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Hit for six

This is a catch-up week, where a clowder of long-running stories have reached, if not a conclusion, a new plateau.

The biggest news is that the Article 29 Working Party (PDF) has soundly rejected the EU-US Privacy Shield, the replacement for the late, unlamented Safe Harbor. Of course, you know this means uncertainty: businesses that rely on transferring personal data to the US (and other countries whose privacy laws do not provide "essentially equivalent" protection to that of the EU's data protection laws) will have to adopt some other mechanism for keeping them legal while negotiations continue.

2015_Max_Schrems_(17227117226).jpgThe ruling comes near-simultaneously with the European Parliament's passage of the general data protection reform package, which itself ends years of wrangling over thousands of amendments. Put the two together, and the Christian Science Monitor's editorial complaining that European privacy advocates should stop complaining sounds particularly ill-clued and out-of-step. What European privacy advocates are trying to do is insist that the EU honor in practice the promises it has made in legislation: as Simon Davies said all those years ago, data privacy is now a fundamental human right in the EU, and complaining about that is about as useful as complaining about the US's attachment to the First Amendment. Fuh, as they say in New York, geddaboudit.

Now, of course, we wait to see what proposals the EU and US will come up with next to facilitate transfers, and for detailed analyses of the new law. It seems unlikely the US will follow the lead of Turkey, which last month passed its own data protection laws rather than continue to be shut out of doing business with the EU. But some concessions will have to be made.

This week also provided an occasion to check in on the state of play of 5G, first seen two years ago in that quintessential technology state "I don't know what it is, or what it might be good for, but we definitely need it so we can sell it to people". At this week's Westminster eForum event on spectrum policy (PDF), it became apparent that things haven't progressed as much as you might expect. This particular discussion was more about technicalities than features, but if you don't know whether your priority is bandwidth or coverage, it's hard to determine how you're going to allocate spectrum, without which...nothing. The most interesting discovery at this week's event is that . And they thought television would kill radio.

256px-Streisand_Estate.jpgNow that the FBI has found someone to crack that pesky iPhone, the bureau may be discovering the Streisand effect (to me, really known as the much earlier Scientology effect. In other words, the more you try to erase something from the internet the more of a cause célèbre defying the prohibition becomes. In this case, the rebel seems to be Facebook; not only has its WhatsApp subsidiary turned on end-to-end 256-bit encryption to its 1 billion users, but Facebook itself made itself accessible via secure Tor connections two years ago. The threats to security - not just individual privacy - embedded in the UK's investigatory powers bill and the US's Senate's Feinstein-Burr encryption bill - seems highly likely to provoke a lot more of the same. The bigger you make the threat, the faster people will move to render it moot through technology. Kind of a jobs program for hackers.

The who-thought-it-was-even-still-alive long-running saga of Phorm, the company whose technology was meant to give ISPs the ability to replace the ads on websites with ads of their own, has finally ended in bankruptcy, costing its shareholders £200 million. Phorm was last seen in 2009 trying to smear its critics and sell its system to other countries. This particular saga began at the dawn of deep packet inspection, the technique that continues to underpin so many important parts of various governments' surveillance plans. I suppose Phorm's demise goes to show that while no one has gotten rich trying to sell privacy-enhancing technologies directly to consumers, no one gets rich by deliberately trying to impose privacy-invading technologies on consumers either. At least logging into Google or Facebook is a choice, even if not doing so means you miss all the best parties.

Along the same lines - things you thought were dead for $500 - is the zombie revival of the internet's own Jarndyce and Jarndyce case, SCO v IBM, which has somehow yet managed to cough up yet another appeal, right after everything wrote its epitaph. Who continues to pay Boies, Schiller, and Flexner is a mystery.

Finally, we can't resist noting that Pastafarians are struggling to get their belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster taken seriously. A German chapter is suing the state of Brandenburg for the right to put up "Nudelmesse" signs to advertise their services. In the US, a US District Court judge has ruled against an individual who claims he deserves access to Pastafarian literature and "religious items" while serving his time in the Nebraska State Penitentiary (really, he should say eating spaghetti and meatballs is an essential religious observance). The judge apparently felt that Pastafarianism was a satire, rather than a real religion. Go figure.

Wendy M. Grossman is the 2013 winner of the Enigma Award. Her Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of earlier columns in this series. Stories about the border wars between cyberspace and real life are posted occasionally during the week at the net.wars Pinboard - or follow on Twitter.


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