posted 6 days ago on techdirt
If all else fails, blame the millennials. [T]he former head of the CIA has a theory about a possible root cause of the leak: Millennials. Michael V. Hayden, who was the CIA director until 2009, said that in order for the agency to engage in the digital espionage described by the documents, the agency must “recruit from a certain demographic” — in this case, younger hackers brought on to help with these efforts. “I don’t mean to judge them at all, but this group of millennials and related groups simply have different understandings of the words loyalty, secrecy and transparency than certainly my generation did,” Hayden told the BBC in an interview this week. “And so we bring these folks into the agency, good Americans all, I can only assume, but again, culturally they have different instincts than the people who made the decision to hire them.” That's Hayden's response to the CIA leak, which exposed the agency's exploits and device-targeting tactics. Hayden's saying people used to trust the government more. That's what this breaks down to, even if couched in Hayden's implicit demand youngsters remove themselves from his lawn, but leave any and all government documents behind. "Transparency" should mean what it's always meant. But "transparency" is defined by government agencies and officials harboring zero desire to engage in it. We spent years listening to Obama pat himself on the back for increased government obfuscation and secrecy, something he referred to as the "most transparent administration." The word "transparency" is meaningless in the government's hands. That's why almost anything of significance is revealed by leakers/whistleblowers routing around the "official channels." "Secrecy" means the same thing it always has as well. The government likes it. Citizens are not quite as enthralled with government secrecy, especially considering more and more of their lives are open books. An example: anyone shot by a police officer will have their criminal record immediately delivered to the press while EMTs are still checking for a pulse. Weeks or months will pass before law enforcement agencies release the name of the officer whose gun "discharged," much less their disciplinary record. People of all ages are likely tiring of the government's insistence on keeping secrets, even as it engages in mass surveillance, reinterprets privacy-shielding laws on the fly, builds massive biometric databases, and declares the Constitution invalid within 100 miles of the border. It's not just millennials. It's everyone. "Loyalty" still means the same thing, too. But the government's used to receiving it unconditionally. It has spent years abusing it and is finally seeing the consequences of its actions. Millennials may be the least willing to show loyalty to a government that has already mortgaged their future, but again, this crosses all ages. Loyalty isn't something the government can demand, not when it's done as much as it has to demonstrate why it's unworthy of it. Undeniably, leaking is easier than ever, with multiple journalistic outlets offering multiple ways for the anonymous to dump their documents and grievances. Engaging in some sort of age discrimination at the federal level isn't going to stop the flow of leaks. What's happening now is a severely-broken system reaching its apotheosis. With someone else in the Oval Office, we likely wouldn't be seeing nearly as many leaks. Almost as soon as the administration makes a claim (or a tweet), a leaked document or comment refutes it. Agencies are going rogue. Confidential conversations with administration officials are being discussed on social media by those involved in them. Trump's tweets about subjects of investigations and national security-related matters show he cares just as little for secrecy or loyalty. His refusal to release information the public's been asking to see (tax returns, divestment plans, etc.) shows he cares little for transparency. It also sets an example for others. The administration is seemingly moving from one disaster to the next without indicating it has a blueprint for the future. This helps generate even more leaks -- and not just because ill-advised moves tend to produce interesting documents and irate government employees. The leaks are continuous because no one's worried the administration will ever locate the sources. The constant flow sends a clear message: those leaking info and documents -- and there are a lot of them -- feel the President and his staff are too incompetent, or too easily-distracted, to track them down. The CIA may track down the source of the leaked documents, but it's heavily-invested in its own secrets, which has nothing to do with the hurricane of disruptive activity taking place in the White House. But those leaking info related to the current administration have little to fear. The administration has managed to make enemies of several federal agencies. Federal agencies are amazing at stonewalling. The best. If the administration thinks it's going to get assistance rooting out leakers, it's in for yet another surprise. And the administration will continue to be unsurprisingly surprised by the resistance it faces when it shows up with guns loaded, looking for rogue messengers. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 6 days ago on techdirt
There's something to be said for an informed electorate, although it really shouldn't be elected officials advocating for it. They'd benefit least from people knowing more about sausage and the making thereof. And legislators definitely shouldn't be robbing the First Amendment to pay for better information, as a few California lawmakers are attempting to do. A new bill, pointed out by the EFF's Dave Maass, seems to be a response of sorts to "fake news" and other political detritus of this highly-partisan system. Ostensibly, the bill is aimed at keeping voters from being misled on issues that affect them. The problem is, this bill would allow the government to determine what is or isn't misleading and apply to a citizen's social media posts, blog, etc. California's existing "political cyberfraud" law (yes, really) already contains wording that forbids cybersquatting, misleading redirects, and otherwise tricking internet users who are seeking information on ballot measures. The existing law is more concerned with acts along the lines of false impersonation and deliberate fraud. The amendment, however, isn't. It adds a couple of new aspects, both making the bad law worse. First, the law would no longer be limited to "cyberfraud" related to pending ballot measures. It would expand to protect political candidates from being bested by wily web denizens. Where it really goes downhill is this new clause, which criminalizes even more speech. SEC. 2. Section 18320.5 is added to the Elections Code, to read: It is unlawful for a person to knowingly and willingly make, publish or circulate on an Internet Web site, or cause to be made, published, or circulated in any writing posted on an Internet Web site, a false or deceptive statement designed to influence the vote on either of the following: (a) Any issue submitted to voters at an election. (b) Any candidate for election to public office. With this law, opinions and misinterpretations of ballot measures/candidates' political stances are now illegal acts. The law goes further than simply punishing the writer of false statements. It also aims to punish publishers (which could be read as punishing hosts who would normally be protected by Section 230) and anyone who shares the newly-illegal content. If anything in the original post hints of political leaning, it can be construed as "designed to influence the vote," which would make most heated political discussions a breeding ground for criminal communications. It would seem the "victims" listed in the proposed amendment aren't really in need of a free speech-abusing law. If California's government doesn't like the tone of online posts about ballot measures, it has plenty of opportunities (and numerous platforms) to set the record straight. Worse, it gives the government the power to shut down speech it doesn't agree with under the pretense preventing voters from being misled. As for political candidates, they rarely suffer the problem of having too little speech. Bullshit can be countered with more speech, a rhetorical weapon everyone has access to, but political candidates in particular tend to be especially well-equipped in this department. How the original law managed to survive a constitutional challenge remains a mystery. This addition has zero chance of being found constitutional if it somehow manages to become law. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 7 days ago on techdirt
Google is constantly under pressure from all sides to change how it ranks just about everything. There's a massive SEO industry, a decent portion of which is dedicated into tricking Google into ranking some stuff higher than others (or downgrading content that someone doesn't like). And, then, of course, there are the "outside" interests. For years, the legacy recording and movie industries would misleadingly blame Google for piracy and demand that it downrank "pirate" links. Google caved in and did so, and the end result has been kind of a mess. Because it's based on DMCA notices in to Google, the company now gets flooded with an ever increasing number of DMCA notices -- many of which are completely bogus (and potentially just designed to mess with search rankings). On top of that, in cases where it does downrank so-called "pirate" sites, since people are still looking for unauthorized content anyway, they end up going to more dangerous sites, where they're more likely to get malware. And, of course, as we predicted, despite caving in and giving the RIAA/MPAA a tool to shape search results, those industries still aren't satisfied. Because they'll never be satisifed. That's because they fail to understand that the problem isn't Google. Google is just a representation of what's on the internet -- and many people on the internet want access to content that is otherwise difficult to get. That's not Google's fault. A couple of years ago, Google also announced that it would allow people to remove "revenge porn" results from search. And you can certainly understand why pretty much everyone would want this as an end result. But, still, once you make that tool available, there's reason to fear that it, too, will be abused. And even if a company as large as Google may be able to properly staff up to go through and review each request, this only puts pressure on everyone else -- including much smaller, less well-staffed, less well-resourced players to do something similar. And now... for reasons that are unclear, Google has announced that it opened up a tool that will let people report "offensive" results and potentially downrank those results. With the change, content with racial slurs could now get flagged under a new category called "upsetting-offensive." So could content that promotes hate or violence against a specific group of people based on gender, race or other criteria. While flagging something doesn't directly affect the search results themselves, it's used to tweak the company's software so that better content ranks higher. This approach might, for instance, push down content that is inaccurate or has other questionable attributes, thereby giving prominence to trustworthy sources. Again, at a first pass, this kind of thing absolutely sounds good. We should want better results, and the idea of letting Google's many millions of users help flag certain sites to be carefully reviewed for "upsetting or offensive" content makes sense. But... again, this definitely seems like the kind of thing that is open to widespread abuse. First off, what is "upsetting or offensive" anyway? That's a completely subjective standard, and one that we've seen people judge very, very differently. Second, what do you do if you really dislike a particular site? You open up a vote-brigade by a bunch of people to label it "upsetting or offensive." Trump haters can go after Breitbart and Trump supporters can go after the NY Times. Hopefully Google resists those kinds of vote brigading, but just the fact that this kind of tool is open to such abuse is concerning. And, again, when Google does something like this, it puts more pressure on other sites, with many fewer resources, to do something similar or get branded as somehow "supporting" offensive content. Again, none of this is to say that Google must be promoting "offensive" content. It has the right to create its search results however it wants. But the more tools it opens up to the public to potentially downrank sites, the more the risk is that such tools get widely abused. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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This week, our first place winner on the insightful side is Thad, responding to Ed Sheeran's stand against takedown bots with a good observation about the broken incentives of the DMCA: One of the many problems with the DMCA is that it not only actively encourages hands-off, automatic takedowns, it actually encourages that the algorithms they're based on be as dumb as possible. Because if it can be proven that a rightsholder intentionally issued a false takedown, then the rightsholder is liable. But if it's an accident, they're not. Next, we head to our post about Trump's latest immigration order, where one commenter put forth the full lyrics to Al Wilson's "The Snake" — Trump's chosen anti-immigration (in his mind) campaign poem. But one anonymous commenter responded beautifully to the saga of the betraying serpent: And yet we elected him president anyways. The End For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start out with another response to the Ed Sheeran story, this time from That Anonymous Coward who dissected the motivations of the recording industry: They fear the loss of control they imagine will destroy them as hundreds of kids cover a song & get record deals. Only they can choose who will be the next star, and the serfs will pay us dearly for our picks. You can not have anything we do not approve of, because we have stolen your culture for centuries and we will not stop now. The serfs will be mad at the stars, and not us so we really don't care. Someone hearing 15 seconds of something we 'own' lock stock & barrel and us not getting paid is the highest sin possible. Someone smart should start courting acts, so that when it comes time to renew contracts they just go with the smart guy. Don't need giant buildings full of lawyers taking a cut, wasting money on making sure that only corporate approved methods of showing support will be allowed. You just need to connect with your fans & have a good time... the money will flow. (And probably more than under the old deal where the labels sucked every cent possible out of everything.) Next, we've got a comment from That One Guy responding to Georgia's porn censorship bill: "It is a threat to society itself!" "Here's twenty bucks." "Enjoy your threat to society itself." So porn is such a huge problem in the state that it requires nothing less than mandatory filters to combat it's vile evil, yet for $20 said vile evil can be enjoyed freely. I'm going to second a comment made the last time this came up, and mentioned in the article itself, and say that this isn't so much an 'anti-porn' bill as an 'easy taxes' one, where the 'keep porn from corrupting the innocent youth' is just the paper-thin justification for introducing a new stream of revenue, under the idea that no-one will be willing to publicly defend porn such that the tax will be implemented without any significant pushback. They aren't treating porn as a threat so much as a paycheck, a source of easy money. Over on the funny side, our first place comment comes in response to the Sen. Ron Johnson's silly "bridge" analogy for the internet. One anonymous commenter joined in on the fun: I like this game. I'll give it shot. The internet is like a muffin with a series of pulleys attached to its gooey center. And at the end of these pulleys are antarctic monkeys eating your Cheetos. These Cheetos determine who gets what and where with the monkeys, and data makes laps around the muffin, but only two times, so it doesn't get bunched up, because there's only one muffin to do laps around. There's also a crocodile somewhere. How'd I do? For second place, we head to our post about a driver who received a ticket for an "obscene" decal on his car. The conversation pivoted to the idea of watching porn in the car when other drivers can see it, and one commenters assertion that they don't want their grandkids seeing "Debbie" performing various sex acts on a screen in an adjacent car. Roger Strong was sympathetic but curious: While I fully agree with you, I can't help but wonder: How did you know her name was Debbie? For editor's choice on the funny side, we start out with one more nod to Thad, largely because nobody openly acknowledged the excellent TV reference he used in this comment, and I want to make sure he knows at least someone got it! It was a response to a commenter who accused us of changing our stance on Google Fiber since last year: Just year and half ago, you stated "Google, which is spending billions on wireless service and fiber to the home": And a year and a half ago, it was. "Last year, Abe claimed to be 15 years old. This year, he claims to be 16. Which is it, Abe?" (He'd also like you to believe he's not a baby eater.) Finally, because it certainly doesn't deserve to get off so lightly, we've got one more response to the internet bridge analogy, this time from Mark Wing: That's why I send all my internets before rush hour, when the tubes are empty and there are no trucks on the bridge. That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 8 days ago on techdirt
Five Years Ago This week in 2012, politicians were still reeling from recent public opposition. Don't get SOPA'd had become the new mantra in DC, while the European Commission was blaming ACTA's failure on social media and starting to worry about its upcoming copyright directive. Rep. Lamar Smith was unperturbed though, which is why people were working to fund a "Don't Mess With The Internet" billboard in his district. Also this week in 2012: Mojang and Bethesda settled their dispute over the Scrolls trademark, Megaupload was negotiating with the government to let users retrieve their files from the service, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica ended an era by discontinuing its print edition. Ten Years Ago This week in 2007, Viacom followed up on its mass YouTube takedowns with a now-infamous billion-dollar lawsuit — just as some of those who had their videos taken down were suing Viacom. Meanwhile, Hollywood was trying to export DRM around the globe even as the EU Commissioner was making veiled threats about stopping DRM on music. While one Microsoft executive was admitting the company benefits from piracy, the video game industry was joining the BSA, RIAA, MPAA et al in spreading bogus piracy stats. And we were pleasantly surprised to discover at least one person in congress who understood mixtapes and mashups. Fifteen Years Ago This week in 2002, plenty of things were on the horizon. Augmented reality was making early waves (very early, obviously), people were warning about mobile phone viruses, news broadcasters had only just really started using green-screen sets instead of fancy newsrooms, and plagiarism-detection software was just starting to get the attention of universities. While Canada was trying to pass its levee on blank storage media (which still plagues its blank CDs to this day), webcasters and record labels were actually on the same side fighting against high internet radio royalties (if you can believe it). Meanwhile, the legal saga of "sucks" sites played out another chapter in the courts. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 9 days ago on techdirt
The First Amendment Lawyer's Association (FALA) is hoping to end the California Attorney General's crusade against Backpage. The website has already ceded ground in the face of constant criticism, investigations, and legal threats. Earlier this year, it shuttered its adult ads rather than continue to bleed money and time defending itself against bogus prosecutions and investigations. Former California Attorney General Kamala Harris -- who blew off court decisions against her office to continue to prosecute Backpage -- has now moved on to the US Senate. But just because Harris has moved on doesn't mean the local AG's office isn't going to continue with Harris' unfinished business. The letter from FALA is covered (but not published[?]) by Elizabeth Nolan Brown at Reason. On March 14, FALA—a nonprofit membership association launched in the late '60s that has boasted some of the country's top constitutional lawyers—sent a letter to Becerra condemning "the abusive prosecution of individuals associated with the online classified advertising website Backpage.com, and also the use of expansive search warrants seeking vast amounts of constitutionally-protected material, including personally identifiable information about all of the website's users." In the letter, FALA President Marc Randazza says he can identify "no theory under the First Amendment that would countenance such an abusive use of prosecutorial discretion or such a dragnet demand for information." The letter points out the flaws of the AG's case against Backpage. Not only does it do damage to protected speech, but it ignores Section 230 protections in the ongoing quest to punish the site's owners for the actions of its users. On top of that, there's the overbreadth of prosecutors' demands for info from the site. Not content to steamroll the First Amendment, the office also made a mockery of the term "investigation." From the letter: We have learned that a subpoena was served on Backpage.com that calls for the production of massive amounts of information for a several-year period, including copies of all advertisements posted (in all content categories), all billing records, the identities of all of the website's users and their account histories, all internal communications, and even the source code for the operation of the website. As FALA points out, this sounds a whole lot like the colonial-era "general warrants" -- the same ones our government sought to eliminate with the Fourth Amendment. On the plus side, the new California Attorney General has pledged to protect civil liberties. FALA's hoping that pledge extends to Kamala Harris' unfinished business. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Here's the latest instalment in the long-running Techdirt series "just when you thought there was nothing left to control, China comes up with something else it wants to throttle", as reported by the South China Morning Post: An order from Beijing will drastically cut the number of foreign picture books for children published in mainland China this year, four publishing sources told the South China Morning Post. The order opens a new front in a broad campaign to reduce the influence of foreign ideas and enhance ideological control, applying restrictions to animal cartoons and fairy tales written for toddlers and older children that have few political implications. Chinese universities were previously ordered to limit the use of Western textbooks and promote communist dogma. According to the article, China's state publishing administration has imposed a quota system on domestic publishers, limiting the number of foreign picture books that can be published in any one year. Apparently, the aim is two-fold: to promote children's books created by domestic authors and illustrators; and to stop innocent young Chinese minds being seduced by the subtle charms of Western propaganda in the form of cartoon stories about animals. But it's not just children that the Chinese authorities want to shield from harmful ideas. Quartz has a related story about a more general clampdown on Western publications that has been imposed on vendors using the leading online shopping site Taobao, part of the Chinese Internet giant Alibaba: Taobao has ordered all vendors to stop selling foreign media starting today -- even if authorities have approved the media for circulation in China. The online shopping platform, owned by Alibaba, has been one of the few places to browse overseas publications free from censors, largely because the site's business model allows individual vendors to do business directly with customers. It's also helped that the daigou, or overseas agents, can evade import duties by carrying or shipping goods into China. As the Quartz article notes, the new rule cites an obscure 1991 law; its unexpected invocation now seems related to a general clampdown around the highly-sensitive two-week National People's Congress, currently under way in Beijing. Perhaps Western cartoon animals have fallen victim to the same paranoia. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 9 days ago on techdirt
It's remarkable how quickly drones have become a familiar part of the modern world. Like most tools, they can be used for good and evil, but it tends to be the latter that is highlighted when it comes to drones. In the last few days, it was widely reported that President Trump has given the CIA power to launch drone strikes against suspected terrorists, in addition to being able to use the technology to locate them. Dealing death from the skies may be the most dramatic application of drones, but there are plenty of other, more benign, uses, even if they receive less attention. For example, activists in Hungary have been deploying them in a variety of innovative ways in order to bolster transparency and openness in a country where these are increasingly under threat. That's because the country's prime minister, Viktor Orbán, is a self-confessed believer in the "illiberal state," which Wikipedia describes as follows: a governing system in which, although elections take place, citizens are cut off from knowledge about the activities of those who exercise real power because of the lack of civil liberties. It is not an "open society". The Hungarian organization Atlatszo.hu wants to reconnect citizens with that knowledge about those in power: Established in 2011, atlatszo.hu -- "atlatszo" means transparent in Hungarian – produces investigative reports, accepts information from whistleblowers, files freedom of information requests, and commences freedom of information lawsuits in cases where its requests are refused. Atlatszo.hu operates a Tor-based anonymous whistleblowing platform (Magyarleaks), a freedom of information request generator for the general public (Kimittud), a crowdsourced bribe tracker to report everyday corruption anonymously (Fizettem), and an independent blogging platform for other NGOs and independent media. Atlatszo.hu uses a wide range of modern technologies in its work, and that also includes drones. Here's a post on Open Society Foundations from a few months back explaining why eyes in the sky are a powerful tool for taking a look at things governments would rather keep to themselves: Through drone footage, we've revealed the hidden assets of government politicians and pro-government oligarchs, including castles acquired by companies tied to the son-in-law of Hungary's prime minister. Such concrete signs of personal enrichment -- which, in many cases, can only be filmed from the air -- give citizens a clear picture of the corruption and inequality that is all around them. At the same time, drones are useful for throwing into relief the power of civil society. In 2014, we captured aerial footage of the protests against the government's internet tax. Recording protests from the air is important because it allows more accurate estimates of crowd sizes to be made, which are also harder to challenge given the detailed footage that goes well beyond what is possible to gather on the ground. There's a video showing this and other aspects of Atlatszo.hu's work, mostly in Hungarian, but with English subtitles, that gives a good idea of the huge potential for using drones in this domain -- and of the pushback activists are already receiving from the deeply unhappy authorities as a result. As drones become ever-cheaper and ever-more powerful, that tension seems likely to increase. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Last month, we noted how New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued Charter Communications for knowingly providing broadband service well below advertised speeds. After an initial first read I didn't think much of the lawsuit (pdf), but upon closer inspection it provides some pretty damning evidence that Charter not only knowingly failed to provide decent service (and just didn't care, since this is the uncompetitive broadband industry), but in some instances actively made connections worse for its own competitive advantage. The AG's suit highlights how Charter manipulated data for a program run by the FCC to monitor consumer connection speeds. This program, co-operated by a UK outfit dubbed SamKnows, gives volunteers custom-firmware embedded routers to monitor connection quality and speed. The FCC was then using this data to name and shame ISPs that failed to deliver advertised speeds. The lawsuit highlights how Charter executives worked to intentionally deliver faster speeds to just these customers in order to trick the FCC into believing its network was performing better than it actually was. The suit also seemed to confirm something that content and transit operators have been complaining about for a few years -- namely that large incumbent ISPs were intentionally letting interconnection points get saturated to extract additional fees from backbone and content providers like Netflix. This behavior quickly ended thanks in large part to the FCC's new net neutrality rules, which currently protect such interconnection relationships from abuse by incumbent telecom mono/duopolies. With these rules possibly dying this year, it's a problem you can be sure will re-emerge. Not too surprisingly, Charter is trying to have this case thrown out. Recent court filings (pdf) indicate that the company successfully had the case moved from state to federal court, with Charter lawyers arguing that the Communications Act completely preempted claims under state law. Charter lawyers even went so far as to justify this position using the exact same 2015 FCC net neutrality rules ISPs lobbied, repeatedly, to destroy: "Charter even went so far as quoting language from the FCC's 2015 Open Internet Order (aka the net neutrality regulations) to support the proposition that states are precluded from imposing obligations inconsistent with the FCC's regulatory regime. According to defendants' court papers providing notice of removal, "Given the State’s distortion of the speed tests approved by the FCC and its reliance on other tests that the FCC does not require or endorse, if the 'state court vindicate[s] [the State’s claim], the relief granted would necessarily force [Defendants] to do more than required by the FCC.' The State is, in effect, 'trying to invalidate' disclosures made pursuant to the FCC’s reporting regime; its claim thus is necessarily federal." With the new Trump FCC making it very clear that incumbent ISPs are going to get a free pass on the consumer protection front, the states (with an even more inconsistent track record on consumer protection than the federal government) may wind up being the only thing standing between you and the dubious ethics of companies like AT&T, Charter and Comcast: "On Monday, the NY AG's office filed a motion to remand the case back to state court. The forthcoming decision could be an important one if other top legal officials in states across the nation attempt to fill the void of whatever the FCC is not doing....Schneiderman's attorneys argue that the lawsuit is "rooted entirely in the kind of consumer deception that is within the traditional purview of state law and is historically subject to enforcement in state court." Charter's in a somewhat unique position due to conditions attached to the company's recent acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. Those conditions banned the company from not only imposing usage caps, but also require it to continue to adhere to the FCC's net neutrality rules (including the interconnection provisions) for seven years -- even if they're dismantled by ISPs and loyal politicians this year. Other ISPs face no such restrictions, and depending on Charter's success here, incumbent ISPs may soon find themselves in a new golden era for anti-competitive behavior. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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It's been nearly a year since we started offering Techdirt t-shirts, hoodies and more on Teespring, and in that time we've seen quite a few tweets showing off some great photos (and one video!) of the gear upon arrival or out in the wild. Since we've just put most of last year's designs back in the store — and since we're gearing up to launch a new design next week — I figured it might be time to show off some of those photos and encourage those of you who already have Techdirt gear, or are getting it soon, to share new ones! Most recently, a few folks have been tweeting photos of our I Invented Email gear, including one of our favourite parody accounts... My @techdirt shirt came today https://t.co/UCz7MuqsOW pic.twitter.com/YwSSSH7VyB — NSA Public Relations (@NSA_PR) February 25, 2017 ...and a data-loving Techdirt fan... New most prized possession. Thanks @techdirt pic.twitter.com/tPeXcN4LiP — josh laurito (@joshlaurito) February 25, 2017 ...and FIRE's Sarah McLaughlin: My new shirt was delivered today. On that note, support @techdirt: https://t.co/1jNcGG1xgY pic.twitter.com/rrB68vqPvu — Sarah McLaughlin (@sarahemclaugh) February 27, 2017 But the best is when we get to see Techdirt gear truly in action, like when Keith Lee rocked a Takedown t-shirt for an interview on a law show: Since I’m going to be on @thisweekinlaw today, I’m totally rocking my @techdirt shirt. @mmasnick pic.twitter.com/sIX4JczKoM — Keith Lee (@associatesmind) February 10, 2017 (You can watch the episode here, though you won't see much of the t-shirt.) And here's a video of Brett Haddock in a Nerd Harder t-shirt (the only classic design that hasn't returned yet, but stay tuned!) asking his congressman about his stance on encryption: A video of me, wearing my @techdirt "Nerd Harder" shirt, asking @SteveKnight25 about backdooring encryption: https://t.co/hngkTC2pj8 — Brett Haddock (@bretthaddock) August 13, 2016 It's also nice to know that our gear might occasionally break the ice between strangers, such as this completely random encounter on the streets of Dublin, Ireland: Spotted in the wild in Dublin. @techdirt pic.twitter.com/8dpWzXiTjJ — Éibhear Ó hAnluain (@eibhear) September 22, 2016 Of course, what I really want to see is an encounter between two strangers who are both wearing Copying Is Not Theft gear. But the only candidate we've spotted so far lives in North Dakota: My @techdirt “Copying Is Not Theft” T-shirt arrived!! w00t! pic.twitter.com/xOUKiCggG6 — Sir snrkl (@snrkl) September 23, 2016 If you feel a little left out after all of that, then it might be time to head to the Techdirt Gear store on Teespring and treat yourself! And if you do, or you already have, tweet a photo or video and tag @Techdirt so we see it — especially if you're doing something fitting like grilling a politician, or for that matter grilling a nice steak. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The history of copyright law in Australia is somewhat tortured, with the government there far too often bending the knee to entertainment industries both local and abroad. Still, while much of this history is fraught with protectionism reared intentionally, one of the more curious aspects of Australian copyright law appears to have originated as something of an accident. That aspect is that the kind of safe harbor protections that exist in America are rather limited in Australia. Specifically limited to commercial ISPs, as opposed to websites or institutions that provide internet access generally speaking. We'll get a bit more into how this came to be in a moment. We'll start instead with news that recently offered amendments to copyright law in the country that would shore up safe harbor protections more generally have received the support of Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull. To solve this problem and put Australia on a similar footing to technology companies operating in the United States, proposed amendments to the Copyright Act will see all of the above receiving enhanced safe harbor protections while bringing the country into compliance with AUSFTA. But for now, momentum appears to be shifting in favor of the technology platforms. A report in The Australian (paywall) indicates that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has given the safe harbor amendments his support. It won’t be all plain sailing from here, however. And that rocky road to harmonizing Australian copyright law with the EU and America is being laid by the usual entertainment industry suspects, whose objections are familiar tropes. Music and entertainment groups are complaining that offering safe harbor protections to such unworthy entities as schools and libraries, along with websites like Google and Facebook, amounts to codifying piracy. That's silly for all the reasons you should already know, but which can be best stated as it being quite dumb, and immoral, to saddle a third party with the guilt of a pirate just because it's an easier and more lucrative target. Because that's all this opposition amounts to: the desire to sue a school if a student infringes copyright. Or Google. Or a museum that provides internet access. This is what the entertainment industry wants to go to bat over. But this gets really dumb when you consider that the lack of safe harbor protections in question was the result essentially of a poor choice of words over a decade ago. The problem in Australian arose in the implementation of AUSFTA when the term “carriage service provider” (a technical terms for telecommunications companies and ISPs) was used rather than the wider “service provider” definition in the treaty. “This places Australia at a competitive disadvantage” says Trish Hepworth. “Australian providers of common activities - transmitting data, caching, hosting and referring users to an online location – lack the protections and certainties enjoyed by their overseas competitors. It places schools, universities and libraries in a risky position as they go about their everyday business. ” Reformers have been trying for ten years to correct this error, but they have been stymied at every turn by entrenched industry lobbyists. But now, with the Prime Minister throwing his weight behind expanded protections, there's a road map for a change in the law. The Australian government will be holding Senate hearings to debate the amendments, and you can be sure that the entertainment industry will be well represented within them, but a PM endorsement is a big deal. Hopefully our Aussie friends will get this right. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The standard for warrants is probable cause. The warrant obtained by Edina, MN police doesn't even approach reasonable suspicion. In its attempt to locate the person behind a fraudulent bank transfer, the Edina police have asked Google to bring them everyone, as public records enthusiast Tony Webster reports. A Minnesota bank received a call in January from who they thought was Douglas, their customer, asking to wire transfer $28,500 from a line of credit to another bank. To verify the transaction, the bank relied on a faxed copy of his passport. But it wasn’t him, the passport was fake, and the transfer request was fraudulent. The Edina Police Department figured out that while searching Google Images for the victim’s name, they found the photo used on the fake passport, and investigators couldn’t find it on Yahoo or Bing. So, they theorized the suspect must have searched Google for the victim’s name while making the fake passport. Edina Police Detective David Lindman detailed this theory in an application for a search warrant filed in early February, asking the Court to authorize a search warrant for names, email addresses, account information, and IP addresses of anyone who searched variations of the victim’s name over a five-week period of time. Supposedly, the warrant [PDF] limits Google's search for searches to the Edina area, but that puts Google in the position of determining who was located where when these searches were made. Not that Google is likely to fulfill this request, warrant or not. There's nothing approaching probable cause in the warrant -- just the minimum of "detective" work that failed to uncover similar images in response to search terms at Yahoo and Bing. Incredibly, this isn't the Edina PD's first attempt to obtain search results and the identifying information associated with them. In the warrant, Detective David Lindman notes he'd already served Google with an administrative subpoena, which Google rejected because it demanded content rather than transaction records. Detective Lindman apparently feels Google's rejection was BS. Though Google Inc.'s rejection of this administrative subpoena is arguable, your affiant is applying for this search warrant so that the investigation of this case does not stall. I'm guessing Google's not going to be sending anything in response to this warrant, either. This is likely to be challenged by the company. If it isn't, anything turned over to the Edina PD will be highly suspect in terms of admissible evidence. There's no probable cause contained in the warrant application -- only the theory that any information obtained might help the investigation move forward. Will this lead to Edina officers raiding homes because someone searched for the name "Douglas [REDACTED]" during the specified time period? Quite possibly. It obviously won't take much effort to get those warrants signed, not if judges are willing to turn law enforcement wishes into reality, without asking for anything (like actual probable cause) in return. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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With the $41 Information Security Certification Training Bundle you will gain access to test prep materials for three certification exams: Certified Information Systems Security Professional, Certified Information Security Manager, and Certified Information System Auditor. Over 22+ hours of instruction plus hands-on projects and tutorials, this bundle will help you hone your skills and help you prepare for certification. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Mizbala is an Israeli marketing/creative agency that runs a news site as well, commenting on issues related to internet marketing and advertising. The site has been quite critical of Facebook, including a few recent posts where it mocked Facebook for its aggressive/arbitrary blocking of users and content: Over the past few days, Mizbala has written about other cases in which Facebook automatically blocked and/or erased posts. In one case, comedian Guri Alfi complained about the erasure of one of his posts, which he attributed to the fact that he credited photographer Guy Kushi. The Hebrew word “kushi” is a derogative term for blacks. In another incident, Gili Cohen, a participant in the “Big Brother” reality show, was blocked for 30 days after posting a video clip in which he harshly criticized the fact that he and others had been blocked for using “banned words” in old posts. This is something that we've been known to post about on quite a few occasions as well. The fact is, Facebook isn't always good with its blocking decisions. Frankly, this isn't a huge surprise, given that it has to use a combination of algorithms and low level human reviewers to cover a fairly large amount of content -- a decision the company made when it decided that it would be the arbiter of what is and what is not allowed on the site. Mistakes are going to happen, and with it comes people mocking Facebook for making bad decisions. However, with Mizbala, something extra strange happened. Soon after posting a few of these stories mocking Facebook, suddenly Mizbala itself was blocked by Facebook. Entirely. Even worse, previous links to Mizbala disappeared and anyone posting a link to Mizbala was given a fairly scary sounding message suggesting the site was deemed "unsafe" by Facebook. In some other cases, it told people posting Mizbala links that the links "might be spam." Yeah, so that certainly feels pretty sketchy. The site is regularly critical of Facebook -- specifically how it blocks people arbitrarily -- and suddenly it too gets blocked by Facebook with a nasty warning that the site itself is "unsafe." Even if this was an accident, it really looks quite bad. In response, Mizbala has sued Facebook in Israel arguing that the messages associated with the block are defamatory and a "false description" of Mizbala (which appears to be similar to the concept of "false light" in American law). I'll admit that I'm a bit torn about this whole thing. The arbitrary/hamfisted blocking is pretty ridiculous, and it's made much worse when it comes right after Mizbala was directly criticizing Facebook for arbitrary blocking and when it then is telling people that the site is either unsafe or spam. But, at the same time, it seems like a flat out public shaming is always going to make more sense here than going legal. In the US, at least, this kind of lawsuit would almost certainly fall flat (quickly). Nearly a decade ago, we wrote about a case in which it was found that Section 230 of the CDA protected an antivirus company (Kaspersky) from calling some adware "spyware." CDA 230(c)(2) makes it quite clear that attempts by companies to filter content taken in good faith don't expose the company to liability (of course, if this case were in the US, I'd guess that Mizbala could argue that the block wasn't made "in good faith.") Of course, the case is in Israel, not in the US, and Israel doesn't have an equivalent to Section 230 for cases like this. Given all that, this case could be troublesome. Obviously, Facebook's actions here look sketchy, and I'm all for calling out the company for its bad filtering policies, and the really iffy "unsafe" labelling it gave to the site here. But by putting liability on a company for deciding to block certain sites opens up a pandora's box of mischief. It could enable just about any site that was blocked -- even if for legitimate reasons, to gum up the judicial system with lawsuits and would make it much more difficult for lots of internet companies (including small ones who don't have the litigation budget of Facebook) to have to defend almost any moderation decision they make. This is the kind of thing that Section 230 protects against in the US, letting companies make their own moderation decisions (while the First Amendment then lets anyone mock the companies for making bad decisions). Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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While America is often portrayed as a hive of liberal debauchery, with a media environment heavy on skin and short on substance, unmentioned is a prudish strain that runs just as deep and as afoul of the mainstream. This hidden brand of puritanism rears its head in many ways, one of which is the unfortunate call to have technology companies block access to perfectly legal content in the name of protecting the gentle minds of the citizenry. Utah has attempted this in the form of calls to have phones come stock with filters to block pornography, full stop. And, while Utah is by no means alone in America in this endeavor, this sort of unconstitutional grab at the minds of the people is most often attempted in the more conservative, and religious, states. This, of course, despite all of the collateral damage to educational and otherwise useful material that comes along with this sort of thing. Yet the march against skin marches on. In Georgia, lawmakers have introduced a bill that would mandate filters on mobile devices that allow internet access. State representative Paulette Rakestraw has filed House Bill 509 which would require retailers to put a “digital blocking capability” on some devices to make “obscene material” inaccessible. Retailers, in this code section, would mean anyone who SELLS or LEASES a device that allows content to be accessed on the Internet. The “blocking capability” is required to make porn, child porn, revenge porn, websites about prostitution, and websites about sex trafficking all inaccessible. Retailers would be required to have a telephone line where consumers could call to report complaints and it prohibits retailers from giving consumers intel on how to deactivate the blocking program themselves. There's a lot to say about why this sort of thing is dumb, so let's just rapid fire them off. First, the inclusion of porn generally, as opposed to the requirement to block the more illicit content discussed above, renders this unconstitutional, as I mentioned above. That pesky First Amendment tends to stand in the way of government attempts to prohibit otherwise perfectly legal content and speech, of which pornography is generally included. The rather cynical way this general block on pornography is wrapped in the cloak of attempts to block the familiar enemies, like child porn and trafficking sites, adds to how slimy this all is. And this final sentence of the paragraph is where I would typically mention how easily circumvented these types of filters tend to be, except one of the proposed law's other provisions appears to try to tackle that in a way that requires further discussion. Here is the real humdinger: If you are 18 years of age or older, request in writing that you would like to deactivate the program, acknowledge in writing that you understand the dangers (yes, that is really the word they use) of deactivating the program, and pay a $20 fee, you can have the program removed from your device. You read that correctly. If, as a reasonable, responsible, American adult, you wish to look at obscene material in the privacy of your own home, you have to tell the grandmother at the Wal-Mart check out line that you would like her to delete the program so you can enjoy the device to the fullest extent. This puts the government in Georgia in the uncomfortable position of not only attempting to enact an unconstitutional law, but it also requires them to be grifters off of those that would enjoy the same material it seeks to block. Making $20 from adults who want to circumvent the filter required by the law means the state of Georgia stands to profit financially from its citizens' masturbation habits. And, while that's plainly just gross, it's the attempt to keep the public from knowing how to circumvent the filter themselves that makes this all look like a self-pleasure-tax than anything resembling an attempt to block illicit material. After all, how needed is a filter to block obscene material if the government is willing to allow it not to be blocked for the cost of a pizza? Where the censorship of legitimate and legal speech is pretty plainly unconstitutional, specifically taxing a form of speech is painfully so. Porn is free speech. This is a tax on free speech. A tax on people who wish to exercise and enjoy free speech. Here’s another thing: By taxing porn, the government is condoning the industry, “allowing” it to exist, if you will. If the risks are SO high for sex trafficking and child pornography, then all porn should be illegal. The fact that there is no advocacy for eradication of porn just reiterates the point: This isn’t about protecting anyone or helping anyone. It’s about taxing a vulnerable industry that is considered immoral. There is less resistance. After all, who is going to speak out in favor of porn? Well, I will, for starters. And I will do so unashamedly. Pornography itself has all kinds of useful and healthy applications, all of which have been documented scientifically. This isn't to say there are no downsides, or potential downsides, but there is a healthy application for pornography and the activities that tend to go with it. On top of that, giving government the power to block that which is deemed to be "obscene" or "pornographic" is rife with problems that far outweigh any potential benefits in censoring it. The public is not served living at the pleasure of a government that can decide what is good for it. And taxing it, not out of existence, but into legitimacy, is as crass and cynical a thing a local government can do. Which is likely all besides the point. This, again, is unconstitutional, which should be the end of the discussion. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Given the often-comedic "security" featured on "smart" tea kettles, televisions, refrigerators and light bulbs -- was there any question that your sex toys would suffer from the same problems plaguing other Internet of Things devices? Last fall, a company named Standard Innovation was sued because its We-Vibe vibrator collected sensitive data about customer usage. Specifically, the device and its corresponding Bluetooth-tethered smartphone app collected data on how frequently (and for how long) users enjoyed the toy, the "selected vibration settings," the device's battery life, and even the vibrator's "temperature." All of this rather personal data was collected and sent off to the company's Canadian servers, where the company claims it's used to conduct research for future products and product updates. Unlike many IoT products, Standard Innovation does fortunately encrypt this data in transit, but like most IoT companies, it failed to fully and clearly disclose the scope of data collection to customers, what was being done with that data, and how to opt out (or preferably, opt in). The end result was a lawsuit by one of the device's users (pdf) claiming this improperly-disclosed data collection violated Illinois privacy laws. This week, Standard Innovation struck a $3.75 million settlement (pdf). Under the terms of the deal, Standard Innovation will designate $3 million of the total for customers who downloaded the app and used it with the We-Vibe device, each individual receiving about $10,000 each. The remaining $750,000 is then destined to be divided between customers who purchased the devices alone, with each individual in that instance receiving roughly $200 each. The company tells the Chicago Tribune it had learned its lesson about the collection of masturbatory metadata: "Standard Innovation denied any wrongdoing in the settlement, which spokesman Denny Alexander called "fair and reasonable." Some changes agreed to in the settlement have been in place since We-Vibe updated its We-Connect app and privacy notice in September, he said. "At Standard Innovation we take customer privacy and data security seriously. We have enhanced our privacy notice, increased app security, provided customers more choice in the data they share, and we continue to work with leading privacy and security experts to improve the app," he said." Of course the real lesson here continues to be: if you want to be smart about device security in the internet of broken things era, you're almost always better off with the dumb alternative. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The DHS and CBP have both taken a healthy interest in travelers' social media posts. The DHS head even suggested withholding this information would no longer be an option -- that demands for account passwords were on the way. (Considering the government can search every person and their electronic devices at the border, demands for social media info would seem to be mostly redundant...) The underlying premise is this would give the US a jump on incoming terrorists by checking travelers' posts against a list of troublesome terms. This isn't a welcome development, but the federal government continues to be its own worst enemy. You can't fear what can't be deployed competently. The DHS isn't going to stop trying to hoover up social media posts as part of the vetting process, but as a just-released Inspector General's report [PDF] points out, it may be several years before this vetting program operates in any sort of useful fashion. (via The Register) [T]hese pilots, on which DHS plans to base future department-wide use of social media screening, lack criteria for measuring performance to ensure they meet their objectives. Although the pilots include some objectives, such as determining the effectiveness of an automated search tool and assessing data collection and dissemination procedures, it is not clear DHS is measuring and evaluating the pilots’ results to determine how well they are performing against set criteria. It appears the DHS has only a vague grasp on what it's looking for in a social media harvesting program. Combining this with a lack of useful metrics means the agency has been throwing algos at the wall and hoping one sticks. Of course, deciding which one has "stuck" also appears to be out of the agency's technical reach. USCIS started a pilot in December 2015 to screen the social media accounts of [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] applicants for [REDACTED] status. The pilot’s objective was to examine the feasibility of using social media screening with an automated search tool called [REDACTED] and determine whether useful information for adjudicating refugee applications could be obtained. Although the pilot had an objective, it did not define what would constitute a successful outcome… As the OIG points out, the absence of any metric meant there was no way to know if the program was successful or not. All the DHS determined is that a redacted number of those screened had "confirmed social media accounts," something the agency could likely have achieved without deploying the unnamed "automated search tool." [Google?] The next pilot program went live in April 2016. It, too, had the same lack of quantifiable results or stated goals. The applicants were asked to voluntarily give their social media user names. USCIS then screened the user names against [REDACTED] using the [REDACTED] tool; USCIS also manually screened the user names against [REDACTED]. USCIS assessed identified accounts to determine whether the refugees were linked to derogatory social media information that could impact their eligibility for immigration benefits or admissibility into the United States. Using the tool and manual screening, USCIS identified [REDACTED] individuals with confirmed social media accounts and [REDACTED] individuals with unconfirmed accounts. In reviewing the pilot, USCIS concluded that the tool was not a viable option for automated social media screening and that manual review was more effective at identifying accounts. USCIS said this tool delivered results with "low match confidence," but did not bother measuring the program's success or lack thereof against anything that might have helped choose an algorithmic successor. Meanwhile, ICE was testing its own search tool. Like the rest of the agencies, it also failed to implement anything that might have quantified the tool's usefulness. While it did draft up some prerequisites and metrics, it failed to develop a plan for moving the program forward or even apply the metrics to the pilot program's results. ICE's tool, however, sounds more invasive than the others discussed in the report. Not only would this be used to screen applicants, but would provide post-screening "monitoring" of flagged accounts. The OIG recommends these agencies do all the things they're not currently doing, instead of wasting time and money deploying software solutions without any apparent attempt to determine if they're capable of solving the government's social media "problem." This doesn't mean social media snooping is on hold. Lord no. It just means it's being done badly by multiple agencies, all of them more interested in the snooping than the snooping's usefulness. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As we've noted, the main reason the Sci-Hub site is so popular with academics is not because it is free -- researchers generally have free access to papers anyway -- but because it is so easy to use. Among other things, it provides a centralized store of a huge number of papers -- 58 million at the time of writing -- that can be downloaded with a single click. But an interesting post on the Green Tea and Velociraptors blog points out Sci-Hub's holdings are beaten by the total number of papers available on the ResearchGate site, which has 12 million members: The platform boasts that 2.5 million published outputs are uploaded by its users every month, equivalent to around the total number of published scholarly research articles each year. The site claims to have around 100 million published articles, which is very impressive seeing as only around 20-25 million have ever been published Open Access [OA]. The same post points out that many of those 100 million articles seem to be unauthorized copies: Based on a random sample of English language articles drawn from ResearchGate, the study [published last month] showed that 201 (51.3%) out of 392 non-OA articles infringed the copyright and were non-compliant with publishers' policy. While this sample size was small, there is no reason to think that the same cannot be said if we scale up to consider the entire corpus of articles shared on RG. This means that around half, or approximately 50 million, research papers on RG are most likely illegally hosted. If that analysis is correct, it would seem that ResearchGate holds roughly as many unauthorized copies of academic papers as Sci-Hub. Despite that fact, ResearchGate has just revealed that back in November 2015, it received investments totalling $52.6 million from some rather starry names, including that famous hater of pirates, Bill Gates: Wellcome Trust, Goldman Sachs Investment Partners, and Four Rivers Group with participation from Ashton Kutcher, Groupe Arnault, Xavier Niel, and existing investors Bill Gates, Tenaya Capital, Benchmark, and Founders Fund. ResearchGate says it is the responsibility of the uploader to make sure that they have the necessary rights to post material to the site: As we do not have any information about rights you may hold, or any license terms or other restrictions which might apply to such content, we necessarily rely on you to understand your rights and act accordingly. For this reason, we request that you fully investigate and confirm that you have sufficient rights to post particular content to ResearchGate before you post such content. As a general matter, if you are an author publishing in a journal, you may be allowed to publish certain versions of your article, but not others, and privately share certain content with others. However, many journals restrict publication of final versions and impose limitations on private sharing. As that notes, authors are typically only allowed to post certain versions of their papers -- usually early ones. But most researchers don't bother with that detail, and simply upload the final version to ResearchGate, which is probably why the recent analysis mentioned by the Tea and Velociraptors blog found so many unauthorized copies. Along with laziness, or ignorance of the niceties here, another factor driving this phenomenon may be that academics are aware that much of their work has been paid for by the public, and therefore feel the definitive results should be disseminated as widely as possible. Still, the contrast between ResearchGate, which has received major investments from some rather big names, and Sci-Hub, which is currently being pursued in the courts by Elsevier, is stark, given that their respective holdings turn out to be so similar. It's another indication that the academic publishing system is broken, and that copyright is an irrelevance as far as millions of researchers are concerned. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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In our recent conversation about Ed Sheeran's rise to fame, we chiefly focused on his claim that music piracy helped him be discovered by the public and his generally lax views on filesharing of his music. While that modern view on how music is consumed is refreshing, we focused less on another chief part of the equation: Ed Sheeran is really good to his fans. Between engaging with them directly via social media, having a generally congenial attitude towards them, and producing music his fans love, he's built up quite a connection with his listeners. But he appears to want to go above and beyond simply connecting with his fans, as well. He's even willing to go to bat for them with his label, Atlantic/Warner. He demonstrated this when a musician in the UK had a short video of herself covering a Sheeran song not only taken down from her Facebook account over a copyright claim, but had her account briefly suspended. With two crowd-sourced albums under her belt, UK-based full-time busker Charlotte Campbell is regularly in touch with the public through performances on the London Underground. She also uses Facebook to keep up with fans, but a few days ago her entire experience came to an abrupt halt after she was banned from the platform. Charlotte’s crime was to post a 15-second snippet of her cover of Ed Sheeran’s song Castle On The Hill, together with a link to the full track on her YouTube channel. “I love Ed Sheeran’s music and always cover his songs for my busking repertoire,” Charlotte informs TorrentFreak. “I find them easy to learn because I play them on repeat at home so I know all the lyrics by heart.” Atlantic/Warner flagged the video for copyright infringement, leading to it being taken down and Campbell's account suspended for three days. She was additionally warned that if she did it again, she could be perma-banned. This all came without prior warning or communication, for reasons that she would discover once Ed Sheeran himself got wind of all of this and got involved. After Charlotte was banned from Facebook, some of her fans took to Ed Sheeran fansites to complain that after paying tribute to the star, Charlotte’s reward was to lose her voice online. Amazingly, word reached Sheeran himself, who dropped in on Charlotte’s Facebook page to give his support. “Just seen your video, [the ban] definitely has nothing to do with me. I bloody love seeing people cover my songs. One of the best things I get out of this job is seeing other people find enjoyment too,” Sheeran wrote. “I asked what’s gone on and apparently it’s a bot that Warner have that works on some weird algorithm (I have no idea what that means) but it’s just bad luck that it was your video,” he explained. Sheeran went on to say that he was going to have a word with the label to get everything sorted out. This sort of thing works on so many levels. First, Sheeran is doing all of this at least in part at the behest of his dedicated fans, who discussed this on a fanboard. That's the kind of direct connection and interaction that can only serve to ingratiate Sheeran to the very people that love his music enough to support him. On top of that, being willing to go to bat with his own label in defense of a fellow musician that is covering his music is perfect in convincing the public that Sheeran is far more interested in the wider music ecosystem than he is in either being a copyright bully or milking every last dollar for his work. The reaction from his fans and Campbell herself shows how well this works. “I’m not sure I’ve really processed it, to be honest, I still feel like I’m dreaming!” she tells TF. “I felt so relieved that it wasn’t Ed Sheeran who had personally rejected my cover! And it really restored my faith in humanity and in Ed himself.” And now a fellow musician that could have been miffed at the actions of his label is instead a firm ally for Sheeran, while the fans that complained about all of this have all the more reason to be supportive of his work. It's hard to imagine how a musician could connect with his fans better than this. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Many people seem to forget that before Ed Snowden came along, Senator Ron Wyden was beating the drum in Congress about how the NSA was abusing Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act to spy on Americans. Here's a story we did back in 2011 concerning Wyden raising concerns about the failure of the Director of National Intelligence to say how Section 702 was being used on Americans. Even earlier in 2011, we wrote about then Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, refusing to answer this question, saying that "it is not reasonably possible to identify the number of people located in the United States whose communications may have been reviewed." Wyden kept up a series of similar requests, famously leading to the 2013 hearing in which Wyden directly asked Clapper about whether or not information was being collected on Americans and Clapper flat out lied. Snowden himself has credited that particular exchange as playing a big role in convincing him to leak documents. Fast forward to now. Last week, Senator Wyden sent a letter to incoming Director of National Intelligence* Dan Coats, once again asking how many Americans are having their communications watched under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act (which, again, is supposed to be used for foreign intelligence, but which we now know is regularly used to do surveillance on Americans). I and other members of Congress have been seeking an answer to this question since 2011. We posed the question again in the context of the reauthorization of Section 702 in 2012. It is now central to the debate this year over the reauthorization of the program, which you have described as your "top legislative priority." As Wyden notes: The lack of information on the extent to which Americans' communications have been collected under Section 702 is relevant not just to the question of whether Section 702 should be reauthorized, but to what reforms may be needed. For example, the government is currently authorized to conduct warrentless queries for Americans' communications collected under Section 702. Without data on the number of Americans' communications available to government, it is impossible to know the full extent to which these queries intrude on the privacy and constitutional rights of Americans. Wyden was hoping to get an answer to this question, prior to Coats' being voted in. That, of course, did not happen. However, Wyden gave one of his big speeches about this issue: In it, he calls out these issues quite clearly: But I want it understood that the reason that I’m going through this background is that I believe the American people deserve a fully informed debate about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act reauthorization. You cannot have that debate — you cannot ensure that the American people have security and liberty unless you know the impact of section 702 of that bill on the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans. So for six years, Mr. President, in this body Democrats and Republicans — in the other body, Democrats and Republicans — have been asking the same question: How many law-abiding Americans are having their communications swept up in all of this collection? Without even an estimate of this number, I don’t think it’s possible to judge what section 702 means for the core liberties of law-abiding Americans. Without this information, the Congress can’t make an informed decision about whether to reauthorize section 702 or what kind of reforms might be necessary to ensure the protection of the individual liberties of innocent Americans. There's a lot more in the nearly 50-minute speech (the transcript is in the link above). But it's truly incredible that the executive branch refuses to give Congress this information that it needs for oversight: Mr. President, how many law-abiding Americans — innocent, law-abiding Americans are getting swept up in these searches? It will be an increasingly important issue, as the nature of telecommunications companies continues to change because it is now a field that is globally interconnected. We don’t have telecommunications systems just stopping at national borders. So getting the number of Americans whose communications have been collected in the first place is the prerequisite to doing real oversight on this law and doing our job at a time when it is being reauthorized and the American people want both security and liberty and understand that the two are not mutually exclusive. So, Director Clapper then suggested reviewing the classified number of targets that were later determined to be located in the United States. But the question has never been about the targets of section 702, although the mistaken targeting of Americans and the people in our country is another serious question. The question that Democrats and Republicans have been asking is about how many Americans are being swept up by a program that, according to the law, is supposed to only target foreigners overseas. So let me repeat that. That’s what the law says. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act says that the targets are supposed to be foreigners overseas. And Democrats and Republicans want to know how many law-abiding Americans who might reside in Alaska or Oregon or anywhere else are getting swept up in these searches. So this bipartisan coalition has kept asking. Wyden goes on to explain how many in the intelligence community are misleading the public on how broad the powers and searches under Section 702 really are. He even highlights the claims that some have made that anyone against 702 must be part of a "bad guy caucus." But the issue is that, as currently used, Section 702 can and likely is being used to broadly conduct warrantless surveillance on Americans: I’ve heard my colleagues on the other side talk frequently. Well, you know, if law-abiding Americans are having their communications swept up, we shouldn’t get all concerned about that because this array of Americans’ communications is being minimized, and somehow that means that it’s not getting out. It’s being hidden. That’s not what necessarily happens. To begin with, all that collection does not stay at the National Security Agency. All the e-mails collected through the PRISM component of section 702 go to several other agencies, including the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. Then you have those three agencies in particular authorized to conduct searches through all the data for communications that are to, from, or about Americans. Look for an American’s name, telephone number, e-mail address, even a key word or phrase. They can do that without any warrant. There doesn’t have to be even a suspicion, even a suspicion that an American is engaged in any kind of wrongdoing. The F.B.I.’s authorities are even broader. The F.B.I. can also conduct searches for communications that are to, from, or about an American to seek evidence of a crime. Unlike the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, the F.B.I. doesn’t even report how many searches for Americans it’s conducting. Moreover, neither the F.B.I. Nor the C.I.A. Reports on the number of searches for Americans it conducts using metadata collected under section 702. Now, the authority to conduct searches for Americans’ communications in section 702 data is new. Before 2011, the FISA court prohibited, prohibited queries for U.S. persons. I’m going to repeat that: Under the Bush Administration and the first two years of the Obama Administration, it was not possible to conduct these back-door, warrantless searches of law-abiding Americans. Then the Obama Administration sought to change the rules and obtained authority to conduct them. In April, 2014, the Director of National Intelligence in response to questions from myself and Senator Mark Udall publicly acknowledged these warrantless searches, and my June, the House voted overwhelmingly to prohibit them. That prohibition didn’t become law, but I can tell you it’s sure going to be considered in the context of this reauthorization, and the House voted overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly to prohibit these warrantless searches. So the question really is what exactly is the privacy impact of these warrantless searches for Americans? There's a lot more in the speech as well, but this post is getting to be long enough. Unfortunately, of course, the speech will get little attention. It's not the exciting sort of political football that cable news likes to cover. There's no partisan horse race element to it. It's just the kind of thing that impacts the basic Constitutional rights of all Americans. And, apparently, only a few people actually seem to care about it -- and none of them seem to be in roles where they can stop this kind of 4th Amendment violation from happening again. * Clapper, astoundingly, was never fired or otherwise punished for lying to Congress, and only left at the beginning of this year with the change in administrations. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Remember James Woods? The Hollywood actor sued a Twitter troll for $10 million, claiming defamation, because that troll had sarcastically referred to Woods as a "cocaine addict." Woods, of course, has a long history of mixing it up on Twitter with lots of people, including saying things almost identical to what he sued over: Throughout the case, Woods continued to make it abundantly clear to the world that he is a horrible person. Specifically, during the course of the case, the (anonymous) defendant unexpectedly passed away, leading Woods to gloat about the guy's death, after first claiming that the reason the appeal in the case was dropped was because he was winning the case: Not only that, but even after the defendant passed away and the case was dropped, Woods continued the lawsuit and forced the opposing side to reveal the name of the anonymous Twitter user who so enraged Woods. Of course, as we've said time and time again, people should be very careful in gleefully taking down the rights of others, because you never quite know when that same sort of thing might boomerang back around. Case in point: the Hollywood Reporter notes that James Woods is being sued for defamation... over some of his tweets. The lawsuit, seeking $3 million, and brought by Portia Boulger, claims that Woods defamed her and then was insincere in his apology: This all started in March 2016, after the Chicago Tribune posted a campaign rally photo of a woman who was wearing a Trump T-shirt and giving a Nazi salute — the well-known 'Heil Hitler' salute with her right hand raised straight up — and several Twitter users misidentified the woman in the picture as Boulger, according to the complaint. Woods tweeted the photo from his verified account and wrote, “So-called #Trump ‘Nazi’ is a #BernieSanders agitator/operative?” [....] After Boulger's attorneys contacted the actor, he deleted the tweets and wrote a new series of them that were meant to be a retraction. However, two of the three apology tweets were untrue, according to Boulger. A March 23 tweet by Woods reads: “Ms. Boulder [sic] has reached out to me and asked me to use my many followers to stop people from harassing her. I am more than happy to do so.” That was followed by another: “Though she supports @BernieSanders, I am happy to defend her from abuse. I only wish his supporters would do the same for other candidates.” You can read the full lawsuit here if you're interested. Now, here's the thing: while there's obviously the emotional appeal of seeing Woods hit with the same kind of lawsuit that he saddled someone else with, this lawsuit appears to be just as misguided, if not worse. I know (first hand...) that some people think that it's okay to cheer on bogus lawsuits against people you dislike, but some of us have principles. Bogus defamation lawsuits are an affront to free speech, whether they're brought against people we like or not. And this certainly looks like a bogus defamation lawsuit. I hate to say it, because I'm sure Woods will continue to gloat and never realize the contradictions if he does, but Woods should win this lawsuit easily. The original tweet may be borderline, but it would be quite difficult to argue that Woods posted it with actual malice, defined as knowledge that the information was false, or with reckless disregard for the truth -- which is the standard necessary if Boulger is deemed a public figure, which seems likely in this case (Boulger is a political activist and that's a big part of what the dispute is about). Yes, the tweet misidentified her, but hard to argue that it could pass the bar to be defamation. The fact that Woods then deleted the tweet after being informed that he was wrong, and posted the follow up tweets helps his case as well, even if Boulger's lawyers attack those tweets too. Here's what the complaint says about them: The second and third of these tweets were false, insulting and demeaning as Ms. Boulger never asked Mr. Woods to “reach out to my many followers to stop people from harassing her.” Rather, Ms. Boulger, through counsel, had demanded a retraction and apology. Yeah... that's such a difference of degree that there's almost no way it will be seen as defamatory. Furthermore, "insulting and demeaning" is not defamation, nor is it against the law. Unfortunately for Woods, Ohio, where the case is filed has no anti-SLAPP law as far as I can tell. So this case becomes yet another example of why a federal anti-SLAPP law is important. Of course, Woods could try to move the venue or push for California's anti-SLAPP law to apply, since he's a resident of California. In certain ways, this case actually has a fair number of similarities to the Katie Hopkins Twitter defamation lawsuit in the UK that we wrote about earlier this week. We noted in that story how different UK and US defamation law can be, but also noted that Hopkins was widely disliked, and thus many people who otherwise tend to be good on free speech issues were celebrating her "loss." One hopes that on this one people can remain above that sort of thing, and recognize that if you support true freedom of expression, then this case must fail, even if you don't like James Woods, or were furious at him for filing his own wacky defamation case over tweets not too long ago. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've talked about the astounding hypocrisy of Rep. Devin Nunes a few times in the past. He heads the House Intelligence Committee, which is supposed to be conducting "oversight" of the intelligence community, but has generally been a cheerleader for mass surveillance in recent years. Nunes, in fact, has regularly slammed any attempt to cut back on surveillance, to the point of actively misleading the public in making false claims about how NSA surveillance programs work. The hypocrisy became clear when Nunes flipped out following the firing/resignation of Mike Flynn as National Security Advisor, arguing that it was somehow unprecedented that an American's phone calls with Russian officials were recorded by the intelligence community. Of course, that suggests either near total ignorance of the programs he's supposedly in charge of overseeing, or just blatant political pandering. And now it's getting worse. Reporter Katie Bo Williams got her hands on an interesting letter that Nunes, along with ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff, just sent to the heads of the CIA, NSA and FBI, continuing to dig in on the whole "recorded Mike Flynn" thing. The target now is Executive Order 12333, which we've spoken about quite a lot. That's the executive order signed by President Reagan, that more or less gives the intelligence community total free rein in conducting surveillance overseas. As an ex-State Department official revealed back in 2014, the vast majority of NSA surveillance actually is done under 12333, and it just uses other programs -- like Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act and Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act -- to fill in the gaps of what they can't get via 12333. Executive Order 12333, for example, was used to hack into Yahoo and Google's servers overseas, allowing the NSA to scoop up lots of info without any oversight by US courts. Anyway, based on the letter that Nunes has sent, he's suddenly quite concerned about 12333. And this demonstrates his massive hypocrisy, because another letter he sent a few years ago has him arguing that there should be less oversight on 12333... but we'll get to that. This new letter suggests that the Flynn recording came under 12333, and so he's demanding all sorts of data on how 12333 is used on US Persons. Of course, what's interesting here is that the Congressional intelligence committees have long stated that they don't really have much oversight into anything under 12333. Dianne Feinstein (who was a top member of the Senate Intelligence Committee) admitted in the past that the committees get zero insight into 12333 intelligence collection: “The other programs do not (have the same oversight as FISA). And that’s what we need to take a look at,” she said, adding that her committee has not been able to “sufficiently” oversee the programs run under the executive order. “Twelve-triple-three programs are under the executive branch entirely.” Feinstein has also said the order has few, if any, privacy protections. “I don’t think privacy protections are built into it,” she said. “It’s an executive policy. The executive controls intelligence in the country.” Got that? Good. At least when Feinstein was bringing it up, she was bringing it up to argue that the Intel Committees should be getting more insight into what 12333 is used for. However, Devin Nunes, apparently wanted it to be kept in the dark. And wanted the public kept in the dark. That's because I just received in a surprisingly well-timed FOIA response, a letter that Nunes, along with Senate Intel Committee boss Richard Burr, sent a letter to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) back in 2015, basically telling the PCLOB to stop looking into 12333, because it was outside its purview. As you may recall, after doing detailed reports on Sections 215 and 702, the PCLOB announced that it was going to do a detailed study on 12333 to determine if it was violating the privacy and civil liberties of Americans. While that was announced way back in 2014, nothing final ever came out -- and it's unlikely to ever come out because the PCLOB is effectively dead. But Nunes and Burr were apparently so concerned that the PCLOB might find actual problems with 12333 and how it violates the rights of Americans, that they made it clear that the PCLOB should knock it off: As we are sure you are aware, intelligence activities conducted under E.O. 12333 address a broad range of national security issues beyond counterterrorism, including significant and important foreign intelligence matters that fall well outside of the PCLOB's limited statutory charter. Many intelligence activities conducted under E.O. 12333 predate the creation of the PCLOB and were not within the scope that the 9/11 Commission or Congress envisioned when PCLOB was established. The purpose is clear and specifically defined by Congress. We trust you will keep in mind the finite statutory authority as you move forward and work with the Intelligence Community to limit appropriately your review only to those matters which Congress has specifically authorized you to review. In other words, just two years ago, Devin Nunes was telling the one body in the government specifically tasked with reviewing intelligence collection programs to see how they're being used on Americans, that they should stop doing that. And now, today, he's suddenly demanding to know how the intelligence community uses 12333 to spy on Americans -- as if it had never crossed his mind before that the program was used this way. This is not effective oversight. This is a hypocritical joke by the name of Rep. Devin Nunes. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The Mormon Church has been somewhat flip-floppy when it comes to criticism against it. On the one hand, the notoriously tight-knit Church has been admirably tolerant of many attempts to parody it, including public commentary and a certain Broadway show of world renown. On the other hand, it seems the Church tends to draw a line in the sand when it comes to disseminating official church documents, even when this is done by journalists and organizations dedicated to commentary and news. In the past, the Mormon Church has attempted to utilize copyright law to have those documents removed from such sites as Wikimedia and Wikileaks, which of course resulted in the wider viewership of those same documents as news of the threats wove through the media. The Streisand Effect, it seems, offers no quarter of religious institutions. A decade later, it seems our friends in Utah have not learned this lesson, as the Mormon Church reportedly threatened the MormonLeaks website with legal action over copyright infringement after the site hosted a PowerPoint presentation. The site, which has generated past headlines by displaying restricted church papers on topics ranging from the salaries of Mormon apostles to rules governing calls home by missionaries, had taken down the presentation after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints threatened legal action March 1. Based on a copyright-violation allegation, it marked the first time that the Utah-based faith had turned to its attorneys to challenge MormonLeaks' revelations in the four months the site has been up. On Tuesday, the site reposted the material, along with a letter sent Monday to Barry Taggart, a representative of the LDS Church's Intellectual Property Office. In the letter, MormonLeaks' Las Vegas-based attorney Marc Randazza contends the site "obtained this document lawfully and had a right to distribute it in its capacity as a journalistic resource devoted to discussing facts about the LDS Church." Readers of this site will be familiar with Randazza and his reputation for repudiating bogus takedowns and lame uses of intellectual property in this matter. His involvement does not bode well for the Mormon Church's prospects for the continued bullying of MormonLeaks through the inappropriate application of copyright law. The site is clearly well within the boundaries of Fair Use. And, while Utah's version of an anti-SLAPP law is horribly neutered, limited only to suits involving "the process of government", Randazza's otherwise congenial notice to the Church hints that there will be consequences of it doesn't walk away from all of this. "At this point, my client is willing to let bygones be bygones," Randazza writes. "If your client is willing to step back from the brink, and to cease efforts to censor this material, my client is willing to refrain from bringing a claim [of abusing copyright law]." While it should be clear to the Church that the best move now is to walk away, it would have been far better had it never tried this bullying tactic to begin with. After all, the Streisand Effect has now taken over, with news of the dispute resulting in wider publicity for the site and documents that were targeted for removal. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Last fall, Alphabet/Google announced that the company would be notably scaling back its Google Fiber ambitions. The company axed its CEO, laid off a small number of employees, and froze a number of anticipated fiber builds (in Portland and a few other locations). Numerous reports indicated that there were growing concerns among many executives about the high costs and slow pace of deploying fiber, so the company was considering an overall pivot to next-generation gigabit wireless while it continued building out most already-announced markets. While it's hard to call this pivot a failure until we see a real wireless product, ISPs like AT&T were of course quick to suggest Google Fiber was little more than folly (ignoring that AT&T's anti-competitive behavior played a starring role in Google Fiber's struggles in many cities). This has contributed to an overall air of "we told you so" smugness emanating from numerous quadrants of the telecom status quo. That take, however, is short-sighted. One, the launch of Google Fiber put an unrelenting spotlight on the lack of broadband competition in countless markets, driving many large ISPs (like AT&T) to deploy gigabit broadband service that had previously been unheard of. Google Fiber also managed to shine a bright spotlight on the way many large ISPs use our broken legislative and regulatory systems to keep things broken, whether that's by using utility pole beaurocracy to slow competitors' installs, or writing awful state protectionist law hamstringing what your local town and city can do about it. Over at Backchannel, long-standing duopoly critic and Harvard Law Professor Susan Crawford notes that there are a lot of useful lessons from Google Fiber, most notably that the system Google Fiber is operating in is effectively rotten to the core: "The fundamental lesson of Google Fiber is that, in the end, its business model was just like that of another cable actor. It was playing within the existing sandbox, using the right technology but the wrong business model. That sandbox has been left to the vagaries of the marketplace, in which existing monopolies have built moats around their businesses in the form of rights to programming, rights of way, bundled products, relationships with credulous legislators, and a million other barriers to entry that make competing — even for Google — just too expensive for shareholders looking for immediate, media company-like returns, quarter after quarter." The solution, Crawford insists, is a shift toward local, municipal, open access networks via which ISPs come in and compete: "The only business model for fiber that will work to produce the competition, low prices, and world-class data transport we need — certainly in urban areas — is to get local governments involved in overseeing basic, street grid-like “dark” (passive, unlit with electronics) fiber available at a set, wholesale price to a zillion retail providers of access and services. There’s plenty of patient capital sloshing around the US that would be attracted to the steady, reliable returns this kind of investment will return. That investment could be made in the form of private lending or government bonds; the important element is that the resulting basic network be a wholesale facility that any retail actor can use at a reasonable, fair cost. The result: Instead of different wires competing side by side with one another, there would be one great basic facility available neutrally to every form of business. Your ISP could use that fiber in competition with 10 others; your traffic lights could use it to govern congestion; your energy grid could use it to measure and regulate consumption and use of renewables. (Here comes the much-touted Internet of Things, which, without fiber everywhere, is being built on sand.) At the same time, the government would stay out of providing and inventing retail services itself." Data, including data from the FCC (promptly ignored by the agency) does support the argument that such open access networks result in better broadband, better customer service, and lower prices thanks to real competition. In fact, Google Fiber initially insisted it would support the open access model -- before promptly backing away from it. And some areas, like Huntsville, Alabama, are following through on building an open network, then inviting multiple ISPs (including Google Fiber) to come in and compete. More competition means organic punishment for high prices, bad service, and net neutrality violations -- which in turn means fewer attempts to fix this issue using often ham-fisted attempts at regulating a moving train. The problem: incumbent ISPs effectively run massive chunks of our government, to the point where they quite-literally write telecom law (usually via ALEC or some other third-party, legislation ghostwriting apparatus). That includes the twenty-some odd state laws preventing towns and cities from making telecom infrastructure decisions for themselves, lest they might upset somebody at AT&T, Verizon, Charter or Comcast. Like so many sectors, you can't really fix what ails the broadband industry until you fix the underlying legislative rot that lets companies use campaign contributions and disinformation to dictate garbage technology policy in the first place. So sure, open access networks should absolutely be pursued where possible, but voting out politicians whose entire function appears to be to protect broken mono/duopoly markets (looking at you, Marsha Blackburn) would need to be the very first step in what's an achievable but Sisyphean climb toward better broadband. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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