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We've been waiting quite some time for the government to finally get around to releasing parts of the $40 million 6,300 page CIA torture report, which will detail how the CIA committed torture, lied about it, and how that torture did nothing even remotely effective. As you may recall, the Senate Intelligence Committee, which wrote the report, voted back in April to declassify the 480-page "executive summary" which was written to be declassified. That is, the really secret stuff is buried in the other 6,000 pages or so. Given that, the expectation was that the exec summary would need minimal redactions. Of course, the White House asked the CIA to handle the redactions, and considering that the report makes the CIA look bad, the CIA suddenly became quite infatuated with that black redaction ink. The report came back to the Senate Intelligence Committee with significant redactions, so much so that the Intelligence Committee declared it unacceptable and even argued that the choices in redactions made the report incomprehensible. Since then there's been back and forth fighting over it, with some reports suggesting that the (still redacted) report might finally come out in the next week or two. However, those plans are on hold, as apparently the White House and the Senate Intelligence Committeestill can't agree on redactions, leading some to say the report won't be released until November at the earliest. Once again, we're left wondering why the Senate Intelligence Committee won't just go with plan B and release the damn thing themselves. All of this delaying only works to the CIA's advantage. The CIA has no incentive at all to compromise and come to agreement on the redactions since it wants the report hidden. And, yes, the White House claims to want the report released and it's got the final say over the CIA, but its actions to date have not suggested that the White House is particularly serious about getting this report out there.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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If you're not a sports fan, you probably have no idea who the hell Ray Rice is. If you are a sports fan, you may know that he was recently banned from playing in the NFL. The background on this is quick. Months ago, TMZ released a video from an Atlantic City casino showing Rice dragging his then-fiance out of an elevator. It was clear she was out cold. It was also acknowledged by Rice that they had had an altercation, though specifics weren't discussed. All the public knew was what they saw in the video and that Rice had agreed to enter into a treatment program to avoid prosecution, since his then-fiance refused to press charges, and indeed married Rice weeks later. Once the public got wind of all this, Rice and his wife held a press conference. The Baltimore Ravens, the NFL team for whom Rice plays football, for reasons unfathomable to this writer, decided to live-tweet the press conference, including retweeting statements by Rice's wife that made many people sick to their stomach. It's important to understand the context in which the Ravens were putting these tweets out. In the wake of the video of Rice dragging his fiance out of an elevator, and in conjunction with live-tweeting this press conference, the team, its executives, and its head coach were all rushing to the defense of Ray Rice. Even after the NFL suspended Rice a laughably lenient two games out of the season for the incident, the Ravens' website was full of glowing reports about their running back, their head coach was talking about how Rice is a "heck of a guy" and the lenient suspension was a good lesson for children, and NFL broadcast partners were asking Rice what his wife's words of encouragement were for him in a pre-season game. It's in that context that the tweet above was put out, appearing to confirm that the woman who was knocked out cold had it coming to her. Then this video was released earlier this week. That's Ray Rice one-shot knocking his then-fiance out from inside the elevator. And just like that, the Baltimore Ravens decided it was time to delete many of their tweets supporting Rice, including the one above that referenced Janay Rice doing what way too many women do in domestic violence incidents: blame themselves. For some reason, whoever is running social media and/or PR for the Ravens apparently doesn't understand the Streisand Effect, because deleting those tweets now has those same tweets back in the news today, now that the NFL has upped Rice's suspension to indefinite. Instead of admitting any mistakes, or acknowledging any regrets, the team attempted to erase their misdeeds from the internet. Sorry, guys, the internet doesn't work like that. Enjoy all that terrible publicity you generated for yourselves! Next time maybe just don't be so quick to try to blame the victim of a violent crime. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Last year, the Supreme Court made an important ruling in the Myriad Genetics case, effectively saying that genes aren't patentable, even if you can separate them out from the rest of a strand of DNA. Myriad Genetics had isolated two key genes related to breast cancer, BRCA1 and BRCA2 and argued that only it could test for those genes, because of its patent. The Supreme Court soundly rejected that, noting that you cannot patent something in nature, and clearly Myriad did not "make" the genes. Unfortunately, as we'd noted just a few months earlier, a court in Australia had come to the opposite conclusion, saying that Myriad Genetics had legitimate patents on BRCA1 and BRCA2. That case was appealed, and there was some hope that after the US's ruling, higher courts in Australia might see the light. Not yet apparently. An appeals court has agreed that genes are patentable Down Under, which means that such important genetic tests there are likely to be much more expensive and limited. You can read the full ruling here if you'd like. The case can still be appealed to the Australian High Court, so perhaps it will take the same trajectory as in the US, where it needed the Supreme Court to finally point out the absolute insanity of patenting genes. Though, frankly, if Australia does keeps genes patentable, it might make for an interesting natural experiment to see how much innovation and research happens in both places -- one with, and one without, patents.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Things have gone rather quiet on the Snowden front, with the initial torrent of leaks slowing to a trickle. But separately from the documents that he's provided to journalists, there's the story of the man, still holed up in Russia, in a rather precarious legal position. That probably explains why he has been reluctant to leave that temporary but apparently safe haven. Now it seems that Switzerland is thinking about offering him safe conduct if he visits to testify about surveillance there. Here's David Meyer's summary in Gigaom: Sunday reports in Le Matin Dimanche and Sonntags Zeitung both cited a document, written by the attorney general last November in order to establish the legal situation around a potential Snowden visit, as saying an extradition request [from the US] would be rejected if the Swiss authorities saw it as political. The document stated that only "higher state obligations" could override this position. According to Marcel Bosonnet, reportedly Snowden’s legal representative in Switzerland, the position means that "the legal requirements for safe conduct are met," and Snowden has shown interest in visiting Switzerland. Glenn Greenwald, the journalist and Snowden confidante, has previously recommended that he take asylum there. There are close parallels with the situation last December, when Brazil too was keen to have Snowden's help in investigating surveillance of its citizens. Snowden wrote at the time: Many Brazilian senators ... have asked for my assistance with their investigations of suspected crimes against Brazilian citizens. I have expressed my willingness to assist wherever appropriate and lawful, but unfortunately the United States government has worked very hard to limit my ability to do so -- going so far as to force down the Presidential Plane of Evo Morales to prevent me from traveling to Latin America! Until a country grants permanent political asylum, the US government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak. Even leaving aside concerns about those "higher state obligations" that might override Switzerland's safe passage, Snowden must also rightly fear the US will try to seize him if he travels from Russia. The risks seem high, and for little direct benefit -- this is not, after all, the offer of permanent asylum that he is seeking. All-in-all, giving testimony via a video link seems a far safer option for him. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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I had honestly hoped that yesterday's story about the Huffington Post finally retracting its series of totally bogus articles (mostly written by Shiva Ayyadurai or his colleagues and friends, but a few by its actual "journalists"), pretending to argue that V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai had "invented email," would be the end of this story. Ayyadurai has built up quite a reputation around this false claim, even though it's been debunked over and over and over again. Ayyadurai keeps coming back, often moving the goalposts and changing his definitions, but still ultimately flat out lying in pretending to have "invented" email. To be clear, he did no such thing. Email was in wide use at the time he supposedly wrote his software. Ayyadurai, however, has cleverly used misleading (to downright false) claims to make what appears on its face to be a credible story, fooling a number of gullible reporters. The crux of his argument revolves around the copyright registration he obtained for a software program in 1982 called EMAIL. But, as we've explained over and over again, a copyright is just for a specific expression (i.e., that specific program), and not for "inventing" anything. The most obvious parallel would be Microsoft, which holds a copyright on "Windows" -- the operating system -- but did not "invent" the idea of a graphical user interface involving "windows." And yet, yesterday morning, everyone began flooding me with new stories about Ayyadurai, written by clueless entertainment reporters, all because Ayyadurai apparently got married to actress Fran Drescher. The "dating Fran Drescher" story has been making the rounds for a while now, and it was so random and unrelated that we'd ignored it in previous posts, even though one part of the HuffPo series was HuffPo Live talking to Ayyadurai about Drescher, in what was an incredibly awkward exchange (note: despite pulling most of the other articles about Ayyaduria, HuffPo left this one up). In the video (which has been taken down), Ayyadurai made this incredibly awkward "introduction" to Fran, in which he repeatedly highlights that he's just hanging out "in Malibu with Fran," and then says for emphasis "with Fran Drescher, who I'm dating." That leads Fran to jump into view, and the HuffPo live "reporter" Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani starts absolutely gushing over Fran. It was weird, but since it wasn't directly related to whole lie about "inventing email," we hadn't mentioned it. However, thanks to the "wedding," now it appears that tons of mainstream press reports are writing about the wedding and repeating the totally debunked claim about Ayyadurai "inventing" email. This has resulted in many people wondering if the whole HuffPo series was deliberately ramped up prior to the "wedding" to get the mainstream press to roll with the bogus claim. It's entirely possible, but considering that Ayyadurai has been trying to make this lie stick for years, it may just be a convenient coincidence. Either way, the mainstream press apparently is unable to do any fact checking and is repeating bogus claims as facts. Let's highlight a few: People Magazine, written by "reporter" Gabrielle Olya, not only falsely claims Ayyadurai invented email, but says he "holds the patent for creating email." This is all kinds of wrong. He doesn't "hold the patent for creating email." He didn't create email, and he only got a copyright (not a patent) on a program called EMAIL long after email had been created. The People Magazine piece links to the bogus, now retracted, HuffPo story. E-Online "reporter" Mike Vulpo falsely calls Ayyadurai "the inventor of email" and also links to the bogus, now retracted HuffPo story. Even more bizarrely, Vulpo links to the now debunked Washington Post articles from a few years ago (which have a huge correction apologizing for the misreporting on Ayyadurai) saying "reports say he holds the copyright to the computer program known as "email." Others say he indeed came up with the term "email" when he was in high school in the late 1970s. Pretty impressive, right?" I love the hedges "reports say" and "others say" while ignoring the fact that his claims to have "invented" email are debunked. And while this is slightly more accurate in noting that he has a copyright in a program called "email," it's not "the" computer program called EMAIL, which falsely implies it was the first one. Even more bizarrely, this same piece was reposted to "NBC Bay Area." You would think, being in the Bay Area, that they might have reached out to folks actually in the tech industry to debunk Ayyadurai's ridiculous claims. ABC News / Good Morning America "reporter" Michael Rothman falsely claims that Ayyadurai is the "inventor of email" and makes it even more stupid by saying that Ayyadurai is "widely credited with having invented email." This is not even remotely true. He is only credited with that by himself and a tiny group of friends. Rothman also doesn't appear to understand even the basics of copyright by saying that Ayyadurai is "the first person to hold a copyright for 'EMAIL.'" Again, all he did was write a program called EMAIL, long after email had been invented. It also claims that Ayyadurai "currently teaches at MIT." A search of MIT's staff directory does not actually return Ayyadurai as a current staff member. CBS News expands their reputation for skipping over any fact checking by saying Ayyadurai "holds the patent for inventing email." Again, basically everything in that statement is wrong. He doesn't have a patent for inventing email. He got a copyright (very different) on a program called EMAIL. And he didn't invent email. At least CBS News is smart enough not to put a byline on this bogus reporting, but it also quotes the Huffington Post. UPI has an article that doesn't mention Ayyadurai's false claims in the text of the article, but does falsely call him "email creator" in the headline (which may not have been written by the reporter who wrote the article). The Daily Mail is somewhat famous for its lack of reporting skills and fact checking -- and the publication lives down to its reputation in an article by Chelsea White, which again repeats the myth that Ayyadurai invented email. And while it claims there's "controversy" over the claim (there isn't: everyone except him and his friends know he didn't invent email) it repeats the bogus claim that he has a patent on email: "Dr. Ayyadurai - who owns the patent to email and is often credited as the inventor of the electronic mail system amid some controversy." It also links to the Huffington Post. US Magazine "reporter" Madeline Boardman more or less repeats verbatim what others are saying about Ayyadurai being "the inventor" of email and that he is "widely credited" as such. Headline and Global News "reporter" Dina Exil repeatedly calls Ayyadurai the inventor of email and also claims he "is known for being the first person to invent email," except none of that is true. He's known for pretending that. Popcrush "reporter" Michelle McGahan calls Ayyadurai "the inventor of email" and also falsely claims he "owns the patent for email." Now, considering that this just some random celebrity gossip, it's not that surprising that these "entertainment reporters" didn't bother to do any sort of fact checking. Why would they? And it's tough to fault them for going for the easy layup on the typical "famous person weds" story. But the problem here is that Ayyadurai has been focused on using any and all press mentions as "evidence" in his bogus campaign to declare himself the inventor of email, and now he has a number of other sources to cite, even though they're all totally wrong. It is worth noting that not everyone fell for the spin. The LA Times and San Francisco Chronicle both focused mainly on Drescher and more or less ignored Ayyadurai's bogus claims (though, the LA Times does say he's at MIT, which again, does not list him as a current staff member). The only publications I can find that really called out the bogus claims were Mashable, which noted that Drescher has married someone who "likes to claim he invented email" and Gawker, which noted that if Fran Drescher had actually read its previous articles about Ayyadurai, she might not have married him. What's funny is that in writing our series about the Huffington Post's bogus stories, some of our commenters insisted that this was actually proof as to why these "new media" players weren't trustworthy compared to traditional vetted media. And yet, above we have "trusted" media like ABC and CBS repeating totally false claims, while new media players like Mashable and Gawker are debunking them. Anyway, I'd like to think this story is now over, but somehow I get the feeling that Ayyadurai will continue to press his bogus claims again and again and again.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Last week, FCC boss Tom Wheeler pointed out two important things: (1) The FCC's definition of "broadband" internet service (4Mbps down / 1 Mbps up) was silly because it was way too slow for things that people do online, like streaming HD video and (2) if you go up to higher (more accurate) levels of broadband, competition in providers all but disappears. This was important on two accounts. The big broadband players have always pushed for keeping the "official" broadband standards as low as possible, in order to pretend that we have better and more competitive broadband than everyone knows we actually have. In the past, the FCC has been a willing accomplice in this charade. By showing the following chart, and suggesting that it was time to really jack up the official broadband standards, Wheeler was clearly signaling that perhaps those bad old days when the FCC was a partner in the big US broadband lie are over, and that it might actually start trying to represent reality and push for rules that actually make the US a competitive broadband player. Of course, the FCC had already asked for comments concerning the possibility of raising the official broadband definition to 10 Mbps down about a month ago, arguing that based on actual usage information, this would" fall within the mid-range needed by a three-user household with moderate broadband use, but would not accommodate demand for a three-user household with high use. Specifically, the FCC noted that this would allow a family of three "at periods to stream a movie, participate in online education, surf the web, and have a mobile device syncing to its email account." Fair enough. Except... no. Not according to the big broadband providers, which did the FCC comment-equivalent of a freak out at this possible proposal. Let's start with AT&T: Although the industry remains well ahead of the curve, the centerpiece of the Commission’s Notice is a proposal to change the definition of advanced capabilities – in particular, a proposal to increase the minimum “advanced” capabilities benchmark from 4 Mbps download speeds to 10 Mbps. Given the pace at which the industry is investing in advanced capabilities, there is no present need to redefine “advanced” capabilities, and, as discussed below, the proposed redefinition is not adequately supported. The Commission should undertake a more rigorous, fact-based and statutory analysis before determining what, if any, definitional revisions are warranted at this time. Even recognizing that the definition of broadband will evolve over time, the Notice presents no record basis for a conclusion at this time that a service of less than 10 Mbps is no longer “advanced.” AT&T insists that people really aren't using that much bandwidth, and that the FCC overestimates how much bandwidth things like streaming HD video really take. In a neat bit of tautological reasoning, AT&T actually argues that because people aren't using that much bandwidth now (perhaps because AT&T doesn't let them...), it's clear that this isn't a reasonable definition of broadband: Consumer behavior strongly reinforces the conclusion that a 10 Mbps service exceeds what many Americans need today to enable basic, high-quality transmissions. AT&T data show that, in areas where its customers have access to a service that offers download speeds greater than 10 Mbps, many consumers choose to buy services with lower download speeds. Indeed, even in areas where only a 6 Mbps service is available, a substantial portion of consumers choose to purchase a lower-speed service. Perhaps that's because your pricing sucks, and even when people do pay more, you do crappy things like throttle Netflix. Over to Verizon, which argues that raising the broadband speed definitions would be a problem because it might confuse people, and you know how much Verizon wants everyone to have a clear understanding of everything, right? Furthermore, the Commission should avoid adopting new requirements for defining “broadband” that would unnecessarily complicate the Commission’s analysis and hinder the proper assessment of broadband deployment Simply boosting a number to more accurately represent what is considered a high speed internet connection would "complicate" things how exactly? Oh, because now we couldn't compare the old bogus numbers to the new bogus numbers. for the sake of consistency and to ensure meaningful comparisons over time, the Commission should maintain a relatively stable benchmark for defining broadband, even if the Commission also sees a benefit of tracking the availability and adoption of higher-speed services Verizon also pulls AT&T's trick of claiming "well, people have slower connections, so that's proof that lower standards are fine." At the same time, the data confirm that services providing 4 Mbps/1 Mbps are still popular and meaningful to consumers. Meaningful? I wonder how the data concludes that. Next up, we've got NCTA, representing the cable companies, and it's (of course) of the opinion that it would be absurd to raise the rates, because, really, there isn't any good HD content online anyway: The Commission suggests that higher speeds may be needed to handle “super HD” video traffic, but even if true, given the limited presence of super HD video at this time, and the many other Internet services and functionality that can be easily accommodated with a 4/1 connection, there is no basis for finding that a connection must be able to handle one particular type of video in order to meet the definition of broadband. Yes, but perhaps the reason there isn't much super HD video is because your damn connections are too slow. Content follows bandwidth. If the FCC jacks up the standards, the broadband guys will ramp up their speeds, and watch the content flow... There are some other fun submissions, including CTIA, representing the wireless operators (which include Verizon and AT&T, of course) arguing that looking to the future is lame, man. We should base our broadband stats on historical usage: The Commission should analyze mobile broadband speeds in light of existing marketplace offerings Don't aspire to the future, let's settle for today's mediocrity. At least some folks are arguing for the change, including the Communications Workers of America, who probably realize that requiring higher speeds would likely lead to more work for its members. It's interesting to note that satellite internet providers are more than happy to support the FCC's higher standards, noting that those rates are easy to meet. Compare and contrast this statement to the whining from above: The FCC’s proposal to adopt a 10/1 Mbps speed benchmark represents a reasonable minimum threshold to ensure consumers in a “moderate use household” can satisfy their broadband internet access needs. Speeds of this level allow a “moderate use household” to stream videos, make VoIP phone calls, browse webpages, and check emails, which are the core broadband applications used by typical consumers. Consumer broadband satellite services provided by Hughes go as high as 15/2 Mbps and by ViaSat go as high as 12/3 Mbps, and they offer all of the above applications as part of their respective satellite services. That said, those satellite providers do then complain about including a "latency" component to the benchmarks, because satellite internet latency has always sucked. Public Knowledge went in the other direction, arguing that even 10 Mbps is too low and that the new standard should actually be 25 Mbps. Imagine the level of freakout from the legacy broadband players if that went through... Either way, upping the definition of what qualifies as broadband by the FCC would be a big step in more accurately reflecting the state of the broadband market in the US today, both from the standpoint of what kinds of speeds are really available and recognizing the lack of competition across the nation. The fact that it's scaring the traditional broadband players so much says an awful lot about how they've been able to hide behind the weak benchmarks in the past.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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One of the biggest problems (hard to pick just one...) with Europe's "right to be forgotten" is that it completely fails to consider the fact that those being asked to forget won't take this sort of government intrusion kindly, especially when requests are more related to burying embarrassments than restoring privacy. It's been one backfire after another since the debacle began. Every notable request seems to be accompanied by a story about the removal, resulting in the generation of even more web content to be targeted for selective amnesia. Everyone wants to know who's asking to be forgotten and why. A FOI requester in the UK has asked the Dept. of Energy and Climate Change to provide this information on its own employees. Thank you for your email of 15 August 2014 where you requested the following information: - “How many times have Ministers in your department, or staff from your department on those Ministers’ behalf, applied to Google or other search engines to have links removed from searches under the ‘right to be forgotten’ following the EU ruling earlier this year? - Please break this figure down by minister. - Please detail the web pages run by your department which have been served a notice by Google that they will not be appearing in certain search results as a result of the right to be forgotten. - How many person-hours have been spent by your staff dealing with the ‘right to be forgotten’ (e.g. writing to or liaising with Google about removal requests)“. The request pits government transparency against government opacity -- although the latter has been generously extended to European citizens with the "right to be forgotten" law. Unsurprisingly, transparency loses, but only inasmuch as the new law ensures transparency will lose. To the extent that the “Right to be Forgotten” ruling provides that Individuals (in any capacity “official” or otherwise) have the right - under certain conditions - to ask search engines to remove links with personal information about them where the information is inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive for the purposes of the data processing, the department holds no “official” information pursuant to your request. Certainly not the desired response, but the desired response would undermine the law, which the UK government really can't do. If UK citizens can ask privately to be forgotten, so can public officials. The wording in the response spins the law positively, which is also expected. The only thing the government could have responded to without undermining the law it has to enforce is total up the hours spent dealing with the paperwork. Presumably, similar requests have been made to other UK government agencies and presumably they will be greeted with similar responses. While this doesn't shed much light on how many government officials and employees are seeking to cleanse the net of information, we can be assured that any notable request will be duly noted by the entities being asked to forget. The UK government can't answer these questions without negating this (very questionable) right, but the private sector can still let the world know who wants what gone. One of the best checks against government power is the public itself -- even when it's citizens themselves who are using a bad law to request dubious removals. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've frequently talked about law enforcement and the intelligence community accessing and making use of cell site location data, which looks to figure out where people are based on what cell towers they're connected to. Law enforcement likes to claim that it doesn't need a warrant for such data, while the NSA has tested a pilot program recording all such data, and says it has the legal authority to collect it, even if it's not currently doing so. However, as anyone with even a basic geometry education recognizes, which cell tower you're connected to does not give you a particularly exact location. It can be useful in putting someone in a specific (wide) area -- or, much more useful in detailing where someone is traveling over long distances as they repeatedly switch towers in a particular direction. But a single reading does not give you particularly exact location details. I had naturally assumed that most people understood this -- including law enforcement, lawyers, prosecutors and judges -- but it turns out they do not. A rather depressing story in The Economist notes that, thanks to this kind of ignorance (combined with bogus cop shows on TV that pretend cell site data is good for pinpointing locations), cell site location data is frequently used to convict innocent people. The story opens with a ridiculous example, in which a woman was pressured into a plea bargain based on totally false claims about tower location data: SOMEONE strangled a prostitute in Portland, Oregon in 2002. The police arrested Lisa Roberts, the victim’s ex-lover, who spent more than two years in custody awaiting trial. Shortly before the trial the prosecutor told Ms Roberts, via her lawyer, that tower data collected by Verizon, her mobile-telephone network, showed precisely where she was at the time of the murder. As her lawyer recalled, the prosecutor said Ms Roberts could be “pinpointed” in a park shortly before the victim’s naked and sexually assaulted corpse was found there. She was told she faced 25 years to life in prison. She accepted a deal to plead guilty and serve 15 years. But the high-tech evidence against her was bunk. Routinely collected tower data can place a mobile phone in a broad area, but it cannot “pinpoint” it. That would require a special three-tower “triangulation”, which cannot reveal past locations. It took a decade for Ms Roberts’s guilty plea to be thrown out. On May 28th she left prison, her criminal record clean, after nearly 12 years in custody. Obviously, things like GPS do allow for much more precise targeting of location (which may be why the NSA is focusing on that instead of cell site location data), but too many people confuse cell site location data with GPS. What's ridiculous is that this mistake isn't just being made by random people -- but prosecutors and lawyers responsible for criminal cases that can destroy an innocent person's life. This really points to a larger issue: people have this tendency to believe that technology can answer all questions. The NSA's fetishism of surveillance via technology is an example of this. There's data there, so it becomes all too tempting to assume that the data must answer any possible question (thus, the desire to collect so much of it). But the data and the interpretations it can lead to are often misleading or simply wrong. And that's especially true when dealing with newer technologies or forms of data collection. That the criminal justice system could go decades without everyone recognizing the basic geometric limits of cell site location data based on a single cell is... both astounding and depressing. But it's also a reminder that we shouldn't assume that just because some evidence comes from some new-fangled data source that it's automatically legitimate and accurate.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The skies are now that much safer [uses finger and thumb to approximate appropriately small amount] thanks to the super-serious safety efforts of the TSA. (via Amy Alkon) Ever vigilant, intellectually adept, and multi-talented (seeing as how they can spot stuff to steal even as they have their hands down your pants), they discovered the above pictured Big Scary Terroristy Thing at Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee. It is an “F Bomb Paperweight,” a piece of art handmade by Fred Conlon and selling for $45. Quoting from the F Bomb’s blurb: It’s never easy dropping truth bombs in the office. But “f” bombs? Always explosive fun! Fred Conlon’s recycled steel sculpture lightens up desk-side chats and tough conversations with a delightfully abstract expletive appropriate for any situation. Handmade in Utah. Each is one-of-a-kind and will vary slightly. How do we know the TSA managed to confiscate such a dangerous item? Because the TSA itself posted the photo above at its blog. A black novelty bomb was detected in a carry-on bag at Milwaukee (MKE). Accompanying the photo of the clearly-not-a-real-bomb is the following statement: We continue to find inert grenades and other weaponry on a weekly basis. Please keep in mind that if an item looks like a real bomb, grenade, mine, etc., it is prohibited. When these items are found at a checkpoint or in checked baggage, they can cause significant delays because the explosives detection professionals must resolve the alarm to determine the level of threat. Even if they are novelty items, you cannot bring them on a plane. "Looks like a real bomb." Yeah, about that… This looks about as real as any bomb ordered by Wile E. Coyote from ACME Products. The "fuse" appears to be recycled power lines, something no one could actually light. The TSA's internet mouthpiece, Blogger Bob, has previously complained that bombs are hard to detect because they don't look like their animated counterparts. “It’s not like they’re using a cartoonish bundle of dynamite with an alarm clock strapped to it,” Bob Burns of the TSA Blog Team posted on the agency’s Web site. He must be so relieved that someone actually walked into the Milwaukee airport with something cartoonish enough to be recognized as a bomb immediately by TSA staff -- which now looks more cartoonish than the "bomb" it confiscated. (Real bombs tend to go undetected...) Presumably, the dangerous item will be forwarded to the TSA confiscation dumping grounds where it can be sold to the highest bidder and put back into circulation. Too dangerous to put on a plane but not too dangerous to put back in the public's hands, where it might be carried onto a bus, subway car or aerial tram. The TSA doesn't mind if you hijack/blow up another form of mass transportation… just don't take down an airplane.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Europol is probably not very well-known outside the EU. Here's how it describes itself: Europol is the European Union's law enforcement agency whose main goal is to help achieve a safer Europe for the benefit of all EU citizens. We do this by assisting the European Union's Member States in their fight against serious international crime and terrorism. The emphasis is in the original. You may notice that it mentions Europe a few times, which underlines the fact that Europol is a European organization based in Europe, run by Europeans and serving Europeans. But the US seems to take a different view: The head of the EU police agency Europol is taking instructions from the Americans on what EU-drafted documents he can and cannot release to EU lawmakers. The story in the EUobserver quoted above explains: The issue came up over the summer when US ambassador to the EU Anthony Gardner told EU ombudsman Emily O'Reilly she cannot inspect an annual Europol report drafted by the agency's own internal data protection review board. And if you are thinking there might be some top-secret US information in that report, the Dutch MEP Sophie In't Veld says that isn't the case: "There is no operational information, there is no intelligence, there is nothing in the document. So you really wonder why it is kept a secret." The problem seems to be simply that the uppity Europeans dared to write their report without asking for US permission first: The Americans are unhappy because Europol had drafted the report "without prior written authorisation from the information owner (in this case the Treasury Department)." The fact that the Treasury Department thinks that it "owns" information about how the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) complies with European data protection laws is rather telling. No wonder that back in March, the European Parliament called for the TFTP to be suspended in the wake of revelations that the US was going outside the program, and accessing EU citizens' bank data illegally. The latest high-handed action by the US ambassador to the EU is unlikely to encourage them to change their mind. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Under the European Copyright Directive, Member States may bring in an exception to copyright that allows works to be used without consent for the purposes of caricature, parody or pastiche. Following a long-drawn-out process, the UK will be doing exactly that, with effect from October 1. But a new judgment from Europe's highest court, the Court of Justice of the European Union, has added a new limitation to the parody exception (pdf). Here's the background to the case, as explained by the court's press release: At a reception held by the [Belgian] city of Ghent to celebrate the New Year, Mr Deckmyn, a member of the Vlaams Belang (a Flemish political party), handed out calendars for the year 2011. The cover page of those calendars featured a drawing which resembled that appearing on the cover of one of the Suske en Wiske -- known in English as Spike and Suzy -- comic books with the original title 'De Wilde Weldoener' (which may be rendered as 'The compulsive benefactor'), produced in 1961 by Willy Vandersteen. The original drawing represented an allegorical character in the series wearing a white tunic and surrounded by people trying to pick to pick up the coins he was scattering all around. In the drawing appearing on Mr Deckmyn's calendars, that character was replaced by the mayor of the city of Ghent, while the people picking up the coins were replaced by people wearing veils and people of colour. Several of Vandersteen's heirs and other holders of the rights to the comic book series brought an action against Deckmyn and the organization that financed the Vlaams Belang, claiming copyright infringement. These last two said that the calendar was satire, and therefore was covered by the EU's parody exception. The copyright holders asserted that parody must display originality, and that anyway the drawing conveyed a discriminatory message. Faced by all these claims, the Court of Appeal in Brussels asked the EU Court of Justice to clarify the conditions that a work must fulfill in order to be classified as parody. Here's the good news from the EU court's decision: A parody need not display an original character of its own, other than that of displaying noticeable differences with respect to the original work parodied. But there's less-good news in the form of this additional comment: The Court notes that the application of the exception for parody, established by the directive, must strike a fair balance between, on the one hand, the interests and rights of authors and other rightsholders and, on the other, the freedom of expression of the person who wishes to rely on that exception. In that context, the Court declares that, if a parody conveys a discriminatory message (for example, by replacing the original characters with people wearing veils and people of colour), the holders of the rights to the work parodied have, in principle, a legitimate interest in ensuring that their work is not associated with such a message. As is usual, the EU Court of Justice has passed the case back to the original Belgian court to apply its judgment. The latter will have to decide whether the parody in this case does indeed convey a discriminatory message, and whether the copyright holders can therefore require that the work is not "associated with such a message" -- which presumably means that they can insist that it is not distributed. What's problematic here is that, by its very nature, parody is pushing the boundaries of good taste; it's quite likely to use images that upset some people, and that are maybe borderline discriminatory in some way (whatever that means). The risk is that the rather vague ruling from the European court will encourage more legal action to be taken against works of parody, and for social and political commentary to suffer as a result. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The struggle to force the government to behave in a transparent fashion often runs through the FOIA process. When the government responds, it often takes out meaningful information by abusing FOIA exemptions. When the government doesn't respond, the "free" request becomes a rather expensive trip through the nation's courts. Even when the government responds, it may decide not to waive fees, leaving the requester to come up with anything from several hundred to several thousand dollars in order to see documents created with taxpayer funds by federal employees. Entities like MuckRock deal with this obstacle through crowdfunding. But not every requester has access to this sort of support. If the documents are delivered without full payment (some just require a first installment of a certain percentage), the government can come after you for the uncollected fees. But the government's collection efforts go beyond series of increasingly angry letters. According to information compiled by indispensable blog Unredacted, the government has the option to start docking your paycheck. In a letter to the FOIA Advisory Committee, Michael Ravnitzky points to an article at Washington-focused blog The Hill that indicates that some government agencies are willing to use this method to collect unpaid FOIA fees. [pdf link] I would like to bring the following issue to the Committee’s attention: application of Administrative Wage Garnishment to fees assessed for Freedom of Information Act requests. Federal agencies have begun exploring and instituting a new weapon to use against FOIA requesters: wage garnishment. Here is a link to an article that mentions two agencies: one that is implementing wage garnishment and one that has decided not to do so after receiving some unfavorable feedback. http://tinyurl.com/FeeGarnishment In this case, two agencies have already sought permission to use wage garnishment in FOIA cases for unpaid fees. A number of other agencies have established rules implementing the Administrative Wage Garnishment - AWG - provisions of the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996 - DCIA, but do not mention FOIA specifically. Other agencies are in the process of such rules, or are planning to add such rules. As he cautions, the use of this collection method will only further encourage onerous and abusive fees. Agencies often impose disproportionate fees that have the effect of deterring certain types of requests. For example, requesters frequently receive large fee letters without benefit of a preliminary call or note from the agency to discuss the possibility of a narrowed or more specified request, or to help clarify fee status. Agency staff often charge review fees to noncommercial requesters, despite the fact that such fees are inapplicable. Agency staff frequently seek to charge search fees to newsmedia requesters, again despite the fact that such fees are inapplicable. Noncommercial requesters are subject to search and review fees when responses are not provided within the statutory deadlines, even though the law precludes such fees, agencies asserting that all or nearly all the records requests they receive are subject to unusual and exceptional circumstances. Agencies even have imposed large page by page duplication fees, even when supplying electronic copies of records that already exist in electronic form. As Ravnitsky notes, this form of collection is particularly intrusive and can have adverse effects on requesters. For the citizen on the receiving end, this can adversely affect current and future employment, as well as possibly prevent them from obtaining housing or vehicles. For those already employed, it informs employers of little more than the fact that their employee owes the government money -- which implies all sorts of unseen dishonesty. Ravnitsky calls it the "nuclear option," one which certain agencies might deploy as further discouragement for future FOIA requests. Every government agency has many other options to resolve this issue (blocking of further requests and withholding of remaining responsive documents, to name a few) that this fee extraction method shouldn't even be on the table. The most disgusting aspect of this is that certain agencies (and I imagine there will be more who warm to the idea) feel entitled to take funds (well, additional funds) right out of citizens' paychecks to pay for documents created, stored and distributed by taxpayer-funded agencies and taxpayer-funded employees. This isn't like a federally-funded school loan where the government has spotted a member of the public the money to finish their education. This is the government extracting fees for information it won't release until asked and charging ridiculous amounts for it. The fact that this method is available to government agencies is its own chilling effect, running directly contrary to the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Electric vehicles are gaining some increasing acceptance on the roads, as some drivers realize that the vast majority of their trips are less than a 40-mile roundtrip. The "range anxiety" factor is still a concern for a lot of people, but there might be some alternatives to the existing rechargeable batteries in use today. Here are just a few examples of possible solutions to improve the energy storage capacity in electric cars. A German car maker is using a 'nanoFLOWCELL' technology to power its all electric vehicle. The Quant e-Sportlimousine might have a horrible name compared to a Tesla S/3/X, but it claims a range of 600 kilometers (372 miles). [url] Batteries might not be the best way to store energy for an electric vehicle, but the alternatives aren't quite ready for commercial vehicles. One of these alternatives is based on a phenomenon called 'thermopower wave' where a fuel is ignited at the end of a carbon nanotube, and the resulting heat pushes electrons and creates electricity. These nanogenerators are far from being perfected, but they have the potential to efficiently turn high energy density fuels into electricity much more efficiently than an internal combustion engine. [url] Phinergy and Alcoa have an aluminum-air battery that could power a small EV for 1,000 miles. The catch is that when your aluminum-air battery is depleted, you'd have to replace an aluminum-containing cartridge at a special service station (so you couldn't just recharge the aluminum-air battery by plugging it into a standard wall outlet). Still, it would could be a nice way to extend the range of an all-electric vehicle significantly with an energy storage technology that has a not-so-complex, closed-loop life cycle. [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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Just how many entities have their hands on your data when the NSA makes requests? Well, it's not just the service providers and any number of analysts at the NSA. There's a whole industry subset of third parties that actually handle requests, implement wiretaps, direct searches for communications/data and deliver this information to the intelligence agency. ZDNet's Zack Whittaker has the details. With permission from their ISP customers, these third-parties discreetly wiretap their networks at the behest of law enforcement agencies, like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and even intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA). By implementing these government data requests with precision and accuracy, trusted third-parties — like Neustar, Subsentio, and Yaana — can turn reasonable profits for their services. Little is known about these types of companies, which act as outsourced data brokers between small and major U.S. ISPs and phone companies, and the federal government. Under the 1994 law, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), any company considered a "communications provider" has to allow government agencies access when a valid court order is served. No matter how big or small, even companies whose legal and financial resources are limited do not escape federal wiretapping laws. Subpoenas, search warrants, court orders -- even those from the FISA court -- run through these trusted third parties. From the information Whittaker has gathered, this market seems to have evolved out of limited legal resources retained by smaller ISPs and service providers. Incoming requests are forwarded to these companies, which vet them for legal issues and determine what exactly needs to be done to satisfy them. Some of this is just CYA -- an extra insulating layer to serve as a buffer between the service provider and the possibly aggrieved customer(s). Some of it is due to practicality. Smaller ISPs and service providers do not retain lawyers with the security clearance needed to inspect/challenge certain orders. One of those attorneys, who declined to be named for the story because the person holds top-secret security clearance, explained that although hundreds of lawyers have the same clearance — including those serving terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay — very few have been in front of the FISA Court to defend their clients. These clearance-holding lawyers have been in high demand over the past year representing major Silicon Valley companies implicated in the NSA's surveillance programs. For the majority of smaller companies (as well as larger ones, who have refused to comment on challenging such warrants), complying with data demands may be their only option. The vast majority, however, do not have the resources to handle such requests. "If they don't have an internal lawyer [reviewing FISA warrants], they could use a third-party service. That third-party can't provide legal advice, but it can create a system for reviewing the data, pulling, and processing the data," the security clearance-holding attorney said. Because these companies have the sort of clearance the ISPs lack, smaller ISPs are often nothing more than dumb terminals for government agencies to manipulate. The trusted third parties are often the only entities that see certain court orders and requests, and ISP participation in the approval and response processes is often non-existent. In many cases, the ISP cannot even see the court order it's being directed to comply with. "Of what worth is our permission when we don't even know what we're being asked to give access to?" a senior staffer at [ISP] Cbeyond admitted. In the unlikely event that a request is rejected, it's usually done by the third parties, again without the participation of the ISP itself. The trusted third parties are better equipped -- in terms of legal team security clearance -- to do this than smaller ISPs are, but that additional expertise is of little use should ISPs decide to directly challenge a court order. If the ISP or phone company decides to fight a warrant, the third-party can stand back and wash its hands of it. Burr said Neustar "has and will" reject subpoenas that are inadequate for one reason or another. But should its clients choose to fight a FISA warrant or court order it believes to be overbroad, Neustar will not join the battle in court. Other trusted third-parties take a similar approach. "We're out of the picture," said Marcus Thomas, chief technology officer at Subsentio, another trusted third-party company, founded in 2004, and based out of Littleton, Colorado. While the third parties may be collecting money from ISPs for handling data and intercept requests, their desire to stay in the government's good graces appears to outweigh any loyalty to the businesses that retain their services. "It's the provider's problem," [Yaana Executive VP Tony] Rutkowski said. "The nice part about the trusted third-party business is that just from a liability standpoint, we don't want to be left holding the bag here." [Yaana CTO David] Grootwassink agreed. "We provide the gears. We don't get involved in fights between the governments and our clients." And therein lies part of the problem. While it may be easier to turn over what is largely a compliance function to third parties, there's very little oversight into these companies' actions and processes. Even the ISPs that hire them seem to have limited insight into what's actually being done. These go-betweens have carefully dodged liability by refusing to be involved in legal challenges, leaving underequipped ISPs to fight their own battles. While some trusted third parties have issued transparency reports detailing the requests they've facilitated, this basically leaves the public to perform the oversight, something of very limited use. About all the public can do is switch providers, which, if even an option, only puts them in the hands of another company using the same practices.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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David Kravets, over at Ars Technica, has a good post detailing how Comcast is doing questionable packet injection to put its own javascript ads onto websites if you're surfing via Comcast's public WiFi access points. The practice was spotted by Ryan Singel, who saw the following "XFINITY WIFI: Peppy" ad scoot across his screen: Comcast, in typical Comcast fashion, appears to be totally and completely oblivious as to why this could possibly be seen as a problem: A Comcast spokesman told Ars the program began months ago. One facet of it is designed to alert consumers that they are connected to Comcast's Xfinity service. Other ads remind Web surfers to download Xfinity apps, Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas told Ars in telephone interviews. The advertisements may appear about every seven minutes or so, he said, and they last for just seconds before trailing away. Douglas said the advertising campaign only applies to Xfinity's publicly available Wi-Fi hot spots that dot the landscape. Comcast customers connected to their own Xfinity Wi-Fi routers when they're at home are not affected, he said. "We think it's a courtesy, and it helps address some concerns that people might not be absolutely sure they're on a hotspot from Comcast," Douglas said. It's a courtesy to hijack the page a person asked for and insert something that no one asked for on it? I don't think so. There's a reason that packet injection is considered an attack and a security risk -- and it's got nothing to do with courtesy. Certainly, the website that Singel was browsing when he spotted it, Mediagzer, was not pleased about having its own site hijacked and defaced: "Indeed, they were not ours," Gabe Rivera, who runs Mediagazer and Techmeme, said in an e-mail. In another e-mail, he said, "someone else is inserting them in a sneaky way." Kravets also talks to Robb Topolski, the guy who first provided the evidence to show that Comcast was throttling BitTorrent a while back, kicking off one of the first big net neutrality fights (which resulted in the FCC slapping Comcast's wrists). Topolski notes that what they're doing here is technically equivalent: To Topolski, what Comcast is now doing is no different from before: Comcast is adding data into the broadband packet stream. In 2007, it was packets serving up disconnection commands. Today, Comcast is inserting JavaScript that is serving up advertisements, according to Topolski, who reviewed Singel's data. "It's the duty of the service provider to pull packets without treating them or modifying them or injecting stuff or forging packets. None of that should be in the province of the service provider," he said. "Imagine every Web page with a Comcast bug in the lower righthand corner. It's the antithesis of what a service provider is supposed to do. We want Internet access, not another version of cable TV." But, of course, to the big broadband players, the last few years have been all about them trying to make the internet much more like cable TV, where they get to act as the gatekeepers and have much more control. The ability to inject their own ads into various webpages is just another bonus.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The government's predilection for waiting until late Friday to deliver bad news remains unchanged. Two memos justifying wireless wiretapping were released Friday night, buying it a few days time to prep before dealing with any uncomfortable questions raised by these documents. Both memos [PDF links: first, second] have multiple redactions. The first memo has had entire groups of pages withheld, as well as pages so heavily-redacted they may as well have been deleted. Additional details are scant, leaving readers to read between the redactions in hopes of cobbling together the government's rationale for the warrantless wiretapping of calls originating in the United States. What does remain is mostly post-9/11 justifications about needing to respond to a new threat in new ways. And that "new way" was apparently to give the President a blank surveillance check to do with what he wished. The broad outlines of the argument — that the president has inherent constitutional power to monitor Americans’ communications without a warrant in a time of war — were known, but the sweep of the reasoning becomes even clearer in the memos written by then-Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith, who was head of President George W. Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel. “We conclude only that when the nation has been thrust into an armed conflict by a foreign attack on the United States and the president determines in his role as commander in chief . . . that it is essential for defense against a further foreign attack to use the [wiretapping] capabilities of the [National Security Agency] within the United States, he has inherent constitutional authority” to order warrantless wiretapping — “an authority that Congress cannot curtail,” Goldsmith wrote in a redacted 108-page memo dated May 6, 2004. The Stellar Wind program, as it was known, was implemented in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, without Congressional approval. The warrantless wiretapping was rationalized into legality years after implementation, and memos like these were the delivery vehicles. The government doesn't trust Americans to understand why it believes a pseudo-war justifies violations of civil liberties. Those parts are blacked out. What we're left with is supposed to be enough. And it's not just Stellar Wind. Other dragnet programs (internet/email/phone metadata) are rationalized as well in these pages. The May 6, 2004 memo by Jack Goldsmith does everything it can to eliminate Fourth Amendment protections, as Marcy Wheeler points out. It shows that the memo discusses content, discusses telephony metadata, discusses something else, then concludes that content and metadata are both kosher under the Fourth Amendment. The second memo, also written by Goldsmith, does more of the same. This one throws in the then-recent decision by the Supreme Court, finding the detainment of a US citizen (Yaser Esam Hamdi) in Afghanistan was justified because it occurred during a time of war. According to Goldsmith, intercepting communications without a warrant is a "fundamental and accepted" part of waging war. Again, the argument finds in favor of the Executive Branch acting unilaterally to combat terrorism. Anything more detailed or subtly written is buried behind black bars or removed entirely. But the gist of it is: Smith v. Maryland means intelligence agencies can collect nearly anything they deem metadata without tripping over the Fourth Amendment -- and if these small limits are exceeded, the Executive Branch has the power to override any objections.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Cab companies are still fighting Uber and Lyft, and each turf war seems to drag out the worst rhetorical devices and statements from these companies which have enjoyed long, monopolistic runs. Most have gone running to city legislators, hoping to add further regulatory hurdles to the upstart companies, asking for anything from limits on number of vehicles in service to rates considerably higher than cab companies charge. But because you can only do so much arguing on behalf of an entrenched incumbent before you start sound like you truly loathe the public, taxi defenders are also finding creative ways to attack the new services in hopes of making them seem sketchier than cab companies themselves. In New Orleans, the argument took the form of a bunch of words tumbling out of a flustered cab company owner's mouth. Owner of Liberty Bell Cabs in New Orleans, Tony Makhoul, called Uber a “cyber terrorist organization.” Based on…? Well, the report at WDSU doesn't specify. [CAUTION: Autoplay in effect.] Apparently the fact that's its an app-based ride service was enough for Makhoul to float this claim during the city council's discussion. Presumably, Makhoul was using this metaphorically, presenting the company as a cyber-threat (because it's from the internet) to poor, downtrodden cab companies who have enjoyed years of uninterrupted success thanks to protective walls of regulation. Makhoul previously showed his propensity for using words without regard for clarity or meaning in a statement made in July. “It’s hypocritical, preposterous and indeed disgusting that we are entertaining Uber in our market today." Those words may mean something subjectively to Makhoul but they don't make much sense to anyone else listening in. There's nothing "hypocritical" about considering a new entrant into a market, and the only thing that's preposterous and disgusting is the amount of resistance being deployed by incumbent service providers. But this is the same cab company owner that pushed back against the deputy director of the city's Taxi Cab Bureau for enforcing existing regulations -- like requiring credit card readers in all cabs and setting a limit on how many years the same vehicle could be in service. But this one tops his previous wordsplosions. Uber -- which will be forced to charge the highest minimum fee in the nation ($15) as a concession to New Orleans' cab companies -- is here to destroy computers… by driving people in cars. Or destroy Makhoul's business… by providing customers with a competing service. Competition is the new terrorism. Inform the NSA. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Maybe the time has come for Facebook to implement a [Not a Threat] tag to go with its new [Satire] tag. That way, precious law enforcement resources won't be expended hunting down and arresting someone who really isn't threatening anyone. WFIE 14 News is reporting that 31-year-old James Evans of Muhlenberg County, Kentucky was arrested on terroristic threatening charges after he posted lyrics from a song by the heavy metal band Exodus on Facebook. On August 24, Evans posted the following quote from the song “Class Dismissed (A Hate Primer)”, “Student bodies lying dead in the halls, a blood splattered treatise of hate. Class dismissed is my hypothesis, gun fire ends [the] debate.” Shortly thereafter, he was taken into custody by authorities under the rationale that his posting constituted a threat “to kill students and or staff at school,” according to his arrest warrant. Evans ended up spending 8 days in jail for exercising his First Amendment rights. Terroristic threat charges haven't been dropped but his case has been deferred for six months. He's also been ordered to undergo a mandatory mental health evaluation -- all for posting lyrics written by someone else. According to Evans, even some of the officers he spoke to felt there was no reason he should have been arrested. But the statement made by (why?) the county's school resource officer seems to indicate this response was perfectly justified. Resource officer Mike Drake said "multiple agencies" received calls about Evan's post. When you have multiple complainants babbling about school shootings, you really can't just sit around the precinct doing nothing. What you can do, however, is get a little context before booking someone on criminal charges. Turning someone into a criminal simply because they showed a little lack of judgement isn't the appropriate response. Beyond that, there's the First Amendment -- which doesn't cover actual threats but definitely protects stuff a bunch of people mistakenly viewed as a threat.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The lawyers for Ross Ulbricht have been tossing an awful lot of speculative legal theories at the legal wall in his defense in the past few months, and none of them seem to be sticking. The most recent attempt was to argue that the process by which the DOJ/FBI got access to Silk Road's servers must have violated the 4th Amendment, mainly because it was "hidden" via Tor and Ulbricht couldn't figure out how else the FBI tracked down the servers. In response, the DOJ has revealed the details of how it tracked down the servers via a very readable court filing where you can almost feel the snark dripping from the US Attorneys Office, as they mock both the speculative and hyperbolic nature of the claims, and reveal that Ulbricht basically misconfigured his CAPTCHA login feature to leak the IP address. Contrary to Ulbricht’s conjecture that the server hosting the Silk Road website (the “SR Server”) was located by the NSA, the server was in fact located by the FBI New York Field Office in or about June 2013.... The Internet protocol (“IP”) address of the SR Server (the “Subject IP Address”) was “leaking” from the site due to an apparent misconfiguration of the user login interface by the site administrator – i.e., Ulbricht.... FBI agents noticed the leak upon reviewing the data sent back by the Silk Road website when they logged on or attempted to log on as users of the site.... A close examination of the headers in this data revealed a certain IP address not associated with the Tor network (the “Subject IP Address”) as the source of some of the data.... FBI personnel entered the Subject IP Address directly into an ordinary (non-Tor) web browser, and it brought up a screen associated with the Silk Road login interface, confirming that the IP address belonged to the SR Server.... Based on publicly available information, the Subject IP Address was associated with a server housed at a data center operated by a foreign server-hosting company in Iceland.... Accordingly, on June 12, 2013, the United States issued a request to Iceland for Icelandic authorities to take certain investigative measures with respect to the server, including collecting routing information for communications sent to and from the server, and covertly imaging the contents of the server.... The Reykjavik Metropolitan Police (“RMP”) provided routing information for the server soon thereafter, which showed a high volume of Tor traffic flowing to the server – further confirming that it was hosting a large website on Tor.... Subsequently, after obtaining the legal process required under Icelandic law to search the server, and after consulting with U.S. authorities concerning the timing of the search, the RMP covertly imaged the server and shared the results with the FBI on or about July 29, 2013.... Forensic examination of the image by the FBI immediately and fully confirmed that the server was in fact hosting the Silk Road website, i.e., that it was in fact the SR Server.... The server contained what were clearly the contents of the Silk Road website – including databases of vendor postings, transaction records, private messages between users, and other data reflecting user activity – as well as the computer code used to operate the website. Later, the filing points out: It does not matter that Ulbricht intended to conceal the IP address of the SR Server from public view. He failed to do so competently, and as a result the IP address was transmitted to another party – which turned out to be the FBI – who could lawfully take notice of it. While the DOJ's story is compelling (and while I'm sure some will still insist "parallel construction" but it seems like there would need to be a lot more evidence of that happening) there are some other interesting tidbits in the filing. Ulbricht had argued that the search of the server was unconsitutional because his property was searched without a warrant. However, the DOJ points out that since the server was in Iceland, the 4th Amendment doesn't apply. But in defending the lack of a warrant, it's interesting that the DOJ admits that under the Stored Communications Act a "warrant was not even an option... given that the SR Server was controlled by a foreign data center." That seems to contradict the DOJ's claims in its ongoing fight with Microsoft over accessing emails stored in Ireland. There, the DOJ insists that a warrant under the SCA is not only very much an option, but that it requires Microsoft to hand over the data. The DOJ says the cases are different since Microsoft is a US entity, and thus the SCA compels the US entity to reveal data no matter where it is, but that doesn't apply since the Silk Road server was controlled by an Icelandic company. There remain some interesting legal questions raised by the prosecution against Ulbricht, but so far, the extremely speculative nature of his defense doesn't seem particularly likely to get anywhere. Also, the leaky CAPTCHA should serve as a reminder that, despite all the freakouts and concerns from law enforcement about how the internet and things like Tor will make it impossible to catch criminals, people will almost always mess up somehow and reveal breadcrumbs back to who they are.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As per usual, the latest copyright war of words (this one in the UK) came complete with a lot of misleading language and twisted ideas. TruthHurts scored first place for insightful this week by reminding everyone what copyright is for: Copyrights aren't about passion or money. Copyrights are about getting works into public domain after a reasonable period of time. Only corporations have twisted it to mean money. A lot of this week's discussion was focused on the claims of non-inventor of email Shiva Ayyadurai. Some people tried to compare Ayyadurai's nonsense with that old rumour about Al Gore claiming to have invented the internet. John Fenderson took second place for insightful by setting the record straight on that front: There are two major problems with this comparison: 1) Gore never claimed to have invented the internet 2) When people started saying that he did claim that, he didn't devolve into batshit insanity in his attempt to continue to make a claim he never made in the first place. For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start with tomczerniawski and another response to the UK Culture Secretary's comments: “technology companies should be the partners of rights companies, not their masters” he says, while implicitly wishing for rights companies to become the masters of tech companies. Meanwhile, with Deadmau5 picking on Disney to make a point about trademark hypocrisy, Tim R has noted that the double standard is already being exposed: I think the real question to be asked here is why hasn't the entire domain been taken down yet. I mean, that is the correct and measured response that we've been told. Isn't it? Over on the funny side, first place goes to another reaction to the invention-of-email debacle — a simple, anonymous and inspired one: I say we forward all spam to the inventor of email Second place for funny comes from Michael in response to Ferrari's restrictive after-sale terms and conditions: I was just about to buy one of those, but now that I read this, I'm going to get a Dodge Dart instead. For editor's choice on the funny side, let's go ahead and grab two more responses to Shiva Ayyadurai. First we've got Crazy Canuck leaving the 56th comment on the post: First comment This is actually the first comment here as the first comment is defined as having a subject "First comment", starting with "This" and being exactly twenty nine words long. And last but not least, after the Huffington Post claimed to have not received one of our emails inquiring about their coverage, one anonymous commenter made the connection: You know who to blame for that don't you? That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Five Years Ago... This week in 2009, we've got a whole bunch of companies reacting badly to technology. The NFL banned social media for refs, and live-tweeting by reporters; DigiProtect admitted it shares files itself just to find downloaders and demand settlements from them; Cash4Gold sued blogs for reporting on its practices; the MPAA renewed its calls for selectable output control; and the BSA joined the chorus in support of a "three strikes" plan. It wasn't all bad news though. This was also the week that the Lori Drew case was officially dropped, an Israeli judge declared watching streaming games online to be fair use, and a silly lawsuit over Yahoo search results was dismissed (though if you recognize the name Beverly Stayart, you know that particular story wasn't over). The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal refused to enforce a new internet hate speech law on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, and another study showed that, contrary to popular belief, technology is making kids better writers (a subject beautifully summed up by a recent XKCD). Ten Years Ago... One of the big topics this week in 2004 was still-new RFID technology. Though some were calling for regulation, others rightly pointed out that it was too early for that. Of course, one way or another, the bottom line was that the technology was coming, like it or not. In a broader sense, this was the time that the earliest generations of true digital natives were coming of age, and the world was beginning to explore the implications of that. Some, of course, were treating it as a problem, such as claiming that broadband is killing "patience" and just generally blaming everything on the internet and text messaging. Video games were going more and more mainstream (though, after a series of PR blunders, Acclaim went out of business). Schools were experimenting with PDAs and wireless networks. And the soon-to-retire MPAA president Jack Valenti was misunderstanding technology right up to the end. Fifteen Years Ago... In 1999, the internet was rocked by a huge Hotmail security breach that allowed anyone to read anyone else's email. In general, the world was realizing that online privacy was a big deal calling for a lot of vigilance. Sun bought Star Office, which was then open sourced and lives on with us today in the form of OpenOffice. Burger King installed internet kiosks, and the US government was worried out about the high speed of Apple's G4 chip, giving them the kind of marketing money can't buy. Alanis Morrissette made out very well on a deal with MP3.com. Also in 1999, we held a contest to come up with a tagline for Techdirt. As far as I know, none were adopted, but there are some interesting ideas in the comments — maybe it's time to reopen the subject? 522, 492 and 394 Years Ago Today, September 6th, is home to an interesting trifecta of great moments in the history of sea voyages. Firstly, it was this day in 1492 that Christopher Columbus left his last port of call before crossing the Atlantic for the first time. Thirty years later on this day in 1522, the only surviving ship of Ferdinand Magellan's expedition arrived in Spain and became the first ship to ever circumnavigate the globe. And finally, nearly a century after that on this day in 1620, the Pilgrims set sail on the Mayflower, bound for North America. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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This week's awesome stuff post takes a break from gadgets to look at some crowdfunded content creators working in the vast field of history — because no matter what you do or what your interests are, there's always something to be learned (and a lot of fun to be had) studying the past. Extra History Some of you might be familiar with Extra Credits, a video series discussing a wide variety of topics related to videogame design and the game industry (it's excellent, if you're interested in that kind of thing). A while ago, thanks to a really cool sponsorship opportunity, they did a spinoff series called Extra History that brought their explanatory prowess to bear on the Second Punic War (of Hannibal-crossing-the-Alps fame) and it was similarly excellent. Now, with the help of crowdfunding through Patreon, they are bringing Extra History back as a regular twice-a-month feature: The first episode, kicking off a series about WW1 is already out, and well worth watching. The show has been successfully funded on Patreon and hit the necessary goal to remove YouTube ads — and with a bit more support, it could hit the necessary funding level to become a weekly series. Beep While the video game experts are discussing history, a new documentary will be exploring them both, and specifically the sounds therein: Beep: A Documentary History of Video Game Music & Sound looks well on the way to hitting its goal. The story should prove interesting, as it ties together the worlds of music and technology in a way that doesn't always get explored, with so much of the discussion around videogame tech focusing on graphics and physics these days (even though in the early days of games, things like the ability to play polyphonic sound were huge advancements). Designers & Dragons Before there were videogames, there were tabletop roleplaying games, and it's not as though the latter has done much waning in popularity. From the live games at PAX to the many games and accessories on Kickstarter, tabletop gaming is going strong — which might explain why this book about its history blasted past its funding goal: Designers & Dragons is set to be a four-volume history, with each volume focusing on a decade from the '70s through the '00s. It's way, way beyond its goal, having raised $93,684 on a funding target of only $7,500. But although it doesn't really need your help anymore, there are still three days left to back the project and secure advance copies: Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Before Snowden, Tor was an important but rather obscure tool, mostly of interest to those living under oppressive regimes who wanted to access the Internet freely without risking imprisonment or worse. Post-Snowden, things are more complicated. On the one hand, it is clearly one of the key tools that we can all use to thwart attempts by intelligence agencies to monitor what we are doing online. On the other hand, for that very reason, Tor has been the subject of serious attempts by the NSA, GCHQ and the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs to compromise it so that they can gain information about its users. The fact that, as far as the NSA and GCHQ are concerned,Tor -- "The Onion Router" -- "stinks", as one of the slides leaked by Snowden puts it, is an excellent reason for people to support its recent "call to arms": We used to think there are two main ways that the Tor network can fail. First, legal or policy pressure can make it so nobody is willing to run a relay. Second, pressure on or from Internet Service Providers can reduce the number of places willing to host exit relays, which in turn squeezes down the anonymity that the network can provide. Both of these threats are hard to solve, but they are challenges that we've known about for a decade, and due in large part to strong ongoing collaborations we have a pretty good handle on them. But lately, the people behind Tor have realized there is a new problem they must deal with: We missed a third threat to Tor's success: a growing number of websites treat users from anonymity services differently. Slashdot doesn't let you post comments over Tor, Wikipedia won't let you edit over Tor, and Google sometimes gives you a captcha when you try to search (depending on what other activity they've seen from that exit relay lately). Some sites like Yelp go further and refuse to even serve pages to Tor users. The rest of the post explores possible solutions to this growing rejection of Tor, such as technical mechanisms that allow anonymous users to interact with websites, and social mechanisms -- using a community to help police problems with anonymous users. But as the post notes, these haven't worked too well in past. It therefore suggests a third approach: The solution I envision is to get a person who is both technical and good at activism to focus on this topic. Step one is to enumerate the set of websites and other Internet services that handle Tor connections differently from normal connections, and look for patterns that help us identify the common (centralized) services that impact many sites. At the same time, we should make a list of solutions -- technical and social -- that are in use today. There are a few community-led starts on the Tor wiki already, like the DontBlockMe page and a List of Services Blocking Tor. Step two is to sort the problem websites based on how amenable they would be to our help. Armed with the toolkit of options we found in step one, we should go to the first (most promising) site on the list and work with them to understand their problem. Ideally we can adapt one of the ideas from the toolkit; otherwise we'll need to invent and develop a new approach tailored to their situation and needs. Then we should go to the second site on the list with our (now bigger) toolkit, and so on down the list. Once we have some success stories, we can consider how to scale better, such as holding a conference where we invite the five best success cases plus the next five unsolved sites on our list. It's good to see such a key project both identifying problems and coming up with possible ways to tackle them. The post contains further details of future plans, the people and organizations involved -- and even an offer of funding for those who want to help ensure that The Onion Router's stink continues to make the people at the NSA and GCHQ cry. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A few days ago, Twitpic, which was the original third party service for hosting images for your tweets, announced that it was shutting down "unexpectedly" because Twitter was threatening to pull its API access if the company didn't drop its trademark application for Twitpic -- an application that had been pending since 2009. Considering that Twitpic was one of the earliest of many third party services built on top of Twitter that helped make Twitter so valuable in the early days, it's certainly disappointing to see it go. It's also something of a legacy reminder that Twitter has been slowly, but surely, destroying all such third party services that helped make it so popular. That's disappointing, if not all that surprising. Platforms all too frequently end up swallowing those who rely too strongly upon them -- and, these days, to be honest, there's little reason to use Twitpic instead of Twitter's own image hosting (or some other options as well). It's even more disappointing that this is all happening over a trademark dispute. Back in 2009, in fact, we highlighted Twitpic as one example (of a few) of how Twitter seemed to take a very open attitude towards its trademarks and let the various companies building on its platform make use of different forms of "twitter" and "tweet." A year later, the company was even more explicit in offering "free" licenses for its trademark for third party services. That's pretty clearly changed these days, and building Twitter as a more closed system where all of the innovation has to come from within, rather than from third parties, is unfortunate (and potentially quite limiting for the future). All that said... I'm really not sure I buy this excuse for why Twitpic is shutting down: We originally filed for our trademark in 2009 and our first use in commerce dates back to February 2008 when we launched. We encountered several hurdles and difficulties in getting our trademark approved even though our first use in commerce predated other applications, but we worked through each challenge and in fact had just recently finished the last one. During the “published for opposition” phase of the trademark is when Twitter reached out to our counsel and implied we could be denied access to their API if we did not give up our mark. Unfortunately we do not have the resources to fend off a large company like Twitter to maintain our mark which we believe whole heartedly is rightfully ours. Therefore, we have decided to shut down Twitpic. But... that makes no sense at all. Twitpic does not need a registered trademark in order to stay in business. It has no need to fight Twitter on this, and if it's concern is the legal fees, why not just drop the whole trademark application. Registered trademarks have some uses, but common law trademarks are nearly as powerful for most important cases. Twitpic could easily just drop the trademark application process (saving legal fees there as well) and stay in business. The idea that you need a registered trademark makes no sense. The idea that you'd shut down the entire business just because Twitter opposed the trademark also makes no sense. It sounds much more like this was a convenient excuse for Twitpic to shut down while "blaming" Twitter for something, but without pointing out that the real problem might have been back when Twitter built in its own photo hosting service.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Freakonomics had an interesting podcast discussing which is more dangerous: alcohol or marijuana? If alcohol didn't exist and was discovered tomorrow, would it be as acceptable as it currently is? It probably would have hard time getting FDA approval, but then the same could be said of Aspirin, if it didn't have its long history as a wonder drug. Here are a few more questions to ponder about alcohol the next time you're not so sober, perhaps. There are a bunch of supposedly effective ways to reduce drunkenness, but how effective are they really? Jim Koch (founder of Sam Adams beer) swears by a teaspoon of yeast to minimize the effects of alcohol, but a small sample test -- along with some microbiologists' opinions -- suggest that this is an urban legend. So cancel that order of yeast, unless you want to try your own experimental procedure. [url] As with many medications and drugs, we don't actually know how alcohol induces intoxication. The causes of hangovers are similarly unknown, even though there seem to be no shortage of recommended cures (of dubious effectiveness). [url] Professor David Nutt has been working on an alternative to alcohol for years, but it's not easy to displace ethanol in our culture (or in our legal regulations). We've mentioned this synthehol-like project before, but more recently, Nutt is appealing to investors to fund his research to develop an alcohol substitute that has an antidote -- which he claims could have a significantly positive impact on human health since it might eliminate drunk driving and other unwanted effects of intoxication. Perhaps a crowdfunding campaign is in order? [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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