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

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

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

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Keeping up with the ongoing Roca Labs saga appears to require full-time effort, as there are a bunch of updates. First up, though, is that Roca Labs has decided to sue blogger Tracy Coenen for the articles she published about Roca Labs. Earlier this month, we wrote about Roca Labs' threats against Tracy Coenen, a fraud investigator, who wrote about Roca Labs on her Fraud Files blog. As in the past, it appears that Roca Labs believes statements that are clearly opinions or hyperbole are somehow defamatory if they reflect negatively on Roca Labs. Before filing the lawsuit, Roca sent a second threat letter with a very brief deadline, complaining that she "publicly mocked" them. Coenen's response was to publish a new blog post explaining why she believes "Roca Labs Must Be Mocked." In the actual lawsuit, Roca also claims that because Coenen sent us Roca's threat letter and we published it, that she was using Roca's letter to "harass and mock" the company. Who knew that merely publishing the threat Roca Labs sent is harassment of Roca Labs? And, of course, mocking Roca Labs is not against the law, no matter how much the company might wish it were so. In the meantime, it appears that Coenen actually did -- at least temporarily -- give in to Roca's demands and removed the blog post in question -- but Roca Labs claimed it was not enough because she "did not retract [her] Defamatory Statements or otherwise comment publically [sic] concerning the defamatory Statements' lack of fact and merit." Further, the lawsuit accuses her of trying to "conceal the truth and cover-up [her] bad acts." So, to keep this straight: Roca Labs sent her threat letters claiming what she wrote was defamatory, and after she removed the post (temporarily), the company is using that as evidence that she's trying to conceal the truth? Really? Good luck with that one. Oh, and also, it appears that Roca's attorney in this case, John DeGirolamo, is still somewhat confused about what defamation per se means. Hopefully, the court will sort it out for him. In the meantime, some other things have been happening in various other Roca Labs court proceedings. Up in New York, where PissedConsumer (Consumer Opinion Corp.) had originally sued Roca Labs for declaratory judgment of non-infringement, Roca Labs had been trying to get out of the case arguing that the jurisdiction is improper. But, as you may recall, Roca also recently sent a questionable DMCA takedown letter to Google, claiming that content on PissedConsumer was infringing (something we find unlikely to be true... but...). However, as PissedConsumers' lawyers in New York note, in filing that takedown, Roca Labs has effectively made itself subject to PissedConsumer's local court's jurisdiction. This is based on a ruling in another nutty case we covered for a while, the effort by Gina Crosley-Corcoran to use the DMCA to silence a critic. In that case, the court noted that, in serving a DMCA takedown notice, the sender "purposefully and voluntarily directed [its] activities toward the forum so that [it] should have expected, by virtue of the benefit [it] received, to be subject to [this] court's jurisdiction based on these contacts." When PissedConsumer's lawyers notified Roca Labs' lawyers of this, Roca Labs stood by its argument that the court has no jurisdiction, but Roca Labs' lawyers didn't seem to understand the significance of this. In response, PissedConsumer is now seeking to go after Roca Labs for DMCA 512(f) penalties, for misrepresentations in filing a DMCA takedown. And, finally, just to complete this trio of stories, we'll also note that, down in the Florida case, PissedConsumer has filed a humdinger of a motion for summary judgment, laying out why Roca Labs has no chance in its case, and why the case should be put to rest quickly. Given everything else going on, we won't go into a more detailed analysis of that motion, other than to suggest you read it, and note that, as we predicted, it relies heavily on Section 230. It's written by Marc Randazza, so it's got that readable style he's become known for.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A legal battle between Yahoo and the government over the Protect America Act took place in 2008, but details (forced from the government's Top Secret file folders by FISA Judge Reggie Walton) are only emerging now. A total of 1,500 pages will eventually make their way into the public domain once redactions have been applied. The most recent release is a transcript [pdf link] of oral arguments presented by Yahoo's counsel (Mark Zwillinger) and the US Solicitor General (Gregory Garre). Zwillinger opens up the arguments by questioning the government's methods of determining who should be placed under surveillance. Why I show this to you is because I think it's a perfectly fair question for you to ask the Solicitor General of the United States how a name gets on this list. This isn't reviewed by a -- the FISA Court. These names aren't reviewed by the Attorney General of the United States. The difference between surveilling an account and exposing someone's most private communications and not is how a name gets on this list; and all we know about it from page 47 of their brief, is that an intelligence analyst puts it on the list. From this arbitrary beginning springs a wealth of errors. [REDACTED] of the accounts we have been given do not exist. They aren't accounts at Yahoo. Whether the government is misinformed, or using stale information, we don't know; But the fact that [REDACTED] accounts do not exist raises a serious possibility that some of those accounts have already been recycled and are used by other Yahoo users, or that the information that the government has is just wrong, and the wrong is being placed under surveillance. Zwillinger points out that Yahoo is just one provider and yet has (the number is redacted, but is at least 4 digits with a comma) a large number of accounts under surveillance. He then refers to the multiple errors again, stating that when the government screws up, it's very likely that American citizens will be mistakenly placed under surveillance. The difference between a U.S. person and a non-U.S. person in this context could be a letter or a digit in an email address; and if they have it wrong, the consequences will likely be felt here, because more Yahoo users are from the United States than any other single country. The judges claim minimization procedures eliminate the problem of inadvertent collections, but Zwillinger points out that the surveillance carried out under the Protect America Act actually doesn't contain protections against use of wrongly swept up US persons' communications and data. The government's response begins by denying that US persons' data is retained. "There is no database," says Gregory Garre, before having to admit a few sentences later, that incidental data is retained (and distributed) if there is evidence of other, non-national-security-related criminal activity. Garre then goes on to explain why the government feels it should have warrantless access to US persons' communications, routed through and stored at US servers. He refers to satellite communications -- something in use when FISA was enacted in 1978. Garre says that even though these communications may have been captured by domestic satellite receivers, it's the point of origin that matters. Outside the US? No warrant needed, even for US persons. Likewise for emails stored on Yahoo servers. MR. GARRE: I don't think anybody would argue that the Fourth Amendment would apply to that communication, even though the email communications go to account in Sunnyvale, California. I haven't understood Yahoo to argue that the Fourth Amendment would be implicated by that. And, similarly, the Fourth Amendment isn't -- JUSTICE SELYA: You mean the interception there by you and Yahoo would not implicate the Fourth Amendment? MR. GARRE: That Certainly would be the government's view. Garre also blames the large number of dead accounts in the court orders on Yahoo's refusal to immediately comply, while simultaneously spinning it as the unavoidable collateral damage of "efficient" surveillance. So the fact that accounts have been closed is not significant, and that's particularly true given that the large number of email accounts here is reflected by the fact that Yahoo is in noncompliance for several months. So, if you go back several months, it's not surprising that several accounts have been closed. Garre asserts that if anyone deserves the benefit of a doubt in this situation, it's the US government. He states that the Executive Branch and the intelligence community have a long-standing history of not violating the rights of US citizens -- a statement that wasn't even mostly true prior to the 9/11 attacks, and is almost laughable in the wake of what's been uncovered since then. He also points to Congressional oversight and suggests its legislative powers would have been used to rein in the NSA and others if it had actually seen signs of abuse. In his rebuttal, Zwillinger punches holes in Garre's narrative. You know, the Solicitor General talks about Congress spoke here, but to the extent Congress has spoken, then they turn around and admit they misspoke. And now they have a Senate report that says we failed to provide adequate protections for U.S. persons, and we are going to pass new legislation. They intentionally let the Protect America Act lapse. So to the extent congressional oversight even exists after February 16, 2008, which I'm not sure it does, it provides no check. Congress can't do anything differently. The statute has passed. The directives continue all the way until the expiration date, but the statute doesn't exist any more. It's not Congress's current view of how surveillance should he conducted. But the most surprising assertions made in these oral arguments don't come from the Solicitor General. They come from Judge Morris S. Arnold, who shows something nearing disdain for the privacy of the American public and their Fourth Amendment rights. In the first few pages of the oral arguments, while discussing whether or not secret surveillance actually harms US citizens (or the companies forced to comply with government orders), Arnold pulls a complete Mike Rogers: If this order is enforced and it's secret, how can you be hurt? The people don't know that -- that they're being monitored in some way. How can you be harmed by it? I mean, what's --what's the -- what's your -- what's the damage to your consumer? By the same logic, all sorts of secret surveillance would be OK -- like watching your neighbor's wife undress through the window, or placing a hidden camera in the restroom -- as long as the surveilled party is never made aware of it. If you don't know it's happening, then there's nothing wrong with it. Right? [h/t to Alex Stamos] In the next astounding quote, Arnold makes the case that the Fourth Amendment doesn't stipulate the use of warrants for searches because it's not written right up on top in bold caps… or something. The whole thrust of the development of Fourth Amendment law has sort of emphasized the watchdog function of the judiciary. If you just look at the Fourth Amendment, there's nothing in there that really says that a warrant is usually required. It doesn't say that at all, and the warrant clause is at the bottom end of the Fourth Amendment, and -- but that's the way -- that's the way it has been interpreted. What's standing between US citizens and unconstitutional acts by their government is a very thin wall indeed.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've talked more than a few times about the telecom industry's favored tactic of paying minority groups to parrot bad telecom policies, even if said policies actually harm these groups' constituents. Whether it's AT&T paying the The Hispanic Institute to support AT&T's failed bid for T-Mobile (a deal that would have raised rates for wireless users) or Comcast paying The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to support their acquisition of Time Warner Cable (a deal that will likely only make bad customer service at both companies worse), by combining these groups with the existing payroll of fauxcademics, consultants, think tankers and other sockpuppets helps create the illusion of broad support for anti-consumer policies. It's a parlor trick that has seen endless implementation in the net neutrality debate. The latest example is the Minority Media and Telecom Council (pdf), which alongside a laundry list of diversity and minority groups (pdf) has been lobbying the FCC with net neutrality talking points that (surely coincidentally) mirror the broadband industry's. Namely, that weaker Section 706 rules are the best path forward (ignoring they do nothing and likely won't survive another legal challenge) and that tougher rules under Title II will kill network investment (which, as we've noted repeatedly, is also bunk). At the front of this disingenuous diversity army appears to be Jesse Jackson, who, the Washington Post states, spent some time recently lobbying the FCC for weaker net neutrality protections. Why? Apparently Jackson believes that carrying the water for lumbering duopolies somehow will magically create jobs:"Jackson "was unequivocal in voicing his opposition to Title II because of its effects on investment in broadband and because of the ultimate impact on minority communities and job creation," said Berin Szoka, another participant in the meeting with Wheeler who has also argued for Section 706."Szoka is the same individual who has repeatedly tried to argue that killing off net neutrality will be a great thing for startups, so if anything, this latest FCC meeting must have at least had great entertainment value. As for the claim that Title II will kill investment (and therefore jobs), this has been debunked time and time and time again. When parts of Verizon's FiOS network were classified under Title II (mostly to net tax breaks for Verizon), you'll be pleased to learn that the sky didn't fall. Meanwhile, after a decade of deregulation companies like AT&T and Verizon have made it clear they're never going to upgrade many poor areas. In fact, they intend to back away from many of the communities they do serve. Shockingly, neither Jackson nor any of the lobbying groups listed in "united" support seem aware of these realities in the slightest:"Civil rights and diversity organizations are largely united in their support for Section 706, Jackson said in an interview Monday. He added that no matter which legal approach the FCC chooses, the agency's net neutrality rules should not end up marginalizing minorities and the poor. "We got a lot of poor folks who don't have broadband," said Jackson. "If you create something where, for the poor, the lane is slower and the cost is more, you can't survive."Of course if you've been playing along at home you know that the entire concept of net neutrality revolves around protecting everyone (including the poor) from the nation's broadband duopoly, and the price hikes and assorted gatekeeper shenanigans been playing with for the better part of a decade. Yet somehow in Jackson's head, protecting the incumbent ISP's right to engage in anti-competitive pricing models will be a good thing for less affluent areas:"Jackson raised substantive concerns Thursday about the ability of low-income Americans and minority communities to afford bandwidth-hogging Internet services, according to someone who attended the FCC meeting and had lunch with Jackson beforehand but who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private. Internet plans that exempt some applications from consumers' monthly data caps are one way to make data more affordable, and the tactic has become a popular business strategy in developing countries. But the practice also cuts against the principle of "strong" net neutrality because exempting some services from the cap necessarily means giving them special treatment over others. "[Jackson] immediately glommed on to this," said the person. "There are some strands of net neutrality … that are in direct conflict with low-income Americans."Plans that "exempt some applications from consumers monthly data caps" sounds a lot like AT&T's misguided "Sponsored Data" efforts, which involve companies paying AT&T a fee for their content to bypass the company's usage caps. It's an idea that's solely about creating a new revenue stream for AT&T, but has the potential to hurt small companies and non profits that may not be able to pay AT&T's troll toll (how exactly would that help the poor?). And while there are some international examples of cap-exempt services being experimented with in developing nations where infrastructure barely exists (see 0.facebook.com and Google Free Zone), we're talking about the United States. And here in the United States, our friendly neighborhood duopoly giants are looking for any opportunity to jack up what are already some of the highest prices in the developing world. If Jackson and friends really want to help their constituents, these diversity and minority groups could focus on things like fighting state laws that ban communities from improving their own broadband. I'll go out on a limb and guess that these groups' obfuscated financial donors would prefer that doesn't happen. Instead, by supporting the status quo and ensuring we take the weakest path possible on net neutrality, Jackson and friends are fighting against the best interests of the very same people they claim to be supporting.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Update: And, of course just as this story came out, Nelson's office finally spoke on the issue after dodging requests from multiple reporters all morning. They told Kevin Collier that the vote was not a mistake, despite the rumors and questions (and the fact that he was the only Democrat to vote against cloture. The original post is below. According to Collier, Nelson's office says that he feared the bill would have "undone a provision allowing for retention of certain telephone records that he feels is helpful in preventing future terrorist attacks." That's a funny statement, of course, given that the program in question has yet to be shown to have prevented any terrorist attacks. Ah well... Oh, Florida. As we noted last night, the Senate failed to move the USA Freedom Act forward in a cloture vote. Sixty votes were needed to bring the bill to a real vote, and only 58 made it. Many people focused on the fact that "Republicans blocked the bill" while noting that the vote was mostly along party lines, with just four Republicans voting for it: Senators Mike Lee, Dean Heller, Lisa Murkowski and Mike Lee. A lot of the focus was on Senator Rand Paul, who is vocally opposed to NSA spying, but voted against this bill, saying he didn't think it went far enough (nearly all of the other no votes were because they felt it went too far). Bizarrely, after voting no on cloture, Rand Paul now claims he's sad -- and that "they probably needed my vote." Uh, yeah. However, few have mentioned that there was only one Democrat who went the other way and voted against cloture: Senator Bill Nelson of Florida. Now there are reports from Alvaro Bedoya (a recent Senate staffer) that Nelson actually meant to vote for cloture, but voted no "by mistake." I have a request in with his office to see if this is accurate, but haven't heard back yet. However, that's quite an incredible mistake if true. It's certainly not unheard of for elected officials to accidentally vote the wrong way, but on major issues like this, they're usually pretty careful. And, yes, if Nelson had voted for cloture it would have only brought the vote up to 59, but that just highlights how important Rand Paul's vote was in killing off this attempt at reform. No matter what, can't we at least expect our Senators to vote the way they actually planned to vote?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Via James Bessen, we learn of how a patent trolling operation by StreamScale has resulted in an open source project completely shutting down, despite the fact that the patent in question (US Patent 8,683,296 for an "Accelerated erasure coding system and method") is almost certainly ineligible for patent protection as an abstract idea, following the Supreme Court's Alice ruling and plenty of prior art. Erasure codes are used regularly today in cloud computing data storage and are considered to be rather important. Not surprisingly, companies and lawyers are starting to pop out of the woodwork to claim patents on key pieces. I won't pretend to understand the fundamental details of erasure codes, but the link above provides all the details. It goes through the specific claims in the patents, breaking down what they actually say (basically an erasure code on a computer using SIMD instructions), and how that's clearly an abstract idea and thus not patent-eligible. Furthermore, it details the relevant prior art: The most prominent prior art invalidating this patent is the RAID6 (one of the most commonly used Erasure Code) implementation of the linux kernel. In an article dated 2004 (i.e. ten years before the patent was granted to StreamScale) it is described to be optimized as follows : For additional speed improvements, it is desirable to use any integer vector instruction set that happens to be available on the machine, such as MMX or SSE-2 on x86, AltiVec on PowerPC, etc. Where SSE2 is the acronym of Streaming SIMD Extensions 2. The patent cites Anvin aticle’s but only to state the problem and does not acknowledge it also contains the solution. Even so, StreamScale apparently bullied the open source project's creator, Professor James Plank, into removing his repositories and saying he is no longer working on the software project. No lawsuit was filed, but Plank posted a statement that makes it clear he was threatened by StreamScale and agreed to do this to avoid a lawsuit. Apparently, StreamScale also threatened USENIX for merely publishing a paper by Plank detailing the concepts in his software. After a failed attempt to bully USENIX, StreamScale  intimidated (i.e. there was no lawsuit and therefore no ruling) James Plank, a known researcher in the field, also author of widely used Free Software libraries using the same techniques as those described in the linux kernel. James Plank agreed to publish the following on his web site as part of a settlement, presumably in exchange for a promise from StreamScale to not threaten to sue him in the future. On this page I (James Plank) am providing notice that: GF-Complete and Jerasure versions 2.0 and later are no longer supported. StreamScale, Inc. offers a similar solution for commercial purposes. I offer no representations or warranties in general about StreamScale’s products. I have verified that StreamScale’s solution is faster than GF-Complete or Jerasure in at least some respects. StreamScale, Inc. asserts that the use of GF-Complete (particularly as part of Jerasure 2.0 or later) or any similar software, method or code for erasure coding infringes StreamScale’s issued United States Patent No. 8,683,296. I express no opinion on StreamScale’s claims, but I believe that parties should be aware that StreamScale asserts such claims. The repositories on which James Plank published the software implementing the ideas from his research papers ( gf-complete and jerasure ) have been removed the same day, meaning James Plank had to agree to never work on implementing erasure coded software in the future. There is the only marginally complicating factor that Plank, apparently, was a consultant for StreamScale a few years ago -- leading the company to argue that his research, publications and code pulled from information he had learned while working with the company. But, again, these ideas both have clear and known prior art and do not appear to be patentable subject matter. And the end result: less ability to innovate (or even research!) these sorts of things, and some important open source code no longer being supported.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We're going to have to go over this again: if your drills to prevent school tragedy actually leave school children traumatized, then don't do those damned drills. What began with terrorism drills on school buses and then devolved into unannounced school-shooting drills is getting to be so full-on crazy that I sort of can't believe that anyone thinks any of this is a good idea. The latest story involves police running an unannounced "active shooter drill" at a local middle school while classes were in session. As a part of this insane exercise, police officers went around bursting into classrooms filled with terrified students, weapons out, as they acted out their fun little thespian experience of horror. And, to add insult to injury, school officials notified parents of the drill long after unknowing students were informing their parents that an actual shooting was taking place at the school. According to Fox affiliate WTVT, officials at Jewett Middle Academy e-mailed parents to inform them of the drill, after it took place. By that point, WTVT reports, cellphones were already filling up with texts from frightened students, who thought there was a real shooter in the school. Were the parents supposed to be part of this drill as well? Otherwise, exactly what was the point of sending terrified parents barreling towards the school to see exactly what the hell was going on? You'd think school officials must be issuing one hell of a mea culpa, right? Of course not. Realism is the key, yo. “Unfortunately, no one gets an advanced notice of real life emergencies,” Polk County Public Schools spokesman Jason Gearey said in an e-mailed statement to The Washington Post. “We don’t want students to be scared, but we need them to be safe.” And you can see his point. But why stop at school shootings? If terrifying students is done in the name of preparing them for terrifying, if not in any way likely events, why not prepare them for tragedies much more likely to occur? Why not tell kids every once in a while that their parents are dead, just to get them used to the eventual occurrence? Or, hey, maybe just burst into their rooms while they're sleeping occasionally and scream, "You probably won't be nearly as successful as you think you will!" and then run away, just to get them used to the disappointment of life. I mean, they'll have to face hardship at times, so why not get them ready for that hardship by making them face fake hardship? What's that? You're saying that way of thinking is crazy-pants? As crazy as, say, the police admitting that the officers in this drill were using real firearms with live ammo? Stacy Ray told WTVT that she received a text from her seventh-grade daughter Lauren Marionneaux after two armed officers burst into her classroom.Winter Haven police told The Post that one of the officers had his duty firearm – a handgun – drawn. The gun was loaded, as required. The other officer was carrying an unloaded AR-15. According to Ray, one of her other children texted: “I thought he was going to shoot me.” Get used to it little girl. After all, there's a tiny, basically insignificant and certainly not growing likelihood that you'll have to face this situation for real some day. Totally justifies terrifying our children, right? Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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It is hardly news that China is blocking Web sites -- it's so common these days that it has become almost proverbial. But hitherto, it has done it in a very targeted manner so as to minimize collateral damage that might hamper its citizens' access to other key parts of the Internet. The Greatfire.org blog is reporting that, for the first time, China has started blocking one of the Internet's biggest content delivery networks (CDN) -- EdgeCast -- with major knock-on effects: The Chinese censorship authorities have DNS poisoned *edgecastcdn.net, which means all subdomains of edgecastcdn.net are blocked in China. EdgeCast is one of the largest Content Delivery Networks (CDN) in the world and provides its cloud services to thousands of websites and apps in China. According to the blog post, this is being done specifically to block Greatfire.org's mirrors of sites censored in China, which are hosted in the cloud: We have acknowledged all along that our method of unblocking websites using "collateral freedom" hinges on the gamble that the Chinese authorities will not block access to global CDNs because they understand the value of China being integrated with the global internet. However, we can now reveal publicly that the authorities are doing just that -- attempting to cut China off from the global internet. In other words, if the Greatfire.org analysis is correct, the Chinese authorities have decided that it is more important to block these cloud-based mirrors than it is to maintain access to key sites. The blog post lists Drupal.org, Mozilla's addons.cdn.mozilla.net and Gravatar, which is used by many websites to show images, as among the important Web sites that have been affected. As Greatfire.org points out, this is not a particularly good moment to increase censorship in this way: If the authorities did not anticipate what damage the blocking of EdgeCast would inflict, they have likely been alerted by the many companies that use EdgeCast in China. This action comes at a bad time for the Chinese authorities. This week, they are hosting the World Internet Conference and the blocking of EdgeCast will likely be a hot topic of discussion. That might mean we will see EdgeCast being unblocked during the World Internet Conference, so as to avoid embarrassing questions being asked. But even if that does happen, we can probably expect to see the DNS poisoning to resume as soon as the delegates have packed their bags and left China. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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So, this evening the USA Freedom Act failed to get the 60 votes it needed for cloture to "advance" to a full floor vote. It ended up at 58 to 42. There was a short debate prior to the vote, and the debate was... stupid. Yes, there are some legitimate concerns with the USA Freedom Act, mostly in that it doesn't go far enough. But that's not what the debate was about at all. You had a bunch of bizarrely clueless Senators, many of whom insisted they were against the act because it would take the bulk collection out of the hands of the NSA and put it into the hands of the telcos -- with the claim being that the NSA could keep that data safer. Senators Susan Collins and Saxby Chambliss kept harping on that point. But it's flat out wrong. Because the whole point of this is that the telcos already have this data. The debate is between "telcos have the data" and "telcos and NSA have the data." Arguing that telcos-only is inherently more likely to lead to a privacy violation makes no sense at all. Chambliss went further, repeating (over and over again) that it's okay for the NSA to have this data because only 22 people have access to it. Of course, as Marcy Wheeler points out, that's not true. 22 people can authorize a search based on "reasonable articulable suspicion" but many others can access the results. Furthermore, as Harley Geiger points out, the problem is not even at the point of access, but collection, and there's nothing in the law that says the limit is always 22. Frankly, the whole 22 people debate seems strange to me. Is Chambliss really arguing that it's okay to violate the 4th Amendment if only 22 people can do it? Separately, Senator Dianne Feinstein very reluctantly supported the bill, noting that she's very afraid that if this bill doesn't pass, the whole Section 215 program will go away. Frankly, that actually sounded like a good reason not to support the bill. She also kept insisting that it wasn't being abused because there were only "288" searches last year on that data. First of all, 288 already seems like quite a lot to me, and again we go to Marcy Wheeler for the fact check, where she points out that it's not 288 searches, but rather 288 "selectors," which could be queried multiple times (and those selectors could scoop up lots of data). Hopefully, it turns out that Senator Feinstein's "fears" on this bill were accurate, and that it leads to the end of Section 215 altogether. But, the completely bogus debate over this effort just highlights how ridiculous the idea is that the Senate has any sort of "oversight" over the NSA, or that it has the interests of the Constitution or the public in mind.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The fight against cancer is a tough one, but new treatments are coming along that might put an end to more forms of it. For example, Google X (aka Google[x]) is working on a way to target cancer cells with nanoparticles and a wearable device. That sounds like pretty far out research, but there are a lot of different approaches to tackling cancer. Here are just a few promising ones. Genetically engineered T cells have been re-programmed to kill off other blood cells that might become cancerous. Patients with deadly leukemia have been treated with these modified T cells, and it looks like a promising treatment which could be modified to work against other cancers. [url] An experimental protein therapy might stop the metastasis of certain cancers and offer an alternative to chemotherapy. Modified proteins have stopped the spread of breast and ovarian cancers in lab mice, but testing has not yet been done in humans. [url] Some "zombie bacteria" (genetically modified anthrax) can be used as a drug delivery system for cancerous cells that are typically difficult to target. Cancer-fighting anthrax is being tested on mice, and this strategy might help expand the number of drugs available to treat recalcitrant tumors. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As we noted a few weeks ago, Verizon and AT&T recently began utilizing a controversial new snoopvertising method that involves meddling with user traffic to insert a unique identifier traffic header, or X-UIDH. This header is then read by marketing partners to track your behavior around the Internet, which Verizon and AT&T then hope to sell to marketers and other third parties. In addition to the fact they're modifying user traffic, these headers can also be read by third parties -- even if customers opt out from carrier-specific programs. After the practice received heat from security experts and groups like the EFF, AT&T has since announced they're backing away from the practice. AT&T insists that unlike Verizon (who has been using this technology commercially for two years with clients like Twitter), AT&T's implementation was only a trial. That trial is now complete, insists AT&T, and while they may return to the practice -- AT&T promises it will be somehow modified so user information isn't broadcast and opting out actually works:"AT&T says it has stopped its controversial practice of adding a hidden, undeletable tracking number to its mobile customers' Internet activity. "It has been phased off our network," said Emily J. Edmonds, an AT&T spokeswoman....AT&T said it used the tracking numbers as part of a test, which it has now completed. Edmonds said AT&T may still launch a program to sell data collected by its tracking number, but that if and when it does, "customers will be able to opt out of the ad program and not have the numeric code inserted on their device."The EFF confirms that the appearance of the header has indeed declined on AT&T's network. But while AT&T appears to have smelled the looming lawsuit on the wind, Verizon so far has stood tough on their use of the technology. Verizon says that the company's program continues but as with any program, Verizon is "constantly evaluating." Years ago when Verizon was fighting tougher privacy rules, the company proclaimed that "public shame" would keep them honest. This particular privacy abuse took two years for savvy network engineers and security consultants to even spot, and so far there's no indication that two weeks of public scolding have done anything to thwart Verizon's ambitions. Cue the class actions and regulatory wrist slaps.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We recently noted that it was really good news to see companies like Google and Apple finally taking end user encryption seriously, and it appears that's spreading. The super-popular chat messaging app WhatsApp, which was acquired by Facebook not too long ago, just turned on full end-to-end encryption, powered by Open Whisper Systems, the makers of such great tools as TextSecure, which is the basis for the new encryption: The most recent WhatsApp Android client release includes support for the TextSecure encryption protocol, and billions of encrypted messages are being exchanged daily. The WhatsApp Android client does not yet support encrypted messaging for group chat or media messages, but we’ll be rolling out support for those next, in addition to support for more client platforms. We’ll also be surfacing options for key verification in clients as the protocol integrations are completed. WhatsApp runs on an incredible number of mobile platforms, so full deployment will be an incremental process as we add TextSecure protocol support into each WhatsApp client platform. We have a ways to go until all mobile platforms are fully supported, but we are moving quickly towards a world where all WhatsApp users will get end-to-end encryption by default. It sounds like this project started prior to the Facebook acquisition, so it's great to see it continue to move forward either way. Just recently, the EFF rated various messaging apps for their security (which resulted in some controversy...), and WhatsApp didn't score all that well, while TextSecure got a perfect score. Making messaging more and more secure is incredibly important, so it's great to see it happening here.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As the cloture vote is set to happen tonight on the Senate version of the USA Freedom Act, the hysterics are getting... well, more hysterical. Michael Hayden (former NSA and CIA director) and Michael Mukasey (former Attorney General) have an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal dubbing the bill "NSA Reform That Only ISIS Could Love," which is kind of hilarious given that current Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper (who usually sings in perfect harmony with Hayden) has come out in support of the bill. While the bill has some problems, it is still a step forward (and yes, I'm aware that not everyone agrees with that). But Hayden/Mukasey make a bunch of statements that are just not at all accurate. It starts off with the usual FUD about ISIS and then questions why Reid would present this bill given that: In that threat environment, one would think that the last thing on the “to do” list of the 113th Congress would be to add to the grim news. Yet Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has announced that he will bring to the floor the extravagantly misnamed USA Freedom Act, a major new bill exquisitely crafted to hobble the gathering of electronic intelligence. Except that's not true. The bill is not designed to "hobble" electronic intelligence, but to respect at least some of our 4th Amendment rights, and to bar mass collection of the information without limits. Then there's this: For starters, the bill ends the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of what is called telephone metadata. This includes the date, time, duration and telephone numbers for all calls, but not their content or the identity of the caller or called, and is information already held by telephone companies. The bill would substitute a cumbersome and untried process that would require the NSA, when it seeks to check on which telephone numbers have called or been called by a number reasonably associated with terrorist activity, to obtain a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA court, and then scurry to each of the nation’s telephone-service providers to comb through the information that remains in their hands rather than in the NSA’s. First off, they're simply wrong. It doesn't require a warrant, but a FISA court order under Section 215. It just limits how broad those orders can be. The reason it's not a warrant is you can't get such a broad warrant. Second, the "cumbersome and untried process" is neither cumbersome nor untried. It's how lots of investigations work today. When law enforcement needs info, it goes to court, gets a court order, and voila. And does anyone actually believe, in this digital age, that there's any actual "scurrying"? Hell, to make this process easier for the DEA in the past, AT&T was willing to embed employees with the DEA to give them faster access to the database. If anything, these are reasons why the bill doesn't go far enough. The idea that it somehow takes away US intelligence capabilities is ludicrous. Furthermore, it's already been noted that ISIS knows how to evade such surveillance: by not using electronic communications. So this has nothing to do with ISIS at all. At all. Nothing in the bill requires the telephone companies to preserve the metadata for any prescribed period. Current Federal Communications Commission regulations impose an 18-month retention requirement, but administrative regulations are subject to change. It isn’t hard to envision companies that wish to offer subscribers the attraction of rapid destruction of these records, or a complaisant bureaucracy that lets them do it. So we shouldn't pass this bill because at some future date the FCC might possibly allow companies not to keep these records? Really? The bill’s imposition of the warrant requirement on the NSA would be more burdensome than what any assistant U.S. attorney must do to get metadata in a routine criminal case, which is simply to aver that the information is needed in connection with a criminal investigation—period. Again, misleading in the extreme. When the DOJ is seeking metadata in a criminal case, it's seeking specific metadata concerning the crime being investigated. This is about stopping the collection of all phone records. Notice that Hayden and Mukasey never bother to explain this distinction. Because they're being incredibly dishonest. There's much more in there, but nearly all of it is dishonest. It claims that "there is no immediate or emergency need" for the bill, totally leaving out the systematic violation of Americans' 4th Amendment rights and an independent review board finding the program illegal and unconstitutional and a President who asked Congress to end the program. Yet, Hayden and Mukasey insist this program -- which has yet to show a single successful example of being used to prevent terrorism -- has to remain in place? Really? And, of course, Hayden and Mukasey have friends. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell similarly called out the specter of ISIS, despite the fact it's widely acknowledged that ISIS already knows how to avoid our surveillance efforts (and is focused on the middle east, while the USA Freedom Act is just about domestic phone records inside the US). The USA Freedom Act has its problems, but it also has some important and useful aspects. The claim that it will somehow help ISIS by preventing such bulk data collection is simply ridiculous and untrue.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Earlier this month, ICANN, along with the World Economic Forum and a Brazilian government group called CGI.br, announced a NetMundial Initiative, which is being described as a sort of "UN Security Council for the internet." If NetMundial sounds familiar, that's because back in April there was a big meeting on internet governance in Brazil called NetMundial. While this has the same name, it seems to be basically unrelated to that, but rather, it appears to be these three groups setting themselves up in power positions over internet governance. While those behind it tossed in a bunch of buzzwords, about how it would be "open source," a "shared public resource" and would have a "bottom-up, transparent" process, there was a bit of a problem with all of that. You see, the three founding organizations also... installed themselves as permanent members who would control the council. Yes, they want other members, but setting themselves up with permanent seats seems a bit iffy on the whole "bottom-up, transparency" bit. The whole thing didn't exactly go over well at launch: "Everything will be done bottom-up, this is the mother of all bottom-up processes," said Chehade to widespread disbelief in both the chatroom and on Twitter. The claim that the initiative would not overlap other organizations' work was also derided. "Why create another platform?" asked one person in the short Q&A session after the presentation. "How do you expect to avoid duplication?" Asked why ICANN was installing itself as a permanent member of a body that would only focus on non-technical issues when ICANN is specifically a technical body, Chehade gave an answer that left many scratching their heads: "Why is ICANN on the Council? Precisely to clarify why our role should remain as it is: purely technical. It should not be at ICANN where these issues should be solved." So, ICANN is purely technical, and it needs to install itself as a permanent member of a committee that isn't technical to clarify why its role should be purely technical. Got that? Anyway, you can see in the slide above, the "I* group" listed as being offered one of the remaining seats. The I* group was supposed to be made up of a bunch of organizations you should already be familiar with: the Internet Society, IETF, IAB, W3C, Regional Internet Registries, ICANN and regional TLD organizations (yes, it appears that the I* group also includes ICANN, despite its separate seat on this council). Either way, the folks at the Internet Society, who have been heavily involved in a variety of internet governance efforts, often in conjunction with ICANN, have slammed on the brakes after seeing this new initiative, saying that the group cannot support a plan that seems so questionably designed: With respect to the need for new groups, such as the NETmundial Initiative and its Coordination Council, the Internet Society Board reiterates that the Internet Society’s longstanding position is that there is no single, global platform that can serve to coordinate, organize or govern all the Internet issues that may arise. At its heart, the Internet is a decentralized, loosely coupled, distributed system that allows policies to be defined by those who require them for their operations and that ensures that issues can be resolved at a level closest to their origin. The ecosystem draws its strength from the involvement of a broad range of actors working through open, transparent, and collaborative processes to innovate and build the network of networks that is the cornerstone of the global economy. Based on the information that we have to date, the Internet Society cannot agree to participate in or endorse the Coordination Council for the NETmundial Initiative. We are concerned that the way in which the NETmundial Initiative is being formed does not appear to be consistent with the Internet Society’s longstanding principles. ISOC further notes that a much bigger priority is getting through the transition of the IANA functions, from being under NTIA/Dept. of Commerce to being separate, thus taking ICANN out from under the thumb of the US government. As we've noted in the past, we support this move as being necessary for a variety of reasons, including some that will help prevent dangerous changes to internet governance. However, if this is the kind of crap that ICANN is going to pull, it's only going to raise even more skepticism about the organization's position in managing key parts of the internet. Kudos to the Internet Society for not just giving in. Yes, if you look over the presentation below, there may be plenty of good ideas embedded in the NetMundial project, but if it's going to go forward, it simply cannot include founding members electing themselves to a permanent controlling position (and also giving those organizations tremendous power in selecting the other council members). This is not how the internet should be run.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Okay. If you want a law school exam question, let's start with this one: A London photographer visiting Indonesia, leaves his camera on the ground, leading a macaque monkey to pick it up and take a selfie: Despite protestations from the photographer (the monkey has remained silent), most experts agree that the photograph is in the public domain. Years later, Saban Capital Group, formed by former rock star/entertainment industry mogul Haim Saban has attempted to register a US trademark on this semi-familiar looking image: The plan (according to the application) is to put this on all sorts of clothing, including (no joke), wedding dresses. In order to show how Saban is using the mark in commerce, it has offered up this image: Of course, it turns out that that's really just taking the public domain monkey selfie and photoshopping it onto a Gap catalog photo (Saban does not own the Gap). So, to recap: we have a (most likely) public domain monkey selfie image, which someone else is seeking a trademark on, using another company's photoshopped photos. In this scenario, please describe how much the lawyers are going to bill to sort this all out? Special tips of the hat to Eriq Gardner for spotting the trademark application and the folks at Five Useful Articles for noticing the photoshopping of Gap clothing (and for inspiring me to try to turn this into a law school exam question).Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Late last night I started hearing rumors that Senator Harry Reid was looking to slip a little something extra into the USA Freedom Act: a key part of SOPA. As you should know by now, last week, Reid surprised many by moving for a cloture vote on the USA Freedom Act. While still controversial in civil liberties circles, many are supportive of this bill as a good first step in surveillance reform -- including EFF and ACLU -- while others are perhaps reasonably concerned about what the bill actually provides. Yesterday, the big tech companies came out in favor of it. However, yesterday evening I heard through the grapevine that Reid also had a little "gift" he was planning to add to the bill, and I've spent a big part of last night tracking down any details I could find. Basically, Reid wants to attach a part of SOPA to the bill: the felony streaming provisions. You may recall that this was the dangerous plan that was a part of SOPA and a companion to PIPA (though not directly in it) that would have turned merely streaming infringing works into a felony. This got a ton of attention after Fight for the Future created its Free Justin Bieber campaign, after noting that Bieber came to fame by streaming lots of videos of music he didn't license the rights to. Even after SOPA died, the White House still listed the felony streaming stuff in its big wish list. And, just a few months ago, the Justice Department told Congress it wanted streaming to be a felony too. The reality is that this would be a pretty big expansion of criminalizing copyright infringement. As we explained years ago, there's a reason why "performance" isn't considered a felony in copyright law. Expanding the criminalization of copyright, especially for something as simple as streaming content puts a ton of people at risk. And yes, according to Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain, someone doing what Bieber did would face jail time, which is ridiculous. So why is Reid suddenly doing this? What we've heard is that it's a "favor" to his friends at UFC -- Ultimate Fighting Championship -- who are based in Las Vegas, in Reid's home state of Nevada. Reid and UFC go back for years, with UFC being big supporters of Reid, and UFC has worked with Reid on a number of campaigns. UFC has also been one of the biggest supporters of expanding and abusing copyright law for years. The organization has sued its biggest fans, has sued streaming sites like Justin.tv (and lost) and even claimed copyright on videos it has no rights to, taken by fans. So it's no surprise that with Reid and UFC being so chummy -- while UFC has staked out a strong public position to expand copyright criminalization -- that Reid would like to do this "favor" for his friends. But it's a massive slap in the face to the tech industry -- Reid's second such massive slap this year. Remember, earlier this year, after the tech industry had finally, finally gotten a few important pieces (not nearly enough, but a great start) for patent reform to the finish line, Harry Reid got a phone call from the trial lawyers and killed the whole thing? If he actually goes through with this plan, it will be yet another massive slap in the face to Silicon Valley. Perhaps that's the reputation Harry Reid wants. The Senator who gives out personal favors to friends, and stands in the way of innovation. I can't imagine that will go over well in the long run. Furthermore, it's almost as if Reid has totally forgotten what happened around SOPA. I can assure him that those who fought against SOPA have not forgotten. The last I've heard on this so far is that Reid is still looking for a bit more support to attach this to the USA Freedom Act. Hopefully no one gives it to him, and this idea simply goes back in the trash can where it belongs.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Late last night I started hearing rumors that Senator Harry Reid was looking to slip a little something extra into the USA Freedom Act: a key part of SOPA. As you should know by now, last week, Reid surprised many by moving for a cloture vote on the USA Freedom Act. While still controversial in civil liberties circles, many are supportive of this bill as a good first step in surveillance reform -- including EFF and ACLU -- while others are perhaps reasonably concerned about what the bill actually provides. Yesterday, the big tech companies came out in favor of it. However, yesterday evening I heard through the grapevine that Reid also had a little "gift" he was planning to add to the bill, and I've spent a big part of last night tracking down any details I can find. Basically, Reid wants to attach a part of SOPA to the bill: the felony streaming provisions. You may recall that this was the dangerous plan that was a part of SOPA and a companion to PIPA (though not directly in it) that would have turned merely streaming infringing works into a felony. This got a ton of attention after Fight for the Future created its Free Justin Bieber campaign, after noting that Bieber came to fame by streaming lots of videos of music he didn't license the rights to. Even after SOPA died, the White House still listed the felony streaming stuff in its big wish list. And, just a few months ago, the Justice Department told Congress it wanted streaming to be a felony too. The reality is that this would be a pretty big expansion of criminalizing copyright infringement. As we explained years ago, there's a reason why "performance" isn't considered a felony in copyright law. Expanding the criminalization of copyright, especially for something as simple as streaming content puts a ton of people at risk. And yes, according to Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain, someone doing what Bieber did would face jail time, which is ridiculous. So why is Reid suddenly doing this? What we've heard is that it's a "favor" to his friends at UFC -- Ultimate Fighting Championship, who are based in Las Vegas, in Reid's home state of Nevada. Reid and UFC go back for years, with UFC being big supporters of Reid, and UFC has worked with Reid on a number of campaigns. UFC has also been one of the biggest supporters of expanding and abusing copyright law for years. The organization has sued its biggest fans, has sued streaming sites like Justin.tv (and lost) and even claimed copyright on videos it has no rights to, taken by fans. So it's no surprise that with Reid and UFC being so chummy, while UFC has staked out a strong public position to expand copyright criminalization, that Reid would like to do this "favor" for his friends. But it's a massive slap in the face to the tech industry -- Reid's second such massive slap this year. Remember, earlier this year, after the tech industry had finally, finally gotten a few important pieces (not nearly enough, but a great start) for patent reform to the finish line, Harry Reid got a phone call from the trial lawyers and killed the whole thing? If he actually goes through with this plan, it will be yet another massive slap in the face to Silicon Valley. Perhaps that's the reputation Harry Reid wants. The Senator who gives out personal favors to friends, and stands in the way of innovation. I can't imagine that will go over well in the long run. Furthermore, it's almost as if Reid has totally forgotten what happened around SOPA. I can assure him that those who fought against SOPA have not forgotten. The last I've heard on this so far is that Reid is still looking for a bit more support to attach this to the USA Freedom Act. Hopefully no one gives it to him and this idea simply goes back in the trash can where it belongs.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The classic question of "which came first: the chicken or the egg?" is not that easy to answer. There are a lot of unanswered (and perhaps unanswerable) questions about the origins of life. What came first: DNA, RNA or proteins? How did chirality start? We have a few clues, but without a time machine, we can't quite observe what actually happened. Here are just a few scientific probes that could help us understand the early stages of our biosphere. Re-creating the conditions under which life began isn't easy because no one knows exactly what was around way back then. Maybe lightning stuck some organic molecules and formed amino acids in a pre-biotic soup, or maybe there were localized electrical fields on the surface of minerals that helped synthesize the chemicals that formed early life forms. So far, zapping lifeless soup hasn't created self-replicating molecules.... [url] The biology of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells is still mysterious in many ways -- such as how mitochondria came to exist or how prokaryotic cells might have evolved into more complex cells with internal membrane compartments. Perhaps it may be possible to genetically engineer a "missing link" cell that isn't more complex than a prokaryote, but less complex than a eukaryote. [url] A ribozyme made in a lab from ribonucleic acid (RNA) could help explain how RNA replication might have worked in a primordial RNA world. The early primordial RNA soup might have contained a mixture of RNA isomers, and researchers have created a ribozyme that could be useful for test tube evolution experiments. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We recently wrote about a lawsuit filed in New York against Time Warner Cable for "deceptive acts and practices" regarding hidden charges and fees, and a failure to deliver a promised rate for broadband access. Tons of people have been pointing out that they've seen the same thing -- and now, down in Maryland, Verizon has agreed to pay $1.375 million to Verizon FiOS customers who found they were hit with a variety of hidden and unexpected fees with their broadband connections: The telecommunications company agreed to pay about $1.375 million to Maryland customers who the state's Consumer Protection Division says were improperly charged termination fees or had to pay for "inadequately disclosed" equipment costs in order to use the service, according to the attorney general's office. The firm also agreed to pay a $250,000 penalty to the state, and $75,000 in costs Of course, in agreeing to settle, Verizon also "denied that it violated any Maryland laws" but promises to more accurately represent fees in the future. The settlement follows a wide-ranging investigation of Verizon, including its alleged failure to deliver promised promotional items to new FiOS customers, such as free televisions and gift cards; its offer of bundled prices that did not include the cost to lease equipment necessary to receive the services; its alleged practice of assessing early termination fees when customers cancelled after they did not receive what they had been promised; and other issues, including billing complaints, contract disputes and poor customer service. Although Verizon denied that it violated any Maryland laws, it agreed to a settlement that addresses the Division's concerns. This is not the first time Verizon has had to pay up in this manner. Obviously, the amount paid up here is barely even pocket change for Verizon, which is why these kinds of activities continue. When you have monopolistic or near monopolistic control over your market, you can get away with all sorts of questionable fees and charges on users.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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South Korea seems to have a rather complicated relationship with the Internet. On the one hand, the country is well-known for having the fastest Internet connection speeds in the world; on the other, its online users are subject to high levels of surveillance and control, as the site Bandwidth Place explains: Under the watchful eye of the Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC), Internet use, web page creation, and even mapping data are all regulated. As noted recently by the Malaysian Digest, children under 16 are not permitted to participate in online gaming between midnight and 6 a.m. -- accessing the Internet requires users to enter their government-issued ID numbers. In addition, South Korean map data isn't allowed to leave the country, meaning Google Maps can't provide driving directions, and last year the KCSC blocked users from accessing 63,000 web pages. While it's possible to get around these restrictions using a virtual private network (VPN), those found violating the nation’s Internet rules are subject to large fines or even jail time. A story on the site of the Japanese broadcaster NHK shows how this is playing out in the world of social networks. Online criticism of the behavior of the President of South Korea following the sinking of the ferry MV Sewol prompted the government to set up a team to monitor online activity. That, in its turn, has led people to seek what the NHK article calls "cyber-asylum" -- online safety through the use of foreign mobile messaging services, which aren't spied on so easily by the South Korean authorities. According to the NHK article: Many users have switched [from the hugely-popular home-grown product KakaoTalk] to a German chat app called Telegram. It had 50,000 users in early September. Now 2 million people have signed up. That's a useful reminder that fast Internet speeds on their own are not enough to keep people happy, and that even companies holding 90% of a market, as Kakao does in South Korea, can suffer badly once they lose the trust of their users by seeming too pliable to government demands for private information about their customers. This seems like the type of lesson that the giant US internet companies and the NSA (along with its defenders) should be learning. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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TRUSTe, the organization whose seals of approval are used by many sites to prove that they're trustworthy, especially with regards to privacy practices, has just agreed to pay the FTC $200,000 and change its representations about how it goes about certifying various sites. In particular, the FTC claims that TRUSTe did not review sites frequently enough. Separately, there were some shenanigans over the fact that TRUSTe switched from being a non-profit to a for-profit operation in 2008, but let users of the seal still tell people that TRUSTe was some sort of non-profit (as many in the public have believed). The FTC’s complaint alleges that from 2006 until January 2013, TRUSTe failed to conduct annual recertifications of companies holding TRUSTe privacy seals in over 1,000 incidences, despite providing information on its website that companies holding TRUSTe Certified Privacy Seals receive recertification every year. In addition, the FTC’s complaint alleges that since TRUSTe became a for-profit corporation in 2008, the company has failed to require companies using TRUSTe seals to update references to the organization’s non-profit status. Before converting from a non-profit to a for-profit, TRUSTe provided clients model language describing TRUSTe as a non-profit for use in their privacy policies. The proposed order announced today will help ensure that TRUSTe maintains a high standard of consumer protection going forward.  Under the terms of its settlement with the FTC, TRUSTe will be prohibited from making misrepresentations about its certification process or timeline, as well as being barred from misrepresenting its corporate status or whether an entity participates in its program. In addition, TRUSTe must not provide other companies or entities the means to make misrepresentations about these facts, such as through incorrect or inaccurate model language. There is an interesting partial dissent from FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen, effectively challenging the issue with other websites still saying TRUSTe is a non-profit. While the issue is that TRUSTe was recertifying these websites, and thus should have said that they had to make the certification clear, Ohlhausen points out that it's wrong to blame TRUSTe for statements made by other sites and not by TRUSTe itself. Unlike Shell and Magui Publishers, the statement that TRUSTe provided to its clients was indisputably truthful at the time. During the period in which TRUSTe required client privacy policies to state that TRUSTe was a non-profit, TRUSTe was, in fact, a non-profit. Once TRUSTe changed to for-profit status, it no longer required clients to state its non-profit status and actively encouraged clients to correct their privacy policies. TRUSTe did not pass to clients any false or misleading representations regarding its for-profit status. Nor was TRUSTe’s recertification of websites a misrepresentation of TRUSTe’s non-profit status to its clients; during recertification TRUSTe again clearly communicated its for-profit status to clients by requesting that its clients update their privacy policies. Because TRUSTe accurately represented its non-profit status to its clients, TRUSTe cannot be primarily liable for deceiving consumers under a means and instrumentalities theory. This argument makes a lot of sense, and as someone concerned about secondary liability in a variety of places, it does seem wrong for the FTC to hold TRUSTe responsible for the conduct of third party sites, even as it was recertifying them. Either way, this settlement is a good reminder that just because there's a "trusted" certification on a site, it doesn't always mean the site is trustworthy...Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 7 days ago on techdirt
Polygraph technology is far from infallible and has been for so long that it's practically common knowledge. And yet, the federal government still wants everyone to believe polygraphs tests separate the honest from the liars with incredibly high accuracy. So, it cracks down on those who claim to be able to help others beat the tests. In 2012, federal agents began investigating Chad Dixon and Doug Williams, two men who sold books, videos and personal instruction sessions on beating polygraph tests. Late last year, Dixon was sentenced to eight months in prison for obstruction and wire fraud charges. The government claimed his actions jeopardized national security, pointing to a client list that included intelligence employees, law enforcement agents and sex offenders. The government has just handed down an indictment [pdf link] of its second target -- former Oklahoma City police polygraph administrator Doug Williams. The 69-year-old Norman, Oklahoma, man is the owner of Polygraph.com and charged customers thousands of dollars for instructions on how to beat lie detector tests administered for federal employment suitability assessments, federal security background investigations, and internal federal agency investigations, court documents show. The government wants to see Williams locked up for fraud, claiming his polygraph-beating business allowed unqualified applicants to "obtain and maintain positions of Federal employment" and the "salary attendant to such positions." The 23-page indictments details the fed's sting operation, which utilized two undercover agents posing as potential government employees with shady pasts. In both cases, the agents made Williams aware of past wrongdoing (over his initial objections) that should disqualify them from positions in the DHS or Border Patrol. Williams, unfortunately, decided to follow through with personally training both agents, despite his initial hesitance to knowingly assist admitted criminals with obtaining government jobs. The indictment said that, during a telephone call with an undercover federal agent, Williams said, "I haven't lived this long and fucked the government this long, and done such a controversial thing that I do for this long, and got away with it without any trouble whatsoever, by being a dumb ass." Well, if the indictment is legit, Williams made some dumbass moves. The unanswered question, though, is if providing instructions on how to beat polygraph tests is illegal or protected speech. The judge handling the conviction of Chad Dixon had a hard time finding a "bright line" between the two. O’Grady acknowledged “the gray areas” between the constitutional right to discuss the techniques and the crime of teaching someone to lie while undergoing a government polygraph. “There’s nothing unlawful about maybe 95 percent of the business he conducted,” the judge said. Despite this, Judge O'Grady still gave the government what it wanted: a prison sentence to "deter" activities that were "95 percent" free speech. Obviously, the government is hoping for the same outcome here. The real weakness here is the government's reliance on polygraph testing, but no one's interested in addressing that. The government farms out employee vetting to private contractors who can't be bothered to do the job properly. Negative results are ignored by government agencies when they stand in the way of hiring the people they want to hire. A system that can be successfully gamed shouldn't be afforded as much deference (bordering on reverence) as the government gives to polygraph testing. It's a method that's just as likely to reject legitimate candidates as it is to be duped by criminals. Prosecuting those who show others how the test can be beaten is nothing more than punishing the symptom because it's so much easier than dealing with the disease.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 7 days ago on techdirt
The Justice Department has been summoned to say a few words in defense of the US Marshals' Cessna-mounted cell tower spoofers. And while it tried to leave a lot unsaid, it actually said quite a bit. The Justice Department, without formally acknowledging the existence of the program, defended the legality of the operation by the U.S. Marshals Service, saying the agency doesn’t maintain a database of everyday Americans’ cellphones. Because America's criminal element is forever only moments away from permanently escaping the grasp of law enforcement, the DOJ has refused to confirm or deny the existence of technology everyone already knows exists -- IMSI catchers and single-engine aircraft. The DOJ's caginess is commendable. I'm sorry, I mean ridiculous. Here's the same official further protecting and defending The Program That Dare Not Confirm Its Existence, using statements that indicate the program exposed by the Wall Street Journal not only exists, but functions pretty much as described. A Justice Department official on Friday refused to confirm or deny the existence of such a program, because doing so would allow criminals to better evade law enforcement. But the official said it would be “utterly false’’ to conflate the law-enforcement program with the collection of bulk telephone records by the National Security Agency, a controversial program already being challenged in the courts and by some members of Congress. No one's conflating the feds' airborne 'Stingray' with the NSA's ongoing bulk phone records collections. All people have done is note that surveillance technology of this sort has the ability to collect (and store) millions of unrelated phone records in a very short period of time. Furthermore, the unnamed official would like us to remember that this program [WHICH MAY NOT EXIST I DON'T EVEN KNOW] is completely legal [PROBABLY TWICE AS LEGAL AS THE NSA'S PHONE THING IF THIS IS HAPPENING WHICH IT MAY NOT BE]. The official didn’t address the issue of how much data, if any, is held on the dirtboxes by law-enforcement officials but said the agency doesn’t maintain any databases of general public cellphone information and said any activity is legal and “subject to court approval.’’ Other officials -- also unnamed -- have stepped up (sort of... in a spineless, anonymous way) to let critics know that the program that has never been officially acknowledged is pretty good at catching bad guys. The program’s defenders say it has been an effective way of catching fugitives, including drug suspects and suspected killers… Like the following notorious criminals: ...but they declined to provide specific examples in which it was used. Probably because it may or may not exist, etc. Officials familiar with the program noted that it was "minimally intrusive," while simultaneously having an effective range that covers "most of the US population." It may not be the NSA's bulk records program, but it's not exactly in any danger of being championed by civil liberties advocates. Here are a few government officials who aren't familiar with the implausibly denied program. “We were not aware of this activity,’’ said Kim Hart, a spokeswoman for the FCC, which licenses and regulates cell-service providers. Another IMSI catcher and another FCC denial. It appears that staying ahead of criminals also means withholding information (or directly lying to) regulatory agencies -- which is probably not that big of a deal when you've spent years lying to judges. And you can add legislators to the long list of those whose first exposure to the US Marshals' "dirtboxes" came via the Wall Street Journal. Senators Edward Markey and Al Franken have both offered statements expressing their concerns about law enforcement's willingness to sacrifice the public's privacy for investigative efficiency. The DOJ official who claimed this program is "subject to court approval" is being either blithely disingenuous or wholly dishonest. If this investigative technology had ever been approved by our nation's courts, we would have heard of it long before now. This dearth of information indicates that the Marshals' use of airborne IMSI catchers has been withheld the same way the use of its earthbound version has been over the past several years.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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