posted about 14 hours ago on techdirt
Five Years Ago It seems like there were a lot of shifting opinions this week in 2009. Media analysts began to realize that charging for online news was almost surely a losing proposition; Gartner was finally realizing that social networking at work isn't so bad; despite an anti-piracy "education" campaign, people in Sweden were becoming less and less concerned about file sharing — and, indeed, talk about the "death of file sharing" at the time was clearly

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posted about 17 hours ago on techdirt
For this week's awesome stuff post on interesting crowdfunding projects, we'll take a look at three separate projects that take the classic idea of a skateboard, and try to do something... different with them. The Chargeboard Lots of people complain about cell phones running out of batteries, so some guy over in Amsterdam figured why not slap some dynamos on some skateboard trucks, add a powerbox and a connection, and boom, you've got the Chargeboard -- a skateboard that will powerup your phone while you ride. Just, uh, try not to kick up any rocks into the face of the phone, I guess... Emery Skatebench Yes, the the Emery Skatebench is a bench made out of a skateboard deck -- which is not an entirely new concept, but the main differentiator here is also using skateboard wheels as the feet of the bench. The wheels can easily be locked if you want the bench to not move -- or unlocked if you want it to roll (though I would imaging trying to skate on it is not recommended. SkatE-Pods The SkatE-Pods are skateboard-like electric vehicles -- and you can add a handlebar and make it into an electric scooter as well. That's it for this week -- go outside and ride around on something with wheels...Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 1 day ago on techdirt
We've written a number of times about the strong, principled stand of Australian ISP iiNet for the rights of its consumers. iiNet was the ISP that was handpicked by Hollywood and the US State Departmenet to be the target of a "test" legal attack, trying to force ISPs to spy on users and become copyright cops. iiNet was targeted because Hollywood felt that the company wasn't large enough to fight back, but was big enough to get noticed. Hollywood miscalculated on one-half of that equation: iiNet fought back. And it fought back hard. And it won. And then it won again. And then it won again, in a fight that Hollywood is still licking its wounds over (and trying to undermine with new laws). iiNet has also fought back against data retention rules. And now it's standing up again -- this time against copyright trolling. In particular, against copyright trolling from Voltage Pictures over the film Dallas Buyers Club -- which has been used in questionable copyright trolling efforts in the US for a while now. Apparently, the folks behind that effort are dipping their toes in the water in Australia, and iiNet put its foot down, refusing to roll over and hand over information. It's not -- as some people assume -- because iiNet supports copyright infringement: We don’t support or condone copyright infringement. In fact, our contract terms require that our customers must not use our service to commit an offence or infringe another person’s rights – this includes copyright infringement. We also have a policy that applies to people who infringe the law. It might seem reasonable for a movie studio to ask us for the identity of those they suspect are infringing their copyright. Yet, this would only make sense if the movie studio intended to use this information fairly, including to allow the alleged infringer their day in court, in order to argue their case. Rather, it's because iiNet's executives aren't idiots, and they know exactly what's going on here. It's not about stopping infringement, it's about copyright trolling, which iiNet uses the more polite term for: "speculative invoicing." Speculative invoicing, as practiced overseas, commonly involves sending intimidating letters of demand to subscribers seeking significant sums for an alleged infringement. These letters often threaten court action and point to high monetary penalties if sums are not paid. Our concerns with speculative invoicing by Dallas Buyers Club in Australia include: Users might be subject to intimidation by excessive claims for damages, as made by Dallas Buyers Club in other countries. Because allegations of copyright infringement are linked to IP addresses, the alleged infringer could be incorrectly identified if details of the account holder were revealed. For example, the relevant IP address could have originated from a person in a shared household, an individual visiting a household which has open WiFi, or a school, or an Internet cafe. Because Australian courts have not tested these cases, any threat by rights holders, premised on the outcome of a successful copyright infringement action, would be speculative. iiNet fully admits that it may eventually lose and have to hand over the names, but that it worries that a broad ruling will "open the floodgates" to further copyright trolling in Australia, and that it believes this will lead to Australians "being intimidated to pay exorbitant amounts in an attempt to avoid improbable litigation." This looks like it should be another iiNet legal case to pay close attention to.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 1 day ago on techdirt
Astronauts might hibernate on the way to Mars, but they'll eventually need to wake up and eat something. Astronaut food isn't just freeze-dried ice cream and tubes of mashed up mystery meat. Even though microgravity can adversely affect a person's sense of taste, that doesn't mean astronauts should be expected to live on endlessly dreary meals. Here are just a few links on space foods that astronauts might enjoy. What foods would you crave if you were isolated from the rest of humanity on another world? Nutella and Spam were on the menu in a simulated Mars mission that studied what astronauts might want to eat. [url] Kimchi is a fermented cabbage dish that Korean astronauts won't want to leave behind when traveling in space. Millions of dollars and several years were spent creating a space-worthy version of kimchi that wouldn't offend other astronauts but still serve as a Korean comfort food. [url] Martian soil could actually be suitable for growing crops. This conclusion is based on "artificial Martian soil" made from volcanic soil from Earth, so we might want to get some real Martian soil samples to make sure (before anyone relies on Martian farmland for food). [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The whole DRM for ebooks effort is still pretty braindead all around. It's amazing to me that everyone hasn't realized what the music industry figured out years ago (after many earlier years of kicking and screaming): DRM doesn't help the creators or the copyright holders in the slightest. It pisses off end users and tends to help give platform providers a dominant position by creating lock-in with their users. Time and time again we see copyright holders demanding DRM, not realizing that this demand actually gives all the leverage to the platform provider. And, of course, there are all the technical problems with DRM, from making "purchased" content disappear once DRM servers are turned off, to making it more difficult to actually use legitimately authorized content, to the fact that DRM tends to lead to privacy and security problems as well. A few weeks ago, Nate Hoffelder discovered that Adobe's ebook reader, Digital Editions 4, was spying on your ebooks, collecting a ton of information about them, and then uploading it all to Adobe's servers in an unencrypted format, potentially revealing a lot of information about users of the product. Adobe came out with a ridiculously mealy-mouthed response that clearly had been worked over by a crisis team PR person, when what it should have done is say, "Uh, we screwed up." Now, a couple of weeks later, Adobe has quietly updated Digital Edition, complete with encryption... and with greatly reduced snooping. It no longer does anything on non-DRM'd ebooks, only contacting the server for DRM'd books (which, as explained, is a dumb idea, but...). So, Adobe has corrected the egregious errors of its original snooping (though, frankly, the company should also (1) apologize to the public and (2) thank Hoffelder for pointing out the company's crappy practices). Hoffelder goes even further, arguing that what Adobe should really do is stop the data collection entirely: This is less a case of a company screwing up in supporting users than it is one of a major tech company grabbing more user info than is required and then, when they are caught, trying to write it off with a “My bad” and a promise to add encryption. That is entirely the wrong response. What they should have said was that they would stop the spying, not that they would make it more difficult for the world to listen in. From all appearances, the real problem here is... DRM. Adobe's designed a DRM system that requires a server check-in to make it work. This is dumb for a variety of reasons, and also means that when -- inevitably -- the server goes away, those "purchased" works are likely to disappear as well.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Former NSA head Keith Alexander continues to draw the sort of attention he probably hoped he had left behind by resigning his post. His questionable business venture -- a private banking security firm seemingly dependent on patents and methods polished during his tenure at the NSA -- has drawn pointed questions from legislators and a second glance from the internal ethics apparatus of the intelligence agency. Alexander apparently thought it would be fine for him to use the talents of the NSA's current Chief Technology Officer, Patrick Dowd, for his new private venture. You see, Alexander didn't want the country to lose a bright spy mind, but didn't really want his own IronNet Security firm to go without Dowd's talents either. So he compromised. The country could have Dowd full-time as long as he could spend 20 hours a week securing banks with Chief Keith. Due to the extra level of scrutiny being directed at everything NSA-related, the agency decided to take another look at the this unholy unethical alliance. It didn't necessarily not like what it saw, but it wasn't absolutely enthralled with it either. But there will be no official statement forthcoming. Alexander has called the whole thing off. On Tuesday, Alexander said: "While we understand we did everything right, I think there's still enough issues out there that create problems for Dr. Dowd, for NSA, for my company," that it was best for him to terminate the deal. "Everything right" is apparently the equivalent of basically every other current and former intelligence official interviewed stating, "we've never heard of such a thing," and "pretty much a conflict of interest," etc. In other news, Alexander's recently disclosed ("disclosed" pronounced "forced out of the NSA's clutches by journalist Jason Leopold's lawsuit") financial statements are gathering a bit more attention as well. As I noted here, there were some questionable aspects about Alexander's investments, some of which related to government contractors, but nothing that screamed financial impropriety. The conclusion I reached was that the most surprising aspect was the NSA's adamant refusal to release these mostly innocuous declarations. There just wasn't much "there" there, from what I could see. (The fact that the agency claimed the release of these financial disclosure statements could harm "national interests" was enjoyably ridiculous, but it's also the standard response when asked to open up about anything. Just because "security" is your middle name doesn't mean everything in your possession is instrumental to protecting the nation against terrorist activity.) Shane Harris at Foreign Policy has done some deeper digging into Alexander's financial statements and excavated some rather strange investment patterns. Harris notes that there's very little in the way of discernible rationale for Alexander's purchases and sales. There's also no indication that any of these trades were very beneficial for Alexander's bottom line. And there's some weird dabbling in some markets where being the head of the NSA would possibly provide more insight than is available to other investors. The financial disclosure documents, which were released to investigative journalist Jason Leopold and published this month by Vice News, reveal nothing explicitly about why Alexander sold the shares when he did. On Jan. 7, 2008, Alexander sold previously purchased shares in the Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan, a Canadian firm that mines potash, a mineral typically used in fertilizer. The potash market is largely controlled by companies in Canada, as well as in Belarus and Russia. And China was, and is, one of the biggest consumers of the substance, using it to expand the country's agricultural sector and produce higher crop yields. "It's a market that's really odd, involving collusion, where companies essentially coordinate on prices and output," said Craig Pirrong, a finance professor and commodities expert at the University of Houston's Bauer College of Business. "Strange things happen in the potash market. It's a closed market. Whenever you have Russians and Chinese being big players, a lot of stuff goes on in the shadows." The same day that Alexander moved his Potash Corp. shares, he also divested himself of his holdings in China-based Aluminum Corp., a state-owned entity that is the second-largest producer of aluminum in the world. Alexander bought and sold shares in both companies, but never during price peaks or collapses. Instead, his divestments seem to be motivated not by profitability, but by the government's increasing interest in combating Chinese state-sanctioned hacking. In the spring of 2008, shortly after Alexander sold his positions, senior U.S. officials began to speak on the record for the first time about the threat of cyber-espionage posed by Russia and especially China. Public attention to the intelligence threat was higher than it had been in recent memory. The optics of the NSA director owning stock in a company that his own agency believed may have been receiving stolen information from the Chinese government would have been embarrassing, to say the least. Those embarrassing optics have been dulled by the passage of time. Withholding these yearly, mandatory disclosures for "national security" reasons has sheltered Keith Alexander from any embarrassing external questions over the last half-decade of investments. Government agencies are supposed to be on the lookout for not only conflicts of interest, but the "appearance of impropriety." Alexander's investments (and his post-NSA ventures) both sport the outward trappings of impropriety. But everything being questioned now was previously signed off on by NSA officials as being above board. Now, even the NSA is second-guessing itself -- not because it's striving for a higher ethical standard -- but because the standard-operating-procedure of "hide everything" no longer works as well as it used to. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A few days ago, the FTC announced that it had appointed Ashkan Soltani as its chief technology officer. Soltani is a well-known (and often outspoken) security researcher who has worked at the FTC in the past. Nothing about this appointment should be all that surprising or even remotely controversial. However, recently, Soltani had been doing a lot of journalism work, as a media consultant at the Washington Post helping Barton Gellman and other reporters really understand the technical and security aspects of the Snowden documents. His name has appeared as a byline in a number of stories about the documents, detailing what is really in those documents, and how they can impact your privacy. Apparently, this has upset the usual crew of former NSA officials. Let's start with former NSA director Michael Hayden. The publication FedScoop heard the news about Soltani, and decided to ask Hayden and other NSA-types their thoughts. You can tell by the opening paragraph what angle FedScoop is digging for with its article: The Federal Trade Commission has hired privacy and technology expert Ashkan Soltani to serve as the commission’s chief technology officer. But security experts and former senior U.S. intelligence officials are questioning the FTC’s decision, given Soltani’s very public role as a consultant for The Washington Post, where he co-authored multiple articles based on classified documents stolen from the National Security Agency by former contractor Edward Snowden. The loaded language in the introductory paragraph telegraphs FedScoop's desire to have its predispositions confirmed by the NSA's defenders, even though this move is more of a return to form for Soltani rather than an indication of the FTC's willingness to give the administration the finger by proxy, or whatever it is that Hayden feels is going on here. His job will be to advise the commission on evolving technology and policy issues, a role similar to one he held previously at the FTC before leaving government to become an independent consultant. Hayden's criticism of Soltani's selection begins with a sentence that shows (and immediately denies) what he'd like to do in the limited time FedScoop has granted him. “I’m not trying to demonize this fella, but he’s been working through criminally exposed documents and making decisions about making those documents public,” said Michael Hayden, a former NSA director who also served as CIA director from 2006 to 2009. Yes, how dare he do journalism in association with a well-known and (mostly) respected news organization. The FTC has so far refused to comment on its "controversial" selection. The NSA has yet to comment either, although one wonders if anyone outside of FedScoop truly believes the agency actually has anything to comment on here. Neither did the White House, despite FedScoop's endless harassment. The White House Office of Personnel Management [...] did not respond to FedScoop’s repeated requests for information on the FTC’s ability to hire Soltani given his role in consulting with the Post as it disclosed the Snowden documents. But guess who else has an opinion on this matter -- a hiring so controversial that no one actively employed by the government has felt the slightest urge to comment on? It's our other favorite NSA apologist, and he manages to top Hayden's vague but judgemental statements, as well as somehow managing to have even less of a grasp on the subject matter. Stewart Baker, a former NSA general counsel, said, while he’s not familiar with the role Soltani would play at the FTC, there are still problems with his appointment. “I don’t think anyone who justified or exploited Snowden’s breach of confidentiality obligations should be trusted to serve in government,” Baker said. But those who aided and abetted the expansion of domestic surveillance programs and betrayed the American public should be "trusted" to "serve" (themselves and their agencies) for years to come. Those who question the government should be kept as far away from the inner workings as possible, at least according to these two NSA defenders. And they base this judgement not on Soltani's upcoming position (which neither seem to know anything about), or actual government policies (which neither cite in defense of their claims), but rather on their feeling that no one who has "betrayed" the Agency (even if to serve the public or the Constitution) should be allowed to serve the public in any capacity.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 1 day ago on techdirt
Okay, let's get this out of the way first: as you'll quickly see, there is no way to write this post without someone accusing us of being hypocritical -- so we're going to just get it out of the way upfront and note that that's absolutely true, as the article we'll be linking to also admits that such hypocrisy is occasionally necessary in reporting. We hope that the reasons for why we're doing this post are clear in the text below, so going hogwild in the comments claiming hypocrisy won't be particularly productive. We know. We get it. This post really is not about GamerGate. It is really about ethics in journalism (I know, I know). We have no real interest in writing about the whole GamerGate thing at all, because almost none of it is interesting and almost all of it is incredibly, mind-bendingly stupid, no matter what position you're arguing. So, I'm really hoping -- while recognizing this hope will likely not be realized -- that the comments on this post won't actually be about GamerGate or any sort of debate about the merits of one side or the other, but rather about what this article is really about, which is the journalism coverage. With that out of the way, as noted, we haven't been covering "GamerGate" at all, in part because the whole thing is just kind of ridiculous. There are a lot of wild accusations being thrown around on all sides, and a lot of really bad actions and statements by a lot of people, leading to lots of other wild accusations. Some of the accusations are true, some are not true, many are wildly misleading. But the other reason we haven't been covering it is because it's covered to death everywhere else -- to an almost insane level. And that's what we're talking about today, based on a great article by Jason Koebler over at Vice's Motherboard, noting that so much of the coverage exists because writing something about GamerGate appears to drive a ton of traffic. And in the stupid click-driven world that many publications live off of these days, you do what brings in the traffic (disclaimer: see point 1 at the very top of this post): The dirty secret here is that, unlike a story about Ebola or Monica Lewinsky or basically anything else anyone writes about, writers and editors can be assured that their GamerGate coverage gets a disproportionate amount of traffic. As far as online journalism gambling goes, it's one of the safer bets you can make. That's because GamerGate story readership isn't the general public: It's the people who are in the movement itself. For proof of this, look at the fact that the vast majority of GamerGate coverage have hundreds and even thousands of comments—almost all of them from people in the movement. But it's not just about GamerGate. It's about the way that online news has developed into this traffic-whoring stage, with lots of publications all rushing to cover "the thing that will bring traffic." Apple announcing an iPhone is news, sure. But Apple announcing an iPhone and breathlessly writing 50 blog posts and a ~live blog~ and an instant analysis and hot takes is when reporting stops being reporting and starts becoming the journalistic equivalent of putting chips on every single number in roulette hoping Reddit or Facebook or someone else picks your story to win that day’s internet traffic lottery. And, you know, it's not just tech journalism either: The side effect of this is that the world starts thinking that every time the  House votes to repeal Obamacare or every time Congress holds a hearing about Benghazi or every time John Oliver TOTALLY EVISCERATES someone every time a fringe scientist says climate change isn’t real or every time a normal person or government agency joins Twitter or every time a celebrity gets plastic surgery or every time some internet nerds can rile up a Gawker writer on Twitter is capital-I Important. They're all attempts to "win the social media lottery" to have a story go "viral" and suddenly have a lot more traffic. Frankly, this is stupid. And it's something (again, disclaimer above) we mostly try to avoid. There are a few of our regular critics who accuse us of being traffic whores ourselves (and I imagine a few of them may be rushing to comment as such on this article). They claim that we write what we write to get traffic. But here's a dirty little secret for you: if you want a lot of traffic, writing about intellectual property law, free speech, international trade agreements and regulatory capture isn't the best way to get it. We've never covered a big Apple event. While we'll occasionally attend an event, we tend to write about it a day or two later, after we've had a chance to let things sink it. And we try (though we don't always succeed) to provide a different take on things. We add our opinion (or, as the critics explain, we "spin" or report things in a "biased" way). We try to only write about stories that we actually think are interesting (and, even then we only get to about a third of the stories we actually think are interesting). As a result of that, I hope that the people who read this site tend to be more loyal and actually more interested in what we have to say (and often more willing to join in the discussion and join the larger community). But, that's not how many media publications work today. It's all about the "metrics" -- the number of visitors, and with the social media firehose so big, the focus has been moving aggressively towards that viral lottery. That's not to say we don't keep tabs on our own traffic -- because of course we do. But we know that getting a big story on Reddit means a flood of people who visit for 30 seconds and move on. Our loyal readers are the ones who stick around, and hopefully it's because we're not providing one of fifty different stories about the same damn thing with the same "journalistic" take (i.e., without any color, without any opinion and without any heart). Our position may not be great for advertisers. I've had discussions with potential advertisers, explaining how we have a really loyal community, and most of them don't seem to care. They just want bigger numbers, even if those bigger numbers are meaningless, because the audience doesn't give a shit. I would think that having a loyal, interested and committed community would be a lot more interesting to advertisers, but so many play the same stupid numbers game, and that leads so many publications to do the same. There are a few publications that have clearly recognized that the hamster wheel chase of rewriting the identical story over and over again while adding nothing new is not worth it. It's been great to see and I've been encouraged by some publications that have really focused on building a loyal audience through doing something different and providing more value. But, for many, it's all about a single metric: traffic. Then it starts to feel a lot less like journalism or something socially valuable. It just feels like... well... a game. For years, we've talked about how few seem to recognize that real journalism is about the community, not about "the news." I'm hopeful that more people begin to recognize this. And for all the hypocrisy in this post (disclaimer 1), consider part of this hypocritical post to be an attempt to share why we do what we do -- and why we don't do certain other things that we'd consider to be just cynical clickwhoring. If we want to have a discussion about "ethics in journalism" perhaps it should start with a discussion about all of this.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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If there's anything our government can do well, it's take a word loaded with tension and abuse it to the point of abstraction. First, we had "war." The word described the hellish events of the First and Second World War, along with armed, bloody conflicts dating back to the rebellious creation of the nation itself. Now, it's simply a term applied to any conflict with the weight of a self-serving bureaucracy propelling it. A "war" on drugs. A "war" on illiteracy. And so on. The horrors endured by both sides of the Vietnam "conflict" were never afforded the gravity of the word "war." The same goes with every military intervention since then. We've been in Iraq and Afghanistan for years, but there's no "war" there -- at least nothing officially declared. There's only violence and death and occasional sharp bursts of more violence and death. There's a "war" on drugs in Afghanistan, but that's even more of an abject failure than our other long-running military efforts -- $7 billion spent and poppy production at an all-time high. There's a "war" on terror in progress as well, but this brings us to another word robbed of any gravitas by constant abuse: "terror." Terrorism is what fuels our nation's security/surveillance state. But "terror" and "terrorism" -- words that once carried some weight -- are now abstractions. They're buzzwords pressed into service by the US government as a sales pitch for an illusion of security. And it all can be yours for less than a Fourth Amendment violation a day. Which brings us to another set of loaded words that once were evocative but now have been stripped of their ability to move masses. For the last 30+ years, the United States has been in a "state of emergency." This is perpetual and involves more than thirty concurrent states of emergency. An emergency declared by President Jimmy Carter on the 10th day of the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979 remains in effect almost 35 years later. A post-9/11 state of national emergency declared by President George W. Bush — and renewed six times by President Obama — forms the legal basis for much of the war on terror. Tuesday, President Obama informed Congress he was extending another Bush-era emergency for another year, saying "widespread violence and atrocities" in the Democratic Republic of Congo "pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States." Declaring a temporary state of emergency has it uses. It temporarily expands government powers in order to facilitate speedy responses. It de-gunks the system of its red tape residue and allows help to arrive when it's needed, rather than weeks after it would have any impact. But this isn't the case here. Temporary expansions of power have morphed into the new status quo. Since 1976, the government has declared 53 "emergencies." Almost every single one still remains in effect. Part of the problem is the office of the president. For thirty-plus years, the office has become accustomed to the extra powers granted with each flip of the "emergency" switch. States of emergency are extended. And extended again. Only one state of emergency has been allowed to lapse during the last decade. There is a curb to this power, but like the many other oversight positions its entrusted with, Congress seemingly has no interest in fulfilling its duty. The 1976 law requires each house of Congress to meet within six months of an emergency to vote it up or down. That's never happened. And so, "state of emergency" becomes shorthand for government abuse. It conjures up images of towns destroyed by national disasters or extreme threats from foreign nations, but in practice it's rarely anything more than a leading indicator of governmental power grabs. What can this nation's government do during a "state of emergency?" This very small sampling of "extra powers" is chilling. Reshape the military, putting members of the armed forces under foreign command, conscripting veterans, overturning sentences issued by courts-martial and taking over weather satellites for military use. Suspend environmental laws, including a law forbidding the dumping of toxic and infectious medical waste at sea. Bypass federal contracting laws, allowing the government to buy and sell property without competitive bidding. Allow unlimited secret patents for Army, Navy and Air Force scientists. "Emergency" is the new normal. For thirty years this nation has "struggled" under multiple states of emergency. What should be a very limited, very short-term solution to unexpected or dangerous situations is now indistinguishable from everyday life. More fear is sold by government agencies and purchased -- via tax dollars -- by a public unable to prevent the checks from clearing. Like the boy who cried wolf, the government has stripped "emergency" of its galvanizing power. Hearing a "state of emergency" being declared by the president most likely won't move hearts reflexively to throats but will prompt a certain number of hands to make protective moves towards wallets and purse strings. And it will definitely move the average American closer to cynicism than patriotism. When everything is an "emergency" that never ends, nothing is. President Obama says there's no need to declare a state of emergency over the worldwide spread of Ebola. He's likely right, but the words are meaningless. Declare it. Don't declare it. It makes no difference to anyone outside of those directly benefiting from (likely permanent) expansion of government powers. What is the government going to do once it's used up all the evocative words? Where does it go next? Apocalypse? The government is inherently untrustworthy, and its inability to express itself without using buzzwords, hyperbole and the broadest of strokes isn't helping. Voter apathy? Record lows in approval ratings? These are only symptoms. The disease is the government itself and its willingness to present everything as the Worst Ever in order to erode rights, expand power and appropriate public funding. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Not this again. For years, we were perplexed by the war on mod chips, which could be used to allow people to play pirated games, but also had plenty of legitimate uses as well, especially for developers and hackers. The same was true of the war on smart card readers. Yes, they could be used to get pirated TV, but they were also useful for lots of other, perfectly legitimate projects as well. The latest, however, appears to be a Microsoft update with some new drivers that were completely destroying devices that have fake FTDI chips. People started noticing that right after the Windows update devices using those chips were suddenly dead. Bricked. It's not that they wouldn't connect any more -- it's that the software update actively bricked the devices and you can't get them back. FTDI chips are quite popular with hackers and there are plenty of them out there -- both real and fake. And, quite frequently, developers/hackers have no idea if their FTDI chips are legit or not, because they just buy devices that include them, and they assume they're legit. But the drivers in that Windows update didn't care and bricked any one using a fake FTDI chip. As Ars Technica notes, this really sucks for a bunch of hackers who never even did anything wrong. The result of this is that well-meaning hardware developers updated their systems through Windows Update and then found that the serial controllers they used stopped working. Worse, it's not simply that the drivers refuse to work with the chips; the chips also stopped working with Linux systems. This has happened even to developers who thought that they had bought legitimate FTDI parts. It can be difficult to tell, and stories of OEMs and ODMs quietly ignoring design specs and using knock-offs instead of official parts are not uncommon. As such, even hardware that was designed and specified as using proper FTDI chips could be affected. Every USB device has a pair of IDs. One, the Vendor ID (VID), is allocated by the USB group. Each vendor has its own unique VID and uses that VID on every USB device it makes. The second is the Product ID (PID), allocated by the vendor, with each distinct chip type having its own PID. Windows uses the VID/PID pair to figure out which driver a given piece of hardware needs. The counterfeit chips use FTDI's VID and set the PID to the PID of whichever chip it is they're cloning (FTDI has a range of similar parts, each with their own PIDs). The new driver reprograms the PID of counterfeit chips to 0000. Because this PID does not match any real FTDI part, it means that FTDI drivers no longer recognize the chips and, hence, no longer provide access to them. This PID is stored in persistent memory, so once a chip has been reprogrammed it will continue to show this 0000 PID even when used with older drivers, or even when used with Linux. It's not entirely clear if this is something FTDI did on purpose or not (though, their comments below suggest they did), but it is worrisome, and it's simply not okay -- whether it was on purpose (in which case it's potentially illegal) or not (in which case it's just bad). Sherwin Siy, over at Public Knowledge does a nice job explaining why copyright (or other IP laws) are never a legitimate reason to break a device -- even if a contract warns it might happen (as is apparently the case with FTDI). The fact that disabling countless devices without warning can harm millions of innocent users and manufacturers should be a screaming sign that this is the wrong thing to do. And if they’re doing this deliberately, this is wrong not just in the sense of being unethical, but illegal, too. This is something that people seem to forget in the IP space, and also in the technology space, which makes it unsurprising that we see it here. It’s the same impulse that leads people to ask if they can shotgun a drone that strays onto their property (No, no more than you can torch a car that parks in your driveway), or whether you can destroy the computers of people who have illegally downloaded your song. So whether or not FTDI has any trademark rights, copyrights, or other rights in whatever the knockoff chips are copying, the actual physical chips themselves are the property of their users, and FTDI doesn’t have the right to break them. A French vintner can’t stroll down the aisles of an American wine store with a hammer, shattering bottles of “California Champagne.” Roving gangs of Nike enforcers can’t rip fake Jordans off the feet of passing kids. And we don’t have Givenchy shock troops marching down Canal Street taking flamethrowers to fake handbags. If your IP rights are being infringed, the proper course of action is to go to court, not take the law into your own hands. Unfortunately, in this era of intellectual property maxmalism, people seem to forget these things. They assume that if you have a "fake" chip then obviously it's "okay" to break the device, because they falsely seem to believe that copyrights and trademarks and the like give the holder "all the rights over everything," rather than a limited set of rights over certain things. FTDI's response to all of this (including removing the driver from the latest Windows update) suggests (but does not outright claim) that it did this on purpose: As you are probably aware, the semiconductor industry is increasingly blighted by the issue of counterfeit chips and all semiconductor vendors are taking measures to protect their IP and the investment they make in developing innovative new technology. FTDI will continue to follow an active approach to deterring the counterfeiting of our devices, in order to ensure that our customers receive genuine FTDI product. Though our intentions were honourable, we acknowledge that our recent driver update has caused concern amongst our genuine customer base. I assure you, we value our customers highly and do not in any way wish to cause distress to them. Honorable intentions or not, counterfeit products or not, actively going in and breaking the property of others is not an acceptable response.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Your homeland has never been more secure. (h/t to Techdirt reader jupiterkansas) “They came in and there were two guys” Honig said. “I asked one of them what size he needed and he showed me a badge and took me outside. They told me they were from Homeland Security and we were violating copyright laws.” Peregrine Honig runs a lingerie shop in Kansas City. Not coincidentally, her shop was raided by DHS agents just as the World Series commenced. The target? "Boy shorts" sporting an approximation of the Kansas City Royals logo as well as the cheekily-applied phrase (yes, pun completely intended) "Take the crown." For purely illustrative purposes, here's the last known photo of the item now in the temporary possession of the Dept. of Homeland Security. They placed the underwear in an official Homeland Security bag and had Honig sign a statement saying she wouldn’t use the logo. Which she technically didn't. It was her own drawing, but the DHS agents pointed out that "connecting the K and C" turned it into the protected property of a major league baseball franchise. Up until the fortuitously-timed DHS raid, Honig had experienced no problems with law enforcement. "We'd had so many cops come in and buy these," Peregrine Honig says. The DHS has yet to comment on its pre-World Series panty raid. Neither has ICE, which is also usually fairly active in the days leading up to major sporting events. Neither agency has bothered to issue a press release about the hard work done in service to the multibillion-dollar entities currently attempting to "take the crown." Honig, however, has provided plenty of color commentary, including the fact that these particular DHS agents didn't appear to be reveling in their petty IP enforcement efforts. She says you could tell “they [DHS agents] felt like they were kicking a puppy.” At least there's still a little shame left in overzealous trademark enforcement. This is part of what your $39 billion a year in mandatory contributions gets you: a few dozen pairs of underwear seized, most likely at a cost exceeding the retail value of the "counterfeit" goods. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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When the first human genome was sequenced -- that is, when most of the 3 billion base-pairs that go to make up our DNA were elucidated -- as part of the Human Genome Project, around $3 billion was spent. Today, the cost of sequencing is falling even faster than Moore's Law, which means everyone could have their genome sequenced soon, if they wished (and maybe even if they don't....). By analyzing the DNA, and looking at the gene variants found there, it is possible to spot predispositions to certain diseases or medical conditions, potentially allowing lifestyle changes or treatment that reduce the risk. The well-known personal genomics company 23andMe was offering this kind of service, at least on a small scale. But that stopped at the end of last year, as the company explains: We no longer offer our health-related genetic reports to new customers to comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's directive to discontinue new consumer access during our regulatory review process. At this time, we do not know the timeline as to which health reports might be available in the future or when they might be available. According to an article in MIT Technology Review, here's what had happened: in November 2013, the Food and Drug Administration had cracked down on 23andMe. The direct-to-consumer gene testing company's popular DNA health reports and slick TV ads were illegal, it said, since they'd never been cleared by the agency. But as that same article goes on to explain in detail, users of 23andMe are having no difficulty in getting around that ban on obtaining health-related analyses of their genomes, using third-party sites like Promethease: Promethease was created by a tiny, two-man company run as a side project by Greg Lennon, a geneticist based in Maryland, and Mike Cariaso, a computer programmer. It works by comparing a person's DNA data with entries in SNPedia, a sprawling public wiki on human genetics that the pair created eight years ago and run with the help of a few dozen volunteer editors. Lennon says Promethease is being used to build as many as 500 gene reports a day. That kind of analysis is possible because, once sequenced, DNA is essentially just digital data: very easy to upload and compare against biomedical databases storing information as digital files. Even though they are not currently allowed to analyze it, companies like 23andMe still provide customers with access to the raw genomic data, which can then be sent to services like Promethease for a basic report drawing on its DNA database. This raises an interesting question: given that the information on SNPedia is drawn from public databases, can the FDA stop people using it to circumvent the ban on 23andMe? According to MIT Technology Review, the FDA believes the answers is "yes", but that just won't work in practice. Even if the FDA manages to shut down all the services like Promethease, it would be easy to write a program that searches the main public biomedical databases for exactly the same kind of information about particular gene variants found in somebody's genome. The software could be shared freely as open source, making it impossible to prevent people from obtaining the program and carrying out such searches independently on their own computers. It's true that there are good reasons why the FDA might be concerned about members of the public being given medical analyses of their genome in inappropriate ways. For a start, the results are generally probabilistic, rather than definite predictions; that makes them hard for non-experts to interpret. And when it isn't about probabilities -- if it is certain that you will develop a disease, possibly a devastating one -- there's a strong argument that counselling needs to be made available when that information is given to the person affected. Still, regardless of the extent to which the FDA's actions are understandable, trying to stop people comparing their DNA with publicly-available information is futile. As the copyright industry has learned the hard way, once data is digital, it is essentially uncontrollable. The best thing to do is to accept that fact and move on. In this case, that means the FDA should encourage companies offering analysis to do a good job, not block them completely. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've written plenty about the City of London Police and its Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), which despite an official jurisdiction covering a square mile of London, has made it clear that it considers itself Hollywood's private police force worldwide when it comes to stopping copyright infringement online. PIPCU has basically been a bumbling, censoring mess from the beginning. A year ago, it started ordering domain registrars to kill off websites with no court order and no legal basis -- demands that actually violated ICANN's policies. For registrars that ignored those baseless, bogus censorship demands, PIPCU started sending ridiculous threats claiming that they were engaged in criminal behavior. Of course, PIPCU's understanding of both the internet and "criminal" laws is suspect. The head of the unit, Adrian Leppard, claims that "the Tor" is "90% of the internet" and "is a risk to society." Another top officer, Andy Fyfe, somehow believes that if PIPCU isn't running around censoring sites there would be anarchy online. Of course, it's not just crazy statements and bogus threats. PIPCU is actually causing real damage. It has built a secret pirate blacklist over which there is no transparency, no due process and no appeal. On some of those sites, it is injecting advertisements that are mockably ridiculous (though the injections are potentially illegal in their own right). Much more troubling is that PIPCU has been completely shutting down websites and privacy services with no legal basis at all. And, when they did actually arrest someone -- claiming "industrial scale" infringement -- the eventual details were so weak that the case was completely dropped in a matter of weeks. Given the Keystone e-Cops nature of the City of London Police's PIPCU, you'd think that, maybe, just maybe, it would be time to disband PIPCU and let the City of London Police get back to protecting London's banks (its other main pasttime). Instead, the UK government has just given PIPCU a raise, dumping £3 million of UK taxpayer money into the group to continue its bumbling, censoring, technologically clueless ways. While I'm sure this makes some increasingly obsolete gatekeepers happy, it's hard to see how this helps content creators or the public in any way at all.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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While the NFL isn't necessarily great at preserving its own historical footage in sum total, the fact is that the league makes a great deal of money by selling copies of game footage and interviews from seasons since past. Recently, three former players opted out of a settlement the league had agreed to in a class action case and decided to pursue their own rewards for the NFL's use of old game footage and interviews. Their theory is that the league violated their publicity rights. Their theory is wrong. Now, thanks to the First Amendment and two other reasons, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson has ruled that the claims can't survive. In coming to the decision, Judge Magnuson looks at various productions like NFL Films' “1973 Houston Oilers Season Highlights" and "Cliffhangers, Comebacks & Character: The 1981 San Diego Chargers.” These productions weren't about Dryer, Bethea or White per se. The players were nevertheless shown on field, sometimes mentioned by name, and in some instances, interviewed about their playing days. The judge finds that these productions weren't commercial speech. The plaintiffs brought forward a theory that the productions were advertising because they served to enhance the NFL's brand, but the judge says that "brand enhancement alone is not sufficient to render a production advertising as a matter of law." Because the speech was deemed to not be advertising in nature, it falls under the protection of the First Amendment. That would be enough for the publicity rights claim to fall apart. Add to that the judge's finding that the former players were well-aware that game footage and interviews would be used in future broadcasts or publications before participating in the games or the interviews and you have a slam dunk dismissal. Even so, Judge Magnuson wasn't done. Further, and not insignificantly, the judge finds a third reason why the lawsuit must fail. The judge writes that the NFL has the right to exploit "copyrighted game footage in expressive works such as the NFL Films productions at issue here. The NFL’s valid copyright in the game footage forecloses Plaintiffs’ publicity claims." While I'm no fan of the current state of copyright in this country, seeing one form of intellectual property cannibalize another, more horrible form of IP is admittedly entertaining. Now, the NFL wins this case, but as the article points out, the NCAA may be the most interested observer in the metaphorical courtroom. The college sports megalith is in the middle of appealing the O'bannon case that is currently preventing me from playing NCAA Football '15 and could theoretically bring the association to its knees, all while giving way to an era in which college athletes get paid for their service. The NCAA's entire argument in that case rested on First Amendment grounds, which would appear to be bolstered by this NFL win. DV.load("//www.documentcloud.org/documents/1341908-242844379-dryer-sj.js", { width: 560, height: 550, sidebar: false, text: false, container: "#DV-viewer-1341908-242844379-dryer-sj" }); 242844379 Dryer SJ (PDF) 242844379 Dryer SJ (Text) Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The cost of getting an object into space is getting cheaper with time, so it's not too surprising that amateurs are starting to mess around with small satellites and vehicles that reach the edge of the Earth's atmosphere. Amateurs haven't achieved low Earth orbit without the help of actual aerospace companies, but citizen scientists could be getting closer to doing real space science on shoestring budgets. Here are just a few space exploration projects that didn't cost billions of taxpayer dollars. There are more than a handful of crowdfunded projects aiming to shoot stuff (including humans) into space. Copenhagen Suborbitals has an impressive following, but there are other amateur rocket scientists putting nano-satellites into low earth orbit and building novel thruster systems and space suits. The ability to do experiments in space has never been as accessible as it is today. [url] The Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) project is launching a 3D printed rocket at an altitude of over 65,000 feet from a helium balloon. It's a bit more complicated than most weather balloon projects, but it would need more sophisticated tech to get to the edge of space and beyond. [url] NASA is considering proposals to let some cubesats hitch a ride to Europa to complement its Clipper mission to Jupiter's icy moon. Ten universities are among the finalists to get a $25,000 grant to develop their cubesat experiments. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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This isn't a huge surprise, given Judge Alison Nathan's recent comments during the Aereo hearing, but Judge Nathan has now basically granted the networks what they want -- a pretty broad injunction (pdf) against Aereo. Judge Nathan doesn't buy the "okay, the Supreme Court said we looked like a duck, so now we'll pay like a duck" argument. To begin with, Aereo's argument suffers from the fallacy that simply because an entity performs copyrighted works in a way similar to cable systems it must then be deemed a cable system for all other purposes of the Copyright Act. The Supreme Court's opinion in Aereo III avoided any such holding. [....] the Supreme Court in Aereo III did not imply, much less hold, that simply because an entity performs publicly in much the same way as a CA TV system, it is necessarily a cable system entitled to a § 111 compulsory license.... Stated simply, while all cable systems may perform publicly, not all entities that perform publicly are necessarily cable systems, and nothing in the Supreme Court's opinion indicates otherwise. The court also makes quick work of Aereo's DMCA defense, noting that Aereo never even bothered to make a complete showing for how it could possibly be eligible for the DMCA's safe harbors. The judge doesn't fully grant the networks' request, but comes pretty close. Therefore, while Plaintiffs may have a viable argument that even Aereo's fully time-shifted retransmission of Plaintiffs' copyrighted works violates Plaintiffs' public performance right, the Court will not reach the issue at this preliminary stage of the litigation. Plaintiffs will be held to their earlier decision, strategic or otherwise, to seek a preliminary injunction limited in scope to enjoining retransmission of their copyrighted works while the works are still being broadcast. Likewise, Aereo cannot limit the scope of the preliminary injunction to anything short of the complete airing of the broadcast despite its contention at oral argument that the Supreme Court intended "near-live retransmission" to mean something less than a ten-minute delay. See, e.g., 10/15/14 Tr. 27 :22-24 ("So that nothing is transmitted within ten minutes of the beginning of the program, for example. That would be one way theoretically to handle it."). The preliminary injunction that was before the Supreme Court contemplated enjoining retransmission of Plaintiffs' copyrighted works while the works are still being broadcast and that is the injunction that will issue now. The questions involving the scope of the permanent injunction that Plaintiffs seek in this litigation can be addressed quickly, and finally, by this Court in short order following the close of discovery. As a matter of sound case management, the Court declines to address the broader scope question now, before the factual record is closed, and without the benefit of fuller briefing on the matter. In short, it's what was said at the hearing last week: the Supreme Court made it pretty clear that Aereo should die, so the judge is going to help make that happen.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Earlier this week, we wrote about how John Oliver had not only "solved" the problem of the Supreme Court not allowing cameras in the court (but releasing audio tape) by setting up a fake Supreme Court with dogs, but had also made the raw footage available and asked other news media to make use of them. I had wondered if anyone would actually take him up on it. There's at least one. The good folks over at The Verge have remixed the Supreme Court's hearings on Aereo, and it's pretty damn entertaining. They even make use of the shot of "Dog" Justice Alito humping "Dog" Justice Kagan. Nicely done.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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There was another large riot recently, one that resulted in a large police presence. Maybe you heard something about it. Maybe you didn't. Maybe the media portrayed this riot as "rowdiness" fueled by alcohol that just "got out of hand." Maybe it didn't. The annual Pumpkin Festival in Keene, New Hampshire, somehow devolved into overturned cars, smashed windows and lit fires, but there's been no extensive handwringing about the police response to that situation -- one composed mostly of white, college-age males. [h/t to Techdirt reader WulfTheSaxon for the NBC News link] The media handled this riot differently. There will be no #Keene hashtag activism. No one will bury the local cops for their response. The media -- some of the media -- soft-sold the damage and whitewashed the damage. But... the media is not a single entity. Scott Shackford at Reason posted the following image macro that breaks down the perceived difference in coverage. It's generally illustrative but of limited usefulness. As Shackford points out, this image vastly oversimplifies the media's reaction to both situations. However, there was a major difference in the police response. In Ferguson, the response was full-force from day one. Decisions -- terrible decisions -- were made almost immediately. These decisions, like the one pictured below in another convenient image meme, inflamed the situation. The last thing anyone wants to do is draw parallels to the racially-charged riots of the 1960's. And yet, talking heads couldn't seem to keep themselves from siding with The Man bringing Fergusonians down. Yeah, because that doesn't have any negative connotations. Here's where the actual disparity sets in. In Ferguson, the police rolled out in full military gear, using every piece of equipment at its disposal. Flak-jacketed SWAT members sat atop armored vehicles training weapons on protesters. Tear gas was heaved indiscriminately into crowds and onto people's front yards. Civil liberties were suspended without notice. Moving on to Keene, New Hampshire. A full-blown riot breaks out because of widespread drunkenness and the police respond with massive numbers and teargas. So far, so equal. But then the narrative splits and shows that there's a latent strain of discrimination running through law enforcement. To get to the root of this disparity, you have to step back to 2010, when Keene, NH, a town of 23,000, requested a DHS grant to obtain a BearCat, an armored SWAT vehicle made by Lenco. In both of its requests (2010-2011), it cited "domestic terrorism" as one of its major concerns, specifically noting the annual Pumpkin Festival's ability to draw "70,000 people" to the small Northeastern town. "Keene currently hosts several large public functions to include: an annual Pumpkin Festival, which draws upwards of 70,000 patrons to the City." The threat to the festival, the application noted, could "include the use of Radiological Dispersion Devices by terrorists," adding that such “dirty” bombs are "much more likely than the use of a nuclear device." The BearCat has radiation and chemical detection devices, and the application argued that no other vehicle in the county was capable of protecting, transporting and measuring such radiation. This acquisition made Keene a laughingstock. The mayor and city council tried twice to return the vehicle and grant money to the DHS without success. So, the BearCat has been in storage since 2011. And it's still there, despite an incident occuring that was exactly like the one cited in the hilarious grant request form. A riot… at the Pumpkin Festival… requiring an all-hands-on-deck police response… featuring tear gas and pepper spray bullets…. and yet, the BearCat stayed safely housed in its garage. The rioters knew Keene had a BearCat. For them, this drunken display of violence and vandalism was a game -- a way to safely dip a toe into the police state without worrying about being beaten severely or shot multiple times. Sure, there was a chance things could go horribly wrong, but the rioters knew the local police weren't going to break out the military gear. They knew their white, drunken, frat boy destruction would never result in a full-fledged response. So, they taunted the Keene cops. As black-clad police moved in on a group of students Saturday during beer-soaked riots that disrupted Keene, New Hampshire’s annual Pumpkin Festival, the students began to chant, “Bring out the BearCat! Bring out the BearCat!” Taunting the police. Contrast that with "Hands up, don't shoot!" Look at a drunken frat boy daring the cops to take their militarized toy out of the shed. Compare that to Ferguson cops taking every militarized tool out of the shed preemptively. Someone cries about a sniper or two on the rooftops in Keene. In Ferguson, the guys with guns point weapons at protesters whle sitting atop a PD assault vehicle. No one had to dare the Ferguson cops to get their DHS-supplied toys. All they had to do was go outside. Keene's police chief defends the BearCat in 2012: “Do I think al Qaeda is going to target Pumpkin Fest? No, but are there fringe groups that want to make a statement? Yes, and we should prepare for that.” No terrorism at Pumpkin Fest, but a riot broke out… and still, the BearCat continued to collect dust. There are no threats in this town, none that demand the purchase of an armored vehicle. That much has been proven. There are no threats of that seriousness in Ferguson, Missouri, and yet every single piece of militarized gear made an appearance. There's a huge difference between how the police treat black men and white men. The media knows it, but will only rarely address it. Cops know it. Their actions betray their inner thoughts. But worst of all, the drunken assholes who turned Pumpkin Fest into G20-via-beer-bong know it. This is why they can taunt the local cops. This is why they view this brush with riot gear-clad officers as a rush indistinguishable from taking the crotch rocket up to 180 mph on the nearest highway. Just another empty experience for a bunch of privileged assholes. Not "privileged" as in "rich" or "upper class." "Privileged" in the sense that not one of these mooks ever felt their lives were in danger, even though they were surrounded by cops. "Privileged" as in not being greeted by a phalanx of men in military fatigues, guns at the ready. Is it just overt discrimination from all involved? Not quite. What's happening here has happened for years. A lot of it is latent. Even those supposedly colorblind and highly conscious of their own motives find themselves just as susceptible to the normal narrative: African-Americans, especially men, are inherently dangerous. Lawrence Block, novelist and native New Yorker, has this to say in Eight Million Ways to Die, and it tells a nuanced story in a couple of lean sentences. I walked over to 125th Street. It was wide and busy and well-lit, but I was starting to feel the not entirely irrational paranoia of a white man on a black street. So, it's pervasive, institutionalized and, sadly, sometimes not entirely without merit. More crime is committed by black men, the stats say, failing to note that a cycle of violence and criminal activity is rarely righted by depressed living conditions or repeat incarcertation. The prisons fill with black men. White flight subverts integration. Black men are inherently suspect, inherently frightening. This view seeps into the system and sets up a neural network of involuntary responses. African-Americans in Ferguson walk with their hands up and are greeted with wooden bullets, tear gas and the assumption they're only outside to loot, fight or otherwise make things worse. "Hands up. Don't shoot." Caucasians in New Hampshire flip cars and smash windows. They too encounter a police response consisting of pepper spray bullets and tear gas canisters. But it's all just a game, both for the participants and the responding force. "Bring out the BearCat!" That's America: one nation, still heavily divided.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As the saying goes, death and taxes are both certainties -- as is the fact that politicians lie. But another near universal certainty is that Marvel will totally freak out whenever it gets the slightest inkling that its intellectual property is threatened. The latest head-scratching example of this was yesterday's leak of a trailer for The Avengers 2, which Marvel promptly DMCA'd. The first trailer for next year's sequel to Marvel's The Avengers leaked today, earlier than Marvel Studios was obviously planning. The mega studio originally planned to show the new trailer publicly next week during an episode of television show Agents of SHIELD...Update: The leaked version of the trailer's been pulled from host Tinypic. Looks like Marvel isn't too thrilled about the trailer's early leak. And you can see the studio's point. After all, movie trailers are advertisements, and Marvel certainly wouldn't want people advertising the studio's product to unbelievably hungry-for-anything fans out there. That might, you know, build up excitement for the new movie. What use could Marvel possibly have for that? As we know, now that the trailer has been leaked early before being taken down, literally nobody will see it during the Agents of SHIELD broadcast. Marvel must be totally screwed now, man. Game over. Oh, yeah, here's the trailer that leaked. Now, I'm sure you're wondering, "But, Tim, how could you possibly show us the trailer after Marvel DMCA'd the pants off of the leak?" Well, the answer is that I'm embedding that video from Marvel's own YouTube page. Yup, after the leak, and after it DMCA'd the leak because of how awful it was, Marvel then released the leaked trailer, prior to its original intended release, on its own YouTube page. Which brings me to several conclusions. First, Marvel has admitted that there is no point to issuing DMCA notices any longer; otherwise, the DMCA notice would have been enough and it would have continued to release the trailer at the originally intended time. Second, Marvel hates getting free advertising. That's all a trailer is, after all, and Marvel has decided that the same video shown on its YouTube page shouldn't be hosted elsewhere, by other parties, for free. Makes sense. After all, you wouldn't want people to know about your movie or anything.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Remember earlier this year when German newspaper publishers, led by rights management firm VG Media, demanded Google pay them a massive amount of money (11% of all ad revenue on any page linking to their works) for having the gall to send those publishers traffic via Google News? VG Media insisted that Google's use of "snippets" was illegal. German regulators rejected this demand, but VG Media was still pursuing legal efforts to force Google to pay. Given that, Google did what made the most sense and removed the snippets for VG Media associated publishers. You'd think that this would make VG Media happy. Instead, it claimed that Google was engaged in "blackmail." Yes, VG Media claimed that using snippets was illegal, but getting rid of them was "blackmail." The logic of a legacy industry. Taking that logic one step further, VG Media has now decided to (and I'm not making this up) grant Google a "free license" to let Google use the snippets. This whole thing was about money in the first place, and now VG Media isn't getting any money... and it looks ridiculous and foolish for having tried this in the first place. The end result is the same: snippets are in Google News, VG Media publications are getting traffic, but VG Media has made itself look silly.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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James Comey's pleas that something must be done for the [potentially-molested] children of the United States seem to be falling on mostly deaf ears. Mostly. After realizing that there's nothing in current laws that compels Google and Apple to punch law enforcement-sized holes in their default encryption, Comey has decided to be the change he wishes to force in others. Having set the stage with a Greek chorus comprised of law enforcement officials chanting "iPhones are for pedophiles," Comey is now making overtures to legislators, targeting an already-suspect law for further rewriting: CALEA, or the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. As it stands now, the law specifically does NOT require service providers to decrypt data or even provide law enforcement with the means for decryption. Up until this point, the FBI's director seemed to consider Congressional support a foregone conclusion. Last week, FBI director James Comey suggested that encryption "threatens to lead all of us to a very dark place" and suggested that if Apple and Google don't remove default encryption from iOS and Android then "Congress might have to force this on companies." Now, Congress members are firing back at Comey, reminding him that Congress doesn't have to do shit. "To FBI Director Comey and the Admin on criticisms of legitimate businesses using encryption: you reap what you sow," California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa tweeted. "The FBI and Justice Department must be more accountable—tough sell for them to now ask the American people for more surveillance power." Rep. Zoe Lofgren estimates Comey's legislative "fix" has a "zero percent" chance of passing. This tepid statement is the warmest response Comey's received so far. “It's going to be a tough fight for sure,” Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the Patriot Act’s original author, told The Hill in a statement. Of course, in this anti-surveillance climate, there aren't too many representatives willing to openly support toxic rewrites like the one Comey desires. But give it a few more years and anything's possible. This is the time to start watching upcoming bills closely. It's not completely unheard of for unpopular legislation to be tacked onto other bills whose popularity (or complete mundanity) gives them a higher chance of passing. Comey also still seems to think that it's simply a matter of wording. He's done all he can to portray the encrypted future as a nightmarish world where child abusers, drug dealers and terrorists run amok while law enforcement fumbles around in the dark. This clumsy propaganda machine has done little to soften up the public or its representatives. Now, he's shifting gears, pretending that it's not a "backdoor" he's seeking, but rather some sort of magical doggie door for law enforcement. “We want to use the front door with clarity and transparency,” he said. How that word picture converts to real life remains to be seen. Comey doesn't seem to have any idea but believes the answer runs through an amended CALEA. The good news is that no one's in any hurry to help him out. The FBI (and much of law enforcement) is so used to getting what they want (as well as being completely absent when it's time to reap what's been sown) with minimal resistance that this pushback has forced them to think on their feet -- something they're clearly not comfortable doing. Between talk of "golden keys" and the hilarious assumption that Congress would simply do as it's told, the FBI's anti-encryption fit-pitching is looking more ridiculous by the moment. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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You don't have to be affiliated with any known terrorist group to be added to the government's terrorist watchlist. The Intercept's publication of the numbers behind the massive amount of people the government's keeping an eye on made that perfectly clear. A full 40% of the list -- 288,000 people -- are there without any particular justification. The agencies making these nominations clearly can't articulate why certain people should receive enhanced searches and questioning each and every time they seek to board a domestic flight. But they nominate these people anyway, using something no more scientific (or counter-terroristic) than a hunch. Kashmir Hill at Forbes has a great profile of (not-very-anonymous-after-all) blogger Peter Young, who has received the dreaded SSSS designation from the TSA. Ringing up 4 S's means every TSA agent thinks you're a terrorist and every visit to the airport means extra patdowns and questioning. Young has been detailing the humdrum existence of your everyday terrorist over at his blog, "Jetsetting Terrorist," where he notes that his decidedly non-terroristic appearance causes the consternation and confusion at smaller airports where 4-S designations are few and far between. Not that being a jetsetting terrorist doesn't have its upsides… He discovers some of the hidden benefits of being labeled a terrorist: his boarding pass is a ticket to the front of the security line. He realizes he can turn the confusion over his flying status into a free flight and drink vouchers. He also speculates as to why those on the terrorist watchlist aren't allowed to sit by emergency exits. Terrorists hate humans so much we would physically block exit points in the event of a crash and/or fire. They make you do that weird verbal confirmation thing after the fight attendant recites that exit row speech, and we’re known for only speaking Arabic. The TSA just likes making stupid rules vacant of any rationale. "Stupid rules vacant of any rationale" aptly describes a large swath of the Terrorist Watchlist, including Young's 4-S status, which prevents him from utilizing technological advancements like checking in electronically using a mobile device or a kiosk. As far as Young can tell, it's a nearly two-decade-old misdemeanor that's keeping him from traveling without additional molestation. His full time job is running an online business, but he is also a prominent animal activist; the latter is what garners him the extra TLC from the TSA. The property crime for which he was convicted dates back to 1997 when he went on a cross-country road trip freeing minks from fur farms in three states. His weapon of mass destruction was a pair of bolt cutters. On the lam for a number of years, he was apprehended and tried in 2005, and found guilty of “animal extortion terrorism.” "Animal extortion terrorism" isn't covered under the guidelines for the Terrorism Watchlist. In fact, Young was only ever convicted of a misdemeanor (pleading down from a felony) and served on two years for his federal crime. But that's still enough to make him a feared traveler, one who is never to be trusted, not even 17 years removed from the "crime spree" that first drew the government's attention. While the prosecutor tried to connect Young with a group the DHS actually recognizes as domestic terrorists (the Animal Liberation Front), it didn't stick. Young denies any connection with the animal rights extremists. There's another reason Young is blogging about his experiences: this very public outing of his TSA-stained laundry makes it that much tougher for the US government to simply "disappear" him, air travel-wise. According to the Intercept, there were 16 people on the No-Fly list in 2001; in 2013, it had exploded to 47,000. “I’m worried the government will slowly move people from the Selectee list to the No-Fly list,” Young says. “I want a podium to speak from in case that does happen to me.” As has been noted here, the No-Fly list is an unconstitutional joke. The "redress process" is so horribly ineffective that a court actually declared it to be a violation of Americans' civil rights. The Terrorism Watchlist is not only broader, but it's possibly more damaging. While it won't actually prevent you from flying (provided you don't mind every trip to the airport being the Full TSA Security Theater Experience), it does open your life up to a whole lot more government scrutiny. In addition to data like fingerprints, travel itineraries, identification documents and gun licenses, the rules encourage screeners to acquire health insurance information, drug prescriptions, “any cards with an electronic strip on it (hotel cards, grocery cards, gift cards, frequent flyer cards),” cellphones, email addresses, binoculars, peroxide, bank account numbers, pay stubs, academic transcripts, parking and speeding tickets, and want ads. The digital information singled out for collection includes social media accounts, cell phone lists, speed dial numbers, laptop images, thumb drives, iPods, Kindles, and cameras. All of the information is then uploaded to the TIDE database. Screeners are also instructed to collect data on any “pocket litter,” scuba gear, EZ Passes, library cards, and the titles of any books, along with information about their condition—”e.g., new, dog-eared, annotated, unopened.” Business cards and conference materials are also targeted, as well as “anything with an account number” and information about any gold or jewelry worn by the watchlisted individual. Even “animal information”—details about pets from veterinarians or tracking chips—is requested. The rulebook also encourages the collection of biometric or biographical data about the travel partners of watchlisted individuals. This is from the same rulebook and documents that admitted that nearly 300,000 of the 680,000 people on the government's Terrorist Watchlist have "no recognized terrorist group affiliation." Just another ridiculous facet of the Dept. of Homeland Security's security theater: loading up on unrelated "extras" just so it can boast it has a "cast of thousands" (and demand a budget of billions!). No terrorism experience necessary. Enjoy your flight! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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One of the many problems with the debate on mass surveillance is that it is largely driven by emotions, on both sides. Facts are few and far between -- much is secret, for obvious reasons -- which makes objective discussion hard. What is needed is some rigorous research into this area. Surprisingly, it turns out the European Union has been funding just such a project, called "Surveille," a name derived from "Surveillance: Ethical Issues, Legal Limitations, and Efficiency." Here are the project's aims: 1. To provide a comprehensive survey of the types of surveillance technology deployed in Europe. 2. To assess the benefits and costs of surveillance technology. 'Benefits' refers to the delivery of improved security; 'costs' to the economic costs, negative public perceptions, negative effects on behaviour and infringement of fundamental rights. 3. To identify, elaborate and assess the whole range of legal and ethical issues raised by the use of surveillance technology in the prevention, investigation and prosecution of terrorism and other crime -- including those related to fundamental rights. 4. To communicate continuously the results of the research to a representative sample of stakeholders: European decision-makers, law enforcement professionals, local authorities, and technology developers, and to receive feedback to inform continuing research. A post on the Just Security site by Professor Martin Scheinin, the coordinator of the Surveille project, gives a good summary of the latest results of the research, which have been released as a 50-page paper entitled "Assessing Surveillance in the Context of Preventing a Terrorist Act" (pdf). Here's what he writes: Electronic mass surveillance -- including the mass trawling of both metadata and content by the US National Security Agency -- fails drastically in striking the correct balance between security and privacy that American officials and other proponents of surveillance insist they are maintaining. We arrived at this conclusion by subjecting a wide-range of surveillance technologies to three separate assessments by three parallel expert teams representing engineers, ethicists, and lawyers. Each team conducted assessments of surveillance technologies, looking at ethical issues they raise; the legal constraints on their use – or those that should exist – on the basis of privacy and other fundamental rights; and, finally, their technical usability and cost-efficiency. This work was fed into and commented upon by two end-user panels, one consisting of law enforcement officials and the other of representatives of cities and municipalities. The main academic paper is not at all dry; that's because it consists largely of a detailed analysis of real-life surveillance techniques of the kind frequently discussed here on Techdirt. It subjects them to assessments from very different viewpoints -- technical, ethical and legal. Interesting as these are, it's the final conclusions that are most important, because they give the lie to the oft-expressed view that mass surveillance is somehow "justified" by the results it produces: Various kinds of Internet monitoring techniques are applied side by side with more traditional surveillance techniques. We find most of the Internet monitoring applications both ethically and legally impermissible, assessing them poorly in comparison with traditional, non-technology based surveillance methods. Furthermore, the Internet monitoring techniques compare poorly with the traditional techniques also in terms of usability. ... Internet monitoring techniques, with the exception of targeted social networking analysis, represent an unacceptable interference with fundamental rights to privacy and data protection, the deepest ethical risks of chill and damage to trust, intrusion and discrimination, while also violating moral norms of proportionality of methods and consent of the policed. Meanwhile these high moral and legal costs reflect a mostly middling to poor usability benefit, performing worse with regard to cost, efficiency and privacy-by-design than lower tech alternatives. The case for a mass Internet monitoring system is found wanting. A crucial point made there, so often ignored in debates about mass surveillance, is that low-tech approaches are generally better. In other words, there is no need to trade off fundamental rights for safety by spying on the entire Internet: greater security can be provided by adopting traditional, well-regulated, non-technology-based surveillance methods that do not require everyone to give up their privacy online. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A woman deploys spyware on her soon-to-be ex-husband's phone, an act that is probably more common than anyone wants to admit, but one that rarely results in criminal charges. In this case, however, her husband happened to be employed by the Pacific Grove (CA) Police Department. If not for that simple fact, would there have been an investigation, much less charges brought? This story deals with multiple layers of official privilege -- the extra attention those labeled "law enforcement" receive as victims of criminal activity, as well as the extra access law enforcement officers have, and how easily it can be abused. Kristin Nyunt was charged by information* today with two counts of illegal wiretapping and the possession of illegal interception devices, announced United States Attorney Melinda Haag and FBI Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson. According to the information, from 2010 to 2012, Nyunt, 40, most recently of Monterey Calif., is alleged to have intercepted communications, including sensitive law enforcement communications, by means that included “spy software” that the defendant secretly installed on the mobile phone of a police officer. The information also alleges that during the same period she illegally possessed interception devices, namely spy software including Mobistealth, StealthGenie, and mSpy, knowing that the design of those products renders them primarily useful for the purpose of the surreptitious interception of wire, oral, and electronic communications. *An "information" is merely a sheet detailing allegations brought by prosecutors. According to the San Francisco Gate, Nyunt tapped a specific target with this spyware (including the spyware law enforcement loves to hate: StealthGenie): her (now) ex-husband. This is the sort of thing one expects to be more frequent, considering the ease of use and the ubiquitousness of cell phones. Estranged wife spies on spouse. (Or vice versa.) But this is just the latest wrinkle in an extremely twisted narrative that dates back to 2010. John Nyunt, the cop allegedly spied on by Kristin Nyunt, started up his own unlicensed private detective firm a few years ago while still a commander in the Pacific Grove Police Dept. He apparently used his department's database access to augment his side gig. That would be bad enough, but he also handed out his login and credentials to Kristin Nyunt, who illegally accessed a database meant for law enforcement use only. John Nyunt also racked up additional charges by defrauding a customer of his private investigation firm. A former Pacific Grove police commander has pleaded guilty to charges that he steered a possible crime victim to his private investigation firm, then merely pretended to look into her case after accepting $10,000, authorities said Wednesday. John Nyunt, 51, admitted Tuesday in U.S. District Court in San Jose that he hadn’t investigated the woman’s complaint that she was the victim of electronic surveillance and stalking after referring her to his private firm. Nyunt also promised the woman a security force comprised of off-duty officer and told another officer to not follow up on her complaint but instead forward any information given directly to him. Despite having all the tools to do the job, Nyunt did nothing. In addition to the state and federal charges arising from these two indictments, John Nyunt is also facing charges for the attempted murder… of Kristin Nyunt. That Kristin wouldn't trust her husband isn't surprising. Untrustworthy people find it very hard to trust others. Kristin didn't use her illegal access to the law enforcement database to help the Nyunts' fledgling, completely illegal private investigation firm get off the ground. No, she used it to commit identity theft. When she wasn't pretending to be a cop so she could pretend to be someone else, she was stealing paintings and collectors coins from people's homes. The mobile spyware is the tip of the iceberg. The irony that law enforcement would love to have this much access to everyone's cell phone isn't exactly lost in this situation. But it is very muted. The bigger story here is that the spyware charges are the final detail of a long, sordid narrative where everything trust-related that could be abused WAS abused. A cop uses his extra access privileges to run a home business. He shares the wealth and his wife steals peoples' identities and physical belongings. Along the way, the cop/private dick screws customers and tries to kill his wife. In the end, they'll both be serving time, but it took more than two straight years of access without accountability before investigators brought it to a halt. And it took Nyunt's being a cop to even get investigators to look twice at his wife's use of mobile spyware. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A few years ago, we released our Sky is Rising report, looking at the state of the global entertainment industry, in which we found that, contrary to the story of gloom and doom that was being spread by some special interests, the real story was quite exciting. What we found when we looked at the actual numbers was that we are in a true renaissance of creativity, with massively more content -- video, movies, books, music and video games -- being produced these days than ever before. Perhaps more importantly, we saw that the amount of money being spent on these things also continued to increase -- though it didn't always flow through the same channels as in the past. This combination of factors -- more content producers, many new channels -- often led some people to insist that the industry was collapsing, rather than the truth, that it was growing rapidly, just in more distributed ways. That represented certain challenges for many people in the creative industries -- but from a public policy standpoint, it certainly suggested that things were pretty good -- not deathly bad, as was often implied. Last year, we came out with a follow up report that focused on Europe -- noting a similar pattern in various European countries, though with some countries facing unique and interesting challenges. However, one interesting aspect of that report was that we saw a stronger pattern of success in those areas where innovation was allowed to thrive and flourish, rather than be held back. Today we're launching the third report in this series, The Sky is Rising, 2014 Edition, focused on the United States in particular. And, once again, we see the same basic story. Lots of growth. Tons more content being produced. Lots of stories of new business models and artists connecting with their fans in new and unique ways. We're seeing new markets develop, along with new tools to help those markets. But the key story is the same as always: there is more content being produced today than ever before, and it's helped along by innovative technology, as the two often go hand in hand. More content than ever before is being produced, and content creators have more new and powerful ways to create, to distribute, to build a fan base, to connect and to build a business model -- and that's quite exciting. At the same time, there's a push underway to reform our copyright laws -- something that we agree needs reform. And, yet, strangely, much of the rhetoric around reform has been based on the idea that the content world is suffering, or that there's some sort of "Hollywood vs. Silicon Valley" battle going on. The actual evidence suggests no such thing at all. Rather, it suggests that when innovation is allowed to flourish nearly everyone benefits. More content creators are able to do much more and create much more content. More fans are able to experience and consume much more content while supporting content creators in new and unique ways. From a public policy standpoint, it seems like things have been trending in the right way for a long time. If there's to be any sort of public policy change it should be to try to speed up that process, rather than to slow it down. You can read the full report below. Once again, as with the previous editions of this report, we'd like to thank CCIA for sponsoring and publishing the paper.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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