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Earlier this week, we wrote about the silly take at Wired, more or less suggesting that it was somehow Facebook's issue that a troubled individual took a video of himself randomly killing an elderly man and then uploaded the video to Facebook. Unfortunately, others have had similar takes, including the New Yorker's Steve Coll, whose piece is mostly balanced and admits that it's basically impossible for Facebook to prevent this thing... but then at the end ignores all that and says, effectively, "Well, Facebook's big so it has no excuse not to do something." That is a fair and restrained assessment, but Facebook cannot expect to plead growing pains or a lack of resources for much longer. At the end of last year, the corporation reported holding almost thirty billion dollars in cash and marketable securities; its annual profit exceeded ten billion dollars for the first time. Facebook can afford to slow down and take on more of the risks associated with curating content—the risks of not doing so being increasingly glaring. Its engineers might, in addition to their habitual writing of improved algorithms, consider the durable oath of a profession that has long wrestled with the kinds of ethical quandaries that arise from innovating in the pursuit of the greater good: first, do no harm. That's one of those things that sounds good to someone who hasn't thought through the actual consequences of what they're saying. When you argue that Facebook should "slow down" and "take on more risks associated with curating content," you're arguing that Facebook should censor more content. Think of how that plays out in reality. Because we know already: every time Facebook takes down "good" content, the same media folks start bitching and screaming about how Facebook is so bad at moderating content. Remember Facebook blocking Napalm Girl? While Coll didn't address that issue himself, just months ago, he raved about the importance of Napalm Girl and how adults need to see this kind of thing to "pause and reflect upon the costs of war." But, apparently having them confront murder is a step too far. But... that is not the worst take on this whole thing. So far, that award goes to Danny Cevallos, a legal analyst for CNN and apparently a real practicing criminal defense attorney. His argument is not to blame Facebook... but to criminalize posting murder videos to Facebook. It's not often that you see a criminal defense attorney arguing for more crimes, but here we are. To be fair to Cevallos, he's not the first to come up with an idea this dumb. As online video became more popular, and as stories emerged of people (often young kids) filming themselves doing stupid things online, various grandstanding politicians have often argued that filming crimes should be illegal, arguing (often without any evidence) that the only reason these people were doing stupid/illegal things was because of the draw of being able to film them and post them online. This reached a fever pitch a few years ago when a legislator in South Carolina picked up on an exaggerated moral panic about the idea of the "knockout game" -- in which people filmed themselves punching unsuspecting people -- and wanted to pass a law saying that it was illegal to film a crime. That's more or less where Cevallos goes, though he'd limit it to just murder videos: Use the law to deter this sort of depraved predator. We can criminalize the criminal's act of broadcasting his crime. In for a bit, Cevallos digs in deep: When it gets into the realm of a horrendous crime like the recent shooting, what is to be done? As heretical as it is for a criminal defense attorney like myself to say, deterrence could help. More criminal legislation: enhancements, penalties, mandatory minimums. And how the crime and its victims are legally framed is key. Whether it's murder or simple assault, acts of violence that are also posted online create additional victims in the audience: the public at large. Broadcasts of intentional violence intimidate a civilian population, just as terrorism does. What?!? Now he's comparing broadcasting a murder tape as terrorism? Who exactly is intimidated? Will it horrify people? Yes, absolutely. But that's not illegal, nor should it be. Also, there's this. How the hell is this actually a deterrence? What kind of person will say "Well, I was going to shoot that guy and broadcast it on Facebook, but since broadcasting it is illegal, I guess I won't." Really. Who? If you're going to murder someone, you've already kinda committed to breaking basically the most serious law we have. Somehow, I doubt that the additional charge of "Oh, and he put it on Facebook," is going to change the incentives much. And, then, of course, Cevallos starts digging deeper with a really terrible First Amendment analysis (especially for a media company like CNN to publish). All it's missing is the explicit use of the bullshit "fire in a crowded theater" trope. The challenge here is that criminalizing Facebook broadcasts of one's crimes does potentially infringe upon one's freedom of speech about those crimes. The US Supreme Court held that the original Son of Sam law ran afoul of the First Amendment, because the suppression of speech was not narrowly tailored enough. However, the First Amendment has plenty of limits, and today, almost all the states and the federal government have laws prohibiting those criminals who plan to profit from their crimes from doing so. The ability to profit still shouldn't be constitutionally-protected. Pretty simple rule of thumb: your First Amendment analysis is bad and you should feel bad if it's basically limited to "Well, there are exceptions to the First Amendment, so surely the exception I want should be fine." Hell, it's near the top of Popehat's famous "censorship tropes" in discussions of free speech. But Cevallos isn't done. After already carving out a new exception to the First Amendment, he then also argues that posting your own murder video maybe would fit under the very limited and extraordinarily narrow "obscenity" exception to the First Amendment: It's a tougher question whether "killing videos" could be additionally penalized as obscenity. This is because the term "obscenity" generally applies to depictions of sexual acts. The Supreme Court has held that violence alone is not obscenity. On the other hand, obscenity may extend to deviant acts that are not sexual, and images of extreme cruelty alone could possibly be obscene, as evidenced by a case involving videos of animal cruelty. Indeed, "animal crush videos" — which are every bit as horrific as they sound — may be outlawed, even if sexual activity is not depicted. Again, the legal analysis is... lacking any substance whatsoever. It's basically "Well, animal crush videos can be outlawed, so sure, murders on Facebook too." Criminalizing the broadcast of crimes like Robert Godwin's shooting death is doable. It won't prevent these attacks, but it will deter them. It will deter them... based on what evidence exactly? Just in your head? Finally after all that nonsense, Cavallos points out just about the only accurate thing, and hilariously calls it "perverse": the fact that what these videos do is provide all the evidence law enforcement needs to prosecute individuals for the crimes they're committing on video: The perverse upside is that social media creates a treasure trove of evidence: the criminals of social media may harm the society that views them, but they often assist the authorities in prosecuting them. Yeah, that's not "perverse." That's why the rest of your article makes no sense. The video is evidence of a crime. Layering on another, much lesser crime just for posting the video doesn't deter crime. It deters people making it easier to catch, arrest and convict themselves of committing crimes. CNN needs better legal analysts. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've been discussing for some time how John Deere, Apple, Sony and Microsoft are among a laundry list of companies fighting against so-called "right to repair" bills. The bills, currently being pushed in a handful of different states, make it easier for consumers to repair their own products and find replacement parts and tools. The bills are an organic consumer response to the attempts of many of these companies to monopolize repair, driven in large part by John Deere's draconian lockdown on "unauthorized repairs" -- forcing tractor owners to pirate tractor firmware and maintenance tools just to repair products they thought they owned. Apple's been notably vocal on this subject, recently trying to shut down a Nebraska right to repair bill by proclaiming that it would turn the state into a dangerous hacker playground. Of course, propped up by the DMCA's anti-circumvention rules, Apple has utilized a rotating crop of tools to try and protect this repair monopoly. Last year, for example, Apple caused a bit of a shitstorm due to "Error 53", part of an iOS update that bricked phones that had their screens replaced by third party repair vendors. Having apparently learned no lessons from the backlash from that use of repair locks, Apple is once again taking heat for new software locks cooked into the iPhone 7, which prevent the device's home button from working after it has been replaced. Unless, that is, the replacement is performed by a certified Apple technician with the proper "re-calibration" software. The home button is used to unlock the phone, and to return the user to the home screen when pressed. In previous iPhone versions (iPhone 5S, 6, and 6S) if you replaced the home button you lost the security function, but users could still login via pin -- and the button still worked to bring users "home." But with the iPhone 7, replacing the home button via third-party vendor results in the button not working at all -- unless you take the device to Apple's Genius bar. This is, independent repair shops claim, just part of Apple's overall strategy of monopolizing repair, hampering third-party repair vendors, and restricting consumer choice: "In a video demonstrating the block, Michael Oberdick, owner of the independent iPhone repair shop iOutlet, swapped the front displays (and home buttons) of two iPhone 7 devices. When swapped, the phone displays an error message that says "The Home Button May Need Service." Its functionality is disabled and "Assistive Touch" automatically pops up on the device, creating an onscreen, software-based home button." This is, Oberdick argues, little more than a vindictive, anti-consumer move on the part of Apple: "Not supporting that menu function makes no sense," Justin Carroll, owner of FruitFixed, an independent iPhone repair shop, told me. "Just a sad and petulant move on their part that will directly affect consumers especially after their one year manufacturer warranty is up."...This may sound like an esoteric issue, and to some extent it is—screen replacements can still be done so long as the original home button is carefully removed and moved to the new screen. But software locks specifically designed to prevent repair are a monopolistic, anti-consumer move that attempts to "tie" an electronic to the manufacturer even after it's already been sold. Whether coming from Apple, Sony, or Microsoft, opposition to "right to repair" bills usually focuses on the three (false) ideas: the bills will make users less safe, somehow "compromise" intellectual property, and open the door to cybersecurity theft. Apple will be sure to breathlessly insist that they're only making the iPhone 7's home button impossible to repair to protect consumer security, hoping you'll ignore the entire practice of such software locks simply allows the company to monopolize repair, drive up the cost of overall ownership for all of its customers, and make life harder for third-party repair vendors. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Keep your information safe while browsing with the $39 unlimited subscription to VPNSecure. You can connect up to 5 devices at once to any of their servers in over 46 countries. VPNSecure proudly assures that ZERO logs are recorded, and they provide a warrant canary as well. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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It's no secret that the hotel industry hates competition from Airbnb. Hell, politicians have even admitted to crafting anti-Airbnb policies to keep hotels from being disrupted. But, now, the NY Times has got its hands on a specific plan from the hotel industry to basically hamper Airbnb and burden it with legal and policy challenges (I should note, by way of some sort of disclosure, that I'm typing this while sitting at a desk at an Airbnb apartment in Washington DC -- and, similarly, that it's much nicer and significantly cheaper than comparable hotels, but I digress...). Last year, Airbnb underwent a rough regulatory patch. The short-term rental company became a Federal Trade Commission target last summer after three senators asked for an investigation into how companies like Airbnb affect soaring housing costs. In October, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York signed a bill imposing steep fines on Airbnb hosts who break local housing rules. The two actions appeared unrelated. But one group quietly took credit for both: the hotel industry. Years back, we wrote about writer Andy Kessler's concept of political entrepreneurs v. market entrepreneurs, which (loosely defined) were those who basically used policy making to lock up markets for themselves and restrict competitors as opposed to entrepreneurs who innovated and created more value in the market by serving customers. In more traditional economics, it's rent seeking v. market innovation and growth. Most people recognize how rent seeking is bad: it's using the levers of regulations and politics to limit competition and innovation, in order to extract a greater share of the revenue/profits (since there's less competition, if any) while similarly limiting innovation and economic growth that improve people's lives. And the hotel industry seems like a prime example of this right now. Both were partly the result of a previously unreported plan that the hotel association started in early 2016 to thwart Airbnb. The plan was laid out in two separate documents that the organization presented to its board in November and January. In the documents, which The New York Times obtained, the group sketched out the progress it had already made against Airbnb, and described how it planned to rein in the start-up in the future. The plan was a “multipronged, national campaign approach at the local, state and federal level,” according to the minutes of the association’s November board meeting. The NY Times report has many more details, but all of it is basically summed up as "annoy Airbnb and limit their ability to grow as much as possible." There doesn't appear to be anything in there about "providing a better experience to our customers so they might prefer us to Airbnb." There doesn't seem to be anything in there about "better competing with Airbnb." Nope, it's entirely about trying to undermine Airbnb. I've noted in the past (and in this post!) that I've used Airbnb a bunch, and have found it almost universally better than hotels. The experience is more unique, but also just... better overall. And I've spoken with many Airbnb hosts. It's true that some are running "businesses" renting out multiple units on Airbnb, but isn't opening up more people for running successful small businesses a good thing? And, yes, I know lots of people like to claim that Airbnb is driving up rent -- even if the data doesn't currently support that claim. But even if true (and, again, it's the hotel lobby that has mostly been pushing this narrative, though plenty of well meaning folks have picked up on it), that's an issue to deal with in other ways (such as increasing housing stock, rather than limiting it with other regulations) rather than shutting down a useful business that opens up new opportunities, and can also increase tourism and local business. Again, it's perhaps no surprise that the hotel industry has been fighting Airbnb, but with the NYTimes getting its hands on the actual strategy documents from the hotel industry, that industry has made it clear that it's seeking to shut down and limit competition, rather than innovate themselves. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Back in 2008, Comcast sued the city of Chattanooga shortly after the city-owned utility (Electric Power Board, or EPB) announced plans to deliver the kind of cheap, ultra-fast broadband Comcast long refused to. After being saddled with legal expenses, EPB ultimately won that lawsuit, and in 2010 began offering ultra-fast fiber broadband. But it wasn't long before the community-owned broadband network ran into another obstacle: a Tennessee state protectionist law -- quite literally written by AT&T and Comcast -- that hamstrung the operation and prohibited it from expanding. Fast forward nearly a decade, and EPB now offers symmetrical gigabit connections for around $70 a month -- at least to the parts of Chattanooga ISP lobbyists have allowed it to. A 2016 survey by Consumer Reports ranked EPB, outside of Google Fiber, as the only ISP with a truly positive consumer satisfaction rating among the 30 national ISPs ranked by the magazine. Chattanooga's Mayor, meanwhile, has cited EPB as a major contributor to the city's reinvention. Facing this weird new phenomenon known as competition, Comcast this year finally broke down and brought its own gigabit offering (technically 1 Gbps down, 35 Mbps up) to the city. But Comcast being Comcast, it simply couldn't help but saddle the offering with a number of restrictions. Specifically, Comcast's offering the gigabit option to Chattanooga residents for $70 a month -- but only if they're willing to sign a three year contract. If users refuse -- the price of the service not only is jacked to $140 per month -- but you'll face usage caps and overage fees -- which are only avoidable if you sign the absurdly long contract. Hoping to get Chattanooga residents excited about the new option when it finally arrived a few weeks ago, Comcast posted an announcement to Facebook "introducing" the city to gigabit broadband service. It didn't go well. The company began taking an absolutely ferocious beating from area locals tired of Comcast's high prices and legendarily-bad customer service: Take note of the automated Comcast "support" representative that appears to believe they're "helping" without any understanding of the context of the concerns. The beating proceeds like this for an amazingly long time, consistently citing slow speeds, high prices and poor service: You may notice a consistent theme or two brought up by Chattanooga locals. The beating was so severe it made the Chattanooga Times Free Press, via which Comcast tried to claim that the response to the company's quickly-backfiring ad campaign was a "misunderstanding": Comcast says the ongoing backlash is the result of a misunderstanding. The cable giant says that it didn't mean to imply it was rolling out the city's first gigabit service. Rather, it was introducing Xfinity's first gigabit service for residential customers. "Comcast's recent advertisement on Facebook was intended to remind customers in Chattanooga that our 1-gigabit internet service is now available in their area," said Alex Horwitz, vice president for public relations at Comcast. "The service is offered via cable modem technology, which makes Chattanooga one of the first markets in the nation to enjoy this new service." There's no misunderstanding. Chattanooga locals understand all too well that Comcast has thrown millions at lawmakers on both the local and state level to try and stifle competition, then expected locals to be awed when the company belatedly introduced its own, inferior and restriction-laden product -- nearly a decade later. There's a reason that Tennessee remains one of the least connected states in the union (pdf), and it has absolutely everything to do with Comcast being an anti-competitive bully with a near-total stranglehold over the state legislature and politicians like Marsha Blackburn. Tennessee isn't alone in spending the majority of its time bending over backwards to please the country's biggest broadband incumbents to its own, obvious detriment. And more restrictive state laws are being passed all the time. And instead of fixing this corruption on the state or federal level, we're now looking at axing consumer privacy protections and killing net neutrality. Because, you know, that's certain to deliver the kind of broadband Utopia Chattanooga and countless other U.S. markets have been begging for for over the better part of the last decade. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The Ninth Circuit Appeals Court has affirmed a lower court's stripping of a federal officer's qualified immunity in a… moon rock sting case. This is a thing. Relatives and friends of NASA personnel have received what they believe are gifts from them -- items containing moon rock pieces, or heat shield fragments, or whatever. The problem here is the government believes it owns anything related to its exploration missions. It's not always illegal to be in possession of these items, but as Lowering the Bar's Kevin Underhill explains, it's almost always going to be treated as illegal by the federal government. [I]f you have or even claim to have any lunar material, or some other piece of Apollo memorabilia, the government is quite likely to treat you as a criminal if it finds out—even if, as in this case, it had no proof at all that the suspect got it illegally (or even that it was what she claimed). The "she" here is Joann Davis, whose late husband worked on the Apollo program. He was given two Apollo souvenirs by Neil Armstrong -- paperweights containing pieces of a moon rock and a heat shield, respectively. Davis was looking to sell the items to a collector to defray her son's medical expenses. She asked NASA for assistance, which turned out to be a mistake. NASA sent the feds after her. Davis may have told the government what she was up to, but the government didn't return the favor. Instead, it decided to engage in sting operation, because that's obviously the best way to deal with a 74-year-old woman trying to pay medical expenses -- and who had made the government fully aware of her NASA-related items and her planned sale of them. "Jeff," the government's undercover man posing as an interested buyer, met with Davis at a Denny's. Outside were six armed federal agents. The only person with Davis was her 70-year-old friend, Paul Cilley. From the opinion [PDF]: Once Davis, Cilley, and “Jeff” were seated in a booth inside the restaurant and exchanged pleasantries, Davis placed the paperweights on the table. “Jeff” said he thought the heat shield was worth about $2,000. Shortly thereafter, Conley announced himself as a “special agent,” and another officer’s hand reached over Davis, grabbed her hand, and took the moon rock paperweight. Simultaneously, a different officer grabbed Cilley by the back of the neck and restrained him by holding his arm behind his back in a bent-over position. Then, an officer grabbed Davis by the arm, pulling her from the booth. At this time, Davis claims that she felt like she was beginning to lose control of her bladder. One of the officers took her purse. Both Cilley and Davis were compliant. Four officers escorted them to the restaurant parking lot for questioning after patting them down to ensure that neither was armed. If this itself seems excessive, well… hold the government's beer. Davis claims that she told officers twice during the escort that she needed to use the restroom, but that they did not answer and continued walking her toward an SUV where Conley was waiting. Davis subsequently urinated in her clothing. Although their accounts differ in some respects, Conley and Davis agree that he knew she was wearing urine-soaked pants as he interrogated her in the restaurant parking lot. Davis claims that she was not allowed an opportunity to clean herself or change her clothing, despite communicating to Conley several times that she was “very uncomfortable.” Conley is Norman Conley, the federal agent whose immunity remains stripped. For whatever reason, Conley appeared to believe it wasn't enough to have both the disputed property in hand and a fully-compliant suspect who had already informed NASA about her plans to sell them. Conley then proceeded to question Davis for one-and-a-half to two hours, during which time Davis remained standing in the same place. In urine-soaked pants, lest we forget. Conley apparently felt he just wasn't threatening enough. He brought more muscle for the urine-soaked, Denny's parking lot interrogation of a 74-year-old woman. [W]hile Conley questioned her, another officer wearing a flack jacket stood behind her and pushed her each time she shifted her weight or stepped backwards. During the questioning, Conley kept Davis’s purse and car keys and told her repeatedly that “they still really want to take you in,” and that she needed to give him more information before he could release her. She was kept from going to her car. At least ninety minutes had passed when Conley told Davis she was free to leave. Here's the depressing coda: After the sting operation was complete and NASA lunar experts were able to confirm the moon rock’s authenticity, Conley opened a full investigation. The investigation was closed when the U.S. Attorney in Orlando, Florida, formally declined to prosecute Davis. Davis’s son died seven months after the incident. As the appeals court points out, Conley's own admissions cancel out his qualified immunity defense. At the time of the detention, Conley was aware of several facts that color the reasonableness of his actions. First, Conley knew that Davis was a slight, elderly woman, who was then nearly seventy-five years old and less than five feet tall. Second, he knew that Davis lost control of her bladder during the search and was wearing visibly wet pants. Third, he knew that Davis and Cilley were unarmed and that the search warrant had been fully executed by the time Davis was escorted to the parking lot. Fourth, Conley knew that Davis had not concealed possession of the paperweights, but rather had reached out to NASA for help in selling the paperweights. Finally, because all but the first of the phone calls between Davis and “Jeff” were recorded, Conley knew the exact content of most of those conversations, including that Davis was experiencing financial distress as a result of having to raise grandchildren after her daughter died, her son was severely ill and required expensive medical care, and Davis needed a transplant. Those conversations also revealed Davis’s desire to sell the paperweights in a legal manner and her belief that she possessed them legally because they were a gift to her late husband. If Conley didn't want to be held accountable for civil liberties violations, the court says he probably shouldn't have violated them so thoroughly. Because the moon rock paperweight had been seized and both Davis and Cilley had already been searched for other weapons and contraband, Conley had no law enforcement interest in detaining Davis for two hours while she stood wearing urine-soaked pants in a restaurant’s parking lot during the lunch rush. This is precisely the type of “unusual case” involving “special circumstances” that leads us to conclude that a detention is unreasonable. Conley’s detention of Davis, an elderly woman, was unreasonably prolonged and unnecessarily degrading. There are multiple ways this could have been handled and Conley chose the path most likely to result in a civil rights lawsuit. Maybe he thought Davis would never go so far as to sue him. Maybe this is just how Agent Conley handles everything: with as much force and intimidation as possible, even if nothing about the situation warrants it. Whatever the case, Conley will now have to face Davis' allegations in court, with no shield in front of him. Hopefully, he'll find the experience to be nearly as uncomfortable as what he put Joann Davis through. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Some more forward progress has been made against civil asset forfeiture, this time in Arizona. Governor Doug Ducey put his signature on a reform bill late last week, raising the evidentiary bar for seizures in the state. House Bill 2477 restricts police and prosecutors from abusing the civil forfeiture process by requiring them to show “clear and convincing evidence” that certain property was linked to a crime before the seizure or forfeiture of any assets. Under current law, prosecutors are only required to show a “preponderance” of the evidence. The move drew bipartisan support from nearly all members of the Legislature, with only one vote lodged against the measure. While it doesn't go so far as to establish a conviction requirement, it does make it a little more difficult for law enforcement agencies to walk off with citizens' possessions. Unfortunately, not much has been done to address the terrible recourse process, which dumps the burden of proof back on the citizen whose possessions have been taken. Navigating this particular legal thicket often requires a lawyer and there's a good chance the best possible outcome will be a partial release of the property seized. Fortunately, going the lawsuit route will be a little less risky in the future: the new law also ensures legal fees will be awarded to winning parties who manage to litigate the return of seized property. Even if Governor Ducey had been opposed to the reform bill, he wouldn't have been able to defend a veto in the same way Idaho Governor Butch Otter did when shooting down a popular reform effort there. There's plenty of evidence the state's asset forfeiture laws have been abused. After analyzing more than 1,300 quarterly financial reports filed by agencies detailing seizures and expenditures from fiscal years 2011 through 2015, AZCIR found that the state commission tasked with compiling statewide civil asset forfeiture figures omitted roughly $20 million, or 16 percent of overall spending, from its reports. [...] And when it comes to tracking what law enforcement agencies are seizing and from whom, virtually no data is available other than aggregate totals of the amounts seized. Along with zero transparency and questionable accounting, there are a few small law enforcement agencies where seizing stuff is basically all they do. [S]anta Cruz County [...] agencies seized more than $5 million during the past five years. All but $90 came from auctioning forfeited property, such as cars and houses. Considering the total, along with the small population, the county also had the highest seizure rate – more than three times the state average. Agencies in La Paz County, with a population of 20,500, seized $1.6 million during the past five years, the second highest rate in the state – $955,000 of that in 2015 alone. In Arizona, law enforcement agencies are allowed to spend seized funds directly on employee salaries, which has led to this sort of thing being common: The Attorney General’s Office spent more on personnel than any other agency at $6.4 million, which funded 50 positions, according to an August 2016 budget proposal document provided to AZCIR. When your paycheck depends directly on successful seizures, there's no way you won't be performing as many seizures as possible. This new law doesn't make dramatic changes to existing forfeiture statutes, but any chance, no matter how small, always appears to be unacceptable to the agencies affected. Here's Chief Deputy (Mohave County Attorney's Office) James Schoppman's reaction: In a letter to the governor pleading the county’s case, Schoppmann wrote, “If HB 2477 is enacted, Mohave County will suffer because of an overreaction to the misdeeds of a very small percentage of others and the result will be a net loss to our community and a net gain for drug traffickers.” Apparently, it's a net win for the community when criminals go free but their money goes to pay DA's office salaries. The statement is complete crap. Arizona law enforcement agencies are handfuls of cash from hundreds of victims and doing almost nothing to make a dent in drug cartel operations. This systemic abuse won't be stopped by the new law, but it will be slowed. Arizona law enforcement will just have to exercise a bit more discretion when separating citizens from their property. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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With Steam's policy for providing refunds on digital game purchases being roughly two years old, many people forget the context of the time when Valve began offering those refunds. It's worth being reminded that at that time nobody in the neighborhood of the Steam client's popularity was offering any real avenue for getting refunds on digital game purchases. Those that did mostly did so under the most restrictive conditions, with insane single-digit day windows in which a refund could be had, and only for certain reasons, of which the game being shitty was not included. Steam's criteria was that you could request a refund during a two-week period for any reason, be it the game not living up to expectations, the gamer's machine not being able to run it properly, or anything else. The other contextual aspect to keep in mind was that Steam had endured several weeks of absolutely brutal PR, with awful customer service ratings and the whole fiasco over its attempt at creating a paid-mod system. Still, Valve broke the mold in some respects with the new policy, forcing the competition to keep up. It took two years, but Microsoft recently announced that both its Xbox and Windows 10 marketplaces will likewise offer refunds on digital purchases, with the same fourteen-day window and the same requirement that the game not have been played for more than two hours. Microsoft's self-service refunds work much like returns do on PC game-download service Steam. Shoppers have up to 14 days after purchasing a game or app to request a refund, and that will only work if the software in question has not been used for more than two hours while owned. Similar to Steam, Xbox and Windows 10 users will have to navigate to an "order history" section of their account to request such a refund, rather than any obvious tabs or buttons within a given game or app's landing page. However, this can only be done through a Web browser pointed to account.microsoft.com, as opposed to the Xbox One or Windows Store dashboards. It's Microsoft, so of course it would have to be more complicated than it should be, but this is still a good and important step. For far too long, digital purchases for all kinds of goods -- video games included -- were viewed as somehow different from a consumer rights standpoint than a physical product. This sense of difference propagates itself in many directions, but the ability to get refunds on products was certainly one of them. It's far past time that the fake wall that's been erected between digital goods in terms of consumer rights had some bricks pulled from it, and these refund policies are a good start. They also serve to show how the competition will respond when one company begins treating its customers well, which is essentially to play follow the leader. You can bet that all eyes are now on the PlayStation Network to see exactly how long it will take for Sony to keep up with the competition. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've talked before about how the very nature of work is changing thanks to technology, with telecommuting being an obvious trend — but despite some early predictions about the death of the physical office, the reality is offices have been evolving and changing thanks to technology and innovation too. This week, we discuss co-working spaces and other trends in the evolution of offices. Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes or Google Play, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've long documented how there's a growing array of websites that seem intent on shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to "defeating" ad blocking. Quite often that includes punishing customers for a website's own misdeeds, or using ham-fisted (and frankly often broken) systems that attempt to block the ad blockers. Of course, this tends to obfuscate why these users are using blockers in the first place, whether it's to keep ads from eating their broadband usage allotments, or simply as an attempt to protect themselves from "ads" that are often indistinguishable from malware. The bottom line is that thanks to aggressive, poorly designed or downright hostile ads, many consumers quite justly now feel that ad blockers are an essential part of their privacy and security. Here at Techdirt, we long ago decided to let our visitors decide what their ad experience looks like, letting visitors disable ads entirely if that's they're preference (we just, of course, hope they'll try to support us in other ways). Elsewhere though, websites are engaged in what feels like a futile game of Whac-a-Mole that seems increasingly obvious (to some) won't be "winnable." New developments on the ad block front seem to indicate this game of Whac-a-Mole may soon end up with the mole being -- well -- most decidedly whacked. Princeton and Stanford researchers say they've developed a new method of blocking advertisements that detects ads the same way human beings do -- by simply looking at things like container sizes, graphical layout, and words like "Sponsored" (usually mandated by regulations or voluntary, cross-industry commitments). Computer scientist Arvind Narayanan and his colleagues have published a new paper (pdf) and proof-of-concept code for something they're calling a Perceptual Ad Blocker. Their paper describes the new technology as such: "Perceptual ad blocking seeks to improve resilience against ad obfuscation and minimize manual effort needed to create ad blockers. We rely on the key insight that ads are legally required to be clearly recognizable by humans. To make the method robust, we deliberately ignore all signals invisible to humans, including URLs and markup. Instead we consider visual and behavioral information. For example, an ad may include the tex "Sponsored" or 'Close Ad" within its boundaries, either directly or when hovered over. We expect perceptual ad blocking to be less prone to an "arms race." Over at Freedom to Tinker, Narayanan is quick to point out that this new technology isn't "undefeatable" (as some websites quickly suggested), but it does certainly tilt the ad block battlefield in favor of the end user. He notes that the technology was developed in response to Facebook's decision to integrate ads that look like regular posts in the user's news feed, something systems like AdBlock haven't been able to detect (some smaller blockers like uBlock Origin have been able to, but apparently have such a small market share they've yet to get Facebook's attention). The other ad blocking obstacle that Narayanan's perceptual ad blocker addresses is the growing numbers of websites that believe they've "solved" the problem by blocking users that block ad blockers. In short, it does this by convincing the web browser to effectively lie to any script trying to determine ad blocker use: "The second prong of an ad blocking strategy is to deal with websites that try to detect (and in turn block) ad blockers. To do this, we introduce the idea of stealth. The only way that a script on a web page can “see” what’s drawn on the screen is to ask the user’s browser to describe it. But ad blocking extensions can control the browser! Not perfectly, but well enough to get the browser to convincingly lie to the web page script about the very existence of the ad blocker. Our proof-of-concept stealthy ad blocker successfully blocked ads and hid its existence on all 50 websites we looked at that are known to deploy anti-adblocking scripts. Finally, we have also investigated ways to detect and block the ad blocking detection scripts themselves. We found that this is feasible but cumbersome; at any rate, it is unnecessary as long as stealthy ad blocking is successful. The researchers have developed both a standard and Facebook specific Chrome extension that you can try yourself, and they have no problem with identifying these types of integrated ads: The researchers have yet to enable the actual blocking component of their ad blockers to, they say, "avoid taking sides on the ethics of ad blocking." Now you'd like to think that should perceptual ad blocking be as effective as they're claiming, websites and advertisers would be forced to do some soul-searching into why users are flocking to ad blockers in the first place. But most of us know many of these websites won't learn a damn thing in this scenario, and may engage in behavior that forces users to somehow interact with the ads if they want the page to load. Narayanan is quick to point out that this -- like ad block blockers already have -- could only drive users away from these websites even faster: "If publishers are willing to intrude on users’ attention by making them interact with ads, it does seem unlikely that ad blockers can succeed. But that will also drive away many users, and it’s not clear how many publishers would be willing to make that trade off. Sponsored content / native advertising is again a topic where the law has something to say. These need to be identified clearly as sponsored (and for the most part they are). We’ve found that people aren’t good at noticing these disclosures, but browser extensions can be! Ad blockers could take on the role of prominently alerting readers when a link they’re about to click on is in fact sponsored content." If perceptual ad blockers are half as successful as the researchers claim they can be, many sites and advertisers have two options. One is to finally take serious stock of why ad block use has skyrocketed (and their own culpability for it) and develop more consumer-centric and creative monetization and advertising efforts. The other is to cry more, double down on blaming visitors for their adaptation failures, design systems that break the internet and annoy site visitors even further, or try to use the law to hamstring the use of ad blockers (an uphill climb, and in some places potentially a two-way street). If stopping ad blockers truly is a fool's errand (and these researchers strongly believe it is), there's really only one choice that makes any real sense. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Dive into the world of self-driving cars, speech recognition technology and more with the $40 Complete Machine Learning Bundle. Over 10 courses, you will learn about pattern recognition and prediction and how to harness the power of machine learning to take your programming to the next level. Discover quant trading, how to use Hadoop and MapReduce to tackle large data sets, how to create a sentiment analyzer with Twitter and Python and much more. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Last week, we wrote twice about sculptor Arturo Di Modica and his claim that the "Fearless Girl" statue, that was placed last month in front of his "Charging Bull" statue, violates his rights. As we explained, in detail, he has almost no legal case here. His letter to New York City argues three possible claims of action -- all of which would almost certainly be losers in court (as we detailed in that last post). However, I still have seen a bunch of people arguing in support of Di Modica, claiming that he "has a point." Many have pointed to a blog post by Greg Fallis that is literally titled "Seriously, the guy has a point." Others have raised other issues in discussions I've seen (and taken part in...) on Twitter and Facebook. I still don't think he has any point at all, but I wanted to do a post addressing each of the key issues I've seen raised, and explaining why I think they fail as legitimate arguments. Fearless Girl is an ad I had debated mentioning this in the first post (and only obliquely noted that "there have been some criticisms" of Fearless Girl), but decided it was really meaningless. But people keep bringing it up, so let's address it. Yes, the Fearless Girl statue is an advertisement of sorts. The whole thing was created and financed by State Street, a massive investment firm, with help from McCann, one of the giant ad agencies. And a big part of the criticism is that State Street has a "gender diversity index" whose ticker symbol is SHE, focused on tracking the performance of "companies with the highest levels within their sectors of gender diversity on their boards of directors and in their senior leadership." And Fearless Girl has a plaque that says: "Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference." Many have, quite reasonably, argued that (especially given the capitalization of SHE) Fearless Girl is just an advertisement. And the response to that should be... so what? As we've pointed out for many, many years, all content is advertising in some sense. It may be advertising for the artist. It may be advertising some idea. It may be advertising a theme. Di Modica's bull was "advertising" the resiliency of American capitalism. Just because it's advertising doesn't mean it's not artwork. And even advertising can have a positive social message. So, the claim that it's "advertising" doesn't really impact anything here. Yes. It's advertising. So what? It's also still art, and was created by a real artist whose own work and talents are unfairly diminished when you say that it's not art just because someone paid for it and it advertises something else. Or as our own Leigh Beadon points out: If the Fearless Girl "isn't art" because a corporation paid for it and attached an ad, then nothing on network TV has ever been art either. — Leigh Beadon (@leighbeadon) April 17, 2017 Some are arguing that because there's money involved, that somehow changes things, but I don't see how. After all, the bull itself celebrates money and markets, so if you're suddenly arguing that money is bad, well, then... I'm not sure how that supports the argument that the artist has a point. It uses the only copy of Charging Bull This is the argument I've heard most often after the "it's an ad" argument, and I'd argue it's more persuasive, but still not very persuasive. The argument here is that, unlike a remix or standard appropriation art, where the original work remains untouched, the placement of Fearless Girl effectively incorporates Charging Bull such that Charging Bull can no longer be separate from Fearless Girl. If you are to accept the idea that putting another artwork near an original piece of artwork can never be allowed, even in a public place, and even if the latter piece incorporates the original to comment on it... well, you're going to run into a lot of problems pretty quickly. Because then you're arguing two things that are pretty difficult to justify: (1) that an artist should get absolute control over any other works near his or her own artwork, and (2) that artwork is defined by what is around it and so the context can never change. Both things seem unjustifiable. On the first point, what if, instead of the Fearless Girl statue, someone created a placard (an artistic placard) protesting what they believed was unfair sexism on Wall Street and stood next to the bull? Would that lead to the same outcry that this somehow "diminished" the Bull? Or imagine a world in which an artist could force a museum curator -- or a private collection owner -- to not display some other artist's artwork next to his or her own, because the juxtaposition of the two pieces was deemed by the artist to be unflattering? Most people would think that is crazy. How one puts up a piece of artwork, and what pieces are put around it, are the decisions of those who control the physical pieces and have the rights to display them. Here, Di Modica dumped his bull on the streets of New York, and New York now has possession of the physical statue. It can decide how to display it. Plenty of museums use the careful placement of different works to create juxtaposition and even direct criticism or commentary. It would be crazy to think that an original artist could bar any of that. As for the second point, we don't have to look very far to see how silly it is: Di Modica himself placed the bull in the street in front of the NY Stock Exchange, specifically making a point about that particular financial market. He was commenting on the NY Stock Exchange and the fact that it represents a form of capitalism and free markets (whether or not you agree with that is beside the point). And yet, NYC moved Charging Bull around the corner. It is no longer directly in front of the NYSE, but people still get the context and they understand the intent. I've seen people arguing that if Fearless Girl were removed to somewhere else it wouldn't make the same point, but that's not necessarily true. People are not dumb. They can understand context. And they can see how context changes. The Bull moved from the NYSE to a nearby park, and yet people still recognize that Charging Bull is commenting on the stock market and the Wall St. ethos. Yes, it helped where it was initially placed, but the mythology around the placement has stuck with the Bull. The same is likely true for Fearless Girl. Were it -- or the Bull -- to now move, many people would still remember and recognize the initial juxtaposition, and understand the intent (again, even if it was an ad). But Fearless Girl changes Charging Bull's meaning I've seen this from a few people, arguing that the artist must have some right of "control" over the meaning of the statue. But that's just not the way it works. This is a similar argument that we've seen in lots of copyright disputes over the years -- especially cases involving fair use. People seem to ascribe a somewhat mythical concept of "control" or "control of message" that an artist can have over their artwork. But that's never been true. Once a work of art is released to the public, the public interacts with it and interprets it and that's wholly outside the control of the original artist. Sometimes, over time, people's impression of a work of art can change drastically -- from bad to good or from good to bad. Indeed, that's a big part of art. Art is barely art if there's no reaction to it. The reaction itself is a large part of the art, and that reaction is not dictated by the artist. Sometimes that reaction is just how people see things. Sometimes that reaction is in how it inspires others to create other works. Art is often defined by the reaction to it. And here, if that reaction changed, that's just a part of the nature of art and culture and society and how those things interact. Over the years, for example, there have been debates about the artistic value of works that supported, celebrated or were associated with bigotry. And there have been protests against them. But that's allowed, because people are allowed to react to art how they want, and sometimes their reactions can impact how others see things as well. Some people who grew up with the Confederate flag as a symbol of the south have grown over time to realize the racist connotations it can hold. Should we not allow people to raise those issues and get people to rethink their support of that flag? Control in art is an illusory concept: people insist it's there, when it really is not. An artist has control over the artwork while they're working on it and before they've released it to the world, but once it's out there, once it's become available to interact with the reactions of the public, control is lost. And that's a good thing. It's that loss of control that makes art art. You may not like Fearless Girl. You may not like Charging Bull. You may not like capitalism or advertising -- or maybe you do. You may like control. But the simple fact is that none of the arguments that Di Modica and his supporters are making make much sense in the grand scheme of things. The bull can survive Fearless Girl and so can Di Modica. 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The current administration is back to threatening free speech. On his way to being elected, Trump's passion for bogus defamation suits led him to declare he would "open up" libel laws to make it easier for him to sue people for saying things he didn't like. This continued after the election. Trump tweeted his opposition to "fake news," calling out pretty much any major network that wasn't Fox News and calling them "enemies of the people." His new CIA director, Mike Pompeo, is similarly threatening the First Amendment. In his remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Pompeo went on a rant about Wikileaks -- one no doubt motivated by the site's recent data dumps on CIA computer exploits. WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service. It has encouraged its followers to find jobs at CIA in order to obtain intelligence. It directed Chelsea Manning in her theft of specific secret information. And it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States, while seeking support from anti-democratic countries and organizations. It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is – a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia. In January of this year, our Intelligence Community determined that Russian military intelligence—the GRU—had used WikiLeaks to release data of US victims that the GRU had obtained through cyber operations against the Democratic National Committee. And the report also found that Russia’s primary propaganda outlet, RT, has actively collaborated with WikiLeaks. This is an interesting change of heart for Pompeo. Last year, when he was running for re-election in Kansas, he seemed pleased with Wikileaks and its ability to obtain damning documents. For posterity. Because Pompeo's hypocrisy today really undermined whatever he tried to achieve. pic.twitter.com/12qgpQlD4A — emptywheel (@emptywheel) April 13, 2017 If you can't read/see the embedded, since-deleted tweet by Pompeo, it reads: Need further proof the fix was in from Pres. Obama on down? BUSTED: 19,252 Emails from DNC leaked by Wikileaks. So, Wikileaks is a non-hostile intelligence service when it serves Pompeo's ends, but not so much when it puts CIA hacking tools on public display. This was only part of Pompeo's rant, though. Once he was through being hypocritical, he went after the First Amendment. Here's Glenn Greenwald's take on Pompeo's comments: Trump’s CIA Director stood up in public and explicitly threatened to target free speech rights and press freedoms, and it was almost impossible to find even a single U.S. mainstream journalist expressing objections or alarm, because the targets Pompeo chose in this instance are ones they dislike – much the way that many are willing to overlook or even sanction free speech repression if the targeted ideas or speakers are sufficiently unpopular. Decreeing (with no evidence) that WikiLeaks is “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia” a belief that has become gospel in establishment Democratic Party circles – Pompeo proclaimed that “we have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.” He also argued that while WikiLeaks “pretended that America’s First Amendment freedoms shield them from justice,” but: “they may have believed that, but they are wrong.” He then issued this remarkable threat: “To give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now.” At no point did Pompeo specify what steps the CIA intended to take to ensure that the “space” to publish secrets “ends now.” Pompeo is now willing to go after publishers of secrets. No doubt he intends to go after whistleblowers and leakers as well, but he has publicly stated a desire to attack the messengers. Making this worse is Pompeo's hypocrisy, which means any targeting of publishers he attempts to engage in will be based on the content of the publications. Stuff he doesn't like will be targeted. Everything else will remain unaffected. Of course, Pompeo's in the wrong branch of government to be engaging in First Amendment issues. The CIA is a foreign-facing intelligence agency. It should have nearly nothing to do with domestic whistleblower/leaker incidents, unless it happens to be CIA documents that are released. Even then, his agency won't be able to do anything more than an internal investigation. It's not a law enforcement agency, nor is it supposed to be engaged in domestic surveillance. But Pompeo is the president's pick. He may think he's only speaking for himself and his agency, but his words echo the president's antipathy towards speech he doesn't like. And he has his president's hypocrisy: someone who loves Wikileaks when it's publishing documents that hurt the other team, but not so much when the leaks implicate people, parties, and agencies they hold dear. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've noted repeatedly how modern toys aren't immune to the security and privacy dysfunction the internet-of-broken-things has become famous for. A new WiFi-enabled Barbie, for example, has come under fire for trivial security that lets the toy be modified for use as a surveillance tool. We've also increasingly noted how the data these toys collect isn't secured particularly well either, as made evident by the Vtech incident, where hackers obtained the names, email addresses, passwords, and home addresses of 4,833,678 parents, and the first names, genders and birthdays of more than 200,000 kids. Last fall a lawsuit was filed against Genesis Toys, maker of the My Friend Cayla doll and the i-Que Intelligent Robot. The lawsuit accuses the company of violating COPPA (the Childrens' Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998) by failing to adequately inform parents that their kids' conversations and personal data collected by the toys are being shipped off to servers and third-party companies for analysis. A report by the Norwegian Consumer Council (pdf) also found that a lot of the data being transmitted by these toys is done so via vanilla, unencrypted HTTP connections that could be subject to man-in-the-middle attacks. In Germany, where surveillance fears run a little deeper for obvious reasons, regulators last February went so far as to urge German parents to destroy the My Friend Cayla doll, highlighting that hackers can use an unsecure bluetooth device embedded in the toy to listen to and to talk to the child playing with it. Since then, Germany's Federal Network Agency has clarified its position further. It's not only banning the sale, purchase, and ownership of the toy, but it's warning families that they face fines up to $26,500 if they don't comply with demands that the toy be destroyed: "The agency has now laid out just how parents are to destroy the doll. Parents are asked to fill out a destruction certificate that must be signed by a waste-management company and sent back to the agency for proof. While the agency says it has no plans to take action against those who don’t destroy the doll, it certainly could. Under German telecommunication laws, those who don’t comply with Federal Network Agency directives could face a fine up to $26,500 and two years in prison. How very...thorough. One mother, amusingly, felt bad destroying the doll -- so she came up with a novel solution: "One mother tells the WSJ that she was surprised to have had the doll sitting in her daughter’s room for two years. She says she was hesitant to actually destroy the doll, so instead she donated it to the German Spy Museum Berlin." Germany's decision is certainly unnecessarily excessive, but it's a step up from the outright apathy on many fronts to the problems raised by connecting everything to the internet without prioritizing security and privacy. Researchers continue to argue that the IOT is creating thousands of new attack vectors into every home and business on the planet every day. Given the rise in the use of IOT devices in record-setting DDoS attacks, it's only a matter of time before these devices contribute to an attack on essential infrastructure, potentially at the cost of human lives. It's obviously not their intent, but these devices continue to function as advertisements for the "dumb" technologies of yesterday. At least until parents collectively realize that Barbie and Ken need a better firewall. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Microsoft is the latest to publish a National Security Letter, following Google, Yahoo, Twitter, Calyx, Cloudflare, and… the Internet Archive. Microsoft's NSL [PDF] was issued by the FBI (of course) and demanded the usual subscriber info. In the post accompanying the disclosure, Microsoft points out the USA Freedom Act is the only reason it's been able to release the NSL. This is one of the benefits of the recent law: a better, faster way to compel review of NSL gag orders, which used to take place almost never. In addition, Microsoft notes FISA orders are on the rise. Of course, its reporting is limited to useless "bands," so the only thing that can definitely be determined is Microsoft's FISA interactions have at least doubled. For the latest Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) data reported, Microsoft received 1,000-1,499 FISA orders seeking content disclosures affecting 12,000-12,499 accounts, compared to the 0-499 FISA orders seeking disclosure of content impacting 17,500-17,999 accounts reported for the previous period. What's included in the NSL is more of the same: demands for subscriber info backed solely by the authority of the FBI agent who typed it up. No judicial approval needed. What isn't in there are demands for a bunch of info the FBI has no business asking for, like in those served to Yahoo. In one of Yahoo's NSLs, the government demanded the service provider go above and beyond statutory requirements and hand over everything from subscriber phone numbers to "upstream providers" associated with the named account. It also contains the old, pre-USA Freedom Act boilerplate about challenging the gag order -- something the FBI continued to append to post-USA Freedom Act NSLs until the Internet Archive shamed it into admitting it was using outdated language. Going forward, the government should expect the challenges to continue. Microsoft notes it's currently in court contesting the feds' increasing use of gag orders -- something it justifies using a law meant to protect the privacy of electronic communications: the ECPA. The trickle of un-gagged NSLs is encouraging. Even if the releases trail far behind issuances (both in number and elapsed time), the fact that we're seeing any at all remains a small miracle. If service providers are enjoying these very occasional forays out from under gag orders, they might want to consider sending a few fruit baskets Snowden's way. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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China's censorship of the Internet is both impressively thorough, and yet surprisingly subtle at times. For example, we've already written about ways in which the boundary between censored and non-censored is often vague, which paradoxically encourages people to be even more cautious than they would be with well-defined limits. But hidden among all the uncertainty, are there perhaps some fixed rules about when posts will definitely get censored? A team of researchers at the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab decided to find out by investigating one of the topics considered most controversial by the Chinese authorities, the so-called "709 Crackdown." This refers to a major government clampdown that began on July 9 in 2015, when more than 250 Chinese rights lawyers, law firm staff, activists, and their relatives were detained by public security agents across China. Internet users are understandably keen to discuss this important event, and many of those conversations take place on the main blog site in China, Weibo, and using the messaging service WeChat, which is even more popular. But as the researchers discovered, those online conversations were subject to subtle but consistent interference: as our experiments show, a good portion of that discussion fails to reach Chinese users of WeChat and Weibo. Our research shows that certain combinations of keywords, when sent together in a text message, are censored. When sent alone, they are not. So, for example, if one were to text Mainland China or Wang Quanzhang's Wife or Harassment on Relatives [all written in Chinese characters] individually, the messages would get through. Sent together, however, the message would be censored. Moreover, for the first time the researchers discovered censorship not just of text, but of images too: In addition to a large number of censored keyword combinations our tests unearthed, we also discovered 58 images related to the 709 Crackdown that were censored on WeChat Moments for accounts registered with a mainland China phone number. (For accounts registered with a non-mainland China phone number, on the other hand, the images and keyword combinations go through fine). Neither of these observations is earth-shattering in itself, but they do add usefully to our knowledge of the intricate clockwork of China's mighty censorship machine. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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In the wake of the success of Nintendo's Mario Maker game, Nintendo fans almost immediately began clamoring for similar versions of other classic Nintendo properties. The obvious choice for the next franchise to get the treatment was the Zelda series, of course. The desire for a Zelda Maker title reached enough of a pitch that Game Informer asked Nintendo reps in 2015 about whether the company would be producing such a game. If Super Mario Maker is a success, will it open the door for a comparable Zelda Maker? Zelda Maker might be a challenge to make I think. Personally, making Super Mario Maker that was a challenge in itself, and we hope that it's a success, so thank you for saying that, but I think that might be a difficult task. In other words, Zelda Maker would be too difficult to make, no matter the desires of Nintendo fans. Those comments, by the way, are from a producer and director of Mario Maker. So, fine, Nintendo doesn't want to tackle the task of creating a game that its fans are screaming for. But this herculean task didn't pass by without someone taking it on. Justin Sink, who created games as a hobby, decided to give it a go. So in 2015, Sink got to work within Game Maker to craft a design suite that anybody could use to make a Zelda game. Just like Mario Maker, you could place elements such as enemies and landscape sprites anywhere on the digital canvas. Sink released an early version of the tool as “Zelda Maker” online, Link included, and the game blew up. People wanted to play something like Zelda Maker, they loved the idea of it. Because we're talking about Nintendo here, you already know where this is going next. The company sent DMCA notices for all of the videos showing off Sink's creation in action. Then it sent a DMCA notice to MediaFire, which Sink used to make his fan-made game available to the public. That was back in 2015. Nintendo likely thought that the assassination of a game it didn't want to make had been completed. Not so much, as it turns out. But Zelda Maker did not die in 2015, not entirely. Instead of shuttering the entire project, Sink decided to rebrand and expand on it to make it his own—that was the plan all along, he claimed. He set out to create his own engine suited for the purposes of easy level design, even if it meant scrapping some of the work he had already done. Beyond the expanded functionality, Sink also had to come up with a new aesthetic for the game that, while still inspired by Zelda, couldn’t be mistaken for it. Despite those troubles, “Zelda Maker” was eventually reborn as “Legend Maker,” but that, in of itself, was not the product Sink wanted share with the world. Instead, Sink used Legend Maker to create a game of his own, Runiya, an action-RPG. Sink has set up a Patreon page where people can support his efforts. Runiya comes packaged with Legend Maker, which pretty much everyone knows is actually Zelda Maker slightly modified. In other words, what started off as a single fan and hobbyist looking to prove to fans and Nintendo alike that a Zelda Maker game could indeed be made has now morphed into a competitor for Nintendo. Legend Maker isn't going to run afoul of the intellectual property of Nintendo any longer, yet it still exists, and Sink is now collecting money for his efforts. Meanwhile, if Nintendo does want to try giving Zelda Maker a go, someone basically already was first to market with that kind of product. The company didn't listen to its fans, so another fan did. And the bullying didn't really stop the project, it just made sure that the project -- that, again, Nintendo didn't want to do itself -- no longer gets the brand recognition of having Zelda attached to it. Nintendo has long been amongst the masters at pissing off its fans, but turning them into competitors is a bold new step for the company. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A number of statutes and practices have created perverse incentives for law enforcement, but none are nearly so blatant as this Alabama state law governing the feeding of inmates. The law, passed over 100 years ago, says law enforcement personnel -- mainly sheriffs -- can keep whatever's left over from state and federal inmate food stipends. This doesn't mean the leftover money is routed to a general fund or used to defray law enforcement/jail-related expenses. No, this means the money flows from taxpayers, (mostly) bypasses prisoners, and ends up in sheriffs' personal checking accounts. (via Radley Balko) This legalized skimming has resulted in the obvious: underfed inmates and sheriffs with overfed bank accounts. The law first received national attention in 2008, when Morgan County sheriff Greg Bartlett found himself in federal court, defending himself against a lawsuit brought by his prisoners. Inmates were dropping weight and going hungry while Bartlett increased his personal income by $212,000 over three years, taking home a great deal of the $1.75 per prisoner per day state funds. (Federal prisoners housed in state jails are allowed $3 per day, which can also be rerouted to sheriffs' checking accounts.) This resulted in Bartlett spending one night in his own jail. Even then, Sheriff Bartlett was violating an earlier consent decree with the federal government, which ordered his office to use *all* food funds for feeding inmates. The agreement Bartlett reached with the court (after a night in jail) promised his office would do the same thing: spend all the funds on food, rather than diverting them for personal use. Even with two consent decrees in place and a previous sheriff being hauled into court for personally profiting from inmates' hunger, another Morgan County sheriff (Ana Franklin) has repeated her predecessor's misdeeds. At that hearing, the sheriff's attorneys are expected to argue that a years-old consent decree in a lawsuit against the county does not apply to Franklin and she shouldn't be held in contempt. The decree says the Morgan County Sheriff must spend all food funds on inmate meals. The decree was issued in 2009 after Franklin's predecessor was jailed for contempt. Former Sheriff Greg Bartlett was dubbed "Sheriff Corndog" because he profited more than $200,000 while inmates ate corndogs twice a day for weeks. The consent decree stemmed from a 2001 lawsuit against the county and then-Sheriff Steve Crabbe by inmates decrying conditions inside the jail. A court hearing was scheduled last month when the Center filed a motion saying Franklin should show cause for why she shouldn't be held in contempt of the decree. The center argued that Franklin should have been held in contempt after removing $160,000 from the inmate food account. The sheriff loaned $150,000 of the money to a now-bankrupt, corrupt used car dealership, Priceville Partners, LLC, that was co-owned by Greg Steenson, a convicted felon. Franklin is trying to convince the court she should be allowed to continue starving inmates and financing criminal business ventures. While Sheriff Franklin was helping prop up localbusiness corruption, inmates were dealing with this reality: The [Southern Center for Human Rights] is arguing Franklin should not be allowed to keep any of the food funds and has included in court documents statements from inmates who describe inadequate food portions and unappetizing or hazardous servings. Inmates reported finding rocks, a nail and mold in food served at the jail. "Many grievances note that entire cell blocks were fed reduced or watered-down portions -- a tiny amount of soup, a spoonful of grits, five or six green beans or carrot slices as a vegetable serving, a sandwich with half of a slice of cheese on it, and the like -- because the kitchen lacked enough food to serve everyone the portions listed on the menu," according to court records filed by the Center. Starving prisoners to fund personal business ventures isn't the only thing Sheriff Franklin's accused of doing, though. A longtime critic of Franklin -- blogger/business owner Glenda Lockhart -- has also filed a lawsuit against the sheriff, alleging a number of constitutional violations. The lawsuit accuses Franklin of illegally obtaining information to convince a judge to issue a search warrant for Lockhart's home and business. Franklin has said her office seized computers and various other devices during an investigation into fired jail warden Leon Bradley, who has been accused of leaking documents to Lockhart for publication on the blog. Lockhart's blog was where Sheriff Franklin's payments to the corrupt car dealership first appeared. In apparent retaliation, the sheriff allegedly engaged in some incredibly underhanded -- and illegal -- tactics in her attempt to obtain the blogger's personal communications. Lockhart claims Franklin illegally gathered information for a search warrant by paying an informant to break-in, hack and steal data from her home and business offices. Lockhart owns Straightline Drywall and Acoustical, LLC in Falkville. The informant, Lockhart's grandson Daniel, said in a sworn statement that he was paid to install keylogger software on his grandmother's computer. The software, he said, was provided by the sheriff's office, according to a transcript from a November 2016 deposition. Daniel Lockhart's statement also said the sheriff told him she was only interested in going after the former warden who was leaking documents and that Daniel's grandmother wouldn't be targeted. His statement also points out he was paid directly by the sheriff and one of her deputies a total of $500 to perform this "investigative" work for them. There appears to be corruption all over the place in Morgan County, Alabama. But it all starts with a bad law state lawmakers are in no hurry to take off the books. Despite multiple federal lawsuits stemming from sheriffs' starve-and-skim tactics, the incredibly perverse incentive remains intact. There are probably plenty of taxpayers who don't like the idea of their money being used to food and house convicted criminals, but I doubt any of those taxpayers are happier knowing they're padding sheriffs' bank accounts and investing in shady businesses. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Late last week (beyond filing a new document in the lawsuit against us), we also filed an amicus brief, put together by Stanford's IP law clinic and Paul Levy at Public Citizen regarding a terrible and dangerous ruling for free speech in California. We wrote about it last summer and how dangerous it is -- but let's hold off on the details of the case right now. Instead, I'd like to go back one more year to May of 2015, when we wrote about a bizarre case in which the Phi Sigma Sigma sorority was officially suing a "Jane Doe" former member, who had apparently posted the sorority's super secret handshake to the Penny Arcade forums. Phi Sigma Sigma (PSS) secretly stands for Philanthropic Social Society. However, this is never written down or recorded (until now) because it is so "sacred". The Handshake consists of a series of motions. Member A first begins with the pointer finger and the thumb surrounding Member B's pointer finger and thumb. This is the "Phi". Then Member A wraps the remaining fingers, middle, ring and pinky around the hand as a symbol of the "Sigma". Depending on who is the senior member, the pinky finger is wrapped around the older member's hand. Next is the hand knock. It goes Knock. Pause. Knock. Pause. Knock, knock, knock. The meetings are set up usually with the President, VP and other officers sitting at the front. The President wears a yellow or gold robe and the officers wear royal blue robes. The remaining members sit across from the officers in a pyramid formation with the base closest to the officers and the apex farthest from the officers. Members are seated by class order, then by alphabetical order. The table at which the President and Vice President are seated consists of candles on each side. Two gold candles and one blue at each corner of the table. Members usually recite an oath, "We, the members of Phi Sigma Sigma, promise to keep secret and sacred all of our proceedings." The way to enter the pyramid is by using the hand knock to notify the members you are wanting to enter the room. The President will respond back with her gavel by repeating the knock. The person will enter then travel to the apex of the pyramid formation. The President will say the secret and sacred words "Remove the Veil" and then the member will respond back with the Chapter's name, example, "Zeta Eta." The Gold and King Blue symbolize "Perpetuity" and "Sincerity". At initiation, blue "veils" (tulle from the local fabric store) are placed on the heads of the potential new members and are later removed to symbolize some sort of occult transformation and that they are full-fledged members. Bizarrely, the post with the secret handshake was posted years after the thread had started, and it was unlikely that many people were looking at it. Well, that is until the sorority decided to go legal about it. First, Phi Sigma Sigma had a lawyer come up with the bright (note: not actually very bright) idea to send a bogus DMCA notice on Penny Arcade arguing that the post needed to come down because it violated the sorority's "trade secrets." That's funny, because the "C" in DMCA stands for "Copyright" and not "Ctrade secrets" and it's highly unlikely the secret handshake is, in any way, a "trade secret" in the first place. The lawyers followed this up by suing the "Jane Doe" in King County Superior Court in Washington. Why King County? There's no indication that Jane Doe is from that area, but that does cover where Penny Arcade is based -- and perhaps if you want to pressure a website to remove some content, you figure it'll be more amenable to seeing something from a local court even if (and this is kind of key) Penny Arcade was never a party to the lawsuit. For whatever it's worth, Phi Sigma Sigma "won" the lawsuit because "Jane Doe" apparently was never properly identified and served, and thus Phi Sigma Sigma won a default judgment last fall, which is effectively meaningless. Except, with that "order" in hand, Phi Sigma Sigma's lawyers have been going around asking people to take down the handshake -- including us here at Techdirt. To be fair, at least with us, there was no clear threat involved if we refused -- as we have -- but as we've seen multiple times in the past year or so, many sites will immediately take stuff down after receiving a court order like that. Indeed, it appears that Penny Arcade chose (for whatever reason) to take down that thread themselves. Of course, this certainly opens up the possibility of censorious mischief. Almost exactly a year ago, we wrote one of the first articles detailing an apparent "reputation management" scam that involved posting possibly defamatory comments on certain stories, followed by defamation lawsuits being filed against the John Doe commenters, only to have (miraculously!) a signed admission show up a couple of days later, allowing a tidy "settlement" to be reached, complete with a court order that can then be shopped around to various sites asking them to take down the content. A few months later, Paul Levy and Eugene Volokh tracked down a number of similar cases that were clearly being used to take down content someone didn't like, and abusing the court system to do so. That does not mean that's what Phi Sigma Sigma was up to here, but a recently turned up FAQ about the lawsuit for members of Phi Sigma Sigma, while making it clear the sorority is not suing the websites, certainly suggests that the intent of the lawsuits is to obtain legal pressure to get sites to remove the content: If you can't see those images, they are 3 questions and answers (numbers 5, 7 and 9) from a longer document, each of which has answers claiming the goal of these lawsuits is to get this content off the web. "We hope that through this lawsuit, we will have the authority to have any remaining and future posts also removed." "We are hopeful that through this legal action, they will be required to take down the post" and "Our ultimate goal is to have all posts related to our ritual removed as soon as possible." That last one is in response to a question specifically about "the outcome of this lawsuit." That certainly suggests that, contrary to other statements about identifying the individual responsible, or getting an injunction against them, the true intent is to get sites to delete information. With Phi Sigma Sigma we have refused, as we should have every right to do (and, we might also state our opinion that it seems like a fairly poor decision on the part of the sorority and its legal team to make this effort that seems to serve only to call more attention to the content it wishes hidden from view). We also won't even bother to dig into how, elsewhere, the FAQ falsely claims that Phi Sigma Sigma has to take this action or it risks "losing" its intellectual property. First, this isn't true of copyrights at all (and there doesn't even appear to be any copyright issue here in the first place, questionable DMCA notice notwithstanding). Second, it only applies very narrowly to certain situations involving trademarks becoming declared "generic." That is not -- at all -- the situation with people posting the details of a secret handshake clearly identified as coming from Phi Sigma Sigma (and, once again, raises questions about the quality of the legal advice Phi Sigma Sigma is getting). Now that brings us back around to the amicus brief that we filed Friday along with Public Citizen. It is in the case of Hassell v. Bird, that we wrote about last summer, in which -- contrary to nearly all Section 230 case law -- non-party Yelp was ordered to remove a review. The details of the case involve a lawyer, Dawn Hassell, who sued a former client, Ava Bird, for posting a negative review of Hassell's work on Yelp. Bird did not respond to the case, and thus the court granted a default judgment, as is standard. But here's where the court went a step too far: it then ordered Yelp to remove the posts. Yelp was not a party to the lawsuit, and basically all of Section 230 law says that it should not be obligated to remove the content (it can choose to do so, but Section 230 is clear that it should be immune from legal liability over its decision). In the amicus brief, we explain how this runs counter to basically all Section 230 caselaw, but, perhaps more importantly, further point out examples (including our current discussions with the lawyers for Phi Sigma Sigma) where this kind of ruling could lead to abuse, and the forced removal of First Amendment protected speech -- whether under good intentions or ill intentions. Specifically, we note that, if the ruling in Hassell v. Bird stands, then an entity such as Phi Sigma Sigma, could potentially follow the same path as Hassell to force us to remove the details of that handshake, despite there being perfectly good First Amendment-protected reasons for leaving it posted. As Eric Goldman wrote when this ruling first came out, if it stands, it creates a de facto right to be forgotten in the US that could (and would) be widely abused to force sites to take down all sorts of content. We hope that the California Supreme Court will overturn the lower court's ruling. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As you've probably heard by now, on Sunday a horrific act of violence happened when a clearly disturbed individual apparently decided to (1) randomly murder an elderly man walking down the street, (2) film the entire process from searching for the guy, approaching him, talking to him and then shooting him, and (3) upload it to Facebook for people to see. The police initially reported that he streamed the murder live, but it was later clarified that, while he had streamed some other commentary live earlier in the day, the murder was filmed separately and then uploaded. Still, as happens all too often in these situations, people are immediately jumping to the moral panic stage and asking, as Wired did quickly after, what kind of responsibility Facebook should take. The title of the article says that Facebook "must now face itself" for streaming the murder -- but then seems to have trouble explaining just what it needs to face (perhaps because... there isn't anything for it to face). And when the manhunt is over, and the grieving begins, so too will Facebook’s soul-searching. Facebook is not the first media company to struggle with the prospect of unwittingly broadcasting violence shortly after being uploaded. When news anchor Christine Chubbuck killed herself on live TV in 1974, the station was unable to stop the event from airing, but never showed the footage again. The number of viewers who actually saw the event was minimal. Facebook has taken similar steps, pulling Stephens’ video shortly after it was posted. “This is a horrific crime and we do not allow this kind of content on Facebook,” the company said in a statement. “We work hard to keep a safe environment on Facebook, and are in touch with law enforcement in emergencies when there are direct threats to physical safety.” Uh, right. So... what else does anyone expect Facebook to do? It's not like it can magically stop murders. Or stop people from initially uploading or streaming a murder video. Yes, it can (and does) take those down, and it can (and does) block re-uploading. But to pin this on Facebook seems... really, really weird. It's almost as if whenever there's a murder people want to find someone or something else to blame other than the person doing the killing. The article kind of admits, later on, that expecting Facebook to do anything is impossible... but that just raises the question of why write a whole article asking what Facebook should do if the answer is "uh, it can't and shouldn't do anything." Facebook, of course, is a decentralized system, with millions of freelance “reporters” with unfettered access to the public. By the time the company removed the video, thousands had already watched it, and it lives on in other corners of the internet. Meanwhile, the company has resisted calls to use its algorithms to censor videos like this before they are ever posted–not just because it does not want to be accused of violating speech rights, but also because training computers to identify real-time or recent murder is hard. Facebook has long relied on an army of humans to scour videos uploaded to its site. With videos, and especially Live videos, that job goes from hard to impossible—not even Facebook employees can watch a video before it posts. Currently, Facebook relies on other Facebook users to flag videos that need to be taken down. But that means that someone has to watch the horror before others can be spared it. The onus falls to the viewers, not the company, to determine what is appropriate, what should be shared, and what should be flagged for removal. Traditional media companies have finely-wrought guidelines and policies to help them make these decisions, but Facebook depends on us to do it. But even after basically admitting that this is an impossibility, the article still then says: And now it might very well be time for the company to roll up its own sleeves and get to work. And get to work doing what exactly? Again, Facebook isn't going to stop a murder. And I don't care how good the AI gets, it's unlikely any time soon to say "hey, that video is some person killing another person, don't stream that." There is no sleeve rolling to do on the Facebook side of the equation and even exploring this question seems silly. Yes, senseless murders and violence lead people to go searching for answers, but sometimes there are no answers. And demanding answers from a random tool that was peripherally used connected to the senseless violence doesn't seem helpful at all. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Upgrade your Lightning cable game with two Toughlink MFi-Certified Metal Braided Lightning Cables for only $30. These metal braided MFi-Certified Lightning to USB cables are optimized for data syncing and charging, and boast a rugged aluminum crush-proof plug design that will make them last as long as you've got an iPhone. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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It will never be said that the Trump presidency began with a presumption of openness. His pre-election refusal to release his tax returns set a bit of precedent in that regard. The immediate post-election muffling of government agency social media accounts made the administration's opacity goals… um… clearer. So, in an unsurprising move, the Trump administration will be doing the opposite of the Obama administration. The American public will no longer have the privilege of keeping tabs on White House visitors. (h/t Alex Howard) The Trump Administration will not disclose logs of those who visit the White House complex, breaking with his predecessor, the White House announced Friday. The administration is justifying this reversal with the usual: favorable interpretations of FOIA lawsuit rulings and "national security" mumbling. White House communications director Michael Dubke said the decision to reverse the Obama-era policy was due to “the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.” Instead, the Trump Administration is relying on a federal court ruling that most of the logs are “presidential records” and are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Yes, it's sadly true. The administration can use this ruling to lock the public out of this small layer of transparency. The rest of it, however, is bullshit. Whatever "national security risks" may exist during White House visits should be addressed by intelligence agencies and the Secret Service rather than being withheld from the public. The White House hosts top foreign government officials all the time and it is always a "national security risk." Disclosing who's visited the White House AFTER THEY'VE ALREADY LEFT does zero damage to national security. Additionally, there are likely several visitors to the White House every year that aren't logged for security reasons, and if it's really that much of a concern, the administration could release the logs with redactions, like Obama did. As for visitors who aren't government officials (domestic or foreign), it's pretty imaginative to assume visits to the most well-known home of public servants in the free world carry with it some form of unbreachable privacy. On top of everything else, it's extremely hypocritical for the administration to pretend this is about privacy and security when the president has been hosting government official get-togethers at resorts -- a place where logs aren't kept and "national security risks" seem to be less of a concern than how many holes Trump can fit in between government business. So, to further distance himself from the people he serves (and the people who elected him), Trump and his administration have shut down the transparency portal put in place by the previous Commander-in-Chief: White House officials said the Administration is ending the contract for Open.gov, the Obama-era site that hosted the visitor records along with staff financial disclosures, salaries, and appointments. The administration can't even perform this move without meaningless, self-justifying dissembling. It's not about keeping secrets, of course. It's about saving taxpayers money [eyeroll]: An official said it would save $70,000 through 2020 and that the removed disclosures, salaries and appointments would be integrated into WhiteHouse.gov in the coming months. Thanks, Trump. I love the phrase "coming months," which means anytime between 2018 and never. The smart money's on not seeing any financial disclosures until nearly a year from now, at the earliest. The only way we'll see anything sooner is if some White House cabinet scandal manages to dislodge it first. Plus, there's this, from Trump himself, who obviously has no idea his past tweets are accessible by everyone: Why does Obama believe he shouldn't comply with record releases that his predecessors did of their own volition? Hiding something? — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 30, 2012 If you can't see the tweet, it's Trump calling out Obama for doing the same thing Trump is now doing: rolling back a predecessor's openness. Why does Obama believe he shouldn't comply with record releases that his predecessors did of their own volition? Hiding something? President Obama was better talking about transparency than engaging in it. President Trump, on the other hand, has expressed zero interest in transparency and appears to be rolling back anything "open" Obama grudgingly put into place. Maybe it's better to have White House animosity towards openness and accountability right there on the surface. But right now, it really doesn't feel like an improvement. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As we've explained, with Congress voting (and the President signing) a bill to kill off the FCC's broadband privacy rules, things are not necessarily as bad as some might have you believe, but they're still bad. And lots and lots of people seem to be asking their elected representatives why they did this. After all, despite the fact that the vast majority of both Republican and Democratic voters supporting the rules (as they did with net neutrality rules as well...), in Congress everyone lined up along party lines over this issue, with Republican members of Congress voting down the rules. At least some are now facing backlash over this... and they don't seem to be handling it well. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner seems to have what may be the worst possible take on this after being asked about it. He told a constituent, to maybe just not use the internet if you don't like it. That linked article only has part of the quote, but here's the video of the question and the response: .@JimPressOffice tells his constituents not to use the internet if they don't like his vote to sell out their privacy to advertisers. #wi05 pic.twitter.com/lSVVx8OclO — Brad Bainum (@bradbainum) April 13, 2017 The questioner points out, correctly, that for individual services, like Facebook, people have a choice of how much they actually use them or what info they give, but for your overall ISP that's not true -- and also notes that there aren't competitive options. Sensenbrenner's answer is... maddeningly nonsensical and wrong and basically ignores everything the questioner just said to him: "You know, again, nobody's got to use the internet. And the thing is, if you start regulating the internet like a utility, if you did that right at the beginning, we'd have no internet. Internet companies have invested an awful lot of money in having almost universal services, now. And the fact is, you know, I don’t think it’s my job to tell you that you cannot get advertising through your information being sold. My job, I think, is to tell you that you have the opportunity to do it and then you take it upon yourself to make the choice that the government should give you. And that's what the law has been and I think we ought to have more choices, rather than fewer choices, with the government controlling our everyday lives.” Now, it's a live situation, and perhaps Rep. Sensenbrenner misspoke. But, no, his press office doubled down on this, when someone called it out on Twitter. Amusingly, the press office was trying to parse the difference between "don't use the internet" (as a Tweeter claimed Sensenbrenner said) and "you have a choice" which is... well... not a very big difference, despite his press office claiming it's a "big difference." The idea that people "have a choice" in using the internet today is laughably out of touch. Indeed, so many things that people rely on today pretty much require the internet. Jobs, transportation, housing and more frequently require the internet. And, to put an even stronger "WTF" on Sensenbrenner's misguided statement: a big part of the problem here is the very lack of choice. The vast majority of Americans have no real choice when it comes to getting true broadband access -- as the very questioner stated, and which Sensenbrenner totally ignored. Thanks to bad policies, we have a non-competitive market, where if you want broadband, you basically have to go with one company, and then it gets access to a ton of data about you. If Sensenbrenner truly meant what he said here, he'd have been against rolling back the rules. As small ISP boss Dane Jasper recently noted on our podcast, without these privacy rules, it actually gives the giant providers that much more power over the smaller upstarts, and makes it harder for the small providers to compete. Also, Sensenbrenner is simply flat out wrong with his argument about "if the internet was regulated like a utility at the beginning" because it WAS regulated like a utility at the beginning and it resulted in tons of competition and innovation. Indeed, for most of the internet's early rise it was treated as a utility in terms of things like open access and line sharing. And privacy rules. It's only more recently that that went away. Also, I have no clue what Sensenbrenner is trying to say when he says: " I don’t think it’s my job to tell you that you cannot get advertising through your information being sold. My job, I think, is to tell you that you have the opportunity to do it and then you take it upon yourself to make the choice that the government should give you." What does that even mean? First of all, it was the FCC's job, and it did so. What Sensenbrenner did here was to roll back what the FCC said. Second, even with the rules it never said that "you cannot get advertising through your information being sold." All the rules did was say that ISPs had to tell you about it and offer clear options on how you controlled your data. Third, seriously, what is he saying when he says his job is "to tell you that you have the opportunity to do it and then you take it upon yourself to make the choice that the government should give you." I honestly keep reading that sentence and cannot parse it. The privacy rules were what gave individuals choices. It gave them choices in how their data could be used. Rolling back those rules takes away the choice. For years, we've pointed out that Congress appears totally and completely out of touch when it comes to basic tech policy -- especially related to the internet. Jim Sensenbrenner's vote and statements on this issue have only confirmed that basic fact. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The Shadow Brokers -- having failed to live up to half their name -- released more NSA exploits last week when it became apparent no one was willing to purchase the exploits from them. This dump was far more interesting than previous releases, as it contained a large number of Windows exploits and -- for some -- a very handy, easy-to-use front end for malware deployment. This dump probably ruined a few Easter weekends at Microsoft, but not nearly as many as was first presumed. While the exploits targeted older versions of Windows, they would have caused trouble for government and corporate networks still relying those versions. Those targeting unsupported versions are the most dangerous, as those holes will never be patched. They're also the ones with the smallest user bases, so that mitigates the damage somewhat. As Marcy Wheeler points out, the NSA had plenty of time to warn Microsoft about unpatched holes prior to the Shadow Brokers' latest dump. That’s a critical detail for the debate going on on Twitter and in chats about how shitty it was for SB to release these files on Good Friday, just before (or for those with generous vacation schedules, at the beginning of) a holiday weekend. While those trying to defend against the files and those trying to exploit them are racing against the clock and each other, it is not the case that the folks at NSA got no warning. NSA has had, at a minimum, 96 days of warning, knowing that SB could drop the files at any time. The big question, of course, is whether NSA told Microsoft what the files targeted. Certainly, Microsoft had not fully responded to that warning, as hackers have already gotten a number of these files to work. Unlike the CIA dump happening at Wikileaks, the NSA had a pretty good idea what was contained in the Shadow Brokers stash. Microsoft, however, says it was never contacted by the NSA or "any agency" about the exploits ahead of their release. Despite this statement, the exploits appear to have already been patched by Microsoft. Today, Microsoft triaged a large release of exploits made publicly available by Shadow Brokers. Understandingly, customers have expressed concerns around the risk this disclosure potentially creates. Our engineers have investigated the disclosed exploits, and most of the exploits are already patched. The most interesting patch on the list is MS17-010, released March 14th. It patched several remote code execution holes in older Windows versions. These patches weren't applied to test machines, resulting in the mistaken conclusion these vulnerabilities hadn't been fixed. But the patch notes say nothing about who disclosed the vulnerabilities, which makes it an anomaly. Microsoft's denial, combined with its blank "acknowledgements" page, suggests the NSA itself warned the company about the vulnerabilities. It seems unlikely Shadow Brokers would have given Microsoft a head's up, as it hadn't warned any other affected vendor up to this point. If so, the Vulnerabilities Equity Process sort of works. I mean, the NSA held onto these as long as it could, but finally informed the affected party when it became apparent it might have to share its "exclusive" exploits with the rest of the world. Better late than never, and certainly better when delivered ahead of a very public disclosure. What's in the latest dump is now mostly useless. But not completely useless. There are still plenty of machines running older Microsoft software that are still vulnerable, many of them possessed by corporations and government agencies. If the software is old enough, the security holes are permanent. Not that those with the latest and greatest should rest easy. The NSA hasn't stopped producing and purchasing exploits. The SB stash was a few years old. Current Microsoft software remains under attack from state intelligence agencies and criminals. But this dump of tools shows just how powerful the NSA's toolkit is -- one made even more dangerous by its apparent ease of use. It makes exploit delivery possible for anyone, not just those with a very specific skillset. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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This week, the silver lining on a horrible story of police battering an arrestee was that the deputy, at least, lost his immunity. One anonymous commenter won most insightful comment of the week by giving a nod to the victim's courage and resilience: the real story here is not the creep. it's paul stephens. that man must have the soul of nelson mandela to have withstood that abuse and kept his wits about him. all due respect. For second place, we head the story of Idaho's governor vetoing a forfeiture reform bill that was overwhelmingly supported by the legislature. That One Guy had plenty of thoughts on the governor's statement: There have been no allegations that Idaho law enforcement officers or agencies are illegally or inappropriately seizing property from alleged drug traffickers. Its sponsors contend that the measure is aimed at preventing improper forfeiture of assets in the future, but there is no evidence to suggest that such a problem is imminent. In which case the bill wouldn't have hampered police in Idaho in the slightest. It's like a bill specifically prohibiting police from using refurbished WW2 bombers for surveillance, that's only going to be a problem for them if they plan on doing so. Of course as seems to be the case the governor doesn't consider stealing someone's stuff without a conviction a 'problem' or 'abuse' so long as it's the police doing the stealing, so that's likely what he means when he says that there's no evidence of a 'problem'. The fact that this bipartisan legislation was overwhelmingly approved by both the House and Senate is outweighed by compelling opposition from law enforcement and the absence of any benefit to law-abiding citizens from its enactment. So 'Not having your stuff stolen from you without a conviction of guilt' apparently isn't a 'benefit to law-abiding citizens' to him. Good to know where his priorities lie. Given the overwhelming support the bill had(58-10) I would hope that they can override his veto and shove it into place regardless. "You don't get to steal anything that catches your eye just because you happen to have a badge" isn't something that should even be need to be said, that it needs to be explicitly spelled out in the law is beyond absurd, and hopefully they can override this tool of a governor in order to at least start to address the problem. For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start out with one more comment from That One Guy, this time in response to the ongoing fight over Kim Dotcom's extradition and assets: The second two issues are connected: and it's basically the question of whether the courts were right in saying that the federal government could take Dotcom's stuff and that Dotcom could not protest, because he was "a fugitive." Of course, he's not a "fugitive." He's just fighting extradition to a place he's never been. He isn't running away and is going through the full legal process he's entitled to in New Zealand. That's not someone hiding from the US, it's someone who is following the basic rules of due process, which the US wishes to deny him. If the court refuses to take up the case, or worse takes it up and rules against him on that matter they might as well strike fighting against extradition as a legal right from the law entirely. If you can be punished for exercising a legal right, to say it's a legal right becomes little more than empty words, and at that point why waste time and effort keeping up with the obvious fiction about it being a right, just honestly state 'The second the extradition order is handed out you are considered guilty, and any objections you may make will merely be taken as further evidence of your guilt.' Either fighting extradition is a right under the law, in which case it's absurd to punish someone for making use of it, or it's not a right, in which case stop with the farce and remove it from the law entirely. Next, we've Dan with a simple resolution to the Fearless Girl/Charging Bull dispute: They can offer to remove the bull and let the artist take possession. He'll back down. Over on the funny side, our first place winner comes from Roger Strong in response to Denuvo's likely-to-be-short-lived upper hand in the ongoing DRM battle: Reporter: "How long do you think it'll take to crack this DRM?" Gamer: "Ten," Reporter: "Ten what? Ten months? Ten weeks?" Gamer: "Nine..." For second place, we head all the way back to last week's comments post, where Spaceman Spiff had more to say on the subject of armed police drones: So, if you shoot down a cop drone, does that make you a copter killer? For editor's choice on the funny side, let's throw in another comment on that subject, again from Roger Strong in response to confusion about the many different kinds of drones: Abnormal pairings are an important part of any cop movie. One's a no-nonsense by-the-book fixed-wing drone pilot in Mumbai. The other is a maverick quad-copter pilot in Kiev who doesn't play by the rules! Together they protect the streets of New York from protesters and others who would threaten the good corporate citizens of America! (Exciting music mixed with explosions...) Finally, it's practically obligatory to include at least one (anonymous) variation on the joke everyone's been making about this week's statue dust-up: While it's the statue in front of the bull might have lead to this copyright case, it's what can be found on the other side that nicely sums up copyright law in this country. That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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