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As you hopefully know by now, we recently launched the Techdirt podcast, and while I recently did an awesome stuff post on podcasts to listen to, I've been heard from a few people who don't yet listen to podcasts, and aren't quite sure how to use them. So this week, I thought I'd share a few podcast listening tools for smartphones. First up, Pocket Casts from ShiftJelly, because this is the app I use, and I love it. By far the most intuitive podcast listening app that I've tried. The interface is clear and simple to use (with a little learning curve up front) -- and, most important to me, it has the ability to speed up podcasts up to 3x speed (and they mean it, unlike some other apps that basically lie, because Apple used to lie). I also like it because I use multiple playlists with different filters -- so I have a "timely" playlist of podcasts I want to listen to as soon as they're available, and a much longer list of other podcasts that I work my way through as convenient. I'm stupidly completist, though, in feeling the need to at least listen to some of basically every podcast I download. That's why the 3x speed helps. Pocket Casts also syncs your account, so you can use multiple devices, or switch from device to device with ease. Soundcloud's mobile app. We're happily hosting our podcast on Soundcloud, and I know some people have just been using the Soundcloud app to subscribe and listen to our podcast. It's a nicely designed app that also gives you the ability to record via the app and directly upload it to your own Soundcloud account. Also, since Soundcloud is so popular with musicians and DJs and such, there's lots of good music to check out. It seems like Stitcher really stands out these days as one of the most popular podcast/radio listening apps out there. It's the one that I most commonly hear people say they use. You can also listen to radio programs via Stitcher as as well. I used it for a few months and it was nice, but personally I like Pocket Casts a bit more. Stitcher seemed more focused on streaming live over downloading first, but it does let you do either one. Stitcher was recently acquired by Deezer (a Spotify-like service that has a big following outside the US). It's not clear how the two services will integrate, but you could see how it might make Stitcher have even more variety going forward. I'm curious what other podcasting apps people use. In the past I've also used AstroPlayer (worked great, but had a terrible and confusing user interface), and some friends have recommended DoggCatcher (which is Android only). On the iPhone side, I know Marco Arment recently launched Overcast (which is a great name for a podcasting app) and he tends to do really good work, so I'm assuming -- without testing it, since I don't have an iPhone -- that it's a good one. It certainly advertises some neat features, including "smart speed" to cut out silence to speed stuff up without having to speed up the voices, and "voice boost" to normalize volumes (which sounds really handy). What do you use to listen to podcasts?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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On Friday, the Financial Times broke the story that the European Parliament is going to call for breaking up Google. Of course, the European Parliament can't actually do that, but it appears designed to put pressure on the EU Commission, which has been talking about antitrust actions against Google for quite some time. While it had looked like there was a settlement earlier this year, those plans more or less appeared to fall apart. Just recently, we wrote about efforts to force Google to change some of its search results in Europe -- and noted how problematic it gets when governments start telling search engines how to program their algorithms. But, actually breaking up Google would go a hell of a lot further. The idea had been floated earlier this year by a top German official, but who would have thought anyone would take it seriously. And here's the thing: as far as I can tell, there isn't any real reason for trying to break up Google, other than the fact that it's very big and very not European. There's no discussion about any actual harm... just the fact that some people don't like the fact that the company is so big (and not European): Since his nomination to be the EU’s digital commissioner, Germany’s Günther Oettinger has suggested hitting Google with a levy for displaying copyright-protected material; has raised the idea of forcing its search results to be neutral; and voiced concerns about its provision of software for cars. Google has become a lightning rod for European concerns over Silicon Valley, with consumers, regulators and politicians assailing the company over issues ranging from its commercial dominance to its privacy policy. It has reluctantly accepted the European Court of Justice’s ruling on the right to be forgotten, which requires it to consider requests not to index certain links about people’s past. If they were alleging real consumer harm, that would be one thing, but no one seems to be discussing that. The NY Times has more details on the expected resolution, which talks about "unbundling" Google's various other services from the search engine: The language in the draft resolution calling for the break up of powerful search engines does not attack Google directly. Instead, according to a version seen by The New York Times, the resolution calls on the European Commission “to consider proposals with the aim of unbundling search engines from other commercial services” to introduce more competition into online search in Europe. The resolution was written by Andreas Schwab, a member of the center-right European People’s Party from Germany, where powerful publishing groups have strongly campaigned for measures to rein in Google’s market power. If true, then it seems that Microsoft -- one of the leading drivers behind antitrust actions in Europe -- may have shot itself in the foot here, since it, too, is a "search engine" that has plenty of other "commercial services." While I do think antitrust is an important tool in stopping abusive monopolistic powers that block out any and all competition, it seems only reasonable that you should at least have to show some sort of actual consumer harm. Furthermore, it's difficult to see how this plan would actually do what its backers seem to want to accomplish. Breaking up Google, if it can even be done realistically, doesn't magically lead to more search engines in the market. There are lots of upstart search engines out there trying -- we hear about new ones all the time. And they're not, in any way, "blocked" by Google. So what would this move do other than punish Google for being successful?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The CIA and Senate have found more to fight about. With the "Torture Report" mostly in the hands of the White House at this point, the two are now battling over the CIA's planned alterations to its email retention policies. Key senators are pushing back against a CIA plan to destroy older emails of “non-senior” agency officials. The heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday sent a letter opposing the proposal, under which only the highest ranking CIA workers would have their email correspondence permanently saved. The plan “could allow the destruction of crucial documentary evidence regarding the CIA’s activities that is essential for Congress, the public and the courts to know,” Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) wrote to the National Archives... The senators are asking the National Archives to step up and somehow prevent this from happening -- most likely by declaring "non-senior" emails to be retainable records that must be turned over rather than destroyed. The CIA would prefer to destroy the emails of all but the top 22 employees three years after they leave, or when "no longer needed, whichever is sooner." Unfortunately for the senators making this request, the National Archive has already signaled its agreement with the CIA's proposed retention schedule changes. In tentatively approving the request, the National Archives noted that the emailed information “is unlikely” to exist in other forms that will be marked for permanent storage. Any information not found in those other files likely “has little or no research value,” it added. Senators Feinstein and Chambliss -- in rare agreement with transparency and government accountability activists -- disagree with the National Archives' assessment. “In our experience, email messages are essential to finding CIA records that may not exist in other so-called permanent records at the CIA,” Feinstein and Chambliss wrote. Longer retention is needed, especially for an agency as secretive as the CIA. The standard wait period for sensitive document declassification is 25 years. Correspondence related to declassified documents will be long gone by that point. Even in terms of normal FOIA requests, three years is cutting things close. Rarely does an FOIA-worthy event come to light within days or weeks of its occurrence. It's generally weeks, months or years down the road. By the time documents are requested, ignored by the CIA's FOIA staff and finally pried free by a federal lawsuit*, responsive documents may already have been destroyed. Without a doubt, the CIA knows this is a distinct possibility and any trimming of retention periods only makes it more likely that relevant communications will be permanently removed from circulation. *YMMV Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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There are some bizarre legal definitions for common foods. For example, we've seen that the definition of a sandwich was under dispute because a burrito place was encroaching on a sandwich shop in a shopping mall food court. That case decided that a burrito was not a sandwich, but food experts don't all agree on that point. Here are a few other cases of defining some foods legally and not with your gut. Unilever is suing a vegan "mayo" company because it doesn't use eggs in its product. The startup Hampton Creek may be benefiting from some publicity here, and its "Just Mayo" mayonnaise-like spread will likely sell more now. In the end, though, both Unilever and Hampton Creek (and any other condiment makers) may need to be more explicit about ingredients and make a clear distinction between mayo and mayo dressing. [url] In 1893, the Supreme Court decided that, under customs law, a tomato is a vegetable, not a fruit. A fruit importer was trying to get tomatoes into the US without having to pay the 10% import tax, so against biological definitions, the court ruled that vegetables were "usually served at dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish, or meats ... and not, like fruits generally, as dessert" -- and tomatoes were therefore a vegetable in everyday experience. [url] In 1981, the US Department of Agriculture had 90 days to come up with new standards for subsidized school lunch programs. The resulting new rules almost considered ketchup to be a vegetable, but the ketchup-counts-as-a-veggie policy was not adopted. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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For a moment there, streaming video operator Aereo put on a brave face that it could continue despite last June's Supreme Court ruling against the company. While some interpretations of that ruling seemed to suggest that Aereo could be considered a cable company if it was willing to pay retransmission fees and effectively function as a delayed DVR service, those dreams were dashed in an October ruling that granted a pretty broad injunction by broadcasters. Judge Alison Nathan effectively stated at the time that Aereo should go ahead and die as the Supreme Court intended, and stop with all the postmortem twitching. With no product on sale and legal costs mounting, Aereo earlier this month laid off the majority of its staff with the exception of a skeleton crew in their New York City office. This week, Aereo announced that the company would be filing for bankruptcy. In a blog post, Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia finally acknowledges the obvious -- that the Supreme Court ruling was simply too difficult to overcome:"While we had significant victories in the federal district courts in New York and Boston and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the reversal of the Second Circuit decision in June by the U.S. Supreme Court has proven difficult to overcome. The U.S. Supreme Court decision effectively changed the laws that had governed Aereo’s technology, creating regulatory and legal uncertainty. And while our team has focused its energies on exploring every path forward available to us, without that clarity, the challenges have proven too difficult to overcome."While the blog post is entitled "The Next Chapter," this is most likely game over for the disruptive upstart. While the FCC is considering rule changes that would officially declare over the top streaming operators cable companies (giving them FCC-enforced access to vertically integrated programming), that would require that Aereo pay retransmission fees -- ruining Aereo's biggest appeal: the low price. But by the time Aereo gets any sort of fresh footing as a more traditional streaming operation, the market will likely be flooded with a variety of new, live over-the-top (OTT) services (from Dish, Sony, Verizon and more in 2015), and Aereo's window will have been slammed shut by larger players.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Techdirt has been following the extremely important case where a US magistrate judge ruled that Microsoft had to comply with a warrant asking for data held on servers in Dublin. Clearly, if this stands, it will have big implications for cloud computing -- and a massive negative impact on US businesses trying to sell such services around the world. For that reason, Microsoft has been fighting back in the courts, so far unsuccessfully. Now there's been an interesting development on the other side of the Atlantic, where Ireland's Minister for European Affairs and Data Protection has written to the European Commission formally requesting it to make a submission: A case involving Microsoft that is currently before the US courts has raised important issues between the respective legal regimes in the European Union and the United States, particularly in relation to the protection of personal data. The case in question has given rise to a degree of legal uncertainty and the outcome could have potentially serious implications for data protection in the EU. By seeking direct access to data held in the EU through the US judicial system, existing legal mechanisms for mutual assistance between jurisdictions may be being effectively bypassed. There are fundamental issues at stake here as regards the protection of personal data that is held within the European Union. "Existing legal mechanisms" presumably means the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty that would allow the US to request the data it wants from the Irish government. The "fundamental issues at stake" refer to the fact that by trying to take a more direct route, without involving the Irish government, the US authorities are likely to fall foul of European data protection laws, which do not allow personal data to be handed over in this way. The Irish minister is clearly asking the European Commission to support Microsoft in its fight against the US court's decision: I urge the Commission to consider the arguments that Microsoft are making with respect to this case. That's an indication that the Irish government -- and doubtless those elsewhere in the EU -- really want Microsoft to win. If it doesn't, there is going to be a clash of jurisdictions that could get very messy as both US and EU insist that their laws must take precedence, with serious consequences if they don't.... Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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AT&T, of all companies, has just handed in an amicus brief challenging the warrantless acquisition of cell site location data. At the center of this discussion is Quartavious Davis, who was sentenced to 162 years in prison for his involvement in a string of seven robberies, and his cell location records -- 67 days-worth which were obtained by investigators without a warrant. An earlier appeals court ruling found that cell location records are sensitive enough to be afforded Fourth Amendment protection. The government sought a rehearing and so there's now an en banc rehearing of the case before the full slate of judges from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. AT&T has normally been very cooperative with law enforcement and national security agencies. This filing may look like a shift in loyalties, but what AT&T is asking for isn't exactly revolutionary, or even in line with the panel's previous decision regarding cell site location records. AT&T said in its filing that it wants the courts to set a clear standard for the type of approval the government needs in order to obtain cellphone location data, and that it isn't taking a position on whether the standard should be a warrant. While this lack of solid stance may be only minimally encouraging, AT&T's challenge of the government's Third Party Doctrine rationale is a bit more weighty. AT&T, in a friend-of-the-court brief filed Monday in an appeals-court case, said the high court's reasoning applies poorly "to how individuals interact with one another and with information using modern digital devices." "Nothing in those [prior court] decisions contemplated, much less required, a legal regime that forces individuals to choose between maintaining their privacy and participating in the emerging social, political, and economic world facilitated by the use of today's mobile devices or other location-based services," the company said. This echoes the arguments presented by a few federal judges. While the government clings to the Third Party Doctrine and the assertion that the public "voluntarily" turns over this data, the courts have noted that the dynamic has changed. Cellphones are utilitarian at this point, and not some sort of purely voluntary luxury the public can do without. And what the public very certainly isn't doing is creating a wealth of information for law enforcement and investigative agencies to access without a warrant. What is most unusual about this situation is that AT&T has stepped up to oppose the government's overreach, something it has generally remained largely silent on to this point. This about-face carries with it an air of resentment -- the slightly vindictive act of a company that spent years greasing the government's investigative wheels and got nothing in return but more demands and less respect and trust from the public it hopes to sell products and services to. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A little more than a year ago, Popular Science announced they were shutting of news story comments, stating that comments were "bad for science." Earlier this month Reuters Digital Executive Editor Dan Colarusso also announced that the company would also be eliminating comments from news stories. Comments, Colarusso proclaimed, were no longer necessary thanks to the rise of social media. Reuters still values conversation about the news, he insisted, but the old-fashioned idea of allowing users to directly comment on stories must give way to "new realities of behavior in the marketplace":"Much of the well-informed and articulate discussion around news, as well as criticism or praise for stories, has moved to social media and online forums. Those communities offer vibrant conversation and, importantly, are self-policed by participants to keep on the fringes those who would abuse the privilege of commenting."That's a lovely way of saying that Reuters didn't care enough about its readers to pay for moderators. This is the same Reuters that a few years ago threw the baby out with the bathwater when they banned anonymous commenters, ignoring the fact that anonymity isn't synonymous with jackassery, and can often allow people to give valuable insight they might not be comfortable with otherwise. On the heels of the Reuters announcement the folks over at Re/code this week announced a similar plan, again insisting that social media is a good enough replacement for direct, on-site reader feedback:"Our writers are all active on services like Twitter and Facebook, and our official Re/code accounts on social media post our stories all day long. Readers aren’t shy about offering their opinions to us on these and other social media services, and you are likelier to be able to interact with us there. In effect, we believe that social media is the new arena for commenting, replacing the old onsite approach that dates back many years."Should you visit Re/code now, you're informed that your comments are considered so important, you're encouraged to leave:This sudden disdain for traditional comments raises the question: is Facebook somehow immune to stupid comments? Is forcing all news conversation on to Facebook's terms really an improvement in meaningful dialogue? The rush to declare the comment section dead seems to ignore the fact that on-site comments create value by building a sense of local community, something GigaOM's Matthew Ingram recently put rather succinctly:"The bottom line is that if the discussion and debate and interaction around a news story occurs somewhere else, then soon the readers who are interested in that engagement will start to think of the platform where it occurs as the important part of the relationship — not the site that actually created the content."Offloading moderation costs to social media websites is of course their prerogative, but I find the pretense that this is about some kind of concern for an evolution in conversation to be disingenuous. It's like a local bar owner saying they value intelligent conversation so much they'd really prefer it if patrons held their conversation at the massive stadium down the street. It's a way to keep your readers -- both the obnoxious ones and those offering interesting insight and corrections -- at arms length. The fact these announcements tend to be dripping with disdain for site readership doesn't generate the impression that participatory feedback is actually welcome. That's not to say comments aren't frequently a raging cacophony of nitwits, partisan blowhards and spambots when moderated poorly. However, there's a number of older tech communities like Slashdot that have been able to moderate communities and cultivate intelligent conversation for more than a decade on a fraction of the budget of Re/Code and Reuters. Sites like Reddit and Gawker have similarly tinkered with community self-regulation and systems that work to dull the boldest bullhorns in said nitwit cacophony. This sudden trend toward waving your face like a Southern belle at the overwhelming and brutish nature of Internet conversation seems dramatic. We're herding a few jackasses here, not splitting the atom. Obviously news comments are an ongoing evolution, and it takes a little work to cultivate meaningful conversation. But offloading your Viagra spam and bile-soaked comment section to Facebook because you can't be bothered to hire moderators is a cop out and it's lazy. Pretending you're doing it because you value conversation adds insult to injury. What Popular Science, Reuters and Re/Code are really saying is that they don't care enough about their communities -- or those regulars who do stop by to have intelligent conversation -- to pay somebody to weed the garden.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Back in May, we wrote about how, despite pretty much everyone agreeing on a (decent, if not amazing) patent reform bill in the Senate, the whole thing got shot down, when the trial lawyers called Senator Harry Reid, asking him to kill the whole thing, which he did, telling Senator Patrick Leahy that he wouldn't allow the bill to go to the floor for a vote. This came after months of detailed negotiations, getting nearly everyone into agreement on the bill, which would have made life at least somewhat more difficult for patent trolls. About a week after that, we pointed out that it seemed likely that the patent trolls had miscalculated badly, because it was widely expected that the Republicans would take control of the Senate in the fall (as they did), and they were more gungho on real patent reform and (obviously) not concerned with what trial lawyers think (mocking trial lawyers being a hobby of Republican politicians). And, indeed, that prediction appears to have been quite accurate. Senator Orrin Hatch -- who is seen as something of a copyright maximalist though apparently doesn't feel that way about patents -- went on the attack against patent trolls in a floor speech. Hatch doesn't mince words and flat out calls out the trial lawyers for killing the recent patent reform attempt. Furthermore, as Vox reports, other Republicans in the Senate appear eager to take on patent trolls, going even further than the legislation that was almost agreed to earlier this year. In fact, Hatch made it clear that he wants stronger fee-shifting in patent reform than what was in the last bill -- and that was the issue that most worried the trial lawyers. It was pretty obvious this was going to happen back in May. It's fairly incredible the trial lawyers (and Harry Reid) didn't recognize this at the time. Hatch's speech touched on a few other issues -- some good, some bad. He's pushing new federalized trade secret laws. This is a really bad idea, which we'll be discussing in more detail later. However, he also supports ECPA reform -- something that we've supported for years and has never gone anywhere in Congress. He brought up some other important issues, including immigration for high skilled workers. So the speech was definitely a mixed bag, but it had a lot of good points (unless you're a patent troll or a trial lawyer).Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Alongside the disturbing revelations of indiscriminate, global surveillance carried out by the NSA and its Five Eyes friends, leaked documents have shown another side of modern spying: the high-tech gadgets created for the NSA's Tailored Access Operations group, discussed by Techdirt at the end of last year. As its name suggests, these are targeted operations, and with many of the serious concerns about the use of blanket surveillance removed, it is hard not to be impressed by the ingenuity of the devices. Of course, a natural question is: could the rest of us have them too? According to a detailed and fascinating article in Vice's Motherboard, the answer turns out to be "yes". The report discusses the work of Michael Ossmann, a long-time hardware hacker. Unlike most people, he was not surprised by many of the NSA spying devices found in a 48-page catalog from the Advanced Network Technology (ANT) division, revealed by the German news magazine Der Spiegel: Most of the document was fun for Ossmann, rather than actually revelatory. “We" -- as in the global community of radio hackers -- "already knew how to build most of this stuff,” he told me recently. But the ANT toolkit also included another more unusual class of devices known as "radio frequency retroreflectors.” With names like NIGHTWATCH, RAGEMASTER, and SURLYSPAWN, these devices were designed to give NSA agents "the means to collect signals that otherwise would not be collectable, or would be extremely difficult to collect and process." These devices work by reflecting back radio signals beamed at the target systems containing them. Suitable designs allow information to be transmitted to surveillance teams without the need for on-board power supplies. This means that they can be extremely small -- fitting inside a USB plug, for example. Inspired by the ANT catalog, Ossmann and a group of like-minded hackers set about creating a collection of surveillance gadgets they called the NSA Playset: Every tool in the NSA Playset has been designed on top of open-source hardware and software so that anyone can build their own, often in no more than a few hours. Over a dozen engineers are involved in the project, Ossmann said, but anyone is invited to join and contribute their own device. The first requirement: a silly name riffing on the original NSA codename. "For example, if your project is similar to FOXACID, maybe you could call it COYOTEMETH," says the NSA Playset website. (A separate website, NSA Name Generator, is designed to help.) As well as being open, the NSA Playset is also very low cost: One device, dubbed TWILIGHTVEGETABLE, is a knock off of an NSA-built GSM cell phone that's designed to sniff and monitor internet traffic. The ANT catalog lists it for $15,000; the NSA Playset researchers built one using a USB flash drive, a cheap SDR [software-defined radio], and an antenna, for about $50. The most expensive device, a drone that spies on WiFi traffic called PORCUPINEMASQUERADE, costs about $600 to assemble. At Defcon, a complete NSA Playset toolkit was auctioned by the EFF for $2,250. The article goes on to explore some of the implications of making these advanced surveillance technologies available so cheaply. As well as the obvious use for research purposes -- for example, coming up with countermeasures -- there's another interesting aspect: the work Ossmann is doing is helping many of the government's engineers resolve a catch-22 that's emerged in the wake of the Snowden revelations: government security researchers who didn't have access to the ANT catalog when it was classified aren't legally permitted to read it or transmit it now, even though everyone else can. Arguably, that leaves the public sector at a disadvantage next to the private sector -- or to spies in, say, Beijing or Moscow. Amongst other things, the NSA Playset is a great example of how hackers are doing the authorities a big service, by helping government experts get around stupid rules introduced without thinking through the negative consequences they would have for national security and thus public safety. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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They justify the use of Stingray devices (IMSI catchers/cell tower spoofers) by pointing out how great they are at catching criminals. They justify the secrecy surrounding them by claiming the release of any details will compromise investigations. And then they pull something like this. Baltimore prosecutors withdrew key evidence in a robbery case Monday rather than reveal details of the cellphone tracking technology police used to gather it. So… great for catching crooks but not all that great at keeping them caught. How embarrassing. That has to suck for Baltimore citizens, who have just discovered their local PD prizes non-disclosure agreements over putting bad guys away. City police Det. John L. Haley, a member of a specialized phone tracking unit, said officers did not use the controversial device known as a stingray. But when pressed on how phones are tracked, he cited what he called a "nondisclosure agreement" with the FBI. Which most people would take to mean don't go around spilling the details to normal citizens, family members or journalists. But as we've seen repeatedly, law enforcement agencies have taken this FBI-required NDA to mean (very conveniently, I might add) that they're allowed to tell no one. Goodbye, crusty old "due process" ideals. Hello, parallel construction. But in this case, the judge responded with an obvious statement -- one that is made far too infrequently. "You don't have a nondisclosure agreement with the court," Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams replied. Then Judge Williams called the PD's bluff: explain the evidence's origin or face contempt charges. Faced with this, the prosecution folded. It's no secret the Baltimore Police Dept. has a Stingray device. Here's a document from 2009 containing the city council's approval of the Stingray purchase. Here's another document showing the PD's request for additional funds to upgrade the device. The general public is already aware of the device's existence and capabilities, and yet, the police balk at discussing it publicly, even if it means potentially damaging a prosecutor's case. It's not just the phone-related evidence that's being withdrawn. It's everything derived from that Stingray-related search, including a handgun. This isn't Judge Williams' first experience with police officers unwilling to discuss Stingray usage. The Baltimore Sun reports he also dealt with a non-discussion of the technology back in September. The device was used to track a phone (and a suspect) to a certain location. When Williams asked how the officers ascertained that the suspect actually had the phone on him, they actually invoked national security rather than answer the question. "This kind of goes into Homeland Security issues, your honor," [Sgt. Scott] Danielczyk said. Williams nailed this response, too. "If it goes into Homeland Security issues, then the phone doesn't come in," Williams said. "I mean, this is simple. You can't just stop someone and not give me a reason." That's how this is supposed to work. If law enforcement agencies want to deploy super-secret technology, then they shouldn't be able to drag evidence of unexplained origin into the courts with them. Allowing them to have it both ways steamrolls due process. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The attempt to nerf the NSA's new data center in Utah continues. As we covered here at the beginning of this year, legislators and activists began pushing a bill that would cut off the NSA's water supply if it continued to gather data on American citizens. It's an interesting move, one that leverages the states' abilities to combat overreaching federal laws, but one that has gone nowhere so far. The bill was discussed and then tabled indefinitely, supposedly for "further study." Apparently, some sort of studying has gone on during the intervening months, because it appears the bill is moving forward again. On Wednesday, the Public Utilities and Technology Interim Committee discussed the bill that "prohibits cooperation between a federal agency that collects electronic data and any political subdivisions of the state." The Salt Lake Tribune has more details. Committee members expressed some concerns with the bill but no outright opposition. They asked the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Santaquin, to better define who would be impacted by the bill. The members also asked questions on whether Utah taxpayers are supporting the NSA. "I just don’t want to subsidize what they’re doing on the back of our citizens," said Rep. Roger Barrus, R-Centerville. As is par for the course in legislative discussions, the prevailing public wind was checked. Apparently, it still blows in the direction of shutting down the NSA's water supply. Rep. Barrus' stated concerns about taxpayer subsidies are admirable, if a bit on the tardy side. As it stands now, the NSA is receiving cut rates on both electricity and water -- both of which are expected to be used heavily. (The data center is projected to use four times as much electricity as the entire town of Bluffdale and over a million gallons of water a day.) If the bill does pass, the effect won't be felt immediately. Roberts’ bill would grandfather in Bluffdale’s financial agreements with the Utah Data Center, but when those agreements expire, his bill would prohibit further cooperation with the NSA. It also would prohibit any other cities or water districts from signing new agreements with the NSA. Not that grandfathering in old agreements would ultimately matter if the bill passes. Uprooting a large-scale data center doesn't happen overnight. The NSA would be back out shopping for real estate while simultaneously attempting to have the new law overturned. It buys the agency some time but doesn't eliminate a possibly waterless future. Jokes were made during the meeting that the NSA had not only read the bill but was listening in to the session, something that seems to indicate a new-found wariness of the agency's power -- something that obviously wasn't present when Bluffdale approved the data center… or any time prior to Snowden's leaks. Pete Ashdown, the founder of the Internet service provider XMission, toured the Utah Data Center before the leaks from Edward Snowden. He said an NSA administrator told him the data center came to Utah because of low energy prices and people who were patriotic. Ashdown believes the latter implied Utahns would not question what the NSA does. Whether or not that was the NSA rep's insinuation, there can be no question that many surveillance apologists believe the same thing: patriotism means unquestioning support of your government. This attitude completely ignores the founding of this country: the violent overthrow of the standing government and the installation of principles based on the government deriving its power from the people -- not just demanding it, along with the public's devotion. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Hoping to assuage growing fears that vehicle data won't be abused, nineteen automakers recently got together and agreed to a set of voluntary principles they insist will protect consumer privacy in the new smart car age. Automakers promise that the principles, delivered in a letter to the FTC (pdf), require that they "implement reasonable measures" to protect collected consumer data, both now and as the industry works toward car-to-car communications. The principles "demonstrate the industry's commitment to its customers" and "reflect a major step in protecting consumer information" insists the industry. Should you bother to actually read the principles, the promised revolution in privacy protection quickly become less apparent. While the principles do require that automakers clearly communicate with customers (and by clear they mean "hey, here's some fine print saying we're selling your location data now"), many don't appear to actually do much of anything. Like this particular gem:"Data Minimization, De-Identification & Retention: Participating Members commit to collecting Covered Information only as needed for legitimate business purposes. Participating Members commit to retaining Covered Information no longer than they determine necessary for legitimate business purposes."With "legitimate business purposes" being whatever they see fit, that doesn't mean much. Similarly, the industry's "groundbreaking" promises are also heavily peppered with the ambiguous word "reasonable," which can of course mean whatever they'd like it to mean:"Participating Members commit to implementing reasonable measures to protect Covered Information against unauthorized access or use."Aka, we'll make some kind of ambiguous effort to secure your data. As with most efforts of this type, the goal is to preempt government from crafting new (or enforcing existing) privacy protections as the industry moves into more aggressive ways of monetizing location data. Said promises unsurprisingly aren't easing the worries of both safety and privacy advocates as we move into the vehicle black box age, notes the Associated Press:"Industry officials say they oppose federal legislation to require privacy protections, saying that would be too "prescriptive." But Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said legislation is needed to ensure automakers don't back off the principles when they become inconvenient. "You just don't want your car spying on you," he said. "That's the practical consequence of a lot of the new technologies that are being built into cars."With many parts of this technology DRM locked, users won't have much control over or access to their own data (something the EFF is trying to fix with their latest slate of DMCA exemption requests). It's also worth noting this supposed circle of automotive trust was already quite rusted before cars became more intelligent; most car dealerships and garages are paid by Carfax to report vehicle mileage and accident repair, with Carfax in turn being paid for that data by insurance companies. Similarly most of the in-car infotainment systems rely on cellular chipsets from companies like AT&T and Verizon, who quite happily sell any and all location data that isn't nailed down, and consistently experiment with creative new privacy violations (despite very similar promises they'd be on their best behavior). So while it's very sweet that the auto industry is promising to respect your privacy as they push into brave new data snoopvertising and location data tracking territory, like so many self-regulatory promises before it they likely aren't worth the paper they're printed on.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Semiconductors are all around us, everyday. They make our phones and computers work, and sometimes we don't realize they're also in our cars and fancy toasters and refrigerators, etc, etc. It's likely that the majority of the Techdirt audience has taken an electrical engineering class, but if you're not in that group (and you're curious about what a semiconductor does), check out these links on what goes into the chips that run the modern world. If you wanted to know what the basic parts of a processor are, here's an answer from Quora. You'll need to be able to figure out an AND gate, an exclusive OR gate, a flip-flop circuit, a multiplexer, a full adder... and some time to remember any Boolean logic you might have learned once. [url] How does a transistor work, and how does anyone make these things? Anandtech has a not-so-brief introduction to transistors and lithography, explaining a bit how past, present (and future) processors (will) work. [url] Ask most folks to name a chip manufacturer, and they'll name Intel. However, companies that use enormous amounts of computing power are looking for alternatives to X86 chip designs. ARM and OpenPower chip designs can be licensed more freely than X86, so there could be more kinds of chips running our Google searches and Facebook feeds someday. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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There may be some better news on the way for those of us who like free-as-in-FOIA information and an accountable government. Professor and attorney Douglas Cox points out that an amendment to the statutes governing the National Archive may give that agency the power to keep records of public interest from being deleted, destroyed or otherwise hidden. Having passed every step but presidential approval, H.R. 1233 (Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments of 2014) [pdf link], makes the following small, but important, change to the Archivist's powers and duties. Here's the portion Cox highlights at Document Exploitation: DETERMINATION OF DEFINITION.—The Archivist’s determination whether recorded information, regardless of whether it exists in physical, digital, or electronic form, is a record as defined in subsection (a) shall be binding on all Federal agencies. As Cox explains, this single paragraph allows the Archivist to determine what is or isn't a record -- something that must be retained -- and makes it binding across all federal agencies. If that passes, government agencies will no longer be able to exploit the law to bury embarrassing or incriminating documents. [T]his authority allows the Archivist to close up - or at least tighten up considerably - the horrible loophole in the law that has been manipulated in a long line of cases of government document destruction or alienation. Cox goes on to note that this isn't a theoretical harm. It's something that has happened time and time again over the past several years. [F]rom the State Department's indefensible decision to allow Henry Kissinger to remove (and treat as his personal property) the transcripts of his official telephone calls as the Secretary of State all the way up to the CIA's destruction of the interrogation tapes. This is the same loophole that could legitimately endanger the long-term survival of the CIA's "Panetta Review" and necessitated the actions of the SSCI staff in exfiltrating a copy from the CIA to a Senate vault (as I described at length here - it is not a conspiracy theory), which is further complicated now by fears that new leadership at the SSCI will return the Panetta Review to the exclusive custody of the CIA. The loophole isn't in the "record" language. That's still very broadly defined and (unfortunately) rather malleable. The loophole is which records are "appropriate for preservation," something that has been left up to each agency to determine. And "determine" they did, right up to the point that DC circuit court judges pointed out that government agencies have a "built-in incentive" to destroy records related to "mistakes." Cox notes that while this amendment is promising, it doesn't fix everything -- especially some records-related circular reasoning that has made its way into the definition of "records" with the assistance of the National Archives and Records Association itself. But it is a step forward. To be clear, the Archivist neither has the funding, nor the personnel, nor the appetite to look over the shoulder of every federal employee to micromanage whether each email is, or is not, a record, but this bill, once signed by the President, will give the Archivist an important power that should not be left to rot on the vine. Cox recommends the first action it should take with its new powers (should the President sign it into law) is ensure the Panetta Review is designated a permanent federal record to keep the CIA from performing any extra "editing." Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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On Tuesday evening, Senator Dianne Feinstein had told reporters that the Senate Intelligence Committee and the White House were finally close to an agreement to finalize the release of the declassified executive summary of the CIA torture report. As we've been discussing for months, back in April the Senate Intelligence Committee agreed to declassify the 480-page executive summary of the 6,300-page report (which cost $40 million to put together). As we'd noted, the CIA and White House first offered up redactions that made the whole thing "incomprehensible" according to some in the Senate. The main fight had come down to pseudonyms. The White House and CIA were demanding that pseudonyms be redacted, even though they were already pseudonyms. The concern, from the CIA, was that by identifying which individuals are the same throughout the report, it would provide enough information for people to figure out who some of the people were. However, as Senator Wyden noted, this is both ridiculous and unprecedented, as plenty of previous such reports have used pseudonyms without a problem. Either way, it appears that the Senators finally gave in and agreed to "meeting [the White House/CIA] more than halfway", and the response from the White House was to reject even this compromise. Now even after Senate Democrats agreed to remove some pseudonyms at White House request, the Oval Office is still haggling for more redactions. "The White House is continuing to put up fierce resistance to the release of the report," said one knowledgeable Senate aide. "Ideally, we should be closing ground and finalizing the last stages right now so that we can release the report post-Thanksgiving. But, despite the fact that the committee has drastically reduced the number of pseudonyms in the report, the White House is still resisting and dragging this out." It appears that many people are reasonably wondering if the White House is just trying to drag this out until the Republicans are in charge of the Senate and they can bury the report. Of course, that only increases the chance that Mark Udall reads the report into the record. However, I've seen some suggestions that if this is the real sticking point, he can just leak the pseudonyms... Either way, it looks like this stupid political fight is ongoing...Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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In case you haven't read the news reports, Bill Cosby is having a terrible, no good, very bad few weeks. Ever since Hannibal Buress, a fellow comedian, brought up the fact that Bill Cosby has been accused of sexual assault and rape an incredible number of times, details of the accusations have been making headlines and formerly silent women have come forward with new accusations of their own. The pudding guy, on the other hand, has been remarkably silent on the matter, even as a Netflix special and a scheduled network sitcom are being sidelined as the controversey grows. In the midst of all this, one would think Mr. Cosby would be out there telling his side of the story. He isn't. His lawyers, on the other hand, have been quite active, but most of their work has been in the arena of making sure that nobody's side of the story gets out. In addition to blasting one of his alleged victims, who claimed her publisher nixed part of her book that detailed her allegations against Cosby, that letter to Buzzfeed from Cosby's attorneys makes some barely-veiled threats. Because you can confirm with indpendent sources the falsity of the claim that my client's lawyers allegedly pressured the publisher to kill the story, it would be extremely reckless to rely on anything Ms. Dicknson has to say about Mr. Cosby since the story about the publisher is false...If you proceed with the false Story when you can check the facts with neutral independent sources who will provide you with facts demonstrating that the Story is false and fabricated, you will be acting recklessly and with Constitutional malice. It goes on and on in that fashion. It's worth noting that the neutral third parties the lawyers are insisting Buzzfeed rely upon are the same publishers that allegedly conspired with Cosby's lawyers to pull the rape allegation from the book. So... yeah, not the most independent of choices, I don't think. In any case, attempting to muscle journalists in any situation probably wouldn't reflect well on their client, but doing so when Cosby is remaining completely silent on the matter, beyond the occasional attempt to intimidate journalists himself, really doesn't look good. Add to all of this the always laughable claim at the top of the letter sent to Buzzfeed: CONFIDENTIAL LEGAL NOTICE PUBLICATION OR DISSEMINATION IS PROHIBITED And you can tell that they mean business because they used all caps. Too bad this is a statement equal parts meritless and futile. As Marc Randazza notes, the proper responses to that disclaimer all involve vulgarity. No. Wrong. Jesus Hello Kitty Christ on a Rocket-Powered Toboggan, NO! It is NOT confidential. You CAN disseminate it. Here is why: I JUST FREAKIN’ GAVE THIS LESSON, WILL YOU PEOPLE PAY ATTENTION???? That link he provides is a nice overview of why the confidentiality disclaimer is complete horseshit. In that rundown he highlights the futility of the disclaimer, since it's ultimately reproduced when the recipient goes ahead and publishes the letter anyway. It lets any reader know not only that you're the kind of lawyer who will make a false claim, but also that you don't really want your actions to be known publicly, indicating that there's something underhanded in all of this. Which there is. Several women have now come forward at this point with claims of rape against Bill Cosby. You can choose to believe they're all lying if you like, but attempts to muzzle the press aren't going to get Mr. Huxtable very far, I fear. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Last week we launched our new Podcast. If you haven't yet subscribed, please do. You'll find all the episodes on Techdirt and on Soundcloud, though the best way is to subscribe via what ever podcatching software you use, so the file will magically show up for you when it's ready. For that, you can subscribe via iTunes or the RSS feed. This week's podcast is actually a little different -- because it just so happened that I was scheduled to be at the pii 2014 Conference -- Privacy Identity and Innovation Conference -- held in Palo Alto, interviewing venture capitalist Brad Burnham (from Union Square Ventures) on stage. So, we took that interview, and turned it into this week's podcast. The official topic of the discussion was "The Paradox of Data Sharing" but it went way beyond that, getting into a discussion on user control over data and whether or not companies would give up that control. Special thanks to Brad Burnham for taking part and also to the team at pii for inviting me, and letting us use the recording for the podcast. I highly recommend their events. They've put on great events for years, and this was another excellent one. Also, I do need to apologize about the sound quality. Something happens about a third of the way into the interview that messed with the sound levels. We've tried to correct for it as much as possible, but because of it there's a lot more of a "hiss" noise than we'd normally like. Hopefully the discussion is interesting enough that it's not too distracting. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The AP has a big story out claiming that, back in 2009, a "now-retired" but "senior NSA official" found out about the Section 215 program collecting bulk phone records from the telcos and argued that it went too far and should be stopped: Years before Edward Snowden sparked a public outcry with the disclosure that the National Security Agency had been secretly collecting American telephone records, some NSA executives voiced strong objections to the program, current and former intelligence officials say. The program exceeded the agency's mandate to focus on foreign spying and would do little to stop terror plots, the executives argued. The 2009 dissent, led by a senior NSA official and embraced by others at the agency, prompted the Obama administration to consider, but ultimately abandon, a plan to stop gathering the records. The "former official" apparently found the whole program to be problematic and correctly predicted that if it ever became public it would be a problem: The former official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because he didn't have permission to discuss a classified matter, said he knows of no evidence the program was used for anything other than its stated purpose — to hunt for terrorism plots in the U.S. But he said he and others made the case that the collection of American records in bulk crossed a line that he and his colleagues had been taught was sacrosanct. He said he also warned of a scandal if it should be disclosed that the NSA was storing records of private calls by Americans — to psychiatrists, lovers and suicide hotlines, among other contacts. The article notes that these concerns did lead the Justice Department, Congress and the White House to take a closer look at the program -- and then choose to keep it going. This contradicts the narrative that some have suggested that the White House didn't fully understand the program in the past because it was preoccupied with other issues. Now it seems clear that not only were officials well aware of the program, they chose not to rein in the program when they had the chance. The article further notes that this official and others within the NSA who were concerned with the program had offered up some suggested changes, not unlike what was actually in the USA Freedom Act that was just rejected. Perhaps more interesting, the article concludes by pointing out that if this change had been put in place, there's a decent chance that Ed Snowden never would have revealed everything else -- because this was the main program that so concerned Snowden, and which has been the centerpiece of most of the discussions since the Snowden revelations.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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By now it's sadly clear that the nation's satirical news programs do a significantly better job at reporting the news than most of the nation's actual news outlets, despite a fraction of the budget and experience. John Oliver's recent analysis of Miss America scholarship claims, for example, contained more original reporting in a fifteen minute segment than most Apple regurgitation blogs manage to stumble through in an entire year's worth of gadget lust. Not only are satirists now doing a better job unearthing the truth, they're doing a better job explaining complex issues. Case in point: a study earlier this year out of the University of Pennsylvania suggested that Stephen Colbert explained campaign financing more effectively than most beat reporters. Of course a 2012 Pew study suggested many cable news viewers were less informed than those who watched no news at all, suggesting it's not too difficult to beat many modern news outlets at their own game when the standards bar is set ankle height. Satire's continued rise as one of the country's most effective and influential original reporting platforms was again on display courtesy of John Oliver's fantastic net neutrality rant, which not only explained the issue in effective detail, it captured the attention of the dingo-staffed FCC itself (as these recent FOIA-obtained internal FCC memos indicate). It also helped spur the lion's share of the four million net neutrality comments filed with the agency, blurring the line between not only satire and journalism, but consumer advocacy and activism. This month a new study (pdf) out of the University of Delaware once again highlights how viewers of satirical programs are significantly better informed on the subject of net neutrality than those who watch traditional news programs:"The survey also reveals that viewers of satirical shows such as John Oliver's Last Week Tonight and The Colbert Report are far more aware of the issue than consumers of traditional news sources...Opposition to the creation of "fast lanes" is strongest (86%) among those who say they have heard a lot about the proposed rules, but most Americans say they have heard little or nothing about the topic. The University of Delaware research found that only 10% of Americans have heard a lot about how "the U.S. government is considering new rules for ISPs." Another 39% have heard a little, whereas fully half (50%) have heard nothing at all about the topic." Of course a big reason major news outlets aren't adequately informing their viewership on net neutrality is because they're simply not mentioning it. A Pew study from earlier this year studied net neutrality coverage among twenty-three major newspapers and cable news networks, and found most simply didn't discuss the issue this year. That trend continued this month when the President's clear support of Title II rules barely made a dent on major networks like Fox News and CNN, and when it did -- often saw either misleading and inaccurate analysis, or an over-emphasis on inane aspects of the discussion (like what Donald Trump has to say about the issue). Traditionally, folks like Jon Stewart have denied that satire can be journalism, largely because while clinical presentation of facts easily offends the nation's roaming partisan-cheerleader zombie hordes, a humorous presentation of those same facts magically defuses, creating a narrow-minded stupidity firewall through which truth can function (or as my less verbose grandmother used to say, honey makes the medicine go down). In a New York Times article posted over the weekend, Oliver follows Stewart's lead, stating that what his show is doing is not journalism:"So, I asked Mr. Oliver: Is he engaging in a kind of new journalism? He muttered an oath, the kind he can say on HBO for comic emphasis, but we don’t say here, adding, "No!" "We are making jokes about the news and sometimes we need to research things deeply to understand them, but it’s always in service of a joke. If you make jokes about animals, that does not make you a zoologist."While Oliver's presentation of the facts utilizes satire and humor, Oliver's staff has had previous stints at New York Times Magazine and ProPublica, and what they're doing is absolutely and undeniably investigative journalism. Unless of course you're an iron-headed, old guard news industry employee who still believes only Walter Cronkite's talking head has been mystically ordained with the authority to inform the lowly plebeians. In the end though who really cares if you call this flavor of reporting "journalism," "investigative comedy," or "donkey walnuts." The sole purpose of journalism is to accurately inform and deliver the truth. That's something that has been increasingly lost with the rise of tepid, he said, she said news reporting that sacrifices truth for the bland, unoffensive illusion of balance -- in the process helping to make stupidity fashionable and facts negotiable. It really doesn't matter if it's satirists, comedians, or male strippers stepping up and trying to fix the broken news industry -- just as long as somebody, somewhere is trying to.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Back in May 2013, we wrote about worrying attempts to create a harmonized system for controlling the sale of seeds in Africa that would increase the power of large suppliers such as Monsanto, at the expense of small farmers. A long and interesting article in Intellectual Property Watch indicates that those efforts are intensifying: The African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO), with the help of the United States and an international plant variety organisation, is working to grow regional support for a controversial draft law. The draft protocol would boost protection for new plant varieties, despite concerns of local civil society that it would not be in the best interest of ARIPO members' food security due to its potential impact on small farmers. ARIPO held a regional workshop on the issue in recent weeks in part to build support for a treaty negotiation to lock in these protections. There appears to have been an attempt to censor criticism at that workshop: The event restricted the attendance of civil society, according to the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA). At the event, the group confirmed its fears about the impact of the adoption of the protocol on small farmers and food security. ARIPO, meanwhile, said it had not heard particular worries from farmers over time. On its website, the AFSA explains its fears: These national laws will enable the entry of foreign breeders and threaten the rights of small-scale farmers. It also outlines plans to counter this move: AFSA's goal over the next three years in this area will be: to build the capacity of AFSA members to influence regional and national seed legislation and policies towards protection of farmers’ rights in seed sovereignty. This will happen through and with the seed network that already exists. AFSA will help grow this into a continent-wide platform over the next three years. That's a laudable goal, but the worry has to be that many new plant variety protection laws will have been passed by then -- doubtless with a little more help from the US on behalf of its Big Ag companies. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Listen up, everyone, because I think this is important and I'm very serious about this. The Florida middle school we recently discussed that conducted an unannounced active school shooter drill with armed police bursting into darkened classrooms full of terrified students and teachers has taken action. That action has been suspending the school's principal pending an investigation to be conducted by the school district. "I very much regret that this occurred," Superintendent of Schools Kathryn LeRoy said Tuesday evening during a School Board meeting. LeRoy said Jewett Principal Jacquelyn Moore was suspended Tuesday pending an internal investigation. In the past, the School District has not informed students, parents or staff members in advance about lockdown drills. But LeRoy specified some new rules for the future. Let me be clear: this isn't enough. The issue of irrational overreaction to an exaggerated fear of school shootings runs far deeper than one principal, and her suspension should not be allowed to assuage the outrage and anger this story has generated. This cannot become a sweep-it-under-the-rug story. None of this has occurred in a vaccum, after all. We've seen examples of these kinds of insane drills in the past and we've recently covered stories about potential massive amounts of money going into systems designed for school shooting situations. And, damn it, I cannot repeat this enough: school shootings are incredibly rare, they are not increasing in frequency, and the average child is safer in their school than they are in most other places on Earth. In the face of the actual reality regarding school shootings and our reactions to them, a principal's suspension is not enough. It must only be the start. Because if it isn't, here's what you'll get from people like the aforementioned school Superintendent LeRoy. From now on, she said, officers will not carry weapons during such practice; administrators should send a message to parents at the beginning of the drill and let students know a drill is taking place; and staff members should be on hand at the school entrance and answering phones to let callers know the lockdown is just a drill. What the hell is the matter with you people? I realize that for a politician or government official, or even someone in law enforcement, standing in front of a public whose fear has been stoked by a sensationalist and lazy mass media, telling them all to calm the hell down because they're getting worried over nothing isn't the popular thing to do. It isn't the politically expediant thing to do. But it would be the right thing to do. When that happens, you'll know things are actually getting better, and not before. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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If you're looking for some good data to put into an infographic, it's not too hard to find statistics on death. Reliable stats of how people died go back quite a ways, too. Sure, it's a bit morbid, but most people don't think about dying until they're close to doing it. So if you're curious, check out a few of these visualizations on how we die. The leading causes of death have changed significantly since 1900, so the flu (or pneumonia) isn't killing off as many Americans as it used to. Instead, heart disease and cancer have replaced the flu/pneumonia and tuberculosis. [url] What are the odds? Dying of heart disease has relatively common 467:1 odds -- compared to dying from cycling (340,845:1) or an asteroid impact (74,817,414:1). [url] Another infographic on how the world died (in the 20th century) shows non-communicable diseases and infectious diseases are obviously really deadly, but so are wars and drugs. It could be difficult to change these stats. Medical technology could wipe out some diseases, but we haven't cured old age.... [url] Is it worth it to try to minimize your risks of dying? If you want to try, remember to focus on the activities that are actually high risk, not the spectacular deaths that don't kill that many people (eg. stepladders vs terrorism). [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The last time we wrote about Tiger Woods, it was way back in the day when he was best known for putting golf balls in small holes instead of [Ed.: Tim, did you really think we were going to allow this to stay in the post?]. Even back then, however, Woods demonstrated his lack of knowledge concerning the Streisand effect, trying to stifle a story and spotlighting it instead. It seems the lesson has yet to be learned. This go around, Woods has decided to respond to a barely note-worthy piece of obvious satire in Golf Digest by issuing a formal rebuttal to it in The Players' Tribune because... well, I don't know why really. The satire itself is both clearly marked and decidedly vanilla. If you hadn't seen it—and nobody had, because it wasn't yet online—Woods is apoplectic about a fake Q&A by sportswriting legend Dan Jenkins. It is labeled as "fake" on the cover, and in the headline, and in the table of contents, so no one, not even America's dads, could possibly have believed that it was actually Tiger Woods declaring that he fired caddy swing coach Butch Harmon because "Butchie was making me tip too many people." There's no exaggeration here when it comes to how clearly this piece is noting its own satire. The damned title of the piece is: My (Fake) Interview With Tiger*: *Or how it plays out in my mind. The fake Q&A includes such scathing satire as: Q:TV still loves you. Tiger: The print press still loves you. The average fans still love you. Of course the average fans still love the Kardashians, too, but I feel sure America will find a cure for this someday. I just do what Steiny says. Yawn. Anyway, the guy that used to be good at golf decided to issue his own formal and very real rebuttal to the fake Tiger that Dan Jenkins created in his head, leading to the very first ever war of words between a real and fictional version of the same professional sports star. Did you read Dan Jenkins' interview with me in the latest Golf Digest? I hope not. Because it wasn't me. It was some jerk he created to pretend he was talking to me. That's right, Jenkins faked an interview, which fails as parody, and is really more like a grudge-fueled piece of character assassination. Journalistically and ethically, can you sink any lower? I like to think I have a good sense of humor, and that I'm more than willing to laugh at myself. Mmm, no on both counts, I think. In the meantime, Woods' going to battle over this has, you guessed it, put a big old spotlight on the now published article. It's, frankly, all the free advertising the author could ever want. And for what? For satire that's barely funny and would have otherwise gone completely unnoticed? That's called landing in the rough, Tiger. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Mario Trujillo, over at The Hill, has highlighted how the incoming House Intelligence Committee boss, Devin Nunes, doesn't believe any surveillance reform is necessary, based largely on an opinion piece he wrote back in July entitled "don't shackle the NSA now." The article is the typical FUD from surveillance state supporters, talking about terror threats and ISIS up front to keep you scared, followed by insults directed at Ed Snowden, and finishing off with a "we need this information to keep us safe" conclusion. Straight out of the classic surveillance state apologists' handbook. The attack on whistleblowing by Snowden is particularly ridiculous: But for the last year, various groups have sought to curtail our intelligence activities based on selectively presented, maliciously leaked documents about anti-terror programs that are widely misunderstood and whose effects have been wildly exaggerated. These programs, which are subject to multiple levels of oversight by all three branches of government, have been crucial in stopping dozens of terror attacks, including plots against the New York Stock Exchange and the New York City subway system. First of all, the groups have actually been looking to protect Americans' Constitutional rights and freedoms. And, the job of the head of the Intelligence Committee is supposed to be to protect those rights -- not to defend the NSA. But Nunes appears to see himself in the mode of his predecessor, Mike Rogers, who always viewed his key job as defending the NSA, rather than overseeing it. Second, the "oversight" claims have all been shown to be exaggerated in the past -- and all three branches of government have also presented evidence of both widespread abuse and that these programs were illegal and/or unconstitutional. Finally, the programs have not been shown to be crucial in stopping terror attacks, and each of the claims made saying that have been largely debunked -- including the bomb plots Nunes names (which were debunked within days of first being claimed). Shouldn't we be concerned that the guy in charge of "oversight" of the NSA is spreading debunked arguments in favor of the NSA spying and unconstitutional privacy violations? Shouldn't that disqualify him from the job?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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