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Brave GNU World - Issue #53
Copyright © 2003 Georg C. F. Greve <greve@gnu.org>
Permission statement below.

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Welcome to another issue of the Brave GNU World. This time focussed on current political events as many things are currently taking place that most likely remained unnoticed by many readers, as they hardly get the mass media attention that their importance would suggest.


But before we go into politics at least one technical project shall be introduced: UDPKIT [5] by Sylvain Nahas from France. UDPKIT offers two commandline tools that may be small but offer quite a bit, because they allow sending strings via IP/UDP over the network.

For those readers that have not spent a lot of time dealing with networks, a brief introduction should be given, it seems. The two most popular protocols for data transmission in the network are TCP and UDP.

TCP stands for "Transmission Control Protocol" and is a connection oriented protocol for which a dedicated link is created between two points, used and then terminated. A major advantage of this protocol is reliability, as it contains means for resubmission in case of transmission problems and such.

UDP means "User Datagram Protocol" and is a connectionless protocol. Data transmitted by UDP can be read by an unlimited amount of recipients, but the protocol does not offer means of making sure that the data was received anywhere at all.

This obviously makes the protocol less reliable, but also offers advantages in some situations. Sylvain Nahas for instance has an internal network in which one of his machines does not have monitor or keyboard. That machine is only turned on occasionally, but it should always be turned off whenever his workplace machine is turned off.

With UDPKIT his regular work machine can post a message to the network before shutting down. Is the other machine turned on, it will see the message and also shut down. Otherwise the message will disappear into the void.

In comparison: When using TCP as protocol, the workplace machine would try to initiate a connection to the other machine. Is that machine available, there should be no major differences. In case it is not turned on, however, the workplace machine will normally wait some time for the other machine to reply/become available.

So UDPKIT is specifically useful in situations where messages should be sent unspecifically without having to know where or whether at all they are being received. The situation is somewhat similar to radio, where it is also not clear who hears a message or whether it has been heard at all.

In fact the project was initiated on idea of a radio amateur who was looking for such a project on a French Debian list and didn't find one. So Sylvain decided to write it.

UDPKIT was written in ISO C, keeping an eye on the classic Unix paradigm, providing two powerful tools that can be used on the commandline or within shell scripts. In the eyes of its author, this is a major advantage of the project.

The project is published as Free Software under the GNU General Public License (GPL) and is already quite stable in the current version 0.6. So for the future, plans are to internationalize the project and implement CRC checksums. Also a Debian package will hopefully be provided soon.

Help with all these tasks and particularly more testing is very welcome.

World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)

The earth summit "UN Conference on Environment and Development", often known simply as Rio-Conference, is certainly known to many people from the press and evening news. Less known is the "World Summit on the Information Society" (WSIS) [6], which is currently preparing itself to define the structures of the global knowledge and information society.

But the question of control about, access to and participation in knowledge will seminally shape the future of human society. Although people may rightly say that these questions are secondary as long as the basic supply in terms of food or medicine is not secured, the issue will become essential as soon as that minimum supply becomes reality.

Also access to the knowledge can sometimes help providing that basic supply. Or as Louise Szente from Africa said: "Woe is the life of the modern day student living in 'Darkest Africa' for obviously we are still being kept in the slave quarters of the world. Harsh words? My friends, try and live in a society where such Acts as the Intellectual Property Acts of the world impedes your advancement in life."

This is a quote from a study by Prof. Alan Story, which was written for the Commission on Intellectual Property Rights [7]. The commission went back to the whitepaper "Eliminating World Poverty: Making Globalisation Work for the Poor" of the UK government and was dealing centrally with the question of developing and least-developed countries.

The study of Prof. Alan Story provided the basis for discussion of the expert workshop "Copyright, Software and the Internet" for that commission. If you are interested in the details, the protocols of the workshops, the studies and the final result are still online on the commission web site. [7]

So now the visions and rules of the information and knowledge society should be fixed in a global context until 2005. Deviating from that consensus later on national level may become very hard, so the reverberations of this summit will be with us for some time.

The WSIS is split into two phases. The first phase is to take place December 10th-12th in Geneva this year, the second phase July 15th-18th 2005 in Tunis. In preparation of the summit in Geneva there were already two preparatory conferences, the so-called "PrepCom"s. The last preparatory conference (PrepCom-3) will take place September 15th-26th in Geneva.

Between these preparatory conferences there are also working conferences, so-called "intersessional meetings" in which major work on the documents is done. The last of these intersessional meetings took place July 15th-18th in Paris, hosted by the UNESCO, and was to get the documents into a shorter, more concise and clear form, because they had become bloated and unreadable by numerous comments and addendums.

As an event of the United Nations, only governments are admitted as fully accredited participants of the WSIS and the connected conferences. Although it seems relatively common in this context to have emissaries of companies appear as part of the governmental delegations. Especially in very complex areas requiring a lot of specific knowledge the large companies usually have a lot of freedom to implement their policies.

According to inside information, it is for instance the case that in another forum on UN level, the WIPO ("World Intellectual Propert Organization"), the U.S. delegation regularly contains a significant amount of direct Microsoft representatives.

Small and medium sized enterprises only have very limited influence through the industry associations, in which the large companies again have most influence.

The third leg of the political process are the so-called civil society. Generally, this term includes all non-governmental organizations that are to a large extent forming or being an expression of public opinion. That includes chruches, unions, schools, foundations, clubs. Organizations like Greenpeace, the WWF and also the Free Software Foundation (FSF) are classic examples of civil societies.

Within the UN hierarchy, civil societies traditionally have a difficult position. In some of the preparatory conferences of the WSIS the civil societies were at times even banned from the room, so they could not even listen to the considerations that were to shape the information age. It seems that most governments consider this to have been a mistake, however.

But including the civil societies remains difficult, as they still do not have the right to speak at the substantial discussions about issues. In Paris all of civil societies were given half an hour in the morning to address the delegates, for instance. This allows for general comments, but is only of limited use for substantial discussions.

Among the governments seeking better inclusion of civil societies is also the German government, which is represented by the ministry for economy and labour (BMWA) in the WSIS process.

So in planning meetings it was agreed to have not only a representative of economy -- in this case Dr. Rainer Händel of Siemens in representation of BITKOM -- but also add a representative of the German civil societies to the German governmental delegation for Paris.

The coordination circle of German civil societies for WSIS then created a ranked list of candidates that should participate in the German delegation with the mandate of the coordination circle. In the end, Georg Greve, president of the FSF Europe -- and author of this column -- was admitted to the German governmental delegation. [8]

This makes Germany one of the few countries together with others like Switzerland or Denmark, that formally include civil societies in the WSIS process.

Intersessional Meeting in Paris

Trying to give a detailed report of everything taking place during the intersessional meeting would surely go beyond the scope of this column. But some of the most crucial topics discussed should at least be introduced here.

Communication Rights?

Among the questions most hotly debated was the question of "Communication Rights" or even a "Right to Communicate". Many countries -- for instance Egypt, China or the U.S.A. -- were eloquently contradicting formulating such a right. Only Brazil really stuck up for explicitly speaking about Communication Rights.

The countries contradicting the formulation mostly argued that such a right was not defined anywhere and the WSIS was not equipped to define new human rights.

They unfortunately don't seem to have understood that information technology allows invalidating some rights even though you may still have them on paper.

An example for this is the European Copyright Directive (EUCD), and its equivalent in the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), both going back to the TRIPS agreement of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which allow such invalidation in for fair use rights. [9]

Owing to making the crossing of certain lines -- usually referred to as "technical protection measures" -- an offense to be prosecuted by courts, the provider of these technologies is given power to take control over previously public spaces and remove them from the control of democratic legislation.

The DMCA for instance provided the grounds for censorship of Scientology critical web sites, since the information provided on these pages was only available within technical protection measures, so they could only have been acquired through violation of the DMCA. Drastically speaking, DMCA and EUCD both replace democracy through company-controlled technocracy in essential areas of public life.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) [10] states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

As these rights are increasingly dependant upon control over the medium, they are as much in danger of becoming hollow as article 27, which gives every human being the right to participate in cultural life.

Speaking clearly of Communication Rights would therefore not have meant defining new rights but rather protecting existing rights from technocratic erosion.

Industrial Information Control

The area of industrial information control, usually referred to as "intellectual property" was grounds for lots of discussion.

Many sides -- especially the USA, but also the German ministry of justice during the coordination meetings before Paris -- demanded to keep this area out of the WSIS entirely, since that area is dealt with in other organizations, especially WIPO and WTO.

That would mean the failure of the WSIS.

The questions cannot be separated, as the question of control about knowledge and information is obviously central for the knowledge and information society.

With or without the internet: without revising legislation in that area not only single-mindedly pursuing the interests of the rights holding industry, but also those of artists, authors and society as a whole -- especially those in developing and least-developed countries -- the social divide between poor and rich will only get larger and also become more pronounced in the financially stronger countries.

These are only two of the topics that were discussed. In case you're interested, there is a more detailed debriefing about the events and political currents during the intersessional meeting in Paris available on the web page of the FSF Europe. [11]

You are needed

Hopefully I was capable of at least giving you an idea of the importance of that topic. Working on this area in fact requires stamina, a good amount of tolerance against becoming frustrated and a lot of work.

As individuals living within a society, we really cannot afford trusting in "someone" to work on these issues if we remain inactive ourselves.

All organizations active in this area require help in lots of ways -- even if "just" by showing public support.

There are many ways of getting involved and a good contact point for the FSF Europe is probably the discussion list. [12] If you would like to get directly involved in the WSIS process, you can also find information on the web. [13]

And of course this work also is dependant upon money -- and be it only to cover the travel expenses, which many activists are paying from their own pocket. Regarding my trip to Paris, I would like to take the occasion to thank the Linux-Verband, which covered most of the travel expenses, as well as the Böll-Foundation, which also substantially contributed to them.


Readers living in Germany also have another possibility to deal with these issues. Recently the bridge - citizen rights in a digital society foundation was established in Berlin, Germany. [14] The founder was Frank Hansen who cooperated with the Bewegungsstiftung ("Movement foundation") to start this foundation to create awareness for exactly these issues.

As the first action, a call for ideas was started. Until October 1st 2003, any group or person can submit ideas to plan and make a campaign about the lurking reduction of citizen rights in the digital domain.

The best idea will be presented by the jury on November 1st 2003 and will receive up to EUR 15.000,- from the foundation to implement that campaign.

This does offer the possibility to make a difference and hopefully many ideas will be submitted.


Enough Brave GNU World for now from this rather remarkable summer in Europe. As usual I would like to encourage everyone to get in touch with comments, questions and ideas to the usual address. [1]

Especially authors of Free Software should feel pushed to get in touch with their projects. They don't have to be large or finished in order to be interesting to other people.

So far -- see you next month.

[1] Send ideas, comments and questions to Brave GNU World <column@brave-gnu-world.org>
[2] Home page of the GNU Project http://www.gnu.org/
[3] Home page of Georg's Brave GNU World http://brave-gnu-world.org
[4] "We run GNU" initiative http://www.gnu.org/brave-gnu-world/rungnu/rungnu.en.html
[5] UDPKIT download http://www.sylvain-nahas.com
[6] World Summit on the Information Society http://www.wsis.org
[7] Commission on Intellectual Property Rights http://www.iprcommission.org
[8] Press release about the WSIS http://mailman.fsfeurope.org/pipermail/press-release/2003q3/000052.html
[9] Initiative "Rettet die Privatkopie!" ("Save fair use!") http://www.privatkopie.net
[10] Universal Declaration of Human Rights: http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html
[11] Debriefing on World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Intersessional Meeting http://fsfeurope.org/projects/wsis/debriefing-paris.en.html
[12] FSF Europe http://mail.fsfeurope.org/mailman/listinfo/discussion
[13] World Summit Civil Societies http://www.wsis-cs.org
[14] bridge home page (in German) http://www.bridge-ideas.de

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Last modified: Fri Aug 8 15:43:56 CEST 2003