posted 5 days ago on techdirt
At the office, in your room, in the living room, in a hotel room -- there are many, many power-packed places in your life that could use a good power strip. The $25 Kinkoo 3-Outlet Surge Protecting Smart Power Strip is the solution. Equipped with 3 high-powered outlets and 4 USB charging ports, this durable, surge protecting power strip will fit perfectly into any space in your life. 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 appears that the "nerd harder" disease has spread across the Atlantic, and none other than the UK's Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has caught it. In discussing the (frequently overhyped, but still real) issues of cyberbullying and sexting, Hunt has decided that it's no problem at all, because the nerds can put their minds to it and magically block it: “I think social media companies need to step up to the plate and show us how they can be the solution to the issue of mental ill health amongst teenagers, and not the cause of the problem,” he said. “There is a lot of evidence that the technology industry, if they put their mind to it, can do really smart things. “For example, I just ask myself the simple question as to why it is that you can’t prevent the texting of sexually explicit images by people under the age of 18, if that’s a lock that parents choose to put on a mobile phone contract. Because there is technology that can identify sexually explicit pictures and prevent it being transmitted. “I ask myself why we can’t identify cyberbullying when it happens on social media platforms by word pattern recognition, and then prevent it happening. I think there are a lot of things where social media companies could put options in their software that could reduce the risks associated with social media, and I do think that is something which they should actively pursue in a way that hasn’t happened to date.” And I ask myself, how the hell do modern countries allow people so clueless and ignorant into positions of power? How can it possibly be that someone with this much power and authority can't understand that context matters and that calling for outright censorship without context would be a disaster? It's the very epitome of the "nerd harder, nerds" plan that comes up so often. "If they put their minds to it, they can do really smart things." It feels like all of these powerful people have internalized the flipside of the famed Arthur C. Clarke quote about how "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," and interpreted it to mean "tech can do magical things." But as cryptographer Matt Blaze famously noted, ignorant officials saying "surely if we can put a man on the moon we can do this" is like saying "surely if we can put a man on the moon, we can put a man on the sun." Some things are not doable, no matter how many nerds you throw at it. You'd think that people in charge of, say, the healthcare of a nation, might at least recognize when they're too ignorant to understand the difference between the possible but difficult, and the impossible. Apparently not.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Software updates are seldom painless. The history of the Windows operating system is littered with stories of computers/programs bricked by auto-update patches and OS iterations. They're not much fun on the IT end either, especially when businesses depend on functioning computers/programs for pretty much everything. An enterprise-level OS upgrade can take days or weeks -- and that's not counting the aftershocks which continue for months after as every interdependent application finds new and exciting ways to clash with the upgraded system software. Days, weeks, months chewed up by an upgrade. It's horrible, but hey, at least you're still relatively free to step outside periodically and/or exit the building when you've had enough for one day. It could be much much worse. Take the example of Andrew. It was Saturday and he was woken up with a start by his mother. There were four officers at the front door and he was about to be arrested. "I’d only had four hours sleep and I’m only wearing gym shorts,” he recalled. “I’m thinking, what happened? I was completely confused.” Unbeknown to his parents, 24-year-old Andrew - not his real name - had recently finished a six-month drug programme after he was caught in possession of marijuana and ecstasy. Which is why he was so confused. It was his first offence and he had done the course as asked. A judge had then told him the case had been dismissed. “I did what I was supposed to." But the court’s new computer system had other ideas and Andrew was put into a police car and driven off to jail. The computer system is Odyssey, California's new case management software. So far, attempts to integrate it with the existing system have resulted in multiple rejections of the donor. If this had only resulted in a less smoothly-flowing bureaucracy, that would be one thing. Instead, it's ruining people's lives. The company behind it -- Tyler Technologies -- calls the transition "challenging." That's one way to put it -- a way that only those not adversely affected by the transition can put it. To those on the receiving end of a raft of new case management errors, the transition can more accurately be described as "nightmarish." In addition to the case described above, the upgrade has resulted in wrongful arrests, incorrectly extended sentences, and misdemeanor offenses being reclassified as felonies. Nothing on this list of problems could be considered a harmless error. The last one on the list could result in job hunters, prospective tenants, parents in custody battles, etc. being kicked to the curb when their moving violations show up in background check systems as serious felonies. On the plus [?] side, Odyssey's malfunctioning software has also managed to produce a few criminal justice "winners." Alameda County is not the only area to have struggled with Odyssey. Similar problems have been reported in Tennessee and also in Indiana - where prosecutors have had a perhaps more troubling issue of inmates being mistakenly released early. The software will continue to be upgraded and lives will be bricked. Those the software has determined need more time served or felonies added to their record are pretty much on their own. Alameda County public defender Brendon Woods is fielding as many cases as he can, but he seems to be one of the only ones interested in assisting victims of a "challenging" system upgrade. The county itself isn't offering anything to these victims and the software company certainly doesn't want to open itself up to liability by admitting any culpability in this debacle. The criminal justice system barely works. The last thing it needs is software that makes this even worse. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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UK police are experimenting with a new brute force technique to defeat cellphone encryption: Undercover surveillance officers trailed Yew and waited for him to unlock his phone to make a call - thereby disabling the encryption. One officer then rushed in to seize the phone from Yew's hand - just as would happen in a criminal mugging. As his colleagues restrained the suspect, the officer continually "swiped" through the phone's screens to prevent it from locking before they had downloaded its data. So, it's come to this: lawful mugging. Still, it's not a terrible solution to the problem. Sometimes the best methods are lo-tech, as anyone swinging a $5 Password Acquisition Tool can tell you. This method will work in the UK. It may not in the US. UK law enforcement would likely find compelling a suspect to unlock a device a long and possibly fruitless endeavor, but there's no Riley decision standing in the way of seizing/searching phones on the hoof (as it were). Courts here in the US have interpreted the Supreme Court's Riley decision in diverse ways, but a motion to suppress evidence might succeed if US law enforcement began engaging in this novel form of encryption circumvention. In one case, a judge found that simply opening a flip phone constituted a search under Riley. Keeping a phone "alive" until evidence can be retrieved from it might run afoul of the Fourth Amendment, even if the seizure itself is completely lawful. It's still a better idea than making encryption backdoors mandatory or requiring device manufacturers to make a second set of keys for the government. The solution isn't elegant but it works. And it will only work in certain circumstances, so there's not much potential for abuse. It might encourage rougher arrests than usual, if only to separate the cellphone from the suspect, but the small number of arrests where this process would work shouldn't result in a sharp uptick in excessive force deployment. This is a technique US law enforcement should definitely look into. While I'm sure most agencies would prefer a precedential court decision compelling decryption or a legislative mandate, this alternative would allow police officers to end up with fewer inaccessible phones. There are other benefits as well -- some that could positively affect community relations. The arrest of a suspect in conjunction with the seizure of potential evidence could make related searches far less destructive. With the suspect out of the way, searches of homes/places of business wouldn't necessitate a barrage of flashbang grenades and the tearing of new entryholes by predawn raiding parties in SWAT gear. Sure, this less violent approach to serving search warrants won't appeal to officers who find the real military too restrictive but still harbor a desire to carry a gun and pretend they're participants in a war. But that's actually a good thing. In addition, arrests of suspects out in the open should lower the chance of violent resistance. People tend to expect the arrival of police officers at their residence -- not so much when they're going about their daily, noncriminal business. If efforts to keep seized phones alive until a search warrant arrives (or: novel idea -- get one first!) adhere to the Riley decision, the "going dark" problem isn't quite as all-encompassing as it's frequently been portrayed. (Even without this method, the "threat" of phone encryption has been greatly overstated.) It's tough to believe "mugging" might be the lesser of law enforcement's desired anti-encryption evils, but that's the reality of the situation. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 6 days ago on techdirt
To get a general feel for European law enforcement encryption sentiment (so to speak), the European Union sent questionnaires to member countries, asking for details on what forms of encryption are encountered most frequently and what these agencies feel would be the best approach to tackling encrypted data going forward. Surprisingly, the EU received several responses and most have been published in full. (The list of PDFs/HTML versions can be found near the bottom of this page.) They were issued in response to a public records request by Rejo Zenger of Dutch digital rights group, Bits of Freedom. Security researcher Lukasz Olejnik went through the posted documents to find the highlights/lowlights of the submissions. Several countries responded to the EU's questionnaire, but only twelve of those made their answers public. (And, in the case of the UK and the Czech Republic, some answers were redacted.) Most responding agencies in most countries are running into the same encryption issues. Countries point to difficulty of tackling encrypted data, in particular: encrypted data at rest (using solutions such as TrueCrypt),encrypted data in transit (e.g. SSH, HTTPS, Tor), use of instant messengers such as Skype, WhatsApp, etc., and encrypted mobile devices Countries disclose they lack resources such as technology, money or personnel, to effectively fight cybercrime But not every country treats encryption "problems" the same way. A few didn't consider HTTPS to be an encryption form worth noting, perhaps because it doesn't cover the sort of data or communications they frequently target. Others, like agencies in Italy (in an ALL CAPS reply), aren't so much worried about encrypted data in transit as much as they are worried about very specific data at rest, located in very specific consumer devices. AS FOR OFFLINE ENCRYPTION, ONE MAIN PROBLEM IS WITH ONE OF THE MAJOR DEVICES COMPANY. Hmm. I wonder which "major devices company" that would be? It seems this same "devices company" also thwarts law enforcement's wiretap efforts... THERE ARE DIFFERENT TECNIQUE ADOPTED CASE BY CASE IN ORDER THE TRY TO DECRYPT THE INTERCEPTED DATA. ALSO USING THIRD PARTIES (PRIVATE INDUSTRIES/COMPANIES) RESOURCES. IN ADDITION THE MAIN IUSSES OFTEN CONCERN THE DIFFICULTY IN REMOTELY INSTALLING THE “WIRETAP TROJAN” ONTO SUSPECTS’ DEVICE, ESPECIALLY WITH REGARD TO ONE OF THE MAJOR BRAND. ...aaaand forensics efforts. THE MAIN IUSSES RESULT FROM THE TECHNICAL IMPOSSIBILITY OF DECRYPTING ONE OF THE MAJOR BRAND’S DEVICES. There seems to be no consensus on mandated encryption backdoors, but there are more than a few countries leaning that way. Estonia believes the problem is of a "technical nature," rather than one that should be solved through mandated backdoors. Belgium's submission flat-out states the country isn't interested in seeking mandated backdoors. A regulation to prohibit or to weaken encryption for telecommunication and digital services has to be ruled out, in order to protect privacy and business secrets. On the other end of the spectrum, Poland openly calls for deliberately weakened/compromised encryption. One of the most crucial aspect will be adopting new legislation that allows for acquisition of data stored in EU countries “in the cloud” without need to apply for MLAT. There is also need to encourage software/hardware manufactures to put some kind “backdoors” for LEA or to use only relatively weak cryptographic algorithms. The call for backdoors is echoed by Latvia and Italy. In between, there are several countries that allude vaguely to working in conjunction with tech companies to find some sort of balance between user security and law enforcement's desires. (Then there's Italy, which mostly seems interested in seeing Apple devices wiped from the face of the earth.) There are almost as many approaches as there are responding countries. We can only speculate on the contents and assertions made by countries that have refused to release their answers for "national security" reasons, but one would expect those with the most to "hide" would be more likely to expect citizens to give up their security for the good of the nation. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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This week we, like most other websites, had to re-register with the Copyright Office for DMCA safe harbor protection. Our most insightful comment of the week came in response to our post about this, where aerinai suggested this system should work both ways: So I have to register every 3 years for safe harbor protections... lets do the same thing for copyright! ... just saying... Next, we head to our post about the Internet Archive's plans to back itself up in Canada just in case Trump messes with it. A lengthy argument broke out over accusations that the fears around a Trump presidency are "so crazy it is becoming comical", and Roger Strong won second place for insightful by providing some context: a) It would have been "so crazy it is becoming comical" to suggest that President-elect Bush II would turn the country into a mass torture state. Or kidnap people by the hundreds from around the world - over 100 from EU soil alone - and hold them for years - some now halfway through their second decade - without trial. Or launch a pre-emptive war. That would last over a decade and only make things worse. Or that he'd do away with habeas corpus. b) It would have been "so crazy it is becoming comical" to suggest that many of the very people responsible for a), would be telling people that the NEXT winning candidate from their own party was an unstable loose cannon. c) It would have been "so crazy it is becoming comical" to imagine a winning candidate having openly bragged how he would punish the media for "negative" - meaning accurate - reporting. Openly and regularly pointing at the media during his rallies and declaring them the enemy and worse. d) It would have been "so crazy it is becoming comical" to imagine a winning candidate choosing the leader of a white supremacist fake news site to be his new Karl Rove. Nevertheless, here we are. With c) especially in mind, you're saying that it's "so crazy it is becoming comical" to take Trump at his word and based on his actions. For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start out with a comment from nasch that digs into some constitutional nuance to explain why non-citizens still have rights: The Constitution doesn't grant rights to the citizens of the US. To an extent it recognizes rights all people are considered to have (insert caveats about the time of the founding fathers), but primarily it specifies and limits the powers of the federal government. For example, the 1st doesn't say that US citizens have the right to freedom of religion, speech and assembly, it says the government may not make any laws abridging such rights. Next, after we noted that the ongoing election recount fight is making everyone involved look bad, Michael wasn't especially surprised: If you think the recounts make Clinton and Trump look terrible, you should have watched their campaigns. Over on the funny side, we start out on our post about border patrol's aggressive handling of a Canadian journalist, where one commenter suggested that it's probably best to avoid travelling to the US at all right now, leading Jeremy Lyman to win first place for funny by shooting down that solution: I dunno, not entering the US is suspicious behavior. CPB should probably investigate... In second place on the funny side, we've got another more flippant response to the accusations of "crazy" Trump worries, this time specifically to the question of whether we "sleep under your beds in fear now". One anonymous commenter had an answer: No, we're in our closets waiting for Obama to come take our guns... For editor's choice on the funny side, we start out on our story about some rightsholders brazenly referring to their trademark as a "lottery ticket", where crade found it hard to judge them too harshly: People get rich using patents this way left right and center.. So it's understandable they got confused. Finally, in response to a post raising concerns about the future of telecom megamergers under a Trump presidency, That One Guy defended the coming monopolies: Having to decide between being ripped off by Company A or being ripped off by Company B is hard, a totally unnecessary hassle for customers. Mergers between already massive companies are therefor absolutely pro-customer as they remove yet another road-block between US customers and their 'Best In The World' internet service, and as such should absolutely be allowed. It's all about how best to serve the public after all. That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Five Years Ago And so the SOPA/PIPA fight continued this week in 2011. The chorus of opposition grew larger: first the New York and LA Times both came out against the bills, then the Wall Street Journal joined them — though the world of smaller publications was way ahead of them; DNS providers, educators and best-selling author Barry Eisler all expressed their serious concerns, and even Stephen Colbert did a segment on the bills. On the flipside, an ex-RIAA boss was ignoring all criticism and claiming it's just an attempt to justify theft, the MPAA pretended to take concerns seriously but didn't, several tech companies that still supported the bills were being called out for it, NBC Universal was muscling partners into signing "grassroots" support of the bill, a very questionable consumer group released a very questionable pro-SOPA study, and Rep. Lamar Smith attempted to defend the bill by equating infringement with child pornography. Ten Years Ago This week in 2006, the explosion of YouTube was still causing all sorts of chaos. The misplaced blame game was extremely popular, obviously with copyright and infringement issues but also with weirder things like blaming YouTube for lockpicking videos. Google was trying to pay off entertainment companies to leave it alone, experts were grappling with the liability issues around linking and embedding, and the Wall Street Journal was tragically confused about the copyright issues involved. Meanwhile Wal-Mart was trying to get into the online video game itself, but not exactly knocking it out of the park. Fifteen Years Ago This week in 2001, the chaos was around audio, and there was a huge disconnect since new devices like the iPod did not work with new subscription services like Pressplay. Ringtones were becoming the next big thing while a judge with little technical understanding was trying to stop KaZaA, and smarter folks were already pointing out how the industry dropped the ball on digital music. Meanwhile, while Ed Felten was spared the aggression of the RIAA for publishing research on SDMI cracking, another court was upholding the ruling that banned publication of the DeCSS code. Two-Hundred And Six Years Ago I've mentioned before that I love a good hoax, and on November 27th, 1810 the city of London was witness to a classic. In order to win a bet that he could make any home in the city the most talked about address within a week, Theodore Hook sent out thousands of letters on behalf of a random house's owner, requesting services and deliveries. The results were utter chaos: At five o'clock in the morning, a sweep arrived to sweep the chimneys of Mrs Tottenham's house. The maid who answered the door informed him that no sweep had been requested, and that his services were not required. A few moments later another sweep presented himself, then another, and another; twelve in all. After the last of the sweeps had been sent away, a fleet of carts carrying large deliveries of coal began to arrive, followed by a series of cakemakers delivering large wedding cakes, then doctors, lawyers, vicars and priests summoned to minister to someone in the house they had been told was dying. Fishmongers, shoemakers, and over a dozen pianos were among the next to appear, along with "six stout men bearing an organ". Dignitaries, including the Governor of the Bank of England, the Duke of York, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Mayor of London also arrived. The narrow streets soon became severely congested with tradesmen and onlookers. Deliveries and visits continued until the early evening, bringing a large part of London to a standstill.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've written plenty of posts about police body cameras -- how useful they can be and how useless they often are. What should result in additional law enforcement accountability has been turned into a mostly-optional documentation system. The new tech and its accompanying guidelines have done very little to increase accountability. Body cameras are pretty much mainstream at this point, but when excessive force and/or misconduct are alleged, footage captured by police is often nonexistent. Officers disable recording equipment, delete footage, or simply claim the camera "malfunctioned." Some repeatedly "forget" to activate their cameras ahead of controversial arrests and interactions. But what can be done about it? So far, law enforcement agencies have done little but promise to create more policies and guidelines -- ones that can continue to be ignored by officers who'd rather not create a permanent record of their actions. There's been some discipline, but what little of it there is hasn't been very severe. And stories of repeated tampering with recording devices in some agencies suggests what is in place isn't much of a deterrent. The ACLU of Massachusetts has a suggestion: if missing/incomplete recordings are central to a prosecution or a civil rights lawsuit, a better deterrent might be to allow juries to impose evidentiary consequences for failures to record. From the ACLU's "No Tape, No Testimony" report [PDF]: This instruction would tell the jury that, if it finds that the police unreasonably failed to create or preserve a video of a police-civilian encounter, it can devalue an officer’s testimony and infer that the video would have helped the civilian. If the jury finds that the case involves bad faith, such as the outright sabotage of body cameras, then it should be instructed to disregard officer testimony altogether. This all tracks back to multiple lies told by officers that have been uncovered by cameras carried by citizens. In the Walter Scott shooting, the officer's narrative of a struggle over a Taser was rebutted by a cell phone recording that showed the officer shoot Scott in the back while he ran away from him and then dropping something that looked like the officer's Taser next to Scott's dead body. The ACLU's report lists several other shootings -- like Laquan McDonald's -- in which recordings directly contradicted official police reports. While this instruction may encourage some officers to record more questionable arrests and stops, it may also encourage more law enforcement agencies to unofficially instruct officers to hold off on writing reports until after they've reviewed recordings. If there's no way of salvaging the incident, recordings will probably continue to disappear, but at least the officer's testimony will disappear right along with it, should the jury decided the missing/incomplete recording was a "bad faith" effort. Officers have long relied on "our word against yours" to win testimonial battles. But if an officer cannot produce a recording of an encounter, lesser weight should be given to an "eyewitness" whose testimony could have easily been verified but who chose not to document the incident. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A couple weeks back, we wrote about a ridiculous and massively overbroad demand from the IRS that virtual currency exchange/online wallet host Coinbase turn over basically all info on basically all Coinbase users. They did this because they saw evidence of a single person using Bitcoin to avoid paying taxes. Coinbase expressed concern over this, but Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley didn't seem too concerned, and has granted the IRS's request by literally rubber stamping the DOJ's request. I know it's not all that uncommon for judges to accept "proposed orders" but it's still a bit disturbing to see it happen on something with potentially massive consequences. Coinbase has indicated that they're going to push back on this legally, but it's still quite unfortunate that the judge didn't seem all that concerned about this. While Coinbase says it expected the court to grant this order, and that "we look forward to opposing the DOJ's request in court," it's unfortunate how quick judges are to agree to these kinds of orders. Either way, this is going to be a case to follow.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Canada's attempt to force Canadian cable providers to deliver cheaper, more flexible cable TV bundles appears to be a comedy of errors. Last year, driven by user complaints, the CRTC passed rules requiring Canadian cable companies to provide a $25 so-called "skinny bundle" of discounted TV channels starting March 1 of this year, and the option to buy channels individually (a la carte) starting December 1 (aka this week). Companies responded by first pouting, then by offering new "discounted" TV bundles so layered with hidden fees, surcharges, and caveats as to be effectively useless. This week's deadline to offer a la carte TV channels doesn't appear to be going much better. Companies like Rogers, Shaw, and Bell are now allowing users the option to buy TV channels individually -- but they've again priced each channel high enough to make the option completely pointless. Under this new pricing paradigm, buying individual channels can cost you anything from $6 to $20 per channel. After having a little time to crunch the numbers, consumers were quick to complain to the BBC about the absurdity of the entire effort:"Turns out, to add CNN and CP24 individually, Spitz would pay $14 a month instead of $15. That's only a $1 savings, and her mother would lose a handful of extra channels included in the theme packs. "That's ludicrous; that's ridiculous," said Spitz. But some industry experts are not surprised by the pick and pay prices. That's because, they say, TV providers are for-profit companies, and their main objective is to protect the bottom line. "What did you really expect?" says telecom expert Gerry Wall.Incumbent Canadian TV providers, as you also might expect, insist that offering "discounted" service that really doesn't provide any discount is the height of value, and that the way they've always done things (read: offering you a bloated, expensive bundle of channels you don't actually watch) is the best way to continue to do things:"Rogers told CBC News that adding individual channels to a plan won't benefit everyone and that most customers instead opt for its bigger TV packages "which offer great value." It said the cable company's standalone channel pricing is "reasonable and competitive."Part of the problem is that the CRTC doesn't really have the authority or willingness to fully regulate rates, so it's demanding less expensive options for consumers -- but isn't really willing (or in some instances able) to hold companies accountable when they tap dance around the requirements. In a March interview with The Globe and Mail, CRTC boss Jean-Pierre Blais tried to downplay public criticism of the effort (and the CRTC's unwillingness to follow through) by claiming the goal was never to lower soaring cable bills:"People may have thought, mistakenly, that the CRTC was going to reduce everybody’s cable bills – that’s not what we promised. We said we’re going to give you more choice,” Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, said in an interview."But what people actually got was the illusion of more choice under what appears to just be regulation theater. Given the fact that streaming video competition (and by proxy lower prices and more choices) will be arriving whether these cable companies like it or not, the CRTC's effort could just be a giant waste of time. A better tack for regulators would be to focus not on trying to drag legacy TV kicking and screaming into the modern era, but to focus on improving broadband competition and obstacles (usage caps) to the rise of cheaper, better, and more flexible streaming TV alternatives.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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One of the longest-running, and most extraordinary, sagas on Techdirt concerns the island of Antigua. Over 13 years ago, the country filed a complaint at the World Trade Organization (WTO) over the US ban on online gambling, which Antigua said violated a trade agreement between the two countries. Long story short, the WTO not only agreed, but said that the Caribbean country could ignore US copyrights, and set up a WTO-authorized pirate site to obtain the $21 million in WTO sanctions that the US was refusing to pay as compensation for blocking Antigua's online gambling sites. In 2013, Antigua was still saying it was definitely going to do this if it couldn't come to some agreement with the US on the matter, and the US was still refusing to settle. Three years later, Antigua -- officially known as Antigua and Barbuda -- has just told a meeting of the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) the following: Antigua and Barbuda now informs the DSB that, if an appropriate and beneficial settlement is not reached with the US by year-end, the government will be compelled to take action to enforce the suspension of copyright on the sale of US intellectual property, consistent with the award of the DSB. That's from a copy of Antigua's statement (pdf), obtained by IP Watch. The spokesperson claims the country has suffered serious losses as a result of the US gambling ban: Over that entire 12-year period, my small country with a Gross Domestic Product of just $1 billion has been deprived of trade revenues which now exceed $250 million. The statement points out that for the US, $250 million represents just 0.0003% of its annual GDP, and that over the last 12 years, the US has enjoyed a trade surplus of $1 billion with Antigua. Moreover: While the US continues to act in contradiction of the rulings and recommendations stipulated by DSB concerning my country, it remains the most active user of the institution's Dispute Settlement System. As a result of the continuing US intransigence, Antigua feels it has no choice but to take the momentous step of absolutely definitely setting up that WTO-authorized piracy site -- just like the last time it said that. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Thanks to the EFF's efforts, another set of National Security Letters have been published and their recipient freed to discuss them. CREDO Mobile received two NSLs in 2013 -- both accompanied with the usual indefinite gag order. The NSLs [PDF 1] [PDF 2] requested a wealth of data on three of CREDO's customers -- including all call records, financial information (credit cards used, etc.), and personal information (name, address, etc.) -- dating back to April 2008. CREDO challenged the constitutionality of the indefinite gag orders as well as the constitutionality of the NSLs themselves. “A founding principle of CREDO is to fight for progressive causes we believe in, and we believe that NSLs are unconstitutional. These letters, and the gag orders that came with them, infringed our free speech rights, blocking us from talking to our members about them or discussing our experience while lawmakers debated NSL reform,” said Ray Morris, CREDO CEO. “We were proud to fight these NSLs all these years, and now we are proud to publish the letters and take full part in the ensuing debate.” CREDO's challenge to the gag order was upheld [PDF] by a federal judge in March, who struck it down when the FBI failed to show a need for the continued secrecy. This decision was held pending the FBI's appeal, but the government apparently decided this wasn't a battle it wanted to fight and dropped its appeal of the court's order. The government's decision to drop the appeal highlights one of the (many) problems with NSLs. These are self-issued administrative orders subject to very little, if any, oversight. The FBI can issue as many of these as it wants without ever having to get a judge involved. Every one of these arrives with an indefinite gag order attached, forcing recipients to lawyer up if they want to challenge the government's demands for secrecy. The government clearly felt it couldn't demonstrate why this gag order should still be in place. But the government doesn't have to justify its demands for secrecy at the point the NSL is issued. It only needs to do this if challenged in court. While some judges have expressed an interest in periodic reviews of NSLs to determine the need for ongoing secrecy, these conclusions are the exception rather than the rule. That judges are the ones making this determination is another part of the problem. In response to the USA Freedom Act, the DOJ instituted a policy requiring a "periodic" review of issued NSLs. Unfortunately, that's all it does. There's no definition attached to "periodic," which means the review could happen every few years… or never. The constitutionality of the orders themselves should still be actively challenged. While much of what is sought with these falls under the very generous definition of "third party records," the lack of any oversight or judicial review makes these the go-to tool for the FBI -- which has been known to issue NSLs when its warrant requests are turned down by federal courts. Throw an indefinite gag order on it, and the FBI can pretty much ensure complete compliance from recipients, whose only option is to fight an often-futile legal battle against the government. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 8 days ago on techdirt
As we mentioned last month, the Copyright Office -- despite being warned this was a bad idea -- has decided to implement a brand new system for websites to register DMCA agents, and has done so in a way that will undoubtedly fuck over many websites. It's already ridiculous enough that in order to be fully protected under the DMCA's safe harbor rules (that say you're not liable if someone posts infringing material to your website), you need to register a designated "DMCA agent" with the Copyright Office. The idea behind this is that by registering an agent, copyright holders will be able to look up who to send a takedown notice to. And, sure, that makes sense, but remember that this is the same Copyright Office that supports not requiring copyright holders to register their works, meaning that there may not be any legitimate way to contact copyright holders back. The reason for the new system is that the old system was just ridiculous -- on that everyone can agree. You had to fill out a paper form, sign it, and send it in. The Copyright Office has been way behind on digitizing everything, so moving to a web based system is a good thing. Also, the old system required payment of over $100, while the new one is just $6. That's all good. The problem is twofold: first, the Copyright Office has said that it is throwing out all the old registrations, and if you want to retain your safe harbors, you need to re-register. There's a grace period through the end of next year, but plenty of sites who don't follow the Copyright Office's every move are going to miss this, and will no longer have an officially registered agent with the Copyright Office (it's possible that, should this issue go to court, a platform could reasonably argue that it still did meet the statutory requirements in the original registration, but why force site owners through that hoop in the first place). The second problem, is that this new system will toss out records every three years, so if you forget to renew, you once again can lose your legal safe harbors. This puts tons of websites at serious risk, removing key protections and opening them up to lawsuits from copyright trolls. Either way, the Copyright Office opened the doors on the new system yesterday, and so I went ahead and re-registered Techdirt. And, let's just say, the Copyright Office has a reputation for being technically clueless, and boy, does it live up to that reputation with its new system -- though, to be fair, as the Copyright Office's General Counsel reminded me on Twitter, it's actually the Library of Congress that built the system. First off, to register a new agent, you need to first register with the Copyright Office's system. As Eric Goldman points out, the system is not designed for individuals or sole proprietorships, even though those people should be able to get DMCA safe harbor protections as well. Specifically, to register, it requires an organization name and a "second contact" name and information. I'm not sure what individuals should do, other than maybe make something up -- though, before you even get started, the system pops up a warning suggesting that you may face criminal charges under the CFAA if you do anything wrong (while it means if you try to hack the system, the wording may confuse many people not familiar with the law). Nice touch. Oh, and then there's the password system. Like many people, I use a password manager, which also will generate strong passwords for you. I went through the process of filling out my info, and generated a strong password... and I got back an error message. It seems that the Copyright Office has taken what used to be considered best practices, and then took it to an insane extreme: First of all, the US government, in the form of NIST, recently released new guidelines for password policies for any US government websites. And the Copyright Office ignores them, because whoever designed the new DMCA system seems to not give a shit and not be even remotely aware of good security practices these days. Here's what the new rules say: No composition rules. What this means is, no more rules that force you to use particular characters or combinations, like those daunting conditions on some password reset pages that say, “Your password must contain one lowercase letter, one uppercase letter, one number, four symbols but not &%#@_, and the surname of at least one astronaut.” Let people choose freely, and encourage longer phrases instead of hard-to-remember passwords or illusory complexity such as pA55w+rd. So, yeah, nice job Copyright Office for ignoring what you're supposed to do. Second, even if those rules did make sense, by lumping together all of them, and then adding the absolutely ridiculous and bad security practice of saying "must not have any repeated letters, numbers, or special characters," you actually reduce randomness and make passwords less secure. This is just bad security. To deal with this rule, I generated a much longer password, and then manually went through and removed any repeated letters, numbers or special characters, and made sure that all of the other rules were met. They were. I hit submit. The system rejected it, and gave me the exact same error message. I tried again. Same problem. I kept trying things for about 20 minutes until I figured out what the problem was. You see above, where it says "and special character "!@#$%^&*()""? Well, in my first attempt at a password I had two special characters: ? and >. I incorrectly assumed that when they say "special character" they mean any special character on the keyboard, and not just those limited to the ones above the number line on your keyboard. Once I realized that might be the issue, I still had a problem. And that's because my new password had " as a special character. I incorrectly assumed that was okay because it's in that list above, right? Except, no, it's not. It's just put around those symbols for no reason at all except to fool people. It would be nice if the error message actually told you that you could only use those characters and that the " wasn't included. Would have saved me a lot of time. Once I finally finished that, the system sent me a confirmation/validation email (good), which I used to confirm my email and log into the system... only to discover that everything I had just done... was not actually registering a DMCA agent. It was just to register your account to use the Copyright Office's DMCA system. So I had to then go and fill out another form to register our DMCA agent (and I won't even get into the fact that once you've activated your account, the message telling you to "click here" to login to designate an agent makes it so that it's not at all where to actually click -- great design guys!). Finally, once I'm all registered, and despite the fact that I'm very clearly registered in the United States, the system says I'm in Canada. Because, apparently, the genius IT staff thinks that the "CA", which everywhere else means California, means Canada in their own system. Because whatever, nothing matters. So, yes, I eventually paid my $6 and got registered, but lots of people won't and lots of sites are now going to expose themselves to bogus lawsuits. And for those who do get through this process, you may end up in Canada. So anyway, off we go to this new era, in which websites are much more at risk of losing their safe harbor protections, and to make it more fun, the system you need to use to register yourself is buggy as hell with a bunch of bad design practices. It's almost as if they want websites to lose their safe harbors. Considering that the key role of the Copyright Office is to register stuff (the boss of the office is literally called "The Register"), it seems fairly ridiculous that they make it so difficult to register DMCA agents, and then force renewal every three years (while at the same time insisting that any renewal requirement for copyright holders would go against the natural order of things and bring famine and pestilence upon the land).Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A whole lot of computing power is packed into VoCore2 Mini Linux Computer, an open source Linux computer and fully functional wireless router that is smaller than a coin. The applications of this tiny computer are virtually endless; use it as a VPN gateway to secure your network, an AirPlay music streaming station, and much more. You can write code for the VoCore 2 in C, Java, Python, Ruby, JavaScript, and more to enhance its functions. Plug in a microSD card to the included Ultimate Dock and create a personal cloud server. The VoCore2 + Ultimate Dock are on sale now for just $43. 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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We've noted several times that the cable industry is somewhat shielded from the rise of cord cutting because of its growing monopoly over broadband. You see, as AT&T and Verizon give up on unwanted DSL customers they don't want to upgrade (as part of a pivot into content and ads), there are now huge swaths of the country where users really only have one option for broadband above 25 Mbps: cable. Users fleeing neglected DSL lines sign up for cable, and because TV bundled with broadband is cheaper than broadband alone, users sign up for TV service they may not even want. As this cable monopoly grows, these cable companies have less incentive than ever to compete on price across more than half of their footprint. And with ISPs literally writing state laws preventing public/private or community broadband, no market forces exist to prevent them from expanding the application of entirely unnecessary usage caps and overage fees. Most analyses overlook this, instead focusing on the scattered rise of Google Fiber and other gigabit deployments in highly-select areas. One Wall Street analyst this week highlighted just how cushioned a company like Comcast really is when it comes to cord cutting. MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett crunched the numbers and found that once you account for the higher costs you'll have to pay for buying broadband standalone, Comcast only really loses about $5.50 per month when a user cuts the TV cord:"When a Comcast customer drops video, the MSO loses about $38 in contribution margin, Moffett estimates. But that customer ends up paying an extra $25 a month more for broadband when their bundling discount goes away. "Now, further suppose that half of those customers opt to upgrade to a higher speed tier at an average premium of $15 per month (implying a probability-weighted $7.50 benefit per cord-cutter)." The difference comes to $5.50.Moffett's analysis isn't perfect and Comcast's losses are likely higher. He comes to that $5.50 number by assuming the departing customer upgrades to a faster speed, which really isn't necessary just for streaming Netflix. And it's not clear he's included the revenues Comcast makes on households paying rental fees for numerous cable boxes, or the fees Comcast hides below the line (like the broadcast TV fee). Still, the point remains that Comcast is arguably shielded from cord cutting because of the high prices it charges for broadband -- only made possible by limited broadband competition. And Moffett doesn't even touch on the fact that Comcast can further recoup any cord cutting losses via usage caps and overage fees, something Moffett and other investors have long embraced given it lets an ISP charge significantly more money for the exact same service. Nor does Moffett highlight how Comcast further benefits by counting all competitor streaming traffic against the cap, while it's own streaming video service remains cap exempt. All told, cable providers are now adding 99% of the quarterly net additions for new broadband subcribers each quarter, at the same time that the sector is consolidating at an incredible rate. And these companies continue to have almost comical control over state legislatures, often allowing them to literally write wish-list legislation further insulating them from competitive harm. And time and time again the industry, and the policy folks it employs en masse to pollute public discourse, intentionally conflate enabling this protectionist dysfunction as the "deregulation of free markets" (often with no penalty from an unskeptical press). So yes, if you live in a major, relatively-affluent city or upscale broadband development your broadband options may be improving, if you're lucky. But across more than half of the country, users are actually seeing less broadband competition than ever before. And with Trump listening to telecom advisors that don't believe monopolies exist and are keen on gutting net neutrality and all regulatory oversight of said non-existing monopolies, you're potentially talking about millions of consumers looking at higher prices and worse customer service than ever before. The solution, again, is fighting for better broadband on the local level. If you want better broadband, you need to get behind the push to eliminate protectionist state laws that restrict towns and cities from making local broadband infrastructure decisions for themselves. These laws, passed in roughly 20 states, not only prohibit towns and cities from building their own networks (even in cases where nobody else will), but they often hinder the kind of public/private partnerships that are becoming necessary to shore up competitive gaps caused by the broadband market failure the industry will tell you doesn't exist.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've been a lot more skeptical than most about all the claims of "Russian interference" with the US Presidential election this year. While I don't doubt there was some effort to do something, blaming Russia is such an easy scapegoat. Still, plenty of people insist that it's true, including those who at least should have a fair bit of insight into what actually happened. To me, the bigger issue is that attribution in many of these things is a lot more difficult than most people make it out to be. Either way, it's quite noteworthy that seven Senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee have asked President Obama to declassify the evidence pointing to Russia and detailing what Russia actually did to attempt to interfere with the election. The Senators sent a very simple letter, which was released publicly, noting that a classified letter with a lot more details was also sent. Here's the entire text of the publicly released letter: Dear Mr. President: We believe there is additional information concerning the Russian Government and the U.S. election that should be declassified and released to the public. We are conveying specifics through classified channels. Thank you for your attention to this important matter. Of course, it needs to be noted that this will clearly be seen as a partisan effort. Of the seven Senators who signed on to the letter, six are Democrats, and the other, Senator Angus King, is an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats. Basically it's all of the Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee except for Dianne Feinstein and Harry Reid. So, it's easy for some to spin this as a case of sour grapes about the Democrats not winning the election, and even the idea that they're now clinging to stories of Russian interference to explain what happened. But... that spin holds somewhat less weight when you look at the details. First off, the letter itself was put together by Senator Ron Wyden. And, yes, his name comes up a lot around here, but that's because he has a pretty long history of being right on lots and lots of stuff. And that's especially true when Wyden says that there's some secret info that the public deserves to know about. He's been right on that every single time he's said it. So the track record is there. When Wyden says the public deserves to know something, pay attention. The second thing that provides more confidence here is that this isn't just random conspiracy theories about "rigged" voting or whatever that some have been spewing. This is a specific request for more transparency by asking for specific information to be released to the public -- specific information that the Senate Intelligence Committee members have seen. Given that, it seems worth paying attention to -- and at least asking why the President won't declassify such information? If there really is such strong evidence, why not reveal it? So far, all of the evidence pointing to Russia has been fairly weak, and it feels a bit like groupthink that everyone just insists it's true. But it's entirely possible (and perhaps now, probable) that the intelligence community has some more serious evidence. And, if that's the case, it seems worth sharing with the public even if you were happy with the outcome of the election. If Russia really did "interfere" somehow in the election, the public deserves to know the details of it.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Could President Obama actually declassify and release the full 6,800 page report on the massive failures of the CIA's torture program from a decade ago? While it seems unlikely, Senator Dianne Feinstein is urging the President to release the document, fearing that the massive report may disappear into the memory hole soon. Some background: While Feinstein has been historically awful on basically anything having to do with reining in the US intelligence community, the one area that really seemed to get her attention and raise concerns was the CIA's torture regime. She assigned Senate Intelligence Committee staffers to work on a massive and detailed report on the CIA's torture program after it came out that a key official involved in the program had deliberated deleted videotape evidence about the program. The research and writing of the report went on for years and cost millions of dollars, and then resulted in another big fight over releasing a heavily redacted version of just the executive summary of the report (not to mention that the CIA also broke into the staffers' computers after it realized it had accidentally given the staffers a really damning document). The fight over releasing the paper was really, really ridiculous. There were fights over what ridiculous things to redact, and then the White House put on a full court press against releasing the document, insisting that publicly releasing even a heavily redacted executive summary would inspire terrorist attacks. Even after an agreement was reached on the redactions, John Kerry still tried to block the release, again warning of potential attacks in response. Eventually the heavily redacted executive summary was released, revealing what many had suspected: the CIA's torture program was a complete waste, providing nothing in terms of valuable intelligence, and also involved the CIA lying to Congress. Since then, though, there have been ongoing battles over the report. Also revealed: what a bunch of bullshit the claims were that the release of the report would inspire new attacks. It's been two years and there's no evidence the report inspired any hatred beyond what was already present. While Feinstein made sure copies of the full report were delivered to various parts of the executive branch, insisting that the report should be read so that we don't repeat the mistakes of the past, most of them claim they never read it and also that there was nothing to learn from it. Then, after Senator Richard Burr took over the Senate Intelligence Committee he began to demand that the various copies of the report all be returned so they could be completely destroyed, erasing all of that evidence and reporting on the CIA's torture program. The CIA claims it "accidentally" deleted one of its own copies. The ACLU tried to FOIA the full document but was rejected... and the courts refused to force the government to release the document. There's every indication that a President Trump would have zero interest in releasing such a report, and probably would support the destruction of the remaining copies. And, because of that, it appears that Senator Feinstein is calling on the President to declassify the whole thing. I think people need to see the full facts of the report. I believe they stand on their own. And I think it's very important, particularly since there is discussion or talk or allegations about - well, we're going to resume waterboarding, and, yes, we can torture people. As the report at NPR notes, during the campaign, Trump eagerly endorsed bringing back the torture program, specifically calling out waterboarding and suggesting going even further than that. Once again, here's an opportunity for President Obama to actually do something that would make a powerful statement before handing over the White House. Not only would it help provide tremendous transparency into a shameful episode in our very recent history -- a shameful episode that is at great risk of being repeated -- it would also prevent the report from being totally destroyed. As the NPR piece notes, Senator Burr is still fighting to get back the document to destroy it. That means there's a very good chance that if President Obama doesn't get the full torture report declassified, it will disappear forever. Of course, given the White House's (ridiculous) attempts to block the release of the exec summary, combined with Obama's terrible track record in letting the intelligence community get away with all sorts of stuff, I wouldn't hold my breath.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed [PDF] the dismissal of a copyright infringement suit brought against Electronic Arts by Robin Antonick, a programmer who worked on the Apple II version of the game Madden back in the mid-80s. Antonick was locked out of royalties for other versions of the game by the software company, but alleged Electronic Arts did nothing more than copy his code when porting it to other platforms -- creating a "derivative work" that he was supposedly entitled to collect royalties on. Antonick might have had a case. But while allegations are nice… In 2011, Antonick brought this diversity action against EA, seeking contract damages in the form of unpaid royalties for Sega Madden and Super Nintendo Madden. [...] Antonick produced evidence that Park Place was rushed and inadequately staffed, and argued that it copied his code to meet the demanding deadline for the first Sega Madden. Antonick’s expert, Michael Barr, opined that Sega Madden was substantially similar to certain elements of Apple II Madden. In particular, Barr opined that the games had similar formations, plays, play numberings, and player ratings; a similar, disproportionately wide field; a similar eight-point directional system; and similar variable names, including variables that misspelled “scrimmage.” …evidence is better. But neither the source code for Apple II Madden—the “Work”— nor the source code of any allegedly infringing works were introduced into evidence. Nor were images of the games at issue introduced. Not that evidence (or a lack thereof) apparently mattered to the jury. It found that EA had created a derivative work with its Sega version of Madden, but the court found (post-verdict) that Antonick had not produced any evidence clearly pointing to copyright infringement. Without that evidence, Antonick is out of luck when it comes to his contract/royalty claims. Antonick tried to route around this obstacle by claiming EA had both the opportunity and the motive to copy his work. On top of that, he tried to pursue this as a "look and feel" case while still relying on the supposedly-copied code as the basis for his claims. The Ninth Circuit found these arguments -- and Antonick's witness -- unpersuasive. [T]he lay testimony was about how the games appeared, not how they were coded—and Antonick does not assert a copyright interest in Apple II Madden’s audiovisual appearance, only in its coding. Antonick argues that copying was shown by testimony of Michael Kawahara, an Apple II Madden assistant producer. When asked whether he recognized any of the plays in Sega Madden from Apple II Madden, Kawahara answered affirmatively, stating that “[it] was – well, since the interface was – well, it was the same as we used in the Apple II. It was very easy to look at all of the plays in the Genesis version and they looked identical . . . to the original Apple II version.” This comment, however, does not establish that the source code for the two games were substantially similar. Kawahara had no programming responsibilities for Apple II Madden; did not understand the Apple II Madden code; did not see the Sega Madden code; and admitted that he had no knowledge about differences in the games’ codes. A statement entered into evidence by the plaintiff -- introduced to back up Antonick's claim about EA's motive/opportunity to copy the source code -- only made the case weaker. Antonick also cites a statement by Richard Hilleman, an EA representative, that it was “possible” he had told an interviewer that “the Sega game took the system’s approach from Mr. Antonick’s game and just simply put a different aesthetic on top of it.” This is an area that often trips up those deeply reliant on IP protections but surprisingly uninformed about what those protections actually cover. The Appeals Court straightens out this popular misconception. But, an “approach” is an idea that cannot be copyrighted—only its expression in code is protectable—and Sega Madden could have used Apple II Madden’s “approach” to football video games without violating the copyright laws. That's the minor failure of the suit -- mistaking ideas for expression. The ultimate failure is Antonick's inability to back up his assertions with actual evidence. Infringement claims with no evidence presented pushed Antonick into resorting to "look and feel" claims, which are notoriously difficult to turn into courtroom victories. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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When you cover enough trademark disputes, you come to expect a fairly typical pattern to them. Entity X bullies entity Y over a vaguely similar use of a mark that often times is overly broad or generic, and then there is either a capitulation to the bullying, a settlement, or the rare instance of a trial that results in an actual ruling. The outcomes aren't typically favorable for those of us that think trademark law has been pushed beyond its original intent, but the pattern persists. But every once in a while, you find a zebra amidst the thundering hooves of horses. Such is the case with a very strange dispute currently going on between Iceland Foods, a foodstuffs retailer, and Iceland, the island nation between Greenland and the rest of Europe. Due to the retailer's aggressive protection of its trademark, which consists of a generic term preceeded by the name of a country, Iceland has petitioned to revoke the trademark Iceland Foods has on its name for all of Europe. Iceland is challenging Iceland Foods’ exclusive ownership of the European-wide trademark registration for the word Iceland, which it says is preventing the country’s companies from promoting goods and services abroad. The Icelandic government claims the supermarket has “aggressively pursued” and won multiple cases against companies that use the word Iceland as part of its trademark, “even in cases when the products and services do not compete”. If true, it makes sense for the government of Iceland to protect the interests of its citizens from such bullying. The larger point of this, however, is that the absurdity of granting a trademark, for all of Europe no less, to a single company on the name of a country forces a dispute where there should not be one. While we could spend time analyzing if Iceland Foods is being too aggressive in its trademark protectionism, or whether the Icelandic government is trying to bully the retailer back with threats over the trademark being removed, we should instead just spend our time trying to figure out who approved this trademark in the first place and then fire that person. But overly broad or generic trademarks don't qualify as zebra stripes in a trademark story. Having a trademark holder send a delegation to a national government to try to work something out, however, probably does. The supermarket’s founder and chief executive, Malcolm Walker, said on Tuesday: “A high-level delegation from Iceland [Foods] is preparing to fly to Reykjavik this week to begin negotiations, and we very much hope for a positive response and an early resolution of this issue.” The retailer’s company secretary and legal director, Duncan Vaughan, will be leading the delegation in the next few days, but it will not include Walker. Walker said: “We registered Iceland as our company name in 1970 and we have coexisted with the country called Iceland very happily ever since. They have made no contact with us to raise any concerns about trademark issues since 2012. We have no desire whatsoever to stand in the way of Iceland the country making use of their own name to promote their own products, so long as it does not conflict or cause confusion with our own business. I am sure there is ample scope for an agreement that will allow both parties to continue to live and work amicably alongside each other.” If that all seems quite congenial, it's likely because the retailer knows how ridiculous it is that it has this trademark to begin with. The ridiculous scenario in which a food company sends emmissaries to a national government to negotiate the continued monopolistic use of that nation's name is fully brought to you by a European Union IP Office in need of a severe attitude correction. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The amendments to Rule 41 are now law, thanks to Sen. John Cornyn, who prevented bills opposing the immediate adoption of the changes from being debated. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Chris Coons (D-Del) took to the floor and unsuccessfully asked for unanimous consent to either pass or formally vote on three bills to delay or prevent updates to the process used by law enforcement to get a warrant to hack suspects' computers. “We simply can’t give unlimited power for unlimited hacking,” Daines argued. [...] But the bid to prevent the imminent changes to Rule 41 ended quickly. After Wyden spoke, Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) immediately objected to all three bills, without waiting to hear from Coons and Daines. But Cornyn alone can't be blamed for this outcome. A vast majority of senators did nothing to prevent the proposed changes from becoming law -- even though the decision has been in their hands since the Supreme Court's approval in April. The FBI and others will be able to take advantage of the removal of jurisdictional limits to search computers anywhere in the world using a single warrant issued by a magistrate judge. It will also be granted the same power for use in the disruption of botnets -- in essence, searches/seizures of devices owned by US citizens suspected of no wrongdoing. Cornyn, who prevented any debate over the "updates" to Rule 41, seems closely aligned with the DOJ's views -- that these changes will have "little effect" on civil liberties because the FBI, etc. "will still have to get a warrant." Sure, warrants are still involved, but the scope of what can be accessed with a single warrant has been expanded greatly. And the DOJ has yet to explain how it's going to prevent law enforcement agencies from shopping around for the most compliant magistrates, now that they're not required to perform searches in the issuing court's jurisdiction. The DOJ also hasn't adequately explained what sort of notification process it will use when performing its botnet cleanups. What it has done, however, is issue a statement saying the ends justify the means. In an effort to address concerns, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell wrote a blog post this week arguing that the benefits given to authorities from the rule changes outweighed any potential for "unintended harm." The DOJ wanted fewer restrictions, more power, and the opportunity to treat any appearance of anonymization software as an excuse to deploy these newly-granted powers. The Senate -- for the most part -- gave it everything it wanted by doing nothing at all to stop it. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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You might recall that earlier this year there was a massive backlash against Facebook for its often clumsy attempts to try and dominate emerging developing nation ad markets through what many saw as bogus altruism. The entire fracas bubbled over in India, where regulators banned Facebook's attempt to create a sort of zero-rated, net neutrality-violating walled garden of Facebook-curated content under the pretense of helping the nation's farmers. Facebook didn't help itself by trying to drum up fake support for its initiatives while labeling those worried about the plan as extremists. Under the original idea, low-income families got access to a limited crop of Facebook-approved content; sort of a glorified AOL for poor people. However, net neutrality advocates and critics like Mozilla were (justly) concerned with this giving Facebook too much power over content, so they consistently argued that if Facebook was so desperately interested in helping the poor -- the company and its Internet.org initiative should focus on providing actual broadband connectivity. Fast forward to this week, and Facebook appears to have dusted off its trousers and is preparing to try again. The company's Internet.org website this week announced that it would be bringing something called "Express WiFi" to India. The website is almost hysterically short on details, only offering explanations like this:"With Express Wifi, we’re working with carriers, internet service providers, and local entrepreneurs to help expand connectivity to underserved locations around the world. We’re currently live in India, and are expanding to other regions soon." Facebook not only isn't really explaining what Express WiFi is, they're not saying how much it costs, where it's available, or giving even the slightest technical explanation of how the system and software works. It could actually be a good thing. Or it might be terrible. No one can actually say based on the little info provided. The end result has been oodles of articles with promotional photos like this one highlighting Facebook's incredible altruism and showcasing Zuck as a man of the people. But not a single one could be bothered to explain how this new initiative differs from Facebook's last, arguably bungled Free Basics effort. It took a little digging, but the company provided this still relatively ambiguous statement on Express WiFi:Currently we are working with ISP and operator partners to test Express Wi-Fi with public Wi-Fi deployments in multiple pilot sites. This solution empowers ISPs, operators, and local entrepreneur retailers to offer quality internet access to their village, town or region. Express Wi-Fi customers can purchase fast, reliable and affordable data packs via digital vouchers to access the Internet on the Express Wi-Fi network. We focus on building a sustainable economic model for all stakeholders involved, so that local retailer entrepreneurs, ISPs, operators, and Facebook can continue to invest in and operate lasting connectivity. We believe a sustainable economic model is the one which can scale to bring all of India online.That's still kind of murky, and Facebook's refusal to explain precisely how this system will work (and just what its software at the heart of the initiative does, collects or delivers) raises a few warning flags, since you'd think Facebook would want to clearly ease the minds of net neutrality activists in India. Still, at least on the surface, it appears that Facebook may have actually listened to its critics that pointed out the best way to bring the internet to the poor -- is to actually bring the internet to the poor. Quite a novel idea.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Albert Gidari of Just Security/Center for Internet and Society has been looking into the US Courts' wiretap reports for 2014 and 2015. The problem with these reports is that nothing adds up. As he wrote for Just Security last year, there's a huge discrepancy between the numbers reported by the US Courts Administrative Office and those reported by the service providers complying with the orders. These numbers should be much closer than they are. If a wiretap is issued by a court, then the recipient service provider should report being served with one wiretap order. But that's not what has happened. The US Courts AO reported 3,554 federal and state wiretap orders in 2014. Service providers, however, reported receiving 10,712 wiretap orders for that same year. As Gidari pointed out in 2015 (examining the 2014 wiretap report), there's not much that explains this discrepancy. The Wiretap Report says “1,532 extensions were requested and authorized in 2014, a decrease of 28 percent.” So even if half of the carrier reported orders were extended once and then treated as separate orders in the carriers’ transparency reports (the Wiretap Report would treat an extended order a single order), the numbers are still off by more than two­fold. The same goes for orders that expired after the end of the reporting period. As Gidari notes, anything not counted by the courts the previous year would show up on next year's report and be negated by the lack of a new order on service providers' reports. The 2015 Wiretap Report is no better. And the gap appears to be increasing. The AO now reports that 4,148 wiretaps were authorized in 2015, a 17% increase over 2014. Twentysix of those authorized wiretaps apparently were never installed, and therefore probably do not appear in provider transparency reports. The four major carriers (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile) reported a total of 11,633 wiretaps in 2015. Thus, provider numbers reflected an increase in surveillance as well, but only by about 8%. So the three-fold delta from 2014 remains while the actual number of wiretaps reported by providers only increased half as much as the percentage increase reported by the AO. That is hard to explain. As transparency reports from carriers and service providers become even more detailed, the gap in reporting becomes even harder to explain. It could be that carriers count each wiretap installed as another instance, even if it's a dozen accounts targeted with a single order. It could be that, but it's highly unlikely. Facebook -- one of the more recent additions to wiretap reporting -- states it this way in its transparency report. Facebook reported that it received 296 wiretap orders that affected 399 user accounts in 2015. While companies are moving towards greater transparency, the US court system seems to be stuck in the same place. There's really only one way to explain this gap containing thousands of "missing" wiretap orders: underreporting by the those handing in numbers to the Administrative Office. Considering the huge potential for misuse and abuse, this apparent underreporting isn't acceptable. The Administrative Office is investigating, but so far has yet to report any results from its digging. Once again, it seems a reporting process ordered by Congress but left to another agency to enforce (with zero consequences for noncompliance) is resulting in discrepancies between the "official" numbers and those reported by the private sector. It looks and feels just like the FBI's collection of officer-involved shootings: incomplete, inaccurate, and wholly dependent on government entities self-reporting data they'd rather not make public. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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President-elect Donald Trump's promise to "drain the DC swamp" has become a bit of a running gag as his administration plugs a wide variety of lobbyists and cronies into key cabinet positions. Telecom is certainly no exception, with Trump appointing a number of telecom sector lobbyists and allies to guide telecom policy and help select a new FCC boss. One of these picks doesn't believe telecom monopolies exist. None of them can actually admit the broadband market isn't competitive. And all of them have made it abundantly clear that they intend to roll back net neutrality and effectively gut the FCC from the inside out. Trump completed a telecom sector trifecta of anti-net neutrality advisors this week, with the selection of American Enterprise Institute think tanker Roslyn Layton. Layton joins Jeffrey Eisenach (a long-standing Verizon consultant) and Mark Jamison (a former Sprint lobbyist) to form a perfect circle of industry allies -- all of whom are on record opposing not only net neutrality, but nearly every FCC effort to make the broadband sector more competitive. All three have been visiting fellows over at the American Enterprise Institute, which takes money from large telecom providers in exchange for muddying the discourse waters. Over at the AEI blog, Layton has consistently made her disdain for net neutrality very clear. Like so many broadband industry allies, Layton insists that net neutrality protections for consumers aren't necessary, and that the concept is all some kind of secretive cabal on the part of Netflix to ride incumbent ISP pipes for free:"Using their own definitions, however, companies such as Netflix hijack the language of net neutrality to lobby for regulatory favors. They want the government to mandate that transit costs they pay for today become free. In the offline world, such a deal would mean that retailers could not negotiate agreements with their suppliers or even where products could be placed on shelves.This idea that net neutrality is a phantom problem and mostly about somehow secretly giving Netflix free bandwidth is a ridiculous idea we've debunked time and time again. Current FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, among the finalists to lead the next FCC, has tried to claim net neutrality is some kind of unholy Netflix cabal for years. Why the disdain and bizarre focus on Netflix? Incumbent cable companies loathe Netflix for its support of net neutrality, opposition to usage caps, and the erosion of their legacy TV subscriber base, so they work pretty tirelessly to smear the company as often as possible via proxy policy voices. Blaming everything on Netflix helps incumbent broadband ISPs (and their allied think tankers, consultants, and lobbyists) avoid two glaring truths: one, that net neutrality is a symptom of the disease that is limited broadband competition, but if you admit the broadband market isn't competitive, then you have to actually do something about it; and two, that net neutrality has broad, bi-partisan support among the public. Pretending net neutrality is solely about giving Netflix "free stuff" is a handy narrative that obfuscates both truths. Layton, like Eisenach and Jamison, also opposed the FCC's basic new privacy protections. Those rules, which only require that ISPs are transparent about what's being collected and provide working opt-out tools, were passed only after Verizon was busted modifying user data packets to track users around the internet -- without informing them or providing working opt out tools. The FCC also acted after AT&T began trying to charge broadband customers a premium just to protect their own privacy, and Cable ONE hinted at offering worse customer service to users with bad credit scores. Like net neutrality, these violations are just another symptom of the lack of broadband competition, and the bad behavior on the part of incumbent ISPs has been fully apparent to anybody paying attention. But according to Layton, these privacy rules were just "partisan" gamesmanship, and utterly unnecessary because ISPs weren't doing anything wrong:"Chairman Wheeler’s three years at the FCC have broken records in partisanship, with more votes along party lines for rulemaking than previous commissions combined. Consider the recent online privacy rulemaking, which came about only because the FCC’s Open Internet rules reclassified Internet broadband under Title II, giving FCC new authority to regulate Internet privacy. Simply stated, the FCC rulemaking was not born out of any concluded necessity."Yes, the FCC has long split along partisan lines, quite often on issues (like net neutrality) that shouldn't be partisan. Under Wheeler, that was largely thanks to Commissioners Ajit Pai and Mike O'Rielly, who voted down nearly every consumer-benefiting policy the FCC tried to enact. That includes the duo voting down every single attempt to hold AT&T accountable for outright fraud, whether that involved AT&T ripping off programs for low income families, turning a blind eye to abuse of IP Relay systems intended for the hearing imparied, or intentionally helping crammers rip off AT&T customers by making fraudulent charges on bills harder to detect. Under the guidance of Layton, Eisenach and Jamison, you can expect every effort to hold incumbent ISPs accountable for bad behavior to evaporate. Gone will be the FCC's net neutrality rules. Gone will be the agency's new privacy protections. Gone will be efforts to shore up broadband competition. In addition to selecting an FCC boss that will be sure to avoid admitting any substantive faults on the part of incumbent ISPs, you can expect a rewrite of the Communications Act in 2017 with a full focus on hamstringing the FCC's ability to protect consumers while dramatically slashing its funding. This tends to get lost among farmed think tank pie charts and misleading arguments from dollar-per-holler economists and fauxcademics, but boiled down to their purest essence, these positions are about one thing and one thing only: protecting giant incumbent ISP revenues. This isn't really about deregulation -- given that these same folks are generally ok with awful regulation, just as long as it's AT&T, Verizon and Comcast writing the law. And the ultimate irony remains that this gutting of all popular, bipartisan consumer protections will be conducted under the false banner of "populist reform."Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Techdirt has been following for some years China's embrace of patents, loudly applauded by Western companies who believe this will give them more power there. The country has just passed a notable milestone in this area: China is driving Asian-led growth in innovation worldwide, becoming the first country to file 1 million patent applications in a single year, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) said on Wednesday. Chinese innovators filed most of their 2015 applications in electrical engineering, which includes telecoms, followed by computer technology and semiconductors, and measurement instruments, including medical technology, the U.N. agency said. Reuters gives its story the headline "China top innovator with one million patent requests in year: U.N." But as Techdirt has pointed out again and again and again, more patents do not lead to more innovation, just to more patents. And it seems that is precisely what China wants. A report on Bloomberg notes that China is planning to make it even easier to get patents for both software and business methods: [Proposed patent examination guidelines] seek to address concerns that some examiners have been too cautious in treating all references to business models or computers as red flags that signal unpatentability. A sentence in the draft explains that claims relating to a business method are not excluded from patentability if they contain sufficient technical features. Meanwhile, another change clarifies that apparatus claims relating to software can contain both hardware and "program" components. And the draft changed language that some examiners have interpreted as barring nearly all computer program references. The guidelines clarify that inventions relating to "computer programs per se" are not patentable because those are rules and methods for mental activities. China's move to embrace software patents and business methods comes at a time when both have become less patentable in the US thanks to the Alice decision, which is well on the way to killing software patents in the US. Of course, patent maximalists are drawing exactly the wrong conclusion here: Critics in the U.S. have long argued that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International has made many genuine software-related inventions unpatentable. At the same time, they say an improving environment in China means that patent holders should consider going there to enforce and monetize their IP. Good luck with that. As the book "Patent Failure: How Judges, Bureaucrats, and Lawyers Put Innovators at Risk" by James Bessen and Michael J. Meurer chronicles, software patents and their associated lawsuits have imposed a huge net cost on the US technology ecosystem. It's mostly patent trolls and lawyers who have benefited from the thicket of intellectual monopolies that has threatened to strangle innovation. The same is likely to happen in China as it foolishly follows the US down the path of allowing patents on everything under the sun. That may be good news for the West in the long term, as the Chinese tech industry descends into an orgy of patent infringement suits that saps its resources and energy. But in the short term, many of the Western companies that are operating in China are likely to get caught up in this expensive, pointless mess too. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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