posted about 1 hour ago on techdirt
The FBI's cyber-initiatives may be doomed to fail. While it seems to have little problem acquiring and deploying new technology and techniques, it's finding it very hard to talk people into running all of it, as Alexander Martin at The Register points out. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is struggling to hire computer scientists, according to a Department of Justice audit of the feeb's attempts to implement its Next Generation Cyber Initiative. A 34-page audit report (PDF) from the DoJ notes that, while making considerable progress, the FBI has "encountered challenges in attracting external participants to its established Cyber Task Forces". The Inspector General's report provides additional details on how far behind the agency is falling on its hiring goals. Even the hiring process itself is holding the FBI back. While the process may start with a recruitment event attended by 5,000 interested candidates, the inability of candidates to meet the FBI’s specific eligibility criteria reduces that number to approximately 2,000 eligible candidates. Subsequently he told us that only about 2 candidates out of such a group are actually hired by the FBI. Another FBI official told us that the FBI loses a significant number of people who may be interested because of the FBI’s extensive background check process and other requirements, such as all employees must be United States citizens and must not have used marijuana in the past 3 years, and cannot have used any other illegal drug in the past 10 years. Another factor may be that private sector entities are able to offer technically trained, cyber professionals higher salaries than the FBI can offer. The whitehat hackers the FBI would like to hire are looking for more pay and a less-intrusive hiring process. The FBI's hiring process and wage scale are unlikely to be responsive (though the latter is far more flexible than the former) to these demands. As long as coders can get better pay from employers that don't subject them to this level of pre-hire intrusion, the FBI will always find its staffing trailing its capabilities. While the Five Eyes partners mentioned in the report have expressed their support of the FBI's cyber-focused joint task force, it's clear the public has not. But that part of the equation isn't mentioned in the OIG report. It may have been discussed off the record, but there's no acknowledgment that the post-Snowden climate -- combined with the exposure of FBI misconduct ranging from national security letter abuse to its series of entrapment-esque terrorism busts -- have made the FBI a less-than-desirable employer. Its reputation isn't entirely toxic, but it has managed to alienate a large portion of the tech crowd it wishes to hire. Director James Comey's continued assault on encryption isn't helping anything. It's doubtful the deployment of a G.I.-bill-but-for-coders will fix this, but that's what the agency is looking to do. One FBI official explained that the FBI is offering several incentives to recruit individuals including school loan repayment, reimbursement for continuing education, and hiring at higher salary levels on the general pay scale. He also added that the FBI is providing training opportunities for existing personnel including certifications and enrollment in the Carnegie Mellon University Master’s program in Information Technology as retention tools. In addition, in December 2014, the FBI announced to its employees a similar program at the New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering. The good news is that once someone's hired by the FBI, they tend to stay, despite more lucrative opportunities elsewhere. But that's of little use when the problem is acquisition, rather than retention. As of January 2015, however, 52 of the 134 Computer Scientist positions remained vacant and 5 of 56 field offices did not have at least 1 computer scientist, as planned. Working for the FBI isn't like working for another tech company. The job also has a social cost that won't be addressed by student loan assistance and training opportunities. To work for the FBI, especially for someone who identifies as a "hacker," is to say goodbye to a large number of your colleagues. While the private sector doesn't lack for non-disclosure agreements, the FBI's disapproval of "shop talk" with friends and family carries hefty federal weight behind it. Normal small talk starts to resemble a series of probative queries. This may only exist in the minds of those interacting with friends and colleagues who have taken jobs at the FBI, but it's enough to make things uncomfortable. The FBI may believe its problems are mostly of the pay scale variety, but there's more to it than purely fiscal concerns. The agency may do good work, but it has engaged in questionable investigations and activities almost since its formation. Leaks and FOIA documents have done further damage to its reputation in recent years. The FBI, despite its technical prowess -- appears to be anti-tech, at least in terms of fighting against any advances that impede its surveillance techniques. The agency, for the lack of a better word, is untrustworthy. The FBI appeals to candidates' idealism during the recruitment process, but over the years, it has repeatedly acted without integrity. Because of that, it will always have a problem finding whitehats willing to work for an entity that often seems to be in the "blackhat" camp. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 1 hour ago on techdirt
Powerstrips are handy, but sometimes you just need more outlets at the wall. For $19, the Aduro Surge Protector has you covered. It features 6 grounded outlets and 2 USB charge ports, and it comes with an extra long screw you can use in place of the wall plate screw to help provide extra stabilization. The Safety Shutdown Technology protects your devices from power surges, and a lighted indicator lets you know that you're protected. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 2 hours ago on techdirt
We live in a world that venerates "ideas" but ignores the fact that even the best idea is worthless if it's poorly executed. In turn, people who "copy" ideas are often demonized, even when it's their superior execution that is responsible for their success. But the truth is that copying is a critical part of innovation and progress, and the instinct to ignore or refute that idea has left us without many clear measurements of its impact — not to mention lots of bad policy, and a highly problematic "ownership culture" when it comes to ideas and creative output. Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 3 hours ago on techdirt
There have been plenty of discussions on the possible "risks" of running a tor exit node, where clueless law enforcement might confuse traffic that comes out of that node as being from the person who actually manages the node. And, indeed, last year we wrote about an absolutely ridiculous case in which a tor exit node operator in Austria was found guilty as an "accomplice" because someone used his node to commit a crime. Thankfully, it appears that the US isn't going quite down that road yet. It appears that a month and a half ago, of all places, the website Boing Boing received a subpoena concerning the tor exit node that the site hosts, demanding an appearance before a federal grand jury in New Jersey. Except, Boing Boing's lawyer, Lauren Gelman, quickly shot off a note explaining "tor exit node" to the FBI... and the FBI understood what was going on and moved on. Really. Here's the note that Gellman sent: Special Agent XXXXXX. I represent Boing Boing. I just received a Grand Jury Subpoena to Boing Boing dated June 12, 2015 (see attached). The Subpoena requests subscriber records and user information related to an IP address. The IP address you cite is a TOR exit node hosted by Boing Boing (please see: http://tor-exit.boingboing.net/). As such, Boing Boing does not have any subscriber records, user information, or any records at all related to the use of that IP address at that time, and thus cannot produce any responsive records. I would be happy to discuss this further with you if you have any questions. They didn't have any questions. They understood the situation and (one assumes) continued the investigation through other means. As Cory Docotorow writes: The FBI agent did his homework, realized we had no logs to give him, and no one had to go to New Jersey. Case closed. For us, anyway. Not sure what went down with the grand jury. We write plenty of stories about "clueless" law enforcement and politicians overreacting to things by not understanding the technology. Because that's newsworthy. But it is worthwhile, every once in a while, to remember that there are some in these jobs who do understand technology and are perfectly willing to understand what is happening and continue to do their jobs without going overboard. And, as Cory notes, perhaps this story of nothing actually happening will be useful in convincing a few more people that maybe the "risks" of running a tor exit node aren't quite as high as some have made them out to be. Yes, you may receive a subpoena, but hopefully it's from law enforcement willing to understand how tor actually works and what it means.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 4 hours ago on techdirt
We've written a couple stories already about the ridiculous (and chilling) decision by German prosecutors to investigate the news site Netzpolitik for treason in publishing a couple of stories about plans to expand German surveillance capabilities and powers, with whistleblowers as sources. Things have become fairly heated over the past few days and appear to have just resulted in the country's Justice Minister firing the top prosecutor behind the investigation. On Friday, Justice Minister Heiko Maas said publicly that he didn't think the investigation was appropriate and that he had told the chief federal prosecutor Harald Range exactly that. Following this, Range announced that he was pausing the investigation "for the good of press and media freedom," but then lashed out angrily at Maas, saying that his statements were "an intolerable encroachment on the independence of the judiciary." Details of internal discussions quickly slipped out into the public, after Range had told Maas he was intending to continue the investigation after an "independent" expert he had brought on determined that the documents revealed by Netzpolitik did contain state secrets. [Range] said the independent expert had agreed that the documents appeared to be state secrets, as asserted by domestic security agency chief Hans-Georg Maassen. Range said he had informed the justice minister of this but was told "to immediately stop" the process of commissioning outside advice. The chief prosecutor said he had complied, but he added angrily that "to exert influence on an investigation because its possible outcome may not be politically opportune represents an intolerable encroachment on the independence of the judiciary". "I saw myself obliged to inform the public about this," he added in a statement. On the broader Netzpolitik case, he said: "The freedom of the press and of expression is a valuable asset. "But this freedom, including on the Internet, is not limitless. It does not absolve journalists of the duty to comply with the law." And... in response to that, it appears that Maas has fired Range: "I have told federal prosecutor Range that my trust in his ability to fulfill the office has suffered lasting damage and therefore in agreement with the Chancellery I will request his retirement today," Maas told reporters in Berlin. Maas also claims that Range's statement about Maas telling him to stop commissioning outside advice was "false." The whole thing appears to have turned into quite the soap opera. Over the weekend, I had a long discussion about this case with someone quite knowledgeable about German law and legal process, who noted that the situation may not be quite as troubling as some are making it out to be, because all of this needs to happen in public under German law (including the notification of the investigation) unlike the American system, under which a grand jury can proceed with an investigation for years in total secrecy. And while the publicity around this investigation appears to be having an impact on (hopefully) curtailing and ending this investigation, it does not change the fact that the investigation happened in the first place, or the kind of chilling effects that it is clearly creating for journalists and whistleblowers alike.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 8 hours ago on techdirt
We've written a few times about the ridiculousness of so-called ag-gag laws, that prohibit photographing or videotaping farms (sometimes even from public land). These laws were pushed for heavily by large industrial farmers who were sick of animal rights advocates getting images and videos of the conditions in farms and slaughterhouses that were questionable. Whatever you might think of the practices of those advocates, banning taking photographs or videos seemed like a really questionable move -- which would have a chilling effect on whistleblowers of all kinds. It seemed like it had to be unconstitutional -- and a court in Idaho agrees, declaring that state's law unconstitutional. The court does not mince words, noting that under this law, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle would likely have been illegal: The story of Upton Sinclair provides a clear illustration of how the First Amendment is implicated by the statute. Sinclair, in order to gather material for his novel, The Jungle, misrepresented his identity so he could get a job at a meat-packing plant in Chicago. William A. Bloodworth, Jr., UPTON SINCLAIR 45–48 (1977). Sinclair’s novel, a devastating expose of the meat-packing industry that revealed the intolerable labor conditions and unsanitary working conditions in the Chicago stockyards in the early 20th century, “sparked an uproar” and led to the passage of the Federal Meat Inspection Act, as well as the Pure Food and Drug Act.... Today, however, Upton Sinclair’s conduct would expose him to criminal prosecution under § 18-7042. The State responds that § 18-7042 is not designed to suppress speech critical of certain agricultural operations but instead is intended to protect private property and the privacy of agricultural facility owners. But, as the story of Upton Sinclair illustrates, an agricultural facility’s operations that affect food and worker safety are not exclusively a private matter. Food and worker safety are matters of public concern. Moreover, laws against trespass, fraud, theft, and defamation already exist. These types of laws serve the property and privacy interests the State professes to protect through the passage of § 18- 7042, but without infringing on free speech rights. With this background and context, the Court finds that § 18-7042 violates the First Amendment right to free speech. In addition, the Court finds that § 18-7042 violates the Equal Protection Clause because it was motivated in substantial part by animus towards animal welfare groups, and because it impinges on free speech, a fundamental right. The ruling also highlights how the politicians behind this bill barely hid their desire to shut up those darn animal rights activists, who they sometimes referred to as "terrorists" in explaining why this bill was necessary. A review of the legislative record in search of a legitimate purpose does nothing to help the State’s cause.... The overwhelming evidence gleaned from the legislative history indicates that § 18-7042 was intended to silence animal welfare activists, or other whistleblowers, who seek to publish speech critical of the agricultural production industry. Many legislators made their intent crystal clear by comparing animal rights activists to terrorists, persecutors, vigilantes, blackmailers, and invading marauders who swarm into foreign territory and destroy crops to starve foes into submission. Other legislators accused animal rights groups of being extreme activists who contrive issues solely to bring in donations or to purposely defame agricultural facilities. As the Supreme Court has repeatedly said, “a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot constitute a legitimate governmental interest if equal protection of the laws is to mean anything.” ... As a result, a purpose to discriminate and silence animal welfare groups in an effort to protect a powerful industry cannot justify the passage of § 18-7042. It also points out that, for all the talk of animal rights advocates "misrepresenting" things on farms, there's a perfectly good solution to that: counterspeech. The State has not shown why counterspeech would not suffice to achieve its interest of protecting agricultural production facilities from interference by wrongful conduct.... If an undercover investigator “staged a video” at an agricultural production facility, as some Idaho legislators fear, ... not only could the facility owner sue the investigator for fraud or defamation, but the facility owner could launch its own public relations campaign to refute the video. The remedy for misleading speech, or speech we do not like, is more speech, not enforced silence.... The court also laughs off the idea that the bill was narrowly tailored or that this particular law was necessary. In fact, the court points out ridiculous things that are illegal under the law: Indeed, § 18-7042 not only restricts more speech than necessary, it poses a particularly serious threat to whistleblowers’ free speech rights. To convict a whistleblower under the statute, the State does not need to prove that the whistleblower entered a production facility under false pretenses or trespass. Thus, as discussed above, if a diligent and trusted longtime employee witnesses animal abuse or life-threatening safety violations and records it without authorization, the employee could face up to a year in jail and be forced to pay damages to agricultural production facility owner for “twice” the economic loss the owner suffers because of the employee’s whistleblowing activity, even if everything depicted on the video is true and accurate.... In other words, the statute circumvents long-established defamation law and whistleblowing statutes by punishing employees for publishing true and accurate recordings on matters of public concern. The expansive reach of this statute is hard to reconcile with basic speech, whistleblower, and press rights. And finally, with all the questionable reasons for this bill to exist, one of the least commented on is the fact that this is clearly the state picking industries to give special protections to -- and the court doesn't even let that point slide: Likewise, the State fails to provide a legitimate explanation for why agricultural production facilities deserve more protection from these crimes than other private businesses. The State argues that agricultural production facilities deserve more protection because agriculture plays such a central role in Idaho’s economy and culture and because animal production facilities are more often targets of undercover investigations. The State’s logic is perverse—in essence the State says that (1) powerful industries deserve more government protection than smaller industries, and (2) the more attention and criticism an industry draws, the more the government should protect that industry from negative publicity or other harms. Protecting the private interests of a powerful industry, which produces the public’s food supply, against public scrutiny is not a legitimate government interest. Of course, there are still seven other states with ag-gag laws on the books, and hopefully they're about to go down as well. There is still a decent chance that the state will appeal and waste more taxpayer money defending an unconstitutional bill that spits on the First Amendment, but it's difficult to see how the courts could come to any conclusion different than the one here by Judge Lynn Winmill.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 12 hours ago on techdirt
A year ago, a project called Matchstick launched on Kickstarter -- designed to be an open, WiFi connected HDMI stick, built on Firefox OS, to let you stream over the top video to your TV. It was touted as a more open version of the Chromecast device. It got over 17,000 backers (including me) and raised nearly $500,000. It was supposed to be delivered in February of this year but was pushed back after the Matchstick team announced that it had decided to build in DRM support. This angered plenty of people who, quite rightly, noted that they had bought into the vision of an open platform, rather than one that furthered the cause of DRM. However, the Matchstick team had weighed that against the fact that many popular video streaming services, including Netflix, require DRM, and decided that it couldn't exist without DRM. The plan, the team announced, was to ship in August. Well, now it's August, and... the project is dead and Matchstick is refunding everyone's money. Because DRM. After struggling with the DRM development based on Firefox OS for most of this year, we realize continued development of DRM, though showing early signs of promise, will be a long and difficult road. We have come to the conclusion that we will not be able to reliably predict the completion date of the DRM development without significantly more research, development and integration. We feel the only responsible thing to do now is to refund 100% of the pledge money to our backers. You have been very patient with us, and we feel announcing another major delay in the Matchstick delivery would not be fair to our backers. We apologize for not being able to update you sooner. Not surprisingly, many of the comments in response to this are asking why the team bothered with DRM in the first place. Multiple people are asking the Matchstick team to go back to its original promise and just ship a device without DRM, because that's what they backed and that's what they want. The vast, vast, vast majority of comments look pretty similar to the following: Of course, given that Matchstick was built on Firefox OS and heavily promoted and associated with Mozilla, some will undoubtedly point to Mozilla's decision a little over a year ago to give in and adopt DRM in HTML 5, something it had fought for a while. While the two are not directly connected (and the decision on DRM in Mozilla had been made before the Matchstick product even was announced), it shows how companies that are trying to build more open, DRM-free offerings, are increasingly being pressured into adding DRM for no good reason. Once again, can someone remind me of a single positive thing that has come from DRM?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 16 hours ago on techdirt
As you may have heard, a company called Microsoft has just launched version 10 of one of its products. Here on Techdirt, we don't do software reviews -- you might be able to find one or two online if you search a little -- but we do like to analyze privacy policies. In this respect, it seems that Microsoft is breaking new ground, as EDRi.org found when it looked at updated terms and conditions that came into effect on August 1, just in time for Windows 10: We copied and pasted the Microsoft Privacy Statement and the Services Agreement into a document editor and found that these "straightforward" terms are 22 and 23 pages long respectively. Summing up these 45 pages, one can say that Microsoft basically grants itself very broad rights to collect everything you do, say and write with and on your devices in order to sell more targeted advertising or to sell your data to third parties. The company appears to be granting itself the right to share your data either with your consent "or as necessary". If you want more details, the French site Numerama has picked out the key elements (original in French), summarized in English by EDRi: When signing into Windows with a Microsoft account, Windows syncs some of your settings and data with Microsoft servers, for example "web browser history, favorites, and websites you have open" as well as "saved app, website, mobile hotspot, and Wi-Fi network names and passwords". Users can however deactivate this transfer to the Microsoft servers by changing their settings. More problematic from a data protection perspective is however the fact that Windows generates a unique advertising ID for each user on a device. This advertising ID can be used by third parties, such as app developers and advertising networks for profiling purposes. Other features include generating a recovery key when encrypting the drive that Windows is installed upon, which is automatically backed up online in the Microsoft OneDrive account. Microsoft's updated terms also state that it collects things about you, your devices, and app data, as well as information about the networks you connect to. Then there is Microsoft's personal assistant software "Cortana." If you use it, here's what it will gather: Your device location, data from your calendar, the apps you use, data from your emails and text messages, who you call, your contacts and how often you interact with them on your device. Cortana also learns about you by collecting data about how you use your device and other Microsoft services, such as your music, alarm settings, whether the lock screen is on, what you view and purchase, your browse and Bing search history, and more. And in case you thought that was everything, it also collects: Your voice input, as well your name and nickname, your recent calendar events and the names of the people in your appointments, and information about your contacts including names and nickname. Any one of these would be enough to raise serious privacy concerns, even if some can be turned off; put together, they look as if an executive order has gone out to harvest the maximum amount of personal information, and to disregard privacy issues completely. Back in 1999, when Sun's CEO Scott McNealy famously declared "You have zero privacy anyway, get over it," he could be forgiven for living in an innocent era when the harm that might flow from that situation seemed circumscribed. Today, in the post-Snowden world, putting "zero privacy" at the heart of your latest product in the way that Microsoft seems to have done with Windows 10, is not just foolish and anachronistic, but downright contemptuous of users and their safety. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 22 hours ago on techdirt
Our podcast with Kevin Smith is one of my personal favorites. It might seem obvious to some people that you can't look around for affirmation to keep you motivated, and that haters are always going to be around with words of discouragement. Critics will have some valid points, but nobody is perfect -- and you just need to keep trying things until it works (with the exception that if your catchphrase is 'hail Hydra' -- maybe you're going down the wrong path). PewDiePie, aka Felix Kjellberg, is a YouTube star making an estimated $7.4 million -- and he's responded to his critics who think he's overpaid. Genuine responses are usually the best (unless of course you're prone to sticking your foot in your mouth), and PewDiePie's serious-but-still-lighthearted explanation of his income to his haters seems to strike the right balance of honesty and humility. [url] Brandon Bowen posted a video on Vine that went viral -- for "blocking out the haters" with plastic spoons over his eyes. Maybe not the best example of how to deal with haters, but it got around to a few million folks for a quick laugh. [url] Scott Cawthon, the creator of Five Nights at Freddy's, wrote back to his critics to acknowledge his flaws and tell everyone that "focusing on someone else's failure or success is the wrong way to live." Basically, go create something of your own -- tearing down other people's work just for the sake of doing so isn't helping anyone. [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 1 day ago on techdirt
Asset forfeiture: drop the charges, keep the property. I guess the person behind Saeki Co., Ltd. should feel appreciative he actually was graced with charges, rather than just had his purchased vehicles seized and spirited away with a mumbled explanation and some dodgy paperwork. Saeki Co. bought several luxury vehicles from a place called Texas Motors (which, oddly enough, is located in Florida) with the intent to sell them for a significant markup to wealthy Japanese citizens. This is possibly illegal, but not because of any explicit export ban. The only reason it verges on illegal is because resellers like Saeki ever-so-lightly tread on the toes of major manufacturers and their authorized dealers who do the same thing. The true legality of the situation is undetermined. The feds behind the first seizures of soon-to-be-exported vehicles didn't seem to have a firm grasp on the matter. They certainly felt it was illegal, and this feeling resulted in plenty of seizures, but these agencies didn't have any crystal-clear guidance on the matter. The crackdown was driven largely by agents with the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security, who questioned whether these small export companies were violating federal law by using straw buyers — people paid small sums to buy cars — to conceal that the vehicles were being bought by people who had no intention of keeping them and were using cash from other people to make the acquisitions. Federal authorities have argued that using straw buyers is a deceptive practice that potentially deprives American consumers of a chance to buy the luxury cars and limits the ability of automakers to keep tight control over sales to domestic dealers and to foreign countries. It's not so much the American public losing a few opportunities to buy a luxury vehicle as it is the other thing: tight control of sales. The American public can't get many laws written in its favor, but large industries certainly can. This initial thrust led to lots and lots of partnerships with local law enforcement agencies conveniently located near shipping docks. And this led to lots and lots of luxury vehicles ending up in the hands of law enforcement. Then, the government stopped the crackdown. It claimed to be making an effort to more tightly focus its forfeiture efforts as a result of Eric Holder's reform initiative. The appearance of being an errand boy for corporate interests certainly didn't help. Cases were dropped and charges dismissed. But the vehicles remained in the government's hands. One person in Saeki Co.'s position spent two years fighting for the return of a seized vehicle and $125,000 in cash. This followed about a dozen similar settlements, most occuring after a legal battle with the agency(ies) holding the vehicles. In other cases, the prevailing parties still have yet to be fully recompensed. And others are still being prosecuted for violating a law the federal government isn't entirely clear on and has lost an interest in enforcing. Saeki Co.'s story is the worst of the potential situations. It had eight vehicles worth nearly $900,000 seized at the Long Beach Seaport by customs agents. This happened January 3, 2013. Two months later, customs agents seized another of its vehicles (worth over $100,000) in Seattle. Two-and-a-half years later, the feds have abandoned everything about the case but Saeki's vehicles. And it simply doesn't want to talk about the seized property. Despite the Government’s change in policy, Plaintiff has not received administrative relief from CBP nor any communication from the Government justifying its seizure of Plaintiff’s vehicles. Other than the fact that it won't be bringing criminal charges. In or about early 2014, Assistant United States Attorney David Lazarus advised Plaintiff’s counsel that the federal grand jury investigation undertaken in the Middle District of Florida had concluded without any criminal charge lodged against Plaintiff or any of its agents. So, no criminal activity but the government still wants to keep the cars -- which were seized under a vague "felony interference of a business model" law. Plaintiff’s vehicles were seized by CBP not because of any wrongdoing by Plaintiff, but because of an ill-conceived program by the Government to support a vehicle export monopoly at the expense of the Constitutional rights of Plaintiff and other vehicle exporters. As the complaint points out, the government's unwillingness to respond to the plaintiff is swiftly rendering the vehicles worthless. Overseas purchasers willing to pay above US domestic retail for luxury vehicles are most likely going to want this year's model, not something that's been sitting around a government warehouse for almost three years. (And that's not taking into consideration the possibility the vehicles may have racked up miles as government agents' "work vehicles" or the occasional "drive it like you seized it" joyride.) Then there's the simple fact that a newly-purchased vehicle starts leaking resale value the instant a purchaser drives it off the lot. Using the generally accepted average vehicle depreciation rate of 20% in the first model year and 15% in subsequent years, the value of Plaintiff’s property has decreased in value by approximately $375,891.00 since their seizure. This measure increases every day that the Government fails to return the seized vehicles to Plaintiff. Much of the filing details "conversations" with the government about the return of the vehicles, most of which went something like this. SAEKI CO.: So, there's no criminal charges? This means we can have our cars back, right? GOV'T: The lawsuit repeatedly makes claims about Saeki Co. being deprived of due process. Which it has been. But civil asset forfeiture isn't about due process. These statutes provide -- from the very start -- a way for the government to bypass the protections due process affords to citizens. The cases themselves indicate that clearly. It's not the government versus any named individual or company. It's the government against the seized property itself, which cannot advocate in its own defense and can only be spoken for if the government grants the request. So, while the company is absolutely right about being deprived of this right, in terms of asset forfeiture, this right simply does not exist. This lawsuit may force a response from the government, but it's a step it doesn't consider to be "appropriate" in terms of disputing seizures. What Saeki does have going for it is the government's ambivalence towards the "law" it claimed Saeki broke. If nothing else, a judge will be asking the government a few tough questions about how its ongoing non-prosecution has managed to tie up not-guilty vehicles for the better part of three years. Given the racket that asset forfeiture is, that's about the best that can be hoped for. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 1 day ago on techdirt
The anti-piracy catastrophe that is Rightscorp continues its slide into disrespectability, albeit inadvertently. Currently facing lawsuits for robocall phone harassment and the realities of a business model that largely relies on the kindness of accused strangers, Rightscorp is barely upright. Granted, this latest mini-debacle isn't necessarily its fault. At least, not directly or intentionally. But it is a problem nonetheless, especially if Rightscorp is still expecting alleged infringers to beat a path to its virtual doorstep to pay up for their illicit activities. Ernesto at TorrentFreak has more bad news for the trollish company. For the past few days prominent anti-virus vendor Bitdefender has been blocking the company’s website after categorizing it as malware. People who receive a notice from Rightcorp are welcomed with the following popover when they try to access the settlement page. The notice is limited to the settlement pages and doesn’t appear on the regular website. This has led to some speculation as to how Rightscorp became malware, at least in the eyes of Bitdefender. While some antivirus programs kick out more false positives than a Total Wipes DMCA takedown request, Bitdefender doesn't appear to have that reputation. Ernesto speculates this may be due to the large number of settlement emails all providing links back to Rightscorp's "secure" (it's a bit more secure now…) payment site. Sophisticated Jane Doe of Fight Copyright Trolls points out in the comments that the page itself is a joke, what with settlement screens still providing "share" links to a variety of social media services… except that they all link back to the notice screen itself. It could be that Bitdefender views pages that demand credit card information without any sort of preamble (a "shopping cart" screen/an opening splash page informing purchasers that they've arrived at the right site, etc.) as potentially untrustworthy and better safe than sorry. As of right now, this appears to be a fluke error on Bitdefender's part, as it is the only antivirus/malware service to have blocked the page. Maybe this "misunderstanding" will be cleared up in a few days. Or maybe Bitdefender users with settlement notices will continue to be steered clear by their AV software. Either way, it's hardly helpful that a respected antivirus service feels the site is questionable enough that it has constructed a tiny dam right in the middle of Rightscorp's trickling revenue stream. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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There's a raging trend afoot for websites to shutter their news comment sections, then insisting that they're doing this because they care so much about conversation on the Internet. A steady parade of websites have now stopped letting site visitors give public feedback, almost-proudly informing these muted site communities that this was done for the greater good of mankind. Really, companies just don't want to spend the time or money to weed the troll garden (or may not like having their writers publicly fact checked on site), and are shoving these communities toward social media to bury the "problem" permanently. The name of the game is about being cheap and lazy without looking like you're being cheap and lazy, and the justifications being flung about by editorial staffs are equal part absurd and fascinating. Popular Science, for example, declared that on site discussion of news articles is "bad for science." The Verge recently decided to shutter news story comments to help "build relationships." Bloomberg recently killed news comments and insisted it wasn't a big deal because, hey, most people can't be bothered to comment and therefore news comments "don't represent our readership." Few of these sites seem particularly concerned about the fact that shuttering comments makes it very clear they don't really value truly local community, and lack the willpower to nurture and protect on-site (or in app) participation. Nor do they seem to realize that data has shown that toxic comment sections can often be dramatically improved simply by engaging a little with readers. The Daily Dot is the latest to put comments "on infinite hiatus," the site proclaiming it's basically giving up after a few of the bigger troll flare ups of the last few years:This trend is about more than just raw engagement. It’s also about what kind of engagement we want to have. We’re at an interesting point in the history of the Web. In the wake of Gamergate, Celebgate, and the Reddit Meltdown of 2015, both publishers and social networks are grappling with the same fundamental issue: how to foster engagement and dialogue without inadvertently feeding the trolls in the process.The solution: don't let anybody say anything publicly on your actual website. Ingenious! The site continues:"The general consensus is that we need to detoxify the Web—to make it a cleaner, nicer, safer, and more inclusive place to live and work. Of course, at the Daily Dot, we would like to see a more civil, compassionate Web, but we want to be careful that in the name of fostering civility, we do not inadvertently kill all dissention.The notion that you can somehow bring managed civility to the entire Internet seems like a fool's errand. You can bring civility to your own comment section, but again that takes time, money and effort that it's abundantly clear many websites aren't willing to provide. So instead we get esoteric, disingenuous, incoherent musings on how being too lazy to engage with your own readership will somehow save the broader Internet from the menacing troll hordes. Like other sites, The Daily Dot proclaims that "hey, we're still on social media" before dropping the now all-too-common line about how this is all about improving the conversation:It’s a different route toward the same goal: to deliver the news to our readers, wherever they may live online, and to keep the conversation moving forward.It's like putting duct tape on the mouths of everybody in town because of two jackasses at the pub, then proudly patting yourself on the back for spearheading an amazing revolution in kindness and communication. Obviously sites are free to insult and ignore on-site communities as they see fit, but it would be a notable improvement if they could do it without the nauseating hyperbolic claims that they're just trying to save the Internet from itself.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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There's nothing censorious about a private company deciding what it does and doesn't want littering its platform. Let's just get that out of the way. However, things change a bit when you're considered to be a central repository of open-source projects, like Github is. Open-source generally conjures visions of freedom and a more "hands-off" approach. On top of this, would it kill these services that suddenly decide to crack down on one person to at least be consistent in their actions? (h/t Andre) Currently, there's an all out gif-and-snark-war going on in this trainwreck of a thread over at Github, below a small change made in the fork of a repo. A change where the word "Retard" - "delay or hold back in terms of progress or development"- was removed and exchanged for the word "Git" - "an unpleasant or contemptible person". Why? Github wants to remove the word "retard" from code. [A word of caution: further text and images quite possibly NSFW, so scroll yourself accordingly.] That's "Dabitch' writing for Adland. The word "retard" has its legitimate uses, as noted above. It's also used in a pejorative sense far more frequently. It's insulting and terrible and generally Not Acceptable Usage, but it's still deployed in code instructions for idiots while idiot-proofing software. The word is problematic in this context. So are Github's actions. Github had already deleted the original repo, and suddenly all forks from this repo were affected, ie; also gone from public view and use on Github. This is a problem because it affects more than the person who childishly decided to use the word "retard" in his/her code comments -- comments, it must be noted, that would probably be read by others who would be unoffended by this usage. But Github became its own heckler's veto. And in the laziest way -- by deferring to its terms of service. This was ultra-lazy because the takedown came first and the notification second. So, not only did Github tank the repo and its forks, but it couldn't be bothered to ask nixxquality (the person behind the offensive code comments) to make the changes first before moving on to more drastic tactics. Here's the post-facto explanation that was given to nixxquality. (Which, it must be noted, only came into being because nixxquality demanded to know what happened to the project.) We may, but have no obligation to, remove Content and Accounts containing Content that we determine in our sole discretion are unlawful, offensive, threatening, libelous, defamatory, pornographic, obscene or otherwise objectionable or violates any party's intellectual property or these Terms of Service. The content in question was the use of the words "retard" and "retarded." We'd like to give you 24 hours to remove or change the content in your own repository. This being said after said content was already disabled made inaccessible. The email went on to state that the content would be re-enabled after these words were removed. This seems to be the sort of thing that could have remained up while it was sorted out, with Github's email preceding the takedown, rather than vice versa. So, nixxquality changed "retard" to "git." As in "Github." As in just another word for the sort of "retard" targeted by code notes meant to dissuade others from screwing things up. Git is a mild pejorative with origins in British English for a silly, incompetent, stupid, annoying, senile, elderly or childish person. It is usually an insult, more severe than twit or idiot but less severe than wanker, arsehole or twat. Github's email makes it clear it can arbitrarily enforce its code Code. Good for it. But inconsistent policing looks like laziness or hypocrisy. At its very best, it only looks incompetent. So, Nixx's "retard" was nixed (I apologize for nothing!) but hundreds of thousands of other occurrences live on -- some of which are far, far more offensive than nixxquality's. The last one is part of an insult generator that pulls from the following list of words to ensure users are properly verbally smacked around. Offensive/obscene/objectionable? You bet. And yet it lives on unaltered. You want worse? Here are two more that I will only link to, rather than assault your eyeballs further. Search any offensive term you can think of and you'll find thousands of hits hosted at Github. This would be a nightmare to police. And it would be equally pointless. So, why target one use of "retard" when the rest of Github is littered with absolute filth? Even if this inconsistency is forgiven, why take down first and notify later? That just exacerbates the problems of an arbitrarily-applied "policy." As it stands now, the only way anyone will truly know if they've run afoul of Github's content guidelines is when their project disappears. As was stated at the opening of this post, Github can police its site however it wants to. It can be strict but fair. Or it can do this sort of thing. Neither option is wholly incorrect, although one option is far more correct than the other. The public has options. If it doesn't like Github's cherry-picking of projects to dump, it can take its "business" elsewhere. Except, in cases like these, there's sometimes not a lot of "elsewhere" available. By doing this, Github risks alienating their core users, though at least one user in the trainwreck thread insists that they should all "shoo". As in "You all lose. Just leave. Go form your own git hosting service that'll wither and die. Shoo." Not quite as easy to do when a single service has become a large, centralized repository (with its users' assistance, of course). When it comes time to talk or walk, the "walk" needs to be well-attended to be effective. The thing is, the core users can literally do just that, and where would that leave Github the business? Will it be worth $2 billion after 224,477 repos are arbitrarily locked down or deleted? This assumes Github will commit commercial suicide. It won't. Its enforcement of this policy indicates it knows better than to apply the rules in anything more than a haphazard fashion. You can't dump 224,000 repositories because they contain the word "retard." The manpower spent to sort out the legitimate uses would provide no ROI. Very few people are going to stop using Github because it has "failed" to eradicate slurs and insults. But a greater number will abandon the site when they see the so-called rules are whimsically applied, and not in the way an eccentric uncle with a flair for the amusingly dramatic does. The problem is that Github has also become indispensable for so many people. Given this power, it can deploy its rules stupidly and capriciously and still get away with it. That's what pains users of large, centralized services the most. Smaller, agile platforms with multiple competitors need to carefully consider their terms of service and the consequences of arbitrary enforcement. Those with more power and market-share are far more likely to use supposedly strict rules as nothing more than guidelines subject to moderators' moods and shifts in the ideological winds. In doing so, they allow hecklers to control the veto power… even when the heckling is coming from inside the house office. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Raspberry Pi mini computers are small computers capable of helping you build interactive projects while using popular programming languages. The Raspberry Pi Hacker Bundle available for $39 in the Deals store will get you well on your way to mastering the needed skills for working with Raspberry Pi (Raspberry Pi kit not included). The five courses cover everything from an introduction for newbies to learning Python to learning the ropes of hardware design. There are hands-on projects to test your skills along the way that include learning to code different light patterns in Christmas lights, creating a motion-controlled, laughing teddy bear, and culminating in building your own robot. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Hundreds of travelers attempting to fly out of Houston's Hobby Airport were delayed for hours as TSA agents confronted the massive security threat posed by a book. Actually, several books. Several identical books. Carried by several fliers leaving the same event. (via Lowering the Bar) "We had a large group with a large number of bags to be checked and because of a certain item in those bags there was additional screening necessary," said Bill Begley with Hobby Airport. A spokesman for the airport says the sorority members were apparently given thick booklets at the convention that could be mistaken for explosives when packed into checked bags. The booklets forced TSA officials to hand check most of the luggage. Nice use of the word "forced." Even if the book appeared suspicious at first, perhaps the inference could have been drawn that other passengers wearing the sorority insignia on their almost-universally red clothing were carrying the same non-threatening book. Or does "Behavioral Detection" -- the TSA's mind-reading initiative that watches for suspicious patterns -- only detect suspicion, not the lack thereof? Here's the "bomb," as displayed by one passenger during KHOU's televised report: Better safe than sorry -- the TSA's strangulated way of thinking -- kept this from being pursued logically, as Kevin Underhill points out. Of course, I suppose it's not impossible that ISIS coordinated an attack plan with the annual Delta Sigma Theta convention. But the chances of that are sufficiently close to zero that I'd feel safe waving these ladies through. Maybe it wasn't ISIS. Maybe it was hundreds of "lone wolves," all wearing red and white clothing and all carrying the same bomb/book! Instead of seeing this common element as something non-suspicious after the first thorough search, the TSA apparently treated every repeat "incident" as its own particularized threat. Flights were delayed, but not a single one was made any safer by these extra inspection efforts. So far, the TSA has yet to comment on its actions, leaving that unenviable task to airport officials. Meanwhile, travelers continue to give the TSA more credit than it deserves. "I'm sure they were doing their best that they could, but it just wasn't enough it wasn't enough," [sorority alumus Cassandra] Tomes said. Their "best" is routinely terrible. And for all the talk about becoming a smarter, more responsive security agency, the TSA continues to brute force its way through the day-to-day business of keeping up appearances. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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This administration hasn't been big on protecting whistleblowers. It often talks about increasing transparency and accountability, but its actions have been the complete opposite. The same goes for the rest of the government. Agencies institute whistleblower protections, often in response to Inspector Generals' reports detailing violations of existing policies, but still remain much more interested in nabbing "insider threats" than protecting whistleblowers from retaliation. Various bills have been introduced to strengthen protections for whistleblowers. But, as Marcy Wheeler (writing for Expose Facts) points out, legislators fighting for whistleblowers are leaving behind a lot of people very close to them. When Congress passes good governance laws — most notably FOIA — they tend to exempt themselves. They’ve done the same with a series of Whistleblower Protection laws. While they’ve amended the Whistleblower Protection Act and added protections to employees in the private finance industry, they have not offered the same protections to their employees. Sadly, this seems to be the case far too often. Lawmakers tend to write laws for other people. But accountability shouldn't just apply to other entities. Congress needs whistleblowers just as much as the rest of the government does. In this case, however, it doesn't appear to be intentional. It appears to be that some of these legislators are simply unaware they're pushing for something they've already exempted themselves from having to follow. Roll Call -- a DC-focused new site -- confronted some of the legislators who approved a resolution naming July 30th "Whistleblower Protection Day" about the unprotected potential whistleblowers working for them. Asked about the [Whistleblower Protection Caucus] report, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, one of the caucus’s founders, said federal workers are protected. When informed about the OOC report that stated protections did not extend to legislative branch workers, Grassley said, “We’ll take a look at it.” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., another of the caucus’s founding members, was shocked to learn congressional employees are not protected. “They should [be protected],” McCaskill said. “I’ll go right back to the office and say, ‘Draft that legislation!'” “Whistleblowers should be allowed to operate and have protections everywhere in our government,” McCaskill added. “Everywhere.” Hindsight has been adjusted to roughly 20/20, give or take an ongoing blindspot. Now, instead of congratulating themselves on crafting healthier whistleblower protections while their respective staffs look on in concern, they'll be performing the civic duty of "getting right on that." Hopefully, this will result in the institution of the currently-missing protections. But it can just as easily result in this being yet another law Congress doesn't have to follow -- especially if the numerous legislators currently unconcerned with the lack of strong whistleblower protections decide their interests are more important than the public's. A few legislators were aware of the missing protection, however. Senator Barbara Boxer is already working on legislation that will encompass federal employees not currently covered by existing laws, and Senator Ron Johnson has already set up his own whistleblower "hotline." “I would say that is news to me,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., when told that legislative workers were not protected. “I think they should be. And certainly we’ve [set up] a website, [email protected], and I hope they would take advantage of that.” “I’ll protect ‘em,” he added. It's not clear how much protection Johnson can offer anyone not currently covered by whistleblower protections, but a senator's office likely offers a bit more of a shield than going it alone. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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On July 1st, the Spanish government enacted a set of laws designed to keep disruption within its borders to a minimum. In addition to making dissent illegal (criminal acts now include "public disruption" and "unauthorized protests"), Spanish legislators decided the nation's law enforcement officers should be above reproach. This doesn't mean Spanish cops will be behaving better. It just means the public will no longer be able to criticize them. The new law forbids "showing a lack of respect" for police officers. Not showing respect can net a member of the public a hefty fine. According to James Badcock of The Telegraph, a local police force has already exercised its brand-new "right." In his July 22 Facebook comment, Mr Díaz criticised the use of public resources on a brand new police station in the town of Güímar, stating that the local force was a “pack of slackers”. But local police officers wasted no time in reacting, ringing Mr Díaz’s doorbell six hours later to present him with the notification of a fine which will be set at between €100 and €600. It appears the "slackers" in Eduardo Diaz's town can be proactive if properly motivated. With a fine approaching €100 a letter at the top end, the police force should soon feel properly insulated from the public's negative Facebook comments. Over here in the US, this would be protected free speech. In Spain, it's a criminal act and -- depending on how the local judge is feeling -- could net disgruntled commenters €600,000 for assaulting police officers with words. I'm not sure how police officers in general feel about this new law, which also makes "unauthorized" photography of officers subject to similar fines. I would like to think they're not too happy with this and would rather earn respect rather than exist in an enforced criticism-free vacuum. But maybe not. Maybe these cops -- the ones that showed up all too quickly to serve Diaz with a summons -- enjoy a cowed populace. If so, they really have no business working in the public sector. In truly Orwellian fashion, the government is claiming that a police state is a more liberated state. Defending the new law, the PP government has said that “demonstrations will become freer because they will be protected from violent elements”. It's assumed similar statements defending Spain's gag law will be issued from the Ministry of Love in the coming months as Twitter users and cell phone-wielding photographers are picked up by local law enforcement and made to pay for their unwillingness to let police officers do their jobs both uncriticized and unobserved. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The latest news is that the supposedly "final" round of TPP negotiations has failed to produce an agreement, although some "technical" discussions seems to be continuing on the side in an attempt to overcome at least some of the remaining differences. Despite the fact that negotiators are claiming that most of TPP is finished, there are no signs that the corresponding text will be released, which means that people have to fall back on leaks to find out what is being negotiated in their name. Recently, WikiLeaks released an important, if rather outdated, TPP letter concerning state-owned enterprises (SOEs). If that thinking is reflected in the current text, it could have major ramifications for state-owned broadcasters in countries like Australia and New Zealand. Less high-profile than the WikiLeaks document on SOEs, another leak is nonetheless equally dramatic. ZDNet reports that as part of the TPP deal, New Zealand has sacrificed its new law banning software patents: [President of the New Zealand Open Source Society Dave] Lane said leaks of the negotiating position show that at one point only Mexico was holding the line on software patents and New Zealand appeared to have already conceded. The implication is New Zealand's new software patent law, passed just two years ago, will need to be reversed if the TPPA is inked. As Techdirt reported, the issue of whether software should be patentable was fiercely debated in New Zealand for over five years. After engaging in this open, democratic debate, the New Zealand parliament finally passed a new law on software patents in 2013. And now, if the leak is correct, that hard-won law will be simply discarded without the slightest public discussion -- once the TPP text is published, it can't be changed in any way, so there is no option to remove specific measures from it: it's all or nothing. Lane went on to echo a point Techdirt made about TPP a couple of years ago: if New Zealand hobbles the domestic software market by adopting US strong IP, strong patent and copyright terms, then we are effectively "killing in the cradle" an industry that is projected to soon surpass dairy. Strong IP, he said, was used by incumbents to block innovation and competition from would-be competitors and disruptors. A strong software industry offers a weightless export that allows New Zealand to rise above the commodity fray of dairy, meat production and timber. In other words, desperate to sign up to the TPP agreement, however bad, the New Zealand government seems willing to sacrifice 21st-century growth for the sake of shoring up 19th-century industries -- and to ride roughshod over democracy along the way. So much for the common but bogus claim that trade agreements like TPP or TAFTA/TTIP will not require laws to be changed. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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UK Prime Minister David Cameron has been using "porn" moral panics as a wedge issue to ramp up censorship and control over the internet in the UK. He's been pushing aspects of it for years, including demands for the impossible: filters that block "bad content" but allow "good content." Yes, it does seem bizarre that someone in as powerful a position as David Cameron sees the world in such a black and white way, but remember, this is the same guy who bases his defense of more spying powers on what happens in fictional TV crime dramas. His latest plan? Well, he's insisting that he's going to shut down porn websites if they don't guarantee to keep out everyone under the age of 18. Yes, many sites have some age controls, but kids aren't stupid and can usually figure out a way around them. And that's always going to be the case. And it's been the case since pornography existed. I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that it's quite likely that David Cameron himself first came across pornographic material long before his 18th birthday. This whole plan seems like something designed to shut down websites... because kids are clever enough to get around basically any age restriction system. Anyway, it looks like Dan Bull may need to add a new verse to his musical open letter to UK Porn Minister, David Cameron: Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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This week, we got a lot of reactions to the huge (but not necessarily surprising) discovery of evidence showing that Happy Birthday has been in the public domain for nearly a century. There was a general agreement that this whole situation is insane, but one specific suggestion that it was "petty" and "a waste of taxpayers money" garnered a push-back from PaulT that won most insightful comment of the week: A sign that the system is broken? Yes. A petty dispute? I don't call the fact that a private company is hoarding rights to a song that should have been in the public domain decades ago to the tune of $2 million/year petty. If the song is public domain, they are making huge levels of income based on a lie. A waste of taxpayer money? Again, I don't see how returning the public's property to its rightful owners under the original contract is a waste, especially if this results in a wider discussion of how broken and one-sided the copyright system is. Especially if as a result of this, Warner are found to have been misleading enough to be forced to return its ill-gotten gains and other companies are forced to return public domain properties to their rightful owners. OK, that's unlikely, but I can dream. It's a silly dispute in that it should never have been allowed to come to this, but since we're here it's a good fight to have. Meanwhile, we were quite disturbed by one veteran's story of being on the receiving end of a police raid, and discovering that quite unlike his military training, it is "standard procedure to point guns at suspects in many cases to protect the lives of police officers". That One Guy took second place for insightful by expanding on this extremely worrying contrast: And they wonder why people don't, and should never, trust them... The military are taught that guns are dangerous weapons, only to be brought out when you plan on using them, and are willing to accept the consequences of doing so. The police on the other hand are apparently taught to draw guns at the first possible opportunity, and treat them not as deadly tools fully capable of killing someone with a single twitch of a finger, but simply a method of intimidation. Also, gotta love(or is that 'loathe')that double standard in play. Police point guns at someone else to 'protect' themselves, even when it's not needed? Perfectly acceptable, and in fact outright desirable. If someone pointed a gun at a cop in order to 'protect' themselves from a them? Attempted murder, assaulting an officer, whatever charges they can cook up, and assume they aren't gunned down on the spot(not likely), they're almost certain to spend several years in jail for 'attempted murder of an officer'. For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start out with one more nod to That One Guy for a thematically related comment on a partially-related post about asset forfeiture, this time taking on the pervasive and dangerous idea that "criminals don't deserve the protection of the law": That is one of the nastier ideas that has infected 'law enforcement' specifically, and even society in general, the idea that if you break the law, or are even accused of breaking the law, that it means you no longer deserve to be protected by the law. I've even seen people argue this in the comments section on TD, the idea that those that act outside the laws have, by their actions, removed themselves from the protections the laws provide, and no longer deserve any sort of fair or just treatment by the system, because criminal/terrorist. 'Sure we stole a bunch of stuff from someone, without any sort of trial or anything, but look, they're a criminal, that makes it okay!' This idea however is terrible, as both 'guilty' and innocent both deserve the full protection of the law, otherwise it becomes utterly meaningless. If you can strip away someone's right simply by accusation, or even the finding of guilt, then those protections cease to exist, and are merely optional, to be applied at whim. Next, we head to our excellent guest post by Barry Eisler about the many ways in which the Authors Guild and similar groups utterly fail to represent the interest of authors. One one commenter, apropos of absolutely nothing, accused us of "loving pirates" and promoting piracy, Barry dove into the comments to point out the irrelevance of this assertion... then debunk it anyway, for good measure: Forget about the misleading "never met a pirate you didn't love" cliche intro, or the bullshit notion that anyone is advocating for piracy as a "right"... if your point is that the Authors Guild's efforts against piracy somehow redeem all the pro-publisher activities I discuss in my article, your response is at best awfully tangential. Anti-piracy efforts don't help authors because piracy doesn't hurt authors: http://the-digital-reader.com/2015/07/23/new-survey-shows-ebook-buyers-in-the-uk-outnumber-pirates-by-fourteen-to-one/ https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20150722/06502731723/aussie-study-infringers-spend-more-content-than-non-infringers.shtml The whole notion that piracy is a zero-sum game, that someone who downloads a book for free would have paid full price for it if the free download were impossible, is antithetical to common sense and everyday experience. Anti-piracy efforts are emotion driven and ignore logic and evidence. I say all this, by the way, as an author who is regularly informed by the AG et al that he should be terrified of and enraged by piracy. Yawn. With all that, you want to rebut my post by talking about how the AG hates piracy? How about a response a little more on-point than that? Over on the funny side, for first place we return to the Happy Birthday saga, and Warner's obfuscating response. One anonymous commenter couldn't resist a little singalong: Happy Birthday to sue Happy Birthday to sue if it quacks like a duck we'll sue it like one too Happy Birthday to me Happy Birthday to me I screwed the public domain and all of you I'm sure they are singing all the way to the bank... 10M gross @ 2M net for the last 80 years, I could retire on that In second place, we've got a simple response from jupiterkansas to a simple question: have "We the People" petitions ever had any real results? Well... we know they're not building a Death Star. For editor's choice on the funny side, we start with an anonymous comment about the hologram rap concert that was shut down because politicians and cops didn't like his lyrics — but it's an idea that could be applied in all sorts of situations: I think we should follow the Youtube example and make them take a course on the Constitution. After 3 strikes you're no longer allowed to hold office. Finally, in response to Wordpress taking a stand against abusive DMCA takedowns, we've got someone under the name Mr Big Content providing some extremely deadpan sarcasm: This is Why We Need Much Stricter Copyright Laws All this does is put more obstacles in the way of intellectual property owners trying to prevent theft of their intellectual property. Why should intellectual property be a special case, with all these extra hoops to jump through, compared to any other property? It should be treated the same! It is too much to expect intellectual property owners to bear all the burden of looking after their property. The Internet has a moral obligation to help us. After all, they are the technical experts, what is so hard for us should be childishly easy for them, they just don't want to do the work. Unlike normal property, intellectual property needs to be treated very specially and carefully, with lots of extra legal restrictions, because it so easily gets thefted That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Five Years Ago The last few weeks have been full of copyright ridiculousness, but this week in 2010 features a lot of exploration into copyright's nuances. First, the Copyright Office and Librarian of Congress finally outlined DMCA exemptions for jailbreaking smartphones and some other situations, while rejecting some other proposed exceptions — and sparking Canada to take a fresh look at its own anti-circumvention proposals, essentially admitting it lets the US heavily influence Canadian copyright law. One US court started to put some limitations on the anti-circumvention clause itself by suggesting that simply using circumvention software is not itself a violation; the British High Court ruled that emulating a piece of software is not infringement; and another ruling let venues deduct from their BMI license deals when they directly license music. This was also hot on the heels of ASCAP's boss refusing Larry Lessig's invitation to debate, and bizarrely claiming that said invitation was an attempt to "silence" ASCAP. A bunch of other interesting questions arose in the form of copyright concerns over Flipbook, the sale of prints made from long-lost (but recently found) Ansel Adams negatives, attempts to assert new copyrights on work by an artist who had been dead for 71 years, and the highly problematic proposal of a new digital transmission right. Meanwhile, the British Library was concerned about copyright hindering research, and gamers everywhere were worrying about copyright stymying the preservation of video game history. Ten Years Ago We got a bunch of wonderful tech-panics this week in 2005. Perhaps most notable was the head of the Sacramento Valley Hi-Tech Crimes Task Force declaring that "cantenna" wi-fi extenders are nefarious and illegal and getting the news media to swallow it. We also saw a panic over "pod slurping" (an unnecessarily specific version of data-theft-by-trespassing), and a seemingly random trio of senators got extremely concerned about porn on file-sharing networks while we awaited a mysterious new anti-porn bill informed by obsolete data. One lawyer in the US was moving on from his freakouts about Grand Theft Auto and unveiling brand new freakouts about The Sims, while Australia was outdoing the US on the former by effectively banning GTA altogether. Beatles producer George Martin was complaining about how easy it is for people to record music these days, and Techdirt itself became the target of a very tiny and personal tech-freakout: one unknown AOL user who was convinced we were spamming him (and apparently unable to find the unsubscribe button in every one of our double-opt-in newsletters). At least it didn't go down the way things do in Russia, where a notorious spammer was found brutally murdered. Also, long before the world reeled at Pluto's loss of planet status (something I believe is now back up for debate?), astronomers were pointing to a tenth planet even further out. Fifteen Years Ago Napster's fate was in a serious state of flux this week in 2000. First, a judge ordered an injunction, shutting it down; the pundits piled on, taking a wide variety of views on this development (some much smarter than others); but, by the end of the week, Napster was granted a stay on the injunction and kept things running; cue an unbelievable volume of discussion from all corners of the internet, with some realizing that the RIAA's war on Napster, even if ultimately "successful", was a perfect example of utterly failed strategic thinking. As you follow Techdirt's posts right around this time, you'll notice something that we started to notice ourselves: intellectual property was becoming our most popular topic and a tentpole of the blog (even though today it's hard to imagine that ever wasn't the case!) This week in 2000 we also saw early glimmers of major technological trends, like the fact that the video-game industry would become a massive entertainment sector rivalling Hollywood. But we also saw lots of tech that was just slightly ahead of its time: wireless was heavily hyped and clearly going to matter some day, but lots of key factors were holding back adoption, especially in the US and especially when it came to things like wireless banking. Some tech was clearly moving forward — such as input methods for handheld devices (which were still pretty dismal back then) — while other areas were a bit more stubborn: newspapers didn't seem to be dying nearly as fast as predicted, and 83% of people in the UK said they'd never switch to the internet for news. 107 & 68 Years Ago June 26th is a double-whammy in the history of America's federal landscape in the areas of law enforcement, security, espionage and more. First, in 1908, it was the day that The Bureau of Investigation (which would become the FBI) was formed. Then, thirty-nine years later, it marks the passage of the National Security Act of 1947, which established the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency, and laid the groundwork for the Department of Defense. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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If you pay any sort of ongoing attention to Congress, you're probably familiar with GovTrack, the extremely useful online resource created by Joshua Tauberer in 2004, containing robust info on the status of all the bills that hit the floors of the House and the Senate. It's a fantastic tool, and today we're looking at a crowdfunding push to make it even better by hiring a full-time researcher to add additional context and analysis to the bills and votes being tracked. The Good Until very recently, GovTrack was fully automated and had no staff — which is why one man's pet project has been going strong for over a decade without much if anything in the way of revenue. But Joshua knows there's lots more the site could be doing, and recently hired an intern to start testing out a big new addition to GovTrack: researchers who can closely follow the most important bills and dig into them deeper than the algorithms can, providing commentary and analysis plus readable summaries of legislation, and reporting on the underlying political context. To that end, they've also launched GovTrack Insider as a Medium page, which already features a bunch of posts on various important bills and votes from the last few months. The Kickstarter goal is to upgrade from an intern to a full-time researcher on a six-month contract — or two as a stretch goal. This could really take the already-useful GovTrack to a whole new level. The Bad While I don't by any means think this is a bad idea, there are still a few potential pitfalls. The first is that it's not clear how this one-time fundraising goal can/will translate into something ongoing. A researcher can do a whole lot in six months, but the ongoing flow of bills through Congress requires ongoing attention with no end in sight. Will we be looking at another Kickstarter for the next congressional session? Or is there some plan to secure new revenue streams with the expanded GovTrack? Either way, if this project is as useful to people as it's likely to be, some will surely be happy to keep paying. The other, perhaps more critical, pitfall is politicization. Once you move from automatically tracking raw data to actually writing up summaries and analyses, it's almost inevitable that you'll have to start taking political/ideological sides from time-to-time, no matter how committed you might be to neutrality or objectivity. It might prove very difficult to expand GovTrack in this way without beginning to be seen as an at-least-slightly partisan publication rather than a wholly neutral tool for anyone to use — though, that doesn't mean it's impossible. The Rewarding There are some very interesting rewards available for backers of this project (and the choice to link the dollar amounts for the various tiers to important Congress-related numbers is a neat one). At lower levels, backers can get in on webinars and group chats that explore Congressional issues and provide advice on political advocacy, while the higher tiers offer the ability to get custom summaries and analyses written of bills that you choose. But perhaps the most attractive (or at least the most fun) options are those that take advantage of the research intern's other skill: art. At various tiers, he'll draw you a custom caricature of any Representative or Senator that you choose. No word on if you get to dictate how flattering or unflattering said caricature is, though. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A few weeks ago, we wrote about a troubling provision that the Senate Intelligence Committee had inserted into this year's intelligence authorization bill, which would require social networks to report to the government any "terrorist activity" they see on their systems. As we noted, this has all sorts of problems, and seems more designed to (1) generate headlines and (2) chill free speech than do anything useful. Thankfully, Senator Ron Wyden has put a hold on the bill specifically over this provision. “There is no question that tracking terrorist activity and preventing online terrorist recruitment should be top priorities for law enforcement and intelligence agencies,” Wyden said, in a statement for the record today. “But I haven’t yet heard any law enforcement or intelligence agencies suggest that this provision will actually help catch terrorists, and I take the concerns that have been raised about its breadth and vagueness seriously.” “Internet companies should not be subject to broad requirements to police the speech of their users,”Wyden continued. But the issue goes even deeper than that. As Markham Erickson has written, there are significant free speech concerns raised by this provision, in large part because "terrorist activity" is not defined at all. Anywhere. It's just this vague term -- and given that companies may face liability for not reporting "terrorist activity" to the government, you can bet an awful lot of perfectly fine and protected speech is going to get reported. And that's worrisome. A key problem with Section 603, however, is that the trigger for the reporting mandate is based on the vague and undefined term “terrorist activity.” This term is not a term of art in the US criminal code and arguably goes well beyond criminal activity to speech that is protected under the First Amendment. Erickson also points out that the comparison that supporters have made of this bill to one that requires companies to report child porn, is that child porn is "per se unlawful and never protected speech" under the US Constitution. But "terrorist activity" is just vague. The NCMEC reporting obligations, however, relate to images that are per se unlawful and are never protected speech under the US Constitution. A government mandate that an Internet company report facts and circumstances connected to the vague and overbroad term “terrorist activity” certainly would result in overbroad reporting to the government of speech that is protected under the First Amendment. And, on top of that, this move would give other countries a blueprint for how to demand tech companies hand over information on users: More troubling, if adopted, the provision would serve as a global template for other countries to impose reporting requirements for activities those jurisdictions deem unlawful. This would be particularly problematic with countries that regulate speech, including political speech, and with authoritarian regimes that would demand that Internet companies police their citizens’ activities. And, finally, as noted, with such a vague term, and the threat of serious liability, companies are going to be pressured into serious over-reporting: Section 603 also creates a practical compliance problem. Because no one knows the definition of “terrorist activity,” how does one counsel a client to establish a compliance protocol under the proposal? Any company would be at risk that if it did not report “terrorist activity,” it could be liable if there were a subsequent event that resulted in loss of life, limb, or property. Likely, this would result in designing a protocol to over-report anything that could be considered “terrorist activity.” Given the massive scale of content shared and created on the Internet daily, this would result in reporting of items that are not likely to be of material concern to public safety and would create a “needle in the haystack” problem for law enforcement. This serves no one’s purposes and adds privacy concerns to the First Amendment concerns noted above. This creates a perverse incentive for a company to avoid obtaining knowledge of any activity that would trigger the reporting requirement—the exact opposite of what the proponents of the legislation want. Yet, designing such an avoidance protocol is nearly impossible. If even one low-level employee received an over-the-transom email about a “terrorist activity,” knowledge of the activity can be imputed to the entire company – exacerbating the potential liability faced by an Internet company. Of course, these days, it seems like most in the Senate go by headlines rather than actual understanding of the issues. Hopefully, at least this one time, they'll actually listen to Senator Wyden.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Roughly a year ago, we brought you the very dumb story of the San Diego Comic-Con suing Don Farr Productions, organizers of the Salt Lake City Comic Con, for trademark infringement. If ever there were a classic case of a trademark that had moved into a generic status, "comic-con" and similar iterations would have to be it. There are comic cons everywhere. In the midst of all this, or perhaps because of it, the Salt Lake City Comic Con applied for its own trademark over its name, which, again, ought to have been denied as being too generic in my opinion. The USPTO, in its infinite wisdom, disagreed, granting them the mark as the trademark suit is still going on. You already know what happened next, don't you? Yup, every other comics convention that uses comic con, the term so generic that everyone effing uses it, is now lining up at the USPTO's door to get their own trademarks. This week sees the kick-off of this year’s Boston Comic Con. Which seems a good a time as any to register the trademark for the name for “Organizing and conducting conventions, exhibitions, and gatherings for entertainment purposes and in the fields of artwork, animation, comic books, fantasy, gaming, popular culture, science fiction, and television and film” and for “Comic books, commemorative comic books, posters, commemorative posters” and “T-shirts, commemorative T-shirts.” They are not alone. Rhode Island Comic Con and Kansas Comic Con have also launched trademark bids in the past month. ‘Tis the season… they may be inspired by the attempts and claims of Salt Lake Comic Con. Denver Comic Con also has a trademark registration. And unless this is stopped tout de suite, there's absolutely no reason to expect that all the other comic cons in all the other cities will be filing their applications soon. Why wouldn't they? The USPTO, in conjunction with a lawsuit over a term that hasn't yet been ruled generic, but should be, have thrown open the door for everyone to get their piece of the generic pie. And the end result of all of this? Tons of billable hours, of course. They can expect a challenge from Comic-Con International, the organisers of San Diego Comic-Con and WonderCon, who own the trademarks on San Diego Comic-Con, Anaheim Comic-Con, San Francisco Comic-Con and Los Angeles Comic-Con. Why? Why? Why pay a legal team to spend a ton of time and money fighting for a mark that doesn't threaten you, that has become generic, and that has been employed the entire time your own mega-popular convention has become insanely successful. Why are we doing any of this? Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) hasn't yielded much, and some of the results are even a bit embarrassing. We don't really know what to look for when we're listening for alien signals. There's growing evidence that planets like ours are not rare in the universe, but that doesn't necessarily mean intelligent life is abundant. Given the vast distances to neighboring star systems, we're also not likely to visit them any time soon. Russian billionaire Yuri Milner is spending $100 million on a Breakthrough Listen initiative that will last 10 years and attempt to find alien intelligence. This effort will scan the universe using telescopes that cover more than ten times of the sky compared to previous projects, and the data will be made public for SETI@home distributed analysis. [url] NASA has its Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) project to look for extraterrestrial life. Identifying exoplanets that might harbor life is a fascinating field that requires an interdisciplinary effort of biologists, physicists, astronomers, geologists and a whole lot of creative thinking. [url] No obvious signs of life have been seen after looking at 100,000 galaxies. This probably doesn't mean anything other than we don't know what to look for. [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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