posted about 1 hour ago on techdirt
For years we've talked about the journalistic perils of what journalism professor Jay Rosen calls the "view from nowhere," or the pretty common misconception that journalists should prioritize factual symmetry in news reporting, instead of actually trying to get to the truth. This usually results in "he said, she said" reporting where both sides are given equal weight (even if one side is clearly being intentionally misleading), with the idea that the reader can then ferret out the truth, while the journalist him or herself stands stoically protected from accusations of "bias" because they refused to take a real stand. Rosen put it this way during an interview back in 2010: "Frequently it places the journalist between polarized extremes, and calls that neither-nor position “impartial.” Second, it’s a means of defense against a style of criticism that is fully anticipated: charges of bias originating in partisan politics and the two-party system. Third: it’s an attempt to secure a kind of universal legitimacy that is implicitly denied to those who stake out positions or betray a point of view. American journalists have almost a lust for the View from Nowhere because they think it has more authority than any other possible stance." The problem, as you'll often see in modern reporting, is this bid to embrace false equivalency often tends to ignore what's actually true. It's a major contributor to the partisan strife that's ripping the country apart, and it's frequently exploited by companies and politicians who use it to perpetuate outright falsehoods, since even the dumbest ideas must, under this model, be treated with perfect journalistic symmetry. The problem is a journalist's job isn't just to just report cold claims, it's to get to the truth -- often by adding necessary context. Trump's manipulation of the press is the pinnacle of this dysfunction. One extension of the view from nowhere is the newsroom idea that journalists should be unfeeling automatons on social media, hiding their true opinions (even if those opinions are fueled by years of experience on a subject) from readers, especially when engaging on social media. Case in point: late last week Axios co-founder and CEO Jim VandeHei penned this blog post in which he proclaimed to have devised a solution to the "fake news" problem that's currently plaguing the world. One of those solutions, according to VandeHei, was to urge newsrooms to ban reporters from having opinions online: "News organizations should ban their reporters from doing anything on social media — especially Twitter — beyond sharing stories. Snark, jokes and blatant opinion are showing your hand, and it always seems to be the left one. This makes it impossible to win back the skeptics." Yes, banning reporters from joking online will surely fix everything. VandeHei's "solution" solves nothing, but does indicate he doesn't understand that in the modern media age, the sterile, false objectivity he supports directly contributes to the fake news he proclaims to have the cure for, and the "skeptics" he's trying to appease long ago stopped making claims of bias in good faith, since a key component of modern partisan tribalism involves wielding the word "bias" as a bludgeon against any discordant opinions. Meanwhile, why can't reporters make jokes if their reporting is driven by integrity? How exactly does a snarky comment on Twitter magically erode a career's worth of reporting? Ironically, VandeHei's solution is one of the things actually creating the "fake news" he's claiming to have the cure for. Under this model of journalism, instead of debunking clearly false statements and giving them less weight when appropriate (say when Ajit Pai clearly spreads falsehoods about net neutrality for the eightieth time), these kinds of reporters tend to give those claims equal attention, assuming the reader can ferret out the truth. That manifests itself constantly in issues like net neutrality, where false claims are often amplified in headlines and throughout a story, counterbalanced by the other take (usually partisan in nature) as if both sides are somehow correct and Ajit Pai hasn't been lying his ass off on this subject for the better part of two straight years. The only positive outcome of that falsely-symmetrical reporting is you've amplified what's often outright disinformation and given the reader no context to debunk it. More well-rounded reporting in the post-truth era absolutely must evolve, stop playing patty cake, and call a duck a duck when it's factually appropriate. Donald Trump, Ajit Pai and their ilk thrive under this view from nowhere because it often assumes that to be fair, blatant lies are just "one half of the story." Fortunately numerous folks were quick to ridicule VendeHei's take, including New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik, who quite correctly points out that you don't just magically "build trust" by banning your reporters from sharing years of informed opinion on social media: What idiot would believe that? In what other aspect of journalism do we believe that hiding information from the public serves the public? 4/ — James Poniewozik (@poniewozik) October 21, 2018 Others, like reporter Karen Ho, were correct to point out that white, wealthy males are usually the ones who get to define what objectivity means in many major media newsrooms, something VandeHei doesn't seem all-too keyed in on: I have some opinions on this, and I can tweet them, because I don't work for @axios: https://t.co/Zct9H6QoEz pic.twitter.com/njoXVnRgpt — Karen K. Ho 嘉 韻 (@karenkho) October 21, 2018 Again, "he said she said" reporting has been absolutely fatal for America, and to suggest that banning your reporters from expressing their informed opinions (or god forbid being snarky about it on Facebook) doesn't even come close to understanding the problem, much less fixing it. And this is all before you even get to the oceans of disinformation (both foreign and domestic) that's been happily kicking the truth in the crotch in this country for the better part of a generation. As we've noted previously, it's not "bias" if you're genuinely seeking the truth or pointing out obvious falsehoods, snark or not. It's "bias" if you refuse to call a patently false statement a false statement, or help give clearly inaccurate arguments weight they don't deserve. This belief that journalists should stand stoically silent in an illusory "middle," apply perfect dispassionate symmetry to all things, and then assume the reader can just mystically infer the truth from your sterile, often incomplete reporting--is one of the biggest reasons we're currently facing a disinformation apocalypse in the first place. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 3 hours ago on techdirt
The Little Rock drug raid story is appalling. The indiscriminate, repeated, and systemic violation of the Fourth Amendment has been enormously destructive to people's lives, as well as an entire community. But if this situation is to be remedied, and hopefully it will be, it will be thanks to the First Amendment. Most obviously, the First Amendment is what has allowed for Radley Balko's reporting of the story. Speaking truth about power is only possible with strong press protection. By allowing injustice to be discovered and shared, justice becomes possible. With Balko's reporting the public at large can now be aware of the abuse being done in their name, and the revelation is what will allow people to press for change. As it is, publication of the story has already led to charges being dropped against one of its other victims. Just heard that earlier today, Little Rock prosecutors dropped all charges against Derrick Davis. I wrote about him in my piece on LRPD's narcotics unit. The same informant caught lying in Roderick Talley's case alleged he also bought drugs from Davis. https://t.co/l7CHiDjp8s — Radley Balko (@radleybalko) October 19, 2018 Victim Roderick Talley's own First Amendment rights also made a difference, and in several ways. One important way is that they gave him the right to film the world around him, and that let him record the police's abuse, which provided him with compelling evidence to use in his pursuit of justice. The complex where he currently resided had recently put out a notice to residents to be on the alert for break-ins. So Talley bought a security system to monitor both the inside and outside of his apartment. About a week before the raid, the outdoor camera picked up some strange activity outside Talley’s apartment. As he sat handcuffed while police officers rifled through his belongings, he began to make the connection. The outside camera had recorded two odd incidents. First, a man whom Talley didn’t know approached the apartment while Talley wasn’t home. Looking anxious, the man knocked, waited a few moments and then left. A few days later, the camera picked up a police officer outside the door. The officer looked around, snapped a photo of Talley’s door with his cellphone, and left. . […] After reading the affidavit, Talley went back to check the camera footage of his mysterious visitor from the previous week. “Sure enough,” he says. “The dates matched up. And nobody else came to my apartment that day.” The informant described in the affidavit was the same man Talley’s camera had recorded knocking on his door, waiting and then leaving. Talley wasn’t home at the time. The account given by the detectives and informant was false. And Talley had the video to prove it. His access to public records was also critical. Through them he was able to discover patterns of abuse affecting not just him but his fellow citizens. In the months after his own raid, Talley filed open-records requests for every warrant and affidavit involving the detectives who handled his case. He then expanded out and asked for warrants related to other officers on the drug unit. In those records was also another important piece of information: the informant's mugshot. Remember the story here about mugshots? The one about how people were arrested for having posted these completely public records, simply because they made the editorial decision about which ones to post based on a profit motive? This story shows why it is so important that they be public records that the public has ready access to. Because with the mugshot Talley was able to figure out what had happened to him and others. A name on a search warrant application is an abstraction; but with the picture he could compare the affidavit to his security camera footage to spot the lies. Over the ensuing weeks, Talley scoured Facebook and Instagram. He talked to residents of the apartments and the surrounding neighborhood. He started watching the Arkansas courts website for cases that looked similar to his. He eventually found a mug shot of the informant. The man who falsely claimed to have purchased cocaine from Talley is a nine-time felon whose criminal record includes nine convictions for theft and another five for burglary. He has also been convicted for giving a false name to police officers after an arrest, for filing a false police report, and, while behind bars, for writing a death threat to a police officer, forging another inmate’s signature on the threat, and then reporting the threat in exchange for reducing his own charges. The mugshot also helped him compare notes with other victims, some of whom remembered seeing the informant lurking around the neighborhood. Talley found Davis’s case late last year on the Arkansas courts site. After contacting Davis, Talley showed him a photo of the informant. “Oh, that was him,” Davis says. “That was the guy who came to my apartment. He has what you might call a unique look. You don’t forget a guy like that.” The informant told the police that Davis sold him cocaine. The police found only pot, a scale, Davis’s gun, bullets and the registration for his gun. And then there was social media. Not only did it help him figure out what had happened by letting him find posts and pictures from others' affected, but it gave him a forum to speak out about what had happened to him, and to reach out to other affected community members – er, at least until he was censored by Facebook for having posted public information about the state actors who had abused him… He also continued to use social media to publicize his case and reach out to others who may have been raided. He says he was at one point suspended from Facebook for posting the officers’ identities, photos and contact information, though Talley insists this was all public record. His First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of his grievances is also what allowed him to sue for the violation of his other rights. The city tried to seal all the records associated with the case, but fortunately a judge refused to allow that impingement of his First Amendment rights to add to the list of constitutional injuries. In response to the lawsuit, the city’s first move was to ask a judge to seal the search warrants, affidavits and everything else Talley had found — including Talley’s own security camera videos. Laux and Crump fought the motion and won. Talley had obtained all of that information from his own cameras or from public records. The city couldn’t then bar him from sharing or publishing it. Because Talley's story, and the records evidencing it, are able to remain in public view, we are able to learn about a renegade police force running around one of America's cities, unfettered by the constitutional limitations put on police power. Fortunately knowledge is power, and thanks to the First Amendment we can start to fight back. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 3 hours ago on techdirt
The Ultimate Python Programmer's Bootcamp Bundle contains 6 courses to take you from a coding beginner to a pro with over 45 hours of training. Python is a general-purpose programming language which can be used to solve a wide variety of problems, be they in data analysis, machine learning, or web development. You'll learn to do such things as perform password complexity analysis, work with databases including SQLite and Postgres, explore MongoDB, and more. It's on sale for $39. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 4 hours ago on techdirt
I've threatened in the past to write up a post explaining why a blockchain-based DRM is a terrible idea that will flop -- and it appears I finally need to do so, with the sort of announcement that Sony is preparing to use the blockchain for "next-gen DRM." I should note that, unlike some people, I'm actually not a blockchain skeptic. I think that it does have a few potentially revolutionary and disruptive uses. But... I also think that nearly every use of the blockchain that has been championed so far is incredibly silly and pointless. In most cases, what people claim they're using a blockchain for would better be served with... a database. If you're just replacing a database with a blockchain-based system, all you're really doing is adding unnecessary inefficiency and complexity. So while a blockchain does have efficiency and complexity weaknesses compared to a database, it does have two potential advantages -- but only if those advantages are necessary to the service being built. The first advantage is that the blockchain can be truly distributed, rather than centralized. For years, we've discussed the problems of too many centralized systems, whether it's the siloing of information, the weird incentives it creates for the central database controller, or simply the fact that a centralized system creates a single point of failure and/or point of attack for a would-be assailant. A blockchain can help limit (though not eliminate) some of those problems -- and that can open up some incredible new services. The second big thing that a blockchain does better than a database is that it creates a more trustworthy way to prevent the "double spending" problem. The issue there is that with anything digital, it can always be copied and/or manipulated in some way. If you are trying to construct something that requires scarcity -- such as a digital currency or a specific ledger of asset ownership -- then you want to be sure that the system really has a 100% accurate record, and won't allow the same bit of digital currency to be held by multiple people (or allowing it to be spent multiple times by the same person) or, that the same asset is listed as being owned by different entities. One of the cool features of the Blockchain is that it is designed such that people can be fairly cryptographically certain that we don't have that sort of "double spending" problem. You do have to trust the math and the code, but the code is open and people are constantly checking it. Now, you can claim a centralized database can prevent these kinds of things too, but you have to totally trust whoever is in control over that centralized database. And you might. Most of the money you probably have is really in a centralized database at your bank. But, there are some advantages to have that record be on a publicly distributed ledger a la the blockchain. The issue, of course, is finding services and applications that can really take advantage of these benefits of the blockchain, and so far, they are few and far between, though there are plenty of future possibilities where they could be super useful. For years now, we've heard some people arguing for a blockchain-based DRM. This idea is at least marginally better than simply replacing a database with an unnecessary blockchain, because at the very least, it is an attempt (a weak one, but an attempt) to leverage one of the advantages I discuss above: the double spending issue. Obviously, as lots of people will tell you, the legacy copyright industries have decried the fact that the internet makes content super easy to copy, making their legal monopoly over the distribution of that content less than monopolistic. Thus, the folks who wish to go back to a world in which content is locked up, hear about how a blockchain "solves" the double spending problem, and they get excited: why couldn't we use that as DRM? After all, isn't the point of that aspect of the blockchain that it stops copying of digital assets? But, that's about as far as the thought process goes. Because from there, it completely breaks down. There are few actual details about Sony's blockchain-based DRM idea, but it's not difficult to understand why it will fail. First, it's important to understand something that copyright supporters frequently forget: the copyright on something is different from the content itself. Copyright system supporters like to conflate the content itself and the "intellectual property." But as we've explained in the past while a "copyright" may have property-like elements, the underlying content does not. The blockchain-based system for solving the double spend problem is a useful solution when it's the record or ledger entry that you don't want copied. But that's not what any DRM system would be. Because the "record" is the copyright information -- not the music/movie/book/etc. And who cares whether or not you can copyright the copyright information? You're solving the wrong problem? The content itself can still get copied. There's no way to stop that, because even if you were to somehow encode the actual content in the blockchain (a pointless idea), you'd still have the analog hole to deal with, as the content would inevitably escape the blockchain. The other reason why a blockchain-based DRM solution is so dumb is because it actively goes against what the public wants. The reason a disruptive or transformational technology works is because it provides the public with something much better than they had before. A blockchain-based DRM solution provides a worse solution. There is no demand for such a thing. Sure, there may be "demand" on the label side, but that doesn't translate to usage. The final reason why a blockchain-based DRM solution is utterly stupid is conveyed quite nicely by Cory Doctorow in his BoingBoing post about this announcement, in which he notes that what Sony is proposing appears to be a privacy nightmare: Sony also implies that every transaction in which someone buys a creative work will end up in the ledger. This has extremely grave privacy implications, but it also has nothing to do with preventing copyright infringement. People who lawfully acquire copyrighted works have the right to sell them, lend them, and give them away -- and they are not liable if (for example) their data (including copyrighted works) is stolen and released online. The fact that Sony publishes a list of the reading, viewing and listening habits of every one of its customers does not give it any basis for seeking damages from those customers if works they purchased show up in someone else's hands. The whole idea of a blockchain-based DRM is based on a faulty understanding of either the blockchain, copyright, or (most likely) both. It involves people who wish to return to a world of artificial scarcity around content not thinking past the fact that a blockchain lets you solve the double-spend problem, without understanding why that doesn't make any sense at all in the world of copyright, where it's the content that's the issue, and not the copyright. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 7 hours ago on techdirt
So we've made it pretty clear by now that the FCC's entire justification for repealing net neutrality was based entirely on fluff and lobbyist nonsense. But because the Administrative Procedure Act requires that regulators actually provide hard data to justify massive reversals in policy, both the Ajit Pai FCC and his BFFs at Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T have clung tightly to one, completely false claim: that net neutrality harmed network investment. But as we've stated countless times, that's simply not true. That's not an opinion, it's based on SEC filings, earnings reports, and the on-the-record statements of nearly a dozen telecom industry CEOs. That undeniable fact hasn't really bothered the folks at US Telecom, the telecom industry's biggest lobbying and policy organization. The group last week penned a blog post with an accompanying graph proudly proclaiming that telecom network investment was on a sharp upward trajectory after the repeal of net neutrality. From the missive: "Broadband investment rebounded in 2017, as a series of positive consumer and innovation policies and a pro-growth regulatory approach helped reverse the industry’s previous spending pullback, according to new research released today by USTelecom." "Lobbying organization's skewed research confirms lobbying group's claims! News at 11." To "prove" their point, US Telecom released this handy graph showing the spike in 2017 investment: One obvious problem: net neutrality wasn't officially repealed until June of 2018, making any claim that the 2017 CAPEX spike was due to its repeal utterly laughable. And again, it's worth noting that even the 2015 dip US Telecom leans so heavily on has been hotly contested. CAPEX dips in 2015 for AT&T, for example, came because the company ended a wave of U-Verse broadband upgrades, not because of net neutrality. Similar CAPEX dips at Charter occurred because the company ended the deployment of digital cable adapters. Other ISPs saw CAPEX spikes during that same period. CAPEX and network investment fluctuations can occur due to a myriad of things, from a company ending its planned roll out of a new set top box, to the routine deployment of standard security improvements. ISPs routinely hire economists who are willing to fiddle with the math and cherry pick very specific windows of CAPEX to suggest net neutrality is to blame. But massaged data funded by telecom lobbyists isn't science, it's theater. Meanwhile, defining the health of the industry based on CAPEX alone is a fool's errand, and if you want to truly judge said health, you'd need to look at the level of competition, consumer prices, and all of the obvious, ugly metrics you can be damn sure a telecom lobbying firm primarily bankrolled by AT&T isn't going to want to talk much about. Of course none of this stopped FCC head Ajit Pai from quickly issuing a statement (pdf) constantly repeating that his extremely-unpopular attacks on consumer protections were somehow directly responsible for the 2017 spike: "Since my first day on the job, this agency has been focused on cutting through the regulatory red tape and increasing broadband investment, most importantly in rural America where the digital divide remains all too real. Today’s report confirms that the FCC’s policies to promote broadband deployment are working. After Internet service providers reduced new investments in 2015 and 2016 under the prior Administration’s regulatory approach, broadband investment increased in 2017 by $1.5 billion over the previous year. That’s real progress for American consumers, and another step toward better, faster, and cheaper broadband for all Americans." Can we again stop to appreciate the U.S. government parroting lobbyist talking points and filing lawsuits in perfect unison without absolutely ZERO concern for the ethics or optics? One yearns for the day when we used to at least pretend that lobbyists weren't directly dictating tech policy with consumer welfare a distant afterthought. Again, like so many other aspects of the Trump era, the hope is that if you repeat a lie frequently and often enough, it becomes truth in the minds of Americans (or at least in the minds of your partisan supporters). But as John Adams once declared, facts are stubborn things, and no matter how many press releases he issues, the facts aren't on Ajit Pai's side. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 10 hours ago on techdirt
We're used to stories about asset forfeiture being abused to seize vehicles from citizens here in the US, with the vehicle/sales proceeds going directly to the bottom line of the agency seizing them. That encourages all sorts of abuse performed in the name of Drug Warring but, in reality, just creating a somewhat sustainable revenue source for the government. At least in this context, seizures of vehicles make sense. Perverted incentives have created a demand for assets drug cartels just can't deliver, so it's up to average Americans -- many of them not at all involved in international drug trade -- to make up the difference. But what can you even make of this atrocity, performed by the Flintshire, Wales government? (via Jalopnik) After having surgery, the car owner discovered Flintshire council had incorrectly classified his BMW 323 as abandoned and had it crushed. An ombudsman report said there was no evidence the council tried to identify the owner, while the man whose car it was called it "utter ineptitude". The council must pay him £2,750 for his car and the time taken to resolve this. A man, whose vehicle is worth at least seven times the amount offered by the council, left his vehicle parked in front of his residence while he went in for surgery. The vehicle was parked at the address it was registered to. Nonetheless, the government declared it abandoned and destroyed it. This all happened during the three days he was incapacitated. The man reported his missing car to the police, who then uncovered the rest of the debacle. A council officer claimed a search of a vehicle registration database prior to the seizure/destruction came up empty-handed. As was pointed out by the ombudsman report noted above, there was no record of this search taking place. The car's owner was also never given notice the vehicle was targeted by the council for removal. This was the conclusion drawn from the investigation: Public Services Ombudsman for Wales Nick Bennett said: "This is as classic a case of maladministration as I have witnessed in four years of office." Which it is. But it's more than that. It's a government moving with impunity because no one will stop it. It's a pointless display of power that resulted in the destruction of a citizen's property. And beyond everything else, it's a demonstration governments are willing to make mistakes but not amends. The amount offered to the car's owner doesn't cover the loss and this offer only appeared because the council shit the bed so thoroughly its insurer refused to cover the self-inflicted loss. What message does this send to residents? Never park your vehicle anywhere for any length of time? Try not get hospitalized? The government has far more potential to harm than to help? The last one might be worth learning, but it's not really a confidence builder. And it puts government incompetence at the same level as "acts of God" -- unpredictable and unforeseeable but always painful for the victims. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 18 hours ago on techdirt
When we talk about trademark disputes around here, we're often talking about them at the start of a bullying process or at the conclusion of a trial. Those are the natural checkpoints for covering these kinds of disputes, with either the initiation of the dispute, often times specious, or the conclusion when an outcome is reached, often times unfortunate. Less discussed but certainly as important are the softer outcomes of trademark bullying and disputes. And it's useful to highlight just what it can cost a small entity that is victimized by all of this. Dick Fowles and Kate Ackerly opened a clothing store in 1993 called Peter-Blair Accessories, named after the duo's godchildren. Out of the blue in 2009, Fowles and Ackerly received a letter from Blair Corp., a discount retailer of accessories that primarily sells its goods online. Blair Corp. too sold ties and accessories on its website, though they were significantly different in terms of price and quality. The letter accused Peter-Blair Accessories of infringing Blair Corp. trademarks by selling its goods online. After a great deal of back and forth, Blair Corp. agreed to allow the smaller clothier to sell only its own branded ties online. Nothing else. This went on for nearly a decade, coinciding with the exact time when online clothes shopping took off. “It was probably a lot (of lost revenue),” Snyder said. “People were starting to buy on the web more and more. That whole chunk of our business was gone.” “And people aren’t wearing ties like they used to,” Ackerly said. “We needed to branch out with the accessories company, but we couldn’t because of this infringement.” Business was constricted due to the lack of online sales. The two went so far as to explore changing the business name to get around all of this with a creative branding company. While they eventually decided against the name change, that branding company introduced them in 2017 to a trademark attorney, Pike IP Law. That attorney found that many other retailers had attempted to get trademarks in the clothing business that included the term "Blair", with Blair Corp. opposing and forcing many to back off their applications. In some instances, however, the smaller retailers would push back and get some kind of settlement that allowed for a good chunk of goods to be sold online. A strategy was formed. “(Pike) said we should purposefully put extra items (to sell online) into the trademark that we weren’t interested in pursuing,” Snyder said. “So that if Blair wanted us to concede in some way, we’d have something to give up.” After putting its application in, Blair Corp. immediately opposed, initially filing for two extensions to oppose Peter-Blair's application. After some back and forth, true to form, Blair Corp. settled, with Peter-Blair giving up the fluff in its application that it didn't really want anyway. With the opposition dropped, Peter-Blair Accessories got its trademark in August. While this was reason for celebration, nothing can make up for nearly a decade of lost revenue due to a threat letter over trademarks that Blair Corp. barely ended up enforcing anyway. Sadly, this story doesn't have the happiest of endings. If you thought Fowles and Ackerly had taken the lesson from all of this to be the burden and dangers of jealous IP enforcement, think again. Missy Snyder, commenting below, is Peter-Blair's COO. “(Dunlap and Pike) made us realize how damaging it was to not copyright some of our designs. There are companies that have copied (our designs), like Vineyard Vines, who’s much bigger than us. Bernie and Tricia have sent cease-and-desist letters on our behalf,” Snyder said. C'est la vie. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 22 hours ago on techdirt
To graduate from high school in Texas, you must first be able to show you won't provoke police officers into shooting/tasing/beating you during a traffic stop. That's according to a new state law that ran through the legislature under the guise of solving police/community relationship problems. (via Popehat) In the aftermath of several fatal police shootings of unarmed citizens, Texas lawmakers sought to pacify tensions between law enforcement and civilians. The state legislature brought civil rights groups and law enforcement organizations together to develop a solution: the Community Safety Education Act, which was signed into law last year. The bill requires any student entering ninth grade in the 2018-2019 academic year and thereafter to participate in a class and watch a video instruction on how to interact properly with officers during traffic stops. Without a notation of attendance on their transcripts, seniors cannot receive diplomas. To "pacify tensions" brought about by cops killing unarmed people, we're instructing teens to become docile subhumans who should only respond to the presence of law enforcement in the manner law enforcement prefers. That's the gist of the Community Safety Education Act Instructor's Guide [PDF], which not only tells people to remain suitably cowed during traffic stops, but also gets the law wrong. The problems with the instruction manual (and the law... and required course itself...) begin at the beginning, in the "Tips for Educators." The guide says instructors should remind students of their rights, as well as warn them that exercising them could get them killed. Students may ask about citizens videotaping traffic stops. It is a citizen's right to videotape. Drivers and passengers should be aware that unknown items in a citizen's hand may cause safety concerns for officers. In short, it's best not to record a stop for your own personal safety because there's no telling what a professional highly-trained in law enforcement and force deployment might do if they see something in someone's hand -- even if that something is 1,000,000x more likely to be something everyone carries with them (a cellphone) than a weapon. Most people aren't going to escalate a traffic stop into a murder one charge. But that's hardly reassuring to highly-trained law enforcement officers, who are led to believe every interaction with the public carries the potential of death and destruction and respond to every movement like bunnies scattering at the sound of a stepped-on twig. Since highly-trained law enforcement officers are completely unpredictable, it's up to Texas' education system to crank out harmless teen drivers. Hence the stupid law and the stupid course, which comes with graduation strings attached. The "notes for drivers" says it's "recommended" officers treat drivers courteously, but there's certainly no law requiring courteous behavior, much less one that withholds a police academy diploma until would-be officers of the law complete their "Don't Be An Asshole" course. The advice given is basically this: do everything a cop tells you unless they tell you to stop doing it or to do something else. The course says students have the right to refuse vehicle searches, but kind of portrays assertions of rights as a way to get arrested. And the guide gets the law wrong: specifically, Texas' "failure to identify" statute. Here's what the guide says: Although it is lawful for you to remain silent during a traffic stop, you are required by law to truthfully identify yourself when asked to do so by an officer. A driver or passenger can be arrested for giving false identifying information to an officer. The second part is true. The first part isn't. That's OK. Texas law enforcement officers can't manage to wrap their minds around this law, so it's unsurprising a teacher's guide put together by politicians is inaccurate. The law actually says [emphasis added]: A person commits an offense if he intentionally refuses to give his name, residence address, or date of birth to a peace officer who has lawfully arrested the person and requested the information. A traffic stop is a detention, not an arrest. It likely makes little difference in the context of a traffic stop, where documents asked for by officers will likely identify the driver with or without their verbal input. But placing this misinformation inside a required course will likely cause students to think this applies everywhere, not just during traffic stops. It doesn't. An officer needs to arrest a person before they can legally demand identification. And officers can't use a refusal to provide identification as the basis for an arrest. Passengers aren't required to ID themselves. They're only forbidden from providing false information -- the same as the driver. But the teacher's guide makes the same mistake again in its "Notes for passengers." Although it is lawful for you to remain silent during a traffic stop, you are required by law to truthfully identify yourself when asked to do so by an officer. The law does not require this. It does not require it of drivers, even though proving you can legally operate a vehicle tends to undermine any "remaining silent" about your identity. Passengers, however, have nothing to prove, so this course is telling high school students something that simply isn't true and will only contribute to Texas law enforcement's continued abuse of the statute. It would be bad enough if the mandatory course was limited to "pacifying tensions" by implying unpredictable civilians are what really needs to be fixed. But the course goes even further by getting the law wrong. So, high school students will be forced to attend a pointless course containing misinformation to be considered educated enough to secure a diploma. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 24 hours ago on techdirt
The War on Drugs seems to bring out the worst in law enforcement. Wiretap abuse, asset forfeiture, flashbang grenades tossed into toddlers' cribs, internal corruption… these are all aspects of law enforcement's drug-related police work. Radley Balko has uncovered more abuse and Constitutional violations, this time stemming from the Little Rock PD's anti-drug efforts. The wrongs detailed in Balko's investigation include false statements on warrant requests, abuse of no-knock warrants, "reliable" confidential informants who are anything but reliable, and a handful of destroyed lives left in its wake. It opens with the story of Roderick Talley, whose apartment was raided by a Little Rock (AR) SWAT team. The team used explosives to remove his door, sending it flying onto the couch where Talley was sleeping. The raid was predicated on an informant's supposed controlled buy. But Talley's own security cameras -- which also captured the raid itself -- showed the informant didn't do what police said he did. The outside camera had recorded two odd incidents. First, a man whom Talley didn’t know approached the apartment while Talley wasn’t home. Looking anxious, the man knocked, waited a few moments and then left. A few days later, the camera picked up a police officer outside the door. The officer looked around, snapped a photo of Talley’s door with his cellphone, and left. According to the search warrant affidavit, the CI had purchased drugs from Talley, with the swearing officer claiming he had actually witnessed this (nonexistent) purchase take place. The detective wrote that he and two other detectives then watched as the informant approached Talley’s apartment. Importantly, the detective wrote that the officers “observed the door open” and witnessed the informant have “a conversation with someone inside the apartment.” Immediately after, they met up with the informant at a prearranged location. The informant said he had just purchased $100 worth of cocaine from two men in the apartment. One man took his money at the door, then an inside man handed the door man a small bag of cocaine. If it hadn't been for his own cameras, it would have been Talley's word against the Little Rock PD's. The only drugs found during the no-knock raid was a misdemeanor amount of marijuana. Talley was then kicked out of his apartment by his landlord and billed for the damages caused by the SWAT team. Talley isn't alone. Balko details a couple of other questionable raids that can be traced back to the same questionable informant. Talley says the informant did speak to him, and when he confronted him about his own case, the informant admitted that he never bought cocaine that day. Furthermore, “his girlfriend told me that he’d get paid for each bust, so he’d just take the cops to the places of people he knew or had heard about, knock on the door, and then he’d just make small talk for a few minutes,” Talley says. “Then he’d go tell the cops that he’d bought whatever drug they were looking for.” That jibes with the accounts of two other people who say they were recently raided because of the informant. Derrick Davis says that on Sept. 2, 2017, a few weeks after the raid on Talley, a strange man knocked on his door. “I’d never seen the guy before,” Davis says. “He just comes up, knocks and walks right in. Then he starts asking weird questions about my apartment, like whether I like living there, and how much the rent is. He stayed for a few minutes, then he thanked me and left. It was weird.” Two weeks later, an LRPD raid team blew down Davis’s door. “I saw the video of what they did to Mr. Talley. It was exactly what they did to me,” he says. “They used explosives. It blew the door clean off. Then about 10 guys came in, all decked out in SWAT gear.” What's most concerning about the LRPD's tactics is its reliance on "no knock" warrants. These warrants are supposed to be limited to cases where officers can demonstrate a sufficient need to enter a private residence unannounced. There's a higher bar than regular search warrants and are meant to the rare exception to the rule. For the Little Rock PD, the exception is the rule. Of the 105 warrants, LRPD officers requested a no-knock raid in 103. Of those 103, Little Rock’s criminal court judges granted the request in at least 101. (The other two search warrants were missing the page that included the judge’s instructions on how the warrant should be served.) The"neutral magistrate" -- the check against government power -- was, in these cases, the rubber stamp applied to PD boilerplate. Only eight warrant requests contained any specific details about the sought suspect. The other 90+ warrant requests were copy-pasted assertions about drug dealers and danger. As Balko points out, this isn't just lazy police work (and lazy adjudicating), it's actually illegal. Some police agencies adapted to the Wilson ruling [on no-knock warrants] by simply deciding that all drug cases involve violent suspects and easily destroyable evidence. The Supreme Court rejected this approach two years later in the 1997 case Richards v. Wisconsin. The court ruled that to obtain a no-knock warrant, law enforcement officers must demonstrate specific exigent circumstances for each suspect for whom they’re trying to obtain a no-knock warrant. They can’t simply state that an entire class of crimes, such as drug crimes, presents de facto exigent circumstances. The Little Rock PD has been engaged in unconstitutional policing for who knows how many years. It just took a set of personal security cameras to catch them in the act. The resulting paper trail has exposed an assembly line for illegal SWAT raids and it's unlikely this Arkansas law enforcement agency is the only one in the nation using the War on Drugs as an excuse for violent behavior and rights violations. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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By now Techdirt readers should be fairly keyed into FCC head Ajit Pai's schtick: kill most meaningful oversight over the telecom sector at the industry's direct behest (including net neutrality and modest privacy rules), then proudly proclaim you've unleashed a tidal wave of innovation, investment, and competition. When you look a little closer however, you'll generally find that the justifications for such moves not only ignore the will of the public and engineering expertise, but are often based entirely on evidence free lobbying claims from the industry itself. You'll also find the promised competition and innovation never materializes. Consumer groups say this same, evidence-optional, industry-cozy approach has fueled the FCC's attempts to hold telecom operators accountable for lagging post-hurricane repairs. You might recall that Verizon used Hurricane Sandy as cover to effectively stop upgrading huge swaths of its fixed-line networks. Countless customers on traditional copper voice and DSL lines were suddenly left without service or repairs, with Verizon claiming that capped, expensive, frequently unavailable and oft-congested wireless service was a "good enough" replacement for them (those users disagreed). That, in turn, resulted in the previous FCC passing some rules saying that if you're going to kill off landline service, you need to replace it with something at least equal in quality. But like everything else Pai touches, those rules, in addition to other consumer protections (like state rules holding carriers accountable for missed deadlines or unfulfilled promises on refunds), were quickly stripped away under the claim it would bring "greater innovation and investment" to the telecom sector. Fast forward to this month, and consumer groups are arguing that much of this mindless deregulation is actively harming recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Michael. Both Ajit Pai and Florida Governor Rick Scott have been issuing press missives claiming they're "holding carriers accountable." But consumer groups like Public Knowledge say that both Pai and Scott are oddly forgetting to mention that their blind deregulatory efforts managed to throw some very useful guidance and protections out the window, making the existing problem worse: "What Governor Scott and Chairman Pai have not done is take responsibility for how their radical deregulation of telephone service has contributed to this unfortunate situation. In 2011, Governor Scott signed the “Regulatory Reform Act of 2011,” which eliminated virtually all oversight of Florida’s residential telephone service. This included repeal of Florida’s “Carrier of Last Resort” (COLR) requirements – rules that require carriers to provide service to everyone in the state – as well as repeal of Public Service Commission (PSC) regulations governing service blackouts, timeliness of repairs, or regulation of customer billing. "In November 2017, Chairman Pai repealed many of the safeguards put in place by the Obama FCC following Superstorm Sandy, designed to prevent recurrence of the lengthy loss of service (and in some cases, discontinuance of service) suffered in many areas after Sandy. In June 2018, Chairman Pai further deregulated telephone providers to make it easier to discontinue service after a natural disaster." As we've long noted, blind deregulation of healthier, more competitive sectors certainly can go a long way toward protecting innovation if the "solutions" being applied aren't particularly intelligent. But telecom, a sector where natural monopolies wield immense political power, is an entirely different animal. When you gut all the federal and state guidelines governing these companies you don't magically see innovation and investment spring forth from the sidewalks. Instead you see a doubling down of all the worst behaviors, since neither competition nor healthy regulatory oversight remains to hold bad players accountable. It's not clear how long we intend to keep mindlessly deregulating everything in telecom (instead of say, intelligently considering each instance of regulation on its merits) — but it's fairly obvious any meaningful cultural enlightenment on this point is still well over the horizon. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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In the wake of the revelations about Harvey Weinstein, writer Stephen Elliott's name ended up on a Google doc called Shitty Media Men, along with the information "Rape accusations, sexual harassment [sic], coercion, unsolicited invitations to his apartment, a dude who snuck into Binders???" listed under the column heading "ALLEGED MISCONDUCT" and the additional note that, "Multiple women allege misconduct." He has now sued Moira Donegan, the owner of the Google doc, and dozens of anonymous third-party contributors to the list for defamation, as well as intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. He has also now cemented his reputation as a very shitty man. First, let me say that I do not call Stephen Elliott a shitty man because of what posters to the Shitty Media Men list wrote about him. He's shitty for filing this lawsuit against the host of and contributors to the list, seeking to chill the speech of those who would speak out against bad behavior. He's shitty for threatening to unmask people who had exercised their right to speak anonymously to warn others of potential harm. Plaintiff will know, through initial discovery, the names, email addresses, pseudonyms and/or “Internet handles” used by Jane Doe Defendants to create the List, enter information into the List, circulate the List, and otherwise publish information in the List or publicize the List. Through discovery, Plaintiff can obtain the email address information, Google account, Internet Protocol (“IP”) address assigned to the accounts used by the Jane Doe Defendants by the account holders’ Internet Service Provider (“ISP”), email accounts and/or Google accounts, on the date and time at which the Posts were published and/or information was entered into the List. Plaintiff intends to subpoena the shared Google spreadsheet metadata for the List, email accounts, Google accounts and ISPs in order to learn the identity of the account holders for the email addresses and IP addresses. He's shitty for leaving everyone vulnerable to continued abuse, from any source, since by deterring speech about abuse, abuse will now be so much harder to check. And he's shitty for using disproportionate power to quell those who tried to resist him (which, of course, seems an odd play for someone who wants people to believe that claims he did the same sexually could not possibly have been true). Because his power here is indeed unequal. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but it is no match for a lawsuit. A lawsuit targeting speech is giant tax on expression, extracting an immense cost for what should have been free to do. Speech isn't free when one must pay a minimum of five or six figures – if not more – to defend the right to "freely" express it. This story therefore touches on a number of the issues we often talk about here at Techdirt highlighting this recurrent power imbalance that keeps threatening to make the right to free speech illusory. There's the chilling effect of the suit itself, both on these defendants and anyone else who might now be prompted to rethink speaking out in the future. There's the attack on anonymous speech, upon which public discourse often depends. And then there's the targeting of the intermediary in order to pressure those who enable others' speech to cease doing so. That last line is an aspect to the suit particularly worth noting here. One of the points we keep making is that Section 230 isn't just about Facebook (or Twitter, or Google, or Yelp, etc…); it's about regular Internet users. This suit exemplifies why it's so important to preserve its critical protections for intermediaries of all sorts: because someday you, too, may want to facilitate the exchange of important information in a Google doc, and you might not want to be sued for it. "In the beginning, I only wanted to create a place for women to share their stories of harassment and assault without being needlessly discredited or judged," Donegan wrote in The Cut in January 2018. "The hope was to create an alternate avenue to report this kind of behavior and warn others without fear of retaliation." In this case, the progenitor of the Google doc was an intermediary enabling other people to express themselves through the online service – in this case, the Google doc – she provided. Section 230 allows that intermediaries can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, because its immunity is provided broadly, to any provider of an "interactive computer service," which is "any information service, system, or access software provider that provides or enables computer access by multiple users to a computer server." That's what Donegan did with her Google doc: provide access to software to multiple users. If anything is somehow wrong with the content they contributed through this service, then they can be held responsible for it. But per Section 230, not Donegan. (In his complaint Elliott does accuse Donegan of editing the spreadsheet, but not in ways that transcend the typical editing activity of an intermediary protected under Section 230.) And it shouldn't be the other contributors either. None actually accused him of rape; the statement in question reflected only that that there had been accusations of it. Elliott's complaint would have Donegan and any author of this spreadsheet entry bear the burden of proving that he actually raped someone in order not to be liable to him. But that's not how defamation law works, nor is it how it should work. As the Supreme Court observed in New York Times v. Sullivan: A rule compelling the critic … to guarantee the truth of all his factual assertions—and to do so on pain of libel judgments virtually unlimited in amount— leads to a comparable "self-censorship." Allowance of the defense of truth, with the burden of proving it on the defendant, does not mean that only false speech will be deterred. Even courts accepting this defense as an adequate safeguard have recognized the difficulties of adducing legal proofs that the alleged libel was true in all its factual particulars. Under such a rule, would-be critics … may be deterred from voicing their criticism, even though it is believed to be true and even though it is in fact true, because of doubt whether it can be proved in court or fear of the expense of having to do so. They tend to make only statements which "steer far wider of the unlawful zone." The rule thus dampens the vigor and limits the variety of public debate. The burden is therefore on the plaintiff to show that the statement was false or was made in reckless disregard of the truth. Even if he were to be considered a private, rather than public, figure the burden would still be on him to show that the defendants at least demonstrated a negligent, rather than reckless, disregard for the truth, but it would be strange for him to argue his own cultural irrelevance in order to be able to prevail on that lower standard. His complaint itself laments a loss of stature that suggests he was at least a limited-purpose public figure, and thus required to prove "actual malice," which, despite some handwringing about Donegan's public feelings about other terrible men, the complaint doesn't seem to do. The lawsuit is also over speech about a matter of public importance, which in New York would also prompt the higher standard, which likely would need to be met before unmasking the speakers. [U]nder prior case law, Google cannot be compelled to reveal the identity of an anonymous poster unless and until Elliott can prove that the posts were libelous, said Paul Levy, an attorney with Public Citizen who has helped establish precedent for when a court can compel an internet provider to identify an anonymous user. So if Elliott's attorneys want to identify the list contributors, they'll have to prove his case of libel before Google can be compelled to provide the information. Furthermore, the only "truth" at issue here is whether he had ever been accused of rape. There could have been a false accusation and the statement would still be true. But what Elliott really wants is for the court to grant him a "get out of rape accusation free" card, if these anonymous speakers cannot substantiate his guilt. Which is what renders this lawsuit the piece of crap SLAPP that it is, and illustrates why a strong anti-SLAPP law needs to apply. The complaint was filed in New York, which has an infamously limited anti-SLAPP law, but it's notable that, per the complaint, Stephen Elliott lives in Louisiana, where there is a decently strong anti-SLAPP law. If that law is found to apply, it could lead to Elliott having to pay everyone else's legal bills. But even so, the essential truth will remain. Even if Elliott had never before victimized women, this lawsuit is an attempt to victimize them now by burdening them with a cripplingly expensive and impossible task. And for this behavior he indeed is a shitty man. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We all know brushing is an important part of maintaining a healthy smile, but how much good are you doing if you're cleaning your pearly whites with a dirty brush? Complete with a UV sanitizing charging case that kills 99% of germs and bacteria on its brush heads, the Platinum Sonic Toothbrush offers a better way to brighten your smile. It delivers 40,000 brush strokes per minute to remove more plaque and whiten better than a standard toothbrush, and its two-minute smart auto timer helps ensure you brush for the ADA-recommended time. It's on sale for $50. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Before FOSTA passed, a ton of experts warned it would lead to bad things, and now we're seeing more and more stories about how FOSTA is actually increasing the sex trafficking problem, rather than decreasing it. Police have admitted that it's now harder to catch traffickers without the information they used to get from Backpage, and pimps have apparently seized on the opportunity to make use of the disappearance of Backpage and other sites to more aggressively position themselves as the only option for sex workers. The latest such report to make this clear is in the San Francisco Chronicle, where police note that FOSTA has emboldened pimps to take control of sex workers' lives: “Without being able to advertise online,” Long said, “a huge number of sex workers were forced to go outside, and many have reported that former pimps came out of the woodwork offering to ‘manage’ their business again since they were now rendered unable to find and screen clients online.” [...] “The very bill that was supposed to stop trafficking has quite literally given formerly irrelevant traffickers new life,” Long said. I'm truly curious how the various folks who stumped for FOSTA now feel about this. A bunch of Hollywood stars, including Amy Schumer, Seth Meyers, Josh Charles and Tony Shaloub, all stumped on behalf of FOSTA, making claims that were blatantly untrue. It would be nice if these celebrities could respond to all of the new evidence showing that -- just as sex workers and experts predicted -- FOSTA has made the situation much worse for sex workers, and put many of them in serious danger. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As we've made pretty clear, the broadband industry is successfully obliterating most meaningful federal and state oversight of their broken, largely uncompetitive broadband monopolies. They've had great success in convincing the Trump administration to effectively neuter the FCC, driving any piddly, remaining enforcement authority to an FTC that's ill-equipped for the job. At the same time, the federal government and ISPs like Comcast are also waging a not-so-subtle and completely coordinated war on state authority to step in and fill the consumer protection void. Earlier this month, the entire broadband industry, hand in hand with the Trump DOJ, filed lawsuits against the state of California for passing a net neutrality law the majority of the public supports. This week broadband industry lobbying organizations like US Telecom (primarily funded and directed by AT&T) filed suit against the state of Vermont (pdf), again claiming that the state's new net neutrality law is prohibited by the legally dubious "pre-emption" language embedded in the FCC's net neutrality repeal at direct telecom lobbyist request. I've discussed at length here and elsewhere why these efforts aren't likely to work: the simple version being that when an agency (in this case the FCC) abdicates its authority to regulate an industry (which the FCC did with its rollback of Title II classification of ISPs under the Telecom Act), it also eliminates its right to tell states what to do. This isn't a nuanced debate; I've been hard pressed to find a single telecom lawyer that thinks the FCC's state pre-emption efforts are on sound legal footing. It's generally seen as a delay tactic to prevent states from protecting users until the looming suit against the FCC is settled. The lawsuit against Vermont parrots the oft-repeated falsehood that the FCC justly dismantled net neutrality because it was stifling sector investment, a claim that has indisputably and repeatedly been proven false. From the complaint: "Capital investment in broadband actually declined when the Title II Order went into effect, but increased dramatically after the FCC announced its intent to repeal that order. By lifting the burdens imposed by Title II regulation, the Restoring Internet Freedom Order opens the way for providers to freely invest in crucial broadband infrastructure and experiment with new business models." The reason Pai's FCC and broadband ISPs keep lying about this purported dip in investment (which SEC filings, CEO statements, and earning reports disprove) is because it's a violation of the Administrative Procedures Act to massively overhaul regulatory policy without basing it on hard facts and data. And since the FCC's repeal was based largely on bogus lobbyist-provided nonsense, they've been forced to make up a legitimate-sounding justification for the FCC's mindless ass kissing delivered unto some of the most disliked and anti-competitive companies in America. This will be a cornerstone of the looming lawsuits against the FCC. In a statement, US Telecom clings to the usual claim that it's only suing to kill net neutrality because it truly adores an open internet: "Broadband providers are united in support of an open internet and committed to delivering the content and services consumers demand. We oppose the actions in Vermont because states cannot use their spending and procurement authority to bypass federal laws they do not like. A 50-state patchwork approach threatens service for customers, hampers innovation and dampens investment in local communities, which is why Congress should adopt a permanent, enforceable, national framework to safeguard an open internet for all Americans." Again, the telecom lobby forgets to mention that we wouldn't be looking at a "50 state patchwork approach" if they hadn't sued to kill arguably modest federal protections, making this a problem of the industry's own making. Also: remember when respecting state rights was a thing? Telecom lobbyists want to stall these state-level rules from taking effect until the looming lawsuits against the FCC (by 23 state AGs and companies like Mozilla) is settled. After that, they're hoping to pass some flavor of flimsy law they write that will enshrine weak protections into law, preventing tougher state or federal protections. But given the overwhelming anger at the telecom sector right now, combined with a likely looming political sea change, a lot of the industry's biggest allies may soon find their political careers in jeopardy, leaving the industry with fewer allies than ever. And while the inevitable policy and regulatory backlash that will hit the industry could be a few years in coming, when it does arrive it will be hard to argue that it wasn't incredibly well earned by Comcast, AT&T and friends. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Government agencies will eventually follow the letter of FOIA law. It usually takes a lawsuit to push things forward, but even losing in court seldom prompts above-and-beyond service from the government. The spirit of the law is ignored in favor of obfuscation, foot-dragging, and blatant antipathy. Certainly the government shouldn't be expected to compose FOIA requesters requests for them if they send vaguely-worded requests. On the other hand, the government shouldn't demand specificity from requesters who don't know what documents an agency has on hand or how the search will be conducted. The CIA once told a requester he needed to know exactly which parties were involved in communications about the agency's FOIA portal outage -- information that could only be gleaned from the emails the CIA was refusing to look for until it had more information. This is the normal level of being dicked around that requesters can expect when dealing with our more reticent public agencies. "Vagueness" was the CIA's excuse to not perform its FOIA duties. The DHS, on the other hand, has decided specificity in requests can also be used against requesters. A FOIA lawsuit filed by the Government Accountability Project contends the agency did a deliberately lousy job searching for records related to border phone searches and ideological assessments performed by border security personnel. The federal judge agrees. The opinion [PDF] notes the DHS has turned the FOIA process into a game -- one requesters aren't likely to win. [h/t Mike Scarcella] This Freedom of Information Act case is reminiscent of the classic board game Battleship, where players array a fleet of plastic warships on a secret grid and alternate directing “shots” at the opponent’s vessels by calling out precise coordinates. A shot hits its mark only if an enemy vessel is situated on a specified target. Plaintiff Government Accountability Project (“GAP”) asked for any records in the Department of Homeland Security’s (“DHS”) possession that related to “ideological tests” and “searches of cellphones” at the U.S. border. The agency obliged in a manner consistent with the rules of Battleship. It canvassed its electronic records for direct hits, looking only for records that contained the verbatim language GAP used in its request. For the first search, it used the terms “ideological tests” and “border”; for the second, it used the keywords “search” and “cellphone.” After the searches yielded zero responsive documents, GAP complained that DHS unreasonably omitted additional search terms that quite likely would have generated a more robust return. Because FOIA requests do not operate like a game of Battleship—and for other more technical reasons that follow—the Court agrees and will order the agency to conduct its search anew. Somehow the DHS failed to come up with any responsive emails related to border cellphone searches or ideological tests -- both items heavily-discussed in the news and in Congress. While the DHS did manage to find 965 megabytes of responsive records for "search" and "cellphone," its staffers decided none of the 807 documents were actually responsive to GAP's request. GAP argued the DHS's searches were deliberately structured to steer around responsive documents. The court again agrees, pointing out it's the government's duty to help requesters obtain the documents they seek, not be deliberately obtuse. [T]hough a “requester must reasonably describe the records sought, an agency also has a duty to construe a FOIA request liberally.” Nation Magazine, 71 F.3d at 890. And ultimately, it is the agency’s burden to show “beyond material doubt that its search was reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents.” Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, 641 F.3d at 514 (quotation omitted). The court addresses the DHS's seemingly-deliberate obtuseness in a footnote, pointing out things its FOIA response team likely knows, but chooses not to deploy to reduce the number of documents it has to hand over. The Court appreciates DHS’s concern that searches for commonly-used words like “cell,” “phone,” and “test” may return too many records for the agency to digest. But that concern dictates using more sophisticated search techniques, including additional filtering keywords or Boolean operators and connectors, to winnow the results to a manageable level. Doing simple things like these -- which anyone in an FOIA position should know how to do -- would produce responsive documents far more frequently than restricting the first search to "ideological test," which likely omitted documents containing both of these words but not in that specific order. The same goes for the second request, which requires uses of variations of "cellphone" to capture relevant documents. It appears the DHS had no interest in fulfilling this request or the spirit of the law -- something made doubly clear by the fact that the DHS did not even start searching for records until it was sued… five months after receiving the request. FOIA law serves the public. It is not in place to serve the government agencies that are supposed to be serving the public. The only reason the law exists is because agencies will never be proactively transparent. They need to be forced to be transparent, and even then, they do what they can to avoid the responsibilities placed on them by this legislation. More decisions along this line will dissuade bad faith search efforts. But when legal fees are awarded, it's taxpayers who ultimately pay the price for malfeasance committed by agencies they fund with even more of their tax dollars. So the effect will be present, but the buffer zone of other people's money will definitely mute the effects. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 2 days ago on techdirt
This week, our first place winner on the insightful side is Thad with a short first amendment refresher regarding PEN America's lawsuit against Trump: Reminder for the slow class: The First Amendment restricts the government from punishing speech. The President is part of the government. The President is not allowed to punish people or organizations for saying things he doesn't like. This is completely different from Techdirt, or Twitter, or Facebook, or Google, or any other private entity, punishing people or organizations for saying things they don't like. That's legal. Because those are not government organizations. (Pedants who think they are being clever may note that the First Amendment only mentions Congress; it doesn't say anything about the President. Well, here's the thing about that: if Congress is not allowed to make a law giving the President the power to punish people for speech he doesn't like, then the President doesn't have that power.) In second place, we've got an anonymous comment musing about what could be a significant factor in lots of police abuse and justice system failures: I believe a part of this attitude is caused by people believing in the Hollywood version of law enforcement. In which the Hero Cops are never wrong and a trial is just a formality in which the Bad Guy only ever gets acquitted if his Sleazy Lawyer gets him off on some technicality. That was in reference to an accidental admission by NYC prosecutors that they abuse the bail system to punish innocent people, and for editor's choice we've got two more thoughts on that from some regular commenters. First, it's That One Guy with an additional question: 'They're a serious threat to the public... right until they pay' In addition to what they inadvertently admitted, that they are deliberately(and illegally) setting bail too high in order to keep people in jail until trial, the argument that posting bail is a threat to public safety merely brings up another question: If someone is an actual danger to the public, why would there be a bail amount set at all? If someone is suspected or assault and/or murder can they walk until trial so long as they have enough money? If someone is a demonstrable threat to those around them the simple act of paying does not magically make them not a threat, so if there is real evidence that someone poses a threat to the public why would any level of bail be set, rather than a case made to the judge that the accused presents a threat to those around them and as such it would be much safer to have them behind bars until trial. This is of course a rhetorical question, as it's pretty clear that they don't think the people are actually threats, the point is instead that even assuming they were being honest they'd still have a hole large enough to drive a semi through in their argument. Next, it's That Anonymous Coward expanding on the impact this has: One of the other reasons to keep them locked up is so they take the plea. Locked up you need to get someone to cover rent, watch kids, feed pets, beg your boss to not fire you... gee all of those pressures seem like a reason innocent people might take a plea to have hope of salvaging their life before it gets destroyed waiting for their day in court where they roll the dice with an underpaid overworked public defender who might have all of 2 minutes to look at your case & no time or budget to actually put on a defense. The punishment starts with the accusation and gets multiplied at every step to keep the system churning quickly. There can be video of you 5 states away, but that won't matter until you get a day in court and that could be months away. You get a hearty GTFO, dumped on the street & have to find out what happened to your stuff & try to rebuild your life. What people think the justice system is & how it works is so very different than the reality. Some people are mad their tax dollars give the accused a public defender, because they wouldn't be in jail if they were innocent (because the 15 times I heard about people released from jail after being found innocent were flukes & that never happens now). Over on the funny side, our first place winner is murgatroyd with a reaction to the appeals court ruling saying that Georgia's laws are not protected by copyright: Oh, great. Because of this, Georgia no longer has any incentive to create new laws! I hope Mr. Malamud is happy. In second place, we've got a quick anonymous response to another commenter's utterly baffling rant about "open source" and China: Let’s add open source to the veritable dictionary of words you don’t understand. Along with veritable, dictionary, and words. For editor's choice, we start out with a reaction from Vidiot to the tiny class action settlement payout for Vizio customers: $13? That's one of the biggest class action awards I've seen. Still holding a check from TD Bank that's supposed to make amends for lobby-located coin counting machines that chronically undercounted the contents of my pickle jar full of pocket change. I haven't needed the 56 cents yet. Finally, we head back to last week's comment post, where I noted that stderric's winning comment was passing along a John Oliver joke. He defended himself, asserting: Think what you will, but I consider "Humor Curator" to be an honorable enough pursuit :) (As the person putting this post together right now, I agree!) That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Five Years Ago There was plenty of NSA apologia again this week in 2013. Keith Alexander was claiming that he was protecting civil liberties by violating them and playing the fear card by claiming people will die due to the Snowden leaks, while the lawyer who helped give legal cover to Bush's warrantless wiretapping was claiming everyone will grow to love the intrusive NSA, and Dianne Feinstein was playing the 9/11 card (and being debunked by the ACLU). Meanwhile, the latest information from the leaks revealed that the NSA was collecting email contact lists and instant messaging friend lists overseas with no oversight, that the agency was involved in the drone strike program, and of course that the agency was in fact drowning in a glut of data. Ten Years Ago This week in 2008, the president finally signed the ProIP bill and created America's copyright czar position. We took a closer look at the MPAA's lawsuit against RealNetworks (and how it was all about controlling innovation), while the RIAA was appealing the mistrial ruling in the Jammie Thomas trial, and a German court was finding Google Images thumbnails to be a copyright violation. Unexpectedly, the McCain campaign sent a letter to YouTube urging them to consider and protect fair use when processing DMCA requests, and YouTube offered up the excellent response that they can't give the campaign special treatment, but they hope McCain will fix the law. Meanwhile, Larry Lessig was giving his own impassioned defense of fair use and remix culture. Fifteen Years Ago This week in 2003, the EFF found another person who was wrongly accused of file-sharing and sued by the RIAA (they wouldn't be the last), just as the RIAA was commencing round two of its shakedown scheme by, as promised, offering people a chance to pay up before being sued (how nice of them). We also took a closer look at the RIAA's lawsuits against Grokster and Morpheus, and how their true ambitious goal was to overturn the Betamax precedent that makes video tape machines legal. Also this week, Brewster Kahle was fighting against the DMCA in an attempt to preserve old software. Meanwhile, lots of companies and industries were really struggling to adapt. Some people were discussing possible futures for usual-consumer-electronics-leader Sony after Apple beat it to the punch on smartphones, print publishers were basically dragging their heels about this whole internet thing, and Polaroid reached the highly questionable conclusion that its future was in digital photo kiosks. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A few weeks ago, Bloomberg published a giant story claiming that Chinese spies did a somewhat daring supply chain hack on American big tech firms. The gist of the story was that servers from Super Micro had hidden chips that somehow were then used by Apple and Amazon (not to mention the US government), that allowed someone in China to access certain data. The story was a blockbuster that got everyone talking. But, almost as soon as it came out, a bunch of people started raising questions about the story. While the Bloomberg reporters claimed over a dozen sources, both Apple and Amazon came out with incredibly strong denials. Way stronger than is common in these situations. And while I know some cynical people insist that companies will lie about this stuff all the time, that is not actually true. Some companies may misrepresent things, or try to play down stories, but outright fabrication is not at all common (and the consequences of a company doing it would be severe). And here, both Amazon and Apple's denials were so clear, so specific and so adamant that it raised serious questions about the reporting. Since there was so much confusion over it all, we held off on writing about it, figuring more information would come out in the days and weeks after the initial story. And so far, nearly all of the "additional info" has only served to raise significantly more questions about Bloomberg's reporting. Various government and intelligence agencies all claimed they had no evidence to support these claims. Again, some will argue that they are lying, and (again) while those agencies may have a history of misrepresenting things, the denials here were clear and unequivocal. The UK's National Cyber Security Centre (a part of GCHQ) said they completely supported Apple and Amazon that no such attack occurred. The US Department of Homeland Security said the same thing. Dan Coats, the US Director of National Intelligence said the US intelligence community has seen no evidence of such an attack, which certainly undermines the Bloomberg story. Some of the folks quoted in the Bloomberg article even questioned the accuracy of the article with one going so far as to say the article that he is named in... "didn't make sense." Also, as reporter Nicole Perlroth noted, one of the reporters on the Bloomberg story -- Michael Riley -- had also done a story back in 2014 making bold claims that the NSA had exploited the Heartbleed bug, and multiple other reports ripped that story to shreds, with multiple people denying it and no one else confirming it. Now, with this story, Apple has done something it's never done before: asked Bloomberg for a retraction of the article. That's a pretty big move -- and Bloomberg says it still stands by its reporting (as it did with the Heartbleed story). However, at this point, Bloomberg has whittled away whatever benefit of the doubt there was left and set fire to the scraps. It's difficult to believe that Bloomberg's story was accurate, and the company and its reporters owe everyone an explanation -- or at least some additional evidence to support the reporting. I don't doubt that there is a kernel of truth in the story -- but given the vehement and thorough response from everyone, it certainly seems likely that the reporters on the Bloomberg piece misunderstood something big, leading to misreporting of things in a way that leads to a very inaccurate picture of what's going on. Bloomberg should, at the very least, appoint someone else to go through the work put in by reporters Michael Riley and Jordan Robertson, and explore whether or not the story really is accurate, and why it is that basically everyone is saying it's not. Reporters can, and do, make mistakes. How they respond to such mistakes is the real marker of the ethics they and the organizations they work for hold. Considering Bloomberg stood by that Heartbleed story, perhaps we shouldn't expect such a reckoning at the publication -- but, at the very least, it's going to lead plenty of people to write off Bloomberg as a credible source on issues like these, and that's unfortunate, given that there are some really big and important stories having to do with computer security right now. Having one major publication show itself to be untrustworthy in its coverage would be very bad. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Whistleblowers play a vital role in releasing information the powerful would rather keep secret. But the former pay a high price for their bravery, as the experiences of recent whistleblowers such as Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden make plain. Another whistleblower whose life has become very difficult after leaking is Rudolf Elmer. He has a Web site about his actions and his subsequent problems, but it's not the easiest to navigate. Here's Wikipedia's summary of who he is and what he did: In 2008, Elmer illegally disclosed confidential bank documents to WikiLeaks detailing the activities of [the Swiss multinational private bank] Julius Bär in the Cayman Islands and its role in alleged tax evasion. In January 2011, he was convicted in Switzerland of breaching secrecy laws and other offenses. He was rearrested immediately thereafter for having again distributed illegally obtained data to WikiLeaks. Julius Bär as well as select Swiss and German newspapers alleges that Elmer has doctored evidence to suggest the bank engaged in tax evasion. According to a new article about him in the Economist, Elmer has undergone no less than 48 prosecutorial interrogations, spent six months in solitary confinement and faced 70 court rulings. The good news is that he has finally won an important court case at Switzerland's Supreme Court. The court ruled that since Elmer was employed by the Cayman Islands affiliate of the Zurich-based Julius Bär bank, he was not bound by Switzerland's strict secrecy laws when he passed information to WikiLeaks. Here's why that is a big deal, and not just for Elmer: The ruling matters because Swiss banks are among the world's most international. They employ thousands of private bankers offshore, and many more in outsourcing operations in countries like India and Poland. Many foreign employees are involved in creating structures comprising overseas companies and trusts linked to a Swiss bank account. Thanks to the ruling, as long as their employment contract is local they can now leak information on suspected tax evasion or other shenanigans without fear of falling under Switzerland's draconian secrecy law, which imposes jail terms of up to five years on whistleblowers. Sadly, Elmer's problems aren't over. According to the Economist article, he was found guilty of forging a letter and making a threat, and has been ordered to pay SFr320,000 ($325,000) towards the costs of the case. He maintains this was imposed on him as "revenge" for prevailing in the main part of his case. Certainly, in the light of the Supreme Court's ruling in favor of whistleblowing, he is unlikely to have won any new friends in the world of Swiss banking. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Phew. The 11th Circuit appeals court has just overturned a lower court ruling and said that Georgia's laws, including annotations, are not covered by copyright, and it is not infringing to post them online. This is big, and a huge win for online information activist Carl Malamud whose Public.Resource.org was the unfortunate defendant in a fight to make sure people actually understood the laws that ruled them. The details here matter, so let's dig in: For the past few years, we've been covering the fairly insane situation down in Georgia, where they insist that the state's annotated laws are covered by copyright. This is not quite the same thing as saying the laws themselves are covered by copyright. Everyone here seems to recognize that Georgia's laws are not covered by copyright. But here's where the problem comes in. The state of Georgia contracts out with a private company, LexisNexis, to "annotate" the law basically giving more context, and discussing the case law interpretations of the official code. The deal with the state is that LexisNexis then transfers whatever copyright it gets from the creation of the annotations back to the state. Finally, the only "official" version of Georgia's state laws is in the "annotated" version. If you want to look up the official law of Georgia you are sent to the "Official Code of Georgia Annotated" (OCGA), and it's hosted by LexisNexis, and it has all sorts of restrictive terms of service on top of it. Indeed, every new law in Georgia literally says that it will amend "the Official Code of Georgia Annotated," which certainly suggests that the OCGA -- all of it -- is the law in Georgia. And the state insisted that part of the law was covered by copyright. Malamud found this obviously troubling, believing that the law must be freely accessible to anyone in order to be valid. The state of Georgia threatened him and then sued him claiming that reposting the OCGA in a more accessible fashion was copyright infringement. The district court not only found that the annotations (even if part of the official law) could be covered by copyright but further that it was not fair use for Malamud to post them online. This was a horrifying decision. And, it's also no longer a valid one. The appeals court has put together a thorough ruling rebuking the lower court's analysis, and noting that the OCGA is not subject to copyright at all. The court admits the annotations by a private company make this more complicated than the general question of whether or not laws are covered by copyright, but notes that since this is so closely tied to the law, and directed by state officials, it seems clear that the annotations cannot be covered by copyright: To navigate the ambiguities surrounding how to characterize this work, we resort to first principles. Because our ultimate inquiry is whether a work is authored by the People, meaning whether it represents an articulation of the sovereign will, our analysis is guided by a consideration of those characteristics that are the hallmarks of law. In particular, we rely on the identity of the public officials who created the work, the authoritativeness of the work, and the process by which the work was created. These are critical markers. Where all three point in the direction that a work was made in the exercise of sovereign power -- which is to say where the official who created the work is entrusted with delegated sovereign authority, where the work carries authoritative weight, and where the work was created through the procedural channels in which sovereign power ordinarily flows -- it follows that the work would be attributable to the constructive authorship of the People, and therefore uncopyrightable. The court admits that there are strong arguments in both directions on this one, but: ... at the end of the day, we conclude that the annotations in the OCGA are sufficiently law-like so as to be properly regarded as a sovereign work. Like the statutory text itself, the annotations are created by the duly constituted legislative authority of the State of Georgia. Moreover, the annotations clearly have authoritative weight in explicating and establishing the meaning and effect of Georgia’s laws. Furthermore, the procedures by which the annotations were incorporated bear the hallmarks of legislative process, namely bicameralism and presentment. In short, the annotations are legislative works created by Georgia’s legislators in the exercise of their legislative authority. Because of this, the court doesn't even need to do a fair use analysis. Since there's no copyright in the OCGA, the fair use question doesn't even matter, and Malamud (and anyone else) is free to post and access the full OCGA. There's a lot more details in the opinion, but the above quotes summarize the point quite nicely. Congrats to Carl Malamud, who has suffered quite a bit in facing this fairly insane lawsuit. As we noted early on, even if the state felt that it's copyright was valid (which was still a big question) the fact that it would seek to sue a small nonprofit for daring to make their own laws accessible was shameful and disgusting. We'll close out this post with the concluding paragraphs of the opinion as well, which set out, once again, why the law (including annotations) is public domain and should be freely accessible to all: The OCGA annotations are created by Georgia’s legislative body, which has been entrusted with exercising sovereign power on behalf of the people of Georgia. While the annotations do not carry the force of law in the way that statutes or judicial opinions do, they are expressly given legal significance so that, while not “law,” the annotations undeniably are authoritative sources on the meaning of Georgia statutes. The legislature has stamped them “official” and has chosen to make them an integral part of the official codification of Georgia’s laws. By wrapping the annotations and the statutory text into a single unified edict, the Georgia General Assembly has made the connection between the two inextricable and, thereby, ensured that obtaining a full understanding of the laws of Georgia requires having unfettered access to the annotations. Finally, the General Assembly’s annual adoption of the annotations as part of the laws of Georgia is effected by the legislative process -- namely bicameralism and presentment -- that is ordinarily reserved for the exercise of sovereign power. Thus, we conclude that the annotations in the OCGA are attributable to the constructive authorship of the People. To advance the interests and effect the will of the People, their agents in the General Assembly have chosen to create an official exposition on the meaning of the laws of Georgia. In creating the annotations, the legislators have acted as draftsmen giving voice to the sovereign’s will. The resulting work is intrinsically public domain material, belonging to the People, and, as such, must be free for publication by all. As a result, no valid copyright can subsist in these works. This ruling also strengthens Malamud's arguments in some of his other legal fights, concerning the concept of "incorporation by reference," where laws reference this or that standard created by 3rd parties, and require various entities to abide by those standards. Malamud has long argued that if the law incorporates those standards, then those standards must be freely accessible for the same reason -- and has been fighting that issue in a different court case. Reading this ruling certainly gives weight to that argument as well (though that one is in a different circuit). Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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It's no secret that the Vietnamese government is no fan of the open internet. All the way back in 2002 we wrote about the government requiring people to register just to create a website. That same year we were writing about people being arrested for posting criticism of the government. In 2008, we wrote about the Vietnamese government banning "subversive" blogs as well. With the rise of social media, Vietnam has shifted its focus there. In 2013, it banned news reporting on social media, saying it should be for personal use only. In 2014, we wrote about how the government was abusing Facebook's own reporting tools to shut down dissenters from using the site. And at the beginning of this year, we wrote about how the government now employed around 10,000 people whose only job was to monitor the internet for dissent. And now it's going to get even worse -- to a degree that might even lead some of the big internet companies to leave Vietnam entirely. And we have the NSA (partially) to blame. Ever since the revelation of the Snowden documents, describing how the NSA was getting access to all sorts of data and metadata on foreigners by compelling various private companies to cough up their data, there's been a big push among some for data localization. Some of that push has come from privacy activists themselves, arguing in other countries that their data shouldn't be allowed to go to the US where the NSA has so much access -- but much of it has simply been using the NSA revelations as a stalking horse to get what they want: which is the ability to snoop locally on all of that data. That's why countries like Russia has been a huge proponent of data localization. And now we can add Vietnam to the list. Despite strong condemnation from the US (and US internet companies) it appears that Vietnam wants to require any internet company with Vietnamese users to host that data locally where the government and its thousands of content monitors can snoop on it: The new draft decree requires companies providing a range of services, including email, social media, video, messaging, banking and e-commerce, to set up offices in Vietnam if they collect, analyze or process personal user data. The companies would also be required to store a wide range of user data, ranging from financial records and biometric data to information on peoples’ ethnicity and political views, or strengths and interests inside Vietnam’s border. Not surprisingly, the same law gives law enforcement much greater ability to demand data from these platforms, because of course it does. The Vietnamese officials pushing this plan say its necessary for "cybersecurity" which is utter nonsense. This could be a real test for companies like Facebook and Google and there's a strong argument they (and others) should seriously consider simply shutting off access in that country, even as both sites are quite popular there. Giving in here will undoubtedly mean having to give in elsewhere, and literally supporting the suppression of political dissent. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The UK government is still polishing its porn filtering law. The latest updates to the law show there's been some effort put forth to make the law less stupid, but even these additions don't make the law (or its implementation) much better. There are still threats of fines and other governmental pressure should sites fail to "voluntarily" adopt the measures recommended by the UK government when the law goes live next year. One noticeable change is that the responsibility of deciding what is or isn't porn will be placed in the hands of the UK's film classification board, the British Board of Film Classification. If it's anything like the MPAA, it won't necessarily know porn when it sees it, but it will know what it doesn't like and regulate along those lines. The updated guidelines [PDF] try to blend suggestions and mandates into something cohesive and palatable, all while removing as much government accountability as possible. The updates recognize collecting personally-identifiable info on British porn filters creates a juicy target for malicious actors. It also notes this data collection must somehow comply with the UK's tangle of privacy laws, meaning companies should put some sort of protections in place, but not so much they undermine positive identifications. The BBFC suggests a possible compromise: verification of age only and no retention of site access logs. But, like everything else, this too is only a suggestion. This means sites are free to gather and retain as much info as they'd like and potentially dodge privacy-related legal battles by pointing to the UK government's porn blockade demands. In this ridiculous pile of "would you kindly (under possible penalty of law)?", one aspect of the porn filtering plans continues to stick out. And it promises to make the BBFC's job extremely difficult, if not completely impossible. One round of updates on and the UK government is still no closer to resolving the issue, as The Verge's James Vincent points out: A final addition in the BBFC’s guidelines is a newly clarified exemption for any site where “pornographic material makes up less than a third of content.” So if a site is two-thirds safe for work, it won’t have to verify users’ ages. This means social media platforms like Twitter, Reddit, and Tumblr — which are home to a lot of pornographic material — will not be policed. (Sites that advertise pornography are not covered by this exemption.) However, the current wording of the guidelines still leaves a lot of unanswered questions. For example, how exactly will regulators measure the ratio of SFW to NSFW content? “Are they going to measure this in URLs, number of files, pixels, or what?” asks [Open Rights Group director James] Killock. Good question. And, at this point, one the BBFC can't answer. This will compound the problems plaguing any content filtering system: overblocking, underblocking, and easy circumvention. The filtering offered by ISPs has already dabbled in all three, and the law is still a few months away from its official debut. The one thing the filtering law is almost guaranteed to accomplish is increase the marketshare of incumbents -- both in terms of ISPs and porn providers. One of the age verification methods being shopped around was created by the media company (MindGeek) that owns some of the largest porn sites in the world. If MindGeek's software becomes the de facto solution to verification problems, the company will be able to tie its competitors up with licensing agreements for years to come (and to collect data on competitors' users during the verification process). The UK government is addressing a problem that cannot be completely solved by offering up a handful of half-assed suggestions backed by ethereal threats of punishment if the internet in general fails to comply. The embarrassment it's been throughout the course of its development is in no danger of redeeming itself in the future. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Internet threats are a real thing - and surfing the web on a public connection can result in your personal data falling into the wrong hands. While most VPNs will help you surf undetected, some still maintain logs on your browsing movements, defeating the purpose of getting one in the first place! VPNSecure proudly assures that ZERO logs are recorded, so you can browse online with absolute peace of mind. It allows you to connect five devices simultaneously and grants you the ability to choose Data Cipher. The unlimited subscription is on sale for $25. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As promised/threatened, the DHS is moving forward with expanded use of biometric scanning at airports, including facial recognition and fingerprint matches. What was touted as a way to combat international terrorism and illegal immigration will now include those on the home front, as the tech spreads to include US citizens on domestic flights. But the TSA doesn't see this as an unwanted incursion into the lives of innocent citizens. Instead, it pitches it as a useful tool to speed up security screening at TSA checkpoints. TSA says that by moving toward facial recognition technology in a time where travel volume is rising, it’s hoping to reduce the need for physical documents like passports and paper tickets. Currently, TSA manually compares the passengers in front of them to their ID photos, but it believes an automated process that can match facial images to photos from passports and visa applications will be more accurate and efficient. The TSA expects paying customers to foot the bill for the expansion -- the same citizens it's been selling civil liberties back to for years. From the TSA's "roadmap" for expanded biometric screening: Currently, TSA and airline partners verify traveler identity primarily by processing biographic data and inspecting physical identity and travel documents. The use of biometric technology will simplify the passenger experience and increase efficiency and security effectiveness. The roadmap focuses on four main goals: 1) partnering with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on biometrics for international travelers; 2) using biometrics provided by TSA Pre✓® members to enhance the travel experience; 3) expanding biometrics to additional domestic travelers; and 4) developing the infrastructure for biometric technology. TSA is already carrying out these objectives through smart investments and collaborative partnerships. Yes, the paying members of the TSA's Pre✓ program will be the first to "enhance" their "travel experience" by feeding their faces into a database the TSA controls, using tech prone to erroneous conclusions. Other travelers won't be able to opt out of biometric screening, however. They'll just be subject to the non-enhanced travel experience where TSA and CBP officers ask a long series of invasive questions and infer suspicious behavior on the part of travelers who bypass the biometric kiosks. It's true that traveling in the US has always been a "papers, please" experience. But prior to the 9/11 attacks, this simply meant presenting a ticket before boarding. Now, it's everything about everybody, no matter how useless this information is 99.9% of the time. Rather than move towards smarter screening methods, the TSA has decided to subject everyone to the same level of screening with the same arbitrary rules stemming from airborne attacks the TSA failed to prevent. The TSA pitches this as a paperless airport, but it's really just another way for the government to compile a massive database of identifying info and of citizens' movements. The DHS likes to talk about its 96% accuracy target, but has released no information about actual accuracy in test runs, so concerns about false positives/negatives aren't going away anytime soon. The government has responded in the worst way to terrorist attacks in the US. It has made freedom of movement a hassle -- one that diminishes Constitutional protections and turns every traveler into a potential suspect. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As you probably have noticed, there's a growing tide of streaming video services popping up to feed users who want a cheaper, more flexible alternative to traditional cable. By and large this has been a very good thing. It's finally driving some competition for bumbling apathetic giants like Comcast, forcing them to at least make a feeble effort to improve customer service. It also reflects a belated admission by the broadcast industry that you need to compete with piracy (instead of say, suing the entire planet and hoping it goes away) by offering users access to cheaper, flexible viewing options. But the gold rush into streaming has come with a few downsides. Studies have suggested that every broadcaster on the planet will likely have their own streaming service by 2022. In a bid to drive more subscribers to their service, said broadcasters are increasingly developing their own content, or striking their own content exclusivity deals, and then locking that content in an exclusivity silo. For example, if you want to watch Star Trek: Discovery, you need to shell out $6 a month for CBS All Access. Can't miss House of Cards? You'll need Netflix. Bosch? Amazon Prime. The Handmaid's Tale? Hulu. Again, on its face this impulse makes perfect sense: you want the kind of content that drives users to your platform. And at first it wasn't all that noticeable, because there were only a handful of services. Even if you subscribed to four of them, you still probably were saving money over your traditional cable bill. The problem is, as more and more companies jump into the streaming market, users are being forced to subscribe to an ocean of discordant services to get access for the content they're looking for. As users are forced to pony up more and more cash for more and more services, it's going to start defeating the purpose of ditching over-priced, traditional cable. But instead of going back to cable, back in March we noted how users are just as likely to consider piracy. And of course that's already starting to happen, with BitTorrent usage seeing some modest but notable bumps, especially overseas. It's minor now, but if you've paid attention to several decades of piracy precedent, it's not hard to predict the outcome of this rush to cordon off everything into far too many exclusivity silos. Disney, for example, is preparing to pull all of its best content off of Netflix (Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel) and make it exclusive to its own streaming platform. In the wake of its acquisition of Time Warner, AT&T is contemplating doing the same thing with old episodes of shows like Friends. You may have noticed a trend: "Before Netflix got into the Original series game, it made a name for itself by licensing content from other distributors like Warner Bros. TV, Paramount Television, and NBC Universal Television. Licensing deals are great for fans who don’t have cable or are looking to discover new series in full, but now that streaming is king, distributors and production companies have realized that they can make more money by consolidating their content on a single streaming service — hence why Disney, WarnerMedia, DC, and other media companies are creating their own platforms with original content." Not too surprisingly, you'd be pretty hard pressed to find anybody in the broadcast sector who realizes the pitfalls of this gold rush toward streaming exclusivity, even after all of the painful lessons learned from piracy thus far. Analysts and journalists also really haven't really talked much about this, in part because many consider even mentioning piracy in their reports or stories some kind of bizarre cardinal sin that implies they somehow advocate for the behavior. This ignoring of the elephant in the room is a major reason the industry has such a hard time learning that you have to compete with piracy, not engage in idiotic, counter-productive and often harmful attempts to "cure" it with legislation or lawyers. If the current trend holds, by 2022 consumers will be forced to subscribe to an absolute universe of $10 to $15 per month services just to get all the content they're looking for, on the presumption the average household has an unlimited amount of disposable income. If history is any indication, it will take another year or two for the industry to identify and admit this exclusivity parade is driving users to piracy. At that point, they'll probably burn through a rotating crop of "solutions" (like waging war on password sharing), before coming to this central conclusion: that licensing your content to a senisble but not overwhelming crop of companies actually good at the technical and customer service aspects of streaming (like, Netflix) -- instead of everybody and their mother launching their own streaming product -- wasn't such a terrible idea after all. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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