Captain Kirk is a Pirate!

Last week (Thursday October 18th) I visited the European Parliament. There was an event there called “Science rules!”. This event featured veteran Start Trek actor Walter Koening (aka Pavel Chekov), several real live European Astronauts and the scientific advisor to commission president Barosso. As a long time space fanatic and Star Trek fan this was an event I could not miss.

Amongst others Belgian astronaut Frank De Winne

At some point during the discussions a scientist uttered her frustration about budget cuts and that Captain Kirk would never be recalled because of budgetary reasons. Stressing that it was only a fictional series. This is however completely wrong.

In the Star Trek universe power is generated using a matter-antimatter reaction. Engines powered in this way can generate a tremendous amount of energy. This energy people onboard the Enterprise can us to make anything the need in their day to day live using their replicators. So they live in a world of abundance. There is no scarcity.

Tea, Earl Grey, Hot!

This is why there is no money in the Federation and all of this is made possible by technology. Thought experiments like this are a big part of what make science fiction and Star Trek interesting and important in our society.

Nowadays technology to store, transmit and process information is increasing faster than humanities collective ability to create more information. So Today all our cultural and scientific works are only scarce because of the laws our politicians make or maintain.

This doesn’t mean they have an infinite amount of power available to them. It can certainly run out when going at high Warp for long time or when powering the shield in heated battles. It just means there’s more than enough to keep everybody living comfortable all of the time.

So I would like to ask all of our lawmakers to not make us all turn into Ferengi, to please not recall captain Kirk and boldly go!

Youtube released censored video

Earlier I wrote an article on a video that has been removed from Youtube on request of the Belgian national railroad operator (NMBS). This video showed someone protesting the strikes by making a fake announcement on a train. On the 25th of March the owner of the blocked account notified me with good news. After a review Youtube decided that the video in question was not in violation of the “Youtube’s community guidelines”.

That Youtube restored the situation is obviously a good thing. However there is still is something fundamentally wrong with the attitude Youtube takes in cases like this. There is an important principle in modern democracies that was not respected by Youtube, “The Presumption of Innocence”. A better procedure for Youtube to follow would be to properly examine any claim before taking video’s offline. This approach would be more just.

Youtube might have serious faults in it’s policies. The real vital question is why would the NMBS do this? It suffers no commercial damage from this video. It can’t suffer any commercial damage at all considering it has a monopoly on passenger transport in Belgium. It might have suffered some image damage from this action. But it obviously suffers considerably more image damage from the strikes itself. To my knowledge there has never been any attempt to silence the strikers.

I think our government should investigate from who within the NMBS the action to take down this video originated. It’s obvious that this person has no respect for the right to freedom of speech. A reprimand for this person seems in order.

Twitter introduces country based censorship

On January 26th Twitter posted a message on it’s blog explaining it’s new ability to censor tweets on a per country basis. The post by Twitter can be found here. Up until know Twitter could only pull tweets on the global level.

In the old system when Twitter was ordered to remove a message or an account by a certain country the information would be removed from Twitter entirely. In the case that the origin of the message is not the country that wants it removed this could lead to a situation where a oppressive government is enforcing its censorship outside it’s borders. I don’t know if this situation actually occurred. In the new system the message would only be removed in the country where the message has been found to be in violation.

This definitely seems to be a lesser evil. However I fear that this will increase the amount of times this type of action is taken. In the post they give a perfectly reasonable example of laws that prohibit spreading of pro-Nazi propaganda in France and Germany. I doubt this is the main reason for this new policy. More likely Twitter wants to keep the Chinese government happy. Thus allowing it to operate without problem on this important market.

Extensive use of this feature, Twitter now offers to oppressive governments, will make it for more difficult for opposition in those countries to get their message across. It has the potential to cripple movements like the “Arab Spring”.

At first sight there is nothing we can do about this practice as they are following the law in all involved countries. I however want to propose new legislation that I would hope to have Twitter reconsider. In the case a foreign government has messages from one of its inhabitants pulled I don’t see how we can intervene. However in the case of twitter removing posts of residents of Western countries criticizing China for example we must react. It cannot be allowed that a Western company takes away our right of free speech on the global Internet, even on just a part of it. When this case occurs, Twitter should be fined by our courts.

I this article I responded solely to the Twitter post. I however believe that other online services have or will use a similar system if nothing is done. Maybe the others don’t communicate as openly about these policies then Twitter.

Censorship in Belgium!

A follow up is available!

A video portraying a humorous action against union protest has been taken down from on-line video sharing site Youtube. This video was made on December 23th of last year, the day after a national strike of railroad personnel.

It shows students from Bruges making an announcement on the intercom system of a train broadcasting the following message: “Today all train travel is free. People who have already bought a ticket can get reimbursed from the train conductor. NMBS/SNCB hopes to compensate yesterdays discomfort in this way.” (Translated from Dutch)

Screenshot of the video

To be able to make this announcement no security features had to be circumvented at all. As the video clearly shows there is no lock-picking necessary to access the intercom system on-board Belgian trains. All that is needed is a generic key that can be bought in any hardware store. This same key for example is also commonly used to open fuse boxes.

The link to original video is redirected to a short note on Youtube. The author of this video made a little presentation on the how and why at the 28C3 conference on technology, society and utopia in Berlin. The video of this presentation is still available online. It has the complete original video embedded.

For me this is a clear example of unlawful censorship. At this time it is not know to me who took the initiative to take down this video. But I would like to invite you all to find the reason for the take down in Youtube’s community guidelines. I think it is clear that we are currently living in a society in which it is to easy for company’s and governments to censor an individual criticism.

   ­ Orginal video (blocked)
   ­ Youtube community guidelines
   ­ 28C3 presentation containing the video
   ­ Another action responding to the strike (Dutch)

Media coverage of the original incident:
   ­ De Standaard (Dutch)
   ­ Focus-TV (Dutch)

Starting an Open Knowledge Foundation in Belgium

The founding event

Yesterday evening in the buildings of Flanders DC in Leuven a group of intrepid idealist founded the Belgian chapter of the Open Knowledge foundation (OKFN). I was honoured to be one of them. The goals of the organization will be to promote the release, use and enrichment of open data, information and knowledge in Belgium.

OKFN Belgium is an NPO according to Belgian law which has it official address in Ghent. The first board consists of Pieter Colpaert (@pietercolpaert), Lieven Janssen (@lievenjanssen), Katleen Janssen (@katleenjanssen), Stef Roelandt (@stefroelandt) and Wouter Vanden Hove (@woutvandenhove).

This year there are already events planned that OKFN will support:
    13 Februari 2012 – Mobile Apps for Culture
   ­ March/April 2012 – Apps For Ghent 2
    October 2012 – Apps For Leuven
    June/July 2012 – Apps For West

For more information about OKFN Belgium see the website or follow the foundation on twitter @okfnbe.