For the past week or so, the world is abuzz with the news that the National Security Agency in America is trying to listen into every conversations in the world. I do not think it surprised any techie that NSA is trying to listen into every conversations, or indeed it is trying to develop the capability to do so. As for the fact that big tech companies might be lending them a hand? That is not news either.
What strike me is the reporting from BBC News I believe, that the reason NSA is trying to get big tech companies to give it a hand is because we are getting increasingly good at protected our communications, i.e., we are encrypting our data. This means it is difficult for them to find out what we know. Unfortunately for us but fortunately for them, our love for big tech companies means all our information are centralized in a few big silos, and the keepers to the silos have the keys to our encrypted information. Thus, if they are bed fellows with our beloved tech companies, they can get a lot of information through digital “pillow talk”. This, I believe, is what NSA is very very good at. 😉
What is the consequence of this revelation? I think we will start to see decentralization of information. It is true that NSA and other spy agencies will find modern encryption a hurdle, so one who seeks to evade them will stop using the data silos. Therefore, we will probably see more truly pear-to-pear communication which does not use a central authority, just in case the central authority is compromised. At work I already see a variation of this but for a different reason: We rejected a few proposals to use web-based services because the people who proposed it cannot be sure that the data do not hop to the United States because the PATRIOT act will make us fall foul of EU regulations.
In this few months a lot had changed in the patent world. Except for one incidence, it appears to be for the good.
The bad incidence is it is reported that Dutch scientist patented the MERS virus discovered in Saudi Arabia. At least that is how some media outlets choose to report it. In reality, from New Scientist, the patent is on a test detecting the virus. The Dutch defends themselves by saying that this is routinely done. That is likely to be true. However, using Intellectual Property or any legal means to put hurdles into effort to stop a virus from wiping the human kind out is to me unethical behaviour. Remember during the bird flu epidemic Indonesia refuses to provide samples because of fear that it would not get the vaccine it needs from research conducted on the samples? Couple it with this I do not see why someone wants to share their virus sample in the future. I know the research centre itself is feeling the heat and find it hard to defend themselves, since the only defense it can mount in the New Scientist article is to divert focus from the topic to other things that it is doing such as offering their tests to Saudi (under undisclosed terms) and to claim that they distributed the samples to others who requested it. The former probably insulted the Saudis and the latter is probably something they were required to do anyway.
Now the good news: The latest is the victory at the Supreme Court who had decided that naturally occurring DNA is not patentable in the Myriad case. Normally this would be the highlight for the two genes, BRAC1 and BRAC2. However, it would appear this two genes has been in the limelight lately. The peak of its fame is likely to be when Angelina Jolie announced her double mastectomy as the two might be the genes that drove her to the decision. I must commend Ms Jolie for her courage to go through the procedure and to announce it in public.
The next good news is Obama’s move to tackle software patents. Some people see it as breaking new ground on software patents, particularly the part where functional claiming is going to be disallowed or curtailed. I do not want to see software dealt with as a special case in any law, including copyrights and patents. As such, initially I was alarmed when commentators claims that this is recognizing the fact that software is special. However, upon reading the directive itself, I feel that is is not treating software as a special case, but pull software back to the established norm that patent on function is not allowed. This is a good move, and the fact that Obama can use a directive to move it there means we do not have wait for years until eventually, the Supreme Court do this for mankind. Yes, I do believe the Supreme Court will rein in these functional claims eventually.