Here is some free advice for our government. If you want the difference between gigabit and gigabyte to be clear, do not abbreviate those words!
A small printing error has made it so that multinational record companies can pump even more of our tax money out of the country, at least in theory. In October last year the Ministry of Justice published a table of copyright levies in Staatsblad, the official government newspaper in which laws and decisions must be printed to become legal. Where the ministry wanted to write ‘gigabyte’, it wrote ‘Gb’, an abbreviation meaning gigabit. When talking about storage a byte typically contains 8 bits.
This means that legally speaking people who for example buy a smartphone with 2 gigabytes of storage would have to pay a higher price.
In practice this will likely not occur. Jochem Donker, a legal consultant working for Stichting Thuiskopie, the organisation that will collect the levies, told Webwereld: “We agreed upon gigabytes, so I find it hard to imagine that parliament suddenly changed its mind. This is probably a capslock error. I expect we will not abuse this.” Several lawyers called the use of ‘gigabit’ “an apparent mistake” (kennelijke verschrijving).
The ministry has decided that it will not correct the text until the levies are up for revision in 2014. “If we had meant gigabit, we would have written Gbps.” Fail! Gbps means ‘gigabit per second’. Later the spokesperson admitted that the ministry had made a mistake. “But it is evident that we meant ‘gigabyte’. The reports of the lower house also say ‘gigabyte’.”
Here is more free advice. If you desperately do want to use abbreviations, for instance because you are printing a table and the columns aren’t very wide, explain your abbreviations in a legend.
Municipalities can only charge fees for personal services and responding to a freedom of information request is not such a service because it serves a common good.
That is the conclusion the Dutch Supreme Court reached yesterday.
In the past years municipalities often charged considerable fees for dealing with freedom of information requests in order to derail the process. RTL Nieuws refused to pay these fees and was sued by several local governments in reponse. According to De Nieuwe Reporter the municipality of Landgraaf lost its case, but Leerdam won. The Supreme Court was asked to provide clarity.
Municipalities can still charge fees for the form in which it responds to a freedom of information request (WOB-verzoek in Dutch), i.e. for photocopies and such. The Supreme Court made a point of mentioning this even though nobody had contested the issue.
Reporter Brenno de Winter sees the verdict as a starting point to get his money back: “It took me hundreds of hours to get rid of these fees. This lost time represents a lot of money to a freelancer like me. I am going to ask back fees that I had already paid and charge the municipalities for the time I lost. [...] I am also studying options to criminally charge four civil servants because they threatened me with costs [of up to 30,000 euro] if I were to persevere with my information requests.”
De Winter was declared Journalist of the Year 2011 by the Dutch Association of Journalists NVJ because of his scoops concerning the bad security of both the OV transport card and government websites.
Filed under: Technology by Branko Collin @ 12:01 pm
The Dutch national government has put a lot of work into its digital identification system, as DigID is pretty much obligatory for most people these days. For instance, most people cannot file tax returns without one.
However, the government would not be the government if it had not found ways to mess up its own system. The latest howler is reported by WebWereld which writes that a lot of municipalities refer citizens to an ad agency called Digi-D (note the hyphen).
The ad agency existed before the government came up with the name DigiD. The agency claims it has already received sensitive data from 10,000 mistaken citizens, and it has tried to get the government to mend its ways, so far to no avail. Being an ad agency they have now started a campaign to do what the government should have done in the first place, namely point citizens to the right address. The slogan: ‘be careful with your DigiD!’
WebWereld lists several official government documents that refer citizens to the wrong organisation.
Apparently local governments have a checklist that tells them to pay attention to the correct spelling of the name DigiD, among other things.
According to the tech news site, users of the anonymous card, with which you can pay for travel across modes and providers, had to give Dutch Rail their e-mail address in order to be able to travel with the company—presumably so that Dutch rail could differentiate between first and second class. Dutch Rail would then, however, abuse those addresses by inundating them with spam.
Earlier Dutch Rail was fined 125,000 euro by the Dutch privacy authority CBP for storing sensitive data about student travellers for too long.
It has not been a good week for Dutch Rail. Yesterday De Volkskrant reported that the company has been evading taxes by buying trains using a subsidiary in Ireland. The subsidiary would then leases those trains to the Dutch parent company. Train companies pay 9% in taxes in Ireland, but 25% in the Netherlands.
Par for the course for big business, you say? That may be true, but Dutch Rail is owned by the government. Basically, this is the example the Dutch state is setting to all tax payers. To make matters worse, Dutch Rail has a monopoly on all the juicy routes in the country. Other transport companies are allowed to run trains in the country, but only in areas that are not as profitable.
Suffice it to say that politicians were not happy, with for example PvdA (Labour) leader Diederik Samson calling Dutch Rails’ tactics ‘wrong’ and an example of ‘a lack of morals’. It is unclear to me whether politicians are upset because of Dutch Rails’ behaviour, or because their baby got caught red-handed.
Not only does the new cookie law confuse Dutch website owners, but the Dutch government who came up with it can’t be bothered to adhere to it either. Their argument is that they don’t need to follow the rules because the cookies are not being use for commercial purposes. Watchdog Opta disagrees and says that cookies can only be placed without permission if it impairs the functioning of a website or if it cannot offer certain services.
The cookies used on the government site Rijksoverheid.nl are used to keep statistics, and therefore OPTA says they are a no-no. The government has conveniently failed to provide a counter-argument.
This definitely fits the description of “Do what the preacher preaches, but not what the preacher does”.
Filed under: Technology by Branko Collin @ 4:06 pm
Each month ten Dutch Rail trains are equipped with free wifi, so that all 365 trains should have wifi by the end of 2013, Webwereld reports. This is according to schedule.
Currently wifi is free. Dutch Rail still has to decide if it will start charging money for usage after 2012. The national government gave Dutch Rail a 15 million euro subsidy for putting wifi on its trains.
In 2011 the number of trains featuring free wifi doubled, but usage quadrupled. Data rate and session length have stayed the same, 9MB and 40 minutes respectively.
Webwereld, a computer news site, asked some of its users about their experiences with the service. The consensus seems to be that it is as good as one can expect from ‘free’, but not better. Complaints centre on bad connections and slow speeds. One odd complaint is that the operator, T-Mobile, seems to be using German IP numbers. Users get to see the German Google when they want to search, and Facebook warns them that somebody is trying to log into their account from Germany.
Government ministers De Jager (Finance) and Middelkoop (Housing) have announced a temporary lowering of the sales tax on home make-overs from 19% to 6%.
The reduction is to take effect on October 1, 2010 and will last until July 1, 2011, Telegraaf reports. The care-taker government hopes that this will soften the blow of the crisis for the building sector.
Some of the rules for the lower tax are:
Only for houses of two years and older.
Only for labour costs.
Only for improvements that will raise the resale value of your house.
Today the Dutch digital rights organisation Bits of Freedom announced that it will be making a second start. A lack of funds made it impossible to go on in 2006, but under new director Ot van Daalen, the foundation managed to get a subsidy from Internet4all which will enable BoF to start anew and keep going for the next three years.
In his speech at hackers convention HAR 2009 in Vierhouten, Gelderland, Van Daalen reminded an attentive audience that in 1998, the Dutch government had adopted the stance (in a document called Wetgeving voor de Electronisch Snelweg) “that which applies off-line, should also apply on-line.” This already unfortunate attitude has now changed into the even worse “that which we wouldn’t apply off-line, we will apply on-line,” according to the new BoF.
Examples abound in the form of data retention laws. The Bits of Freedom foundation wants to defend privacy and the freedom to communicate in the information society.
You can find Van Daalen’s speech (in English and PDF format) here.
The Instituut Collectie Nederland, the agency that manages the national government’s art collection, is selling art (Dutch) from its depots and storage rooms of a number of museums for cheap on eBay. Much of the art was acquired as part of the BKR (Beeldende Kunstenaars Regeling, Visual Arts Arrangement) during which many government-appointed artists got an income in exchange for regularly producing art for municipalities. ICN is selling about 50 pieces a week this way, and according to the Volkskrant video below (Dutch), the works are selling fairly cheaply, with prices starting at no more than 17,50 euro.
Trouw mentioned in January (Dutch) that ICN is selling all this art because the depots are brimming over. The paper quotes Marina Raymakers of ICN:
There are lots of pieces that just never leave their storage. Many collections have simply grown too big, [and] many works simply no longer fit in a museum collection.”
We organised a large auction at an auction house last year, but the Internet has a lower threshold. It draws a different audience, which is a good thing. Everybody gets a chance this way.
A lot of the art produced as part of the BKR has actually been used by the government, although the arrangement was also known for producing some hideous art that all but the artists involved were only too eager to hide in storage. I remember reading stories about artists actually suing the government over the latter type of use, using moral rights provisions in the Dutch copyright law to claim that hiding an ugly art work was a form of infringement. If anybody can tell me if I remember correctly, please do. A quick google did not produce any results.
Illustration: this unnamed painting by Bertus de Meij is currently up for auction at eBay, the price being 81,50 euro after 6 bids. His San Grimignano sold for 425 euro in January, according to Trouw.