Friday, 7 November 2014

How and why Australian Customs shares information

Isobel O'Brien

Have you ever wondered whether your identity is being tracked when you go through Customs at an airport?  There is no doubt that your personal information from your passport is recorded.  Even your ‘biometric identifiers’, like fingerprints, are collected.  But how much do you know about how your personal details are stored and shared by Customs beyond your control? 

Data sharing for national security purposes

The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (‘Customs’) collaborates with governmental agencies, both nationally and internationally, by sharing the information it collects to “detect and deter unlawful movement of goods and people across the border.”

At the national level, such cross-agency data sharing unifies resources and centralises national security efforts, which enables greater accuracy in identifying potential security threats.  Analysis of information from multiple sources, including Customs, allows analysts to track peoples’ behavioural patterns and communications, as well as facilitating the identification of non-intuitive relationships between groups and individuals.  Identification of such trends aids in anticipating potential attacks, foreign interference and organised crime.

National agencies currently participating in information sharing agreements with Customs include the Australian Federal Police, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Department of Defence, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Australian Security Intelligence Service, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

Cooperative data agreements 

Australian Customs has data sharing partnership with the AFP, the New South Wales, Victorian and Tasmanian police, Australian Transaction and Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) and the Australian Crime Commission, with a focus on preventing drug importation.  Customs often works particularly closely with the AFP and has developed a Joint Organised Crime Group (JOCG).  ‘Operation Inca’ is a specific example of such a partnership in 2007.  This operation targeted importations of the drug MDMA and led to the dismantling of a purported international drug ring, with 30 charges laid in Australia alone.  The partnership between Customs and law enforcement agencies at the state, national and international level enabled the sharing of information about the smuggling of cocaine in shipping containers, which had been gathered from surveillance data in ten different countries.  This led to the identification and arrest of the criminal ‘masterminds’ of the drug ring, as well as the smaller players. 

Customs also has a role in maritime security, protecting sovereign territories and preventing illegal activities in the Southern Ocean.  A current operation is the targeting of ‘illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing’, which widely affects ‘domestic, regional and international stakeholders’.  Illegal fishing is disrupted using measures such as the RP0A-IUU network, by which fishing vessels engaging in illegal activity are barred from accessing regional ports.  This network involves sharing of information with partner agencies, including the Department of Defence, law enforcement agencies and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who work closely on collaborative initiatives combating border threats and illegal maritime activities. 

Biometrical and biographical data, immigration status and travel history will soon be shared and stored in the chips in e-passports in Australia.  At international airports and seaports, Australian Customs is already able to collect passengers’ biometric information.  This data may include fingerprints, facial recognition imaging or iris scans, and is stored in the Automated Biometric Identification System database.  Prospective laws foreshadowed in the ‘Foreign Fighters’ bill indicate that Customs would not only be able to store such information for its own purposes, but also share it with an international database of biometric information for unspecified national security purposes.  The biometric data collected at borders will be passed to the AFP and national security agencies to pre-emptively assess passengers’ risk status prior to their arrival in Australia, by matching passengers’ data to international databases.  Funding is currently being directed to developing secure international databases with partner countries to target identity fraud. 

International examples of large scale data exchange illustrate the potential for future expansion of Australian Customs’ data sharing capabilities, such as through direct connections with integrated global databases.  In the United States, biometrics databases hold millions of entries as part of the US-VISIT program and store the information of every international traveller within the US and those seeking to work, study or live in the country.  Such biometric databases are shared with over 77 foreign governments, including Australia, through collaborative data agreements.  The US also collects biometric data with private bodies, such as Facebook, for national security purposes.  Facebook’s data is mined for its vast collection of uploaded photographs and the site’s facial recognition software, which identifies individuals by matching faces to ‘tagged’ photographs.  This data enables significant accuracy in identification of individuals, as accounts are frequently linked to users’ real names.  The US further demonstrates the capacity for efficient data sharing between state and federal government bodies.  In response to the terrorist attacks in 2001, the federal US government reformed its predominantly siloed storage structure of biometric data to facilitate sharing between agencies through interoperable databases. 

Further issues regarding information sharing

The collection and sharing of information by agencies such as Customs poses many further issues for potential investigation.  It is useful to situate Customs’ data sharing activity within the broader context of resource and statutory limitations, which reduce efficiency and raise privacy concerns.  Lack of adequate funding and training can pose processing difficulties to individual agencies, which may lack the capacity to manage the sheer size and variety of information collected.  Further, when data is stored in multiple different ‘siloed’ systems, efficient data sharing is impeded by lack of interoperability and consistency between agencies.  Inadequate legislative privacy protections in Australia should also be flagged as an area of concern regarding the greater capacity of Customs and other agencies to share individuals’ private information.  Already, the small protections that do exist controlling information collection, such as the bar on the federal government from matching data in their possession to peoples’ tax file numbers, is being circumvented, as much of the information obtained by Australian governmental bodies is purchased from private organisations.  Such issues leave extensive scope for further investigation into the area of data sharing.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Driverless cars

You would have by now seen news about Google’s driverless car. The UK is reportedly allowing driverless cars on public roads from 2015. Even the Chinese search giant Baidu seems to be moving into this space. We don’t need to convince you that it is a very hot area. It is also one that can have a huge impact on our society -from having fewer accidents to more efficient use of roadways to the drivers (or driverless) license system.

Is Australia far behind? While having fully driverless cars on Australian public roads is probably some time away, driver-assisted technologies towards autonomous vehicles are being developed and tested in Australia. To this end, local IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) chapters are holding a panel seminar on Thursday 30 October in Sydney. Industry and research experts have been invited to chat about the current state of play. NSW government transport officials will talk about their recent trials. If this interests you, further details are here and remember to RSVP to

Date: Thursday 30 October 2014
Time: 6pm for 6:30pm start (approx. 90 mins)
Venue: Wesley Conference Centre, 220 Pitt St Sydney.
RSVP essential

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

"Digital Government" survey NSW

The 'Digital Government – what do you think?' survey has been released by the NSW Government.  They are seeking input to inform how NSW Government can become a government that thinks and operates digitally, with the goal of creating better customer experience. Feedback from the survey will be used by the Accelerating Digital Government Taskforce (comprised of public sector, industry and research representatives) to develop a digital government plan for NSW. This is about more than online transactions, and includes other technologies that connect people, information and services.

All of this raises multiple questions. Completing the survey is an opportunity to raise issues on viability, privacy, information security, and convenience (among other issues). As a blog devoted questions at the intersection of technology, social impact and law, we encourage readers (particularly those in NSW) to have their say. We have been assured that responses to the survey will be taken into account by the Taskforce, both in formulating a plan and in learning how to better engage with industry and the community on issues raised.

The full terms of reference and other project information are available here. The short survey (approx. 5 minutes) is available here.

The survey will close at 9.00 am on Monday 29 September 2014.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Pro bono legal help in RRR areas – is video conferencing the answer?

National Pro Bono Resource Centre
Getting services out to disadvantaged people in rural, regional and remote (RRR) areas is difficult, and legal services are certainly no exception. With ratios of up to one lawyer to 3,000 people in RRR Australia and the limited availability of pro bono legal assistance, any opportunity to improve access to justice in RRR areas is welcome.

Sheer distance has made it difficult to bring pro bono resources out to ‘the bush’, but technology might provide the answer. The proposed roll out the National Broadband Network (NBN) in Australia raised hopes that video conferencing could be the solution to overcoming these barriers.

Picture this. A disadvantaged person walks into a community legal centre. A lawyer awaits them, sitting behind their desk. They exchange greetings, the client explains their situation and the lawyer offers free legal advice on the matter. The only thing is, they are hundreds of kilometres apart.

Nicola Roxon at the launch of the service

Video conferencing has the potential to make scenarios like this possible – face-to-face consultations between disadvantaged clients in RRR areas and solicitors from well-resourced firms in major cities, with the help of a local service provider and a couple of computers. It seems like a great solution and, best of all, the lawyer doesn’t even need to leave their seat! But does it work?

Pro bono legal assistance by video conferencing has already been trialled with some success in the US and UK. However, a series of government funded pilot projects in Australia have revealed that it’s not quite as simple as the scenario described above.

The Australian pilot projects: some assumptions and lessons learnt

The National Pro Bono Resource Centre (NPBRC) has produced an article which brings together all the lessons learned from the various Australian pilot projects funded by the previous Labor government’s NBN Regional Legal Assistance Program. NPBRC managed one of the pilot projects in partnership with global law firm DLA Piper and the Hobart Community Legal Centre (HCLS). The project involved using Skype to connect disadvantaged clients from Sorell, in rural Tasmania, with solicitors at DLA Piper’s Melbourne office. The HCLS solicitors also received mentoring assistance and training sessions from DLA Piper via Skype.

Team members from NPBRC, HCLS and DLA Piper at the Sorrell outreach service
National Pro Bono Resource Centre

Before the project commenced, the major assumption was that video conferencing would save time and costs that are usually associated with providing in-person legal advice in RRR areas. However, this was not necessarily the case. In one instance, double handling was experienced between the DLA Piper and HCLS solicitors because both were involved in gathering documents to assist a client. Double handling problems are a product of working remotely, particularly where disadvantaged clients need some in-person support. However, with careful planning, especially determining the party who has carriage of the matter at the outset, these inefficiencies could be minimised.

Another assumption was that clients would be unfamiliar with the video conferencing technology or find it difficult to use. In fact, a pilot project run by Welfare Rights Centre SA (WRCSA) reported that challenges related to a lack of familiarity were largely experienced by the service provider rather than the client. While clients were generally happy to continue using video conferencing once they had started, local service providers continued to be reluctant and were unlikely to be able to support clients’ use of it. 

NPBRC also found that solicitors at HCLS expressed discomfort with Skype when seeking mentoring assistance and preferred to revert to phone calls which they felt would be “less of an imposition” from the DLA Piper solicitors’ perspective. Their reluctance to use the video conferencing technology was despite NPBRC’s support with installing the software and in conducting practice video calls between Sorell and Sydney. These situations demonstrate the importance of service provider confidence with video technology to the success of any video conferencing service.

In terms of what worked well, the greatest benefit in NPBRC’s pilot project came from the ongoing mentoring assistance, which has allowed the HCLS solicitors to take on matters with more confidence knowing that DLA Piper’s expertise is just a Skype call away. Video conferencing has significant potential to increase access to legal resources, as well as training and workshops that assist more than one person at a time and in multiple locations.

Another unexpected benefit discovered in Redfern Legal Centre’s pilot project was the use of video conferencing to provide interpreting services to clients, where the interpreter could be connected via video from a third location.

Concluding remarks
The pilot projects have revealed that there are many factors that need to be considered to ensure pro bono legal services using video conferencing run effectively and efficiently. These include the availability of infrastructure, funding, training for local service providers and on-ground support for clients. Although video conferencing in itself is no silver bullet for access to justice in RRR areas, there are models that can use this technology to provide greater access to pro bono legal assistance.

So, is video conferencing the answer? Not yet. But with the right mix of planning, training and support, it certainly has potential.

This post is adapted from an article originally prepared by the National Pro Bono Resource Centre.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Information pretends to be free

Nicholas Sheppard

Someone recently suggested to me that the cyberlibertarians who shouted "information wants to be free" in the 1990s might be responsible for the present-day Internet being awash with targeted advertising and the data collection that it entails.

As I understand the argument, the claim is that academic free-content advocates — themselves largely supported by public funding — insisted that the Internet provide information free of charge. Requiring funding to actually create and maintain web sites, companies like Google and Facebook turned to advertising.  And so our searches, profiles, news, emails and much else besides now come with corporate messages attached.  Even better, Internet companies are able to leverage the intimate knowledge that they have of their users to better serve the messaging needs of their actual customers (the advertisers).

Whatever the merits of this argument, I think it it does expose two elephants in the room when it comes to making information free: public funding and advertising.  Little information of any substance is ultimately free — most "free" information is paid for by the public or by advertisers.  I guess most of the rest is donated by contributors after doing whatever it is they do to earn a salary.

Now, I think there are some good arguments for providing public information at public expense, and plenty of us accept advertising in return for free-to-air television, inexpensive newspapers and convenient search engines. But would it sound so cool to be proclaiming "information wants to be funded by the public" or "information wants to carry advertising"?  And would anyone sign up for a service boasting that "your information wants to be free to advertisers"?

When I worked in copyright and digital media, I sometimes heard suggestions that the music industry needed to find a business model that "feels free".  Google certainly seems to make plenty of money this way, even if the return on investment for social media companies is open to debate.  But "feels free" implies "ignorant of the cost", leaving search engine and social media users surprised and offended whenever the data collection activities of their "free" service providers are disclosed.

All this got me wondering: would anyone actually pay for searching or social media if it meant they could do so without advertising and without being the subject of data collection machinery?  (Let's assume for the moment that we can trust our paid-for search engines and social media providers to ignore or discard whatever data we send through their services.)

Some people do pay for email services and personal web sites — though a quick survey of my address book shows that the great majority are using either a work address, or one of Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail.  Most of the exceptions, including me, are professional computer technologists for whom setting up email systems and websites is all in a day's work.  Many people also pay for access to online virtual worlds like World of Warcraft and Second Life, and some pay for online dating services.  But I don't think I've ever heard of anyone paying to search the web or join a social network.

I went on to discover (using a free search engine of course) that some psychologists have argued for the existence of a "zero price effect" by which users choose products offered at no charge even when, all things considered, paying for a similar product would serve them better.  Lawyers following these psychologists consequently argue that legislators ought to consider restricting the use of "free". That's not to say that we should outlaw services and products offered without charge, but that we should describe ad-supported, publicly-funded and other indirectly-supported services as such and not as "free".  As David Adam Friedman puts it, "the free offer with accompanying obligation should no longer be considered free".

So let me re-phrase my earlier question: given the choice between a search engine or social network that collected your money, or one that collected your data, which would you choose?  Because "free" is not an option.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Protecting designs in the age of 3D printing

Lester Miller

You really should see Theo Jansen's brilliant, articulated Animaris Geneticus Parvus emerge from a 3D printer and walk itself across a boardroom table powered only by the breeze of conversation. There is brief elation, then the shock of being dumped unprepared into an unfamiliar world.

The Maker Movement has arrived, taking advantage of fast data transfer across national borders for instructing affordable machines to build tangible products. Designs law around the world is already being reviewed in an attempt to keep it relevant to this new technology.

What is 3D printing?

There is more than one way to 3D print products, but one of the important methods is Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM), patented in 1992 (patent now expired) by Stratasys. FDM uses a computer-controlled dispensing head to place a thin layer of liquid material on a base. After the bottom layer solidifies, the head indexes upwards to drop other layers on the lower ones to form a product. Usable materials include at least 50 plastics, rubbers, metals and even biological materials. Dita von Teese was the main attraction in a 3D printed net gown at an event in New York last year, while it is anticipated that the first fully functioning human organ will be 3D printed within a year.

Figure 1 of Crump FDM patent US 5121329
A consumer 3D printer can be yours for less than $2000, printing coffee cup-sized products for a few dollars.

Creating and using model data 

To design a product, a designer uses a computer modelling package which outputs the product details to a stereo lithographic (STL) file. A converting software client then changes that file to another format, which gives path and dispensing instructions to the dispensing head.

To copy a product, laser digitisers scan 3D objects and create an STL file. Usually everyone scans their own head first (do it annually for fun), and then they move on to copying existing products.

A large number of websites (such as this one and this one) provide STL files of original designs, many for free.

Downloading protected products for free!

Imagine a successful product, the subject of an Australian registered design. Overseas, a person scans the product and makes an STL file available, hosted on a server in a country where the designer did not seek registered design protection. A user in Australia downloads the file and makes it here on their own printer. What remedies can the owner of the registration seek? And against whom?

The design owner may consider suing the Australian maker for making, offering to make, importing for sale, selling, using in business, keeping for sale in relation to a product identical to or substantially similar in overall impression to, the registered design. This is possible, but suing individuals is unlikely to be commercially palatable for a design owner.

Similarly, it would be difficult to make a legal case that there has been third-party authorisation of a design infringement by the provider of the STL file, or that that party is a joint tortfeasor with the maker of the design, because of the high bar set for establishing those grounds and the ease of working around the relevant provisions. It is also not clear whether a take-down request would be observed in one jurisdiction when the design right is in another.

Some Australian cases indicate that posting an STL file on a foreign website may be considered to be an offer to make, but it would probably need to be proved that the website targeted Australia.

ACIP Designs Review

The Advisory Council on Intellectual Property (ACIP) is currently reviewing the Australian designs system. An issues paper is to be released in late 2014 and there will be consultation on that paper in August and September. ACIP anticipates that recommendations to the Government will be finalised by November 2014.

What comes next?

3D printing presents great opportunities for realising efficiencies in designing and manufacturing prototypes and products. But as a result of widespread copying and the international availability of data files of protected products, IP owners risk loss of income, while ISPs and technology companies may risk potential liability for secondary infringement if they are seen to have authorised design infringement. The problems of copyright owners are now the problems of design owners, who should be vigilant in putting in place suitable strategies, starting with conducting regular searches for their products (or close copies) on Maker websites.

The situation for design owners and makers will be clearer in a few months' time once the ACIP consultation process is complete and it has made its recommendations to the Government.

This is an edited version of a post that first appeared on the Allens IP blog, Scintilla.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Big Data: The development of super powers?

Daniel Cater

The new millennium has witnessed a revolution in information technology with which society is only just beginning to grapple. Exponential increases in computing power have made it feasible to gather and process information in volumes previously contemplated only in science fiction. The use of super processors and machine learning algorithms is commonly referred to as “Big Data” and its hunger is well-fed by the gargantuan information pool that is the internet.

Increasingly, experts in computing, economic, marketing, medical and security fields are experimenting with the potential of data mining and Big Data. Meanwhile, the wider community and legislators appear to be struggling to understand this continuously evolving digital capability and its policy implications.

Defining “Big Data”

Despite its popularity, the term “Big Data” does not have any firm or universal definition. Broadly, it is the collection of massive quantities of information combined with the potential to process that information to search for patterns and correlative links. Big Data values quantity over quality - it accepts non-systematic errors and irrelevance in favour of volume. In fact, pre-determined relevance has little meaning to Big Data which is primarily concerned with patterns, however random, and the correlations that can be drawn from them. It is this nebulous and undefinable reach of Big Data conclusions that invokes the imagination.       

The evolution of a Super Power?

In the new Captain America film, one of pulp comic’s most iconic heroes, clashes with the machinations of evil manipulators. The primary villain, Alexander Pierce, far from exhibiting supernatural powers, is simply an influential political figure whose tool of world domination is the very essence of Big Data conjecture. Using a computer algorithm, the ‘infinite’ resource of the internet and powerful satellite linked weapon platforms millions of potential threats to the nefarious organisation will be exterminated. In essence the Hydra organisation will exploit the demand for security in order to eliminate opposition to its own agenda of control and Big Data is a primary tool in doing so. This is the apocalyptic vision of Big Data - super processors running arcane threat prediction programs utilising the streams of personal information on the internet which arbitrarily label people as dangers for elimination. Big Data has become the super-power of the next generation villain.

Of course, Big Data is not being employed as a tool of instant world domination in the real world. However, its potential, if fully realised, will have profound impacts on our world. Big Data and the algorithms which utilise its input are still in a formative stage and its failures are as notable as its successes. Google spectacularly demonstrated Big Data potential with a Flu monitoring algorithm which accurately predicted the 2009 H1N1 epidemic; however their same disease modelling program has since disappointed. The Prism and Tempora security data mining programs have resulted in widespread protests by privacy advocates and the international community. Marketing agencies have utilised Big Data in targeting specific demographics and it has been discussed in personalised pricing schemes, where product prices are based on individual consumer capacity and demand. Clearly Big Data has arrived and is expanding in utility, capacity, scope and implication; but what does that really mean?

A change in paradigm

Privacy is identified as a fundamental right internationally (ICCPR Art 17) and has long been protected (at least up to a point) by the simple inability of anyone to utilise personal information on a massive scale due to both technological and financial limitations. Even with the vast data accessibility of the internet, the cost of both mass processing information and individually focussing data has prevented many applications. The development of Big Data processes has changed that irrevocably. From social media to online shopping, banking to communication, we constantly share most if not all of our critical and personal information. Private information given up for a specific purpose has now become an invaluable resource mined and utilised by the Big Data industry and an entire economy has developed centred around data. There is growing recognition that our privacy laws and regulations are woefully inadequate for this digital revolution.

Privacy, access, usage and data legislation must adapt to the Big Data world, otherwise the utility of Big Data will be either unrestrained or crippled by legal fetters. Big Data is transnational in nature and policy must reflect a global understanding and cooperation for a resource with global value, implications and reach. Legislation must be developed which places boundaries on what action can be taken on the basis of probabilities suggested by Big Data in order to maximise advantage but minimise the oppression of actions based on possibilities. While reforms have been proposed, and both the European Union and the United States have at least attempted to address Big Data concerns, the vast majority of law and proposed legislation is simply inadequate. If personal rights, social justice and trust in the online world are to be maintained, legislators, legal and computing experts must collaborate and address the implications of Big Data.

While Captain America and Hydra are characters from our imaginations, the implications of Big Data are not. The question we must ask ourselves is this: are we going to take responsibility for our future? Perhaps a 1940’s superhero can remind us that with great power comes great responsibility.

Image by JD Hancock under Creative Commons License.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Best meme in show: Unmediated thoughts on the internet and language

Angus Lang

My family owned a cat when I was growing up, but I think the internet has taught me that I’m a doge person.

LOLcats was an early iteration of an internet meme with some potential: amusing images of cats accompanied by intentionally ungrammatical text was a promising combination, but ultimately it didn’t hit the spot. This, for instance, is cute enough, but not actually funny:
Image by Misterjack, provided by CC licence via Wikimedia Commons

However, if you replace the cat with an image of a happily inane and easily impressed dog (a shiba inu), and instead of the half-baked misspellings use a mixture of eccentric noun phrases sprinkled with the occasional “wow”, the whole proposition becomes much more compelling.  This, for example, is doge’s take on the topic of 3D printing:

Image from The Daily Dot
It works best when there is an obvious gulf between the depth of the topic and the doge’s treatment of it. Here, for example, doge deals with the grey zone between terrorism and civil disobedience:
Image from FunnyJunk
The doge is undoubtedly inane, but like many fools, he has a certain wisdom about him. And, to my mind, it’s especially in the field of internet linguistics that he has a thing or two to teach us.  

Doge is a good example of the internet’s tendency to provide conditions for the development of new language varieties, at greyhound pace, and accompanied by multiple variations. David Crystal, writer on many linguistic things, thinks that the internet’s influence is unprecedented in this respect. 

The sort of riffing that produced doge out of LOLcats can be witnessed all over the place. For example, the orthodox spoken or written phrase “I can’t even begin to describe this to you” has produced the microblogging/texting/tweeting iterations “I can’t even”, “I have lost the ability to even”, and “I have lost all ability to can”.  

Now, I confess I don’t know enough about the field to explain the mechanisms at play, but I imagine it has something to do with the playful (“ludic”) way in which language is used in many popular forms of digital communication, the need for linguistic creativity to be expressed within tight confines in such contexts (eg Twitter/SMS character limits, or keeping it “micro” in the case of microblogging), and the impressive capacity of internet communication to spread: with immediacy; to a wide number of people; and over a geographically disparate population.

All of that is very cool, but if a variety of internet-language could venture out of its natural digital habitat and enter the spoken language, now that would really be something. 

So far, apart from a few bits and pieces here and there, it hasn’t really happened yet. Linguistic prescriptivists and other concerned citizens have, over the years, expressed their fears about the threat to standard spoken and written language forms posed by net- and sms-speak, but by and large they have not materialised. U dont eg omit pnctu8tn or abbrv8 or use pctgrms in 4ml wrtn work lk when u r txtng. 

My personal ambition for doge is that it will make this leap. The ingredients are all there: it’s catchy, has its own grammar, and it doesn’t even need the doge to work. 

This poem from the daysofstorm Tumblr, for example, is a fantastic rendition of Romeo and Juliet in doge-speak:
What light. So breaks. Such east. Very sun. Wow, Juliet.
What Romeo. Such why. Very rose. Still rose.
Very balcony. Such climb.
Much love. So Propose. Wow, marriage.
Very Tybalt. Much stab. What do?
Such exile. Very Mantua. Much sad.
So, priest? Much sleeping. Wow, tomb.
Such poison. What dagger. Very dead. Wow, end.
In my own conversations, I have been trying to deploy doge whenever possible, preferably when least appropriate. It’s quite addictive. But getting it right takes a bit of practice – it’s all too easy to lapse into grammatical correctness. Even “Romeo and Juliet” is not quite perfect: “much love” probably should have been “many love” and “such poison” maybe “so poison”.

I do, of course, realise that much of this is vanity. My doge advocacy doubtless has to do with wearing it as a badge of contemporariness and digital savoir faire. Never mind that the doge has, no doubt, already trotted off to the meme compost heap, tail between its legs. But that, too is the power of the internet. We can spend a disproportionate amount of our text-consuming lives on various forms of bloggery, either out of fun, wannabe funkiness or just because of the sheer volume of it. 

But I feel we should stay sensitised to the way in which the internet bestows prestige on certain forms of text. Naomi S Baron has observed that a great mass of netspeak is unmediated, ie produced spontaneously, and in the absence of reflection, drafting, redrafting, editing or peer-review.  There is, of course, a place for this, but the patterns of our consumption involve a risk that the mediated text may lose something of its cultural priority. It’s certainly an interesting point. And the doge meme is aimed squarely at this phenomenon: we like it because, like so many of us netizens, doge has no inhibitions about broadcasting its thoughts, moment to moment, with hilarious superficiality on topics undeserving of such treatment. 

My cat, now that I think of it, was a more reflective and introverted type. Perhaps I should be reconnecting with my feline side.