posted about 4 hours ago on techdirt
Video games that are entertaining need to be simple enough for people to understand, but at the same time, hard enough to be a little challenging and not too easy to beat. Games like Flappy Bird demonstrate this sweet spot for gameplay, and some classic games like Super Mario are still widely enjoyed even decades after their initial releases. Computers can play games like these, too, but they can't enjoy them like we do. Check out a few of these links on creative ways to continue playing Super Mario. YouTuber PangaeaPanga appears to have taught himself how to Super Mario while blindfolded -- in just a few days. The Force is strong (warning NSFW language) with this one... or.. I've seen a lot of strange stuff, but I've never seen anything to make me believe there's one all-powerful Force controlling everything. There's no mystical energy field that controls my destiny. Anyway, it's all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense. [url] Machines watching people play Super Mario can learn how to design new levels that are playable and novel. This doesn't necessarily mean that the game is still entertaining, though. [url] MarI/O is software that has learned how to play Super Mario in about 24 hours -- without knowing very much about the game at all. Seth Bling wrote the program and released the code and described how a genetic algorithm learned what to do in the game. [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 about 6 hours ago on techdirt
There's been a bunch of fuss online over the "news" that Craigslist is supposedly donating $1 million to EFF when the money is not actually from Craig. It's from a startup that Craigslist has sued out of business, under a dangerous interpretation of the CFAA that harms the open internet. Obviously, EFF getting an additional $1 million in resources is really great. But it's troubling to see so many people congratulate Craigslist and Craig Newmark for "supporting EFF." Craig himself has contributed to this misleading perception with this tweet implying he's giving his own money to EFF: Plenty of smart people are cheering on Craig for supposedly being so generous. But that's wrong. This isn't Craigslist being generous. This is Craigslist abusing the CFAA to kill a company who was making the internet better, and then handing over some of the proceeds to the EFF, which actively opposed Craigslist's lawsuit. Now, I should note upfront that I like Craigslist and very much like Craig Newmark personally. I think that the company has been really innovative in taking a more long term view of its business (even if it's been losing ground more recently). However, this lawsuit was always really sketchy. It sued a few companies for making Craigslist more valuable. Those companies were scraping Craigslist data, but only to overlay additional information and always pointing people back to Craigslist. In other words, the companies Padmapper and 3taps were adding value to Craigslist in the same manner that much of the internet was built -- by providing more value on top of the work of others. And yet Craigslist sued these companies under a tortured definition of the CFAA, arguing that the mere scraping of its data to provide value on top of it (none of which took away any value from Craigslist) was "unauthorized access." The EFF filed an amicus brief against Craigslist, slamming the company (which it has frequently supported in other circumstances) for abusing the law: The CFAA does not and should not impose liability on anyone who accesses information publicly available on the Internet. Because the CFAA and Penal Code § 502 imposes both civil and criminal liability, it must be interpreted narrowly. That means information on a publicly accessible website can be accessed by anyone on the Internet without running afoul of criminal computer hacking laws. In the absence of access, as opposed to use, restrictions, Craigslist cannot use these anti-hacking laws to complain when the information it voluntarily broadcasts to the world is accessed, even if it is upset about a competing or complementary business. [....] Craigslist’s enormous success is a result of its openness: anyone anywhere can access any of its websites and obtain information about apartments for rent, new jobs or cars for sale. Its openness means that Craigslist is the go to place on the web for classified ads; it users post on Craigslist because they know their ads will reach the largest audience. But what Craigslist is trying to do here is to use the CFAA’s provisions to enforce the unilateral determinations it has made concerning access to its website, an Internet site that it has already chosen to open up to the general public, attempting to turn a law against computer hacking into a new tool. But prohibiting access to an otherwise publicly available website is not the type of harm that Congress intended to be proscribed in the CFAA, and nowhere in the legislative history is there any suggestion that the CFAA was drafted to grant website owners such unbridled discretion. That's the EFF directly arguing against Craigslist in this case. Unfortunately, the initial district court ruling agreed with Craigslist, leading EFF to note just how dangerous the ruling was: There's a serious potential for mischief that is encouraged by this decision, as companies could arbitrarily decide whose authorization to "revoke" and need only write a letter and block an IP address to invoke the power of a felony criminal statute in what is, at best, a civil business dispute. Orin Kerr, who is an expert on abuses of the CFAA was similarly alarmed: Judge Breyer’s opinion appears to mix up two different aspects of the CFAA. The first aspect is the prohibition on unauthorized access, and the second is its associated mental state element of intent. The CFAA only prohibits intentional unauthorized access; merely knowingly or recklessly accessing without authorization is not prohibited. So whatever unauthorized access means, the person must be guilty of doing that thing (the act of unauthorized access) intentionally to trigger the statute. Breyer seems to mix up those elements by focusing heavily on the fact that 3taps knew that Craigslist didn’t want 3taps to access its site. According to Judge Breyer, the clear notice meant that the case before him didn’t raise all the notice and vagueness issues that prompted the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Nosal. So now the case has been settled, and, as a result at, least one of the companies involved, 3taps, is shutting down altogether. 3taps points out that it's 3taps, not Craigslist whose money is going to EFF: As part of the settlement, 3taps and its founder, Greg Kidd, have agreed to pay craigslist $1 million, all of which must then be paid by craigslist to the EFF, which supported 3taps' position on the CFAA in this litigation, and continues to do great work for Internet freedom generally.  Mr. Kidd's investment firm, Hard Yaka, has also committed to make a substantial investment in PadMapper to provide it with the resources to continue to innovate and serve the post-craigslist marketplace. Although 3taps lacks the resources to continue the fight, this settlement provides much needed resources to the EFF, as there is still much to be done on the issues raised in this case. For example, the question remains whether private companies that maintain public websites can selectively exclude visitors, exposing the banned visitor to civil and criminal liability under the CFAA. Furthermore, this is unlikely to be the last litigation involving craigslist's copyrights, particularly given craigslist's current practice of selectively obtaining copyright assignments and registrations (the prerequisite to a copyright infringement lawsuit) in certain user-generated posts, but failing to inform its visitors which posts it owns.  This effectively creates a copyright litigation trap for unwary visitors. Finally, it remains unresolved whether craigslist's well-recognized practice of "ghosting" (the hiding or interception of user postings and emails) without the users' knowledge or consent is legal or ethical. Given all that, it's fairly disappointing to see lots of prominent people backslapping Craig and Craigslist for "donating" this money to EFF. It's not Craig's money. And, according to the settlements, it appears that the $1 million isn't all that Craigslist is getting. That's just the money 3taps is paying. Another company in the dispute, Lovely, is paying an additional $2.1 million. It's unclear if Craigslist is giving that money to EFF or anyone else -- or keeping it. Again, on most issues, I think Craig and Craigslist are on the right side of things. He fought strongly against SOPA and for net neutrality. I think the company does the right thing in many cases, but in this case it clearly did not, and the fact that people are now cheering him on when it's not even his money, and is only happening as a result of his bad lawsuit that forced another company to shut down, is really disturbing.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 9 hours ago on techdirt
The TSA runs a fairly entertaining Instagram account, if you're the sort of person who is impressed by pictures of weapons seized from stupid passengers. That would be the extent of its social media prowess. Its blog is pretty much a 50/50 mix of Yet Another Thing You Can't Take Onboard and Blogger Bob defending the TSA's latest gaffe. One of the TSA's official Twitter flacks tried to loft a lighthearted "hey, look at this thing we came across!" tweet. She couldn't have picked a worse "thing" to highlight, considering the ongoing outrage over civil asset forfeiture. For those who can't see the embed, the tweet says: If you had $75,000, is this how you'd transport it? Just asking! TSA @ #RIC spotted this traveler's preferred method Pictured was someone's carry-on bag, opened to expose the cash contained in it. First: should the TSA be broadcasting the contents of someone's luggage -- especially considering the contents are a large amount of cash -- along with broadcasting the airport where it was discovered and the baggage's appearance? There may not be any recognizable privacy violations here, but it's certainly bad form. And it does no favors to the person carrying it. Second: unless the traveler was attempting to take the money out of the country without reporting it to Customs, it's none of the TSA's business how a traveler carries money from place to place. It may be careless, but it is not illegal and it is certainly not something government agencies should spend too much time obsessing over. (But of course they will, because travelers' cash can quickly become the government's cash, thanks to civil asset forfeiture.) Third: the TSA's public interest in this member of the public's cash is flat-out unseemly. Not only does the tweet portray the unnamed person as some sort of idiot/criminal (or both!), but it led many to the obvious assumption that this cash was seized. But, you know, LOL #otherpeoplesmoney and all that. The foregone conclusion that this money had been seized was (momentarily) dispelled by another tweet from the TSAmedia_Lisa account. TSA didn't seize/confiscate/take it. It alarmed the x-ray machine as an unknown and we spotted it. It's just a curiosity So, somehow a passenger managed to walk through airport security with a large amount of cash and managed to still be in possession of it on the DEPARTURE side of the checkpoint? No. This is AMERICA, land of the somewhat free and home of the brave drug warrior. A followup email to the Washington Post's Chris Ingraham proved TSAmedia_Lisa's (Farbstein) response was technically true and completely disingenuous. Asked about the incident via e-mail, Farbstein said that "the carry-on bag of the passenger alarmed because of the large unknown bulk in his carry-on bag. When TSA officers opened the bag to determine what had caused the alarm, the money was sitting inside. Quite unusual. TSA alerted the airport police, who were investigating." It seems the police didn't just "investigate." They worked with another federal agency to take the money: In this case, the cash was seized by a federal agency, most likely the Drug Enforcement Administration, according to Richmond airport spokesman Troy Bell. "I don't believe the person was issued a summons or a citation," he said. "The traveler was allowed to continue on his way." So Farbstein's claim about how it was "just a curiosity" is completely bogus. Not only was the photograph and putting it on social media a questionable invasion of privacy, but then they handed it off to another federal agency to take the money... and then the TSA clearly implied the opposite on social media once the story blew up. It's not entirely clear which "federal agency" took the money, but a good guess is that the DEA is likely in possession of this "curiosity" now, thanks to its willingness to troll mass transportation departure points in search of "guilty" money. Also ridiculous is the airport spokesperson noting that the traveler was allowed to "continue on his way," $75,000 lighter. As if that makes everything OK? If this money is completely unrelated to criminal activity, the government has just stolen money from one of its citizens. If it is linked to criminal activity, the traveler is probably in for a world of hurt if it belonged (or was owed) to someone else. Either way, the citizen loses, the government wins and the TSA badly mishandles another social media interaction. So, the TSA's attempt at cheery lightheartedness did nothing more than once again expose its dark, humorless center. The tweet may as well have read "If you had $75,000, you don't have it any more! Just saying! #freemoney" One of the nation's most tone deaf agencies continues to prove it simply won't be outdone in this category. And the trickle of details confirmed what everyone was thinking the moment this picture hit the internet: that the person carrying that money was last in possession of it shortly before the photo was taken. The government gets its man money and the TSA delivers the news as a punchline at the expense [pretty much literally] of some random traveler whose misfortune is the government's gain. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 10 hours ago on techdirt
As we recently noted, New York City only just woke up to the fact that the lucrative 2008 Verizon franchise deal the city thought would bring fiber broadband to 100% of all five boroughs, has only resulted in Verizon cherry picking about half of the city's residents. Of course as we pointed out, if the city had actually bothered to read the closed-door agreement struck with former Mayor Mike Bloomberg (or listened to a few local reporters at the time), leaders could have noticed at any time that it contains oodles of loopholes allowing Verizon to wiggle over, under and around most of the obligations contained therein. While most people know by now that taking subsidies and tax breaks for fiber that never gets delivered is Verizon's MO in Pennsylvania and New Jersey (ok, well everywhere), the city only just appears to be realizing the scope of Verizon's shenanigans. In addition to discovering that Verizon failed its build out obligations, analysis of the NYC Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications' audit (pdf) indicates that Verizon also tried to cajole landlords into exclusivity deals that may violate FCC rules:"[T]wo of the interviewees’ statements supported the first property manager’s statement that Verizon was not completing NSIs because they wanted exclusive agreements for certain buildings before completion of the NSI," according to the audit report. "For example, one property manager from a well-known firm complained that Verizon would not complete the NSI at a building on Sutton Place unless 100 percent of the apartment dwellers committed to Verizon FiOS. This property manager also said only two of the eleven multiple dwelling properties he managed had Verizon FiOS and that installations took anywhere from six months to two years."So yeah, in addition to pretending that homes "passed" with fiber were "served," Verizon actually refused to wire a lot of properties unless everybody in the building could be forced to only exclusively use Verizon services. This is something the FCC banned in a 2007 order (pdf) that's subsequently been held up during court challenges by cable providers. Verizon has long denied that it does this; in fact the telco has consistently tried to claim that landlords are solely to blame for the company's uneven deployment. This go-round, Verizon is blaming the city's findings on "miscommunication" (when it hasn't tried to dismiss the findings entirely as the unsubstantiated rabble rousing of labor unions). But that's not all. In the week after the city's audit was made public, a number of competitors have come forward to complain that Verizon's been blocking access to key city infrastructure as well. In other words, Verizon's refusing to serve millions of people, but making it impossible for anyone else to do so either. If you've followed the municipal broadband debate, that's effectively the same logic the mega-ISPs have displayed on a national level, and this kind of behavior by incumbent ISPs (especially if you watched the ILEC/CLEC wars of the late 90s and early aughts) is a major contributor to the nation's utterly mediocre rankings in most broadband metrics. Having watched telco lawyers get away with this stuff for the better part of fifteen years, it's clear to me few municipal leaders are actually reading the franchise agreements that they sign, and fewer still seem familiar with the laundry list of childhood fables warning them about just these kinds of business transactions.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 10 hours ago on techdirt
Learn all about cloud computing with 89% off of the Amazon Web Services Engineer Bootcamp Bundle in the Deals store. In 24 hours over 4 courses, you will learn everything you need to know to work with Amazon’s hosting platform. By the end of the training, you will be prepared for the AWS Certified Solutions Architect (CSA) associate exam (exam fees not included in the bundle). The bundle covers topics newbies and experts will need in order to increase their skills and add another certification to their resumes. Note: We earn a portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 11 hours ago on techdirt
Donald Trump seems to be showing off what would happen if your prototypical internet troll had way too much money at his disposal. As you may have heard, he's putting on a big show of "running" for President, though as many have recognized, the move appears to be a hell of a lot more about getting himself publicity (thankfully, at least some news organizations are properly categorizing stories about Trump as entertainment rather than politics). Of course, the plan to get more attention may be backfiring somewhat, as some of the ridiculous comments he's made "on the campaign" are coming back to bite him -- including Univision cutting ties with him over the Miss USA telecast and NBC dumping both the pageants and his Apprentice series (that thing is still on?). In response, Trump has filed what has to be one of the funniest lawsuits we've seen in a long time against Univision over the cancelled deal. It honestly reads like one of those nutty conspiracy theory lawsuits we see all the time, often filed pro se. You'd think that Trump would have trouble finding lawyers willing to file nuttiness on his behalf, but apparently there's always someone. It even resorts to the worst trolling tactic of internet commenters: complaining that his "First Amendment rights" are being violated because Univision dropped him. And it all involves a conspiracy involving Hillary Clinton. Seriously. While Univision has claimed in the media that its decision to cut ties with MUO came in response to certain comments by Mr. Trump during a June 16, 2015 campaign speech announcing his candidacy for President of the United States, the decision was, in reality, a thinly veiled attempt by Univision, a privately held company principally owned by longtime Clinton Foundation donor and current Hillary Clinton fundraiser, Haim Saban, to suppress Mr. Trump's freedom of speech under the First Amendment as he begins to campaign for the nation's presidency and, in recent weeks, has dramatically risen in the polls while expressing critical views of Mrs. Clinton. Little else can explain Univision's decision to not only abandon its contractual relationship with MUO, but also, upon information and belief, pressure NBC to follow suit and cut longstanding ties with Plaintiffs nearly two weeks after the statements were made. First of all, as all of you (minus a few trolls) are currently screaming right now, no the First Amendment has absolutely nothing to do with this. We'll let the obligatory xkcd explain: The statement is also entirely superfluous to the lawsuit as well, as none of the actual legal claims have anything to do with his First Amendment rights. Apparently Trump could get the lawyers to throw that bit into the description of the case, but when it came time to make actual claims, even the lawyers wouldn't go so far as to make a First Amendment claim. Also, "little else can explain?" Really? Actually, there are tons of other explanations, with many of them being a hell of a lot more plausible than any fear of Trump being a legitimate contender for the White House -- for example, the actually stated reason that Trump out and out offended the entire country of Mexico with some ridiculous statements. Next up in the internet troll playbook, we have the ridiculous claim of "defamation" over statements that the person doesn't like, but which are clearly statements of opinion, rather than fact: In a move which can only be described as both tasteless and defamatory, on June 25, 2015, Mr. Ciurana, Univision's President of Programing and Content, then posted a photo on his official Univision Instagram account comparing Mr. Trump to Dylann Roof, the 21 year old who was recently arrested in the murder of nine (9) African-Americans attending bible study at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, one of the worst hate crimes to ever take place on U.S. soil. While Mr. Cuirana would later remove the defamatory post, the damage was already done: almost immediately, Mr. Ciurana's post was picked up by the media and became the subject of hundreds, if not thousands, of press articles, yet another example of Univision's dubious efforts to create a false narrative in an attempt to upset Mr. Trump's longstanding personal and business relationship with the Hispanic community. If you're curious, here's the Instagram that Alberto Ciurana put up: It's pretty clearly a somewhat weak attempt at humor, mocking the hair cuts of Trump and Roof. Tasteless? Perhaps, but there's no law requiring anyone to be tasteful in their internet jokes. Defamatory? Not in any way, shape or form. Not even close. And yet, unlike the non sequitur (and incorrect) First Amendment claims earlier, the lawsuit actually does claim defamation. It's entirely possible that there are legitimate issues concerning breach of contract here, but even most of that seems like a stretch. Because Univision didn't just cut ties with Trump, it actually agreed to pay the full licensing amounts it promised for the next five years (totaling $13.5 million). In other words, Trump actually didn't lose any direct money from this, because Univision paid up (and, in theory, he could try to license it to someone else, though I'm not sure who would want to pay at this point). But Trump is -- hilariously -- claiming damages of $500 million because now people won't see the pageants. Of course, Trump's own arguments undermine his arguments (because of course they do). The lawsuit repeatedly brags that there was a bidding war earlier this year, in which Univision emerged victorious. Thus, at least a few months ago, other TV media properties wished to broadcast the pageants. If it was true that this was all just a grand conspiracy by Hillary Clinton supporter Saban, then you'd think that Trump could simply move on to whoever else was in that bidding war (while keeping all the money that Univision paid him anyway!). But, of course, if the real reason for the cancellation was because of Trump's comments about Mexico and the concern about how Spanish-speaking audiences felt about that -- well, then Trump wouldn't be able to find that alternative. The lawsuit is then equally hilarious in arguing that it can't possibly be Trump's offensive comments about Mexico because Trump has said the same offensive crap many times before. That seems like an odd thing to argue in such a lawsuit, but it's what Trump's lawyers have chosen to claim: In reality, however, Mr. Trump's calls for immigration reform, particularly with respect to the U.S.-Mexican border, were nothing new. Indeed, for over a decade, Mr. Trump had, in numerous television and news interviews, consistently voiced his concerns regarding the influx of illegal immigrants pouring into the United States across the Mexican border and the crime that has resulted therefrom, views which were widely reported by every major media outlet, including, both Univision and NBC. As Mr. Trump explained in an interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly on March 30, 2011, "[t]hey're coming over, and they're climbing over a fence, and there's nobody within 10 miles -- and they're selling drugs all over the place, they're killing people all over the place -- and we're not doing anything about it." Indeed. It may be true that Trump has said offensive things in the past, but that doesn't mean that Univision can't later decide that the greater attention paid to his more recent offensive comments are such that it no longer wishes to do business with him. There's no rule anywhere that says, "Well, if you didn't complain four years ago when I said some stupid shit, you can't complaint now!" Even if it's true that Univision is only making this decision because Trump's comments went a bit viral, that's Univision's decision to make, and his previous comments are completely meaningless. Frankly, this lawsuit is absolutely hilarious. The chances of it going anywhere are pretty slim. The First Amendment arguments are ridiculous, but meaningless, as there's no actual legal claim there. The defamation claims are going to get laughed out of court. The whole thing is fairly hilarious, and fits in with the designation of Trump as "entertainment" rather than anything even remotely serious.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 12 hours ago on techdirt
For many years, despite claims from legacy copyright industry extremists who sought to blame everyone else for any piracy issues, we've pointed out that the reality is almost always that piracy is their own fault for failing to provide convenient, reasonably priced alternatives to the public. When they actually do that, piracy rates almost always drop significantly. And now we have even more proof that these legacy industry insiders know this and don't care. You may remember that, two years ago, Apple was found guilty of price fixing for ebooks, in an effort to break Amazon's hold on the market and to artificially inflate the price of ebooks, creating significant consumer harm. Apple agreed to settle with the government last year, but dependent on how its appeals process went. Well, the Second Circuit appeals court was... unimpressed with Apple's appeal and has upheld the original ruling. The ruling (and the dissent) are interesting reads, but perhaps most interesting is the tidbit in which the big publishers admit that what they're doing will increase piracy, but they don't care because they so badly want to raise prices from Amazon's established $9.99 per ebook. The most significant attack that the publishers considered and then undertook, however, was to withhold new and bestselling books from Amazon until the hardcover version had spent several months in stores, a practice known as “windowing.” Members of the Big Six both kept one another abreast of their plans to window, and actively pushed others toward the strategy. By December 2009, the Wall Street Journal and New York Times were reporting that four of the Big Six had announced plans to delay ebook releases until after the print release, and the two holdouts — Penguin and Random House — faced pressure from their peers. Ultimately, however, the publishers viewed even this strategy to save their business model as self‐destructive. Employees inside the publishing companies noted that windowing encouraged piracy, punished ebook consumers, and harmed long‐term sales. One author wrote to Sargent in December 2009 that the “old model has to change” and that it would be better to “embrace e‐books," publish them at the same time as the hardcovers, “and pray to God they both sell like crazy.” .... Sargent agreed, but expressed the hope that ebooks could eventually be sold for between $12.95 and $14.95. “The question is,” he mused, “how to get there?” In other words, the publishers were so focused on wanting to raise the price of ebooks, they were willing to embrace a solution that they knew both encouraged piracy and harmed long-term sales. It really makes you wonder what kind of boards of directors these legacy publishers have, that they'd allow their companies to purposely shoot themselves in the foot, so they could raise prices and put in place windowing, even while recognizing all the harm it causes long term.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 13 hours ago on techdirt
Open records requests and lawsuits go hand-in-hand. Agencies obfuscate, stall, perform deliberately inadequate searches and fail to respond in a timely manner. These actions frequently result in lawsuits, which are notably almost always filed by the requester. The Hamilton Township of New Jersey isn't like other government agencies. It's far more proactive. In March, a private citizen named Harry Scheeler Jr. sent a request to Hamilton Township for surveillance footage of the town-hall and police-department buildings, making the request under the state Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the state common law right of access to public records. A few weeks later, instead of responding to the request, the township sued Scheeler and asked a local court for relief from any obligation to respond, then or in the future. The township also asked for attorney’s fees. As Jonathan Peters at the Columbia Journalism Review points out, this isn't the first time this has happened, but it is incredibly rare and it almost always ends badly for the agency instigating the legal action. This case is no different, although it did manage to survive long enough for Scheeler to narrow his request in hopes of having the lawsuit dropped. The township was very persistent, unfortunately. But unfortunately for the township, the presiding judge recognized how truly effed-up it would be to allow this suit to continue or otherwise encourage government agencies to sue open records requesters. Scheeler asserts that the Township has no authority to seek relief from the records request in court; that only the requestor has such a right. Consequently, before reaching the merits of the request, the threshold issue that the court addresses in this opinion is whether a government agency, such as the plaintiff, may file a lawsuit against a person requesting public records, or whether the right to institute a lawsuit determining the validity of the request belongs solely to the requestor. The court concludes that the right to bring the issue to court belongs exclusively to the requestor, not the government agency. New Jersey's open records law -- like those everywhere in the US -- provides for the filing of legal complaints against unresponsive government agencies. What the law doesn't provide for is the township's actions. In lieu of a response, it sought an injunction barring not only this request, but any future requests for similar information by Scheeler. As the court points out, this is about as far-removed from the intention of open records laws as anyone can get. To allow a government agency to file a lawsuit against someone who has submitted a request for government records would undoubtedly have a chilling effect on those who desire to submit such a request, undercutting the public policy previously described. A government agency's lawsuit against document requestors subjects them to involuntary litigation with all of its concomitant financial, temporal, and emotional trimmings. A public policy that gives a government agency the right to sue a person who asks for a government document is the antithesis of the policy underlying both OPRA and the common law to provide citizens with a means of access to public information to keep government activities open and hold the government accountable. Now, not only has the temporary restraining order against Scheeler been lifted, but the township will be paying his legal fees as well. The court notes that not doing so would basically allow government agencies to trap citizens in "quixotic battles" against entities with "almost inexhaustible resources." Because Scheeler was "trapped" by a lawsuit he didn't initiate and one that pertained to the government's obligation to turn over requested documents, the presiding judge reads the fee-shifting provision of the state's open records law as applicable to legal fees. To do otherwise, the court points out, would be reward the township for violating open records laws. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 15 hours ago on techdirt
For more than a decade we've noted that while there's no hard scientific evidence proving that Wi-Fi is a health hazard, that hasn't stopped an endless parade of folks from declaring war on the humble technology. Numerous schools have been sued for trying to install Wi-Fi networks, and some schools have even banned Wi-Fi entirely based on nothing more than a gut feeling. The campaign against Wi-Fi is generally waged by those professing to be "electromagnetically sensitive," even though most provocation trials to date have suggested these individuals can't actually identify when a "harmful" Wi-Fi agent is in the room. Given that there are now entire towns full of the electromagnetically sensitive, it seems only fitting that some hardware vendors would begin marketing to them. One Chinese router manufacturer by the name of Qihoo has been recently promoting a new router that features a "pregnant woman" mode that the company promises delivers around 70% less radiation than a traditional router (or the device's other settings). The company clearly comes out and says it's basically marketing to paranoids (or, to be more compassionate, individuals with likely undiagnosed psychosomatic illnesses), and isn't basing their claims on any actual science: "We are targeting people who are afraid of radiation", he said. However, in a statement to South China Morning Post, Qihoo acknowledged that no definitive link has been made between Wi-Fi signals and poor health. "We aren’t scientists. We haven’t done many experiments to prove how much damage the radiation from Wi-Fi can cause. We leave the right of choice to our customers." They are, however, engineers who are very familiar with the effects of radiation, but the fact that they couldn't be bothered to support the claim with any actual research or data should tell you plenty. Not surprisingly, Qihoo competitor Xiaomi wasn't too impressed with this new product line: "The so-called pregnancy mode [of Qihoo’s router] is just a marketing tactic. Wi-Fi usage is safe, so please rest assured when using it [Xiaomi’s router]. We firmly oppose, and feel ashamed of, those who create rumours and arouse instability for business purposes." Qihoo's response? Basically the implication that the company will be proven righteous when the nation's moms begin dropping dead from 802.11n exposure: "We will wait and see who has a more profound understanding of Wi-Fi routers, me or our competitors." Lovely. If hard science is going to be an afterthought (or more accurately no thought at all), it seems pretty obvious to me what the next step in wireless router marketing is. We should begin selling routers that promise to magically protect all users' chakras and clogged meridians, while giving the customers' aura and spirit a bright, shiny luster that lesser routers simply can't match.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 19 hours ago on techdirt
It's been a while since we last wrote about CETA, the trade deal between Canada and the European Union. Back in March, we noted that the French Secretary of State for External Commerce, Matthias Fekl, said that France would not ratify CETA unless the corporate sovereignty, or investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), provisions were removed or replaced by something completely different. Of course, it's hard not to be sceptical about these statements, since politicians like to grandstand, and are happy to change their positions every few months. But not, it seems, Matthias Fekl. According to a report on the French site Le Devoir (original in French), he's still of the same opinion: For the Secretary of State for Foreign Trade, Matthias Fekl, who expresses the official position of France, it is not only a question of principle but a fact of life today. If negotiators do not rewrite Article 33 of the [CETA] Treaty which deals with dispute resolution, there will be no ratification. And it's not just France that has a problem here. According to the article, Fekl said: Look, this [refusal to accept the corporate sovereignty provisions in CETA] will also be the case in other countries. This isn't meant as a threat. But as far as this chapter is concerned, things must definitely move. The EU Commissioner for trade, Cecilia Malmström, is well aware of the issues here -- not least because 145,000 people told her in the ISDS consultation last year -- and has presented a concept paper entitled "Investment in TTIP and beyond – the path for reform" (pdf). These are quite similar to proposals made by Fekl for the creation of a new European court to settle trade disputes. But there are two big problems with following that path. First, the European Commission (and Fekl) have only just begun to sketch out how that reform might look. It is likely to take some time to come up with alternatives like entirely new courts. There is no way that something will be agreed for CETA, which may be ready for ratification quite soon. There's also the problem of TAFTA/TTIP. Given that Malmström has admitted that the current ISDS is unsatisfactory, and that she is trying to come up with something better, it will be hard for her to include it in TAFTA/TTIP in its current form. But the US side has made it clear that it is not happy with dropping corporate sovereignty completely, which leads once more to the problem of time-scales, since a serious replacement for ISDS may not be available even for TTIP. It will be interesting to see how Malmström deals with this key issue for both CETA and TAFTA/TTIP. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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First, the good news: members of the House of Representatives in the US Congress are now allowed to use open source technology in their offices, rather than the very limited list of proprietary offerings they were given in the past. Second, the bad news: how the hell is it 2015 and this is only becoming an option now? I guess we can't change the past, and so let's celebrate the House of Reps finally getting to this point -- which just happens to coincide with the upcoming launch of the House Open Source Caucus (led by Reps. Blake Farenthold and Jared Polis). We've talked plenty about how little Congress understands technology, software and the internet today -- so actually introducing them to the basics of open source software can only help. And, yes, this comes on the heels of a Congressional rep making a pull request on Github. So, maybe (just maybe) we're starting to see more of our elected officials actually taking the time to understand the technologies that their policies will impact.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The shortest distance between the Earth and Mars varies depending on where the two planets are in their respective orbits. In July 2018, Mars will be a little under 36 million miles away (pretty close to the closest possible distance of 33.9 million miles). However, it's not quite as simple as shooting a big rocket aimed in the right direction. If astronauts are going to survive the trip (and the return?), no one has the technology to do that yet. Manned space exploration sounds like a noble venture, but funding it seems to be a big problem. NASA has a bunch of unsolved problems that it's asking the public to help solve. There are monetary rewards for solutions that could help establish colonies on Mars. Innocentive is handling the submission process, and some of the challenges have already been awarded. (The challenge for achieving independence from Earth is ending just a couple days after July 4th.) [url] How does the US measure up in the modern space race? Perhaps we're asking the wrong questions, and the space race shouldn't be about competition as much as global cooperation and collaboration. Over 70 countries have some kind of space program now, but maybe we shouldn't be trying to elbow our way past fellow humans to claim mining rights in deep space? [url] If people really see Mars as a "backup planet" for our existing biosphere, perhaps we ought to make it more comfortable before we go there. Terraforming Mars with genetically engineered microbes might be the way to do it. Or not. Should we really be messing around with planetary-scale biology experiments? [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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"The more things change, the more everything is just Smith v. Maryland (1979)." Or so the FISA Court notes in its latest order authorizing the continued collection of bulk phone records under… well, not Section 215, which expired, but under a "non-hyper-literal evil genie" reading of the contradictory forces temporarily in play thanks to the passage of the USA Freedom Act. "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose," well, at least for 180 days. This application presents the question whether the recently-enacted USA FREEDOM Act, in amending Title V of FISA, 2 ended the bulk collection of telephone metadata. The short answer is yes. But in doing so, Congress deliberately carved out a 180-day period following the date of enactment in which such collection was specifically authorized. For this reason, the Court approves the application in this case. The order notes that there was much more to consider in this renewal application. It nods to the expiration of Section 215 on May 31st and its brief return to its pre-Patriot Act form for roughly 24 hours before the passage of USA Freedom pushed the expiration date up until 2019. It notes the legal challenges brought against the bulk collection by Ken Cuccinelli and FreedomWorks, as well as the stipulations added to the collection by the surveillance reform bill. The order denies Cuccinelli/Freedomworks' request to shut down the bulk collection entirely but does grant their request to serve as amicus curiae -- a new position provided for by the USA Freedom Act. This, however, is limited solely to motions already presented to the court by FreedomWorks and Center for National Security Studies. And the FISA Court finds the opposition to the government's claim of 180 days' worth of uninterrupted, unaltered bulk collections to be lacking in merit. The culprit is (partially) the USA Freedom Act itself. The USA FREEDOM Act prohibits the FISC from issuing an order for production of tangible things without the use of a "specific selection term." USA FREEDOM Act§ 103(b), amending FISA § 501(c). This amendment and the related amendments set forth in sections 101 through 103 of the USA FREEDOM Act prohibit the government from acquiring tangible things in bulk under a FISA business records order. Crucially for purposes of this case, however, section 109(a) of the USA FREEDOM Act states that these amendments do not take effect until 180 days after enactment (November 29, 2015). [...] And if that was not clear enough, the USA FREEDOM Act also states that "[n]othing in this Act shall be construed to alter or eliminate the authority of the Government to obtain an order [under the business records provisions of FISA] as in effect prior to [the ban on bulk acquisition taking effect after 180 days]." USA FREEDOM Act §109(b). In passing the USA FREEDOM Act, Congress clearly intended to end bulk data collection of business records and other tangible things. But what it took away with one hand, it gave back - for a limited time - with the other. The rest of the order is given over to dismissing a handful of other legal challenges to the bulk collection program, including the Second Circuit Court's finding that the program -- in its current form -- is not actually authorized by law. The FISA Court, however, finds the appeals court's analysis "flawed" and reliant on "mischaracterizations." While the Second Circuit found the program "had no endpoint," the FISA Court claims the USA Freedom Act gives it one: November 29, 2015. This is the FISA Court shifting back into "hyper-literal evil genie" mode. The Section 215 collection has always had an "endpoint." It's just always been renewed by Congress, up until 2015's expiration, which was more a result of Snowden's leaks than an autonomous decision to give the program a true endpoint. Without a doubt, the modified collection will go through the same cycle of endless renewals. The government's access to American phone records is never going to end completely, not as long as the government and FISA Court continue to rely on the Third Party Doctrine, as defined by the 1979 Smith v. Maryland decision. The FISA order refers to this decision repeatedly in its justification of ongoing bulk collections, either in pre-USA Freedom Act form or with the new limitations in place. As long as the government can rely on this large Fourth Amendment loophole, domestic surveillance in the form of bulk collections (as well as subpoena and National Security letter abuse) will continue. There is effectively no "endpoint" for these collections, as the Second Circuit pointed out. The only thing "correct" about the FISA Court's analysis of these collections -- including the convenient elasticity of the term "relevant" -- is that a new Fourth Amendment privacy right doesn't simply spring into existence because these programs harvest information on millions of Americans. If the government -- and the courts -- aren't willing to extend protections to certain "business records" for an individual, the same lack of protection remains in place when it's hundreds of thousands who are affected. For what it's worth, Section 215 (now Section 501) will no longer be collected and stored by the NSA after this six-month wind-down. These records will reside with telcos and be returned only in exchange for specific searches based on "reasonable articulable suspicion." Unfortunately, this order doesn't bode well for the newly-created position of amicus curiae. Everything examined here in ad hoc, interim form is dismissed completely by FISA judge Michael Mosman. Barring a Supreme Court examination of bulk domestic collections or a revisiting of the issues central to Smith v. Maryland, arguing the public's case against bulk harvesting is going to be an exercise in futility. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've been covering France's bizarre war against Uber, starting with last week's taxi driver riots in which they overturned Uber cars, set fires, and held drivers and passengers hostage. This was followed by a bizarre caving in by the French government, who didn't go after the taxi drivers for their actions, but rather declared that Uber should be stopped and told law enforcement to seize the cars of Uber drivers. And, yesterday it went up a notch with two top Uber execs in France getting arrested and accused of the horrible crime of "inciting illegal employment" in a country where the unemployment rate continues to rise. We keep pointing out that the public really seems to like Uber, so this crackdown seems rather bizarre. And, not so surprisingly, it seems to only be creating that much more interest in Uber in France, with the service reaching a record high in downloads since this all went down. So I decided to take a look at Uber downloads in France, to see what happened during the strike. Not surprisingly, they spiked. In fact, Uber last Thursday was the second-monst downloaded iPhone app in France, which was the first time that had ever happened. Then, on Friday, it hit the top spot. As Uber has discovered in the past, controversy can be great marketing. But it really makes you wonder what French politicians think they're doing here. Yes, there are some people who really hate Uber, but the public certainly seems to find the service to be pretty damn valuable.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The promise of virtual reality has been teasing us since the late 60s, and yet it never seems to arrive in a fully realized form, and often gets relegated to the realm of mockery. Recently, however, VR (and its cousin, augmented reality) is back in a big way, with flagship products like the Oculus Rift and Microsoft Hololens taking the spotlight, backed up by dozens of other contributions from Google Cardboard to our recent Awesome Stuff feature, the Gloveone. To discuss this exciting trend, we're joined by erstwhile Techdirt writer Carlo Longino who, along with regular co-host Dennis Yang, attended this year's E3 conference and tried out a bunch of new offerings on the VR market. 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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Bungie, creators of the hit game Destiny, is going through a bit of a rough stretch. Whereas Witcher 3 creators CD Projekt Red have been showing the gaming industry how to do everything right in regards to DRM, DLC and consumer interaction, Bungie apparently decided to give a master class over the last few weeks on how to do everything very, very wrong. Bungie's first misstep came when it unveiled the latest Destiny expansion pack, The Taken King. To access all of the content in this new expansion, gamers need to buy the new $80 Collector's Editon, forcing fans to shell out some notable cash to buy a slew of content they already owned (the base game and previous DLC), just to nab some new DLC doo dads. Destiny's creative director, Luke Smith, then did an epically shitty job of not-really-trying to quell fan outrage over at Eurogamer, where he repeatedly dodged the question of why consumers should pay for content they already own:"Eurogamer: Can you see that some fans are confused that you're asking them to buy stuff they already own? Luke Smith: Yeah, I can totally empathise with those people. But the Collector's Edition is a pretty cool package for people who want to pursue that stuff. Otherwise, surely what you're saying is that you would want to buy them separately, right? Eurogamer: Well, yeah. I would rather do that - pay a few pounds or dollars or whatever - than spend money on things I already own. Luke Smith: [Laughs] Well, we have nothing more to talk about regarding your opportunity to spend extra money in Destiny, other than The Taken King and the three versions we've announced" Talk about non-answers. Smith essentially laughs off concerns about Bungie double dipping, arguing that users just haven't seen the full awesome scope of what Bungie has planned. When pressed by Eurogamer, Smith would only elaborate that the company is "really comfortable with the value" they're offering consumers. That of course completely ignored the fact that most Destiny fans were making it very clear they were not seeing said value whatsoever. Not too surprisingly, based on Smith's seemingly-flippant tone in the article, many Destiny fans felt they were at best being ignored, and at worst being laughed at. All of this is, of course, ingenious on Bungie's part if the goal was to create a series of high caliber shitstorms on Reddit. Bungie only made things worse when the company subsequently announced that a chunk of The Taken King DLC would only be available to consumers who buy Red Bull products:Over at Reddit, someone posted some leaked Red Bull marketing materials for the promotion, which are quick to highlight how this kind of stuff is great because Destiny players are "used to paying a premium for downloadable content." Isn't nickel-and-diming fans, like, totally rad? Of course, one person's bumbling face plant is another person's marketing opportunity, and makers of the zombie apocalypse game Dying Light were quick to make fun of Bungie's DLC horrible week by offering users free DLC...if they drink water (their Twitter feed is now amusingly full of people drinking water): We're jumping on the latest trend in game marketing! #DrinkRightDyingLight > #DrinkForDLC pic.twitter.com/DQHr6MRFwi — Dying Light (@DyingLightGame) June 24, 2015 The Eurogamer interview was published Monday, and by yesterday Bungie had been forced to do a complete 180, not only announcing they'd let fans buy the new DLC piecemeal, but also having Smith apologize for being an "asshat":"Reading my interview with Eurogamer and imagining it came from some random developer of a game I love - that random developer looks like an Asshat. But that Asshat was me - and those words rightfully anger you. I'm sorry. My words made it sound as if Bungie doesn't care about their most loyal fans. We do care. We are listening. And we will make it right." Of course, Bungie wouldn't have to "make it right" if it hadn't tried to aggressively nickel-and-dime its loyal fans in the first place. And Bungie, like many companies, wouldn't be trying to aggressively nickel-and-dime loyal fans if gamers didn't perpetually reward this kind of behavior by lapping up garbage pricing and content whenever it's shoveled in their general direction. At the end of the day, the way to stop this kind of pricing isn't to raise hell after the fact (though obviously that helps), it's to avoid paying companies that exhibit this kind of behavior in the first place.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Last week, we announced the new website for the Copia Institute and talked about our philosophy of hacking policy through innovation, not lobbying. This week, we're inviting everyone to get involved in one example of this philosophy in action. In this world of rapid technological innovation, nobody can truly claim their efforts stand alone. Everything is built upon previous innovations, and everyone benefits from those who took a pro-innovation stance when building their businesses and technologies. Today, everyone bears some of the responsibility for ensuring that we continue to promote innovation rather than stymie it, and it’s to that end that Copia is creating the Statement of Innovation Principles: a clear, robust statement for innovative companies to sign on to, laying out a variety of principles they intend to uphold in order to promote future innovation, ranging from how they deal with data and intellectual property to how they structure their APIs and developers’ kits. We started this project in March at our 2015 Inaugural Summit, where we presented an initial version of the statement to a roundtable of General Counsels from innovative companies, then opened up a revised draft for discussion with everyone present. There were lots of interesting points raised at the summit, and you can watch the full roundtable discussion for some background on the project: Based on all the comments and ideas from the summit we've made another round of revisions to the Statement, and we have now published the updated draft and are seeking feedback from the public. We've included some notes on key questions that were raised at the Summit and which we feel deserve further discussion, as well as a list of possible additional principles that were proposed but haven't yet been adopted into the complete list. We'd really love the community here at Techdirt to get involved, since we know you have a deep understanding of and interest in these issues, so we hope you'll head over to the project page on the Copia site where you can read the current draft and leave comments on individual points or the document as a whole. We look forward to hearing what you have to say, and will be incorporating the feedback into a new draft later this year. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The days of lugging around and sitting on a George Costanza wallet are long gone. Your phone can keep tabs on all of those bits of paper so all you need is a place for some cash and your cards. The Nimble RFID-Blocking Wallet fits the bill with its slim and functional design. There is a quick access pocket in front for whatever you want ready access to while the storage in the middle gives ample room for change, cards and cash. An RFID-blocking layer could help keep your information safe from skimmers. There is even space for two house keys to slip in on the back of this leather wallet. The Nimble Wallet is available in the Techdirt Deals store for 33% off of the original price. Note: We earn a portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A federal judge has just ordered the government to return $167,000 it took from a man passing through Nevada on his way to visit his girlfriend in California. The officers really wanted that money, too. They used two consecutive stops to jerry-rig some probable cause… even though at that point they thought they were only dealing with $2000. From the original stop forward, the entire situation was deplorable, indisputably showing that everyone involved was more interested in taking (and keeping) a bunch of cash than enforcing laws or pursuing justice. The order is a jaw-dropping read. It begins with the flimsiest of "reasonable suspicion" and heads downhill after that. Straughn Gorman was driving across Nevada in his RV when he was pulled over for a "left-lane violation" -- driving too slow in the passing lane. (This itself isn't actually a moving violation, but the Supreme Court's Heien decision has ensured that law enforcement needn't be slowed by actual knowledge of the laws they're supposed to be enforcing.) This lead to some questioning, because reasons: Upon request, Gorman produced his license and registration and told Monroe that he was traveling to Sacramento, California to visit “his chick.” Id. at 60:9-61:5. Gorman told Monroe that his girlfriend lived in downtown Sacramento, but was not able to produce her exact address, noting that it was entered into his GPS system. Id. at 84:2- 22. Gorman’s use of the word “chick” aroused Monroe’s suspicion that Gorman’s answers were rehearsed because Monroe thought that “chick” was an unusual word for a person Gorman’s age—thirty-one at the time of the stop—to use. Obsolete vernacular = "reasonable suspicion." That and State Trooper Greg Monroe felt Gorman's claimed employment with a "beach activities and paddle board company" sounded similarly "rehearsed." Monroe went back to his vehicle and tried to rustle up a K9 unit. But there were no units nearby, the records check was coming up clean and Monroe was running out of ideas. First, he told Gorman he was free to leave. Then he started fishing: Immediately afterward, Monroe asked Gorman if he could ask some additional questions. Monroe first asked how Gorman could afford to drive a motor home cross-country when gas prices were over $3.00 per gallon. Monroe then asked if Gorman still sold paddle boards for a living, and asked about his compensation, to which Gorman responded “I don’t want to talk about how much I make.” At approximately 9:25 a.m., Monroe asked if there was anything illegal in Gorman’s motor home, or if he was carrying large amounts of U.S. currency. Gorman then told Monroe that he was only carrying about $2000 in U.S. currency in the motor home. At 9:25:45 a.m, Monroe asked Gorman “do you mind if we search the vehicle?,” to which Gorman said “I do mind, yes.” At this point, Monroe told Gorman that he was free to leave [for the second time], returned to his vehicle, and said “he’s carrying money” aloud to himself. Monroe smelled money and he wasn't about to let $2000 travel across his state without being apprehended. So, he called the Highway Patrol and told dispatch his suspcions, stating that the only way the vehicle could be searched was with the use of a drug dog. Dispatch called Deputy Doug Fisher and informed him that Gorman did not consent to a search and that he "might want to follow up on the information." Here we have two different law enforcement entities basically colluding to perform a search simply because one entity experienced a refusal. The court isn't impressed. The Court is particularly troubled that the officers’ belief that Gorman would not consent to a search, and his opposition to the canine sniff, appears to have contributed to the officers’ purported reasonable suspicion to extend the stop and continue the investigation. Individuals have a right to refuse consent for a search, and the existence of this right requires that denial of consent not be a basis to prolong a stop. On top of this, Monroe called Deputy Fisher directly to "relay his suspicions." He also inflated the amount of money Gorman had admitted to be carrying with him -- from $2000 to $5000. Fisher left the Sheriff's Office ostensibly to perform a "roving patrol," but soon decided to park himself on the side of the highway in order to catch Gorman when his RV passed by. Fisher pulled the RV over after it "crossed the fog line" a few times. Having been stopped for a second time in under an hour, Gorman was understandably annoyed. He told Fisher the same thing he had told Monroe during his twenty-minute stop earlier. Fisher ran the same records checks and received the same lack of anything actionable. Despite this, Fisher pushed for a canine search. [A]pproximately twelve minutes into the traffic stop, Fisher released his drug-detection canine “Euros” from his vehicle. Fisher and Euros then approached the motor home and began walking around it in the clockwise direction, starting at the rear left-hand side of the vehicle. As Fisher and Euros circled the rear of the motorhome, Euros sat down near the vehicle’s back right compartment, facing the compartment. Fisher described this as a “committed sit and stare,” which he considered to be a positive alert. Even if you believe -- like the Supreme Court does -- that drug dogs are mostly reliable and unlikely to respond to signals (unconscious or otherwise) from their handlers, Fisher's next statements indicate that bringing a drug dog onto the scene is just an easy way to generate "probable cause" where none exists. Gorman then referred to the back rear compartment and said “I can open that if you want to look in it. It’s charcoal and stuff like that, do you want to look in it?” Fisher replied “do you want to talk to me now?” Gorman replied “if he alerted somewhere, look in it because there’s no drugs.” Fisher then noted that odor could come out anywhere on the vehicle, and that the rear back compartment was on the “downwind side of the vehicle.” Armed with the drug dog's affirmation that drugs might be located somewhere in the RV, the deputy acquired a telephonic warrant and immediately began searching the entire interior of the RV. And while the drug dog continued to "alert" on objects inside the vehicle, no drugs were found. The only thing "illegal" in Gorman's motorhome was $167,000 in cash, stashed away in the freezer, microwave and bedroom. Gorman was (for the third time in under two hours) free to go. But his money wasn't. Gorman fought back. Almost two-and-a-half years from the point the money was taken, it is now ordered to be returned. On top of that, Gorman will also be awarded attorney's fees. Why? Because the government lied every step of the way. First off, two different law enforcement officers performed consecutive stops, with the second stop being predicated on the "suspicions" generated by the first. This is something law enforcement cannot do. Here, Gorman was initially stopped for a minor traffic offense at approximately 9:03 a.m. and released at approximately 9:26 a.m. when Monroe concluded that he did not have probable cause to search the motor home. Gorman was stopped the second time, again for a minor traffic offense, at approximately 10:15 a.m., and held for more than nine minutes before Fisher asked if he could conduct a canine sniff. Fisher knew that Monroe had previously ran a records check and lacked probable cause to hold Gorman, but nonetheless two additional records checks were conducted in order to prolong the detention and make time for a canine sniff. The positive alert occurred approximately twelve minutes after the second traffic stop occurred. All tolled, Gorman was detained for a total of approximately thirty-five minutes without convincing independent reasonable suspicion—before the officers conducted a canine sniff of the motor home and obtained probable cause for the search. Of course, “an individual who has already been seized can still be further seized for purposes of the Fourth Amendment.” Hopkins v. Bonvicino, 573 F.3d 752, 772 n.12 (9th Cir. 2009). But a second stop requires additional reasonable suspicion independent of the reasonable suspicion present in the first stop. On top of that, the government -- when arguing for its "right" to take money just because -- claimed the two stops were entirely unrelated. In its supplemental briefing, and after it became evident that the two stops were connected, the United States argues that “Monroe’s earlier traffic stop is wholly irrelevant to the Fourth Amendment analysis applicable to Gorman’s motion to suppress.” Specifically, the United States contends that “Fisher’s traffic stop was based on his own observations of traffic violations being committed by Gorman, without regard to any information provided” by Monroe. These statements cannot be reconciled with the testimony by Monroe and Fisher, or an independent review of the evidence before the Court. Note the phrase "after it became evident." This wasn't evident at first. Deputy Fisher hid this fact from the magistrate judge when requesting a warrant over the phone and lied about what Gorman had actually told him. [T]he warrant application never mentions Monroe’s original stop, that Monroe called Fisher with information about Gorman and Gorman’s vehicle, or that Fisher was dispatched to investigate Gorman. This omission thereby represented to the magistrate that Fisher pulled Gorman over solely due to his traffic violations, as opposed to having been encouraged to investigate Gorman by NHP and Monroe. Second, Fisher represents in the warrant application that Gorman “indicated he had no job.” This is unambiguously contradicted by the video of Fisher’s questioning of Gorman, in which Gorman states clearly that he works for a Maui paddle board company. These lies -- kindly called "omissions" by the court -- sadly wouldn't be enough on their own to suppress the evidence obtained by the search. But the application of the Supreme Court's Rodriguez decision (officers can't unnecessarily prolong stops to perform [often dog-assisted] fishing expeditions) does call for suppression. But Deputy Fisher wasn't the only one lying. The State's Attorney's office also lied to the court. The Court is disappointed that the United States would aggressively pursue this forfeiture action while all of its moving documents for summary judgment and supporting affidavits contained material omissions concerning the history leading to the traffic stop and canine sniff at issue. The government’s Motion for Summary Judgment, with supporting affidavits from Deputy Fisher and the Assistant United States’ Attorney, made no disclosure of anything which would have suggested that Fisher’s stop was a follow-up on Monroe’s stop and was based upon suspicion of a drug related offense. This is how the government portrayed Fisher's actions in its provided documents. On January 23, 2013, ECSO Deputy Doug Fisher was monitoring west-bound traffic on Interstate 80 near Elko, Nevada. But, as pointed out earlier in the order, Doug Fisher wasn't assigned to traffic patrol and wouldn't have just been "monitoring traffic" if he hadn't received a call from dispatch about Gorman's RV, as well as a direct call from Trooper Monroe himself. On top of the deceit at all levels, there were problems with the search itself. The drug dog alerted on a rear compartment. But rather than search that area, the deputies searched the entire vehicle. [E]ven assuming that the officers had probable cause to search the back right compartment where the canine alerted, the Court is not convinced that the dog’s positive alert to the compartment gave the officers probable cause to search the entire motor home. Despite Gorman’s consent to search the compartment, the officers did not even begin their search of the motor home with the compartment, instead beginning with a search of the motor home’s main cabin. “Probable cause to believe that a container placed in the trunk of a taxi contains contraband or evidence does not justify a search of the entire cab.” United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 824 (1982) The court doesn't weigh this issue specifically (although it does express its skepticism) but it doesn't have to. The prolonged detainment without probable cause is enough to suppress the evidence under Rodriguez. The court sums it up succinctly while ordering the government to hand over not only Gorman's original $167,000, but attorney's fees as well. Gorman is undoubtedly the successful party here. This order shows law enforcement at its ugliest: willing to lie and cheat to maintain control of what it stole. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The NSA has long claimed that it does not engage in "economic espionage." NSA and Defense Department officials have repeatedly insisted that while they do lots of other things, economic espionage is not on the list: “The Department of Defense does engage” in computer network exploitation, according to an e-mailed statement from an NSA spokesman, whose agency is part of the Defense Department. “The department does ***not*** engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber.” These claims are made in a strange attempt to suggest that the NSA is somehow "better" than those like the Chinese, who absolutely do engage in economic espionage, looking for corporate secrets and the like. Of course, it's not entirely clear why not engaging in economic espionage is such an important moral argument for the NSA -- but, at the very least, the agency claims it has its limits. Of course, it's already been pretty clear that this was more hot air than reality from the NSA anyway. Soon after the first Snowden leaks came out, it was suggested that there was evidence of economic espionage against Germany. Later revelations showed what appears to be economic espionage in Brazil. And, on top of that, we wondered why the US Trade Rep is listed as a "customer" of NSA intelligence if it wasn't doing economic espionage. Oh, and let's not even mention that former CIA boss and Defense Secretary Robert Gates has admitted to trying to do economic espionage, but stopping because the US wasn't very good at it. Anyway, with all that it should be obvious that of course the NSA engages in economic espionage -- but as if to highlight this even more strongly, Wikileaks has now released more documents showing pretty clear economic espionage in the form of snooping on French finance ministers, looking to get information on "French export contracts, trade and budget talks." As with the initial revelation that the NSA was spying on the French government, by itself, I don't find this too concerning. Governments spying on other governments is kind of how it goes. But it is notable that there's more evidence of economic espionage when the NSA is so insistent that it absolutely never engages in such tactics. It seems likely that the "out" the NSA would claim here is that it doesn't do economic espionage in the form of spying on companies to try to get their secrets. But it does other forms of economic espionage by spying on government officials engaged in trade deals and such... That seems like a distinction without much meaning.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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When it comes to old notions that are used to stave off the need to embrace new business models in the digital age, nothing is more annoying than the whole "the masses just want everything for free" myth. That belief is snappy, punchy, and as simple to understand as it is completely and demonstrably wrong. But for a certain segment of the population, typically older generations of the kind that pine for the good old days when America was all apple pie and tasteful cartoons, the myth persists. Now, however, the myth is old. Old enough that it's begun to lose its flavor, like a piece of gum that you've been chewing on since Metallica shut down Napster. The new flavor is every digital success story that proves the myth wrong. Kickstarter happens to be my favorite example of this. What's remarkable about Kickstarter is that it's over half a decade old and, despite some still embracing the old myths, it's somehow still setting records in raising money for content producers. Shenmue 3 isn’t only the fastest game to raise a million dollars on Kickstarter, it’s also the fastest game to raise two million dollars. The project was announced last night at Sony’s E3 press conference. It’s the follow-up the Shenmue 2, which was released fourteen years ago. Were you to believe the legacy content producers, who insist the public are free-loading internet anarchists hell-bent on ruining everything and everyone, this shouldn't even be possible. The fact that records for raising money are being broken now is perfect in debunking every part of the myth. The money rolls in over a decade after the myth's creation, despite the expectation that every day would see an increase in younger generations just wanting "everything for free." The money rolls in six years into Kickstarter's existence, meaning nobody can claim that all this money is currently pouring in due to the embrace of some new platform, the popularity of which will quickly die away. The money rolls in for a video game, the exact kind of product that those who believe the myth would expect to be the most pirated. What does this all mean? Kickstarter is on the verge of becoming the establishment now, if it isn't already. It's no longer the upstart experiment. It's firmly entrenched as a success story in the modern digital economy, taking its place alongside iTunes, Steam, and Netflix as snap-rebuttals to the old mythos. The truth is that there are conversations to be had about how to best operate within the digital economy, but those proselytizing the old gods against a greed that doesn't exist are no more useful in that discussion than flat-worlders might be in a conversation about astronomy. The myth is dead, gone the way of Zeus and relegated to a time before the counterexamples had borne fruit. The new question isn't whether content producers can get the public to pay for their goods; it's whether the now-established platforms can scale to keep up with the wider adoption of the platform. Site performance is back up to speed. We're still monitoring everything. We've never seen anything like this. Thanks for your patience! #E3 — Kickstarter (@kickstarter) June 16, 2015 This was in response to the insane amount of interest and traffic generated by Shenmue 3. People flocking to Kickstarter so fast that the site couldn't keep up. People who others will tell you just want everything for free. The myth is dead. Long live the new business models.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Chanel is a company that does fashion and perfume. I know this because I can't walk into a department store without walking past a bunch of glass cases that smell like someone boiled six billion flowers in a pot and then threw it on me, leaving me only to walk past the purses and handbag sections and laugh at the prices for tiny, tiny little bags. Chanel does not sell chocolate, unless you count naming some of the afore-mentioned perfumes and handbags with vaguely chocolate-y names. I know this because I did a Google search to make sure, and those are infallible. And, yet, for some reason, Chanel has decided to play trademark-goalie on a two-person chocolate shop operating in Australia. Global fashion house Chanel has forced a small Australian chocolate maker to change its branding after it claimed a trademark infringement on its No.5 perfume. A letter from Chanel's lawyers was the last thing that Chocolate @ No.5 owner Alison Peck expected when she set up her company. After all, her business is a "two-man show," named after its address – 5 Main Street Hahndorf, a village in the Adelaide Hills – and makes chocolate, not perfume or haute couture. Her company would have most likely gone unnoticed by the multinational fashion giant had it not applied for a trademark registration. At which point Chanel's lawyers fired off a threat letter. A letter, I'll concede, perhaps not entirely without merit. Here is the original branding of Chocolate @ No. 5 alongside the branding of a Chanel bottle of perfume. As you can see, the style of the wording is somewhat similar. I still think I could argue something along the lines of, "What the hell are you people talking about, we do chocolate and the actual name of our business is all over our label", but there is enough of a similarity that claims of confusion don't come off as stupendously silly. Except that Peck has already agreed to change her branding to this: Problem solved, right? Wrong. Chanel wanted Ms Peck to only use the digit or word 'five' while her business was located at it current address. "It was implied if I ever moved I would have to change the name. That was when I realised I was being bullied. They don't own the number five. In the future do we go to school and go 'one, two, three, four, trademark protected, six?' It's just crazy. Never mind that China is churning out [counterfeit] Chanel at a rate of knots. I was not trying to pass of my chocolates as being Chanel No.5. That's just silly because it's chocolate." It sounds to me like the legal team at Chanel is sort of using the descriptive clauses in reverse, suggesting her logo is not infringing if it describes the company address, but if that address changes it suddenly becomes infringing because it's no longer descriptive. If that is indeed the argument they're making, it's a very silly one, because, again, chocolate. Add to that the idea that the number five is getting this much attention in the trademark realm and you can imagine the frustration of a small shop just trying to make a living. And it's because of those same economic interests that Peck is backing down and simply re-branding. "I was happy to withdraw my application and change my logo because there is nothing wrong with a bit of freshness to a product. Our product is still the same." This appears to have placated Chanel, which Ms Peck said had backed down on its other demands. But the fashion titan is "monitoring" her business. For Christ's sake, Chanel, have a chocolate and calm the hell down. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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There are thousands of species of mosquitoes. Killing them all might not be advisable, but controlling how they interact with us would be good -- so that we can prevent various mosquito-borne diseases. If you hate mosquito bites, check out a few of these links to learn more about your tiny tiny nemeses. Mosquitoes seem to like some people more than others, but is that really true? Maybe. And there might be a genetic reason for it. A (small) study of twins showed that mosquitoes didn't 'smell' a difference between identical twins but could for non-identical twins. A genetic explanation of this result isn't exactly clear yet, but there could be one. [url] Mosquitoes might bite (or suck the blood of) people based on the variety of bacteria living on their skin. This preference may correlate with HLA genes that also seem to be involved in body odor differences. [url] What can you do to avoid mosquito bites (besides avoiding areas where mosquitoes live)? If you think you can eat garlic and ward them off like vampires, think again. Protective clothing and DEET seem to be the most effective things so far. There are some devices that disperse various chemical repellents that seem to work, too. Lasers, however, are probably not going to be practical for some time. [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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Like all of the patents we highlight in our Stupid Patent of the Month series, this month's winner, U.S. Patent No. 6,795,918, is a terrible patent. But it earns a special place in the Pantheon of stupid patents because it is being wielded in one of most outrageous trolling campaigns we have ever seen. Patent No. 6,795,918 (the '918 patent), issued from an application filed in March 2000, and is titled: "Service level computer security." It claims a system of "filtering data packets" by "extracting the source, destination, and protocol information," and "dropping the received data packet if the extracted information indicates a request for access to an unauthorized service." You may think, wait a minute, that's just a firewall. By the year 2000, firewalls had been around for a long time. So how on earth did this applicant get a patent? A good question. Here's how you get a patent on a firewall more than a decade after firewalls were invented. Step 1: File a description of your so-called invention that is nothing more than mundane details about how firewalls work. Step 2: Add some language saying this is totally not just a firewall. Step 3: Claim a firewall. With any luck, the Patent Office will just wave you through.  To be fair, the '918 patent suggests a firewall system that is not "user configurable." The idea is that unsophisticated home users might misconfigure their firewalls so it is better to give them a system they cannot mess up. Just like a real firewall, only dumber! The patent also hedges its bets by claiming a system that is "substantially free from user adjustment," whatever that means. Even if that was a new idea in 2000, this is not actually a technological improvement. It's kind of like putting a padlock on the front hood of a car and then saying you've invented a new kind of car. The '918 patent spent its entire life in well-deserved obscurity. Indeed, the original inventor chose to let the patent expire in September 2012 by not paying the maintenance fee. This is unsurprising. Why waste money keeping a terrible patent alive? Usually, that is where the story would end. Unfortunately, even an expired garbage patent can be useful in the hands of a patent troll. In January of 2015, a newly-formed company called Wetro Lan, LLC, purchased the '918 patent. Shortly after that, it began filing dozens of lawsuits in the Eastern District of Texas against companies that provide, you guessed it, firewall technology. The troll can do this because damages for patent infringement go back six years. So, technically, it can still demand damages for alleged infringement that took place from mid-2009 until the patent expired in September 2012 (though the defendants might have a good laches defense). Wetro Lan has sued just about everyone who sells a product relating to network security, from Avaya to ZyXEL. To take one suit as an example, Wetro Lan has sued Hacom, LLC, a small company based in Santa Ana, California, that provides embedded hardware, software, and consulting for implementation of open-source applications. In its complaint, Wetro Lan says that Hacom's Phoenix IT-100 Appliance and its other routers directly infringe the ‘918 patent. But Hacom doesn't sell anything remotely like the dumb, non-configurable, firewall discussed in the '918 patent. They sell advanced products which enable users to configure settings through a web-based interface or at the command line. In fact, since Hacom's products incorporate free software (free as in freedom), they are configurable down to the source code level. There's no way that Hacom's products infringe a patent that, even if it were valid, would cover only the dumbest of firewalls. But if Wetro Lan is like most trolls, that's not the game here. The likely point of this litigation is to extract a nuisance settlement. We have significant doubts that Wetro Lan would ever litigate one of its cases on the merits, and win. The attorneys behind the Wetro Lan campaign are the same lawyers who sued our client in the Garfum v. Reflections by Ruth case. We desperately need legislative reform to stop more abusive litigation from these trolls. Such reform should include fee shifting, heightened pleading requirements, and venue reform to stop shell company trolls dragging innovators to the Eastern District of Texas. Without help from Congress, trolls will keep shaking down small companies like Hacom. Republished from the EFF's Stupid Patent of the Month series Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Here's something you see all too rarely -- not because the government's civil asset forfeiture programs aren't routinely abused -- but because it's a good way to spend lots of money fighting a losing battle. Vu Do, owner of two nail salons in New York City, is trying to retrieve nearly $44,000 -- his life savings which he had put together over twenty years -- taken from him by the DEA at the JFK airport. The complaint points out that Do has run two legitimate businesses in NYC for several years, and not once has he been arrested or even charged for violations of controlled substances laws. Nevertheless, the DEA took all of Do's money under the assumption that he's involved in the drug business, despite being more than willing to let him go without even a citation. Do had planned to take his money to California to help his financially-struggling siblings out, but ran into the DEA first. Then there's this: The Plaintiff did not know that it was a violation of Federal regulations to carry cash in excess of $5,000 at the time of the seizure. There's a good reason for not knowing this. There is no federal regulation prohibiting citizens from walking around (or boarding planes) with any amount of cash. Asset forfeiture laws make this practice unwise, but nothing in federal law says Do was forbidden from boarding a plane with his $44,000. There are reporting requirements for any amount over $10,000 in cash traveling in or out of the country, but nothing says travelers can't go from state-to-state with their own money. They don't even have to report it. They will, obviously, experience more scrutiny from the TSA, but it's not illegal to do what this salon owner did. So, why is this in here? It could be that Do performed his own research and came to the wrong conclusions. But that doesn't explain why his legal representation didn't point this out to him or remove it from the complaint. My guess is it's either an oversight (by his lawyer) or him just repeating what a TSA/DEA agent told him en route to the seizure of his money. The DEA can easily bleed Do dry, or at the very least make it a break even scenario. Trying to get the government to return seized property is about as straightforward as engaging in quantum mechanics with a headful of acid. (Or firing a teacher in New York City.) This chart, part of the Heritage Foundation's new PDF discussing the many abuses of civil asset forfeiture, shows exactly how much work -- and how much can go wrong in the process -- it takes to get your stolen property back. (via Reason) [click through for a larger version] According to this chart, Do has no shot at reclaiming his money. He had a certain amount of time to challenge this seizure (until April 30, according to the DEA's administrative seizure notice) and his June 17 lawsuit falls well outside that time limit. Not being "timely" is pretty much an instant loss. If so, that's 20 years worth of savings headed towards ensuring the DEA has the funding to keep seizing cash from travelers. Despite its best efforts, an actual drug trafficker will occasionally stumble into the agency's sticky grasp, inadvertently legitimizing the whole crooked program. I can't imagine the DEA looks forward to encounters with actual criminals, seeing as it involves arrests and a whole bunch of additional paperwork. Cash is king. And as long as asset forfeiture programs remain in effect, government agencies will prefer the easy busts of "guilty" money over the more legitimate effort of removing criminals from the streets. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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