03 December 2007

Party politics

It's interesting and instructive to see how quickly a party can swap one deeply held tenet for the opposite, depending on who's in power. The NSW State Labor Government under Morris Iemma is trying to privatise the NSW electricity generation assets to fund other projects, yet it wasn't that long ago that Labor strenuously opposed the privatisation of Telstra. Of course, the Federal Labor Government under Paul Keating sold off QANTAS to British Airways...

Another issue hidden in the electricity privatisation is that Iemma's government appears to have no commitment to reduction in greenhouse gases; it is approving new coal mines and constructing new coal-fired power stations. Perhaps after he sells them off he can just blame private industry.

21 November 2007

Cyberspace December 2007

Technology in trouble

The recent fires in western USA showed how technology can help the displaced urban dweller, provided that the authorities are moving with the times as well. In October 2007 over 250,000 residents in San Diego were displaced into shelters such as schools and football stadiums.

Many residents took their mobile phones and laptop computers with them when they evacuated. Some shelters set up dedicated computer rooms together with Wi-Fi systems connected to the internet. Evacuees could email relatives and friends, as well as keep up-to-date on the news about the fires. This reduced a lot of stress.

Because of the numbers of people brought together in small regions the mobile cell towers could not accommodate the number of users trying to make calls (you might know that Telstra installed a number of temporary transmitters around Sydney Olympic Park in 2000 for this reason - you can imagine 60,000 people calling friends after the 100m final). People were therefore encouraged to use SMS rather than voice calls, although those with VoIP phones such as Skype (recently now available from phone carrier 3) could use those over the Internet.

San Diego has "Reverse 911", which allows the authorities to automatically dial all phone numbers in specific areas with emergency information. This has been limited to land-lines to date, but it is conceivable that the same could occur to all mobile phone users in a given cell-tower range, subject to the capacity of that cell-tower. There might also be other issues with people getting multiple calls as they move into adjacent cells, but I'm sure someone can solve it.

Many people forgot or couldn't take their charging devices with them, or the mains power was out. With judicious use of the equipment many users were able to stay connected on and off for days, turning things completely off when not in use.

Some shelters used "mesh networks." These are Wi-Fi networks that don’t rely on a single transmitter and access point. Instead, each computer in the area becomes a little transmitter as well, meaning that if you had a line of 1000 people 10m apart you could have a network stretching out 100 km! Otherwise that 1,000 people would have to be clustered in a circle 100 m radius around the transmitter.

Of course, the relief workers benefited from this technology too, and their job was made easier because evacuees could be a little less anxious through access to information.

Sadly, many people went home to charred blocks of land. It's hard to imagine how many digital photos, financial records, letters and more disappeared. Some may have had backups, but they may have been destroyed as well unless they were kept off-site. You can do that using Internet services (there are dozens, and I use http://idrive.com for no particular reason) or just copy everything to an external USB hard disc once a week/month and leave it at work or at a relative's home. I like the convenience of Internet based services, as they just inspect my files each night and back up anything new or changed. I even get multiple versions so I can roll back to a previous version if necessary.

While considering what else may be of use in a disaster area, I thought about mobile broadband such as that offered by 3G phone providers or Unwired. You could be sitting in your car trying to evacuate and be able to see roadmaps or evacuation route advice. A GPS would be helpful too. An iPod would pass the time, but would otherwise be useless as it doesn't have a built-in radio, unlike, say, the Zune or many others.

What planet is Greens Senator Kerry Nettle from?

Greens Senator Kerry Nettle has allegedly said, referring to a leaking boatload of people who were ultimately rescued by the Royal Australian Navy

"They weren't able to rescue those people because of our strict immigration laws that prevent them from being able to rescue these people at sea,"

Does she really believe that we have laws against rescuing people in peril? That is so stupid. Yes, of course we have immigration laws, but they do not, in any way, stop a ship rescuing anyone. Rescue has nothing to do with immigration.

It's a shame that she thinks that she has to peddle this rubbish to try to obtain some political advantage.

To make it worse, this alleged lawmaker said according to the Sydney Morning Herald:

They were doing what they could to ensure that these people didn't drown.
I understand their nervousness in getting involved in these sorts of activities
particularly right before an election."

What sane person thinks that the law changes from week to week because an election is imminent? Probably a moron, actually. I'm very concerned that people like Nettle have any responsiblity for Australian law. It's people like her that demonstrate that the country runs itself in spite of its politicians.

05 November 2007

Freedom of information in Australia?

... or should that be freedom from information in Australia?

More than 500 separate legal provisions in 335 different state and federal acts of Parliament are denying Australians access to a vast amount of information they should be able to see, a major new report says.

The Right to Know Coalition today released an audit on the state of free speech, which its authors say provides a damning picture of "how free speech and media freedom are being whittled away".

Now, it should be noted that the "Coalition" is a group of media interests, but nevertheless this is firm evidence of something many of us have probably suspected for some time - in fact, Background Briefing on ABC Radio National did a piece some years ago on "commercial in confidence" which basically meant that the government used that excuse to not be accountable to taxpayers and the electorate.

31 October 2007

Cyberspace November 2007

Domains again

In an effort to increase the spend of international organisations on Internet domains, ICANN has approved several new top level domains, including .mobi, .asia and .jobs. Of these, the only one that seems to make sense to me is .asia, and even then I have to wonder. I can appreciate that in mainland Asia there might be an interest in limiting domain name registration and possibly searches to a given geographic region. The European Union has something similar to this in the .eu namespace. Registration in .asia is available to businesses in 73 countries ranging from New Zealand to Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Iraq and Syria. So... that's the other half of the planet covered. Between the .eu and .asia namespaces you might wonder why not have a world-wide namespace? Oh, that would be .com or .net. Yes, I'm a bit cynical about most of these new top-level-domains, but that's just me.

Anyway, this led me to reconsider brand and trademark protection generally (particularly since I look after my firm's domain names). There are probably at least eight different top-level-domains (TLDs) that a medium/large business in Australia/New Zealand might want to consider, including com, net, com.au, net.au, org, org.au, asia, and mobi. Given that it would cost under AUD$1,000 a year to maintain registration for these, why wouldn't you? Well, if your business name was "Sydney Law" or "Smith & Co" then I'd be registering as many TLDs as I could get my hands on. That's because a lot of organisations could legitimately lay claim to those names, and therefore there'll be a lot of competition. If your business name is "Walter & Durrham" then there's not going to be a lot of competition for walterdurrham.com (unregistered as I write). Of course, due to registration rules anyone could register that in the .com namespace, but only a business with a registered business name and ABN could do it in the .au namespace. After registering walterdurrham.com.au I'd be fairly relaxed about registering walterdurrham.net.au.

Online contracts

In the early days of email a lot of people got excited about having an image of their signature in emails to "sign" them. Regular readers will know that I thought that clumsy and unnecessary. The intention to bind oneself to correspondence or even agreements doesn't need to rely on a signature. One of the greatest examples of this in 2007 was the eBay case of Smythe v Thomas [2007] NSWSC 844 (3 August 2007) in which Rein AJ ordered that an eBay auction of a Wirraway Warbird aircraft for the reserve price of $150,000 was binding on the vendor. There was an eBay auction which concluded but things soon fell off the rails. There was a "Buy now" button for $275,000 ( i.e. buy now and avoid the auction), and it also turned out that the vendor said he had another expression of interest for $220,000. In general terms it is clear that the vendor was trying to get the best price for his rare aircraft from several avenues. The problem was that one of those avenues was eBay, and he purported to conduct an online auction.

The law applied was that of NSW, and in particular, s60 of the Sale of Goods Act 1923. The vendor's arguments generally revolved around lack of an agreement between him and the bidder due to uncertainty and lack of offer and acceptance; i.e. the eBay "auction" was no more than an invitation to treat. He also argued that any agreements which might have existed were between each party and eBay, not between the two parties directly. However, Rein AJ characterised the eBay auction (correctly in my view) as just an ordinary auction, albeit without an auctioneer (eBay claims not to be one) or a gavel. It had a method of ending the auction and it created a binding agreement, albeit in a non-traditional fashion. He ordered specific performance of the agreement, and I presume Mr Smythe flew off into the sunset.

07 October 2007

Podcasts, iTunes and iPods

If you listen to podcasts a lot you may be puzzled by some options in iTunes to copy "new" podcasts to your iPod. There are three options:

1. Unplayed
2. New
3. All

So what's the difference between unplayed and new podcasts in iTunes? Generally speaking, you should always choose the "new" option. This means that any podcast that has never been played on your iPod or in iTunes will be copied to your iPod at the next sync. If you have played even a few seconds of a podcast it will be considered "not new" and will lose the blue dot next to its name.

That makes sense so far - but what is an unplayed podcast if it is not new? If you use the "unplayed" setting you will end up with podcasts on your iPod that you have already played, as well as new ones. Obviously "unplayed" doesn't mean that you haven't played them. Maybe it means that you haven't played them all the way to the end of the track? I'm still not sure, but by and large, unless you have plenty of free space on your iPod you will probably use the "new" setting and ignore "unplayed."

There are still some unusual things that happen on iPods - I've noticed that if you play a part of a video podcast (this is all tested on my dearly departed 80 GB video iPod), it becomes "not new." If you play part of it and then hit the Right button it will advance to the end of the track and mark it "new" again. I haven't tested this on my new 160 GB Classic yet, but I've noticed that at least both video and audio podcasts are now properly grouped together in the podcast menu.

However, iTunes 7.4.3 tells me that I have 87 podcasts (not all of which can play on my iPod); it also says my iPod has 75 podcasts on it, yet my iPod Classic screen says it has 35 podcasts on it! I think the iPod is referring to 35 publishers and iTunes is referring to 75 episodes, but that's not what it says. Steve Jobs, there is more quality control on the user interface required...

And finally, I was pleased to find that my Belkin TuneBase FM for car works, in spite of reports on the web that it doesn't work with the iPod classic. It plugged in, found the frequency I'd been using with the 5th Gen video, and just worked. Mind you, I haven't tried changing the frequency, but the frequency did display correctly on the iPod.

22 September 2007

Hacker suspect walks free | Australian IT

Hacker suspect walks free | Australian IT

A shop had a lot of customers' credit cards misused; there were unauthorised connections from the home IP address belonging to an employee of the financial systems support vendor...

This news article discusses an apparently bungled court case (it's not clear if it was civil or criminal) in the USA where important forensic evidence wasn't admitted or possibly even tendered. The interviewee blames the court, but I suspect that some blame must lie on the prosecuting attorneys in not having admissible evidence.

The article describes a situation which suggests that the police would have had little difficulty in obtaining a warrant and imaging the employee's PC. That would have been the critical evidence for both the prosecution and defence - yet it didn't make it into evidence.

The moral of the story for lawyers? Don't get involved in matters outside your area of expertise. Even using expert witnesses won't help you unless you ask the right questions, and without the requisite skills your expert witness will be worthless.

Coonan seeks to censor the Web | Australian IT

Coonan seeks to censor the Web | Australian IT

Karen Dearne | September 20, 2007

THE Federal Police commissioner will have the power to block and ban websites believed to be crime or terrorism related under an internet censorship amendment bill introduced into Parliament today.

Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan proposes to include terrorism and cyber-crime sites on ACMA's hit list

The bombshell web ban bill was tabled in the Senate at 9:58am, without prior notice.

Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan proposes to expand the "black list" of internet addresses (URLs) currently maintained by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to include terrorism and cyber-crime sites.

Now, I agree that governments should be able to regulate material that incites criminal activity. However, I do not agree that legislation that permits this important function should be introduced into Parliament in this fashion. Removal of civil liberties is a very serious matter, and the text of legislation must be carefully examined and debated as seriously as any other matter of national significance. It is concerning that civil liberties laws seem to be regularly treated as something to be quickly dealt with the minimum of exposure to Parliament and the people.

19 September 2007

18 September 2007

We don't need no stinkin' judges

It seems that the Federal Government believes that the Australian Crime Commission doesn't need judicial oversight - the cops know best. Read http://news.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=115630 for a layman's take on the legislation.

It seems that the Federal Government changed the law this week in response to a pesky decision by the Supreme Court of Victoria which the government found inconvenient. Oh sure, Michael Brereton is a Victorian lawyer who's done nothing wrong, but the ACC feels it should be able to rifle his files anyway.

The slightly clownish "Justice" Minister David Johnston feels that normal process gets in the way of justice "his way." I guess that he really could have found something against Dr Haneef given a few years.

The current Liberal government is wondering why its performance in polls is so bad. Let me say that for thinking people that "it's time for a change" is not our reason. "Making bad law for exceptions" might be a popular one.

17 September 2007

The definition of pathetic

So Roses Only had its credit card database compromised, although it won't admit it.

The company apparently knew that the breach had occurred, but did nothing to warn customers.

Roses Only is yet another company that seems to consider customers as their enemy, not their clients.

Yes, the company and banks are reimbursing their clients, but only after the anguish has occurred. It is a very unsettling thing to have your credit card used by others.

How pathetic are Roses Only and the banks? They could have canceled and reissued the cards before the fraud even occurred.

As a lawyer, if I treated my clients that way I would probably be on the receiving end of an inquiry by my professional standards body. Banks, on the other hand, often act as if they are accountable to no-one for customer service and couldn't care less about their customers.

It seems that Roses Only needs an audit of its IT systems, software and security. I wonder if it would supply the date of its last audit.

Cyberspace October 2007

Just a few jottings on some related current trends...

Net neutrality

There is a push both overseas and here for internet traffic to be regulated (read: slowed or extra cost) depending on the traffic type. USA senators are regularly lobbied on this and occasionally speak out (albeit in an uninformed fashion). Since we can have a voice conversation with anyone on the Internet for 30 minutes that costs less than a cent worth of my monthly bandwidth, there is a clear financial threat to the telephone companies. Perhaps they'd like that traffic throttled or at extra cost? Again, if I can download movies over the Internet the traditional movie suppliers are threatened - they might become lobbyists for net non-neutrality. Or perhaps just the Internet backbone providers just want a bigger slice of the cake...


Mobile phone charges in Australia are very profitable for the carriers. But consider this imaginary scenario: engin (www.engin.com.au) runs telephony over the Internet. I don't have a phone line to my house - I have Optus cable. I have an engin box to which I've connected my ordinary phone, and I have a normal phone number. All my phone calls go out magically via the Internet and Engin. Any call within Australia is 10 cents untimed (compared to 27 cents for an Optus local call), and mobile and overseas calls are very cheap too. Now, there's another innovative company named Unwired (www.unwired.com.au). Unwired offers high speed Internet access wirelessly in many metropolitan areas - you can move house and your modem just moves with you. You have a wireless modem at home and your household can all share it, or you can have an Unwired card in your laptop and roam around metropolitan areas. Unwired doesn't care where you are in its service area - you just get high speed internet. Because this is just an Internet link, all the usual Internet applications just work. So, let's say engin and Unwired make friends (because they have a common shareholder), and they produce a very simple phone handset that makes engin phone calls over the Unwired network. What do we get? A "mobile phone" network where each call is incredibly cheap (I trust) and doesn't involve the traditional mobile carriers. Of course, if net neutrality doesn't exist, the ISPs could damage this scenario, so net neutrality becomes critical.

Living in the cloud

Google has offered "services in the cloud" for some time. By this I mean that it offers email, word processing, spreadsheets and photo sharing all without having to install software on your own PC. Of course, there are many other excellent products such as SOHO Writer that do this. Microsoft, not to be left out, has released a beta of some interesting products that cross that boundary (http://get.live.com). Windows Live Writer is a lightweight wordprocessing program that gets downloaded to your PC, but allows you to write documents and save them to blogs. However, it's nothing like Google's offering, probably because of the conflict of interest in sellling Word on the one hand and offering free wordprocessing on the other.

Google phone

Google has announced that it may bid at least USD$4.6 billion for 700 MHz spectrum (currently used for analogue tv) in the USA (http://tinyurl.com/3c5fvo), and has urged the FCC to adopt very open policies in favour of the consumer. Australia and Europe have always been far ahead of the USA in mobile phones because we often buy unlocked phones - in the USA it's the opposite, and phone companies disable features such as bluetooth in case you use your phone in a way that they can't profit from. Anyway, 700 MHz penetrates buildings well, and can be used for data, tv or voice. See "Convergence" paragraph above...

A new blogging tool

As a Google/GMail user I tend to mainly use Google tools to do a lot of my writing. From Picasa I can write my blog with my photos; from Google Docs I can write my blog as well as normal documents.

For this post, however, I'm using an application that is a beta in the Windows Live suite. You can get Windows Live Writer from here, and I must say it's a very nice blog editor.

The biggest difference between Writer and the many other blogging tools I've tried is that it's like a little local wordprocessor - it is not dependant on being online. That's useful (not essential - ever heard of Wordpad or Notepad?) when you're not connected but still want to put thoughts down and format them ready for publication.

Highly recommended.

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10 September 2007

Police without name tags

© Image Sydney Morning Herald

Police who didn't wear their identification tags during APEC in Sydney during September 2007.
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07 September 2007

Those rubbish bins sure are dangerous

It's good that our police are trained to wrap rubbish bins. A terrorist would be terribly defeated by that black plastic. Oh, and by the way Mr Scipione, you missed a bunch - you did one or two in Elizabeth Street, then had a big gap, then did a few more in Martin Place Plaza. But a few had the plastic ripped off so people could put rubbish in them.
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Sydney during APEC, or London during the blitz?

These speakers were installed during August 2007 in the Sydney CBD. What kind of mental defective thought these were necessary?
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The APEC Bridge St cage

John Watkins, a NSW government minister, was quoted as saying that it was appropriate for police to ask german backpackers to delete photos of the so-called APEC security fence. John, I'm in your electorate and I took a couple of dozen photos. Come and get me. Oh, and I've got some 640x480 30fps video too. And so does at least 3 dozen other people I saw in half an hour wandering the streets at lunch time on Thursday.
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The Sheraton, APEC-style

At last - a policeman finally approached me. The young child dressed as a policeman on the left asked me why I was taking photos and was I with the media?
I replied that I was a solicitor.
That seemed to set him back a bit. He asked again why I was taking photos. I replied that I liked police cars and bikes and wanted a photo - I'd never seen a purple car before. He replied "oh yeah, they're highway patrol cars" and wandered off. Lucky terrorists don't like cars and bikes...
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Crossing Bridge St, APEC-style

Crossing the road through the APEC cage was a bit of a chore.

I should point out that I observed Coates Hire and Kennards Hire involved in the APEC cage. I don't think I'll be doing business with them ever again.
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More APEC-ery

I'm not sure, but he didn't seem to mind - I was 10 metres from him and walked past him when I took this photo. He was busy getting into his car, parked on the footpath in George Street, as the rain started. It looks like he's going for his pistol, but I think he was really getting his iPod out.
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An ex-Sydney Buses Bus

The cells are in the back. The photo was on Elizabeth Street, near Park Street.
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Welcome to freedom, NSW-style

A photo by me near the Supreme Court...
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Is George Bush an idiot?

"United States President George Bush made one of his characteristic pronunciation bungles this morning welcoming business leaders to the "OPEC" meeting instead of the APEC meeting.

But with a dose of Texan charm Mr Bush grinned and said OPEC - which stands for Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries - was a meeting he is due to attend next year.

Later in his speech, Mr Bush recounted how Mr Howard had gone to visit "Austrian troops'' last year in Iraq. There are, in fact, no Austrian troops there. But Australia has about 1500 military personnel in and around the country."

06 September 2007

Thank you APEC

A photo I took out of my office window of POLAIR4 over Hyde Park, in front of St Mary's Cathedral. The weapon poking out the side of the helicopter is a nice touch.

03 September 2007

Loss of presumption of innocence in NSW

Bail is a mechanism to ensure that a person charged with an offence will eventually turn up at court to be tried. The bail court has to decide whether a person is likely to abscond, and if so, will either remand the accused in custody or impose conditions of bail so that the person remains free prior to trial.

Under section 31 of APEC Meeting (Police Powers) Act 2007 (NSW) the presumption of bail is removed if the alleged offence relates to violence against a police officer or malicious damage. Now, these are rather odd offences to pick on to remove a right to bail. It seems to me that it is either preventative detention or summary justice. In fact, I think it is both.

Of course both offences are are very unpleasant. A police officer should not be assaulted, and malicious damage is to be deplored. But why remove bail? The alleged offender should be taken before a magistrate and dealt with on his/her merits. That will include considering the likelihood of reoffending.

We have now, in NSW, a government who considers that the judiciary gets the law wrong, and the police get it right. That is a step towards removing the need for a judicial system. I'm not saying that we will end up at that point, but all journeys start with a beginning.

On 1 September the Sydney Morning Herald reported comments by the new Police Commissioner for NSW:

New NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione has an "ideas blueprint" to change the force.

Mr Scipione assumes the top job on Saturday following the retirement of Ken Moroney.

The 49-year-old Mr Scipione has targeted bail rules that allow people to get away with committing crimes while on bail, News Ltd reports.

"Bail is one of the key issues for me. Bail and warrants," Mr Scipione said.

The next day (2 September 2007) the Sydney Morning Herald reported:

NSW Premier Morris Iemma says a review of bail laws to crack down on repeat offenders is a timely move.

NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos has launched a comprehensive review of the state's bail laws to address police concerns over the release of repeat offenders.

Among proposed changes being considered is granting the police powers to challenge bail determinations in a higher court, and allowing them to hold suspects for three days while seeking a review.

Currently such powers extend only to charges of murder or child sex offences.

These reports strongly support the argument that the government and police collectively consider that the courts get it wrong and the police get it right.

Where could this lead? It could result in a system where there is no or limited judicial review of bail, and no accountability by the police for their decisions. We can picture Scipione saying "we don't need no stinking courts for bail."

(I imagine that some of the impetus for all this is a recent case where a man was given bail after being charged with throwing a rock -which left a woman in a coma. I imagine he was given bail because he was not a flight risk - the magistrate considered that he would turn up to his trial. If that is the case, then bail was properly granted. He should not be imprisoned prior to trial simply because a woman was grievously injured - he hasn't been found guilty of the offence. However, if he is found guilty he will no doubt be imprisoned, and I will be glad.)

Again, I say these are early, faltering steps only down a slippery slope - but in a society where we see overreaction by authorities on many levels (pointy car keys are fine on an aeroplane, but not nail files) we will continue to see poor law being justified by the exceptions.

Police backed on photo ban of APEC fence - Breaking News - National - Breaking News

Police backed on photo ban of APEC fence - Breaking News - National - Breaking News

Requiring tourists to delete happy snaps of Sydney's APEC security fence may be "over the top" but it is necessary, NSW Transport Minister John Watkins says.

He was responding to news reports that three German tourists were asked by police to delete digital photographs of the newly built fence, which stretches five kilometres through Sydney's CBD.

He said the move was part of the efforts to ensure there was no breach during the major protests expected later this week.

So now we can't take photos of the fence that has been erected throughout the northern end of the CBD. At least the German backpackers should be familiar with this style of government.

31 August 2007

Erosion of civil liberties

The Iemma government has continued its erosion of civil liberties by creating special exclusions zones in Sydney during the APEC conference in August 2007 for named persons. While this unjustified police state attitude is appalling on every level, it raises the opportunity to consider my previous blog post on a bill of rights...

By the way, let's put to one side that this is a bit of a kiddy conference that will achieve little except cost NSW business a great deal of money and enterain the spouses of delegates.

Let's say there is a right to association. This might cure the defect in this Iemma exclusion law. So, after an appeal to the Supreme Court of NSW we might find the law is ultra vires. It might also give the same right to an ex-prisoner convicted of violent offences to do the same thing. Of course, his parole conditions might prevent him protesting, but there's another opportunity to appeal to the Supreme Court on the basis that his bail conditions are in conflict with the bill of rights. And of course, he could have done his entire sentence and not even have any parole conditions at all.

This really is a hard problem. We need to trust the populace. We need law and order. Our legal system is based on people being free to do what they like, and if they break the law they will be punished. Where does pre-emptive punishment fit in Australia or NSW? A known, regular protester and dozens of his compatriots are now able to be banned from going to certain places in Sydney that any other person in the entire world can go. Is that OK? I don't think so. he might have mended his ways, or he may have not really done anything in the first place. Paddy Gibson has fewer freedoms than I do. I don't think that's OK.

Bill of rights - we don't need it

There are a lot of things in which I am in heated disagreement with Philip Ruddock, but I have to say I am in heated agreement with him about Bills of Rights. Australia needs one like a hole in the head. As the Attorney-General said - a bill of rights didn't help African slaves in America.

A right is worthless without an obligation or ability to meet it. If one entrenches the obligation and ability then there is no need for the right. A right to water isn't much use unless someone has an obligation (and the ability) to provide it, and Ockham's razor tells us that if the obligation exists, there is no need for the right. In South Africa there is a right to housing. It's a right that is manifestly unmet.

A "right" is ephemeral and tells us nothing about how society can meet it. An obligation set out in legislation however is parliament-mandated, clear and able to be modified by parliament as required. So, if the Minister for Housing is obliged by legislation to provide housing assistance to certain people, we will know who needs to do what and with whatever funding.

Let's see what specifically is lacking in our society that provides the arguments used by bill of rights supporters; and let's fix those things. A bill of rights doesn't fix anything - legislation and action by the Executive does.

In Australia we are free to do what we wish, unless it is proscribed. We have a right to free speech right now; if parliament passes a law that the voters consider improperly interferes with that right, the opposition party will usually be only too happy to consider the issue.

You may also wish to consider that Zimbabwe's constitution has a bill of rights containing extensive protection of human rights... Yes, I understand that just because sometimes something doesn't work doesn't mean it's worthless. The point is that bills of rights are not the magic protector that they are made out to be. Australia's constitution clearly provides greater protections than Zimbabwe's - all without having to have a bill of rights and the attendant trouble that it may bring.

Australians have freedom that is inherent, and we have a parliamentary democracy that we can trust, even though we may not always agree with the actions of the Executive. To tinker with this by adopting a bill of rights would be unwarrantedly treading an unknown path.

ISPs are not the police

Watchdog presses ISPs to clamp down on illegal net use - web - Technology

The "Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft" wants Australian ISP's to become its policemen. Thankfully no ISPs are interested, and in particular, Telstra BigPond responded:

"While we do not encourage or condone piracy, particularly as we are a legal provider of online music, games and movies content, we do not believe it is up to the ISPs to be judge, jury and executioner in relation to the issue when the content owners have any number of legal avenues to pursue infringements,"

"We are not going to take AFACT's claims against customers at face value."

You really should applaud a service provider who decides to take the side of its customer and not that of a commercially-interested lobby group.

29 August 2007

Lunar eclipse 28-8-07

A photo from my front yard during the lunar eclipse in Australia on 28 August 2007.

27 August 2007

NSW Government turns State Transit buses into cells

Greens keen to cage Bush, not Sydney - National - smh.com.au
"That we would spend $600,000 on a water cannon to be used against our citizens should they exercise their democratic right to demonstrate.

"That we have converted 31 State Transit buses into mobile holding cells (http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/cages-on-wheels-apec-plan-to-keep-the-peace/2007/06/28/1182624083285.html), and that during the APEC summit it will cost the city of Sydney hundreds of millions of dollars in lost economic activity that we will never recover.

So the NSW Iemma Government is more concerned about looking after a few hundred people, giving them free meals and a private fireworks show, than it is about the ratepayers of NSW.

17 August 2007

Cyberspace September 2007

Digital fax

My editor has insisted I discuss fax in the modern age, and amusingly, I received a fax from a registrar of the .com.au domain name space the other day because they couldn't email me. I've bowed to pressure.

Why would you send a fax? You have hard copy documents and can't scan them to image files; you or your recipient don't have an email account; or, your correspondent insists on a fax so he/she can see a signature. There might be other reasons, but I can't think of them.


My firm receives all faxes via several phone lines into a PC; the faxes arrive as computer images. An operator opens the fax, works out who it was meant for, and forwards it via email to the intended recipient. There are several advantages to this: it avoids printing them out and trudging around eight floors of our office; you can send a fax intended for an Auckland lawyer to our, say, Sydney fax number; if more than one person needs to read the fax it is as easily sent to 10 lawyers as it is to one; the fax is readily registered into our document management system, and can be forwarded to a client for information or instructions.

Setting up something like this is not incredibly hard - there is hardware and software to install in the PC, training, and an operations policy; e.g.: you need to consider what happens when the fax operator goes home but you're pulling an all-nighter.


Sending faxes electronically from our computer desktops is not something we've spent a lot of time on. Most faxes get sent by a dedicated fax operator in our mail room. He is good at detecting wrong numbers, sorting out problems if the line is engaged, and generally fixing a lot of little things that can go wrong - humans are good at that stuff.

Smaller and mid-size firms have quite different requirements - it might be fantastic for a lawyer to hit a key and send a fax from his/her PC. You can do this from your own PC in many ways (although that rules out sending a fax if someone wants to see an ink signature). If you run a other server-based email system such as Exchange then you can purchase an add-on (there are dozens of these). With one of these add-ons installed you can fire up Outlook, type a fax phone number into the recipient's address field (instead of an email address) and press the Send button. The server will turn your email and attachments into a fax and send it all in the background.

If you don't have a mail server, you can use a standard analog modem. Microsoft has a lengthy article (http://tinyurl.com/2fkjyf) on how to print, scan and fax from your Windows XP PC. Most modems are fax modems and you can hook one up to your PC, connect it to a phone wall socket, and "print to fax." Whatever you can print, you can fax. More sophisticated solutions allow everyone in the office to share the one outgoing fax/modem.

Doing it online

There are other options and you don't need any fax hardware at all (although a scanner can be useful). For example, I used mBox (http://tinyurl.com/3cnosc) for some time, and it lets you send and receive faxes via email (and does other things) for a monthly subscription. It saves on a dedicated fax line and does everything (if you have a scanner) that a fax can do. I'd seriously consider a service like this if I had 10 users or less - but consider privacy and confidentiality.

Shameless plug

Don't forget that you can contribute to the fledgling http://practicesupport.org/, which is a discussion forum for legal or technology professionals. If you feel like reading some of my rants that don't make it into Cyberspace you can read more of me at http://acalvin.blogspot.com/.

10 August 2007

The rule of law eroded further...

Law allows coppers to do you over, judge-free - Opinion - smh.com.au
So if ever you are hauled into court on the basis of evidence obtained under a warrant you had no idea had been executed, which was approved by a government-sanctioned non-judge, and which in the process involved the commission of crimes by the police, then at least the rest of us can be happy in the knowledge that we live in a more secure Australia.

Richard Ackland sums up the state of Australian law - the situation being the result of knee-jerk reactions and blind following of USA attempts to make the world a more USA safer place.

08 August 2007

Publishers' upfront payments to Angus & Robertson

I heard on the news this morning that Angus & Robertson Booksellers is now demanding (in the same way that supermarkets do) upfront payments from book publishers before they will stock their books. They are apparently sending out invoices requiring payment, and if payment is not made then that publisher will not be a supplier to A&R anymore.

So, apart from payment for nothing (and I'm going to exercise my Trade Practices Act and Fair Trading Act thinking about this), what are the problems here? The first is that if a publisher can't or won't make the cash payment, then A&R will then have an excuse to gray market the book from overseas publishers. This will then lead to the demise of the Australian publisher/distributor. I imagine there will be other ramifications...

I also wonder if Angus & Robertson Booksellers will make the same claims on Angus & Robertson Publishers...

Yes, I know supermarkets do this, but just because other people do things with apparent impunity doesn't make it legal. I remember studying Australian constitutional law in about 1982, and remarking that the tobacco excise seemed to be illegal. My lecturer dismissed the argument on the basis that it had been working in Australia for years. Yet sometime in the late 90's or early 2000's someone finally did run the argument in the High Court and succeeded!

I imagine that A&R Bookseller's thinking is very much like the music industry's. "Let's see, we really don't understand technology or what the internet could do for us. Let's just make hard copy books more expensive - they're probably going to die out anyway (especially those useful technical books) - and milk them for what they're worth before we go broke. We don't like our customers - let's slug 'em."

Read the original letter and the reasoned response from a publisher. The original letter reads like a marketing fool's buzzword bingo entry.

07 August 2007

Stupid people

US swoop on mod-chip shops | Australian IT
US FEDERAL customs agents have raided more than 30 businesses and homes in 16 states, looking for devices that allow pirated video games to play on Wiis, PlayStation 2s and Xboxes. Consoles ... US federal authorities have raided 30 businesses and homes after a year long investigation into illegal mod-chipping operations.

The alleged sale and distribution of illegal modification chips and copyright circumvention devices for the popular consoles and others
included 32 search warrants in 16 states, said the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

ICE declined to release the names of those targeted but said they are allegedly responsible for importing, installing, selling and distributing foreign-made devices smuggled into the US.

Illegal chips and other devices used on gaming consoles violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. Sales of counterfeit or illegally obtained games cost the industry about $US3 billion ($3.5 billion) a year globally, not including internet piracy, the Entertainment Software Association trade group estimates...

... "Illicit devices like the ones targeted today are created with one purpose in mind, subverting copyright protections," Julie L. Myers, assistant secretary of Homeland Security for ICE, said in a release. "These crimes cost legitimate businesses billions of dollars annually and facilitate multiple other layers ofcriminality, such as smuggling, software piracy and money laundering."

Spare me - what is the USA doing? Homeland Security??? Where does that fit? As for Julie L. Myers read this or this or this or this.

As for the claim by Myers that mod chips facilitate smuggling and money laundering... these things may in fact be part and parcel of getting the things into the country in the first place, but it's actually just all part of the one activity. The problem here is that the entertainment industry has somehow had laws made that give them protection afforded to no other. It's not like I can't
modify my car to make it go faster, handle better, stop faster or have a great sound system.

Everyone I know who uses a mod chip does so to maximise the utility of their device. The XBOX is a piece of rubbish until you mod it and install Xbox Media Center. It then becomes an amazing device to play back your legally acquired music, your own photos, your home videos, browse the internet, use YouTube, watch online move trailers, watch CNN news, get the weather and other information, and so much more, as well as work as a DVD player
without an add-on infra red dongle (that doesn't work so well).

The resources used by the USA government in this raid are amazing, yet it does nothing to improve the lot of US citizens, it does nothing to improve the security of US citizens, it does nothing to improve peace or human rights or living conditions in any country, it does nothing to benefit anyone at all except the commercial interests of company owners and shareholders (who no doubt contribute greatly to US politicians personal campaign funds).

21 July 2007

Blu ray and HD DVD

I've long wondered if high definition video or even high capacity optical discs were things we really needed. This You Tube video gives further food for thought...

17 July 2007

Cyberspace August 2007

How far can you go?

Given the proliferation of electronic documents and emails in modern litigation, the question of how much effort is required or possible in discovery is constantly raised. For example, in July 2007 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the investigation into Dr Haneef in relation to alleged terror incidents in the UK resulted in 30,000 documents in a very short time.

The amount of effort to be expended in civil proceedings was raised in Galati v Potato Marketing Corporation of Western Australia (No 2) [2007] FCA 919 (15 June 2007). The PMC has more or less a monopoly over potato marketing in WA and has extensive powers to enforce compliance. There were various proceedings between the parties in the Federal Court (Order 15 deals with discovery). The PMC had 11 full time employees and apparently 100,000 documents to search in relation to some categories of documents that Galati requested be discovered.

Consider this statement in the judgement: "As to the documents referred to in category [12(c)], Mr Dawson said that "there would not have been many documents created in this category since January 2003". However, he said that, in order to find those documents, "all documents" would need to be reviewed... Mr Dawson said that he estimated that it "could take a person a number of weeks to properly conduct a search" of "all documents"."

His Honour concluded: "... the evidence of Mr Dawson demonstrates that he appears to have misapprehended the nature of the search which needs to be carried out under the Rules, namely, a reasonable search. "

This case is a useful vehicle to consider electronic discovery generally. The observation is frequently made that only a few percent of all discovered documents are truly relevant to determination of the issues between parties. Vast bands of junior solicitors and law students are often thrown at inspection and categorisation of client documents, and of course, the costs are enormous. With the proliferation of electronic documents will we see a proliferation of costs in relation to e-discovery?

E-discovery is a rather overrated hot topic at the moment, but it does raise real issues for practitioners. When advising your clients on their discovery obligations you may need to prod them in relation to data sources such as file servers, home computers, work computers, private email, backup storage on and off site, and probably take a draft statement from their IT staff or contractor.

Eventually you may end up with a vast pile of information. Much of it will have some general categorisation, but how do you filter it? This is something for professional advice, but you should be aware that free-text searching products exist that go well beyond simple searches for words and phrases, or even basic and/or searches.

Many of these tools allow you to teach them concepts, or at least create thesauri, so that they understand that disk=disc, and "The Manager" = "John Smith". Some go much further, understanding the relationship between the date of the document according to the computer, and date references in the text (so "next Thursday" can mean a real date). You can state that part of the corpus is "more correct" than another part, or specify languages used. Some also interpret numbers in the text so that ranges of money amounts, for example, can be located.

There is also discreet hardware, such as the Google Mini. For USD$3,000 you get a computer that can search up to 50,000 documents (and will scale to millions) located on web servers and file servers. There's also the Google Search Appliance, and both of these understand hundreds of file types.

Most of these products are not a total solution in themselves, and there are a number of litigation support providers who have their own products and expertise to bring together the various elements of the solution. Just make sure you control them and ensure appropriate orders are made to avoid everyone except your client making a profit.

09 July 2007

GPL v3

The GNU General Public Licence version 3 has been released. This is a licence agreement that software owners can use as the agreement between themselves and their users. Creative Commons also offers a range of licences for owners to use - they have a great range of plain English licences if the GPL is not suitable.

Welcome to GPLv3 — GPLv3
2007 June 29: GPLv3 and LGPLv3 have been released!

The final text of GPLv3 is accompanied with a rationale document explaining the few changes since the “Last Call” draft. The final text of LGPLv3 is available as well.

28 June 2007

Exonerated defendant sues RIAA for malicious prosecution

Exonerated defendant sues RIAA for malicious prosecution: "Former RIAA target Tanya Andersen has sued several major record labels, the parent company of RIAA investigative arm MediaSentry, and the RIAA's Settlement Support Center for malicious prosecution, a development first reported by P2P litigation attorney Ray Beckerman of Vandenberg & Feliu.

Earlier this month, Andersen and the RIAA agreed to dismiss the case against her with prejudice, making her the prevailing party and eligible for attorneys fees.

The lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the District of Oregon late last week and accuses the RIAA of a number of misdeeds, including invasion of privacy, libel and slander, and deceptive business practices. "

USA law is quite different than Australian law - this probably would have been dealt with in the original proceedings in Australia. In fact, there is a procedural argument that she could be barred by not raising it in the original proceedings.

Where Australia leads the USA by a substantial margin is the relative absence of poorly conceived or prepared proceedings, such as the RIAA here or the "pants judge."

In some Australian states such as New South Wales, the attorney filing the original claim must certify that there is a reasonable prospect of success - it would be very hard for the RIAA to do this in Australia based on the flimsy evidence and baseless damages calculations that appear to be often used.

27 June 2007

New Vistas

Holiday snaps

Welcome to Cyberspace (suggestions for a new name gratefully accepted) for another year! For those who've taken digital photos over Christmas you might want to consider Panoramio (http://www.panoramio.com/). I found it while using Google Earth to research a trip to New Caledonia. Basically it allows you to upload your photos to their web site to share with family, friends, or the public at large if you're proud of your photographic skills. However, it also allows you to link a photo to a specific location on Google Earth, and it then becomes visible on the Google Earth map for that location. Earth users can click the push-pin on the map and see your photo of that location. I put a few up from my time at North West Cape in WA and it was refreshing to locate those memories on the map. Further, while inside Panoramio you can see photos taken by other people at the same location (useful if yours were blurry).

Another vista you'll come across this year is Microsoft's Windows Vista (http://www.microsoft.com/windowsvista/). It's a new operating system that replaces Windows XP and Windows Media Centre. If you buy a new PC from now on it will likely have Vista on it instead of XP. Alternatively you can go to a PC shop and buy a copy to upgrade an existing machine. It adds lots of security features as well as usability improvements and a shiny new interface (which you can turn off). I've been using it for a few months and I like it (after some significant hardware upgrades!).

Should you upgrade an existing machine? My advice is "no". Vista definitely has some improvments over XP, but it also has higher hardware requirements and most existing machines will not demonstrate all the benefits. The answer is an even louder "no" if you are thinking about upgrading your office PCs. While I have found that Microsoft Office and many other products work normally under Vista, there are some that break, and you don't want that to happen to your accounting software, digital dictation system, conveyancing package or other critical systems. So, make sure you run Windows Update (http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com), have good anti-virus software and run anti-spyware such as Spybot (http://www.spybot.info) weekly.

Should you get Vista on a new PC? The same considerations apply for your office PC. Do you need to run existing important applications? If so, you'll need to do some compatability testing before you can put that machine into action in the office. Another very important consideration is that Internet Explorer under Vista is version 7. I have found that version 7 breaks some of my litigation support software, particularly those that use Flash or Shockwave for parts of the user interface. I haven't tested online legal research sites, but some of the commercial ones may have similiar problems. Check with your vendor first.

Having said all that, if your IT needs are modest and all you do is use Word, Excel, Outlook and the internet then you're probably safe with Vista. However, another question arises with the release of Microsoft Office 2007 (http://tinyurl.com/38fn2t). It's definitely the greatest improvement in seven years to the Office suite. Does it have new features? Sort of... I recently had lunch with the Australian CEO of Microsoft and a few analysts, and I suggested that in one sense the development of wordprocessors and spreadsheets is finished - there just aren't any more features to add. There was general agreement to this, and Microsoft's aim is to make all these features accessible and usable. I think it's done a good job at this; in fact sometimes I can't find features because they're so obvious on the main screen! Macintosh users aren't left out in the cold either - there's a new version for them coming too.

Office Small Business 2007 is available for a free trial download, and it's worth a look. However, you'll need to test it with any software that interacts with it, such as precedent or conveyancing systems. Powerpoint and Outlook in particular have had some terrific improvements.

26 June 2007

Destroying evidence

Andrew Calvin
Director – Practice Support
DLA Phillips Fox

June 2007

This document is a brief outline accompanying a speech given at a seminar in June 2007. This document is not legal advice. It is a broad outline of legislation. Do not rely on it in making decisions that affect anyone.


Victoria enacted legislation in 2006 - the Crimes (Document Destruction) Act 2006 (VIC) - which created a new offence of destroying, damaging or concealing a document or other thing of any kind that is reasonably likely to be required as evidence in a legal proceeding. Victoria also enacted the Evidence (Document Unavailability) Act 2006 which deals with the consequences of documents not being available.

What does the Act say?

254. Destruction of evidence

(1) A person who—

(a) knows that a document or other thing of any kind is, or is reasonably likely to be, required in evidence in a legal proceeding; and

(b) either—

(i) destroys or conceals it or renders it illegible, undecipherable or incapable of identification; or

(ii) expressly, tacitly or impliedly authorises or permits another person to destroy or conceal it or render it illegible, undecipherable or incapable of identification and that other person does so; and

(c) acts as described in paragraph (b) with the intention of preventing it from being used in evidence in a legal proceeding—

is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to level 6 imprisonment (5 years maximum) or a level 6 fine or both (3000 penalty units (about $330,000) for a body corporate).

(2) This section applies with respect to a legal proceeding, whether the proceeding is one that is in progress or is to be, or may be, commenced in the future.


255. Corporate criminal responsibility for offence against section 254


(2) If an officer of a body corporate contravenes section 254, the body corporate must be taken to have also contravened that section and may be proceeded against and found guilty of an offence against that section whether or not the officer has been proceeded against or found guilty of that offence.

What sort of things does it cover?

Any “document or other thing”. Anything. Any record of information. Photographs, labels, discs, hard discs, floppy discs, audio tapes, computer tapes, USB flash drives, films, microfilm, slides, animals, furniture, plans, drawings, electronic files, braille documents, paintings ... Again - any record of information.

What is a legal proceeding?

A criminal hearing, a civil claim, an inquiry, an arbitration, a court reference or any proceeding before a court or person acting judicially.

Does the proceeding have to be on foot?

No. It can be in progress, or is to be, or may be, commenced in the future.

How broadly should I interpret “is to be, or may be, commenced in the future”?

That's not answered by the legislation, but there are some cases around that may be of use, such as British American Tobacco Australia Services Limited v Cowell (as representing the estate of Rolah Ann McCabe, deceased) [2002] VSCA 197 (6 December 2002). The court suggested that the test may be similar to that used for the offence of perverting the course of justice.

In a very litigious industry, such as tobacco sales or other frequent product liability areas, this should probably be read more broadly than, say, sales of tea biscuits.

What if part of the document only is affected?

It's still covered by the Act.

What is evidence?

Evidence is anything that a court or other judicial proceeding might use in making a decision.

I understand “destroy”, but what is damaging or concealing?

The relevant conduct is to destroy, conceal, render illegible, undecipherable or incapable of identification. Perhaps it could include cutting off access to an external data storage site (such as a web site).

Who does it apply to?

Both people and companies in, or doing business in, Victoria, including those who expressly, tactily or impliedly authorise or permit another person to engage in the relevant conduct (so long as the person actually does actually engage in the conduct), with the intention of preventing it being used in a legal proceeding.

What's the penalty?

A person: 5 years imprisonment and about $30,000 fine.

A corporation: about $330,000 fine.

How does a conviction affect the legal proceeding that needed it as evidence?

It doesn't. However, the Evidence (Document Unavailability Act), 2006 (VIC) has a lot to say about the consequences of unavailability of documents.

Are there other related laws?

The main related laws are from the common law, mainly being contempt of court and perverting the course of justice. These can both result in fines and imprisonment.

The courts have long held that destruction of documents gives rise to a strong presumption that they were adverse to the interests of the destroying party.

The Evidence (Document Unavailability) Act 2006 (VIC) also allows the tribunal to draw adverse inferences, assume proofs and reverse burdens of proof.

Why did we need this law?

It was largely inspired by a case where a tobacco company destroyed many documents that a plaintiff in later litigation wanted access to (McCabe v British American Tobacco Australia Services Limited [2002] VSC 73 (22 March 2002)). The court struck out the tobacco company's defence. There was an appeal from this case which held that that was not the appropriate remedy.

What does this law do that existing laws didn't?

The penalty of imprisonment and major fines for individuals and corporations is made clearer.

What do I or my organisation need to do?

To quote the Public Record Office of Victoria (Advice 18 to government agencies):

“All agencies will be most likely to avoid liability under the Act if:

1. they create effective, comprehensive records management systems and policies, supported by a corporate culture that does not countenance the illegal destruction of records, and

2. they provide training for all staff involved in records disposal. Agencies in particularly litigious areas of business may need to exercise even greater caution in destroying records related to activities that may potentially give rise to lawsuits. “


© 2007 Andrew Calvin, Sydney, Australia.

This document is not legal advice. It is a broad outline of legislation. Do not rely on it in making decisions that affect anyone.

1. Assented to 4 April 2006, commenced 1 September 2006. Creates Division 5 of Part I of the Crimes Act 1958

Double standards

While many people find it impossible to have their kidnapped children returned from overseas, and non-custodial parents can't get access orders enforced, the USA has finally managed to get its hands on an Australian who had never been to the USA. Hew Griffiths (see Cyberspace May 2005 and United States of America v Griffiths [2004] FCA 879) is now in a cell in Virginia (http://tinyurl.com/38csfq) for alleged copyright crimes. As mentioned in the above Sydney Morning Herald article, His Honour Justice Peter Young is reported as thinking that this is not a good thing; he is concerned that Australian nationals are being handed over to foreign governments because of transgressions of commercial interests.

Coincidentally, it seems that English members of Griffiths' group who were located in Great Britain were tried in Great Britain. One assumes that our justice minister will obsequiously request the transfer of Griffiths to Guantanamo Bay in the near future. I am also mildly amused that the solicitor for the Applicant (i.e. the USA) in the Federal Court proceedings was the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. I hope the USA received a bill ...

It is alleged that the group's activities involved a loss of $50 million in sales. While it's been a year or two since I studied damages and remedies, one has to look closely at this figure. This is especially so in the light of the USA recording industry's habit of plucking figures for damages out of thin air. Now, even in Australia the sort of conduct alleged would attract additional damages, above the amount of actual or expertly estimated economic loss, so we're talking fairly rubbery figures. But my observations of the "warez" scene (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warez) suggest that a lot of the downloads from warez sites are by unsophisticated users, particularly children, who would never buy the software in question, and in fact probably try it once and delete it. Quantify that! - especially since this is similar to downloading legitimate trial versions of software and using it for, say, 30 days. Further, does a mere download cause a "loss" in the absence of evidence of installation or use? What if the download doesn't complete correctly?

Anyway, rant over, but it's a pity we don't have more thinkers like Peter Young.


Some time ago I asked in this column if there was anyone interested in networking to discuss law and technology. My thanks to those who responded, but the logistics and numbers meant that we couldn't go ahead. However, the absence of a forum for lawyers and IT professionals has continued to weigh on my mind, resulting in practicesupport.org (http://practicesupport.org/). This is a brand new site aimed at anyone involved in IT and the law, whether they be lawyers or IT professionals in management or on the help desk. Over the next 12 months I trust it will evolve into a community where questions can be answered, ideas exchanged, and cooperation encouraged in non-contentious areas. If you're reading this then you are probably a good candidate to register on the site and get involved! Please also send the link to your IT staff since they're fairly unlikely to be reading this in the first place!

The main area of the site is the Forums, where you can post questions, answers and ideas regarding topics of your choice. A fair number of topics have already been set up, but feel free to suggest more. Don't forget, you can subscribe to topics so that you receive an email whenever new information is posted. While I don't want to see the site turn into nothing but self-promotion, it would be good to see legal software vendors involved as well.

Initially the site is going to have a bit of an empty air to it, but as we all contribute we may see it turn into an important resource on the Internet.


Organisation is a wonderful thing, and not all of us are innately good at it. Sometimes there are just so many things to do that it's hard to know where to start and what to do next. If you're interrupted and a new task arises, how do you deal with that? If it's quickly done, do you do it there and then, or put it on the pile? I've been pondering these things and have listened to a lot of productivity speeches, and it's all starting to gel.

"Email overload" is a well-worn phrase, but unfortunately if that's how your work arrives then you need to deal with it. All up, people attempt to send my firm around ## emails per day. Many don't even arrive, as the email system can see from the first few bytes that they're spam, and the connection is dropped. The rest of the spam is cleaned up at the next stage, so very little gets to my desktop. So all I'm left with is internal corporate spam, and real work. I've got to deal with it.

I've always liked GMail, but just like my work inbox, that inbox gets cluttered up as well with things to do. I read about GTDInbox (http://www.gtdinbox.com/) and found it intriguing. It's a GMail add-on that helps you utilise the principles of Getting Things Done (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Getting_Things_Done) by David Allen. I investigated this and have become quite interested in his approach. Very generally GTD focuses on actions and contexts, not projects. It encourages you to get things to do out of your head and into some sort of container where you can deal with them intelligently. The GTDInbox helps "Get tasks out of your head, answers 'What should I do next?', and reduces stress. Get things done."

Actions and contexts need to be explained. If the project is "renovate the office", then that's relatively daunting. However, there are specific actions to be done, just as if you'd delegate them to someone else. Each action (eg: choose light fittings) has a context - that is, it needs to be done in a certain place - on the phone, using the car, at work, at home, using the computer, going home from work, and so on. These are contexts. So, if you think of a task and write it down, then assign a context, then the next time you find yourself in that context you can just look up the tasks to be done in that context and do them all. You don't worry about the project per se - you just get things done and eventually the project gets done. So, I might have three tasks: take the cat to the vet (context: car), pick up dry cleaning (context: car), buy some grout (context: car). If I'm going to walk towards the car I stop, check my "bucket of actions" to see what I can do in the car context, and then go and do all of them.

A bucket

The bucket of actions could be a PDA (I like my iMate JAMin), or email, or a diary, or a notebook. It doesn't matter too much. In my case, since I'm pretty much online all the time I find email works well. Although my Outlook has dozens of folders, the main ones are "Next action", "Action", "Deferred", "Waiting on someone else", and "Archive" (i.e. Done). GTDInbox makes it very easy to assign contexts and actions to emails. So I can sit at my desk, check "Next actions" and do them and empty it, then move on to "Actions". When email arrives it is either assigned to Next Action or Action, or delegated, deleted or archived. If it takes less than 2 minutes to do, I do it there and then.

Now some of this is slightly wishful thinking, as it takes time to learn these things and change habits. Besides, there are many other productivity theories out there. HOwever, this one fits email perfectly. There's also a commercial Getting Things Done Outlook Add-In from Dave Allen's web site (http://www.davidco.com/) that works well with the system. Try it out - it might reduce stress and help you use technology more effectively.

Level playing fields

One of basic tenets of the Internet has been that it is merely a network for the transmission of packets of data. E-mail, the World Wide Web (ie web pages), online chat and file transfer are just examples of applications available that use the Internet. In other words, the Internet inter-connects disparate networks, such as your work network and my home network, to each other. It is a transport infrastructure, maintained by governments, QUANGOs and private organisations, in a manner very similar to the telephone system the world over.

Does the Internet care if you are reading a web page, watching a video from You Tube (http://youtube.com), talking to a friend over Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) or playing an online game? Normally it doesn't. The base Internet Protocol ("IP") carries the data, which might be TCP or UDP, and your applications determine the rest.

A lot of Internet Service Providers (ISP) don't own any of the infrastructure - they resell what they purchase to consumers. If you deal with a small ISP you are probably simply using a larger commercial provider such as BigPond. Other providers such as Internode, TPG and Exetel own some parts of the infrastructure. But let's say your ISP also is a phone company. If you start making lots of VoIP calls that don't go through the regular phone system then that revenue starts to dry up. I have reduced my Telstra phone bill by 2/3 since I started to use VoIP. So, what if your ISP-Phone-company starts treating your VoIP data differently to web pages? Maybe they'll slow down your VoIP data, arguing that it is slowing down other services such as web pages and email. Oh, so your VoIP calls are poor quality now? Sorry, you'll have to go back to using the ordinary phone line... I don't believe this is happening in Australia at the moment, but it's technically possible. In 2004 in the USA Madison River Commnications blocked their DSL customers from using the Vonage VoIP service. The FCC fined them and things were fixed up, but network neutrality is still not law in the US.

Another example is that of Peer to Peer file sharing networks, such as Bittorrent (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BitTorrent). These allow people to easily download and share files, and since in Australia we generally don't pay for data uploads (only downloads), a lot of people have found this very useful. And no, a lot of the files available through bittorrent are not illegal. However, in an example of this packet/traffic-shaping, the Australian ISP Exetel (http://exetel.com.au) recently decided to slow down by 50% all P2P packets from noon to midnight.

Exetel was a good ISP to me when I was with them, but this seems to be a direct attack on "network neutrality" as it applies to consumers. Not many businesses use P2P for time-critical data, so it's the average Joe who is hit by this. I'd like to see what Exetel's Terms of Service say about their ability to do this.

Perhaps your ISP offers, as does mine, cheap phone calls over VoIP, but you want to use a different VoIP provider. Could they choose to throttle all data to and from that other provider to make it effectively unusable? If Exetel can slow down P2P, why can't it slow down other company's VOIP offerings? There's no suggestion that it is going to, but again it is technically possible.

What's more important?

Let's assume that P2P does slow down, say, VoIP traffic. So? Which one is more important depends on your point of view. You're home bound and you rely on the Internet for your entertainment - P2P is more important to you.

Another example might be that, say, Yahoo could pay more to its service providers for higher speed service end-to-end than other smaller search engine companies. Where's that level playing field? It depends on how much of a free-market economist you are.

Cyberspace July 2007

Destroy evidence? Who me?

I recently spoke at a conference about the destruction of evidence. This has become a hot topic since Victoria codified the common law relating to the destruction of documents. The main thing that the legislation really adds to the situation is personal and corporate criminal liability. However, it does bring to the fore the fact that even trying to obscure a car engine number or Vehicle Identification Number can run foul of the law, since it is obscuring a record of information.

We know that we can't destroy things that may be required as evidence in proceedings. But, do we need to create evidence? A US District Court judge thinks so.

Some background: Generally speaking, a "server" is a computer that provides services to one or more other computers. You might use a file server at work or even home so that more than one person can see shared files. A web server dishes out web pages to possibly thousands of people at a time, and so on. Anytime a server does something, it may, or may not, keep a record of what it did. It does this in a "log" which is just a journal of activity. For example, a web server will often keep a log with the time, date, address of the requesting computer, the item requested, and the result of the request. However, there's no need to turn on logging, and since it impacts on the performance of the server it is common to leave it turned off.

So, let's say you run a server (in this case, a bittorrent server) that is probably used mainly for sharing copyright material. You don't turn on logging - it slows the server, and it's probably better (from your point of view!) that you don't keep a log of what your server's been up to. Columbia Pictures isn't very happy with you and the people who use your server. Columbia: "tell us what your server's been up to." You: "I don't know, I don't record that information." Columbia: "Ah, but there is a moment in time when your server DOES know who's using it and what it's doing, because otherwise it wouldn't know where to send the downloads!" You: "True, but that's in Random Access Memory (RAM) and it's only there for a little while, is inherently volatile, and then the server moves on to something else." Columbia: "So in fact, you do have a record, but you're choosing not to preserve it. Gotcha!"

Create evidence - who, me?

This argument was recently run in interlocutory proceedings in Columbia Pictures Industries et al v Justin Bunneli et al, USDC, Central District of California, CV 06-1093. The court found that the data in RAM "constituted electronically stored information and was within the possession, custody and control of [the] defendants." The court ordered that the defendants "preserve the pertinent data within their possession ... and produce any such data in a manner which masks the Internet Protocol addresses ... of the computers used by those accessing [the] defendants' website ..."

Columbia wanted the IP addresses of users, names of files requested and the dates and times of such requests. Traditionally this might have been termed "fishing" in Australia, but to be fair, it must be very frustrating to literally see your content being misused without a way to find out who's doing it. The movie industry doesn't want to just go after the web masters - they want to get the consumers as well. It's a bit like drugs - do you concentrate on users or dealers?

The judgement is a minefield of perceptiveness and woolly thinking. It covers far too many issues to consider here, but the big one is - where information is intrinsically ephemeral (ie data existing only in RAM), can you be forced to create a separete record of that information solely for the pupose of legal proceedings? In this case, yes. In fact, the judge even required to defendants to change their business process and turn on logging!

Stupid thinking about anti-terrorist security

I was recently staying in the Reef View Hotel on Hamilton Island, Queensland, Australia. I asked the concierge to keep our bags for the day after checkout. That was fine...

Later I went back and asked her to put them on the transit shuttle bus when it arrived, and we would meet it at the airport. She refused, saying there couldn't be unaccompanied baggage on the shuttle bus!

Let's see... I can leave my bags in the base of a 20 story hotel unacommpanied, but not in a bus with 10 people in it... This really is the worst kind of woolly thinking and another example of dumb "security" - in the same way I can take my rather pointy and sharp car keys on a plane but not a small nail file.

These people simply don't think; or at least they apply no analytical approach at all.

Returning an identity value from SQL Server after an insert using an ObjectDataSource

How to return the new identity value from SQL Server after an insert using the objectDataSource in Visual Studio 2005

This is incredibly badly documented, and there are no clear instructions anywhere else on the Internet that I know of! I spent an entire day getting to the bottom of this...

Assumptions: you're using Visual Studio 2005, SQL Server 2000 or later or SQL Express, you can use the Dataset designer.

Create a dataset in Visual Studio

Create a TableAdapter for the relevant table

Add an Insert Query to the TA eg: INSERT INTO [Table1] ([data1]) VALUES (@data1);select @id= scope_identity(); - note that there is an insert query and a select query!

After creating the query (say, named InsertQuery) go to the Properties of the query (ie highlight the query and inspect Properties.)

In the Parameters collection, add a new parameter matching the output

parameter - here it's @id - create a parameter named @id. Set the various values such as direction and type and name it the same @id. Make sure you set the datatypes and make Direction "output".

Now go to your web page in the designer. On the relevant web page, create an objectdatasource. Highlight the objectdatasource and select the property Input Parameters. Add a new parameter matching our

output parameter. In this case, name the parameter "id", source none,

then select Advanced Properties.

In Advanced Properties, set Direction, Name and Type (here, it's Output, ID, int32)

Now you wire up your various textboxes or whatever, and make them inputs for your datasource. When all the input parameters are sorted out, create a "Submit" button.

The code-behind for the Submit is, at it's most basic:


Actually you'll want to do validation and error trapping etc - probably in the Inserting event for the objectDataSource.

In the Inserted event for your objectDataSource (ie in the code behind, create a sub for the Inserted event for the ObjectDataSource) you can access the new parameter thus:

Dim intNewIdentity As string = e.OutputParameters("id").tostring

intNewIdentity will contain the identity value (in most cases - if it's an incredibly high traffic site there is a chance that you will get someone else's identity value due to way the database returns scope_identity(). I miss sequences in Oracle...