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There's probably no better way to announce that the broadband service you're providing is inadequate than the mayor of a town feeling compelled to write an apologetic letter to tourists, apologizing in advance for the lousy connection (or the complete lack of one). Blogger Ewan Grantham came across the following letter in his hotel room in Tusayan, AZ (right outside the Grand Canyon). [link to photo of the letter] Dear Tusayan Guest- As a guest in one of our wonderful Tusayan hotels, we know that like our residents, you have expectations in today's technology age of being able to easily and consistently access the internet highway during your stay in our community. Again, like our residents, we understand your frustration with the inconsistent strength of the broadband signal, or even total lack of an ability to connect. It is an issue that we have to deal with on a daily basis due to a lack of sufficient signal from our primary service broadband provider, CenturyLink. What bandwidth we have coming into the entire community has been severely over-subscribed (sold to too many users for the small signal strength available) and thus the poor quality of connectivity in our community. The situation is NOT due to a lack of effort or desire to provide you a quality service by the hotel where you are staying. It is due the lack of availability of broad bandwidth from CenturyLink. The Town itself has been working for many months to try and resolve this situation by working with several entities to bring in a consistent and reliable service to meet not only our residents needs, but to also provide the level of service that we feel our guests and visitors to the Grand Canyon deserve. Hopefully we will be able meet those needs in the near future. Please understand that the issue is beyond our control as a whole community and not just this individual business and bear with us and we work to join the internet highway with quality services. In the meantime, enjoy the reason you have come to our community, the Grand Canyon in all its magical and powerful beauty. We very much appreciate you choosing to stay in Tusayan and hope that you will also enjoy our great rooms, food & beverage services and the wonderful people and staff that call Tusayan their home. Respectfully, Greg Bryan Mayor Town of Tusayan That CenturyLink's connection is indeed lousy has been confirmed by Grantham. Unfortunately I can vouch that service throughout the area surrounding the national park was rather bad anywhere we went. In the national park itself service was actually pretty good, but I gather that is because the NP has it's own AT&T contract that avoids using the CenturyLink backhaul. Grantham also wonders what purpose this letter ultimately serves: whether it's to push CenturyLink to the bargaining table, or hoping that the negative attention will draw bids from competing services. Either way, there's no shaming quite like public shaming, and CenturyLink is getting its shaming from the top man in town. A look at Tusayan's city council meetings shows that the town has been unhappy with CenturyLink for nearly four years now. The minutes from the June 1, 2011 meeting state the following: Councilmember Rueter gave a presentation on internet opportunities for the Town and recommends continuing discussions with Century Link, but also to research options for a tower for the Town. A report on that meeting quotes the mayor as saying previous discussions with Qwest (which CenturyLink bought) date back even further. Mayor Greg Bryan said he was not encouraged by his own findings. Using his business, the Best Western Squire Inn, as an example, he said conversations with Qwest regarding Internet expansion began nine or ten months ago. In order to provide fiber optics in town, Qwest said they would need around $1,000,000. More details from that council meeting indicate that Qwest/CenturyLink was looking for a 10-year commitment for a certain number of Tusayan businesses before it would move forward with expanding its capacity -- on top of the $1,000,000 investment from the city itself. Mayor Bryan said that Qwest was refusing to move forward until it received more service renewals for Tusayan businesses. Further notes from later council meetings indicate CenturyLink has been unwilling to budge from either its long contracts or $1 million in funding from the town. Oct. 26, 2011: Robbie Evans, Tusayan Fire District, suggested that the Council look into the Arizona Corporation Services in reference to CenturyLink providing the town with broadband service. CenturyLink is supposed to be serving the town with internet and the Arizona Corporation Services can be contacted if CenturyLink does not. Feb. 15, 2012: CenturyLink is unresponsive to a solution as it is costly to install. There is current legislation that would allow ADOT to lay conduit along highways or allow vendors to lay conduit in the right away. The Town may need to lay aside money for the next several years to address this problem. Council Member Rueter would like to see fiber laid as wireless broadband would only address the problem temporarily as the need for use increases. To that end, it appears the city has now abandoned hope of working this out with CenturyLink and is seeking bids on fiber optic lines. While considerably more expensive (this 2013 meeting's minutes contain a quote from NI Solutions of $1.7 million), this may finally give the town a connection that won't disappoint incoming tourists and, at least at this point, doesn't seem to come bundled with a demand for a 10-year contract with a single provider. (NI provides "open-access" fiber connections which can be utilized by any service provider.) On the other hand, the situation doesn't seem to have progressed much past the estimate stage. Mayor Bryan's letter indicates things are still at a standstill with CenturyLink, and no competitor has offered to take over the territory. Bryan's shaming letter also indicates that CenturyLink's purchase of Qwest didn't improve local service, despite earlier hopeful comments that the new providers were "more attuned to help[ing] rural Arizona areas." This lack of movement possibly suggests that no bids are in the range the town is willing to spend, or it could be that CenturyLink is actively blocking competitors from receiving additional federal funding, something it has done in the past. Bryan's move, however, is a smart one (if not a little self-interested -- he owns a hotel in town): put more eyeballs -- especially those of people who drive the town's economy -- on the problem.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Some more good news on the patent front. Following the Supreme Court's ruling last month in the Alice v. CLS Bank case, there has been some question about how the lower courts would now look at software patents. As we noted, the Supreme Court's ruling would seem to technically invalidate nearly all software patents by basically saying that if a patent "does no more than require a generic computer to perform generic computer functions" then it's no longer patentable. But that, of course, is basically all that software does. Still, the Supreme Court's ruling also insisted that plenty of software was still patentable, but it didn't give any actual examples. Now in the first post-Alice ruling on a software patent at CAFC (the appeals court that handles all patent cases, and which is infamous for massively expanding the patentability of software over the years), the court has smacked down a patent held by one of the many (many, many) shell companies of patent trolling giant Acacia. The shell, Digitech Image Technologies, got control of US Patent 6,128,415, which had originally held by Polaroid. The patent supposedly describes a setup for making sure images are consistent on a variety of different devices. Acacia/Digitech did what patent trolls do and basically sued a ton of companies, including NewEgg, Overstock, Xerox, Toshiba, Fujifilm and more. A lower court kicked out the patent, and now CAFC has upheld that ruling, making use of the Alice ruling to make it doubly clear this isn't patentable. The court doesn't waste too much time, as the ruling is quite short. The key bits: There is no dispute that the asserted method claims describe a process. Claims that fall within one of the four subject matter categories may nevertheless be ineligible if they encompass laws of nature, physical phenomena, or abstract ideas..... The Supreme Court recently reaffirmed that fundamental concepts, by themselves, are ineligible abstract ideas. Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank... In determining whether a process claim recites an abstract idea, we must examine the claim as a whole, keeping in mind that an invention is not ineligible just because it relies upon a law of nature or mathematical algorithm. As noted by the Supreme Court, “an application of a law of nature or mathematical formula to a known structure or process may well be deserving of patent protection.” ... A claim may be eligible if it includes additional inventive features such that the claim scope does not solely capture the abstract idea.... But a claim reciting an abstract idea does not become eligible “merely by adding the words ‘apply it.’” The method in the ’415 patent claims an abstract idea because it describes a process of organizing information through mathematical correlations and is not tied to a specific structure or machine. [... Discussion of specific claim in the patent ...] The above claim recites a process of taking two data sets and combining them into a single data set, the device profile. The two data sets are generated by taking existing information�”i.e., measured chromatic stimuli, spatial stimuli, and device response characteristic functions�”and organizing this information into a new form. The above claim thus recites an ineligible abstract process of gathering and combining data that does not require input from a physical device. As discussed above, the two data sets and the resulting device profile are ineligible subject matter. Without additional limitations, a process that employs mathematical algorithms to manipulate existing information to generate additional information is not patent eligible. “If a claim is directed essentially to a method of calculating, using a mathematical formula, even if the solution is for a specific purpose, the claimed method is nonstatutory.” As Tim Lee notes, this ruling is great for folks opposed to software patents, and should send chills down the spines of those who support them. Because that basic reasoning can invalidate a hell of a lot of software patents. Consider Google's famous PageRank patent, which covers the algorithm at the heart of Google's search engine. In the language of the Federal Circuit, it claims the use of "mathematical algorithms" (involving eigenvectors) to "manipulate existing information" (a list of links between web pages) to "generate additional information" (a ranking of the pages). The number of software patents out there that use algorithms to manipulate existing information to generate additional information is... rather large. And they may all be invalid.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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One of the repeated talking points by the NSA for years has been about how there are all these "strict controls" on who has access to data and how it's used. We've seen pretty clear evidence that the NSA's definition of "strict controls" (like so many NSA definitions of plain English words and phrases) is different than what most people consider "strict controls." After all, it insisted for months that Snowden didn't have any access to actual surveillance data... until it was revealed that he did. There were also all those cases of flagrant abuses of the NSA's system that were revealed last fall. The NSA pretended this showed how good they were at catching anyone who abused the system, but the details suggested otherwise. Many of the "caught" abuses only came out years later when the people who abused the systems to spy on lovers and friends admitted to it during interviews. Keith Alexander insisted that the NSA had "100% audibility" of the actions of their employees and they made sure that no one abused their powers: "The assumption is our people are just out there wheeling and dealing. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have tremendous oversight over these programs. We can audit the actions of our people 100%, and we do that," he said. Addressing the Black Hat convention in Las Vegas, an annual gathering for the information security industry, he gave a personal example: "I have four daughters. Can I go and intercept their emails? No. The technical limitations are in there." Should anyone in the NSA try to circumvent that, in defiance of policy, they would be held accountable, he said: "There is 100% audibility." Of course, that doesn't explain why so many of the "LOVINT" cases only came out after people self-confessed many years later, rather than through any audits. Meanwhile, in the latest Ed Snowden interview (done with the Guardian's Alan Rusbridger), Snowden reveals that NSA employees routinely would share naked photos that had been intercepted: “You've got young enlisted guys, 18 to 22 years old,” Snowden said. “They've suddenly been thrust into a position of extraordinary responsibility where they now have access to all of your private records. In the course of their daily work they stumble across something that is completely unrelated to their work in any sort of necessary sense. For example, an intimate nude photo of someone in a sexually compromising position. But they're extremely attractive. “So what do they do? They turn around in their chair and show their co-worker. The co-worker says: ‘Hey that's great. Send that to Bill down the way.’ And then Bill sends it to George and George sends it to Tom. And sooner or later this person's whole life has been seen by all of these other people. It's never reported. Nobody ever knows about it because the auditing of these systems is incredibly weak. The fact that your private images, records of your private lives, records of your intimate moments have been taken from your private communications stream from the intended recipient and given to the government without any specific authorization without any specific need is itself a violation of your rights. Why is that in a government database?” Then Alan Rusbridger, The Guardian’s editor-in-chief, asked: “You saw instances of that happening?” “Yeah,” Snowden responded. “Numerous?” “It's routine enough, depending on the company that you keep, it could be more or less frequent. These are seen as the fringe benefits of surveillance positions." Of course, none of this is really that new. Way back in 2008, you may recall, that it was revealed that NSA analysts were listening in on pillow talk phone calls between Americans overseas and loved ones back home... and sharing those recordings around the office: Not only were calls between Americans listened to and recorded on a regular basis, the "good parts" (i.e., phone sex) were sent around to other operators to listen to as well. One of the operators said that on a regular basis messages would be sent around with messages like: "Hey, check this out. There's good phone sex or there's some pillow talk, pull up this call, it's really funny, go check it out." That was revealed years before Snowden even worked for the NSA. It would appear that little has changed.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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No one's immune from careless document handling, not when a government's in charge! The ongoing war of words over the Internal Revenue Service's lackluster data retention continues, with the agency claiming emails relevant to a House investigation all simply vanished during a series of coincidental computer crashes. That these should have been backed up to hard copy (as IRS policy dictates) and backed up further by servers elsewhere has been the topic of conversation for a few weeks now, but all the posturing in the world isn't going to bring these emails back. The UK has its own problems with keeping relevant records intact and accessible. A little over a week ago, the UK Foreign Office was asked to produce documents detailing the use of its Diego Garcia base for CIA extraordinary rendition flights. In a variation of the "computer ate my homework," the Foreign Office offered up this explanation for its failure to produce the requested records. ''Daily occurrence logs, which record the flights landing and taking off, cover the period since 2003. Though there are some limited records from 2002, I understand they are incomplete due to water damage.'' Oh, well. It's only stuff from 2002 that's somehow too wet to recover. Out of a decade's worth of records, that's not too bad. Except that records from 2002 are exactly the records pertinent to the discussion, as indirectly acknowledged by a Foreign Office spokeswoman: ''With or without flight records we have firm assurances from the US government, as recently as December 2013, that apart from two instances of rendition through Diego Garcia in 2002 there have been no other instances in which US intelligence flights landed in the UK, our overseas territories or crown dependencies with a detainee on board since September 11, 2001.'' So, if we choose to believe the "firm assurances" of the US government, 2002 would be the only year with acknowledged rendition flights, making the rest of the non-wet documents largely extraneous. Cue disbelief from pretty much everyone but the Foreign Office. First, the CIA's "torture tapes" vanish and now records on its rendition flights somehow managed to sustain very specific damage. Maybe it's true. Maybe only the records actively being sought happened to be stored in harm's way. Either way, the cries of "cover up" forced the Foreign Office to take a closer look at the requested files, quite possibly for the first time. Foreign Office minister Mark Simmonds said a ''fuller inspection'' from BIOT immigration officials has revealed ''previously wet paper records have been dried out''. This variation of "Oh, you mean these records?" has prompted further disbelief and, presumably, an above-average amount of cynicism. The Foreign Office has also declared that it will (rather belatedly) remove these files from beneath the "leaking roof" and digitize them into compliance with Two-Thousand-Freaking-Fourteen. Unlike the thoroughly destroyed tapes, wet things will dry out, provided someone makes an actual attempt to recover the files and assess the damage. The Foreign Office appears to have done none of that when first asked to turn them over. Instead, it took the word "wet" to mean "irrecoverable" until the building outrage forced it to actually send someone to take a look at the files it declared lost. Odd how that works. Wet things becoming dry. Destroyed records suddenly becoming recoverable. The Foreign Office loses either way. There have been too many previous attempts by the UK government to cover up its involvement in some of the US's more questionable activities. This sudden about-face on missing documents only confirms that default mode is still secrecy. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Back in March, we reported on the growing rejection of corporate sovereignty in TAFTA/TTIP, even by the German government. Since then, criticism of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), which puts corporations above nations, has become even louder and more widespread. Some significant manifestations of that took place during a plenary session of the newly-elected European Parliament, where Karel De Gucht, the commissioner leading the negotiations for the EU, made a brief statement on TAFTA/TTIP. Here's how one member of the European Parliament (MEP) responded, as reported by The Parliament magazine: During Tuesday's plenary session GUE/NGL deputy Helmut Scholz addressed De Gucht, saying, "You carried out a public consultation on the inclusion of an investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) clause which received over 115,000 responses. "Citizens don't want ISDS; neither in TTIP nor in the agreement with Canada," the German deputy argued. Many of those 115,000 responses were made using Web sites that offered a (negative) template for responding. That means the European Commission will probably try to dismiss them as bulk submissions. But others will be much harder to ignore -- like this rigorous response made by more than a hundred prominent scholars from all over Europe and across the globe. Also speaking at the plenary session was the Scottish MEP David Martin, who issued the following warning: The Socialists were proud to be at the birth of TTIP, and we do not want to be its assassins, and I want to tell the Commission clearly now, though, that if we have to be, we will be. And that's why we want the Commission to listen carefully to our concerns. Martin's words are doubly significant. First, because TTIP will not pass without the support of the Socialists, so the threat to kill the agreement is not an idle one. And secondly, because Martin played a key role in stopping ACTA two years ago, when he was the rapporteur -- the European Parliament's expert -- for the brief, and advised his fellow MEPs to vote against the agreement. The video of Martin's speech linked to above begins by showing a number of MEPs holding up placards against TTIP, and that's not the only demonstration that took place recently. A small group of protesters disrupted the latest stakeholder meeting in Brussels, before being bundled fairly roughly from the room: Another senior socialist politician with serious concerns about TTIP, and about corporate sovereignty in particular, is the MEP who chairs the influential committee on international trade, the principal one for TAFTA/TTIP: German Socialist Bernd Lange, who said procedural rules would stop [right-wing MEP] Le Pen grandstanding or using sessions for publicity, also warned that an investor-state dispute settlement mechanism should be dropped from TTIP. If it wasn't, he said, the Parliament’s next resolution on TTIP could be negative. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the most powerful individual in the EU, Jean-Claude Juncker, has also come out against ISDS in his "Political Guidelines for the next European Commission" (pdf), published earlier this week: As Commission President, I will also be very clear that I will not sacrifice Europe's safety, health, social and data protection standards or our cultural diversity on the altar of free trade. Notably, the safety of the food we eat and the protection of Europeans' personal data will be non-negotiable for me as Commission President. Nor will I accept that the jurisdiction of courts in the EU Member States is limited by special regimes for investor disputes. The rule of law and the principle of equality before the law must also apply in this context. Given this resistance to corporate sovereignty at the highest levels of the European Commission and European Parliament, it's hard to see how De Gucht can continue to push for it in his negotiations with the US. After all, once TAFTA/TTIP is agreed, the European Parliament will have a yes/no vote, and will be unable to modify it. That means the only way to block ISDS is to reject the whole deal -- just as it happened with ACTA for the same reason. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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So let's say you're a highly-paid CEO of Seattle's publically-owned utility company, City Light, and you've just been ironically kicked around in the media for a couple of weeks because you spent public money to boost your own reputation. Let's say that, far from being successful in said reputation-boosting, you're now facing questions over why you spent thousands of dollars to do this in the first place and that now all search results tend to point to this story rather than whatever it was you were originally trying to drown out. What do you do? You ask for a damned refund, of course. And that's exactly what City Light's chief, Jorge Carrasco, is going to do, even if it has to spend even more public money to get that public money back. The project was concocted by the CEO’s chief of staff, Sephir Hamilton. In an interview with Ars, Hamilton said that the agency may even file a lawsuit to enforce this refund. "We're leaving our options open,” he said. “I hope that they'll see that what we signed up for was not the service that they delivered. We were sold one bill of goods and we were given another.” Ah, yes, the old "spend more public money on a lawsuit to get a refund on the public money we shouldn't have spent" strategy. I like it, not only because it's hilariously recursive, but because it allows for the possibility that City Light loses and the maximum amount of taxpayer money is spent inappropriately. Not that the folks they decided to do business with, Brand.com, seem to be anything remotely resembling reputable (editors note: alliteration combo!). “We were told that they would provide help in getting some of our past material and news releases placed in reputable blogs and journals and ultimately didn't know that they would be paying for placement or creating fake news websites to place that news,” Hamilton said in an interview. “And ultimately, all of the material that was generated has been taken off search results because it violated Google's policies.” E-mails from City Light show that Justin DeLisi, a Brand.com campaign manager, provided links to “stories” posted to websites that have since been pulled down and that appear to have been utterly fake. The "whois" information on those domains, which include weeklytimes.com, gazers.com, and advisories.com, is also obscured. So, just to summarize, City Light, a publically owned utility, paid a shady reputation company thousands of dollars to placate the ego of its CEO and now wants a refund because said shady company wasn't able to produce results. Oh, and they're willing to spend the money to file and fight a lawsuit to get this refund. Look, at some point you just have to stop digging, even if you've legitimately been had. City Light's reputation hasn't been done any favors by any of these actions. Jorge Carrasco may want to take a little bit of advice from himself. Carrasco said at a press conference that he regretted the entire effort to scrub his online reputation. Hamilton concurred. “It was an experiment that certainly didn't work and we would not do it again,” he told Ars. Right, so just extend that regret out to this entire situation and stop digging yourself holes. Come on, guys, I don't want to have to write a third post about you. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Materials with nanoscale structures promise to make a lot of things vastly better. The obvious application for smaller and faster computer processors will likely extend Moore's Law for a few more years, so maybe people won't really notice the improvements because everyone is already accustomed to computers getting faster at an insane rate. The noticeable nanotechnology might show up in things that never really existed before. Here are just a few examples of materials that could lead to nanotech cloaking devices or some other cool stuff (if nanotech can actually be produced economically someday). Surrey NanoSystems has developed a material made of carbon nanotubes that is "super black" and absorbs nearly all the visible light that hits it. They named it Vantablack, and it reflects a record low 0.035% of incident light. (They don't say how durable the coating is, but they do say it's "very expensive" to make right now, so don't expect to see this stuff outside of laboratories and super sensitive telescopes.) [url] A nanostructured material made up of tiny cones can cover a surface and hide underlying objects from your sense of touch. Most cloaking devices shield things from being seen or heard, but a thin layer of this stuff prevents anyone from feeling what is underneath it (better than any typical foam or padding). [url] A spray-on window coating can selectively block heat OR light, according to how much voltage you apply to the film. This material can block about 50% of incoming heat and 70% of visible light, but researchers are still working on improvements to make it better and cheaper for commercial applications. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We just noted that the UN has made it clear that mass surveillance and broad data retention likely violates international law. Given that, perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise to hear that UN human rights commissioner Navi Pillay has said that Ed Snowden should not face a trial, since he was revealing human rights violations: "Those who disclose human rights violations should be protected: we need them," Pillay told a news conference. "I see some of it here in the case of Snowden, because his revelations go to the core of what we are saying about the need for transparency, the need for consultation," she said. "We owe a great deal to him for revealing this kind of information." While this is unlikely to lead the US to suddenly drop its Espionage Act charges against Snowden (when has the US ever cared about what the UN has to say?), it's yet another example in a growing list of people recognizing just how extreme and isolated the US government's kneejerk reaction was to the Snowden revelations. If the US government were actually willing to be self-critical, it might realize what a mistake it's doing in trying to string up the messenger. We should be examining the appropriateness of the surveillance state, not whether the person who revealed the details should spend the rest of his life in jail.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Well that did not take long at all. We just wrote about the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Estate begging the Supreme Court to issue a stay on the appeals court ruling that determined (easily) that Sherlock Holmes was in the public domain. The Conan Doyle Estate wanted the Supreme Court to issue a stay on the decision while it prepared an appeal. That stay would effectively block the publication of the book that Leslie Klinger was planning -- which was at the center of the lawsuit. Justice Elena Kagan, who received the request for the stay from the estate has already rejected it with no comment or explanation. She did so without consulting with her fellow justices or without asking (or waiting) for a filing from Klinger. She has every right to just make this decision, but it certainly suggests that the Supreme Court (well, at least Kagan) finds the appeals court ruling to be quite persuasive, and is not at all convinced the estate has a legitimate argument. I'm sure that the estate will still ask the Supreme Court to rehear the case, but at least this initial response suggests that the Supreme Court is not interested. Chalk up another (small) victory for the public domain.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Techdirt has noted before that bad policy ideas have a habit of spreading around the world. As the UK's Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill continues its ridiculously rapid passage through Parliament, it now looks as if Australia may bring in something similar. Here's what the country's Attorney-General, George Brandis, said, as reported by ZDNet: "The question of data retention is under active consideration by the government. I might point out to you as recently as yesterday, the [UK's] House of Commons passed a new data retention statute. This is very much the way in which western nations are going," he said. Although Brandis insisted that this was "not a decision that Australia has yet made," on related matters it seems that everything has been decided: Attorney-General George Brandis has introduced legislation to Parliament to expand the ability of spies to hack computer networks, allow more flexible warrants and improve cooperation between different intelligence agencies. The new legislation will permit: one warrant to cover a network of computers and electronic devices, not just individual computers the computers of third parties (those who are not suspects) to be used in order to access other targeted computers intelligence officers to disrupt the operations of a computer in some circumstances As that makes clear, this will allow offensive actions, including using computers of innocent parties to attack other targets -- a really bad Australian idea that Techdirt has written about before. And as if all that weren't enough, Brandis also plans to bring in harsh laws against whistleblowers who might be tempted to emulate Edward Snowden: Spies who leak sensitive information will face tough new penalties of up to 10 years' jail and internet firms could be forced to store customers' data for up to two years under sweeping national security reforms. Prompted in part by the leaks from renegade US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, the Abbott government will on Wednesday introduce legislation clamping down on intelligence officers who leak to journalists, lawyers and other members of the public. As the Sydney Morning Herald report quoted above notes, the Australian government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott is trying to cover every eventuality: the Abbott government will move to plug a ''legislative gap'' by making it an offence to copy, keep or remove sensitive intelligence information, or to make a record of information without authorisation -- such as making notes of a meeting without approval. These offences will carry up to three years' jail. At present, no crime is committed unless the copied material is actually handed over to someone else, but Senator Brandis told colleagues it could often be difficult to prove that the information had been passed on. It will be interesting to see whether that idea starts to spread, too.... Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As online gaming becomes more and more popular, we're of course beginning to hear stories of occasional missteps in how the online infrastructure is handled. The reasons for this can vary. For instance, maybe you're Electronic Arts and you've both made your game require a connection to your servers but you misjudged the load that would be on those servers. Or maybe you're Electronic Arts and you decide to shut down an online game without refunding the money people have spent to play it. Or, hey, maybe you're Electronic Arts and you decide to pull the plug on online gaming servers extremely soon just to push gamers into buying the next annual sports title. The point is that these reasons tend to be things that could be avoided. Sony appears to be learning that lesson now, what with the gaming universe both shouting and laughing at them for forgetting to renew the domains on several popular gaming sites they run. Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) sites www.soe.com and www.sonyonline.net were sometimes redirecting users to generic holding pages from Network Solutions. Some SOE-related sites for games such as Everquest, Everquest 2, Landmark and H1Z1 were also apparently affected. The reason became quickly apparent: the domains of the sites expired. The details are basically that the renewal emails all went to a junk mailbox set up for an employee that had left the company a while back and were never actually seen by whoever had taken over their duties. SOE President John Smedley, to his credit, isn't even attempting anything besides an admission and an apology. “The payment notifications went to a junk email box,” Smedley tweeted, adding, “Someone left and it got caught in the replacements junk filter. Simple as that. Embarrassing as that. No point dodging. DNS problems could take up to 48 hours to resolve,” he wrote, adding, “We are really really sorry on this one folks. Embarrassing and preventable. We screwed up.” Look, it's unfair to expect anyone to never make a mistake, but this all comes off as bush-league stuff that we just shouldn't be reading about when it comes to a company like Sony, with all their experience in running an online gaming platform. Get it together guys. I mean, granted, I have no skin in the game, because I game the way God intended: in a dark room, playing alone, and with a cold craft beer next to me. But, you know, for all the other people. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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In all of the discussion of the TSA, their nudie scanners, and their insane groping as part of security theater, there tends to be a lot of hand-wringing over the slide of our civil liberties and the conditioning of citizens to accept these kinds of intrusions. The problem with making these kinds of slippery-slope and feature-creep arguments has always been how similar they are to insane conspiracy theories and they're typically met with as much derision by the general public. Sometimes, however, you get the unfortunate payoffs to these warnings. That appears to be exactly what we have in a story about a drunk jackass in San Francisco posing as a TSA agent at the airport and luring women into secluded areas to grope them. A man suspected of being drunk posed as a security screener at San Francisco International Airport long enough to direct a couple of women into a private booth for pat downs before real security staffers caught on to him, authorities said Wednesday. The 53-year-old San Francisco man was arrested on suspicion of public drunkenness after creating a stir at the A-side security checkpoint of the International Terminal about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, said Sgt. Wesley Matsuura of the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office. Here's how insane this is: airport security has so conditioned people to having their privates tweaked that the women in this story likely still don't know that they were violated by someone posing as an agent, and all of this happened amidst the security apparatus the TSA has set up to begin with. It's like a double trump card. Security sucks to point that two women were molested in their midst before anyone caught on and it was only allowed to happen by the victims because they've been conditioned to expect exactly this sort of thing. Look, sorry, but sometimes the damned slope is indeed slippery and sometimes we get to see the dangers of trading liberty for safety right in front of us. By all accounts, this molester's scheme wasn't even difficult to pull off. Two other airport law enforcement sources tell us the incident started when the man entered the security area wearing khaki pants, a blue polo shirt and blue rubber gloves - an outfit that might have been mistaken for those worn by screeners with the private Covenant security firm. The man, apparently without saying much, steered a woman into one of the private screening booths used to pat down selected passengers, our sources say. What happened inside isn't known, because the woman soon disappeared to catch a flight. A few minutes later, the man directed a second woman toward the booth, our sources say. This time, however, he caught the attention of real screeners, who figured something was wrong because male screeners are prohibited from taking women into the booth for a pat-down without a female screener also being present. Only then was he detained and charged with...public drunkenness. And nothing else. Why? Well, because the women he violated got on their planes thinking he was an agent and made their way to their destinations. If that doesn't demonstrate the danger in all this, nothing will. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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In February of last year, we wrote about author/lawyer Leslie Klinger suing the Conan Doyle Estate for demanding a license for his latest book about Sherlock Holmes. An earlier book that Klinger had published about Holmes had resulted in his publisher paying the estate a license, but Klinger felt he didn't need such a license for the latest book. Nearly all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes works are in the public domain (published before 1923), but there is one remaining book of a bunch of stories called The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes which was published after 1923 and is still in copyright. Klinger insists his own latest book would only pull from the public domain works, but the Doyle Estate made the amazing argument that it could effectively keep the characters of Holmes and Watson locked up forever by claiming that each new work added another layer to the character in an ongoing fashion, and the clock would start anew each time. This reasoning got rejected quickly by the district court, and last month an appeals court ruled (strongly) against the estate, making it quite clear that the basic characters are very much in the public domain. As the court noted, the estate doesn't get to make up copyright law the way it would like: We cannot find any basis in statute or case law for extending a copyright beyond its expiration. When a story falls into the public domain, story elements�”including characters covered by the expired copyright�”become fair game for follow-on authors... The court seems completely unpersuaded by the Conan Doyle Estate's ridiculous fear that (*gasp*) if Holmes goes into the public domain, some people might create different versions of him. That's actually kind of the point of the public domain. That's what's supposed to happen. Well, wouldn't you know it? The Conan Doyle Estate is not giving up, and appears poised to take this to the Supreme Court. It has started out by asking the Supreme Court to stay the appeals court ruling (basically blocking the publication of the book) until the estate can ask the Supreme Court to hear the full case. The estate's argument is about as silly as you'd expect. Basically, it insists that because Klinger has not handed over his entire work, it can't be declared to be non-infringing, and thus his publication should be blocked. The Estate is actually flipping the equation (without admitting it). It's correct that to show infringement, you first would need to examine the work, but here it's actually demanding that a negative be proven. It's demanding that Klinger present his final work to prove that it doesn't infringe. That's silly. If Klinger's final work does infringe, then the estate can bring it to court. The question Klinger's original lawsuit addressed was more straightforward: so long as he relies on the public domain works as his source material, there shouldn't be anything that infringes. And two courts have agreed with him. Hopefully the Supreme Court rejects this, which would also likely mean that it will reject the eventual appeal from the estate as well. However, if Justice Kagan (who is handling these kinds of requests) decides to grant the stay, then we could be in for another round and another chance for the Supreme Court to dig in on copyright issues. Given its past record -- especially on the public domain -- this might be a dangerous thing.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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When the EU Court of Justice issued its "right to be forgotten" ruling, it seemed to forget that there are many more parties involved than simply the aggrieved person standing in front of them. There are those whose articles are being delisted, many of which are journalistic institutions that aren't going to simply lay there and allow some third party to selectively edit their publications. The Bolton News (UK) just received notification from Google that one of its stories was due to be vanished from Google's search engine. Needless to say, this request has produced another story highlighting the original story the filer(s) wanted delisted. A STORY in The Bolton News has come under the spotlight of the controversial new "right to be forgotten" ruling… The 2010 story details a court case in which Ben Barlow, Christopher Mahoney and Christopher Brennan were jailed after they pleaded guilty to violent disorder. They had attacked a group of soldiers who had all served in Afghanistan. The victims told the court they were more frightened in the pub than they had been on the front line. [...] In the attack, the thugs glassed paratrooper Adam Evans in the neck and stabbed him in the leg. Another of the soldiers, Jamie Morton, who was kicked and punched on the ground, said he feared he was going to die. At the trial of the three men, Judge William Morris said: “These victims were all injured. Mr Evans was very gravely injured indeed.” Someone thought this story should just go away. The Bolton News thought otherwise. Now, whoever wanted the original story delisted has another article to add to a future request. But judging from editor-in-chief's comments, adding Bolton News links to a right to be forgotten request is going to be a waste of time. “As the editor of a newspaper, I believe passionately in the freedom of the press and I will fight any attempts to remove legitimate content… “Clearly, people who aren’t happy that stories which we have legitimately published should not have the right to have them removed from a Google search, in my view." It sounds like the Bolton News will simply highlight each request as it comes in, defeating the requester's attempt to bury bad news. Many other journalism outlets have taken the same stance in the last several days, turning the EU court's ruling into one of the most self-defeating decisions ever rendered. The only way to prevent this is for the EU court to start taking action against journalistic entities who subvert the spirit of the ruling or ordering Google to stop notifying those affected, neither of which should even be considered by the legal body. The original ruling was terrible enough, especially in its blissful ignorance of how this "right to be forgotten" would work in practice. Things can be forgotten, even on the internet. But it's organic. Whatever the steady flow of content doesn't push aside will likely succumb to link rot at some point. Newspaper websites (a favorite target of right to be forgotten requests) experiment with paywalled archives or otherwise make their older articles unavailable (often just sloppy maintenance or coding), solving many of these complainants' problems for them. Issuing a request is pretty much guaranteed to bring it all right back to the surface. Forcing this organic process will almost always backfire, something requesters should keep in mind before filling out Google's webform. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The good folks over at the EFF have a detailed overview of a new report from the UN, which has basically found that mass surveillance, similar to that which is carried out by the NSA and GCHQ can often violate international law. The full report is just 16 pages, but the EFF version highlights some of the key lines. The biggest is the report's rejection of the whole "collect the haystack" approach to mass surveillance. The UN report makes it clear that this is not a reasonable approach, especially when it is not shown to be "necessary and proportionate." Where there is a legitimate aim and appropriate safeguards are in place, a State might be allowed to engage in quite intrusive surveillance; however, the onus is on the Government to demonstrate that interference is both necessary and proportionate to the specific risk being addressed. Mass or “bulk” surveillance programmes may thus be deemed to be arbitrary, even if they serve a legitimate aim and have been adopted on the basis of an accessible legal regime. In other words, it will not be enough that the measures are targeted to find certain needles in a haystack; the proper measure is the impact of the measures on the haystack, relative to the harm threatened; namely, whether the measure is necessary and proportionate. It further finds that many countries do not effectively limit who has access to such bulk data collections, which exacerbates the problem: One factor that must be considered in determining proportionality is what is done with bulk data and who may have access to them once collected. Many national frameworks lack “use limitations”, instead allowing the collection of data for one legitimate aim, but subsequent use for others. The absence of effective use limitations has been exacerbated since 11 September 2001, with the line between criminal justice and protection of national security blurring significantly. The resulting sharing of data between law enforcement agencies, intelligence bodies and other State organs risks violating article 17 of the Covenant, because surveillance measures that may be necessary and proportionate for one legitimate aim may not be so for the purposes of another It also finds requirements for data retention to be problematic: Where there is a legitimate aim and appropriate safeguards are in place, a State might be allowed to engage in quite intrusive surveillance; however, the onus is on the Government to demonstrate that interference is both necessary and proportionate to the specific risk being addressed. Mass or “bulk” surveillance programmes may thus be deemed to be arbitrary, even if they serve a legitimate aim and have been adopted on the basis of an accessible legal regime. In other words, it will not be enough that the measures are targeted to find certain needles in a haystack; the proper measure is the impact of the measures on the haystack, relative to the harm threatened; namely, whether the measure is necessary and proportionate. The report condemns the pernicious use of "secret interpretations" of the law, something that has become all too common in the US: Consequently, secret rules and secret interpretations �“ even secret judicial interpretations �“ of law do not have the necessary qualities of “law”. Neither do laws or rules that give the executive authorities, such as security and intelligence services, excessive discretion; the scope and manner of exercise of authoritative discretion granted must be indicated (in the law itself, or in binding, published guidelines) with reasonable clarity. A law that is accessible, but that does not have foreseeable effects, will not be adequate. The secret nature of specific surveillance powers brings with it a greater risk of arbitrary exercise of discretion which, in turn, demands greater precision in the rule governing the exercise of discretion, and additional oversight. While reports like this may not directly impact the US's practices, it adds to the growing understanding and recognition both of what the NSA (and others) does, but also why it's totally unacceptable.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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You know, when it comes to publicity rights, that expansion of law that masturbates celebrity egos like no other, I can laugh it off when we hear from the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Katherine Heigl, and Dan Snyder. I mean, sure they're famous and rich, but they still probably deserve that famous Hitchhiker's Guide designation of "mostly harmless." That their attacks on anyone who dares make even the barest reference to their holy visages typically fail usually serves as enough mental closure in my mind to keep the dogs from barking in my head at night. Manuel Noriega, on the other hand, is an entirely different animal and his lawsuit against Activision over his portrayal in a Call of Duty game just makes me angry. Manuel Noriega, the former dictator of Panama, is suing Call of Duty's video games publisher. The ex-military ruler is seeking lost profits and damages after a character based on him featured in Activision's 2012 title Black Ops II. The 80-year-old is currently serving a jail sentence in Panama for crimes committed during his time in power, including the murder of critics. So let's get this straight: an octogenarian former dictator of Panama, who has been tried and convicted in two separate countries and is currently residing in a prison in Panama, is suing a United States video game publisher over his depiction? Now can we all go ahead and admit publicity rights are ridiculous? And Noriega's suit is a special brand of silly, according to entertainment lawyer Jas Purewal. "But Noriega isn't a US citizen or even a resident. This means that his legal claim becomes questionable, because it's unclear on what legal basis he can actually bring a case against Activision." It's strange that we even have to ask the question, isn't it? The same status Noriega enjoys as a public and historical figure is being used to protect his depiction as a public and historical figure. If we allow publicity rights to dominate the public interest in commenting and portraying public figures, even for entertainment purposes, where is that going to end? That Noriega's age puts him perilously close to crossing the line of all of this being applied to the deceased is even more worrisome. Perhaps the families of long-dead historical devils will look to bury their lineage's history in publicity rights law if this sort of thing is allowed to go on unchecked. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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There have been dozens of techno-panics over the past several years, but one usually expects cooler heads to prevail in government agencies where the word "investigations" is in the title and the employees have access to plethora of cutting-edge equipment. (Note: said "cutting-edge equipment" for surveillance only. Agency computer systems remain an outdated mess and the idea of recording in-custody interviews has finally arrived nearly four decades too late.) We are, of course, talking about the FBI. The FBI's relationship with technology is painfully one-sided. On one hand, it's pushing to gets its biometric database online and fully operational, hopefully years before its report on this database's privacy implications finally arrives. On the other hand, it has argued in court (via the DOJ) that smartphone technology vastly outpaces law enforcement's tools to access possible evidence and, therefore, should be obtainable without a warrant. But it is an investigative agency, which would seem to indicate it has the ability to gather facts and come to informed decisions. But it seems to prefer worried conjecture to actual data. (See also: Insane Clown Posse fans are an organized criminal entity.) But here it goes again, seeing another technological development as another way for criminals to gain the upper hand. In an unclassified but restricted report obtained by the Guardian under a public records request, the FBI predicts that autonomous cars “will have a high impact on transforming what both law enforcement and its adversaries can operationally do with a car.” In a section called Multitasking, the report notes that “bad actors will be able to conduct tasks that require use of both hands or taking one’s eyes off the road which would be impossible today.” The FBI looks at something that has the potential to make roads much safer and sees… autonomous vehicles loaded with gunmen, all of whom can use both hands to fire at pursuing law enforcement… or something. Autonomy … will make mobility more efficient, but will also open up greater possibilities for dual-use applications and ways for a car to be more of a potential lethal weapon that it is today.” Sure, the driverless vehicles could be loaded up with explosives and "told" to drive itself to its destination, but that seems like an incredibly expensive way to deliver a payload. And sure, vehicles might be hacked to ignore everything about them that makes driving safer, but that last part is nothing a human operator can't do in a normal, cheaper vehicle. And any vehicle with a driver can still carry armed criminals/explosives. Even the FBI admits that autonomous cars present the agency with certain advantages, including the fact that the first few iterations of car AI will be able to do little more than recreate OJ Simpson's "getaway." [A]utonomous cars would likely face many hardships with evasive driving or car chases... But using this AI for good (and hacking it to serve its purposes) may also revolutionize the FBI and law enforcement's pursuit techniques. "[A]lgorithms can control the distance that the patrol car is behind the target to avoid detection or intentionally have a patrol car make opposite turns at intersections, yet successfully meet up at later points with the target." While some of this report is undoubtedly dedicated to "what if" scenarios not unlike the risk disclosures included in IPOs, there's still something ridiculous about an investigative agency being so tuned into the terror frequency that it sees criminal intent in every technological advancement. If we wanted fear-based speculation about potential havoc-wreaking by new inventions, we'd ask the MPAA. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Earlier we wrote about Rep. Marsha Blackburn adding a terrible amendment to a House appropriations bill that would block the FCC from preempting anti-competitive bans on municipal broadband. Unfortunately, despite some noise about it, the amendment it was approved 223 - 200 in the House. While Blackburn (falsely) spun the bill about letting local governments make their own decisions, that's flat out wrong. As others have pointed out it's exactly the opposite. The FCC's plan would be about giving power back to local governments to allow them to make their own decisions about whether or not they wanted to offer municipal broadband. What's really incredible here is that, as we noted this morning, one of the most successful muni-broadband projects in the country is in Chattanooga, Tennessee -- not far from Blackburn's district. Tennessee, however, has an anti-muni broadband law that is preventing Chattanooga from actually expanding its service and offering it to more people. The utility that runs the Chattanooga fiber project recently made it clear it would like to ask the FCC to preempt the law that's currently blocking it from expanding its service. So, Blackburn is directly telling people in Tennessee that they can't get faster, cheaper broadband, and that their local governments can't help, because of a lobbyist-fueled bill in the state capitol. If I were a constituent of Blackburn's, I'd be pissed off that's she is fundamentally blocking a path to faster, cheaper broadband. Thankfully, her amendment would have to be matched in the Senate, and that seems unlikely. But it still should make Blackburn's constituents question whom she's really representing here. The people who elected her, or the big cable company lobbyists? Wait, you don't have to answer that, because David Sirota has the details. Such an outcome would be a big win for the private telecom industry, which might explain Blackburn’s central role in the fight. According to campaign finance data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, two of Blackburn’s largest career donors are employees and PACs affiliated with AT&T ($66,750) and Comcast ($36,600). Those are two of EPB’s private-sector competitors in Chattanooga. Blackburn has also taken $56,000 from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the lobby for the big telecoms. So, that kind of answers that question, doesn't it?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Every year, people pour billions of tons of concrete to build the stuff we live in and drive on. Concrete is everywhere, so it'd be nice to find better ways to make it and to make it more durable and to last longer. (FYI: Concrete is usually made up of 10-15% cement, and the cement is used to bind together sand and/or crushed rocks in concrete.) Here are just a few links on making better concrete. Superhydrophobic Engineered Cementitious Composite (SECC) is a mouthful of a name for a flexible, super-strong and long-lasting building material that could enable bridges and roadways to last over a century with minimal maintenance. Roads made with conventional reinforced concrete generally need to be replaced or significantly repaired within a few decades. [url] Certain bacteria can produce limestone, and adding these bugs to concrete makes a living building material that can repair itself. The trick is keeping the bacteria dormant (and not dead) until they're needed to help fill in small cracks in the concrete. [url] Roman concrete has lasted for thousands of years and is far superior to Portland cement in places like marine harbors. The lost recipe for Roman concrete probably contains lime and volcanic rock or volcanic ash, and modern concrete/cement could benefit from examining ancient samples of durable Roman building materials. [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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Last month, we wrote about Microsoft challenging the DOJ's attempt to use the outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to go fishing for emails held overseas. As Microsoft rightly noted, a warrant does not apply overseas. A magistrate judge tried to dance around this, saying that a warrant under ECPA is really kinda like a subpoena. But Microsoft points out how insane that is: This interpretation not only blatantly rewrites the statute, it reads out of the Fourth Amendment the bedrock requirement that the Government must specify the place to be searched with particularity, effectively amending the Constitution for searches of communications held digitally. It would also authorize the Government (including state and local governments) to violate the territorial integrity of sovereign nations and circumvent the commitments made by the United States in mutual legal assistance treaties expressly designed to facilitate cross-border criminal investigations. If this is what Congress intended, it would have made its intent clear in the statute. But the language and the logic of the statute, as well as its legislative history, show that Congress used the word "warrant" in ECPA to mean "warrant," and not some super-powerful "hybrid subpoena." And Congress used the term "warrant" expecting that the Government would be bound by all the inherent limitations of warrants, including the limitation that warrants may not be issued to obtain evidence located in the territory of another sovereign nation. The DOJ has responded to Microsoft's filing and basically says yeah, whatever, we can take whatever we want, and if it's overseas, who cares? Overseas records must be disclosed domestically when a valid subpoena, order, or warrant compels their production. The disclosure of records under such circumstances has never been considered tantamount to a physical search under Fourth Amendment principles, and Microsoft is mistaken to argue that the SCA provides for an overseas search here. As there is no overseas search or seizure, Microsoft’s reliance on principles of extra-territoriality and comity falls wide of the mark. A bunch of tech and telco companies have all jumped into the case on Microsoft's side as well, noting that the DOJ's argument would almost certainly violate data privacy laws in other countries, not to mention piss off governments around the globe. The crux of the argument, as per usual with the DOJ, is that when it wants data, it will twist and twist and twist the laws to enable it to get access to as much data as possible, with as little scrutiny as possible. This is just one of many reasons why we need serious ECPA reform -- such that it actually respects the 4th Amendment. But, in this case, it would be nice to have a judge realize that even under such an outdated law, the DOJ's interpretation is simply out of line.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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If you follow the history of copyright law, it's truly about taking a ridiculous duct-tape approach to dealing with changes in technology. Basically, each time a new technology comes along that shows how the old laws are obsolete, lobbyists run to Congress and some sort of change is duct-taped on, often haphazardly, with little concern for either the unintended consequences or exploring how broken the system is in the first place. That actually makes things worse, because you have all these random "add-ons" that make copyright law make even less sense. When radio came along, we got some duct tape. When cable TV came along, we got some duct tape. When the internet came along, we got some duct tape. And not all of it made sense. There are still big fights going on today as everyone tries to sort out how the radio duct tape applies to the internet. And, of course, the Aereo fight was partly about whether or not the cable duct tape applies to the internet (leading to the Supreme Court turning duct tape into a duck). We've discussed at length the ridiculous process by which cell phone unlocking was briefly declared legal under copyright law... and then magically became illegal due to a decision by the Librarian of Congress to rescind an exemption to the DMCA. After over 100,000 people signed a petition asking for it to be fixed, the White House told Congress to fix it -- but in true duct-tape fashion, decided that it should just add on some more duct tape by saying changes should be made to telecom regulations, rather than targeting the root of the problem: Section 1201 of the DMCA, better known as the anti-circumvention clause. As we noted recently, after a year-and-a-half of a mix of fighting over this and a whole lot of nothing, the Senate came up with a compromise that isn't horrible, but doesn't do very much other than make it legal to unlock your phones again. The full Senate has now approved this. Of course, earlier this year, the House passed a dangerously bad bill to pretend that it was dealing with the problem as well, but it actually had some bad problems. The two houses will have to bring the bills into alignment now, and hopefully the Senate bill wins out. However, as Tim Lee over at Vox points out, this is a huge missed opportunity because it's Congress taking that same duct tape approach yet again. Rather than actually fixing the underlying problem (a broken Section 1201), Congress has decided to pass a bill that duct tapes on "except for unlocking mobile phones... for now." This isn't surprising. Actually fixing Section 1201 would be a massive process that would lead to quite an insane fight from Hollywood (they love the anti-circumvention provision, because it allows them to DRM everything and create controls for themselves beyond what everything else in copyright law allows -- such as taking away fair use). The other big stumbling block is that, thanks to bogus international trade agreements, doing something so simple as to actually fix this broken part of the DMCA that possibly made cell phone unlocking illegal... would likely violate more than half a dozen trade agreements. While Congress has the power to ignore those trade agreements if it wants, lobbyists love to go apeshit about anything that might "violate international agreements," as if suddenly Europe won't do business with us any more because we dare to let people unlock their mobile phones. Either way, this one issue does a lot to show why copyright law continues to be such a mess. It's just a hack process, which new technology routes around... and Congress' response is just to duct tape on the next mess to "fix" the mistake, rather than look at the underlying reasons why the law is outdated and problematic. Hopefully you'll be able to unlock your mobile phones soon without worrying about breaking the law -- but that won't be true for other things, like modifying your video game console or other types of electronic devices. A sane world would get to the root of the problem and fix it, but this is Congress we're talking about, and no one thinks that's a sane world.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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One of the more common responses we've seen to all of the revelations about all of that NSA surveillance, is the response that "Well, I don't think the NSA really cares about what I'm doing." A perfect example of that is long-time NSA defender Ben Wittes, who recently wrote about why he's not too worried that the NSA is spying on him at all, basically comparing it to the fact that he's confident that law enforcement isn't spying on him either: As I type these words, I have to take on faith that the Washington D.C. police, the FBI, the DEA, and the Secret Service are not raiding my house. I also have to take on faith that federal and state law enforcement authorities are not tapping my various phones. I have no way of knowing they are not doing these things. They certainly have the technical capability to do them. And there’s historical reason to be concerned. Indeed, there is enough history of government abuse in the search and seizure realm that the Founders specifically regulated the area in the Bill of Rights. Yet I sit here remarkably confident that these things are not happening while my back is turned�”and so do an enormous number of other Americans. The reason is that the technical capability for a surveillance event to take place does not alone amount to the reality�”or likelihood�”of that event’s taking place.... For much the same reason as I am not rushing home to guard my house, I have a great deal of confidence that the National Security Agency is not spying on me. No doubt it has any number of capabilities to do so. No doubt those capabilities are awesome�”in the wrong hands the tools of a police state. But there are laws and rules that protect me, and there are compliance mechanisms that ensure that the NSA follows those laws and rules. These systems are, to be sure, different from those that restrain the D.C. cops, but they are robust enough to reassure me. Julian Sanchez has a blistering response to that, appropriately entitled Check Your Privilege, which highlights that while Wittes, a well-paid, white, DC-based policy think tank worker, may be confident of those things, plenty of other folks are not nearly so confident, and that the NSA has made it pretty clear that they shouldn't be so confident. In a democracy, of course, the effects of surveillance are not restricted to its direct targets.  Spying, like censorship, affects all of us to the extent it shapes who holds power and what ideas hold sway.  Had the FBI succeeded in “neutralizing” Martin Luther King Jr. earlier in his career, it would hardly have been a matter of concern solely for King and his family�”that was, after all, the whole point.  Instead of a couple wonks comfortably ensconced in D.C. institutions, let’s instead ask a peaceful Pakistani-American who protests our policy of targeted killings, perhaps in collaboration with activists abroad; we might encounter far less remarkable confidence.  Or, if that seems like too much effort, we can just look to the survey of writers conducted by the PEN American Center, finding significant percentages of respondents self-censoring or altering their use of the Internet and social media in the wake of revelations about the scope of government surveillance. Or to the sworn declarations of 22 civil society groups in a lawsuit challenging bulk phone records collection, attesting to a conspicuous decline in telephonic contacts and members expressing increased anxiety about their association with controversial or unpopular organizations.  As Sanchez notes, it's not just whether or not any of us are direct targets, but the overall chilling effects of how the system is used. And, I should note, that while Wittes is confident that he's safe -- there are a growing number of folks who have good reason to believe that they are not immune from such surveillance. The recent revelation that Tor users are labeled as extremists who get extra-special scrutiny seems like a major concern. Similarly, the story from earlier this year that the NSA targeted the Pirate Bay and Wikileaks as part of some of its surveillance efforts is a major concern. In the process of doing journalism, I've communicated with folks associated with some of those and other similar organizations. In the past, I probably would have similarly noted that I doubted the NSA cared at all about what I was doing, but as each of these stories comes out, I am increasingly less sure. And, more importantly, even if the NSA is not at all concerned with what I happen to be doing, just the fact that I now have to think about what it means if they might be certainly creates a chilling effect, and makes me think twice over certain people I contact, and what I say to them. It's easy to claim that you're not worried when you're the one out there supporting those in power. It becomes a lot trickier when you're either criticizing those in power, or communicating with those who challenge the power structure. Suddenly, it's not so easy to sit on the sidelines and say "Meh, no one's going to care about me..." And that should be a major concern. The way we keep a strong democracy is by having people who are able and willing to challenge the status quo and those in power. And yes, the US is much more forgiving than many, many other countries to such people, but there are clear biases and clear cases where they are not at all accepting of such things. And the more of a chilling effect the government creates around those things, the more dangerous it becomes to stand up for what you believe in.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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John Oliver had the right idea last month when he noted that we shouldn't be discussing "net neutrality," but rather "preventing cable company fuckery." I've been sorting through a bunch of the hundreds of thousands of "comments" on the FCC's proposal, and it's amazing how nearly all of them basically say "we support a free and open internet..." but then totally diverge on how to accomplish that -- with people basically insisting that either reclassifying under Title II would protect an open and free internet, or destroy an open and free internet. But if the goal is to honestly prevent "cable company fuckery," it's not difficult to figure out which plans make sense, because all of the major broadband players are pretty clear that they really, really like the FCC's plan -- and we already know that they also tend to like "fuckery." AT&T had already kicked this off last month by insisting that Section 706 was a lovely way to keep the internet open and free and Title II would damn us all to the 9th circle of hell (or something close to that). Yesterday, Comcast said something similar in its blog post and actual FCC filing. Though, as you dig deep into Comcast's filing, you get weasely language like the following: Comcast supports the application of such a standard [the "commercially reasonable" standard for paid prioritization]. Comcast also would not be opposed to a rebuttable presumption that "paid prioritization" arrangements are commercially unreasonable. This presumption could be interpreted to preclude, among other things, exclusive arrangements and arrangements that prioritize a broadband provider's own affiliated Internet content vis-a-vis unaffiliated content. A broadband provider seeking to justify any "paid prioritization" arrangement could be required to bear the burden of showing that the arrangement is commercially reasonable and fair to consumers and edge providers. Comcast believes that few arrangements would be deemed to overcome the presumption. However, the Commission should not establish a policy that would preclude all experimentation in this area. Arrangements could emerge between broadband providers and edge providers that could have widely varying implications for competition and consumer welfare based on the terms of an individual arrangement, the parties involved, and the markets affected. As FCC General Counsel Jon Sallet recently explained, "[c]ase-by-case enforcement offers a potentially more dynamic approach, permitting the Commission to respond to and learn from the rapid pace of change in the communications market." This is sneaky in the extreme. Beyond being somewhat mealy-mouthed, that first paragraph pretends to say these rules would stop fast lanes. But what it really says is that broadband providers would be totally free to experiment with paid prioritization agreements, and might then have to defend them in front of the FCC later if and only if those who are screwed over (generally smaller players who have neither the cash nor the lawyers necessary) complain loudly enough to the FCC that it investigates the issue. The second paragraph makes it quite clear that the broadband companies have every intention of "experimenting" with fast lanes. They're just going to look for ways to pretend that they're beneficial to customers -- such as by first setting artificially low "broadband caps," and then letting big internet companies pay them to have those caps ignored for their content only. Meanwhile, NCTA, the lobbying arm of the cable industry (which current FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler used to run, and which is currently run by former FCC Commissioner Michael Powell), has also weighed in on just how great it thinks the proposed plans are. Just like AT&T and Comcast, it insists that (1) Section 706 is just dandy and (2) Title II would be horrific. It insists that Section 706 gives the FCC the power to deal with any problems, while Title II would just likely lead to litigation. This is self-contradictory. As both Comcast and NCTA make clear, part of their support for Section 706 is that it allows the FCC to pick and choose what to declare problematic on a "case-by-case" basis. But you (and those lobbyists) know that any such attempt by the FCC to declare something commercially unreasonable will lead to a lawsuit as well. In other words, either plan is likely to lead to lawsuits and uncertainty. Anyone claiming that one plan won't is being misleading. Finally, the mega filing came from Verizon late last night, and may be the most interesting and ridiculous. It too is quite happy with the FCC's plan, and Verizon's view is best summarized as "there's no reason to put rules on anything we do!" But... at the same time, it's rather passive aggressive in attacking internet companies like Netflix, Google and Amazon, pretending that if the FCC wants to regulate anyone, it might want to look at those guys. In other words "hands off of us, look at those guys who actually provide the services people like." But, when it comes to Title II classifications -- the very same one that Verizon begs to have its fiber lines classified under to get subsidies and tax breaks -- Verizon insists that it would be a total disaster for its broadband access to be regulated under that system. Because it says so. But, when it comes to actually creating fast lanes, like Comcast, Verizon is excited by the "commercially reasonable" standard and all the fuckery it allows, though of course it couches it in language pretending to be about "protecting consumers." ...consumer welfare is best protected if the Commission allows broadband Internet access service providers to manage their networks and�”if they so choose�”offer differentiated services or implement sophisticated pricing strategies as long as those practices do not harm competition. In assessing whether a practice harms competition, it is essential not to confuse harm to competitors with harm to competition. The Commission has stated “We believe that consumers of broadband access service should have the ability to exercise meaningful choices.” Those choices should include services offered by edge providers that have chosen to enter arrangements for differential treatment in order to offer more desirable services to their customers. Such options will benefit consumers, even as they reduce rival edge providers’ economic welfare by increasing the competitive pressure they face. In other words, give us our fast lanes and fuck the internet companies. So, really, if you go back to the basic idea that John Oliver made clear: if the goal here is to prevent [broadband provider] fuckery, which do you think is really going to do that? The plan that the broadband providers claim to love, or the one that they're all scared to death the FCC might actually put in place?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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There's been plenty of talk about the influence of money in politics -- and we've certainly covered ambitious projects like Larry Lessig's MayDay SuperPAC a few times. However, down in Kentucky, a group called Represent.us is taking a different -- and potentially more effective -- approach to making people aware of the nefarious impact of money in politics. They've organized a satirical campaign for the Kentucky Senate by Gil Fulbright -- the most Honest Politician in Kentucky. Fulbright, of course, is played by an actor (Frank Ridley), but does a pretty good impression of a politician. To get a sense of his level of honesty, check out this campaign ad: If you can't watch it, here's the opening transcript: Hi! I'm Gil Fulbright. The people who run my campaign made this commercial and I'm in it. This campaign? It's not about me. It's about crafting a version of me that appeals to you. A version that visits random work sites with paid actors, pointing at things. A version of me that doesn't find old people loathsome or pointless. Has a conventionally attractive, yet curiously still, family. Listening to my constituents, legislating? These are things I don't do. What I do is spend about 70% of my time raising funds for re-election.... It goes on in that style and is pretty amusing. He's got some other commercials too, such as one for net neutrality and one for health care, both with the tagline: "I'm Gil Fulbright: for the right price, I'll approve any message." Represent.us put together an IndieGoGo campaign to help fund their plan to insert Fulbright (satirically) into the high profile (and very expensive) Kentucky Senatorial race. He's obviously not running for real, but the idea is to piggyback on the spotlight on the Kentucky race between Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes, which is expected to cost $100 million (nearly all of it from out of state). As Represent.us explains how they'll make use of Fulbright's "campaign": He'll crash campaign events, run “honest political ads” on TV and the radio, and do whatever it takes to get the whole country talking about money in politics corruption. We’re renting a campaign bus, slapping Gil’s beautiful face on it, and hitting the campaign trail to bring some much-needed honesty to one of the most expensive Senate campaigns in American history. The IndieGoGo campaign quickly raised its targeted $20,000 (needed for a campaign bus), and is rapidly approaching the $30,000 for billboards. The team is hoping for even more to put some of their ads on TV as well. Obviously, this alone isn't going to move the needle on the question of money in politics, but greater attention from a variety of different angles can only help raise awareness.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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There were rumors yesterday of a few ridiculous and extreme attempts by some in Congress to attach some anti-net neutrality amendments to the big Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act. And while the most ridiculous proposal failed to appear, instead, it does appear that Rep. Marsha Blackburn is pushing an amendment to block the FCC from preempting laws that ban municipal broadband. The big cable companies have fought municipal broadband for ages because they hate competition. Cable and telco lobbyists have succeeded in getting such laws passed in a number of cities and states, with some politicians directly admitting that the bills were written by those lobbyists. And while there have been some disasters in munibroadband efforts, there have also been some amazing successes, providing truly competitive broadband that also helped force competitors to up their game. That's why we were happy to see FCC chair Tom Wheeler make it clear that he was willing to use the FCC's powers to preempt laws blocking competitive broadband. This would be a very good use of the FCC's power to encourage real competition and innovation. Blackburn's amendment is all about stopping that, and making sure that your broadband is as expensive as possible, with no real innovation or competition on the way. Blackburn, of course, is also the politician who constantly screams about how terrible it would be to "regulate the internet" when it comes to net neutrality, but seems to have no qualms at all "regulating the internet" when it comes to other things, like SOPA (she was one of its main supporters). She's also claimed that "fair use" and "transparency" are just buzz words and that we need much stricter intellectual property enforcement. But when it comes to actually making sure you have a competitive broadband market? She's totally against that. You would think, given that she's from Tennessee, that she'd be aware of the massive success of muni fiber over in Chattanooga. It's not her district, but it's not too far away. Perhaps she should take a visit and see if the residents there would support her stomping out competition and fast broadband. Blackburn's amendment is to be voted on today, so groups like EFF, Public Knowledge and Free Press are urging folks call Congress to oppose Blackburn's latest bad idea.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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