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Subject: URGENT: press release - FIPR
Date: Thu, 28 May 1998 16:52:16 +0100
From: Ross Anderson 

    Title: New Independent Research Foundation Backed by Microsoft

		Embargoed until 11.00 Friday 29th May

Too often, policy issues relating to information technology are
seperately debated by two distinct grouups: technology experts and
those focused on social concerns.  Policy makers face the challenge of
reconciling the seperate debates in areas where technology is often
evolving very quickly. A new research foundation aims to provide clear
advice that spans this gap and is independent of vested interests.

The Foundation for Information Policy Research will fund research into
how information technology affects society. It is launched at a press
conference on Friday 29th May at 11.00 am. (1)

Microsoft has contributed a six-figure sum to cover the launch costs.
Internet service providers Poptel and Demon are also supporting the
Foundation. Its independence will be guaranteed, however, by a board
of trustees. (2) In the medium term it will be supported by
subscriptions from a range of firms in commerce and industry.

The goal of the Foundation is to promote research and understanding of
the effects, and the likely future effects, of IT on society. Its
areas of investigation include: (3)

 * the regulation of electronic commerce;
 * consumer protection;
 * data protection and privacy;
 * copyright;
 * law enforcement;
 * evidence and archiving;
 * electronic interaction between government, businesses and individuals;
 * the extent to which various information technologies discriminate
   against the less advantaged members of society; and
 * the new risks that computer and communication systems pose to
   life, health and economic well-being

The Foundation will also provide a valuable resource for the press as
it will be able to put journalists in touch with a wide range of
experts who can explain IT issues as they arise.

Contact: Caspar Bowden (Director of the Foundation) 0171 837 8706
         Ross Anderson (Chair of the Foundation)    01223 334733


The Director of the Foundation, Caspar Bowden, said: ``The IT policies
(and failures) which the current government inherited, and the
decisions which will be made by them in the future, will have
far-reaching effects on who society's winners and losers will be.  We
have a duty to prevent technological innovation and development taking
place at the expense of the poor, the old, the sick and the disabled.
We believe that so long as we understand the social and policy
implications of new technical innovations, we can make IT into a means
to facilitate social inclusion. The Foundation's mission will be to
achieve and to spread that understanding.''

The Managing Director of Microsoft UK, David Svendsen, said: ``It's
important that we contribute to a broad and informed public discussion
on these information society issues.''

The Chair of the Foundation, Ross Anderson of Cambridge University,
said: ``We welcome this new source of funding for IT related
research. An increase in the diversity of funding sources is almost
always a good thing, and the Foundation will be particularly valuable
as much of the available IT funding is directed to very short-term and
narrowly technical agendas.''


(1) The press conference is at the "Scrambling for Safety"
conference, at the Bloomsbury Theatre, University College, London.

(2) The Foundation's Director and full-time CEO, Caspar Bowden, has
for the last three years been running Qualia, a consultancy business
specialising in internet implementations. Before that he was a
financial strategist with Goldman Sachs. He also researched IT and
communications issues for Scientists for Labour. 

Its chair, Ross Anderson, is a faculty member at Cambridge University
Computer Laboratory and has done extensive research on topics related
to electronic commerce.


The "Millennium Bug" - the problem that many computers cannot deal
correctly with the date roll-over from 1999 to 2000 - threatens to
cause havoc with many systems and has been declared a national
emergency by the Prime Minister.

Another problem that has worried policymakers and concerned citizens
is that new developments in IT may discriminate against the less well
off members of society.  For example, the current mechanisms for
electronic commerce depend on consumers using their credit cards to
order goods and services over the net. They often get a big discount
for buying this way; but people without credit cards may lose out.

The first task that the Foundation has set itself is to examine the
underpinnings of electronic commerce. The European Commission has
recently published a draft Directive on this subject and will launch a
period of public consultation at the same conference at which the
Foundation itself will be launched. (The draft directive is at

Other topics which the Foundation plans to investigate include:

* the maintenance of public records in electronic form. We do not
 fully understand how to ensure that word processor files and other
 electronic documents created today can be safely stored for many
 years, and reliably made available in the future. This affects not
 just the new Freedom of Information Act, but also the work of future
 librarians and historians.

* the development of copyright law. There are some industry proposals
 which would restrict the ability of libraries to lend out digital
 works. Will this mean the end of the public library, as more and more
 books, videos and other material become digital? What are the
 implications for schools and universities? What are the implications
 for the public, if all major sports events in future are pay-per-view?
 Are these developments inevitable, or is there something we can do
 about them?

* the introduction of electronic communication between the citizen and
 the government has the potential to cut queues and the frustration of
 dealing with people on the phone. However, are these changes
 intrinsically more likely to favour the articulate, and to bring the
 most benefit to well-off people with their own computers? What
 technical developments are reasonably possible to ensure that all
 citizens get a fair deal?

* the previous government's proposal for a "personal signature card"
 that would give access to all government services had a distinct
 flavour of an ID card. Are such developments necessary, or can we
 find workable alternatives?

* the police are concerned about the spread of prepaid mobile phones,
 which are increasingly used by stalkers and extortionists. However, if
 they are banned, then how would people without credit cards obtain a
 mobile phone service?

* there have been many disputes in the past over "phantom withdrawals"
 from bank cash machines, and banks have defended themselves by
 claiming that their computers cannot be wrong. How can this approach
 work when millions of merchants are selling services through a wide
 variety of computer systems? What will consumer rights amount to in
 the information age?

* the failure of government computer systems - whether spectacular
 failure due to the millennium bug, or the continuing sporadic
 failures in the NHS - does most harm to pensioners, the disabled,
 single mothers, the unemployed and people on NHS waiting lists (who
 are typically elderly, female and working class). How can we
 encourage best engineering practice in the public sector?

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