We cannot allow Liam Fox’s post-Brexit trade plans to go unscrutinised | Caroline Lucas

Deals containing clauses that threaten human rights are being debated in parliament – they must be defeated

The government cancelled parliament’s recess at short notice so as not to give the impression MPs were on holiday a matter of weeks before we face crashing out of the EU.

The international trade secretary, Liam Fox, is using the opportunity to avoid proper scrutiny of plans that threaten our rights, our environment and our democracy. He tabled a general debate on post-Brexit trade agreements with the US, Australia, New Zealand and the Trans-Pacific Partnership for Thursday. And he is expected to launch negotiations soon after the debate – with no chance for parliament to stop him.

Related: Britain is discovering the difficult truth about trade deals | Phillip Inman

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What business leaders can learn from Jeff Bezos’ leaked texts

The ‘below the belt selfie’ media circus surrounding Jeff Bezos has made encrypted communications top of mind among nervous executive handlers. Their assumption is that a product with serious cryptography like Wickr – where I work – or Signal could have helped help Mr. Bezos and Amazon avoid this drama.

It’s a good assumption, but a troubling conclusion.

I worry that moments like these will drag serious cryptography down to the level of the National Enquirer. I’m concerned that this media cycle may lead people to view privacy and cryptography as a safety net for billionaires rather than a transformative solution for data minimization and privacy.

We live in the chapter of computing when data is mostly unprotected because of corporate indifference. The leaders of our new economy – like the vast majority of society – value convenience and short-term gratification over the security and privacy of consumer, employee and corporate data.  We cannot let this media cycle pass without recognizing that when corporate executives take a laissez-faire approach to digital privacy, their employees and organizations will follow suit. Two recent examples illustrate the privacy indifference of our leaders…

  • The most powerful executive in the world is either indifferent to, or unaware that, unencrypted online flirtations would be accessed by nation states and competitors.
  • 2016 presidential campaigns were either indifferent to, or unaware that, unencrypted online communications detailing “off-the-record” correspondence with media and payments to adult actor(s) would be accessed by nation states and competitors.

If our leaders do not respect and understand online security and privacy, then their organizations will not make data protection a priority. It’s no surprise that we see a constant stream of large corporations and federal agencies breached by nation states and competitors.  Who then can we look to for leadership?

GDPR is an early attempt by regulators to lead. The European Union enacted GDPR to ensure individuals own their data and enforce penalties on companies who do not protect personal data.  It applies to all data processors, but the EU is clearly focused on sending a message to the large US based data processors – Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, etc. In January, France’s National Data Protection Commission sent a message by fining Google $57 million for breaching GDPR rules. It was an unprecedented fine that garnered international attention. However, we must remember that in 2018 Google’s revenues were greater than $300 million … per day!  GPDR is, at best, an annoying speed-bump in the monetization strategy of large data processors.

It is through this lens that Senator Ron Wyden’s (Oregon) idealistic call for billions of dollars in corporate fines and jail time for executives who enable privacy breaches can be seen as reasonable.  When record financial penalties are inconsequential it is logical to pursue other avenues to protect our data.

Real change will come when our leaders understand that data privacy and security can increase profitability and reliability.  For example, the Compliance, Governance and Oversight Council reports that an enterprise will spend as much as $50 million to protect 10 petabytes of data, and that $34.5 million of this is spent on protecting data that should be deleted. Serious efficiencies are waiting to be realized and serious cryptography can help.  

So, thank you Mr. Bezos for igniting corporate interest in secure communications. Let’s hope this news cycle convinces our corporate leaders and elected officials to embrace data privacy, protection and minimization because it responsible, profitable and efficient. We need leaders and elected officials to set an example and respect their own data and privacy if we have any hope of their organizations to protect ours.

Britain is discovering the difficult truth about trade deals | Phillip Inman

Wanting to forge new trading relationships after Brexit and securing them are two very different things

A trade deal, any trade deal: that is all Liam Fox wants from his civil servants. It is not much for an international trade secretary to ask. Especially when the prospect of all-encompassing agreements on imports and exports was held up in the referendum and its aftermath as one of the chief benefits of quitting the European Union. Not least by Fox himself.

Wanting a trade deal and securing one are not the same thing, as Fox has found out in the last two years of chasing down the 69 nations that have deals with the EU which the UK needs to replicate.

Related: Post-Brexit trade partners ask UK to lower human rights standards

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ILO urges world leaders to guarantee workers’ rights as robots cut jobs

UN agency’s call for living wage and union bargaining comes amid spread of automation

World leaders have been urged by an influential United Nations agency to sign up to a universal labour guarantee to bolster fundamental workers’ rights, including adequate living wages and collective bargaining through trade unions.

Designed to address rapid changes in the workplace triggered by the rise of the robot economy and technological automation, the International Labour Organization said a package of measures was required to put the world economy on a sustainable footing for the future.

Related: Workers’ rights? Bosses don’t care – soon they’ll only need robots | John Harris

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Singapore activist found guilty of hosting ‘illegal assembly’ via Skype

An ongoing case in Singapore is testing the legal boundaries of virtual conferences. A court in the Southeast Asian city-state this week convicted human rights activist Jolovan Wham of organizing a public assembly via Skype without a permit and refusing to sign his statement when ordered by the police.

Wham will be sentenced on January 23 and faces a fine of up to S$5,000 or a jail term of up to three years. The judge in charge of the case, however, has not provided grounds of his decision, Wham wrote on Twitter.

Wham, 39, is a social worker at Community Action Network Singapore consisting of a group of activists, social workers and journalists advocating civil and political rights. He previously served as executive director of migrant worker advocacy group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics.

On November 26, 2016, Wham organized an indoor forum called “Civil Disobedience and Social Movements” at a small event space inside a shopping mall in Singapore. The event featured prominent Hong Kong student activist Joshua Wong who addressed the audience remotely via a Skype video call.

The event’s Facebook Page indicates that 355 people were interested and 121 went. The Skype discussion, which lasted around two hours, was also live streamed on Facebook by The Online Citizen SG, a social media platform focused on political activism, and garnered 5,700 views.

Despite being advised by the police prior to the event to obtain a permit, Wham proceeded without said consent, according to a statement by the Singapore Police Force. Wham faced similar charges of organizing public assemblies without police permits and refusing to sign statements under the Penal Code.

In Singapore, it is a criminal offence under the Public Order Act to organize or participate in a public assembly without a police permit. The Police described Wham’s act as “recalcitrant” in regard to organizing and participating in illegal public assemblies.

Commenting on the charge against Wham, a joint statement from Joshua Wong and members of CAN Singapore argued that the event was “closed-door”.

“Skype conversations that take place within the confines of a private space are private matters that should logically, not require permits before they can be carried out,” raged the statement. “Wham’s discussion with Wong ended peacefully and would not have drawn any further attention if authorities hadn’t decided to act.”

“It was a discussion about civil disobedience and social movements,” Wham pointed out in another Twitter post. “The law says that any event which is open to the public, and is ’cause related’, requires a permit when a foreigner speaks. What is considered ’cause related’ isn’t clear.”

Twitter stock down after analyst calls it ‘Harvey Weinstein of Social Media’

Twitter was down 11 percent today after a Citron Research report called the platform, the “Harvey Weinstein of social media” and set a low target price of $20. As of publishing today, the stock was down more than 11 percent at $29.29 a share.

In their report Citron did not mince words, basing their conclusions on an Amnesty International Report claiming widespread abuse on the Twitter platform. “Citron has been following Twitter for years and when we read the just published piece from Amnesty International, we immediately knew the stock had become uninvestable and advertisers will soon be forced to take a hard look at all sponsorships with Twitter,” Citron wrote.

Citron was reacting to an Amnesty International report that took Twitter to task for not doing more to curb abusive behavior. “We have built the world’s largest crowdsourced data set about online abuse against women… Twitter is a place where racism, misogyny and homophobia are allowed to flourish basically unchecked,” the report stated.

The report went on to call out Twitter for not doing more. “To be clear: it is NOT our job as a human rights organization to be analyzing abusive tweets on this platform – it’s Twitter’s. “But [the company’s] refusal to make public this information, while allowing abuse to flourish basically unchecked, meant we had to do this study for them,” the report said.

For its part, Twitter says it’s been working to reign in the kind of abuses that the Amnesty report criticized them for. “Our abusive behavior policy strictly prohibits behavior that harasses, intimidates or silences another user’s voice. We are also investing in better technology and tools to enable us to more proactively identify abusive, violative material, to limit its spread and reach on the platform and to encourage healthier conversations,” a Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Vijaya Gadde, Legal, Policy and Trust & Safety Global Lead at Twitter, defended his company, claiming that it wasn’t clear how Amnesty defined abusive language in the report. “With regard to [the] forthcoming [Amnesty International] report, I would note that the concept of ‘problematic’ content for the purposes of classifying content is one that warrants further discussion. It is unclear how [Amnesty has] defined or categorized such content, or if [they] are suggesting it should be removed from Twitter. We work hard to build globally enforceable rules and have begun consulting the public as part of the process — a new approach within the industry,” he said in a statement.

Feds like cryptocurrencies and blockchain tech and so should antitrust agencies

While statements and position papers from most central banks were generally skeptical of cryptocurrencies, the times may be changing.

Earlier this year, the Federal Reserve of Saint Louis published a study that relates the positive effects of cryptocurrencies for privacy protection.

Even with the precipitous decline in value of Bitcoin, Ethereum and other currencies, the Federal Reserve author emphasized the new competitive offering these currencies created exactly because of the way they function, and accordingly, why they are here to stay.

And antitrust authorities should welcome cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies for the same reason.

Fact: crypto-currencies are good for (legitimate) privacy protection

In the July article from Federal Reserve research fellow Charles M. Kahn, cryptocurrencies were held up as an exemplar of a degree of privacy protection that not even the central banks can provide to customers.

Kahn further stressed that “privacy in payments is desired not just for illegal transactions, but also for protection from malfeasance or negligence by counterparties or by the payments system provider itself.”

The act of payment engages the liability of the person who makes it. As a consequence, parties insert numerous contractual clauses to limit their liability. This creates a real issue due to the fact that some “parties to the transaction are no longer able to support the lawyers’ fees necessary to uphold the arrangement.” Smart contracts may address this issue by automating conflict resolution, but for anyone who doesn’t have access to them, crypto-currencies solve the problem differently. They make it possible to make a transaction without revealing your identity.

Above all, crypto-currencies are a reaction to fears of privacy invasion, whether by governments or big companies, according to Kahn. And indeed, following Cambridge Analytica and fake news revelations, we are hearing more and more opinions expressing concerns. The General Data Protection Regulation is set to protect private citizens, but in practice, “more and more individuals will turn to payments technologies for privacy protection in specific transactions.” In this regard, cryptocurrencies provide an alternative solution that competes directly with what the market currently offers.

Consequence: blockchain is good for competition and consumers

Indeed, cryptocurrencies may be the least among many blockchain applications. The diffusion of data among a decentralized network that is independently verified by some or all of the network’s participating stakeholders is precisely the aspect of the technology that provides privacy protection and competes with applications outside the blockchain by offering a different kind of service.

The Fed of St. Louis’ study underlines that “because privacy needs are different in type and degree, we should expect a variety of platforms to emerge for specific purposes, and we should expect continued competition between traditional and start-up providers.”

And how not to love variety? In an era where antitrust authorities are increasingly interested in consumers’ privacy, crypto-currencies (and more generally blockchains) offer a much more effective protection than antitrust law and/or the GDPR combined.

These agencies should be happy about that, but they don’t say a word about it. That silence could lead to flawed judgements, because ignoring the speed of blockchain development — and its increasingly varied use — leads to misjudge the real nature of the competitive field.

And in fact, because they ignore the existence of blockchain (applications), they tend to engage in more and more procedures where privacy is seen as an antitrust concern (see what’s happening in Germany). But blockchain is actually providing an answer to this issue ; it can’t be said accordingly that the market is failing. And without a market failure, antitrust agencies’ intervention is not legitimate.

The roles of the fed and antitrust agencies could change

This new privacy offering from blockchain technologies should also lead to changes in the role of agencies. As the Fed study stressed:

“the future of central banks and payments authorities is no longer in privacy provision but in privacy regulation, in holding the ring as different payments platforms offer solutions appropriate to different niches with different mixes of expenses and safety, and with attention to different parts of the public’s demand for privacy.”

Some constituencies may criticize the expanding role of central banks in enforcing and ensuring privacy online, but those banks would be even harder pressed if they handled the task themselves instead of trying to relinquish it to the network.

The same applies to antitrust authorities. It is not for them to judge what the business model of digital companies should be and what degree of privacy protection they should offer. Their role is to ensure that alternatives exist, here, that blockchain can be deployed without misinformed regulation to slow it down.

Perhaps antitrust agencies should be more vocal about the benefits of cryptocurrencies and blockchain and advise governments not to prevent them.

After all, if even a Fed is now pro-crypto-currencies, antitrust regulators should jump on the wagon without fear. After all, blockchain creates a new alternative by offering real privacy protections, which ultimately put more power in the hands of consumers. If antitrust agencies can’t recognize that, we will soon ask ourselves: who are they really protecting?

Union’s human rights challenge to Deliveroo dismissed by UK High Court

A UK union that has been fighting to win collective bargaining rights for gig economy riders who provide delivery services via Deliveroo’s platform has had its claim for a judicial review of an earlier blocking decision dismissed by the High Court today.

Six months ago the IWGB Union was granted permission to challenge Deliveroo’s opposition to collective bargaining for couriers on human rights grounds.

The union had already lost a challenge to Deliveroo’s employment classification for couriers last year. Then the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) ruled that Deliveroo riders could not be considered workers because they had a genuine right to find a substitute to do their job for them.

The union disputes that finding but so far the courts have accepted Deliveroo’s assertion that riders are independent contractors — an employment classification that does not support forming a collective bargaining unit.

Even so, the union sought to pursue a case for collective bargaining on one ground related to Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of assembly and association.

But the High Court has now dismissed its argument, blocking its claim for a judicial review.

Writing in today’s judgement, Mr Justice Supperstone concludes: “I do not consider that, on the findings made by the CAC, the Riders have the right for which the Union contends under Article 11(1). Neither domestic nor Strasbourg case law supports this contention. Article 11(1) is not engaged in this case.”

Commenting in a statement, IWGB general secretary Dr Jason Moyer-Lee said: “Today’s judgement is a terrible one, not just in terms of what it means for low paid Deliveroo riders, but also in terms of understanding the European Convention on Human Rights,” he said. “Deliveroo riders should be entitled to basic worker rights as well as to the ability to be represented by trade unions to negotiate pay and terms and conditions.”

The union has vowed to appeal the decision.

Deliveroo, meanwhile, described the ruling as a “victory for riders”. It also argues that the judgement is consistent with previous decisions reached across Europe — including in France and the Netherlands.

“We are pleased that today’s judgment upholds the earlier decisions of the High Court and the CAC that Deliveroo riders are self-employed, providing them the flexibility they want,” said Dan Warne, UK MD, in a statement. “In addition to emphatically confirming this under UK national law, the Court also carefully examined the question under European law and concluded riders are self-employed.

“This a victory for riders who have consistently told us the flexibility to choose when and where they work, which comes with self-employment, is their number one reason for riding with Deliveroo. We will continue to seek to offer riders more security and make the case that Government should end the trade off in Britain between flexibility and security.”

Despite not having collective bargaining rights, in recent years UK gig economy workers have carried out a number of wildcat strikes — often related to changes to pricing policies.

Two years ago Deliveroo couriers in the UK staged a number of protests after the company trialed a new pricing structure.

While, in recent months, UberEats couriers in a number of UK cities have protested over pay.

UK Uber drivers have also organized to protest pay and conditions this year.

The UK government revealed a package of labor market reforms early this year that it said were intended to bolster workers rights, including for those in the gig economy.

Although it also announced it would be carrying out a number of consultations — leaving the full details of the reform tbc.