Tag: Privacy

Live picture from the Bruxelles Grand Place

On the Bruxelles website, you can watch from and move a webcam on the Grand Place. The resolution is good enough to distinguish faces in you zoom. But what is more interesting (imho), is that the stream from the webcam is just a stream of still images from http://www.brucity.be/webcam.jpg. The image below was the current image from the webcam when you loaded this page ; reload the page to see another picture …

webcam Grand Place Bruxelles

Now you can watch people on the Bruxelles Grand Place and watch what is interesting for people operating the webcam …

Belgian police is storing personal details in a database

If you live in Belgium, you probably noticed a small buzz about a database police is building about Belgian citizens and, more precisely, about the access control of this database. The “problem” is that this database already exists and it has a legal basis since … 1998 (10 years!). But mainstream media won’t tell you that (or I’m unaware of it). I don’t think there is a conspiracy. It’s just that, sadly, the current economic environment doesn’t leave much space for this kind of information. The Minister of Justice’s website has more info on this database and its content (excerpt of translation below):

The database already appeared a royal decree. This decree states that the police can store a bunch of sensitive data about certain categories of Belgian citizens since they are 14-years-old.
These include information on about family ties, consumption habits, ethnicity, physical and mental health, political and religious beliefs, membership of trade unions and political parties and suspicions of criminal offenses.

So what can we do about it? Human rights organisations as well as members of the Parliament (La Chambre, look for “P0499”) questioned the Minister of Justice, Jo Vandeurzen. He agreed that there should be both internal and external controls on what is inserted, who have access to the data, who can check the data and the access, … He promised the “Committee P“, the privacy committee and a supervisory body headed by a magistrate will be consulted. Let’s see …

The problem with TinyURL …

The problem with TinyURL.com is that its source code is not free. And I can’t find any other open services/projects that offers the same features (1).

I realized this when trying to add a long link in a Twitter update (2, 3). A maximum of 140 characters doesn’t allow you to add much text around. And it seems that a lot of Twitter users are using the TinyURL.com service which allows you to translate a small URL it gives you to the full, “regular” URL. For example, http://www.poirrier.be/~jean-etienne/ (37 characters) becomes http://tinyurl.com/6kq84z (25 characters).

But … TinyURL is trademarked and its terms of services explicitely tell us they may report your activity to some “agencies” … In addition to the reasons why Udi hates TinyURLs, I wonder how is stored your URLs. Well, it’s not exactly “how?” but “with which additional information?”. I guess they store your IP address, ISP and location (to be able to report your activity to your ISP and U.S. agencies) along with your submition, date & time, … Nothing is said about privacy in their page. Nothing is said either about the time they will keep your URL (what if you try to use your TinyURL in 5 months or 5 years?). And obviously, no source code available. On the other hand, if you don’t want to use the service, you are also free not to use it.

The only problem is that I can’t find proper, free/open alternatives. There are dead/unborn projects like this one at Mozdev or url(x) (no, GiganticURL is not a solution 😉 ). And there is even a PEAR service to TinyURL. Decent URL is not a solution since it’s only a variation on TinyURL (still not open/free and nothing about privacy). BURL is often cited but the only link I have is broken.

It could be nice to have a TinyURL-like service with open source/free source code and a clear overview of privacy settings (why not à-la-carte settings defined when the user submit his/her long URL?). (Note that Udi also has interesting additional ideas in his previously cited post, mainly about knowing what kind of media you’ll get with the short URL)

(1) The first sentence of this post is a kind of “executive summary”. I hope I’m not getting too old to indulge myself in this kind of thing 😉
(2) Yes, I now have a Twitter account. I don’t know the real purpose of having this kind of thing along with my own blog. Let’s see …
(3) I know, Twitter doesn’t have an open/free source code too. But open source microblogging site may become Twitter fallback.

Mapping cameras in Liege

A lot of publicity is made around CCTV cameras in London (e.g. recently). But surveillance cameras are also invading other cities like Liege. You can be pro or against. The least thing is awareness: citizen should know where they are and how data is used. But nor the Liege city, nor the Liege police websites display a map of cameras. So I decided to create such a map here (in French). Of course, I cannot do everything by myself. If you know the location of some camera, just let me know and I will add them on the map.