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Petroleum products are a pretty convenient way to store energy. It's just unfortunate that burning the stuff releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Biofuels could be a solution, but relying on natural biological processes can be difficult to scale up -- especially if we expect biofuels to try to match up with the current energy demands. Researchers are working on ways to modify biology or circumvent it with chemical engineering to make some carbon neutral hydrocarbon fuels in large quantities. Here are a few possible examples. A copper catalyst system can produce ethanol (and acetate) from carbon monoxide at room temperature and pressure -- without any kind of fermentation. This copper-based system relies on an electrochemical cell and could be a environmentally-friendly way to produce a non-toxic, renewable fuel. [url] Scientists have played with Escherichia coli bacteria that can generate propane gas. The process needs a lot more work to become a practical way to produce propane as a fuel, but a bioreactor to make propane could be viable in a decade or so. (Maybe.) [url] Some species of bacteria have been found that can consume pure electricity for food. These naturally-occurring microorganisms usually live near hydrothermal vents on the seafloor, but if they can feed on electrons directly (instead of soluble bits of iron), then they might be able to store energy in biomolecules for us and turn electricity into convenient biofuels. [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 while now, we've been following the lawsuit concerning whether or not Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain. Back in June the 7th Circuit appeals court ruled that Holmes was in the public domain, followed up by a more thorough slamming of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Estate in a follow-up ruling concerning rewarding attorneys' fees. We saw some reporters claim that the case was now "over," but that was clearly not true. The Estate had made it clear it intended to appeal, having already asked the Supreme Court to block the appeals court ruling from taking effect (a request that was quickly denied). But that was clearly the preamble to a request to the Supreme Court to hear the case. That request has now come, with the Estate arguing that there are serious questions still in play. Specifically, the Doyle Estate raises three questions for a potential Supreme Court hearing. As a bit of background, the case was not directly started by the Estate, but rather author Leslie Klinger, who filed for declaratory judgment saying he wasn't infringing since the character was in the public domain. In the past, Klinger's publisher had felt pressured into taking out a license, and Klinger felt that this demand was unfair and unjust. The Estate tried to argue that even though all but one book of Holmes stories were published before 1923 (which puts them in the public domain), the fact that another book was published after 1923 with new facets to the character meant that the entirety of the character of Holmes (and Watson) were still covered by copyright. The argument was, more or less, that as long as the character is still "developing," and not complete, the copyright clock can be kept ticking. The courts completely rejected this argument and pointed out that the public domain is the public domain. However, the Estate is making one last go of it, with a two-pronged attempt to get the Supreme Court to reconsider: Whether it was reasonable to rule on the case prior to Klinger finishing his book. This is a bit of misdirection. The Estate argues that the case shouldn't have been decided until Klinger finished his book since you can't determine if something isn't infringing if it hasn't been produced yet. This question was easily dismissed by the courts because (1) the Estate had been agitating for a license already, and that had created publishing issues for Klinger and (2) the courts made it clear that they were just saying that the early works were in the public domain -- and if Klinger's eventual book infringed on anything from that final (still copyrighted) Holmes book, the Estate could bring a specific case on that issue. The big question: whether or not a "dynamically developing character" can continue to extend the clock on copyright. Here, the Doyle Estate claims that there's a circuit split, in particular with a ruling from the 8th Circuit (which we covered here) concerning the Wizard of Oz (and people making t-shirts out of images from a movie poster that clearly was in the public domain). Admittedly, that was a terrible decision -- effectively allowing some reclamation of the public domain by copyright law. If the Supreme Court takes this case, hopefully it will be to just smack down that 8th Circuit decision and bring it into compliance with the 7th Circuit's point that things that were in the public domain stay in the public domain. The Supreme Court is not always clear in indicating which cases it will take and which it will pass over, and I wouldn't recommend betting in favor of the Court taking this case. Chances are it will pass. However, if it does take on the case, hopefully it will only be to protect and preserve the public domain.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Rob Hyndman alerts us to this amusing story about David Letterman mocking the Eagles and their ridiculous policy on licensing their music. Don Henley, in particular, has quite the history of being really, really angry about anyone daring to want to enjoy his music. Just a few months ago, he was angrily attacking some other musicians for daring to do cover songs (leading to this epic response). That brings us back to the recent Letterman show. Apparently, the Eagles were performing in NY and Dave was talking to an audience member who was excited to go to see the band. So Dave wanted Paul Shaffer to play some Eagles music. That resulted in a discussion between some of the show's staff, in which one claimed that the band wouldn't even give them a number for how much the music would cost as they have a "flat no policy for television," while another claims that you could "play three lines" without getting sued (which is a potentially dangerously naive view of fair use). There's a bunch more debate, before Dave asks the show's director in the control room, Jerry Foley, what to do. Foley says "play the music and see what happens" leading to much cheering. Letterman and Shaffer go back and forth debating which song to play... before Letterman finally realizes that the Eagles' music just isn't worth it: "You know what? I'm not that interested anymore..." When you make listening to your music a chore, don't be surprised when some people decide it's just not worth it. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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In the wake of the somewhat confusing move by mega-band U2 to release their latest album for free on iTunes, we noted the comments from frontman Bono, who rushed to decry the concept of free for music and who insisted that because he was paid it didn't really count as free. These comments must have been especially confusing for those that suddenly found the band's album in their iTunes cloud account, despite never having requested or wanted it there. Indeed, given some of the comments reacting to the promotional move, it seems the problem with free might not be on the content producer's side, but on the consumer's instead. If you’re trying to convince me that the stuff I store in my cloud is safe, don’t open up my cloud without permission. It’s easy to imagine Apple’s thinking here: What’s better than a free gift? A free gift that you don’t have to go get! But a gift on my doorstep is one thing. A gift that you left in my house, after letting yourself in, is something different. Indeed, and it's not difficult to understand why some reacted less than favorably to the free album. First, despite Bono's insistance on the contrary, this was indeed the use of the concept of free as a promotional tool. Perhaps not for U2 as much as Apple, but that's what it was nevertheless. The problem wasn't that the album was free, but that the album appeared unbidden in the repository for a service that feels quite personal to the consumer. This was our cloud accounts that Apple invaded to leave their free stuff. You know what it's called when someone leaves you something you didn't want for free in your domain? It's called litter. And, in this case, it was litter that you couldn't even clean up. Just browse through a few of the reactions on the site WhoIsU2.com to get a sense: And, just like that, Apple is walking back the "gift" by actually writing some code to delete the "gift," which until that happened, was unremovable (though you could hide it). It should take a couple steps, but it shouldn’t be that difficult. Head over to this page, which Apple put up this morning. Now you can make your collection Bono-free, or just “Songs of Innocence”-free, or whatever. The only catch appears to be that if you decide you do want your new free U2 album, you’ve only got a month to change your mind: After October 13, the only way to get it from iTunes will be by actually spending money. Think about this for a second. For the first time in history, it seems, someone had to write some code to deliberately remove free music that was forced upon people. Like it was malware. How many people expected the digital music revolution to end up here? Look, it's a great thing to see musicians and distributors continue to experiment with this sort of thing, but it's also important that lessons be learned as they do so. Today's lesson is that the internet is a back-and-forth, not simply a distribution channel that can be used to force products into the consumer's space. Perhaps next time they'll get this a bit more right.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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After having the court documents unsealed and the gag order lifted, Yahoo is finally free to talk about that one time when the government wanted to fine it $250,000 a day [!!] for refusing to comply with a FISA court order to turn over data on its customers. Two of the lawyers (Mark Zwillinger and Jacob Sommer) who represented Yahoo in that court battle, have written a post detailing the behind-the-scenes activity. First off, they note that it's kind of amazing they're even able to discuss it at this point. Having toiled in secret until recently, and having originally been told we would need to wait 25 years to tell anyone of our experience, it is refreshing to be able to write about the case in detail. That's the normal declassification schedule, which at this point would still be nearly 18 years away. Fortunately, Ed Snowden's leaks have led to an accelerated schedule for many documents related to the NSA's surveillance programs, as well as fewer judges being sympathetic to FOIA stonewalling and exemption abuse. We've talked several times about how the government makes it nearly impossible to sue it for abusing civil liberties with its classified surveillance programs. It routinely claims that complainants have no standing, ignoring the fact that leaked documents have given us many details on what the NSA does and doesn't collect. But in Yahoo's case, it went against its own favorite lawsuit-dismissal ploy. First, the government's prior position on standing may be a bit of a surprise. In more recent cases, like Clapper, it has argued that only the provider has standing to challenge surveillance orders under the FISA Amendments Act, not individual users who may have been caught up in the surveillance. But, in this fight, the government argued that Yahoo had no standing to challenge a directive on the basis of the Fourth Amendment rights of its users. The government definitely would prefer the swift removal of cases rather than actually having to defend its programs' Constitutionality -- so much so that it attempted to push the argument that no one has standing to challenge its collections. But that wasn't the government's only angle. The courts refused to entertain this sudden shift in the government's "standing" argument, so it moved on to levying fines. A very short time frame to respond was granted to Yahoo, something made even shorter by the government's foot-dragging. The FISC issued its decision on April 25, 2008, but we were not permitted to inspect the order until April 29, 2008 (and even then were not allowed to take notes), and did not receive a copy until May 5, 2008, when the government demanded that Yahoo give a same-day answer whether it would comply with the surveillance demand. Shortly after Yahoo's response, the government moved for contempt charges and fines. $250,000 per day was the minimum. It asked for constantly-escalating fines that would double each week until Yahoo complied. Even for a tech giant, this fee scale could turn into real money incredibly quickly. Simple math indicates that Yahoo was facing fines of over $25 million dollars for the 1st month of noncompliance, and fines of over $400 million in the second month if the court went along with the government’s proposal. And practically speaking, coercive civil fines means that the government would seek increased fines, with no ceiling, until Yahoo complied. While the government was threatening Yahoo with massive fines, it was also filing secret briefs and motions in support of its admittedly "coercive" levies, stating that the company's resistance was causing "great harm," apparently on a daily basis. Finally, the documents that were recently released by the ODNI (and Yahoo itself) contain many that Yahoo -- who was directly involved in this court battle -- had never seen before August 22. The government filed ex parte documents in support of its surveillance program, many of which Yahoo had no access to during the legal struggle. Not only did the government force Yahoo to respond on its own schedule, but it kept the company in the dark about its justifications and other aspects of its programs. Yahoo couldn't ask for these documents in discovery, nor did it even know these existed. [P]erhaps most importantly, a FISC decision from January 15, 2008 regarding the procedures for the DNI/AG Certification at issue, which Yahoo had never seen. It examines those procedures under a “clearly erroneous” standard of review – which is one of the most deferential standards used by the judiciary. Yahoo did not have these documents at the time, nor the opportunity to conduct any discovery. It could not fully challenge statements the government made, such as the representation to FISCR “assur[ing the Court] it does not maintain a database of incidentally collected information from non-targeted United States persons, and there is no evidence to the contrary.” Nor could Yahoo use the January 15, 2008 decision to demonstrate how potential flaws in the targeting process translated into real world effects. When it comes to the nation's security, apparently no legal deck can be stacked high enough. The government forces those who challenge its secret programs to wage courtroom battles with only the barest minimum of information. And, should it decide the defendant isn't moving fast enough, it can pursue exorbitant (and admittedly coercive) fines until it gets the cooperation it's seeking. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO) -- which is a sort of "super group" of companies looking to always ratchet up intellectual property laws -- had a brief note on their front page on Monday pushing for bringing back SOPA, but with a promise that it's for trademark law only (the story may disappear from the front page and apparently "archives" are for "members only"): On September 7 the IPO Board of Directors adopted a resolution supporting in principle legislation to attack online trademark counterfeiting. Such legislation would enable brand owners to file suit against domestic websites selling or offering for sale or distributing counterfeit products, and also as to “foreign counterfeiting websites,” in order to obtain a court order that would require (a) that financial service providers cease processing payment transaction to the defendant(s) and the foreign counterfeiting website, at least in the United States, (b) that internet advertising service providers cease providing such services to the defendants and the foreign counterfeiting website, at least in the United States, and (c) any other injunctive relief the court may determine as appropriate. The legislation should focus on trademark counterfeiting only; provide for nationwide personal jurisdiction and venue over any foreign counterfeiting website, so long as such is consistent with due process; and permit e-mail service of process to a domestic or foreign counterfeiting website without requiring leave of court based on the e-mail address listed in domain registration for the administrative or ownership contact and to the e-mail address found on the website, if no real or actual address is available for providing notice to the potential defendant. All of that sounds nearly identical to parts of SOPA -- except the IPO seems to think that if they just focus on the trademark issue, it will be able to sneak it through without a SOPA-like eruption from the public. But the basics here are the same. Allowing companies a private right of action to block out sites (both domestic and foreign) deemed as "counterfeiting websites" is a dangerous plan. Note that, in the past, big brands have regularly declared perfectly legitimate resellers as counterfeiters, and have attacked and sued companies like eBay for not magically stopping people from selling counterfeit goods. Of course, part of the problem is that these companies regularly exaggerate the issue of "losses" due to trademark infringement and counterfeiting. The numbers are stretched beyond belief. Meanwhile, multiple studies that have looked at the actual size of the problem have found it to be quite small. In fact, multiple studies have found that most people buying counterfeit goods aren't being fooled, but know they're buying counterfeit, but are only doing so because they can't afford the real version. And, the studies have noted, many of the same people later do buy the real version when they can afford it. In other words, counterfeit purchases are often aspirational, rather than acting as a substitute. They're not doing any harm. And, of course, the real threat here is that if the IPO can sneak this kind of legislation through, it won't be that long until someone tries to slip in some language extending the law to copyrights as well. It'll be slipped in quietly, perhaps with some talk about "harmonizing" different regulations related to trademark and copyright law, hoping that no one notices that basically the original version of SOPA is now the law. The same IPO notice also talks up its new "Girl Scout" patch, which we had discussed back in March. This was a patch designed by the IPO, but with the support of the US Patent and Trademark Office, so you know it's basically preaching maximalism: Cookie selling teaches Girl Scouts valuable business practices. Now they have the opportunity to learn a few more in the form of IP. IPO Education Foundation recently partnered with the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital and the USPTO to develop the IP patch. The IP patch program teaches girls about the value of IP and the process for obtaining different rights. You can help by telling your friends about the patch or volunteering to talk to a troop about what you do. Click here for more information. It's the same basic story we noted back in March. The plan is all about why intellectual property is valuable -- not taking a balanced view about where it creates more harm than good, and where other alternatives might be better. It's especially troubling that it's focused on girls entering science, technology, engineering and math studies, since those are areas where over-aggressive use of intellectual property have been most damaging, locking up knowledge, rather than increasing the kind of knowledge sharing that drives innovation forward.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Part Whatever of our ongoing series How Not To Do Business brings us the story of a high-end audio device manufacturer badly misunderstanding how the Right of First Sale works. Velodyne, a Silicon Valley-located company, recently decided to take a very aggressive stance against an Amazon reseller who purchased a pair of earphones and resold them for a profit. The full thread at Amazon's forums uncovers a lot of useful information during the 136-message sprawl but it all begins with a threatening pseudo-C&D email, loaded with legal threats that aren't actually legal and a strident mangling of English that suggests Velodyne's bogus legal threat division is outsourced. Reseller 20YearsUSAF posted this to kick off the thread: Hello, This is a notice to inform the entity “20YearsUSAF” dealer and seller on Amazon.com and other internet selling locations to be discovered, of our engagement representing Velodyne Acoustics Inc, a privately owned company located in Morgan Hill, CA. We are forthwith enlisted our services to protect price integrity by seeking public fractures and selling contract terms and illegal selling of products by unauthorized distributors and dealers on the internet in the USA and overseas. [ed. note: wat] This is a notice of legal prosecution for illegal selling of Velodyne Acoustics, Inc. products and goods. You will be pursued and prosecuted unless you withdraw all products for sale by Velodyne immediately as of 9/13/14. “20YearsUSAF” selling will cease and desist for 2014-2019, under this name or other alias names or entities to be discovered by our agency. Discovery of “20YearsUSAF” using other alias identity to continue selling after this notice will compound fines and may incur mandatory jail sentencing of offenders. Continued unauthorized selling under this business name or alias name, as identified through discovery and witnesses, will put this business and its owners at risk of fines and legal prosecution. Continue selling carries the penalty and minimum of $250,000 fine. Sock and Bruster Internet Policing Services Inc. LPC, Legal Prosecution and Collection Agency First off, there is no such thing as "illegal selling" of Velodyne products. Anyone can resell anything they purchased from Velodyne, which is what this seller did. What seems to be the issue (uncovered later in the threat) is that 20YearsUSAF bought one deeply discounted by Velodyne at its site and flipped it to turn a profit. Nothing illegal about that. (A forum member notes that similar notices have been sent to ebay resellers.) The legal threats following that are for remedies that don't exist. Counterfeit goods may be illegal but reselling legitimate products isn't. Velodyne can't ban anyone from selling its products for a half-decade. It can prevent unauthorized resellers from listing themselves as "authorized" but that's it. The fact that the reseller is an Amazon reseller means it's up to Amazon to delist, ban or otherwise prevent 20YearsUSAF from using its platform. Velodyne can provided evidence why it should take this action but it can't just declare this in an email and consider it done. Needless to say, there are no "compound fines" or "mandatory jail sentencings" awaiting 20YearsUSAF. Finally, "Sock and Bruster" is completely made up. This company does not exist. Velodyne clearly doesn't like unauthorized resellers. It has a whole page on its website discussing this as well as a list of blackballed resellers it's uncovered that aren't actually authorized. 20YearsUSAF now heads that list. It's perfectly fine to restrict warranty coverage, etc. to only authorized resellers. What's not acceptable is declaring that anyone who hasn't signed an authorized reseller contract is forbidden from reselling items they purchased from Velodyne. As long as they're not misleading customers about their authorized/unauthorized status, there's not a damn thing Velodyne can do about it. Here's where issue #2 comes into play. 20YearsUSAF listed this item as "new," which would lead buyers to believe it was still covered by the manufacturer's warranty. According to Velodyne's terms, only sales by authorized sellers receive that coverage. It's a problem, but one that should have been taken up by reporting the listing to Amazon rather than deploying the email nuke as the opening gambit. (20YearsUSAF has pulled similar listings and other forum members have told him/her to use "like new" in the future for goods like these, even if unopened, because many companies will not honor a transferred warranty.) The next email 20YearsUSAF received was shorter but it wasn't any better. "Since you bought the headphones from Velodyne, then you are an authorized dealer who signed a contract on selling policy. You are using an alias to hide your identity to perform illegal activity, and will be prosecuted as such. With the new laws, we finally have the clout to clean up these sales. There are new laws in place and more laws coming soon to protect Manufacturers from unauthorized selling. My advice is to find another way to make a living, quickly." The tactics shift. Now Velodyne is accusing the Amazon seller of violating a contractual agreement by selling headphones under a fake name. It references "new laws" but doesn't cite anything and, again, makes claims about "unauthorized selling" that really don't have anything to do with the issue at hand -- the right of first sale. And then there's the little threatening dig at the end. It also seems to imply that simply purchasing an item from Velodyne enters you into a resale contract, which obviously isn't true. There's nothing about it in the Terms and Conditions Velodyne says you agree to when purchasing its products. Finally, 20YearsUSAF received another email, this one much more conciliatory. I am trying to make a go of a company that supports the livelihood of 80 employees. If our prices are undercut on a regular basis, then we lose integrity and retail stores will not put us in their stores to sell. Velodyne is a small company, not like Sony or Bose. We don't have millions of dollars for marketing and our costs are high. Retail stores are going out of business and what we have left is selling online from our home grown website. This is our hope to sustain the business. I'm glad you are not an unauthorized seller making a business out of selling Velodyne online. It sounds like you work hard and I appreciate you writing back. Even amidst the call for sympathy, a sense of misplaced entitlement remains. "If our prices are undercut on a regular basis" makes no sense when the buyer purchased headphones Velodyne itself offered at a reduced price. If that price doesn't make Velodyne money, then that's Velodyne's problem. Someone reselling it at a profit (thanks to the discount) doesn't take money away from it. Velodyne already gave up that money when it agreed to sell X product at Y price. It can't look at someone else's good fortune and decide that because the reseller made more money than it did, the reseller must be doing something "illegal." A response from Amazon further settles the issue: Greetings from Amazon Seller Support, Thank you for writing to us. I understand from your correspondence that another seller named Velodyne has asked you to remove the listings of their products which you are selling on Amazon.com. I would like to inform and assure you that as long as there is any copyright/trademark notice brought to Amazon's notice by the brand owner/manufacturer, all sellers are free to list whatever products they wish to on Amazon.com. The only condition is to ensure that the products they are selling are exactly the same products that the listings had been created for. In this case there has nothing wrong been done from your end. Therefore there is absolutely no need for you to delete the listings. Velodyne's decision to shoot first may end up hurting it more than an authorized dealer buying at wholesale and reselling the products under aliases would. Deciding to ride out the gut instinct that it was being abused by a contractual partner only served to make it look foolish and vindictive, especially when the legal "remedies" listed had no basis in reality. We're used to seeing bogus legal threats in which the threats themselves are bogus. We don't often see bogus legal threats where the potential punishments are conjured out of thin air and the laws that don't exist are quasi-cited in support. If this isn't the case, and Velodyne just doesn't like people reselling goods at a price higher than it sells them for, then it should probably exit the retail business -- or at least stop offering price breaks it can't afford. If Velodyne has the suspicion that one or more of its authorized sellers are violating their contractual agreements, it needs to keep it to itself until it has enough supporting evidence. Then it needs to realize that outside of counterfeit goods, its legal remedies won't include jail time or anything outside of civil lawsuits. By rushing to judgement, it has made potential purchasers wary of dealing with it -- not just for potential interference in perfectly legal resale, but in terms of any negative reviews that might be greeted with similar threatening emails. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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So we had just posted New Zealand Prime Minister John Key insulting the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, referring to him as a "henchman" and "a loser" for showing up in New Zealand to reveal that, contrary to Key's own claims, the country's GCSB (local equivalent of the NSA) had been engaged in mass surveillance of New Zealand residents. The documents Greenwald revealed showed how the Kiwi government was being pressured by the NSA to pass a law to fully "legalize" the program for mass surveillance of metadata. Further support to Greenwald's claims was provided in an article written by Ed Snowden, discussing just how easy it was to go surfing through the metadata collected on New Zealanders by GCSB. Over the weekend, Prime Minister Key had said that once Greenwald revealed what he had, he would declassify a set of documents proving that Greenwald was wrong. Well, now Key has, in fact, declassified a set of documents from the GCSB... and they don't actually discuss what Greenwald or Snowden were talking about. Instead, they look like some internal discussions of why GCSB needed a (dangerous) program that would allow GCSB to try to spot and deal with foreign cyberattacks (similar to what the NSA wanted to do in the US, but which banks on Wall St. rejected). So, basically all that Key has revealed is that GCSB supported an overly broad cyberattack plan that would let the GCSB take it upon itself to deal with cyberattacks -- a plan so insane that even the US has rejected it -- in part because it would massively increase surveillance. So, Key has revealed secretly approved plans to increase GCSB surveillance, while pretending he's debunking increased GCSB surveillance. And, yet, the documents don't even address any of Greenwald and Snowden's actual claims. When asked about that Key appears to have done his standard childish pouting, refusing to answer about specifics: "There is not, and never has been, mass surveillance of New Zealanders undertaken by the GCSB. He would not discuss XKEYSCORE, ''we don't discuss the specific programmes the GCSB may, or may not use''. ''But the GCSB does not collect mass metadata on New Zealanders, therefore it is clearly not contributing such data to anything or anyone," Mr Key said. Frankly, this is a bit of a let down. Given the documents that Greenwald revealed on Monday, there was still the slight possibility that changes had happened along the way and people had rethought a bad plan. So I was wondering if Key might actually reveal something miraculous like that. Instead, it seems like he's trying a sleight of hand trick by declassifying and releasing unrelated documents (that actually reveal a secret surveillance expansion different from the one Greenwald revealed) and hoping no one notices. Interesting strategy. It seems to assume that the New Zealand populace doesn't actually pay attention to any details, which seems like a risky move.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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One of the most glaring problems with TAFTA/TTIP is the lack of input from the public in whose name it is being negotiated. The great interest in providing feedback on the agreement can be seen from the one occasion when it was possible to voice an opinion -- the European Commission's consultation on the inclusion of a corporate sovereignty chapter. And yet, even though an unprecedented 150,000 responses were received -- the vast majority of which were against any kind of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) measures -- a top European politician recently announced that there are no plans to take ISDS out of CETA, the almost-finished trade agreement between the EU and Canada that represents a kind of warm-up for TAFTA/TTIP. Since the European Commission refuses to take into account the public's views directly, people have turned to another mechanism to make their voices heard: a special kind of EU-wide petition called a European Citizens' Initiative (ECI). If sufficient signatures are obtained from around the EU, the European Commission is obliged to respond, but the bar to make that happen is set quite high: One million signatures must be gathered within one year. Additionally, in seven EU states a specific minimum of supporters must be achieved, e.g. 72,000 signatures in Germany, 55,500 in France, or 54,750 in the United Kingdom. If the initiative succeeds in doing this, then the EU Commission organises a hearing in the EU Parliament, and concerns itself with the matter. The ECI citizen's committee then finally receives a written response from the Commission. If the Commission decides to present a legal act, then this is is passed on to the European Council and to the European Parliament. That information comes from a new site set up by the Stop TTIP Alliance, a pan-EU coalition that aims to seek support for the following petition: We invite the European Commission to recommend to the Council to repeal the negotiating mandate for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and not to conclude the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Before signatures can be solicited, an ECI must first be registered with the European Commission. As a precaution, the Stop TTIP Alliance took legal advice to ensure that its petition met the requirements of the ECI. Despite that, the European Commission has just refused the registration request, which means the petition cannot go ahead as planned. Although that came as a complete surprise, the organizers of the ECI certainly aren't giving up -- on the contrary: "Now the battle really begins," said Michael Efler, contact person of the ECI, which currently represents almost 230 organizations from 21 EU countries. "The rejection of the ECI only confirms the Commission's strategy to exclude citizens and parliaments from the TTIP and CETA negotiations. Instead of paying attention to citizens, it is just lobbyists that are being listened to." The group offered some comments on the contrived legalistic justification offered by the European Commission for refusing to allow the petition to proceed. For example, the Commission claimed that the negotiating mandates for both TTIP and CETA were not "legal acts", as required for a petition, but "internal preparatory acts". Efler says: "If the Commission’s legal opinion had any substance, then in plain English this would mean that Europe's population is excluded from participation in the development of any kind of international agreements -- information that is as frightening as it is scandalous." The European Commission also tried to claim that it couldn't make "negative ratification proposals", but the Stop TTIP group points out: "this means that citizens can only applaud international negotiations carried out by the Commission, but not criticize them,” said Efler. Against this background, the Stop TTIP group is considering whether to begin legal action against the European Commission, including taking its case to the EU Court of Justice. After, all, this is not just about a European petition, but about European democracy, as one of the main organizers of the Stop TTIP ECI, John Hillary, writes: There is something rotten in the state of Europe when an unelected, unaccountable EU body can glibly inform millions of us that we no longer have the right to question its most dangerous and unpopular policies. ... The ruling is a slap in the face for the 230 civil society organisations from across Europe that have lined up behind the initiative, and the millions of European citizens they represent. The ECI is the only vehicle available to us to challenge the shadowy bureaucrats of the European Commission. Now even this seems to be too much scrutiny for them. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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This somehow keeps happening. We've covered criminals accidentally butt-dialing the police and discussing their crimes while the authorities listened in, presumably with bemused expressions upon their fortunate faces. Then we talked about it again, proving that really stupid lightning apparently strikes twice. Well, it apparently strikes thrice, because yet another criminal, this one a rather minor ne'er do well, has landed himself in cuffs when his ass-cheeks went rogue and dialed 911. Mt. Pleasant police say they arrested a man for drugs after he pocket-dialed 911 and dispatchers heard him talking about getting high and going to a drug dealer's house. The call came in to the Maury County 911 Center Friday evening. Dispatchers were able to trace the location of the call to Don Pepe's Mexican Restaurant on North Main Street in Mt. Pleasant. When police arrived, O'Connor and his friend were already pulling away in a vehicle that had a rear light out and police pulled them over. Inside, officers found marijuana and and some paraphernalia, leading them to charge O'Connor with possession of both. He must have thought these NSA wiretaps had gone entirely too far, until police informed him of the call to 911. He reportedly had no idea the call had ever been made. Now, while I will say it's starting to feel a bit strange to have police roll a squad car to combat an adult talking about marijuana when that substance's legal status is quickly being relaxed throughout the nation, one wonders if the kind of duncery resulting in a butt dial to police is the result of the drug. If it is, maybe that's an argument that we should all cool it a bit with the weed. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Not too long ago, becoming an astronaut was an amazing achievement that only a very few, rigorously selected and intensely trained pilots could ever hope to attain. But nowadays, while it's not exactly commonplace to be a space traveler, if you have enough disposable income, you could pay the Russian Space Agency for a ride or line up to buy a ticket on a commercial flight (to the "edge" of space). Over 500 people have been in space (from 36 different countries), and plenty more people will follow them. Here are just a few things you might want to know about space travel before you plan your next trip. South Korea started its astronaut program in 2006, and Yi So-yeon became the first Korean woman to go into space on a Soyuz mission in 2008. South Korea spent about $28 million to get Yi up to the International Space Station, and she recently retired as an astronaut. Her retirement raises some questions about whether the trip was a worthwhile venture, but then again, some folks have been asking what the point of going to space is for decades. [url] A manned trip to Mars would take months, and it won't be easy to keep people happy and safe in small living quarters for that long. If astronauts could hibernate on the way, it might make the journey more tolerable. Bears can hibernate for months, but people have only been in a medically-induced hypothermic torpor for about 10 days. [url] Astronauts have noticed a "Charlie Brown" effect due to microgravity that makes their faces swell because fluids tend to accumulate in the head in space. The result is like having congestion, and it apparently affects the sense of smell (and taste), leading to curious cravings for spicy foods. [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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What's the secret behind the most successful tech startups? No, it's not having founders with perfect SAT scores or sealing a dozen coders in a room with cases of Red Bull. The answer often has more to do with refining and capitalizing on an established idea, than with conjuring up something new out of thin air. Or, as Isaac Newton quipped in 1676, "Success is standing on the shoulders of giants." More than a dozen search engines were already online by the time Google's Sergey Brin and Larry Page debuted their hypertextual search algorithm, redefining the browser landscape. Netflix reimagined the DVD rental market – and upended an entrenched business with disruptive technology – by cutting out the brick-and-mortar rental barrier. And Pandora found a way to let listeners customize their own radio stations, with or without advertisements, while still paying artists royalties to play their music. So why, in a culture that praises disruptive technology and innovation, do policymakers keep looking for ways to regulate promising new startups into oblivion? Over time, incumbent business models build protectionist walls to help stave off competition – walls like regulatory hurdles that new competitive businesses have to clear before they can operate. We see this tension at play today as a number of innovative startups run into protectionist barriers supported by industry giants. Uber, for example, is fighting through one roadblock after another from the taxicab industry as the company struggles to gain market share in new cities. And as Airbnb offers travelers new options when they're on the road, it's in the crosshairs of city regulators and hotel lobbyists across the country. When the costs of regulatory policies are diffused and the benefits are concentrated, the interests of the incumbents often begin to stray from the interests of consumers. Consider the 1984 Sony Betamax Supreme Court case, which pitted the behemoth movie industry against the emerging video recording device market. In that case, the court ruled that time shifting did not infringe on copyright law, and today the thriving home movie market rivals the box office, ultimately giving us more options for our Saturday night entertainment. Often, benefactors have strong incentives to support protectionist policies, so they push for both greater regulation and enforcement. They seek to exclude new business approaches even when they provide consumers benefits like lower prices and more options. Just look at how TV broadcasters reacted to streaming-TV service Aereo – entangling the innovative startup in a lengthy legal battle that also made its way to the Supreme Court. Ruling in favor of the broadcasters, the court's decision ultimately hurts consumers, providing them with fewer choices for pay-TV service. How do industry mainstays fair in highly-regulated economies? You don't need to be an economist to predict what happens next. Research suggests businesses of all sizes operating in strictly-regulated environments are often less productive. A report published this year by the Mercatus Center found over a four year period the most regulated industries experienced 33 percent growth in output per person, and a 20 percent increase in unit labor costs. Does that sounds like good growth to you? Before you answer, consider that over the same period the least regulated industries experienced 63 percent growth in output per person and a four percent decline in unit labor costs – yes, the cost of labor dropped with less regulation – which almost always translates into lower prices for consumers. Any time new businesses pose even a perceived threat to the current profitability of existing incumbents there is a strong urge to sweep these new businesses into the existing regulatory framework, often at the expense of consumers' best interests. But it's time for legacy businesses to stand up for themselves and look for ways to adapt and innovate, rather than cower behind over-regulation. A closer look at disruptive innovation over the last decade reveals a strong tradition of industries cropping up next to preexisting industries and bolstering the overall market – for industry vets and startups alike. There are dozens of examples of how industries have figured out how to pivot and adapt in order to compete with emerging technologies. Look at Makerbot's 3D printer, which is disrupting traditional manufacturing while providing innovative solutions for producing items that are otherwise hard to get. In response, traditional manufacturers are finding ways to incorporate 3D printing technology into their own practices for product development and testing. Apple's iPod changed the way we listen to and buy music, breathing new life into an industry plagued by piracy. And Amazon's Kindle has changed the book publishing industry by revolutionizing the way content is brought to consumers. If the research holds, these markets – when not hindered by large regulatory burdens – should show strong productivity gains and broadly benefit consumers. Technology can be used to make markets more efficient by getting products into the hands of those who will use them the most and gain the most from their use. In other words, it helps balance otherwise lopsided markets, where suppliers and buyers weren't matching for any number of reasons. The most successful startups haven't stumbled upon an entirely new service offering – they've simply found a better way to do something that's already being done. Rather than fighting a tsunami of change and potentially drowning the disruptors that strive to improve consumer choice, incumbent businesses should find ways co-opt technological solutions and in turn produce change themselves. Shawn DuBravac is the chief economist of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies. Follow him at @Twoopinions.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The Justice Department will be investigating the Ferguson PD in the wake of an unarmed citizen's shooting by Officer Darren Wilson. Already, news has surfaced that the police force has a history of discriminatory actions and a problem with deploying excessive force. But should we even trust the DOJ to do this? If the DOJ is going to police the nation's police, then it should be holding its own agencies and employees to the highest standards. But it doesn't. It doesn't even come close. Documents obtained by McClatchy News Service [pdf link] reveal incident after incident of misconduct uncovered by the Office of the Inspector General. They range from the merely questionable to the wholly unacceptable, but one thread holds them all together: a nearly complete lack of accountability. The records, which cover the period from January 2010 to March 2014, detail some 80 cases, only a few of which appear to have been previously made public. The accused officials work for agencies that include the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. In at least 27 cases, the inspector general identified evidence of possible criminal wrongdoing but no one was prosecuted. [...] According to the most recent report by the office, the Justice Department’s inspector general received nearly 5,900 allegations of misconduct, opened 195 investigations and was involved in 32 arrests and 38 convictions from October through March. Cases referred to the IG involved anything from inappropriate relationships to murder-for-hire. An assistant US attorney general was accused of withholding information about her husband's embezzlement from investigators. Another federal prosecutor recused herself from a case when it was revealed she had a "personal relationship" with the investigation's target. This same prosecutor also divulged sensitive information about the case to her husband -- who subsequently passed this information along to the target. Gifts and paid trips were accepted by employees in violation of agency ethics policies. An FBI agent used his government-issued Blackberry to pursue relationships with 17 different women. Another FBI agent misused agency resources to participate in three extramarital affairs. An ATF official worked for Morgan Stanley while on paid leave from the agency. The DHS, ATF and FBI are all called out for engaging in retaliatory behavior against protected whistleblowers. On and on it goes for 42 pages. Bureau of Prison personnel stole or misused government-purchased equipment. Ethical standards violated. Investigations interfered with. Abuse of position to get out of traffic tickets or obtain goods, services… even surveillance tapes from a private business. In the end, though, only a few cases were recommended for prosecution. In many cases, the employees retired ahead of pending punishments. In others, employees received nothing more than "oral admonishments." And then there's this complete bullshit: Sometimes, alleged misconduct by prosecutors and investigators might be handled less aggressively because of concern that it would taint criminal cases, [former Dept. of Interior Inspector General Earl] Devaney said. At trial, defense attorneys are permitted to learn of serious misconduct of the agents and prosecutors involved in their cases. There's that infamous criminal justice system again. In order to avoid "losses," government agencies are burying misconduct allegations or issuing "oral admonishments" to avoid leaving damning paper trails that might call the integrity of their prosecutors and investigators into question. To sum up: the government would rather prosecute a citizen than hold one of its own fully accountable. When the DOJ starts looking into Ferguson, it had better hope the PD doesn't just hold up a mirror and dare it to meet its own gaze. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Last week, we showed how the Verizon court decision made it clear that without Title II reclassification, the internet would be open to discrimination, paid prioritization and exclusive deals. This week, we're looking at how FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's claims back that up, despite his attempts to argue otherwise. Chairman Wheeler claims to oppose discrimination and a two-tiered Internet of fast lanes and slow lanes. Chairman’s speech on 5/15/14: “This agency supports an Open Internet. There is ONE Internet. Not a fast internet, not a slow internet; ONE Internet. … The potential for there to be some kind of ‘fast lane’ available to only a few has many people concerned. Personally, I don’t like the idea that the Internet could become divided into ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ I will work to see that does not happen. In this Item we specifically ask whether and how to prevent the kind of paid prioritization that could result in ‘fast lanes.’” But his proposal would authorize discrimination and a two-tiered Internet of fast lanes and slow lanes. Chairman’s proposal: “[W]e propose to adopt the text of the no-blocking rule that the Commission adopted in 2010, with a clarification that it does not preclude broadband providers from negotiating individualized, differentiated arrangements with similarly situated edge providers (subject to the separate commercial reasonableness rule or its equivalent). So long as broadband providers do not degrade lawful content or service to below a minimum level of access, they would not run afoul of the proposed rule. We also seek comment below on how to define that minimum level of service. Alternatively, we seek comment on whether we should adopt a no-blocking rule that does not allow for priority agreements with edge providers and how we would do so consistent with sources of legal authority other than section 706, including Title II.” (para. 89) That is, the rule proposed would allow for cable and phone companies to offer and cut new deals with websites and applications, and those deals do not have to treat similar companies similarly. These priority arrangements could be for a fee, and wildly different fees for each site. As an "alternative" to the proposal, the FCC agreed to ask whether it should adopt a rule that forbids "priority arrangements," but that is certainly not Wheeler's official proposal. Further, Wheeler is also proposing exclusive deals, with merely a rebuttable presumption against a very small subset -- between an ISP and a website it owns. So Verizon-Amazon or Comcast-Apple exclusives would be legal. In light of such concerns, we propose to adopt a rebuttable presumption that a broadband provider’s exclusive (or effectively exclusive) arrangement prioritizing service to an affiliate would be commercially unreasonable. (para. 126) What this means is that the FCC is presuming that all exclusive deals with websites and applications are reasonable -- except for a small subset where a cable company makes an exclusive deal with a company it owns. So if Comcast prioritizes NBC.com (which it owns) and one other company (say Apple or Facebook), then Comcast's deals are presumed reasonable. If Verizon makes an exclusive deal with one investment platform (e.g., E-Trade or TD Ameritrade), then the exclusive deal is presumed reasonable because Verizon does not own either of them. As I noted in my previous post , if the FCC relies on the authority in Section 706, and not the one in Title II, the FCC must in fact permit discrimination, paid prioritization, and exclusive deals. Meaning, so long as the FCC grounds its rule in Section 706 and not Title II, Wheeler could not have even proposed a better rule.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Nothing much has happened lately in the bizarre legal case of actress Cindy Lee Garcia had against Google. If you don't recall, Garcia was one of the actresses who appeared in the "short film" called The Innocence of Muslims that became the center of a big story not so long ago for being incredibly insulting to many Muslims. Garcia claimed that she was duped into appearing in the film by its creator Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (who goes under a variety of names, including Sam Bacile). But, more importantly, she claimed that she had a copyright on her appearance, and thus could issue a takedown to make it disappear. Going against pretty much all settled law on the subject, the 9th Circuit Appeals court, lead by Judge Alex Kozinski agreed with her take, upending years of basic copyright law (even the Copyright Office has said she has no copyright claim). After lots of complaints, Kozinski doubled down on his original ruling, but added a couple of "outs" for a district court to fix his ridiculous interpretation (mainly by saying "fair use.") Either way, Kozinski ordered Google to take down the video (and originally put a very questionable gag order on the company about it). Garcia's lawyer, Cris Armenta then accused Google of being in contempt of court by basically misrepresenting everything Google had done. That strategy failed, as the court rejected Armenta's attempt. However, it appears Armenta isn't done with Google yet. She's found yet another actor from Innocence of Muslims, a guy named Gaylord Flynn, and convinced him to file yet another copyright lawsuit against Google over the film. Notably, the accusation is not about the film being on YouTube (since Google took all those down), but about the fact that doing searches on Google one can find copies of the film via other sites, including various torrent sites and also other video streaming sites like LiveLeak and DailyMotion. The fact that those other sites are not being sued kinda says a lot about what's happening here. It appears that Armenta and/or Flynn hired one of the popular takedown request companies out there, DMCA solutions, to demand Google remove all these links from its search results. Google turned down the requests, and voila, Armenta gets to file another lawsuit against Google, based on the same ridiculous interpretation of copyright law that Garcia used, that merely appearing in the film gives one a copyright interest. I get the feeling this won't be the last such lawsuit either.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Matt Schruers, over at the Disruptive Competition Project blog has a great post discussing the harm of the increasing pressure to abuse intellectual property law to do a variety of things that it was clearly never intended for. He calls this intellectual property's "immigration" challenge, noting that these uses have "at best, a tenuous relationship to 'promot[ing]... Progress.'" Why "immigration"? Plaintiffs are jumping into the copyright realm because it's more appealing than laws in other areas, even if what they're seeking to do has nothing to do with copyright. One popular misuse of copyright law these days is as an alternative means of dealing with revenge porn. You can understand why people gravitate to this tool -- especially when there appear to be limited other tools for dealing with such sites. But can anyone explain what using copyright to takedown revenge porn has to do with promoting the creation of new works? As Schruers notes, a big part of the issue is that copyright law comes with such a giant club in the form of statutory damages, which make it quite a powerful tool in censoring content: What is happening is that plaintiffs are migrating into IP territory. Why? In a word: remedies. When testifying before Congress on this subject in July, I briefly noted that IP remedies are so attractive that they attract plaintiffs from other areas of the law. Rather than forum-shop, potential plaintiffs jurisprudence-shop. Claimants come to IP seeking redress for concerns that they cannot vindicate elsewhere. In the physical world, immigration is usually an indication that the destination is more attractive. In fact, a large amount of migration occurs in search of better conditions, or opportunities, and the anecdotal evidence suggests that this “remedy immigration” is no different. When it comes to remedies, intellectual property is the land of opportunity. Robust injunctions, sweeping doctrines of secondary liability allowing recourse against parties other than the wrongdoer, statutory damages, and the availability of rapid DMCA takedowns all encourage plaintiffs to reframe various misdeeds (or perceived misdeeds) as infringement complaints. In a world with a general uniformity of remedies, there would be little reason for plaintiffs to seek out greener pastures, but when the remedies are unmistakably stronger in another area of law, plaintiffs have a natural incentive to reframe their claims to take advantage of them. He goes on to discuss the use of copyright law against revenge porn and the recent "celeb leaks," noting that many of the photos in question aren't really good targets for copyright law, since many are taken by others (selfies are the exception, generally). He compares that to the Garcia case, in which an actress was able to take down the entire (controversial) "Innocence of Muslims" video based on a highly questionable copyright claim. He compares that to another case, Monge v. Maya Magazines, in which a celebrity sought to suppress images of her secret wedding (which she did not take). Both Monge and Garcia represent efforts to use post hoc IP claims to suppress information from the public. While the circumstances may make for sympathetic plaintiffs, no one seriously thinks the litigation is about authorship. This is why it is so odd that the weapon of choice to suppress content is a statute aimed, ironically, at encouraging publication. Again, one can (and many probably will) argue that they sympathize with the folks making use of copyright in this manner. Perhaps because they are troubled by the situations all of them find themselves in, and the lack of what they feel to be appropriate remedies. But it's quite clear that copyright in these cases is being used for things that have nothing to actually do with copyright. If we want our public policy to work properly, part of that has to involve making sure that we don't twist and turn laws to cover things they should not. A big part of the issue, frankly, goes beyond just the remedies aspect that Schruers highlights. It has to do with the fact that copyright has long been viewed as a First Amendment work-around. The conflict between copyright and the First Amendment is undeniable -- in fact, whole books have been written about it. Historically, the courts have brushed off these concerns however, arguing that things like "fair use" create a "safety valve." But what's really happening here is that people are recognizing a tool that has been effectively blessed as a "legal" way to get around the First Amendment and use the law to censor content they wish to suppress. People can argue over whether or not it's appropriate to suppress that material, but everyone should at least be willing to admit that copyright should be the wrong tool for this sort of thing no matter what.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As you may recall, over the past few months, there's been a rather big story brewing, concerning how the CIA spied on Senate staffers. Specifically, after having explicitly promised not to do so, the CIA snooped on a private network of Senate staffers who were putting together the giant $40 million report on the CIA's torture program. The CIA tried to spin the story, claiming that they only spied on that network after realizing that those staffers had a document that the CIA thought it had not handed over to the staffers (they had), believing that perhaps there had been a security breach. However, when read carefully, the CIA's spin actually confirmed the original story: the CIA, against basically all of its mandates and the basic concept of the Constitutional separation of powers, had spied on the Senate. While both the Senate and the CIA asked the DOJ to investigate, eventually the DOJ said the matter was closed and there would be no prosecutions. At the end of July, the CIA finally came out and admitted that it had spied on the Senate, and effectively admitted that CIA boss John Brennan had flat out lied about it back in March. The CIA's inspector general then revealed that the spying went even further than people had originally believed. This raised even more questions, but with Brennan "apologizing" and Senator Dianne Feinstein saying that she was satisfied with the apology, it seemed like this unfortunate incident may have been over and done with. Apparently not. Last week, in the latest meeting concerning the torture report redactions, apparently some Senators asked Brennan to reveal who authorized the spying on the Senate staffers, and Brennan refused to tell them, leading to a bunch of very angry Senators -- which may create some further issues, given that the Senators are supposed to oversee the CIA. Tensions between the CIA and its congressional overseers erupted anew this week when CIA Director John Brennan refused to tell lawmakers who authorized intrusions into computers used by the Senate Intelligence Committee to compile a damning report on the spy agency’s interrogation program. Multiple Senators spoke out angrily about the situation: “I’m concerned there’s disrespect towards the Congress,” Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who also serves as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told McClatchy. “I think it’s arrogant, I think it’s unacceptable.” “I continue to be incredibly frustrated with this director,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. “He does not respect the role of the committee in providing oversight, and he continues to stonewall us on basic information, and it’s very frustrating. And it certainly doesn’t serve the agency well.” Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said he was “renewing my call” for Brennan’s resignation. The CIA's response to all of this is typically maddening, in that it shows how they try to underplay what really happened: CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said that Brennan declined to answer the committee’s questions because doing so could have compromised an investigation into the computer intrusions by an accountability board headed by former Sen. Evan Bayh. The McClatchy report suggests that in the meeting, Brennan "raised his voice at Feinstein." Senator Levin noted that the CIA's response to this whole thing is bogus, because even if there is an independent investigation (set up by the CIA) going on, it doesn't mean that Brennan himself gets to shirk his responsibility to answer questions coming from the Senate committees that oversee his activities. “It may or may not be appropriate for the (CIA) IG to answer, but it’s not appropriate for Brennan to refuse to answer. If he doesn’t know the answers, he can say so,” said Levin. Levin continued, “He either knows the information or he doesn’t. If he doesn’t know the answers, OK, tell us. It’d be kind of stunning if he didn’t know the answers to those questions, but if that’s what he wants to say, he should tell us.” Of course, the big question is, what will the Senate do about this other than make a lot of noise? Brennan seems to be banking on "absolutely nothing," and he may be right.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Via Amy Alkon, we learn of yet another bizarre moment in the world of security theater known as the TSA. It involves a young man from Orono, Minnesota, named Kahler Nygard, who for reasons no one will ever explain, happens to be on a "selectee" list for flying. It's not quite the no fly list, but it's the list where you get four S's on your boarding pass ("SSSS") and the TSA is then supposed to give you and your bags that extra level of privacy-destroying attention, including a full gropedown. Nygard claims he got the full groping in Minnesota, but the TSA (or potentially a Spirit airlines employee) apparently believed it was overlooked -- though, they didn't "realize" this until the flight was halfway to Denver. Frantic calls were made and the TSA was eagerly waiting for Nygard when he landed in Denver, leading him to be pulled off the plane first (that's a self-recorded video where he cheerfully announces to those on board "no, I have not committed a crime!"), at which point the TSA demands to grope him again: Yes, after he's already flown from Minneapolis (where he claims he was groped, though the TSA claims it was missed) to Denver, the TSA wishes to grope him (and search through his bags again). Apparently, they believe that he might magically reverse time and go back in time to blow up the plane or something. The TSA agent, Andrew Grossman, first demands Nygard's boarding pass. Nygard points out that he no longer has it (you don't need it after you board), which stumps Grossman, leading him to have to make a phone call -- where he helpfully tells whoever he's talking to at the other end that Nygard is "pretty objectionable, filming me." Nygard keeps asking why they need to search him, and the TSA has no good answer, other than saying they need to do so. Nygard asks if he's being detained, and they don't answer. He asks if it's an order or a request and the TSA's Grossman again doesn't really answer (other than to say that he's following orders). Finally, Nygard just walks away, saying that if he's not being detained, he's leaving. The TSA claims it's calling the Denver police, who apparently did not do anything to stop Nygard, who walked out of the airport without any further problems. I'm curious if the TSA's Blogger Bob will step up with an explanation for why a passenger should be groped post-flight.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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There has been plenty of discussion about ridesharing services lately, and whether they should be subject to the same sorts of regulations as taxis. As we've discussed, while taxi regulations have some historical basis in protecting riders from scammers, most of that was for a time when there was significant information asymmetry between drivers and riders, making it much easier for drivers to scam, rip off or endanger passengers. The wonderful thing that services like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar do is get rid of much of that information asymmetry and risk. The drivers are rated and monitored. The services handle the payment terms. The regulations that once served a purpose are less and less important. And, of course, then the reality starts to become clear. Where those regulations may have once had some benefit for the public, these days, they're much more about limiting competition, keeping prices artificially high and limiting new forms of innovation. That's become especially clear in the last few days, where the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has alerted Uber, Lyft and Sidecar that their new carpooling offerings are illegal. All three companies recently introduced a rather useful innovation, that actually makes it much more accurate to call these services "ridesharing." By enabling "carpooling," the services find multiple people heading in the same general direction, and put them in the same car, allowing all of them to get a cheaper fare. It's the kind of useful innovation that seems like it's better for everyone. But, not the CPUC. In the world of the CPUC, you can't innovate if you haven't first groveled for permission: Basically, the CPUC says that under California law it's illegal for these ride-sharing services to charge passengers an individual fare when carrying multiple people in one vehicle. If the companies would like to add a carpool feature, they first have to request an adjustment to their existing permits with the CPUC or petition the state legislature to modify the law. Some people like to mock the idea that these companies like to innovate first and deal with the regulatory issues later -- and there may be something to that. But anyone who's ever worked in a setting where innovation is happening knows that having to ask for permission is a recipe for no innovation. California has a long history of enabling innovation. It would be quite a sad state of affairs for it to go the other way.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The biggest story this week was, of course, the big push to get the public's voice heard on the issue of net neutrality — so it's fitting that our number one comment on the insightful side comes in response to big broadband's ongoing misrepresentation of its service (and its pleas to the FCC not to expose its lies). The observation, from Whoever, is simple: why so much focus on speed alone? What about total monthly allowance? The speed is largely irrelevant if you have a small data cap, as is imposed by wireless carriers. The FCC should require a data cap to be at least 100GB for a service to qualify as broadband. For the second place comment, we've got another simple observation, this time from an anonymous commenter who rightly thought something sounds odd about a dietary supplement company that sells everything at a discount: They give ALL of their customers a "discount"? That's not called a discount. That's called a price. For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start with one more thought on net neutrality, the FCC, and broadband speeds. Breech tidily dismantled the claim that people don't actually want better broadband: I always love how isps try to use the argument "but we have higher speeds and no one is buying them" argument. Maybe because you charge way too much for that crap? If I am the sole provider of food to the country, and I give away bread and water for free, but meat costs $1000/pound, do I get to claim that people don't really want meat? Next, we've got the first of several comments this week responding to U2's innovative but slightly confusing "make our album appear on your phone for free" promotion. One commenter on that post claimed that we insist artists offer their work for free, but jupiterkansas showed up to set the record straight: Techdirt doesn't insist that an artist offer their music for free. It's always up to the artist (although more likely the publisher which owns the copyright) to choose how they offer their work. What Techdirt says is that the music will be available for free whether the artist likes it or not, either through file sharing, public libraries, or trading with friends, and the artist must consider how they deal with that. The response initially was to just make it more and more illegal and futilely trying to make it go away, jeopardizing the open nature of the internet in the process. That's what Techdirt is against. U2 has decided to find someone besides the fans to foot the bill, which is exactly the kind of business model exploration that Techdirt encourages. They've turned to a corporate benefactor the way classical composers once turned to royalty. Now it's a question of whether Apple spent their money wisely and can this work for other artists in the future. We also had a true marketing disaster this week, with Microsoft paying the NFL to use Surface tablets, only to hear them referred to as "iPad-like tools". This inspired Roger Strong to deliver our funniest comment of the week: Or as those outside of North America would call it, "an iPad-like tool for a football-like sport." Second place for funny comes in response to our old friend Shiva Ayyadurai — or rather, in response to the mainstream media outlets swallowing his story whole. Michael deployed the internet's new nuclear option: Can someone from the EU please send the internet a notice to forget this guy? For editor's choice on the funny side, we've got two more comments on the U2 situation. First up is Chris ODonnell with a simple question, or perhaps a zen koan: If taking music without paying is piracy, and receiving music without asking is spam, does that mean the the opposite of piracy is spam? Next, we've got nasch, replying to another commenter who wondered if the album in question was any good: It can't be, it's free. /Bono logic That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 5 days ago on techdirt
Five Years Ago Patents, patents and more patents were in the news. It was getting so crazy that even Dilbert was trying to tackle the issue. IBM was trying to convince the world that patent protection was the key to open source software (ha ha). Intel founder Andy Grove was promoting a use it or lose it provision for patents, while Ben Goldacre was highlighting how much harm pharma patents had done. And because who doesn't love a story about an absolutely ridiculous patent, we had one about someone claiming to have patented adding a .com to the end of an address bar (the company was demanding millions from every browser maker). On the copyright front, we were looking at how performance rights groups like ASCAP helped funnel money from smaller artists to big artists. Hollywood was out there trying to kill another innovation as it took on the nefarious Redbox. The UK government took a study with just 136 individuals (who all self-reported) and used it to conclude there were 7 million illegal file sharers in the UK. The recording industry in Japan was trying to get the Japanese government to break your phone if you listened to unauthorized music. And the geniuses at Forrester were telling the music industry to copy the movie industry's awful "windowing" technique and release music in different formats in different stages (a recipe guaranteed to increase piracy rates). On the journalism beat, one newspaper was saying that it wouldn't cover political candidates unless they bought ads while some out of touch NY Times guy was whining about people who thought Twitter was a new front for journalism. Finally, Glenn Beck might not have raped and murdered a girl in 1990, but he sure wanted to do everything possible to stop people from asking if he had. On the flip side, filmmaker/story teller/cool guy Kevin Smith was still awesome about the internet and questions concerning copyright (speaking of Smith, if you haven't followed the story of how he ended up making his latest movie, Tusk, you've missed out on one great story about connecting with fans). Oh, and we went way, way, way back to 1773 to look at an important legal decision detailing why copyright is not property. Ten Years Ago Two rather important legal cases were decided this week ten years ago -- one good, one bad. First, the hugely important ruling in CDT v. Pappert, which dumped a bad law in Pennsylvania that required ISPs to filter out porn. The second was the Bridgeport v. Dimension Films appeal, which we were just talking about yesterday, in which a court ruled "get a license or do not sample" and further claimed of such a requirement "we do not see this as stifling creativity in any way." Perhaps because the appeals court judges weren't even remotely creative themselves. In a weird bit of worlds colliding, the RIAA got sued for patent infringement by Altnet, the quite odd patent trolling/adware company that tried to make a "business" out of file sharing. It claimed that the RIAA's hashing technique for identifying songs being shared violated its patent. Meanwhile, DVR makers TiVo and Replay each agreed to make their products suck a little more by adding some DRM to appease an angry Hollywood. Congress, at the RIAA's request, was trying to make it a criminal offense if you shared 1,000 or more works. A Japanese newspaper was mad at Google News for "infringing" on its headlines (or so the newspaper claimed). Finally, in a bit of perceptiveness, ten years ago we wondered whether there would be distributed backup services in the future (yup), whether the concept of area codes would matter any more thanks to mobile phones and VoIP (not so much), and we wrote about people speculating how five innovative companies in 2004 would be able to survive a bunch of new competitors in the space. The list of companies? Netflix, TiVo, PalmSource, RIM and Vonage. While most of them are still around in one form or another, I think the only one people can safely say really maintained its innovative dominance has to be Netflix. The world changes quickly in technology. Fifteen Years Ago: We reported on rumors that Microsoft was working on a standalone game console two years before the Xbox was announced. We wondered if teenagers would be the wireless customers of tomorrow (yup) and were excited about a (wait for it...) CD player that would play MP3s. The "free internet access" boom was in full swing with WorldSpy jumping into the space with a big differentiator. Unlike all its competitors, it wouldn't bombard you with ads. It just hoped that you'd be so happy with the free internet access, you'd go to its website and buy stuff. Don't think that ended up working out so well. And, yes, fifteen years ago, people were still writing idiotic articles saying that open source was "communism." Fifty-Eight Years Ago: We weren't publishing yet, but IBM shipped the first IBM 305 RAMAC, the first computer with a moving-head hard disk. You could lease one for just $3,200 a month (in 1957 dollars!)Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 6 days ago on techdirt
One of the reasons I really like doing these awesome stuff posts each week, looking at a series of crowdfunding projects, is that even when some of the projects are a little nutty, it's interesting to see where and how people are trying to innovate and be creative. Sometimes it's in unexpected places. For example, this week, it's trash cans -- an area that I never thought needed much innovation at all. Swing Bin The Swing Bin is a very simple, but rather elegant trash bin. I can't quite get over the overwrought language used by its creator, or his exceptionally dramatic narration in the video, in which he talks about how perfecting this trashcan was so difficult he "once gave up, but then I found so many people waiting expectantly." I mean, it's a nice looking trash can -- so nice that people might actually put it out where people can see it rather than hide it. But that doesn't mean anyone was waiting on him to create it. The Smart Can With a name like the Smart Can, I was expecting something with a bit more "smarts." But it turns out this is just a different way to get a big kitchen trash bag out of the trash can without having to pull the bag up. I'll be honest, I never realized that pulling the bag out of the trashcan was a real problem for anyone (at home we tend to solve this by tossing the inside trash into the big outdoor trash every day). But, apparently someone thinks it's a problem. Even so, I'm not convinced this solution is actually any better. Rather than lift the bag out of the can, you now have to lift the can around the bag. Kinda seems like the same basic issues will remain. You're still lifting something up high. Either way, it's interesting to see people trying something different... That's it for this week. Enjoy your weekend, and please, take out the trash.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 6 days ago on techdirt
Three years ago, Techdirt wrote about how German politician Malte Spitz obtained six months' worth of basic geolocation data for his mobile phone. He then gave this to the German newspaper Die Zeit, which produced a great visualization of his travels during this time. That showed clearly how much was revealed from such basic data. Since then, of course, metadata has assumed an even greater importance, as it has emerged that the NSA routinely gathers huge quantities of it about innocent citizens. More chillingly, we also know that people are killed purely because of their metadata. But what exactly does metadata show about us? We now have a better idea thanks to the generosity of Ton Siedsma from Holland. He has allowed researchers to access not just the geolocation data of his mobile phone, but all of its metadata: From one week of logs, we were able to attach a timestamp to 15,000 records. Each time Ton's phone made a connection with a communications tower and each time he sent an e-mail or visited a website, we could see when this occurred and where he was at that moment, down to a few metres. We were able to infer a social network based on his phone and e-mail traffic. Using his browser data, we were able to see the sites he visited and the searches he made. And we could see the subject, sender and recipient of every one of his e-mails. That's very similar to the sort of thing governments around the world are now routinely demanding. Here's what the researchers were able to find out about various aspects of his life as a result. The basics: Ton is a recent graduate in his early twenties. He receives e-mails about student housing and part-time jobs, which can be concluded from the subject lines and the senders. He works long hours, in part because of his lengthy train commute. He often doesn’t get home until eight o'clock in the evening. Once home, he continues to work until late. His work: Based on the data, it is quite clear that Ton works as a lawyer for the digital rights organisation Bits of Freedom. He deals mainly with international trade agreements, and maintains contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a few Members of Parliament about this issue. He follows the decision-making of the European Union closely. He is also interested in the methods of investigation employed by police and intelligence agencies. This also explains his interest in news reports about hacking and rounded-up child pornography rings. His social networks: From a social network analysis based on Ton's e-mail traffic, it is possible for us to discern different groups to which he belongs. These clusters are formed by his three e-mail accounts. It may be the case that the groups would look a bit different if we were also to use the metadata from his phone. However, we agreed to not perform any additional investigation, such as actively attempting to discover the identity of the user of a particular number, so as to protect the privacy of those in Ton’s network. There is much more of this in the post, and it's well-worth reading the whole thing to see just how much the researchers were able to find out. But it gets even more interesting -- and troubling -- when they move beyond this passive analysis of metadata to using this information to break into accounts: The analysts from the Belgian iMinds compared Ton's data with a file containing leaked passwords. In early November, Adobe (the company behind the Acrobat PDF reader, Photoshop and Flash Player) announced that a file containing 150 million user names and passwords had been hacked. While the passwords were encrypted, the password hints were not. The analysts could see that some users had the same password as Ton, and their password hints were known to be 'punk metal', 'astrolux' and 'another day in paradise'. ‘This quickly led us to Ton Siedsma's favourite band, Strung Out, and the password "strungout",' the analysts write. With this password, they were able to access Ton's Twitter, Google and Amazon accounts. The analysts provided a screenshot of the direct messages on Twitter which are normally protected, meaning that they could see with whom Ton communicated in confidence. They also showed a few settings of his Google account. And they could order items using Ton's Amazon account -- something which they didn't actually do. The analysts simply wanted to show how easy it is to access highly sensitive data with just a little information. That gives a hint of the havoc that government agencies with access to your metadata could wreak on your life -- not only reading the contents of your emails, but also possibly accessing ecommerce or even bank accounts. We should be grateful to Siedsma for having the courage to hand over this intimate data, and for reminding us yet again why it is wrong to call it "just" metadata. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 6 days ago on techdirt
In all of the discussions about cord-cutting, it seems like many times we get lost in the weeds of specific details on certain angles or certain perceptions. Occasionally lost in all of this is the simple fact that the public ditching their cable TV subscriptions is happening and the pace at which it's happening is rising. The general curve has almost universally been up and, while the entertainment industry may want to talk about the peripherals, eventually they're going to have to get on board the reality train. A recent study drives the point home yet again, finding that the pace of cord-cutting, particularly among younger demographics, is ramping up even higher. The findings of a Media Consumption Survey were presented on Thursday at the Goldman Sachs 23rd Annual Communacopia Conference in New York by Mike Vorhaus at Frank N. Magid Associates. The survey was taken in early June. Among the wider population of those surveyed, those saying they intend to cut the cord was 2.9 percent, which might not sound like a lot, but would represent millions of customers and is more than the 2.2 percent in 2012 who said they would soon cancel pay TV. A half-a-point jump over two years may not seem like a huge deal, but it really should be a clarion call for pay-TV providers. This is particularly the case when so many of these cord-cutters have cited dissatisfaction with the customer service at cable companies as one of the reasons for the move. In addition, younger consumers are reporting that the options available to them from streaming services like Netflix and YouTube satisfy their needs. Add to that how the television is moving into the background as the primary source of media consumption, and the industry better be getting a move on in terms of offering better streaming services. The amount of people who say they can't live without their TV remains steady at 57 percent, but among 18-to-34-year-olds, TV as the primary medium for entertainment is down 40 percent to 21 percent. Those who say they can't live without their smartphones is up sharply in the last three years — from 22 percent to 50 percent. The survey also says that 59 percent of U.S. households pay for a subscription video-on-demand service, with Netflix representing 43 percent of them. None of this may be surprising, but there's an Achilles' heel in all this that far too few people are discussing. I've said this before, but I'd be willing to bet that the moment that major professional American sports leaps heavily into any kind of reliable, consistent streaming option, that's going to be the end of cable subscribers at the levels of the modern era. Sports aside, or rather included, the sooner cable providers and content creators get on board with the internet as the primary distribution mechanism, the longer they survive. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 6 days ago on techdirt
Some people really like to drink coffee and are willing to pay nearly any price to do so. There are probably cheaper ways to get caffeine into your system, but if you like the taste of coffee, you might want to try some exotic procedures that are meant to make the coffee drinking experience just so much better. Here are a few links on some cups of coffee you might want to try if you have the money. You've probably heard of the civet-poop coffee (aka Kopi Luwak) which is supposedly really good. But why not try a similar coffee from an elephant? Black Ivory Coffee isn't really that expensive. A pack that brews about 30 cups of coffee only costs about $275 (without shipping and handling). [url] The ISSpresso machine is how astronauts get coffee (that isn't instant coffee) on the International Space Station (ISS). The cost of getting a ticket to ride on the ISS is the hefty part. [url] Starbucks coffee is significantly more expensive in China. Chinese customers are simply willing to pay more for a cup of joe because it's a luxury (and transportation costs are a bit high, though not ISS high), but the market for over-priced coffee might be drying up. [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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