 5.30pm for a 6.00pm start. It wraps at 7.30pm for dinner. Admission is $5 and you should probably register.

[Update 16 February: Date changed to 29 February, as Dr Dorling must alas attend a funeral on the original date.]

I should have posted this a few days back, but the videos from the Microsoft Politics and Technology Forum 2011 in Canberra have been posted at GovTech, the Microsoft Australia Government Affairs Blog.

For some reason the audio quality on these recordings is rubbish. I’ll let you know if better versions are ever posted.

The keynote was given by leading UK political blogger Iain Dale. The other panellists were Senator Kate Lundy, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister; Joe Hockey MP, Shadow Treasurer; Dr Eric Clemons, Professor of Operations and Information Management at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania; Microsoft’s Gianpaolo Carraro; and yours truly. The moderator was Mark Pesce.

You can also listen to my interview with Iain Dale, should you be so inclined.

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A brief reminder: I’m about to head to Canberra for a couple of days. This morning I’ll be at the University of Canberra for the seminar Privacy and security in a connected world: anonymity, data loss, tracking and the social web, being organised by their new Centre for Internet Safety. And then tomorrow morning I’ll be at Parliament House for the Microsoft Politics & Technology Forum. I do have some free time in the afternoons if you want to catch up.

31 May 2011 by Stilgherrian | No comments

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