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Could the organization calling itself the "Authors Guild" (from its behavior, better understood as a lobbying arm for big publishing houses) get more fearful and brittle? In response to a typically lopsided AG blog post yesterday, in which the Author's Guild mentioned, but failed to link to, a petition in favor of low ebook prices and fair wages for authors, I left the following comment: For anyone inclined to consider thoughts a bit less hidebound than those of the "Authors Guild," here are a few good posts: More Preston Nonsense Authors United? I Wish It Were So Amazon/Hachette -- The Sounds of Silence Konrath and Eisler vs Richard Russo: The Sequel Not for the first time, my comment didn't make it past the censor moderator. Why? Did I use obscene language? Insult anyone? Engage in unacceptably trollish behavior? Or did I simply link to a few posts that offer opposing viewpoints? It's funny, I write about the AG, and former president Scott Turow, and AG pitchman Richard Russo, and Douglas Preston's self-serving anti-Amazon efforts fairly regularly. And I always link to, and extensively quote from, anything I'm discussing. Not just because I want my readers to be able to make up their own minds. Not just because I have some integrity. But also because I want people to see exactly what the AG and its legacy-publishing shills are saying. Their positions are so illogical, so self-contradictory, and so self-serving that I believe the more light I can shine on them, the better people will understand what the AG and its people are really about. But when an organization tries to conceal what its critics are saying, it's fair to surmise that something else is driving its behavior. And I don't know what that thing could be other than fear of contrary opinions the organization senses are more compelling than the organization's propaganda. Because really, what can you say about an organization so brittle, so insular, so fearful... that it won't even permit a few contrary links in a comment section? What can you say about an organization calling itself an "Authors Guild"... that censors the voices of authors whose opinions it doesn't like?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Back in March, we reported on an interesting case where a UK court ruled that information stored electronically is not property. Now senior judges in New Zealand have agreed (found via @superglaze), as the Lexology site explains: Jonathan Dixon, the Queenstown bouncer who accessed CCTV footage of the England Rugby Captain in a bar during the 2011 Rugby World Cup, appealed his conviction for dishonestly obtaining property on the basis that the digital data did not come under the definition of 'property' in the Crimes Act. The New Zealand Court of Appeal yesterday agreed (but substituted his conviction with one of dishonestly obtaining a benefit). Lexology goes on to explain: The accepted legal position is that confidential information is not property, but protected by the law from abuse, as a matter of 'conscience' arising from the circumstances in which the information was obtained. The New Zealand Court of Appeal considered that a computer file's "stored sequence of bytes available to a computer program or operating system… cannot meaningfully be distinguished from pure information", and therefore was not 'property' for the purposes of the Crimes Act. Although two court cases do not make a definitive answer, it's significant that they were in different, albeit related, jurisdictions, and that the judges based their decisions on very different legislation. It certainly adds fuel to the already heated debate about whether it is possible in any sense to "steal" digital files containing copyright material. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A couple of years ago, we wrote about an interview with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, in which he explained one of his most effective strategies in getting legislation in his favor. The key trick: find key staffers working for elected officials and tell them they had a job waiting for them whenever they wanted it. Here was the key bit: And he would ask them: "When do you want to start?" If they said "two years," he knew that the guy was already working for him, but on the inside. As he says "I really hired him that day," even though he went on for two more years working as a chief-of-staff to someone in Congress. Just yesterday, we wrote about Rep. Howard Berman -- famous for his support of ever expanding copyright law -- who has now been hired to lobby for the MPAA. Berman, the former Congressman, is obviously the headline piece. But, along with that news came some further news that didn't get as much attention -- which is that in hiring the firm that Berman works for, Covington & Burling, the MPAA didn't just hire Berman, but also Aaron Cooper, who was Senator Patrick Leahy's chief intellectual property staffer, and the main guy behind the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), the Senate's version of SOPA. The MPAA, of course, was the main driving lobbying force (along with the US Chamber of Commerce) to get SOPA/PIPA approved. And here we are, just a couple of years later, and the Congressional staffer who was the main internal architect of that bill is... now officially paid by the MPAA. The old "revolving door" continues to swing round and round. Jack Abramoff would be proud.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Having already discussed The Intercept's publication of the federal government's guidelines for declaring people terrorists to put on its various watchlists (including the infamous "no fly list"), it's raising some serious questions about why the DOJ had been fighting so hard to keep these guidelines from coming out. As we've discussed, in basically any case challenging the various government watchlists, the DOJ has freaked out and claimed "state secrets" to try to get the cases thrown out entirely. Just a few months ago, Attorney General Eric Holder directly claimed that revealing these guidelines would be helping the terrorists. In that legal filing, Holder does the "state secrets" dance and then says: I agree with the FBI that the Watchlisting Guidance, although unclassified, contains national security information that, if disclosed, for the reasons discussed in the FBI's classified declaration, could cause significant harm to national security.... If the Guidance were released, it would provide a clear roadmap to undermine the Government's screening efforts, a key counterterrorism measure, and thus, its disclosure reasonably could be expected to cause significant harm to national security. Of course, now that the Watchlisting Guidance is out, we can take a look and see if that's actually true. And... Holder's statements, not surprisingly, appear to be completely bogus. The Guidelines are so vague and so broad that it gives no real indication of how to get around them or whether or not any particular person is likely to be placed on the list. What the guidelines do show, however, is the level of extra scrutiny people on the list are subject to. And, as we noted, much of that certainly appears to violate the 4th Amendment (or, at the very least, open itself up to a pretty clear 4th Amendment challenge in the courts). So, once again, it seems like Holder's real reason to declare "state secrets" had little to do with "national security" and a hell of a lot to do with "DOJ security" in keeping its illegal and unconstitutional practices from further public and judicial scrutiny.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As we recently discussed, it's becoming readily apparent that the FBI's most vaunted counter-terrorism wins are almost all stings for "crimes" they made up all by themselves and then coerced others to join. Even for those that don't have a problem with this kind of practice in theory, it has to be jarring to learn just how many of these "terrorists" are either suffering serious mental or social illnesses or have had their confessions beaten out of them. By all appearances, it looks pretty clear that the FBI is bumping up their "win" statistics on the backs of these highly questionable stings. So of course local law enforcement is getting in on the action as well. Take the police in Washington D.C., for instance, who are featured in a Washington Post story detailing how they invent armed robbery plans whole-cloth and then recruit civilians to join up shortly before arresting these future-criminals. Some of the plots the police of devised are quite detailed and terrifying, involving robbing liquor stores and targets that are supposedly drug dealers. After discussing the plans with an undercover cop, everyone is then arrested and charged with a variety of "conspiracy to commit" charges. According to some experts, the government is on firm legal ground with regards to entrapment. The government is on solid legal ground, experts say, when it comes to fending off allegations that suspects were set up — or entrapped — by the police. Even if the government entices the defendant, the target has to show that he was not predisposed to commit the crime. Sure, and if you're a defendant in one of these cases, good luck convincing anyone that you didn't have a predisposition for the crime you were tricked into thinking you were going to commit. Again, it's easy to opine that these are bad people, but that doesn't take into account mental illness and pressure applied by undercover officers eager to bolster their arrest statistics. According to reports, that kind of pressure included giving minors alcohol and/or taking them to strip clubs, because nobody has ever made themselves out to be something they're not when drunk or in the presence of naked members of the opposite sex. The question becomes whether anything like the made up crime would have ever happened had it not been first invented by the police. “When you have the government offering guns or the getaway car and making it really attractive, you have to ask: Is this an opportunity that would have really come around in real life? Would this person have been able to put together this type of crime without government assistance?” said Katharine Tinto, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York who has studied undercover policing tactics. It's even worse when the police engineer aspects of the made up crimes in the sting in order to manufacture longer sentences for the would-be criminals they ensnare. Tinto and others also take issue with the government’s ability to essentially engineer tough penalties by controlling the details of the made-up crime. Part of the reason the District cases have been so successful, according to defense lawyers, is that the potential jail time for the federal conspiracy charge is steep enough that many defendants are more inclined to make a deal with prosecutors than risk losing at trial. The global problem in all of this is the aim: this is all about bolstering crime-fighting statistics rather than responding to any actual crimes or criminals. Will the police likely get some violent criminals off the streets with this tactic? Sure, but so could actual police work and, as I indicated, that isn't what this is all about. On top of that, the questions raised by the tactic are serious and some of the people caught up in all this probably aren't benefited most by engineered jail time. Add to all that questions about who the police are generally going to look towards as targets of this kind of sting operation (gasp, minorities), and we should be left wondering why they aren't fighting the crime that exists rather than making up crime that otherwise wouldn't. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've already written about The Intercept's publication of the US government's guidelines for declaring you a possible terrorist subject to extra scrutiny whenever you run into a government official. But we wanted to do a second post on the part that focuses on just what kind of extra scrutiny you get if you're on the list. Basically, it's dig through every aspect of this person's life that you can: In addition to data like fingerprints, travel itineraries, identification documents and gun licenses, the rules encourage screeners to acquire health insurance information, drug prescriptions, “any cards with an electronic strip on it (hotel cards, grocery cards, gift cards, frequent flyer cards),” cellphones, email addresses, binoculars, peroxide, bank account numbers, pay stubs, academic transcripts, parking and speeding tickets, and want ads. The digital information singled out for collection includes social media accounts, cell phone lists, speed dial numbers, laptop images, thumb drives, iPods, Kindles, and cameras. All of the information is then uploaded to the TIDE database. Screeners are also instructed to collect data on any “pocket litter,” scuba gear, EZ Passes, library cards, and the titles of any books, along with information about their condition�””e.g., new, dog-eared, annotated, unopened.” Business cards and conference materials are also targeted, as well as “anything with an account number” and information about any gold or jewelry worn by the watchlisted individual. Even “animal information”�”details about pets from veterinarians or tracking chips�”is requested. The rulebook also encourages the collection of biometric or biographical data about the travel partners of watchlisted individuals. In the wake of last month's Wurie decision at the Supreme Court, I'm curious how much of that is now violating the subject's 4th Amendment rights... It seems likely that at least someone is going to challenge these rules.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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While there has been blissfully only minor advancement in the US about the non-existent disease known as "internet addiction", the same can't be said of certain other countries. South Korea has a version of it, which mostly involves shutting down online video games for a certain portion of the day. But the real mover and shaker in this made up land of dependency is China, where six hours online a day makes you an addict (someone tell my employer!) and they've actually gone so far as to create internet addiction "camps" where people learn to eschew cat videos, Facebook posts about food, and ostensibly the news posted online that they're probably being horribly abused at that very camp. That seems to be the tone of the reporting now that one family has been compensated $120,000 after their 19 year old girl was killed at one of these camps. Earlier this year in May, LingLing passed away in a hospital in Zhengzhou, Henan province. It was reported by the Chinese media that she actually died before reaching the hospital. LingLing was reported to be attending Zhengzhou Boqiang New Idea Life Training School. While at addiction camp, LingLing was singled out by her instructors. She was reportedly taken to "extra" lessons on more than one occasion. According to another girl that attended the addiction camp, LingLing was singled out. According to the media and government reports, LingLing was beaten and dropped onto hard surfaces. The Zhengzhou coroners office reported that LingLing died from extreme head trauma. I guess I'm not really certain what picture I had in my head when I imagined an internet addiction camp, but it sure as hell didn't involve young women getting their brains beaten so badly that they expire. Also, that hundred-and-twenty-large seems a little light, considering the horror this family had to go through after being duped into believing such an internment was necessary to begin with. It all sounds worse when the report goes on to state that incidents of abuse have happened at these camps several times before as well. So, while the "camp" in question, the one that essentially murdered a young girl, has had its license revoked, Chinese parents are going to have to start asking themselves which is more dangerous: "internet addiction" or the camps that purport to fix internet addiction. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Deveraux, over at The Intercept have a giant scoop: the full 166-page guidebook that US law enforcement uses to declare someone a terrorist who deserves to be on one of its various watchlists from the no-fly list to the "terrorist screening database." We've had plenty of stories about the no fly list and the TSDB, and the ridiculous lengths that the US government has gone to to keep anyone from knowing if or why they're in any of these databases -- leading to a series of lawsuits from individuals who were put on that list under very questionable circumstances. We were happy last month to see that the process for getting off of these watchlists was declared unconstitutional, but the lawsuits over these watchlists suggest that they are prone to abuse and error. We were particularly disturbed to find out in a recent lawsuit that the US government actually has a secret exception to reasonable suspicion for putting people on the list. The document released by The Intercept is quite revealing, and shows that President Obama has massively expanded the criteria for getting people onto the list. In fact, as the report notes, the President "quietly approved" an expansion "authorizing a secret process that requires neither “concrete facts” nor “irrefutable evidence” to designate an American or foreigner as a terrorist." The new guidelines allow individuals to be designated as representatives of terror organizations without any evidence they are actually connected to such organizations, and it gives a single White House official the unilateral authority to place “entire categories” of people the government is tracking onto the no fly and selectee lists. It broadens the authority of government officials to “nominate” people to the watchlists based on what is vaguely described as “fragmentary information.” It also allows for dead people to be watchlisted. As you might imagine, given all the stories about people being put on various watchlists even though they're clearly not terrorists, the guidelines are crazy expansive: The document’s definition of “terrorist” activity includes actions that fall far short of bombing or hijacking. In addition to expected crimes, such as assassination or hostage-taking, the guidelines also define destruction of government property and damaging computers used by financial institutions as activities meriting placement on a list. They also define as terrorism any act that is “dangerous” to property and intended to influence government policy through intimidation. And obviously this goes way beyond just boarding (or not boarding) airplanes. As the report notes, if you're pulled over for speeding and the police run your name, if you're on the watchlist, the police will get a notification, leading them to automatically think that you're a suspected terrorist. The guidelines also contradict themselves directly. At first it says that: To meet the REASONABLE SUSPICION standard, the NOMINATOR, based on the totality of the circumstances, must rely upon articulable intelligence or information which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrants a determination that an individual is known or suspected to be or has been knowingly engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to TERRORISM and/or TERRORIST ACTIVITIES. Okay. So you need to have a factual basis for reasonable suspicion, right? Wrong: In determining whether a REASONABLE SUSPICION exists, due weight should be given to the specific reasonable inferences that a NOMINATOR is entitled to draw from the facts in light of his/her experience and not on unfounded suspicions or hunches. Although irrefutable evidence or concrete facts are not necessary, to be reasonable, suspicion should be as clear and as fully developed as circumstances permit. So, it can't just be a hunch. It has to be a really good hunch seems to be the lesson. The report also likely reveals the "secret" exceptions to reasonable suspicion that the judge refused to reveal in the Rahinah Ibrahim case we wrote about. She was kept on the watchlist despite there being no reasonable suspicion. One of the exceptions is the "family member" loophole (which some had suggested was likely the issue in the comments to our story about Ibrahim). But it appears the exceptions are much broader: There are a number of loopholes for putting people onto the watchlists even if reasonable suspicion cannot be met. One is clearly defined: The immediate family of suspected terrorists�”their spouses, children, parents, or siblings�”may be watchlisted without any suspicion that they themselves are engaged in terrorist activity. But another loophole is quite broad�””associates” who have a defined relationship with a suspected terrorist, but whose involvement in terrorist activity is not known. A third loophole is broader still�”individuals with “a possible nexus” to terrorism, but for whom there is not enough “derogatory information” to meet the reasonable suspicion standard. And then there's the fact that the new "threat-based expedited upgrade" program, which was put in place following the US failing to notice that the famed "underwear bomber" got on his plane despite being on the watchlist. So, rather than recognize that the list was broken, the administration just added a new category, allowing a single White House official the unilateral power to elevate entire "categories of people" into a special list for extra scrutiny. This extraordinary power for “categorical watchlisting”�”otherwise known as profiling�”is vested in the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, a position formerly held by CIA Director John Brennan that does not require Senate confirmation. The rulebook does not indicate what “categories of people” have been subjected to threat-based upgrades. It is not clear, for example, whether a category might be as broad as military-age males from Yemen. The guidelines do make clear that American citizens and green card holders are subject to such upgrades, though government officials are required to review their status in an “expedited” procedure. Upgrades can remain in effect for 72 hours before being reviewed by a small committee of senior officials. If approved, they can remain in place for 30 days before a renewal is required, and can continue “until the threat no longer exists.” Basically, as most people suspected, it appears the government has broad and, until now, secret powers to effectively ruin someone's life by placing them on one of these watchlists... with no legitimate way to get off.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The Texas Dept. of Public Safety has apparently decided that if you'd like to be allowed to drive a vehicle in the state, you'd also perfectly fine with a criminal booking-style fingerprinting and having those immediately uploaded to a criminal database (that reps swear isn't a criminal database). For years, Texas has only required a thumbprint as a minor security measure when obtaining a driver's license or ID card. That has now changed. It's unclear exactly when this went into effect (the Texas DPS made no announcement of this policy change), but longtime Dallas Morning News consumer affairs columnist, Dave Lieber, experienced it firsthand back in June. The other day at the Texas driver’s license center, while paying for my required in-person renewal, the clerk said it was time to take my fingerprints. What? Really. Quietly, earlier this year, the Texas Department of Public Safety began requiring full sets of fingerprints from everyone who obtains a new driver’s license or photo identification card. This applies to those who come in as required for periodic renewals, but it doesn’t apply to mail-in renewals. Not only that, but since 2010, Texas law enforcement has been running facial recognition searches on DPS license photos with its Image Verification System. When Lieber exposed this, thanks in part to a former DPS employee (who noted the full set of prints are uploaded to AFIS [Automated Fingerprint Identification Service], creating a record in criminal databases if no previous record exists), a spokesman for the agency said it was perfectly legal plus pretty awesome at fighting crime. A DPS spokesman tells me that the 9-year-old law makes a clear reference to fingerprints so the new fingerprint collection system is legal. DPS spokesman Tom Vinger says, “It is important to understand that the purpose of this process is to combat fraud, identity theft and other criminal activity, including potentially thwarting terroristic activity. Making sure that people are who they say they are in the process of issuing government identification is a critical safeguard to protect the public against a wide array of criminal threats.” The law Vinger refers to is Transportation Code 521.059, a lengthy bit of which he quotes in a longer response to Lieber's article. The Department is confident in its legal authority to collect 10-prints. The authority exists in current statute, including Transportation Code 521.059, (see below), and in current administrative code. The technology upgrade was funded by the Texas Legislature… Sec. 521.059. IMAGE VERIFICATION SYSTEM. (a) The department shall establish an image verification system based on the following identifiers collected by the department: (1) an applicant’s facial image; and (2) an applicant’s thumbprints or fingerprints. (b) The department shall authenticate the facial image and thumbprints or fingerprints provided by an applicant for a personal identification certificate, driver’s license, or commercial driver’s license or permit using image comparison technology to ensure that the applicant: (1) is issued only one original license, permit, or certificate; (2) does not fraudulently obtain a duplicate license, permit, or certificate; and (3) does not commit other fraud in connection with the application for a license, permit, or certificate. (c) The department shall use the image verification system established under this section only to the extent allowed by Chapter 730, Transportation Code, to aid other law enforcement agencies in: (1) establishing the identity of a victim of a disaster or crime that a local law enforcement agency is unable to establish; or (2) conducting an investigation of criminal conduct. (d) Expired. Added by Acts 2005, 79th Leg., Ch. 1108 (H.B. 2337), Sec. 4, eff. September 1, 2005. Vinger may be correct that the DPS is allowed to collect prints as the result of this law, but it's not specifically ordered (or permitted) to collect all 10 prints. Note that the section quoted says "thumbprints or fingerprints." This "or" is important. A look at the actual amendments to existing law shows that the DPS isn't actually required to demand a full set of prints. The amendments also refer to 521.042(b), which states the following: (b) The application must include: (1) the thumbprints of the applicant or, if thumbprints cannot be taken, the index fingerprints of the applicant; So, there's no legal backing to Vinger's claims. Sure, the DPS is technically permitted to collect all 10 prints, but only because nothing specifically forbids this practice. But the law does not demand all 10 prints be provided in order to obtain a license or identification card. The law only asks for thumbprints or index prints. This is why it was rolled out quietly. The DPS has no legal "authority" to demand a full set of prints before handing out a license. What it can do, however, is ask for them. At this point, supplying a full set of prints is purely voluntary. The DPS can't prevent you from obtaining a license if you refuse, but the whole system is set up to make it appear as though it's mandatory. Even one of the legislators who crafted the bill stated the intent of the law was never to allow collecting a full set of prints from every person with a Texas drivers license. Bill co-author Juan M. Escobar, who in 2005 was a state representative from Kingsville, said he recalled the point of his bill was to prevent immigrants living in the U.S. illegally from obtaining a driver’s license. “I think the intent of the bill was to ensure that the individual was the right person that was applying for a driver’s license,” said Escobar, now county judge in Kleberg County. “The intent was to avoid the privacy issue violation. We’ll just do the thumbprint or the index finger. That was my intent.” He added, “If they’ve gone past the law, there’s nothing that gives them that authority.” Escobar mentions illegal immigration. DPS rep Vinger mentions terrorism. Both used tangential hot-button issues to further the amount of information demanded by Texas in exchange for a highly-essential part of everyday life. But the DPS is now exceeding even the questionable aspects of a law predicated mostly on fear. (As Lieber points out in the comments, even the 2005 law was partially motivated by terrorism fears, prompted by Gov. Perry's 2005 Homeland Security Action Plan. [pdf, p. 36]) The state gave the DPS the authority to collect index prints if thumbprints couldn't be obtained. For whatever reason, the DPS -- nearly a decade later -- has decided to roll out a very imaginative reading of the 2005 statute. Worse, it's claiming its interpretation of words that aren't actually there is "legal authority." And when questioned, it's falling back on "terrorism" and but-surely-you-want-criminals-to-be-caught rationalizing. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Back in March, we wrote a story explaining why the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's (NTIA) decision to "relinquish" what little "power" it had over ICANN was no big deal. It's sort of an accident of history that NTIA (a part of the US Commerce Department) even had any "mandate" over the IANA functions -- which manages domain name allocations. The "control" over ICANN/IANA has always been mostly a paper thing. ICANN is really run by a large group of folks -- the so-called "multistakeholders." I think many of us can agree that ICANN policies are currently a mess, but that has nothing to do with the NTIA's technical connection to it. If anything, the NTIA's paper link to ICANN only served to undermine the goals of good internet governance, because it allowed other countries to falsely imply that the US government "owned" or "controlled" the internet -- opening up dangerous attempts for foreign governments to try to really take control of the internet, wiping out the multistakeholder process and replacing it entirely by governments. That would be dangerous. Unfortunately, as we expected when we wrote our original "this means absolutely nothing" post, some people decided to freak out about it. They've insisted that NTIA's move is the US handing over the internet, potentially to foreign governments. That those same individuals have previously insisted that things like "net neutrality" are the "government taking over the internet" -- and the inherent contradiction therein -- is never really mentioned. Unfortunately, some in Congress are trying to make a big deal out of this by totally misrepresenting what's been going on. In response, the NTIA has told everyone to calm down, but the absolute best response has to be from the "father of the internet," Vint Cerf, the guy who set up ICANN in the first place, giving his best "knowing uncle storytime" explanation of why everyone should calm down about all of this, and how, if anything, it should lead to better oversight of the ICANN IANA process. Oh, and if you watch all the way through, you might just see Vint Cerf riding a grumpy cat under a double rainbow. Because this is the internet. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The plot of the classic science fiction short story, Flowers for Algernon has been adapted into a wide range of other stories, TV shows and movies. Upgrading a person's intelligence through some unnatural means provides a temporary fix -- resulting in an addiction to intelligence augmentation (or other complications). In reality, some colleges are starting to deal with students abusing drugs meant to treat ADHD but which also seem to increase mental focus in general. However, other methods that don't use prescription medication to boost brainpower might be harder to regulate. Here are just a few links on the subject of boosting brainpower. The number of people playing around with trans-cranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is growing -- because zapping your brain with a few volts seems harmless when the upside could be faster learning or relief from anxiety. People experimenting on themselves with about $20 worth of simple electronics could lead to some cool discoveries.. or a lobotomized population of internet users. [url] People use way more than 10% of their brain capacity. And 37% of all statistics are completely fabricated. [url] Bacteria that live in our intestines could have a significant influence on our brain chemistry. The microbes that live in our bodies are not well studied, but maybe someday researchers will try to engineer bacteria to symbiotically boost our brains. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've written plenty of times about the dangers of Executive Order 12333, which is the Presidential order signed by Ronald Reagan that gives the NSA tremendously broad powers of surveillance, so long as the work is done overseas. And as long as information is collected overseas, it is used to spy on many Americans. Senators Wyden and Udall have implied that Executive Order 12333 enables the CIA to get around prohibitions on spying on Americans, and just last week a (recent) former top State Department Official, John Napier Tye, revealed that the real surveillance powers happen under Executive Order 12333 -- and the other programs we've all been debating (Section 702 and Section 215) are merely used to "backfill" what can't be collected under EO12333. The Washington Post has now revealed that the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is turning its attention to EO 12333 -- which is important. Unlike Sections 215 and 702, Congress doesn't (currently) have any oversight over activities done under EO 12333. Basically, there is no oversight at all. The Congressional intelligence committees have flat out admitted that they receive no reports concerning the kind of surveillance done under that authority, as it's not under their mandate. The Washington Post has also published a graphic from the Snowden files, that highlights how EO 12333 is the main surveillance program, and everything else is just the exception. It's a "decision tree" where the focus is on using EO 12333 for as much as possible and only resorting to other programs if absolutely forced to: It will be interesting to see what the PCLOB is allowed to learn, and then what it's able to do in response. The PCLOB did a fantastic report slamming the (il)legality and (un)constitutionality of Section 215, but was unfortunately weak in its analysis of the Section 702 program. One hopes that the level of analysis given to EO 12333 will be similar to the former, rather than the latter.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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So the war of words over interconnection has continued. Last week, we wrote about the back and forth between Verizon and Level 3 on their corporate blogs concerning who was really to blame for congestion slowing down your Netflix video watching. As we noted, Level 3 used Verizon's own information to show that Verizon was, in fact, the problem. Basically, in spite of it being easy and cheap, Verizon was refusing to do a trivial operation of connecting up a few more ports, which Level3 had been asking them to do so for a long time. In other words, Verizon was refusing to do some very, very basic maintenance to deliver to its users exactly what Verizon had sold them. Earlier this week, Verizon went back to its blog with another blog post from David Young, this one even snarkier than the last. Snark can be fun, but if the underlying message is completely bogus, you're going to run into trouble. In fact, Young's underlying message is so weak, that he more or less admits to absolutely everything that Level 3 was claiming in its post -- while pretending it's Level 3 that actually admitted fault! Last week, Level 3 decided to call attention to their congested links into Verizon’s network. Unlike other Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), which pay for connections into ISP networks to ensure they have adequate capacity to deliver the content they have been hired to deliver, Level 3 insists on only using its existing settlement-free peering links even though, as Level 3 surprisingly admits in their blog, these links are experiencing significant congestion. Level 3’s solution? Rather than buy the capacity they need, Level 3 insists that Verizon should add capacity to the existing peering link for additional downstream traffic even though the traffic is already wildly out of balance. Except... no. Level 3 did not, in fact, call attention to its congested links. It showed that Verizon was the one making them congested by refusing to do the most basic thing that Level 3 had asked them to do: open up some more ports. The claim that Level 3 needs to "buy the capacity" it needs is simply wrong. As was quite clear, Level 3 has plenty of capacity. The problem is the bottleneck... and the bottleneck is Verizon. And Verizon is refusing to fix that bottleneck unless Level 3 pays up. And not the cost of the upgrade. Remember, Level 3 offered to pay the cost of the upgrade itself. Verizon, instead, is trying to change the nature of the deal, allowing its border routers to clog on purpose to force Level 3 to pay a totally new kind of fee to free up the bottleneck that Verizon itself created. It's basically acting as a classic troll under the bridge -- failing to deliver what it promises both sides of the internet market, unless it can squeeze a ton of extra cash from Level 3. Most of the rest of Verizon's snarky post takes a fight that Level 3 had with Cogent a decade ago concerning peering totally out of context. In that fight, it's true that Level 3 cut off peering to Cogent, arguing that Cogent was using much more traffic than Level 3, but that was a true peering arrangement between two transit providers, rather than a connection between a transit provider and the monopoly provider of the end users (who has sold connectivity to those users with the promise that it will enable them to access content from any website). The traffic ratios argument between a downstream/last mile provider and a backbone/transit provider is ridiculous. The traffic ratios have always been way off in part because the broadband providers themselves have always offered more downstream bandwidth than upstream bandwidth. So, Verizon sets up a world in which the traffic ratios are always going to be off... and then complains that the traffic ratios are off and thus it needs truckloads of extra cash just to connect up a few more open ports? Yikes. Verizon's snarky post simply confirms what many of us have been saying from the beginning. The company is deliberately letting its border router clog up because it wants to ring a lot more money out of other companies, based on a plan to twist old peering disputes between transit providers into a dispute about transit-to-last mile connections... when the traffic ratio has always been way off, in part because of how Verizon itself designed its network! That takes incredible hubris... or incredible market power. Maybe both.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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For years, Hollywood's biggest player in Congress when it came to copyright policy was Rep. Howard Berman. He was often referred to as the Representative from Disney for his willingness to always push for more expansive copyright policies. While he was sometimes called the Rep from Hollywood, I believe his actual district was "adjacent to" Hollywood, though it "included parts of" Hollywood as well. Either way, in 2012, thanks to redistricting, Berman went up against another longterm LA Representative, Brad Sherman, and lost. Berman quickly became a lobbyist, and now it's come out that he's officially lobbying for the MPAA on "issues related to intellectual property protection" because of course he is. Not much else to say about this other than it's yet another example of the revolving door and the nature of back-scratching that happens in DC.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Reminder: If you support our crowdfunding campaign today your support will be immediately doubled thanks to matching funds. » As we recently explained, the type of reporting we do isn't always conducive to advertising support -- in fact, our work on the SOPA fight caused us to lose a significant amount of revenue, and the blog itself operates at a loss. Earlier this month we announced that we were running a crowdfunding campaign on BeaconReader to fund our net neutrality coverage in particular -- as that's another subject that deserves deep-dive coverage, and which traditional advertisers don't want to go anywhere near. One of the great things about working with BeaconReader was that they were able to line up matching funds, so that every donation to us is automatically doubled by the matching donors. Today we're happy to announce that the first two matching donors have been revealed as Twitch and NameCheap -- two companies that are dedicated to preserving an open and free internet, and who wanted to support our coverage in this way, by multiplying the impact of anyone who donates. We're also announcing that Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian has backed our project as an "Event Sponsor," for a net neutrality salon that we'll be holding later this year. We're excited to have this support, and just as excited to see so many of you step up to back the project as well. We're about a week away and there's still a long way to go, but the initial support has been fantastic. If you enjoy what we do, and would like to see it continue (and go deeper and be more involved), please consider backing the project in the next week and thank Twitch and NameCheap for immediately doubling the impact of your support. If we succeed, we'll be able to devote more time and resources to our net neutrality reporting, including bringing in additional voices, meeting with key players, and just generally spending more time digging into the details of this important topic -- rather than having to spend it convincing advertisers that, no, we don't want to force a giant annoying video to play on the site before you can read anything, because that's not how we treat our community. It's great that Twitch and NameCheap were willing to step up via BeaconReader, to show their commitment to dedicated, independent reporting on these important topics. You can help by supporting our coverage right now » Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A couple days ago, someone sent me the lawsuit that Ultra Records and Ultra International Music Publishing had filed against Michelle Phan, an incredibly successful "YouTube star" who has over six million subscribers to her YouTube channel where she shares makeup tips. Ultra, a label for artists like DeadMau5 and Kaskade, sued, claiming that Phan used at least 50 of the songs it holds a copyright on without a license. The reason it's both the record label and the publishing arm that's suing is that they're going after her for both reproduction and sync rights (you need a sync license if you use music with a video). Of course, it's also important to note that, these days, Ultra is effectively Sony Music under a "strategic alliance" in which Sony basically runs all of Ultra. Phan's spokesperson is apparently claiming that she had a license. Ultra insists she did not. Perhaps as interesting, rather than just claiming statutory damages of $150,000 (the maximum for willful), it leaves open the possibility of going after her for "actual damages." This almost never happens in a copyright lawsuit, in part because actual damages are nearly impossible to prove (often because there are none). However, Phan is apparently making a ton of money these days, so the company seems to be leaving open the possibility that it can score some of the "profits" from the video. Though, I imagine they'll have a hell of a time proving that the profits are due to the music, rather than the other parts of the video. Still, what makes this most interesting is that one of the musicians whose music is at the center of the case, Kaskade, has spoken out strongly in support of Phan, arguing that "copyright law is a dinosaur," that he supports Phan rather than his label and... that she has great taste in music. He also has highlighted that having folks like Phan promote his music helps people love that music (and buy it too): A bunch of sites have covered those tweets, but few looked at the fascinating Tumblr post that Kaskade did a month ago, in which he trashed today's copyright laws after a bunch of his music was taken down off of SoundCloud. He talks about doing a deal with the devil in signing with Ultra/Sony: When I signed with Ultra, I kissed goodbye forever the rights to own my music. They own it. And now Sony owns them. So now Sony owns my music. I knew that going in. Soundcloud is beholden to labels to keep copyright protected music (read: all music put out by a label, any label) off their site unless authorized by the label. Am I authorized to post my music? Yep. Does their soulless robot program know that? Not so much. So some stuff they pulled was mistakenly deleted, but some tracks were absolutely rule breakers. The mash ups. (Read about those little beauties in “Politicking of a Mash Up”.) I post mash ups mainly because I don’t need to keep these things tucked under my pillow, pulling out my little Precious only to be played at gigs. You want to hear it? Grab it. Like it? Great. The end. But the labels, they aren’t feeling this approach so much. But then he digs in deep on how broken copyright law is, how scared old men running record labels are doing stupid things, and how it's all harming musicians: There’s always been this cagey group of old men who are scared to death of people taking their money. Back in the day, they were upset that the technology existed to record onto cassette tapes directly from the radio. “What! (Harumph!) Why will people buy music if they can just pull it out of the air?!” Yet, people still bought music. Because it was more accessible. Because more people were exposed. Because Mikey played it for Joey on the corner and then Joey had to have it. It’s music, and we buy what we love. We can’t love music we haven’t heard. Innovation helps the music industry. The industry only needs to make the effort to keep up and adapt. Make no mistake: exposing as many people as possible to music - all music - is a good thing. Everyone wins. The artist, the audience, even the old guys who just want some more cash. The laws that are governing online music share sites were written at a time when our online and real-life landscapes were totally different. Our marching orders are coming from a place that’s completely out of touch and irrelevant. They have these legal legs to stand on that empower them to make life kind of a pain-in-the-ass for people like me. And for many of you. Countless artists have launched their careers though mash ups, bootlegs, remixes and music sharing. These laws and page take-downs are cutting us down at the knees. And yo, musicians definitely need knees. And, from there, he notes that music sharing has been great for musicians by getting them more attention. And he argues that the labels should get with the program: We have moved beyond the exhausting notion that our greedy hands need to hold onto these tunes so tightly. The world just doesn’t work like that anymore. I’d happily parse out the pieces of every song I’ve made for others to use. Remix that. Use that. Think you could do it better? Show me. It’s laughable to assert that someone is losing money owed to them because I’m promoting music that I’ve written and recorded. Having the means to expose music to the masses is a deft tool to breathe new life into and promote a song. It’s the most compelling advertising, really. But it’s more than advertising. It’s sharing. If a person likes one song, then you know what’s likely to happen? They’ll press the download arrow and own it for free. You won’t believe what happens next! They become familiar with the artist, and seek out other material. Maybe they buy that. Maybe they talk about it online. Maybe they go to a show. Maybe they simply become a fan and tell a friend. I’m cool with that. The labels should be too. It’s exactly what they’re trying to accomplish by funneling endless money for Facebook Likes, Twitter trending hashtags, and totally ridiculous impotent advertising campaigns. Let the people have the music. Or, to put it in language that makes more sense for the ones who can only speak dollar bill - Free the music, and your cash will follow. It's a great read. And yet, now his works are at the center of a massive lawsuit that could end up costing someone millions of dollars even as he speaks out against the lawsuit. And, of course, Ultra could have just made use of YouTube's ContentID tools to either monetize or silence or take down Phan's videos. But, instead, the company chose to sue. It's not hard to see why. With so many of these lawsuits it's the same thing: jealousy. They see Phan being successful -- and they stupidly believe that it's just because of the music. And so they want their cut. And the way to do that is to sue. Because these days, that's pretty much all the legacy music industry knows how to do. To file lawsuits that just anger pretty much everyone else -- including the very musicians they claim to "represent."Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Human Rights Watch has just published a report containing the facts needed to back up everyone's suspicions that the FBI counterterrorism efforts are almost solely composed of breaking up "plots" of its own design. And the bigger and more high-profile the "bust" was, the better the chance that FBI agents laid the foundation, constructed the walls… basically did everything but allow the devised plot to reach its designed conclusion. (via Reason) All of the high-profile domestic terrorism plots of the last decade, with four exceptions, were actually FBI sting operations—plots conducted with the direct involvement of law enforcement informants or agents, including plots that were proposed or led by informants. According to multiple studies, nearly 50 percent of the more than 500 federal counterterrorism convictions resulted from informant-based cases; almost 30 percent of those cases were sting operations in which the informant played an active role in the underlying plot. Of those four exceptions, two (Boston Bombing/LAX shooting) were successfully pulled off. Feeling safer with the g-men's increased focus on preventing terrorist attacks? Within the report is even more damning information that shows the FBI preyed on weak individuals in order to rack up "wins" in the War on Terror. Although an FBI agent even told Ferdaus’ father his son “obviously” had mental health problems, the FBI targeted him for a sting operation, sending an informant into Ferdaus’ mosque. Together, the FBI informant and Ferdaus devised a plan to attack the Pentagon and US Capitol, with the FBI providing fake weaponry and funding Ferdaus’ travel. Yet Ferdaus was mentally and physically deteriorating as the fake plot unfolded, suffering weight loss so severe his cheek bones protruded, loss of bladder control that left him wearing diapers, and depression and seizures so bad his father quit his job to care for Ferdaus. He was eventually sentenced on material support for terrorism and explosives charges to 17 years in prison with an additional 10 years of supervised release. Those that weren't weak enough were broken. Abu Ali, a US citizen, was swept up in a mass arrest campaign in Saudi Arabia in 2003. Ali alleged being whipped, denied food, and threatened with amputation, and ultimately provided a confession he says was false to Saudi interrogators. Ali was given a life sentence and is currently serving it at a Supermax prison. Uzair Paracha was held in solitary confinement for nearly two years before he was convicted on charges of material support. Nine months after his arrest and while he was refusing to take a plea deal, the federal government moved Paracha to a harsh regime of solitary confinement pursuant to Special Administrative Measures (SAMs)—special restrictions on his contact with others imposed on the grounds of protecting national security or preventing disclosure of classified material—ostensibly due to ties with Al-Qaeda. For a time, Paracha was only permitted to speak to prison guards. As much as the DHS and FBI have stated concerns about "radicalization" and domestic terrorism, those captured in FBI sting operations were strongly pushed in that direction by informants and undercover agents. The FBI created threats where none existed. In many of the sting operations we examined, informants and undercover agents carefully laid out an ideological basis for a proposed terrorist attack, and then provided investigative targets with a range of options and the weapons necessary to carry out the attack. Instead of beginning a sting at the point where the target had expressed an interest in engaging in illegal conduct, many terrorism sting operations that we investigated facilitated or invented the target’s willingness to act before presenting the tangible opportunity to do so. In this way, the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals. This sort of activity should have been treated as "own goals" by the agency and some of the more credulous press. Instead, these busts are touted as evidence of the agency's superior skill and effort, something more closely related to extolling the prowess of someone who has just scored on an empty net. The FBI took a man whose main hobbies were "watching cartoons" and "playing Pokemon," a man who a forensic psychologist described (during the trial) as "highly susceptible to the suggestions of others" and fashioned him into a supposed terrorist. The planned subway bombing never happened, thanks to the FBI's keenly-honed ability to capture terrorists it created. Arrested with the would-be subway bomber was his "co-conspirator," a high school dropout with drug problems and clinically-diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia. There's much, much more in the report. Human Rights Watch's investigative work was made extremely difficult by the FBI's disingenuous counterterrorism efforts over the last decade, which made many in the Muslim communities affected deeply suspicious of people who asked too many questions. There's nothing to celebrate about victories like these. The emphasis on creating plots just to shut them down diverts resources from actual threats -- ones arising without huge amounts of FBI prompting. All this does is ensure the agency's anti-terror funding remains intact -- money that will be largely wasted on the FBI's sting operation Ouroboros. And while the FBI plays with its terrorist dress-up dolls, the real threats will go undetected.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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It's one thing to take a stand against questionable copyright trolling, but it's another thing to be a really bad defendant. We had this with both of the RIAA's lawsuits against Jammie Thomas and Joel Tenenbaum. In both cases, they were bad defendants who clearly broke the law and then tried to play cute in defending themselves. In both cases we pointed out that they should have settled, and that fighting on when they had no case was a really bad idea. Yes, there are all sorts of ridiculous things about many of these cases, and there are all sorts of legal questions raised about them. But if you're caught dead to rights infringing on the works of others, pretending that some magical fantasy world is going to open up in the back of the closet is just silly. Even worse: bad defendants create really bad case law that allows copyright trolls to use those cases to shake down lots of other people, many of which probably have much stronger cases. Unfortunately, it looks like we have another example of this. Uber copyright troll/porn producer Malibu Media has won an easy lawsuit against a defendant who tried to blame everything on the fact that he used Kickass Torrents to download Malibu Media movies. 57 of them. That kind of blaming the middleman is never going to work. In fact, others have tried it in the past, and it doesn't work. As the judge in the case noted: Defendant has some quarrels with the details of how BitTorrent works, but nothing that the Court sees as a fundamental or material issue of fact. Even as Defendant describes the facts, using BitTorrent technology, he ultimately winds up with 57 unauthorized copies of Plaintiff’s works�”copies that did not exist until Defendant himself engaged the technology to create new and unauthorized copies with a swarm of other users. True enough, the process is not identical to the peer-to-peer file sharing program in Grokster. It is, however, functionally indistinguishable from the perspective of both the copyright holder and the ultimate consumer of the infringed work. In both situations, the end user participates in creating a new and unauthorized digital copy of a protected work. It makes no difference from a copyright perspective whether the infringing copy is created in a single wholesale file transfer using a peer-to-peer protocol or in a swarm of fragmented transfers that are eventually reassembled into the new infringing copy. Of course, one could make a reasonable argument that the fragmented transfers raise issues concerning the distribution right of copyright, but not the reproduction right. On the reproduction right, the defendant, Don Bui, is clearly cooked. And he and his lawyer should have recognized that much earlier. Instead, they get this ruling that, because of the bad defendant, makes a bunch of broad statements that go beyond just Bui's immediate case and may create problems elsewhere. For example, the judge, Robert Jonker, cites the Aereo ruling to support this -- even though that's a dangerous way to read the Aereo ruling. Jonker seems to accept the "don't look in the black box, just look at the end results" aspect of Aereo. But, under such a system, lots of things that aren't infringement might now be judged infringing. It's basically a shortcut to avoid careful analysis, and that's what happens when you have bad defendants who clearly infringed. Bui's lawyer also tried the "poor immigrant who doesn't understand English very well" argument and saw that shot down as well. Deservedly so. There are plenty of reasons to challenge questionable lawsuits. And plenty of reasons for some folks to legally attack the underpinnings of copyright trolling -- including things like honeypots and abusing the judicial system to shake down people -- but taking a bad defendant all the way through the legal process is a bad idea. And the end result is going to be that Malibu Media not only claims vindication for its activities, but waves them around to every reporter, judge and (most importantly) future targets of its shakedown game.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Just about two years ago, we wrote about the DOJ seizing three websites that were allegedly set up to let people download cracked versions of fee-based Android apps. As in the past, we were somewhat troubled by the government's willingness to seize websites without any form of adversarial hearing. As far as we can tell, such actions clearly violate the First Amendment as per the ruling in Fort Wayne Books v. Indiana. Either way, two years later, the government has finally gotten around to indicting some of the folks behind the three sites: Appbucket, Applanet and SnappzMarket. It's entirely possible that those indicted did break the law, though the fact that in all three cases the feds first got some of the other participants to take a plea deal in which they supply evidence against the others and that most of them were only charged with one or two counts on things like "conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement" suggests a fairly weak case. This is a DOJ that we're used to seeing pile on dozens of charges. But, what caught my attention is the ridiculous rhetoric from the DOJ in announcing these indictments. The most bizarre and stupid line has to go to US Attorney Sally Quillian Yates of the Northern District of Georgia: “Copyright infringement discourages smart people from doing innovative things,” said U.S. Attorney Yates. “This problem is especially acute when it comes to rapidly developing technologies, like apps for smart phones, and these defendants are now being held accountable for the intellectual property they stole.” Note that this isn't just a random quote in an interview. This is the quote that Yates put in the press announcement, meaning that multiple people vetted this and thought it was appropriate. First off, I'm curious: which "smart people" have been "discouraged" from "doing innovative things" because of copyright infringement? Does Yates honestly believe that some brilliant app developer out there had an idea for an app and said... "nah, if I make that, people will just infringe, so screw it." There may be a reasonable argument that some developers may not make as much money as they otherwise might have -- and that leads to fewer resources to focus on development. But the idea that it scares people off from actually doing work is... simply not true. And even if the statement were true, is that really the yardstick we want to measure things by? Because I can also show plenty of cases where copyright infringement has actually encouraged smart people to do innovative things. The creation of important peer to peer technology was built on the back of the desire of some to infringe. The amount of creative and innovative work based on infringement is pretty damn high. If we're going to get into a pissing contest over whether infringement inspires or discourages innovation, US Attorney Yates is going to lose badly. Very badly. Also, what "intellectual property" did they "steal?" This is a US attorney, and as far as I can tell, none of the indictments involve anything relating to any statutes on theft. Furthermore, nothing seems to involve them taking the copyrights away from original owners. At most, it appears that these individuals set up sites for the sharing of infringing copies of apps. If you're talking about "theft" of "intellectual property" you kinda have to be talking about someone taking someone else's copyright (or patent or trademark), otherwise you're saying things that are simply inaccurate. Next up, we have "Special Agent in Charge J. Britt Johnson of the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office." “Today’s federal indictments are the direct result of an extensive and thorough federal investigation into three groups of individuals aggressively engaged in and profiting from the theft of intellectual property,” said Special Agent in Charge Johnson. “While copyright infringement is the direct theft of the hard work of others in the form of research and development expended, it can also negatively impact incentives for further or future development of those ideas or applications. The FBI will continue to provide significant investigative resources toward such groups engaged in such wholesale pirating or copyright violations as seen here.” Copyright infringement is "the direct theft of the hard work of others." How do you "steal" the hard work of others? And where in the indictment is anything having to do with actual theft, rather than copyright infringement? It's troubling that the DOJ seems to have taken the copyright industry's bogus language of "theft" and "stealing" and falsely applied it to issues related to infringement. Even if these individuals broke the law, you'd hope that the DOJ would at least accurately portray the indictment and charges against the individuals, rather than making plainly ridiculous claims. The problem, though, is that this is what happens after a generation of entertainment industry execs spew misleading garbage about how infringement is "theft." A bunch of DOJ folks who don't understand intellectual property just act as if this is the same thing, even though it isn't even close.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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To call the UK's institution of ISP-level web filters "stupid" isn't just being blithely dismissive. For one, they don't work. They block the wrong stuff. They let offensive stuff in. They're easily circumvented. They're advance scouts for government censorship. The only people who think web filtering is a good thing are those with the power to turn pet projects into national laws. Add one more to the list: they're hugely unpopular. Broadband customers are overwhelmingly choosing not to use parental-control systems foisted on ISPs by the government - with take-up in the single digits for three of the four major broadband providers… Only 5% of new BT customers signed up, 8% opted in for Sky and 4% for Virgin Media. TalkTalk rolled out a parental-control system two years before the government required it and has had much better take-up of its offering, with 36% of customers signing up for it. Those pushing for filters would have you believe it's something the public has been clamoring for to help them protect their children from the many evils of the internet. In reality, hardly anyone appears to care all that deeply about hooking up to a pre-censored connection. There's more than simply unpopularity going on here. The numbers skew low for several reasons. At this point, the rollout isn't 100% complete and isn't being offered to every new customer (something that becomes a requirement in 2015). Virgin Media (somewhat ironically) has been hooking customers up with the filthiest internet. Techs for that company have only been presenting the "unavoidable choice" to a little over a third of its new signups. Other ISPs techs have been more thorough, presenting new customers with the option nearly every time. Many service providers say it's also possible the filtering has been activated post-installation (Ofcom's report only tracks filtering enabled at the time of install) or that customers are already using device-based filters. Despite all of these factors, I wouldn't expect adoption numbers to rise much. People generally don't like the government telling them what they can and can't access. Illegal content is already blocked at ISP level (as well as by several search engines), so what's being added is nothing more than a governmental parent to watch over citizens' shoulders as they surf the web. Those with children would probably prefer to run an open pipe and filter content at the device level. Not everyone in a household needs to be treated like a child, which is exactly what these filters (and their proponents) do. Beyond that, activating a web filter goes against human nature, especially the exertion of free will and the general avoidance of embarrassment. Most people view themselves as "good" and uninterested in the long list of internet vices (porn being the most popular). But even if they truly believe they'd never view this content, they'd rather have it arrive unfiltered than be forced to approach their ISP weeks (or minutes…) later like a bit-starved Oliver Twist and ask, "Please, sir. May I have some porn?" Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Facial recognition software is the law enforcement frontier. Rather than having to build a lineup, law enforcement can just run suspected criminals' faces against the collected photos of criminals and non-criminals alike in hopes of a positive identification. At this point, it's still very touch-and-go. Technology hasn't kept pace with law enforcement's dreams of an accurate and speedy way of ID'ing suspects. As of 2008, the FBI was granting the contractor behind its system a 1-in-5 margin of error. Yes, a 20% chance of nabbing the wrong person was considered acceptable in a live system. The technology continues to improve, but it still requires clear photos taken nearly head-on for best results. Despite these limitations, law enforcement agencies continue to take these systems live, almost always without putting together some sort of privacy/data disposal policy. But we're all supposed to be fine with this because these agencies are using this tech to track down dangerous criminals and/or terrorists, right? British cops used a new facial recognition system to snare a shoplifting suspect whom they say was automatically identified due to his resemblance to criminal relatives, The Register has learned. And, apparently, shoplifters. Not only are British cops bragging up an expensive system's ability to nab an extremely low-level criminal, it's also playing up the fact that the system failed to pick the suspect out of the "lineup." Instead, it just seized on the fact that the suspect resembled other criminals in its database. Not exactly comforting… at least not for citizens who may resemble suspected criminals and vice versa. UK law enforcement, on the other hand, seems rather encouraged by the software's inability to correctly pick out a shoplifting suspect from a digital lineup. The Metropolitan Police Force is due to visit Leicestershire this week to scope out NeoFace, it is understood, while the Essex and Kent forces have already been to check out the system. French and Romanian officers have also been in contact to express an interest. The saving grace of this imperfect system is that it can't directly be used as evidence.* It can only guide a "line of inquiry." The downside is that photos are retained for five years and the Leicestershire police seem very happy that the software is so good at detecting familial members, rather than the people they're looking for. *I'm sure the UK police are equally familiar with the concept of parallel construction. On one hand, this isn't entirely unlike the old photo books police use to identify suspects. On the other hand, NeoFace doesn't just store photos of criminals. This is especially problematic in the UK, where CCTV wiring is the new kudzu. The Leicestershire Police has 90,000 photos in its database and that number should only be expected to expand rapidly, especially if coupled with NeoFace's other offerings. NeoFace Watch watches surveillance footage, constantly picking faces out of a crowd — and then storing those faces in a database, or matching them against a predefined watch list. NeoFace Smart ID is a smartphone and tablet app that allows for the real-time collection and identification of fingerprints, faces, voices, and other identifiable data at crime scenes. We're told these developments' privacy implications are mitigated by the dangerous criminals they'll be used to apprehend. And then it's all undercut by law enforcement members excitedly talking about nabbing a shoplifter who sort of resembled two other people. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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This seems to be progressing more quickly than I would have predicted. We were just talking about a milestone of sorts being reached in eSports, or professional video game tournaments. Last month that milestone was an American university actually offering athletic scholarship money for eGamers. If you look to other sports to measure the legitimacy of eSports and its acceptance as a competitive platform by the general public, it was kind of a big deal. Probably not nearly as big a deal as having a major eSports tournament featured on ESPN, though. Yeah, the biggest name in cable sports featured an entire segment, with guest Gabe Newell, covering The International, a Dota 2 tournament with a $10 million-dollar prize-pool. I can already hear some of you groaning over ESPN choosing to cover eSports, decrying it as not really sports and all that, but I'll just rebut that by reminding you that the network runs poker coverage all the time, so there. Interestingly enough, as Kotaku highlighted, it wasn't poker that angry Twitter users appeared to be mirroring with their complaints over the coverage. It was soccer/futbol. And if that isn't a complete win for eSports, I don't know what is. Note that the response wasn't hugely against the coverage, but the fact that the tenor of anger back at ESPN that did exist sounded very similar to the coverage of a legitimate sport, even if it isn't the most popular sport in America, is probably a better response than most of us supporters could have hoped for. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Lots of people say they'd like to live longer. So longevity has been studied extensively, and a vast number of correlations have been found. The list literally goes on and on and on. This doesn't mean anyone has discovered the cure for death, and these correlations often have no causation logic behind them whatsoever. Drink a glass of wine every day, eat no meat, restrict your calories drastically, and read some of these other correlations. Women who have kids later in life (33+yo) have a higher likelihood of living longer. The researchers note there is no causality here, but that women who are capable of having children in their 30s (and beyond) just seem to live longer as well. [url] Being short is not generally a desirable trait, but how about when height inversely correlates with longevity? Several studies show that short people live longer than tall people, and there are some reasons for this correlation -- but don't amputate your feet just yet.... [url] Serious coffee drinkers who ingest 4-5 cups of joe per day seem to live longer than people who drink just a cup or less. However, drinking more than 5 cups of coffee has diminishing returns, and the notable catch to this correlation is that non-coffee drinkers actually live longer than coffee lovers. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Advocates of digital privacy scored a major victory when the Supreme Court recently ruled that police need a warrant to search cellphones. In Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie, two cases that pivot on the legality of searching personal computing devices, what is becoming a tech-centric high court recognized not only the pervasive role technology is playing in modern society, but also the growing personal data that exists as we digitize larger swaths of our everyday lives. With this decision, the court confirmed what most of us have known for some time: modern cellphones are more than just a technological convenience or device for making phone calls, they're sophisticated "minicomputers" that hold for many of us "the privacies of life." The risks of harm to arresting officers or destruction of evidence do not exist when digital data is concerned. Rather, the justices said, searching the "vast quantities of personal information" on a smartphone is an invasion of privacy that far exceeds the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches of a person's physical property upon an arrest. Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts noted, "a cell phone search would typically expose to the government far more than the most exhaustive search of a house: A phone not only contains in digital form many sensitive records previously found in the home; it also contains a broad array of private information never found in a home in any form." Fittingly, the opinion comes in a year when, according to Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) research, smartphone sales will eclipse 1 billion units for the first time ever. Today, nearly two-thirds of U.S. households own at least one smartphone, and that figure is projected to climb to 71 percent by 2017 as new manufacturers like Amazon and Blackphone enter the market. For many of us, our smartphones have become extensions of ourselves. They hold our favorite songs, house our favorite pictures and are home to the names and addresses of just about everyone we love -- even your background picture has a personal story to tell about you. Roberts was even more direct, noting cellphones are "such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy." The court's opinion reveals an unwillingness, in this realm at least, to simply extend pre-digital precedents to new technologies -- especially when those extensions encroach on the fundamentals of our founders' views on liberty. The ruling follows the unanimous 2012 opinion in United States v. Jones that law enforcement's use of GPS-enabled devices to track suspects' vehicles is considered a search. In that case, the concurring opinion by Justice Sonia Sotomayor held that police needed a warrant in order to attach a GPS device to monitor movements by a suspect's car. The Court recognizes that the many capabilities of today's technological innovations continue to unfold. More, the technologically-infused life is still in its infancy. Smartphones that double as GPS devices are just the beginning. Soon, wearable technologies like activity trackers and health monitors could provide the government with our most personal data. Traditionally, the court has held that people have no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding information they show to third parties, so no warrant is required to obtain that information. But today's technology is eroding pragmatic limits on law enforcement's ability to track and trace us. Legal scholars believe that case planted a seed that could transform Fourth Amendment rights in light of modern technology. In his opinion concurring with the court's decision on cellphone searches, Justice Samuel Alito noted the court is not in a position to evaluate the implications on privacy posed by searching cellphones, considering the amount of information about the lives of Americans that can be gleaned by the government and private entities, and the fact that many Americans are choosing to make so much information available to the public. He suggests that lawmakers are "in a better position… to assess and respond to the changes that have already occurred and those that almost certainly will take place in the future" with legislation to govern the scope and limits of privacy rules involving modern technology. Regulators must take note of the vast ways in which technology will touch our lives in the future. As technology enables the digitization of more elements of our lives, private information is becoming one of the key components in the market for developing devices that increase connectivity. The court's opinion is perhaps the strongest legal defense of privacy in a world dominated by technology. And it comes at just the right time, because it's not just our phones that are getting smart. Soon, just about everything we touch will capture data about us. Our cars. Our watches. Our clothing. The fundamental privacies at stake in this ruling transcend far beyond phones. The Supreme Court needed to write its decision with the bigger picture in mind, and it did. Ultimately, this ruling can arguably apply to the millions -- and eventually billions -- of physical objects that are being connected at an increasing clip to the Internet of Things. And whether the justices realized it or not, this court has now provided important privacy protections that will foster the continued, rapid technological growth our innovation economy demands. Shawn DuBravac is the chief economist of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies. Follow Shawn on Twitter @Twoopinions.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Last week, we wrote about some vague plans announced by Australia's Attorney General George Brandis to require data retention rules for ISPs. "Data retention" is a euphemism for mass surveillance. It requires ISPs to hold onto a ton of data and allow the government to snoop through it. Australian ISP iiNet -- a company whose willingness to stand up for its customers against Hollywood extremism we've discussed before -- has come out with a blog post in which it promises to fight back against any such data retention rules. Unlike the typically buzzword heavy responses you normally see from overly compliant ISPs regarding government surveillance, iiNet continues its reputation of being a straightshooter and explaining what's really going on and how the company is working to protect its users. Law enforcement agencies (like ASIO and Federal and State Police) are proposing private companies, like iiNet, should keep ongoing and very detailed records of customers’ telephone and online activity. We’re not talking targeted surveillance of individuals suspected of a crime, we’re talking about the wholesale collection and storage of data on your online, digital and telephone activity. These records are euphemistically labelled ‘metadata’ �“ and could include the unfiltered records of your browsing, updates, movements and phone calls, which can be readily matched to the identities in your customer account. We don’t think this ‘police state’ approach is a good idea, so we’re fighting moves by the Australian Government to introduce legislation that would force us to collect and store your personal information. iiNet goes even further in explaining and demonstrating graphically just how much "metadata" reveals about you. For example they show a single tweet -- and then all the "metadata" associated with that tweet to show just how much more information is often revealed in the metadata: From there, iiNet directly takes on the foolish folks who insist they have "nothing to hide." The data collected can be incredibly sensitive �“ it can reveal who your friends are, where you go and what websites you visit. Indeed, it may even tell more than the content of a phone call or an email. Recent research from Stanford University showed that when analysed this data may create a revealing profile of a person’s life including medical conditions, political and religious views, friends and associations. Police say “If you have nothing to hide, then you shouldn’t be worried”. Personally I think that if you follow that dubious logic, we’d all be walking around naked. It’s not about being worried, or wanting to ‘hide’ anything. It’s about the right to decide what you keep private and what you allow to be shared. YOU should be the one to make that call, and that decision should stick until a warrant or something similar is issued to law enforcement agencies to seize your information. Not convinced? Then we suggest you check out the startling website based on information collected on German politician Malte Spitz by Deutsche Telekom over just six months. Zeit Online combined this geo-location data with information relating to his life as a politician, such as Twitter feeds, blog entries and websites, all of which is all freely available on the Internet. It’s really worth a look and illustrates just how informative and personally invasive metadata can be �“ it is truly scary stuff. Experts in the US have some equally frightening things to say about metadata. According to NSA General Counsel Stewart Baker, “…metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody’s life.” General Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and the CIA, called Baker’s comment “absolutely correct,” and frighteningly asserted, “We kill people based on metadata.” Brandis, in the past, has seemed totally impervious to people who have a different opinion than he does (even if they have the evidence on their side), so it's unclear how much good this will do. Still, it's good to see an ISP that is loudly and clearly standing up against data retention, and not hiding behind misleading language, but clearly stating what's happening and why it's bad.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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