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Steven Hanley hackergotchi picture Steven
Hanley

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email: sjh@svana.org

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Thu, 14 May 2009

More open source required in government - 12:36
With the Diebold voting software fiascos in the US and other areas the past few years there has been a lot of proof that any voting systems on computers should be open source (even though governments around the world have not yet cottoned on to this). A few years ago (June 2005) I commented on some DUI charges being tossed out of a Florida court due to the lack of open source code available for the breathalysers. I followed on with mention of problems with speed cameras in Australia playing up also.

Today Schneier had some information on breathalysers that due to court orders finally had the source made available for some analysis. This is not the same breath test system as used in the Florida case from what I can tell at a glance (this was a New Jersey case), however it definitely opens your eyes once more on how crap closed source software can be (and yes I admit lots of open source software can also be crap) and you will have no idea, and no way to fix it. Any software used in law enforcement in such a way that it could be so incorrect or wrong and yet still cause someone to lose their licence or gain a criminal record really should be opened up, at least to the agency/government/force using the software, if not open to all people.

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Tue, 07 Jun 2005

Lack of transparency in Government opens up big problems. - 18:26
There was mention this morning on BoingBoing about judges in Florida tossing out DUI cases when defendants ask to see the source code of the breathalysers that read the amount of Alcohol present in their system. I find this fascinating.

The companies that manufacture the breathalysers do not want to release their internal implementation details to anyone, and thus because there is absolutely no proof or independent audit here of how these things really work the case has to be thrown out of court.

When I was talking to Mikal about this I suggested that due to the fact I do not drink often or much I personally would not be exploiting this specific style of loophole, however I thought it opened up a whole lot of things to wonder about the legal process, Police implementation of technology and the transparency of such. Think about speed cameras and speed radars, I imagine the Police have some testing framework for Radars and some other devices, but how extensive is it? How much can it be trusted? Mikal mentioned a case in Victoria where lots of speeding fines had to be ignored due to a problem with a speed camera.

Some googling found this The Age article about this case, they found a number of cameras were faulty and withheld infringement notices from those cameras for a while. Mikal mentioned it took an ACA story about some Datsun 180B unable to to get over 80KMh on a race track with a race driver that had been booked by the cameras at 120KMh to get some sort of response on the issue.

Now I would suggest against going out and trying to get a speeding ticket from a speed camera simply to test the "show me the source" argument in court, but it does make you wonder what processes of government really should be more open and transparent. I do not hold out much hope in the short term that the general public will understand the need for this though, the ACT Voting system, which had been released as a completely open system has since been placed under a more closed form of source distribution with the source code no longer under a fully public licence and less transparent to the public. Sure the actual release of evacs used in any given election undergoes a full audit process and that audited release is frozen for that election, however the whole process is far more hidden and there was not much public outcry in ACT or Australia about this change.

It also makes you wonder, in what ways can you possibly convince the general public to push for a more open and transparent government, one is to convince them it would be in their benefit, if under Australian law a DUI or speeding fine could be avoided without full transparency it may for example push the process toward that goal along if people exploited that.

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Tue, 16 Nov 2004

Genealogy of ideas - 10:53
Another article by Malcolm Gladwell, this discussing the origins of ideas and where to draw the line between simple obvious ideas anyone could have and ideas that are copyright-able due to complexity or combination.

In reality the article is mostly about a case of a playwright using quotes from an older Gladwell article and not acknowledging the source publicly. However it does present some interesting viewpoints. Everyone when thinking of new stuff builds on prior knowledge, this is why we have libraries and why we read and learn in the first place.

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Wed, 10 Nov 2004

Software patents, branding and broken revenue models - 12:12
Hugh Macleod of Gapingvoid wrote again why Branding is dead, a lot of the points he makes tie in to other problems with big companies in the modern era. How these companies want to hold on to the old way of doing things and don't seem interested in trying new ways of making money that would be less offensive to their customers throughout the world. The problem for these companies is that they lose out in the end trying to hang on to dying revenue models. One point in particular caught my attention, "4. "Branding" is backwards looking. It's all about capturing past associations. It's never about what the business could become, but protecting what came before." as this is at the centre of how companies seem to want to do all their business. Patents (notably software patents) are another similar backward looking mechanism that is broken in the current application of them. More of the points on branding being dead and are provided by Cory at boingboing, and though I have not read it this wired article on the subject is recommended.

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