Category Archives : News and politics


Remembering Terry Pratchett

“Tech-savvy admirers of the late Terry Pratchett have hit upon an idea for a particularly appropriate memorial. It will be everywhere and nowhere, hiding in the code of the internet.

Pratchett’s 33rd Discworld novel, Going Postal, tells of the creation of an internet-like system of communication towers called “the clacks”. When John Dearheart, the son of its inventor, is murdered, a piece of code is written called “GNU John Dearheart” to echo his name up and down the lines. “G” means that the message must be passed on, “N” means “not logged”, and “U” means the message should be turned around at the end of a line. (This was also a realworld tech joke: GNU is a free operating system, and its name stands, with recursive geek humour, for “GNU’s not Unix”.) The code causes Dearheart’s name to be repeated indefinitely throughout the system, because: “A man is not dead while his name is still spoken.”

What better way to remember the beloved inventor of this fictional system, then, than “GNU Terry Pratchett”?”

Source: The Guardian

This, of course, means simply adding a HEADER value for HTTP responses in your favourite Web Server.  The header name = “X-Clacks-Overhead”, value = “GNU Terry Pratchett”.

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Rushed Mandatory Data Retention Legislation

The two major parties in the Australian Government are scrambling to hash together amendments to the controversial Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014 which is currently before the House of Representatives.

We haven’t seen any amendments over the past few days (and a few independents haven’t too apparently) although a single amendment has finally been distributed just this very morning.  Given how little light this new amendment has seen, how can this be realistically rushed through parliament when the ink is literally still wet on most of the key details of the legislation (in the form of the aforementioned amendment)?

What’s clear is that there’s far more detail to be defined, and what’s happening now (including the complete lack of transparency) is a disservice to the electorate and to the business which will be adversely affected by this overreach.  This simply shouldn’t be before parliament in the current form!

I find it bizarre that attention is being shone on privacy specifically for journalists – “respond to fears that the surveillance powers would curb press freedom and personal privacy.”  This whole legislation curbs personal privacy!  The only way to _not_ significantly impact the privacy of all Australians is to not have mandatory retention in the first place. 

What’s disconcerting most at this stage is that members of the opposition appear to be falling onto the bandwagon.  Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been as dispirited by the dysfunctions in Parliament before as I am now.  The whole “process” is bad comedy, poorly written and poorly acted.


Key issues with the proposed mandatory data retention law

There’s a post up on Labor leader Bill Shorten’s site addressing Labor’s position in regards to the draft mandatory metadata retention legislation and specifically to recommendations included in the Parliamentary Joint Committee report, released late Friday.

Honestly, it’s not very encouraging.  I really think Labor should be outright blocking the passage of the bill (ideally it should be scrapped altogether) until many of the key issues are directly addressed in the legislation itself.  For example, the PJCIS report highlights some glaring problems, notably:

  • The Bill does not explicitly require data to be destroyed at the end of the retention period,
  • The Bill is silent on the issue of data security,
  • The Bill does not prevent offshore storage

.and undoubtedly plenty more. 

The main problem is that the PJCIS report doesn’t make any specific recommendations to address these shortcomings.  For example,  this:  “To give effect to this recommendation, the Committee recommends that the Data Retention Implementation Working Group develop an appropriate standard of encryption to be incorporated in to regulations” is fairly useless.

..and this gem, which offloads details until a later date (a common theme in most of the report’s recommendations):  “The Committee recommends that the Explanatory Memorandum to the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014 clarify the requirements for service providers with regard to the retention, de-identification or destruction of data once the two year retention period has expired”.

Based on the above alone, detailed data about Australians could be stored unencrypted offshore and still be compliant with the legislation.  The risk of a data breach is almost palatable!  Imagine all the potential for identity theft, fraud, disclosure of confidential business information (most emails are sent unencrypted), blackmail…. the list of threats goes on.  If this legislation is passed without serious rework the Government shall be  guilty of severe negligence.

How can anyone with a functioning brain seriously support a bill with such glaring issues that even a joint committee appear lost in the woods?  This is dire stuff, folks.