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The CIA is still fighting for creative control of its most anticipated 21st century work: the Torture Report. Long before it got involved in the ongoing redaction battle, it was spying on those putting the report together, namely Senators and Senate staffers. Hands were wrung, apologies were made and it was medically determined that Sen. Dianne Feinstein doesn't have an ironic bone in her body. The Torture Report's final cut now seemingly lies in the hands of White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough -- a rather strange place for it to be considering the administration has no shortage of officials willing to offer their input on national security issues. But McDonough's ill-fitting position as go-between to the Senate and the CIA isn't the most interesting part of the story, although it appears he's trying to keep the "hanging" of CIA director John Brennan from being a foregone conclusion. Neither he nor the White House have suggested a replacement scapegoat, so Brennan may end up paying the price despite having the administration's full support. You can't just drop something as damaging as the Torture Report on the American public and simply walk away from it. A symbolic sacrifice still needs to be made, even if the underlying problems continue to be ignored. No, the most interesting part of the latest Torture Report details almost falls off the end of the page over at The Huffington Post. It's more hints of CIA spying, ones that go a bit further than previously covered. According to sources familiar with the CIA inspector general report that details the alleged abuses by agency officials, CIA agents impersonated Senate staffers in order to gain access to Senate communications and drafts of the Intelligence Committee investigation. These sources requested anonymity because the details of the agency's inspector general report remain classified. "If people knew the details of what they actually did to hack into the Senate computers to go search for the torture document, jaws would drop. It's straight out of a movie," said one Senate source familiar with the document. Impersonating staff to gain access to Senate Torture Report work material would be straight-up espionage. Before we get to the response that mitigates the severity of this allegation, let's look at what we do know. The CIA accessed the Senate's private network to (presumably) gain access to works-in-progress. This was denied (badly) by CIA director John Brennan. The CIA also claimed Senate staffers had improperly accessed classified documents and reported them to the DOJ, even though they knew the charges were false. Then, after Brennan told his agency to stop spying on the Senate, agents took it upon themselves to improperly access Senate email accounts. This is all gleaned from a few public statements and a one-page summary of an Inspector General's report -- the same unreleased report EPIC is currently suing the agency over. Now, there's this: accusations that the CIA impersonated Senate staffers in hopes of accessing Torture Report documents. Certainly a believable accusation, considering the tactics it's deployed in the very recent past. This is being denied -- or, at least, talked around. A person familiar with the events surrounding the dispute between the CIA and Intelligence Committee said the suggestion that the agency posed as staff to access drafts of the study is untrue. “CIA simply attempted to determine if its side of the firewall could have been accessed through the Google search tool. CIA did not use administrator access to examine [Intelligence Committee] work product,” the source said. So, it was a just an innocuous firewall test. And according to this explanation, it wasn't done to examine the Senate's in-progress Torture Report. But this narrative meshes with previous accusations, including those detailed in the Inspector General's report. Logging on to the shared drives with Senate credentials would allow agents to check the firewall for holes. But it also would allow them to see other Senate documents, presumably only accessible from that "side" of the firewall. While there's been no mention of "impersonation" up to this point, the first violation highlighted by the IG's report seems to be the most likely explanation of what happened here. Five Agency employees, two attorneys and three information technology (IT) staff members, improperly accessed or caused access to the SSCI Majority staff shared drives on the RDINet Accessing another part of the shared network/drive by using someone else's credentials is low-level hackery, but not the first thing that springs to mind when someone says "impersonation." A supposed firewall test would be the perfect cover for sniffing around previously off-limits areas. Much of what has come to light about the agency's actions hints at low-level espionage. There's still more buried in the IG report that the agency is actively trying to keep from being made public. Just because these activities didn't specifically "target" Senate work material, it was all there and able to accessed. It doesn't really matter what the CIA says it was looking for. The fact that it was done at all, and done with such carefree audacity, is the problem. There are presumably ways to perform these checks that don't involve Inspector Generals, damning reports and multiple hacking accusations. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Pacific Standard Magazine has a really great article by Noah Berlatsky, looking at how copyright is stifling artistic criticism. Much of it focuses on a recent paper by John Tehranian, whom we've written about before. The paper is called Dangerous Undertakings: Sacred Texts and Copyright's Myth of Aesthetic Neutrality -- and focuses on how aesthetic judgments about the value of works almost always applies in copyright cases, which is a bit dangerous when it comes to art, criticism and free speech. Berlatsky's piece focuses on the famous case of The Wind Done Gone, the famous "unauthorized retelling" of Gone With The Wind from the perspective of another character. The lower court said it was infringing, and the appeals court overturned it -- but both were based, at least in part, on aesthetics, rather than underlying legal issues: In its decision, the court pointed in particular to the fact that Scarlett and Mammy died in The Wind Done Gone as evidence that the sequel harmed the original. In financial terms, this objection doesn’t make much sense—as Tehranian points out, Kirk and Spock died in the Star Trek series at various points, and no one had any trouble bringing them back to life when needed. But the court’s objection does make sense if Gone With the Wind is viewed as inviolable, if any tarnishing of it is seen as illegitimate. “Thus, it is not whether the work is parody or sequel that truly appears to drive the court’s decision;” Tehranian concludes, “it is destruction of the work’s romanticism—a romanticism that is grounded in a distinctly whitewashed vision of the antebellum.” The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals eventually reversed the lower court. But aesthetics were involved in that decision as well. The appeals court based its decision on the estimation that Gone With the Wind was not an inviolable classic, but was instead a flawed and indeed racist work. The court particularly singled out the fact that the Mitchell estate had prevented authorized sequels from discussing homosexuality or miscegenation. The Mitchell estate was trying to prevent re-evaluation or criticism of Gone With the Wind, and, implicitly, of its vision of the South. The appeals court ruled that such re-evaluation and criticism was in fact aesthetically valuable. “To the Eleventh Circuit,” Tehranian concludes, “the time had come to de-canonize Gone With the Wind and its inviolability.” Berlatsky suggests that Tehranian argues this is okay because the fact that the Copyright clause of the Constitution talks about promoting the progress of "the useful arts," but that's a misreading of the Constitutional clause (and Tehranian's paper). While many people confuse this, the "useful arts" part of the clause is actually referring to patent protection ("useful arts" at the time meant inventions effectively). Copyright is supposed to be for promoting the progress of "science" (which at the time really meant "learning"). The real issue is what "promotes the progress" -- and that's where the aesthetic nature comes into play. Tehranian's paper actually goes on to discuss another case, which we've discussed as well, which is the similar story of someone trying to write an unauthorized sequel to Catcher in the Rye. Except in that case, the judge banned the publication of the book entirely. And, again, aesthetic values came into play. As Tehranian notes: The results of the two cases differed. In the former, an injunction against publication of the unauthorized work was lifted, and in the latter, the injunction ultimately stood. However, in both cases, aesthetic considerations – namely juridical conceptions of history, hierarchy and value pertaining to the underlying works and their allegedly infringing alter egos – dominated the fair-use analysis and ultimately enabled the law’s selective consecration of cultural meaning, its development of epistemological narratives and its beatification of sacred texts. Later in the paper: And aesthetic judgments on the relative value of unauthorized derivative works appear to have made a key difference in the court’s decision to issue the injunction. Consider the only mention that the Salinger court makes of the overarching goals of the copyright system. Seeking to reconcile its ruling with copyright’s role in promoting progress in the arts, the Salinger court reasoned that ‘some artists may be further incentivized to create original works due to the availability of the right not to produce any sequels’ (Salinger 2010b: 268, emphasis in original). As a first matter, the court’s speculation on this point strains all credulity. But regardless of how one feels about the bizarre conjecture that the right not to produce sequels can incentivize creation, it is clear that the court’s statement rests on a tacit aesthetic judgment: that it is better to preserve (ex post) the incentive to create The Catcher in the Rye than it is to stimulate the creation of unauthorized sequels. The calculus here is fairly remarkable: the court chooses to enjoin definitely the publication of unauthorized derivatives – works that could contribute to progress in the arts – on the chance, based on idle speculation, that some artists may create more because they can rest secure in the knowledge that no one can create sequels of their works. The hierarchy at play is simple: the original work implicitly trumps the sequel(s) and/or derivatives, especially those of the unauthorized variety. Certainly, for every Godfather II and Return of the Jedi, there are dozens of Blues Brothers 2000’s. But in deciding the fate of The Wind Done Gone, the Eleventh Circuit certainly did not seem bothered by this possibility, as it adopted a radically different aesthetic judgment of the unauthorized derivative. At a more subconscious level and in the context of our times, it perhaps feels less wrong to allow someone to skewer the dated artistic vision of Margaret Mitchell than to permit the adulteration of J.D. Salinger’s beloved Holden Caulfield. As for the idea that this is an acceptable state of affairs, I find that to be troubling. We shouldn't rely on judges to determine the overall aesthetic value of things, because that is, by definition, a regulation on speech that shouldn't be permitted under the First Amendment. Judges determining the aesthetic value of a particular work is a dangerous path to tread. Berlatsky argues that the culprit here is copyright terms, and that we'd have fewer of these problems if copyright were shorter. Undoubtedly that's true -- depending on the length, the works discussed above would likely be public domain by now. But, that still fails to take into account attempts to do more with recent works. As we've covered recently fan fiction is an important form of speech, even when done commercially. Thus, an even better solution to all of this is to go back to basics: copyright should only protect the expression, not the idea. This is what we're told, but it often seems to fail in these cases. Writing fan fiction, unauthorized retellings, unauthorized sequels and the like are all very different forms of expression. While they may quote and/or reference the original, they are, by definition, not copies. If copyright were properly applied, these would be allowed as not copying the expression (and, at worst, as transformative, derivative works protected by fair use). Unfortunately, however, judges feel the need to "protect" original works based on aesthetic values, and that's a huge problem for culture, free speech and criticism.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Things have been kind of quiet on the "ridiculous statements from Rep. Mike Rogers" front lately, but as he's entering his final months in Congress before retiring to the warm embrace of national talk radio, he's apparently decided to ramp back up with the ridiculous rhetoric. His latest salvo is to argue that the US should be charging Ed Snowden with murder: Republican Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House of Representatives intelligence committee, told an meeting in the House of Commons in London on Tuesday evening that Snowden was a "traitor" who was now living in the "loving arms" of Russian spies. "The [US] government has pressed charges on Mr Snowden," he said. "We are treating him, as I would argue, the traitor that he is." Rogers added: "And by the way, and this is important, I would charge him for murder." Uh, murder of whom, exactly? As far as I can tell, his argument is that because of Snowden's actions, soldiers are less safe and might get killed, and thus, murder. "He took information that allows force protection, not only for British soldiers, but for US soldiers, and made it more difficult for us to track those activities. Meaning it is more likely that one of those soldiers is going to get their legs blown off or killed because of his actions," he said. "Anybody that provides information to the enemy is a traitor, period, pure and simple." Except, no. Almost none of that is even close to accurate. Snowden didn't "provide information to the enemy" -- he blew the whistle on illegal programs by revealing it to the public via well-respected reporters who, you know, won the Pulitzer Prize for their reporting. Unless Rogers views the American public as "the enemy" his argument makes no sense. Furthermore, what information has Snowden provided that means a soldier is somehow more likely to get his legs blown off or killed? So far, all of the revelations have been about surveillance programs that have raised serious legal and constitutional questions, but have done little to actually "help" terrorists. That's because most terrorists were well aware of the surveillance capabilities of the NSA/GCHQ before. The new stuff is how the NSA uses that on everyone else. Meanwhile, if doing things that might lead to more soldiers getting hurt or killed makes you guilty of murder, shouldn't Rogers be talking about getting himself and other members of Congress charged with murder? After all, remember it was Congress that failed to equip soldiers with proper body armor. Rogers also repeats his "Snowden was working for the Russians all along" argument that he's particularly fond of. He does this despite the fact that basically everyone, including officials from both the NSA and the FBI, has said they've found no evidence to support such an argument. Rogers also repeats the claim that Snowden handed over lots of other material that is dangerous: Rogers said that "over 95%" of the information Snowden handed over had "nothing to do" with the NSA spying on American or European citizens private communications but was "about tactical things, military plans and operations". However, again, this is based on the old DOD report that listed everything that Snowden ever "touched." Snowden, Greenwald and others who have seen the documents have noted -- multiple times -- that the number of documents he actually handed over was much lower than what that report claimed (in the tens of thousands of documents, rather than 1.7 million as the report claimed). Furthermore, the fact that no reports have come out "about tactical things, military plans and operations" certainly seems to support that fact, no matter what Rogers wants to claim. Now that he's moving to a medium where nutty conspiracy theorists thrive, I imagine Rogers may get even nuttier. But, at the very least, he won't be in charge of "oversight" (stop laughing) of the NSA any more.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Hating on Congress is basically a national past time here in the US. Other than a brief moment of probably misguided solidarity after September 11th, the public's view towards Congress tends to be pretty negative, and it's been getting worse lately. Here's a historical look from Gallup at the public's approval ratings of Congress. Esquire sent Mark Warren into Congress, initially to ask as many elected officials as possible "why they are so bad at their jobs," but he noted that he came out of it much more sympathetic to Congress, because, it appears just about everyone in Congress seems to hate Congress too, and it's not because they literally dislike each other -- but, in part, because they have to appear to dislike each other for the sake of insanely gerrymandered districts that they brought upon themselves. Well, except Ted Cruz. It appears that pretty much everyone in Congress, no matter which house or party, really dislikes Cruz. Reading through the article, you begin to realize just how pitiful Congress really is. What's interesting is how many seem to blame gerrymandering and redistricting for the problems of Congress, even though those in power did the redistricting on purpose to try to keep themselves in power. But it appears that people in Congress are now (finally) realizing the problematic consequences: "You know, if I had a magic wand, one thing I would love to change—which you can't do unless you're king—is the redistricting process by which our boundaries are drawn," says Republican Aaron Schock of Illinois. "Because what has happened over the decades is he who controls the mapmaking process, you know, creates hyperpartisan districts. And you get more and more members who come out here and say, 'Gee, I know that I want to accomplish something on this issue. I want to take action on this issue, but the base of my district is so far to the right or to the left it makes it difficult for us to negotiate to the center.' But whether you're the most conservative member or you're the most liberal member, if you have half a brain, you recognize you're not going to get everything, and that any successful legislation requires the art of negotiation." [....] "When you have these one-party districts, the only election is in the primary, and the winner of the primary will be the one who is closer to the views of the narrowest base," says Angus King, Independent senator from Maine. "You can't be moderate. Who votes in primaries? You have a 10 percent turnout in a primary election in Georgia, and Republicans are 30 percent of the population. So 10 percent of 30 percent—that's 3 percent of the population voting to choose the nominee, and then if it's a multiperson race, and the winner gets 35 percent, that's one third of 3 percent—1 percent of the population chooses the nominee, who in a gerrymandered district will be the eventual member of Congress. That is bizarre, and it has completely polarized Congress. In the primary system that we have now, there is no upside for a Republican to be reasonable. I have a friend who is a very conservative senator, and he faced a primary this year, and I said, 'Good Lord, man, what are they gonna charge you with?' And he said: 'Being reasonable.' " "Our Venn diagram," says Derek Kilmer, Democrat of Washington State, "is two circles, miles apart. Just after we got here, a group of us, Democrats and Republicans, were at a burger joint talking, and after about forty-five minutes, I said, 'We have to be able to get our act together and figure some of these things out. And across the table, one of my colleagues said, 'Derek, I like you, but you have to understand that I won my seat by defeating a Republican incumbent in my primary, and I campaigned against him for not being conservative enough. The first vote I cast when I got here was against John Boehner for Speaker, and I put out a press release that I had voted against him because he was too compromising. I like you, but I have zero interest in compromising with you or anybody else. My constituents didn't send me here to work with you; they sent me here to stop you.' I left there and called my wife and said, 'Oh, my God!' " Combine that with the fact that they only get attention when there's conflict, rather than when they actually accomplish something, and guess what you get? But all the same, the great majority of members interviewed said that the most rewarding work they ever did in Congress was in finding points of agreement with a congressman or senator from the other party, working to forge legislation that bridged the usual divides. "But nobody cares about that stuff," says Republican congressman Morgan Griffith from Virginia. " 'News flash: People are getting along, compromising, doing their jobs like adults' doesn't have the sizzle of conflict that the media demands in order to hold your interest. I have good relationships with several Democrats, and last year Diana DeGette [Democrat of Colorado], Gene Green [Democrat of Texas], and I introduced an important compounding-pharmacy bill to help prevent disease outbreaks. It really matters. And gets very little attention." And of course, all of it has to do with "red team/blue team" crap, rather than any actual points of agreement or disagreement. There's a story from Democratic Senator Chris Coons, in which he talks about a conversation, back in 2011, with Republican Senator Marc Rubio, discussing the upcoming 2012 presidential election, in which both Senators admit to never bothering to have read the candidates' economic plans. And, of course, the other big issue: money in politics. As we've discussed in the past, so many people look upon lobbying and such as a form of bribery, but the reality is often the opposite. It's almost a kind of extortion by politicians on industry, because they constantly need money for elections. So they do things designed to kick up controversy solely to get big interests to donate to their campaigns. And that often requires extreme positions that generate a lot of anger. These snippets are just a bit of what's in the article. There's a lot more, including some people willing to name names (beyond just Ted Cruz) of the people they hate, and who else they blame. It's worthwhile reading. Frankly, people have been complaining about Congress pretty much forever -- so I always try to take some of the "it's worse now" stories with a grain of "mythical nostalgia" salt. At the same time, gridlock in Congress has some benefits in blocking really bad regulations from passing. But it does seem problematic when important things can't get done, and it's all based on the color of your team and how to best raise money through conflict. It certainly doesn't seem like a good way to run a country.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Speed cameras, just like their red-light camera brethren, have been pretty well established as nothing more than revenue machines for local municipalities. Their application results in a myriad of issues, such as the fact that the cameras don't work, not to mention that the cameras don't work, oh, and the cameras don't work and the companies behind them might try to fudge the evidence if you dispute a ticket. The excuse for these cameras that don't work has always been that they are designed to make the roads safer under the theory that if motorists know that the cameras exist, they will be less likely to speed. That supposed justification is belied by two facts. The first is that some people who have tried to warn motorists that the cameras exist have been dragged to court for doing so, which sort of defeats the entire supposed purpose of the cameras. The second fact that disproves the justification is that Chicago just can't help going all Chicago on itself. Local reporters have the glorious story of the latest Chicago budget crisis that has Mayor Emanuel scrambling for only one reason: Chicago motorists are way better behaved than he'd planned for in his previous budget. You heard that right: Good behavior is bad for the budget. Real bad, reports CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine. CBS 2 has learned the speed cameras caught far fewer speeders than expected. According to the Mayor's 2015 Budget Overview, there have been "lower than expected violation rates." How much lower? Fifty million dollars lower. Emanuel's administration had figured on $90 million in fines to help balance this year's budget, but they can only count on $40 million. That's a $50 million shortfall, putting pressure on the next spending plan. Think about the logic here for a moment: Rahm Emanuel wrote a spending budget for the third largest city in the country that relied on a certain revenue number from speed cameras. Where's the incentive for better behavior on the road in that? There is none. The fact is that Chicago drivers are far better behaved than the city expected. That's an outcome you'd think the city would be celebrating. Instead, it's considered a negative, because the speed cameras were never about safety, they were only a method to fill the city's coffers to the tune of milliions of dollars. That isn't so much public policy as it is an extortion racket that happens to have failed. "It was a combination of the camera company’s salesmanship and the city's greed," says camera critic Barnet Fagel. You may not want to forgive the camera company their sales tactics, but how much do you really want to fault them? They're a large company beholden to nothing beyond the profit motive. They can't be expected to have the best interests of a city's population at heart. The Chicago city government on the other hand? Most citizens likely didn't elect Mayor Emanuel out of a sense of sadomasochism or the theory that we all just have a bit too much money in our pockets. Stories like these are among the reasons that Emanuel isn't considered invulnerable in the upcoming mayoral election. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Techdirt has been reporting on a steady stream of dismal news coming out of Russia, chronicling its increasing clampdown on the Internet, so it's great to hear about something extremely positive happening there. The Wikimedia blog reports on some important changes to Russia's Civil Code, including the following: Open licenses introduced. The new law directly recognizes free licenses (which are fundamental for projects like Wikipedia or Linux). The authors of free content will be able to have legal protection from misuse of their works. Freedom of panorama introduced. Now it is allowed to take photos in any public territory. The photographers are no more formally offenders, as before when nobody was allowed to sell postcards with modern buildings without the permission of the architect or his successors (despite the fact that such situation was quite usual in practice). Unfortunately, monuments are still not covered by the introduced amendments. As the Wikimedia blog post points out, the first of these is crucially important for Wikipedia and free software projects, both of which have existed in a kind of legal limbo until this latest move. That's probably meant that some Russian software companies have been unwilling to embrace licenses like the GNU GPL for their code for fear that it would be unprotected under local law. According to Wikimedia's Russian director, Vladimir Medeyko, the new provisions even go beyond what is found elsewhere: The direct inclusion of the stipulations on the free licenses into the law is a progressive step not only for Russia, but worldwide. There are no specific articles on free licenses in other countries' laws, and hence these licenses are still in a grey area there. Actually, free licenses exploit the archaic tercentenary system of copyright, that always limited the readers' freedoms in order to allow the authors and the publishers to earn money, for the opposite goal -- to protect the readers' right to free access. Therefore, without direct regulation, there is too vast judicial discretion, and free licenses users are not protected perfectly. In the Russian law there are no uncertainties like that anymore. Freedom of panorama refers to the right to take photos or videos of public spaces. As an interesting Wikipedia page indicates, this right is by no means universal, and so Russia is a welcome addition to the group of nations that do offer freedom of panorama in at least some form. The move is also a reminder that steady work by dedicated experts can achieve important results even against a retrogressive legal background. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We already have a bunch of robots exploring various aspects of Mars, but even though we're not running out of things that bots can do in space, it would be nice to get astronauts walking on another planet someday. We could go back to the moon, but Mars is a more ambitious and noteworthy goal. Getting to Mars safely is a challenge because it'll take several weeks (at least) to get there, and no one has ever tested radiation shielding on such a long trip in open space. Still, it should be possible if we're committed to doing it. Here are just a few baby steps towards making a trip to Mars happen. Martha Lenio is trapped on an island with 5 other people in a simulated Mars mission. The Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) project is funded by NASA, and these fake astronauts will spend 8 months isolated in a geodesic dome in Hawaii. [url] NASA is considering an induced therapeutic hypothermia for astronauts traveling to extremely distant locations. Science fiction often points to hibernation as a way to avoid the boredom of space travel, so it only makes sense to actually see if such a medical procedure is feasible. [url] Could personal sensors detect various problems like homesickness, depression and other psychological issues? NASA has had problems with disobedient astronauts in the past, but more monitoring during stressful situations on a cramped spacecraft might not be the answer. [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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For many years, we've discussed the pure ridiculousness of the Supreme court's adamant refusal to allow cameras in the courtroom, along with the Justices' questionable justifications of the ban. Now it appears that John Oliver has taken up the issue as well, but unlike those just whining about it, Oliver (thanks to the resources of HBO) has a possible "solution." Dogs. Oliver starts out mocking Justice Antonin Scalia's reason for barring cameras: that people would just see 15- or 30-second clips from the arguments, taking things out of context. Of course, as Oliver points out, that makes absolutely no sense, since the Supreme Court already releases audio of the hearings, and thus we already do hear the same clips -- it's just that they're generally paired with artistic renderings of the Justices instead of the actual video. His solution -- using "an almost immoral amount of resources" -- is to present video representations of the entire Supreme Court... using dogs (and a couple of birds in supporting roles). And, Oliver claims, they're making those videos freely available to any other news provider who would like to create complete reenactments of any court case in a way that is cute and guaranteed to draw more attention than the court renderings, or, hell, actual videos if they were ever allowed. You can see the full ten minutes of footage (and, yes, I watched it all) right here: That video also, helpfully, links to the Supreme Court's oral arguments audio page for people to download. And the video description notes: Please feel free to use it, post your videos, and tag them #RealAnimalsFakePaws so we can find them. The only disappointment is that whoever put it up, still officially left it under a "standard" license, rather than the Creative Commons license that YouTube makes available. Still, nice move by Oliver and his team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Drones are leaving the U.S. for greener pastures, according to several media outlets (e.g., WSJ and Bloomberg).  In response to slow-moving U.S. domestic policy on commercial drone use, innovators are moving abroad, to jurisdictions where regulations have been updated to delineate when drones may be used in the commercial context.  (Keep in mind, we are not talking about fixed wing Predator drones with Hellfire missiles, but aircraft that are already available commercially with much of the same technology already incorporated into our mobile phones.)  Besides smaller companies actually moving abroad to places where they can sell their wares, even the likes of Google and Amazon have moved their drone testing to Australia and India, respectively. Making matters worse, export control policies are poorly targeted, and prevent some drones made with widely available technology built in the United States from being sold overseas.  In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, 3D Robotics — a San Diego-based company that specializes in drones with video capability — was only allowed to resume selling some of its products in a number of countries because the drones were manufactured in Mexico: Export rules prompted 3D Robotics to temporarily halt shipments to 44 countries this spring. It has since secured a new classification from the U.S. Commerce Department, in part because it manufactures its drones in Mexico, allowing it to resume foreign sales. And for those inclined to view this as a minor development in a niche market, at least one study predicts that allowing commercial drone use in the United States could create 100,000 new jobs and $82 billion in economic impact over the course of the next decade. A lot of smart people have already said a lot of smart things about the drone situation, so I won't delve too deeply into the nuances of streamlining commercial drone policy making.  Clearly, there are good reasons why commercial drones can't take to the sky without some rules, but it is imperative that regulators move efficiently to establish a framework where, for example, a real estate agent or a surveyor can survey a property with a drone (in the same way it is currently legal for a non-commercial user to fly an off-the-shelf drone in her backyard).  That is not happening now.  According to the Department of Transportation's own Inspector General, the FAA is likely to miss its Congressionally mandated deadline in coming up with rules that allow for the expansion of commercial drone use. There's a general point here worth expanding on: even if a country does everything right, creating a fertile environment for research, investment, and innovation (aka the hard stuff), innovation will nevertheless move overseas if outdated regulations impede the lawful sale or use of a product or service.  It does not matter if the United States has the brightest minds, best expertise and easiest access to venture capital; if you can't sell, test or export drones here, then we will see those jobs and that talent go overseas to more fertile ground.  In fact, this is already happening.  And even if the FAA eventually comes up with a workable set of regulations that allow commercial drone activity, in fast moving industries — where first mover advantage is enormous — bureaucratic delays can be terminal. Take Japan in the 1990s.  Japan was a high-tech giant.  In the early 1990s, both the U.S. and Japan had companies interested in innovating in online search engines.  However, Japan's highly restrictive set of copyright laws meant that in order to index a website you had to get the website owner's permission first.  When there are a couple hundred or a couple thousand websites, this is feasible.  But clearly, this does not scale.  Fortunately for U.S. innovators, the U.S. had copyright "fair use" enshrined into law, which allowed transformative uses of copyrighted content.  This paved the way for U.S. search engine entrepreneurs, while the Japanese search sector never got off the ground.  Even though Japan eventually updated its copyright law to make search engines legal (in 2007!), it was too late.  As of today, U.S. search providers (Yahoo Japan and Google) have well over 90% of the Japanese search market. The "crypto wars" of the 1990s are also a place to look for a parallel to the drone fight.  Until 1992, the U.S. government imposed very strict export controls on cryptography.  Although the export of strong encryption technology was viewed by many in the law enforcement and national security communities as detrimental to their missions, the rise of electronic commerce greatly increased the need for robust encryption in commercial products and Internet services.  What followed was a long drawn out battle in which encryption proponents focused on several key arguments, including the logistical problems with trying to prevent the export of programming concepts, the widespread availability of cryptography internationally and free speech concerns.  Another angle, which tied in with the ease of moving cryptographical research overseas, was that innovation in the U.S. would be harmed as much software engineering would be forced to move overseas in order to get around the onerous U.S. restrictions — restrictions that would have little actual effect on the worldwide availability of cryptography.  Jon Peha, a professor at Carnegie Mellon who would later go on to be the Assistant Director of the White House's Office of Science and Technology policy, outlined some of the competitiveness concerns in a paper he wrote on encryption policy in 1998: Industry critics argued that the restrictions accomplished little, since 128 bit encryption without key escrow is already readily available outside the US. An April 1998 report from the Economic Strategy Institute concluded that the policies imposed at that time (i.e. the 1996 interim policy) would cost the US economy between 35 and 96 billion dollars between 1998 and 2002. Some US companies have overcome these limitations by purchasing foreign products or shifting development activities overseas. For example, in March 1998, Network Associates announced that it would begin contracting all encryption development to a Swiss company. By 2000, U.S. restrictions were sufficiently relaxed and the sale of software with encryption technology in it was made significantly easier.  However, in certain situations export controls still apply, and the process for complying with them is still relatively byzantine.  (And, with the recent NSA scandal and the fallout, we might be heading towards the Crypto Wars II.)  To this day, there is still significant discussion on how the remaining export controls affect national competitiveness.  (See European Commission Document on Export Controls, page 7.) Churning out smart engineers and cultivating venture capital is not enough to succeed in a competitive globalized world.  Policy bandwidth needs to be devoted to clearing unnecessary hurdles to commercializing and exporting the fruits of that innovation.  Although Europe's "innovation policy" is lagging the U.S., countries like Germany are ascending to the lead in drone innovation because people can actually use drones commercially and export them to other countries.  If a company cannot achieve the sales base necessary to scale their business, then they cannot continue to innovate. Going forward, we should not just think of the other domestic policy fights in a vacuum.  Take Tesla, for example.  They are succeeding in producing commercially attractive electric vehicles where so many other companies have failed:  a public policy and economic triumph that has been nearly universally lauded.  Yet, they face sales bans or restrictions in over half of the states in the U.S based on a set of outdated and widely criticized auto dealer regulations.  As the company continues to scale, and as foreign markets grow and more consumers worldwide fall into the crosshairs of Tesla's salespeople, an unnecessarily restrained domestic market will only force the company to locate more infrastructure and talent overseas than they otherwise would in the first place. In the Tesla and drone cases, we got the hard stuff right.  The United States fostered an innovative and dynamic economy that unleashed a wave on entrepreneurship and innovation.  Now, much like the situation in immigration policy where we are pushing some of our best and brightest minds overseas, slow moving regulators and policymakers are forcing some of our nation's most dynamic companies overseas as well. Reposted from the Disruptive Competition Project Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A New York City court has given the NYPD one of the few things separating it from the "big boys" (CIA, FBI and NSA): the permission to issue "Glomar responses" (the infamous "we can neither confirm nor deny...") to FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) requests. Like the audacity of the department itself in pursuing this additional method of keeping the public separated from public documents, the decision is unprecedented. The decision appears to be the first time that a court anywhere in the U.S. has upheld the use of such a tactic by a state agency. The Glomar response has historically been used only with regard to requests made to federal agencies that involve sensitive matters of national security. That a New York court would find in the home team's favor is perhaps inevitable. The NYPD, along with various officials, have long portrayed the safety of New York City as inextricably intertwined with the safety of the nation itself -- a view partially justified by the city's position as the epicenter of the 9/11 attacks. But doing so allows a department with a proven track record of open hostility towards FOIL requests another way to abuse its position. On top of heavy redactions, an in-house classification system that has no apparent legal basis, and plain old stonewalling, the NYPD will now be able to simply claim it can't even acknowledge the existence of responsive documents. This shifts the balance too far in its favor. At the federal level, use of Glomar responses is premised on the argument that there are certain matters of national security that would result in irrevocably harm if divulged to the general public. It has been criticized by open government groups, including the Reporters Committee, because it allows agencies to deny FOIA requests without giving detailed reasons that the requesters can argue against. Once an agency invokes the Glomar doctrine, courts generally afford it great weight and rarely inquire further. And that's at the federal level, where claims of national security should carry with them a bit more credulousness. The actual "Glomar" in the original "Glomar response" referred to the CIA salvage vessel being used to find a sunken Soviet submarine. These days, it's used to tell FOIA requesters that the NSA can neither confirm nor deny it uses terms like "collect it all," or has compiled any data at all on the requester him/herself. The NYPD has now been granted a federal power, without having to show its national security claims are valid. If the requested documents do indeed contain information possibly damaging to national security, why isn't there a federal agency involved? It's well known that the NYPD prefers to run a highly autonomous agency -- one that inserts itself into terrorist investigations overseas but openly rebuffs FBI assistance in its own town. But if you're going to claim you may or may not be in possession of investigatory documents with national security ramifications, then you should also be asked to explain why the FBI, DHS or other national agency isn't included on the CC line, and why this federal agency isn't the one kicking out the Glomar response. Considering the documents currently being Glomared ("...a request by Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid for records regarding NYPD surveillance of himself and his mosque…") are related to the counter-terrorist investigations of the recently shuttered "Demographics Unit," there's a good chance no federal agency would touch them with a 10-foot redaction. The division seemed to pride itself on willful violations of civil liberties, but this methodology turned the (often minimal) fruits of its investigations too toxic for even the CIA to partake in. So, the NYPD may actually be sitting on something that implicates national security, but it's finding no federal takers thanks to its inability to respect the Constitution or to work well with others. That's a problem. But it's not nearly as much of a problem as being granted a new power to abuse in its quest for law enforcement opacity. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The war on free speech continues. Andy Przybylski points us to the news that the UK's Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, is apparently really upset about internet trolls, and thinks they should be jailed for up to two years. He's pushing to extend an existing law -- which we've ridiculed in the past -- which allows for jailing trolls up to six months. Grayling thinks the threat of even longer sentences would suddenly make people nice online. "These internet trolls are cowards who are poisoning our national life. No-one would permit such venom in person, so there should be no place for it on social media," Grayling said. "That is why we are determined to quadruple the current six-month sentence." The article also quotes a lawyer claiming -- apparently with total seriousness -- "There is a public interest in having people put away for a long time. It is putting someone in fear of their life and fear of physical harm." No one denies that trolls can be abusive and harassing -- to the point of seriously upsetting some people's lives. But putting people in jail for being assholes? That crosses over a line. Grayling also has an interesting definition of cruelty: "This is a law to combat cruelty – and marks our determination to take a stand against a baying cyber-mob. We must send out a clear message: if you troll you risk being behind bars for two years." Of course, some people would argue that jailing people for two years for being jerks is actually pretty damn cruel as well. Perhaps the response should be to put Grayling in jail for his own cruelty...Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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In the most recent example we covered of Comcast's ongoing efforts to convince everyone not to be Comcast customers, we noted that the fact they helped get a customer fired from his accounting job was the kind of thing he could probably sue over. That said, even I didn't anticipate the guy accusing Comcast of violating federal law. The plaintiff, Conal O’Rourke, claims that after a series of calls with Comcast’s customer service department, Comcast complained to his employer about him and he was fired from his job. The lawsuit filed yesterday is based on the same alleged series of events. Mr. O’Rourke claims that he did not authorize Comcast to disclose his information to anyone else, but Comcast nevertheless disclosed personally identifying information about Mr. O’Rourke, including his name, to PricewaterhouseCoopers, where Mr. O’Rourke worked. The following can be attributed to Laura Moy, staff attorney at Public Knowledge: “If the facts in this complaint are true, they are extremely troubling. They would show that the nation’s largest cable provider exercised a complete disregard for federal privacy law." Now, it should be noted that O'Rourke is accusing Comcast of having divulged identifying information to his employer, such as the fact that he was employed by PricewaterhouseCoopers, not his personal viewing or web-browsing habits with his employer, but that doesn't really matter. The fact is that ISPs and cable companies are privy to all kinds of personal information pertaining to their customers, and the confidentiality of such personal information is governed by the Communications Act. The sharing of even seemingly harmless identifying personal information represents a pretty massive screw up on Comcast's part. A cable company willing to bend or break the law and reveal innocuous information perhaps shouldn't be trusted to act better with more personal information. The fact that all of this is made more problematic because of a complete lack of competitive choices for consumers wasn't lost on the lawyers either. "For many Americans, there are few broadband and pay TV choices in their areas. As regulators consider the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable, we hope they will follow this case closely. The facts alleged in this complaint, if they are true, along with the admitted customer services failing that led to this dispute, suggest that Comcast habitually puts its interests above all else even to the point of disregarding the law.” Remember, Comcast cares. The insane part of all this is that Conal O'Rourke has been screaming at the top of his lungs for Comcast and/or his former employer to release both the emails that got him fired and the recordings of all his phone conversations with Comcast, so that he can clear his name and get a new job at another accounting firm. To date, his employer and Comcast, the company that cares, have declined to do so. DV.load("//www.documentcloud.org/documents/1338623-conalorourkecomplaint.js", { width: 560, height: 550, sidebar: false, text: false, container: "#DV-viewer-1338623-conalorourkecomplaint" }); Conalorourkecomplaint (PDF) Conalorourkecomplaint (Text) Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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George Mason University -- which not too long ago put out an entire book about the need for copyright reform -- apparently also wants to present "the other side." It recently held a conference entitled "Common Ground: How Intellectual Property Unites Creators and Innovators." You might assume that this would be along the lines of the point we've been making for years that content creators and entrepreneurs are really on the same side, creating new content and tools that better serve the public. But it was actually a conference that appears to have only invited copyright and patent maximalists, to talk about how oppressed both of them are by efforts to reform those two bodies of law away from the maximalist positions. It was a laugh riot, I'm sure. A permanently paywalled articled alerted me to some of the claims made on one panel, that I've since confirmed from an attendee at the conference -- with the specifically nutty claim coming from the Copyright Alliance's Sandra Aistars, insisting that the efforts for copyright reform are really coming "from criminal elements" and that no one in "any sort of innovative sector" is actually on board with copyright reform. Oh really, now? Apparently all the other panelists quickly agreed with this assertion that there is no legitimate interest in copyright reform, but that it's really all coming from that "criminal element" which Aistars explained was really "cyberlockers and entities like that." Now, that's interesting. Beyond the broad "entities like that" phrase, which could mean just about anything, I've been fairly active with folks in various copyright reform circles for over a decade, and I can't recall a single situation in which anyone associated with a cyberlocker was even remotely involved in such efforts. To be fair, there was a brief period where Rapidshare hired a few lobbyists, but they weren't involved in any of the major copyright campaigns. But that's about it as far as I can recall, and last I heard, Rapidshare gave up on its DC lobbying efforts. Instead, out here in the real copyright reform world, there appear to be lots of actually innovative companies, along with venture capitalists, academics, digital activists and the public interested in the efforts. To brush off all of that as really coming "from criminal elements" is so delusional as to raise serious questions about the entire Copyright Alliance effort. It also demonstrates just how ridiculous these debates have become. When copyright maximalists are flat out smearing copyright reformers by insisting that they're all just part of a "criminal" effort, it makes real discussion nearly impossible. Of course, perhaps that's the goal.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Oh, Microsoft. The company has now admitted that it ended up sending a bunch of DMCA takedown notices on non-infringing videos, all because someone had posted product keys in comments to those videos. To its credit, Microsoft has apologized and said that it has "taken steps to reinstate legitimate video content and are working towards a better solution to targeting stolen IP while respecting legitimate content." That's all well and good, but this seems like the kind of thing that they should have done long before issuing obviously bad takedowns. This is the kind of thing that happens when you have a tool like the DMCA notice-and-takedown provision that makes it just so damn easy to censor content. Those issuing the takedowns do little to nothing to make sure the content being removed actually infringes. They just use either automated means or someone rushing through the process with little review, sending off takedowns willy nilly with no real concern about how they might kill off perfectly legal content. It still boggles the mind that a basic notice-and-notice regime couldn't suffice to handle situations like this. That and making sure that those issuing bogus DMCA notices receive some sort of real punishment to give them the incentive to stop sending bogus takedowns.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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For several years, Techdirt covered the twists and turns of the "Marco Civil" saga, Brazil's bill of rights for the Internet, which finally passed back in March. Rather depressingly, this welcome move seemed to be something of a one-off, but now the Italian Parliament has announced its own draft bill of rights. Here's the introduction (original in Italian -- pdf): The Internet has contributed decisively to the redefinition of both the private and public space, to structure the relationships between people and between people and institutions. It has cancelled borders and built new means of production and the use of knowledge. It has expanded the possibilities for direct intervention in the public sphere by individuals. It has modified the organization of work. It has allowed the development of a more open and free society. The Internet should be considered as a global resource and one that meets the criterion of universality. The European Union is today the region of the world with the highest constitutional protection for personal data, explicitly recognized by Article 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is the point of reference for specifying principles concerning the operation of the Internet, even in a global context. This Statement of Rights on the Internet is based upon the full recognition of freedom, equality, dignity and diversity of each person. The guarantee of these rights is a necessary condition for ensuring the democratic functioning of institutions, and in order to avoid the dominance of public and private powers that could lead to a society of surveillance, control and social selection. The Internet is configured as an increasingly-important space for the self-organization of individuals and groups, and as a vital tool for promoting individual and collective participation in democratic processes and meaningful equality. The principles regarding the Internet also take account of its structure as an economic space that makes possible innovation, fair competition and growth in a democratic context. A Declaration of Rights for the Internet is an essential tool to provide a constitutional foundation for principles and rights at a supranational level. There then follow 14 digital rights, including things like basic human rights; right to access the Net; Net neutrality; control of personal data online; protection against surveillance without the approval of a judge; right to online anonymity; and the right to be forgotten. The present document is just a draft, and input will be gathered from many quarters, including the public, who can make comments and suggestions using an online system. That's only in Italian, for understandable reasons, but it would be good if translations into other major languages were made to allow an even wider consultation. After all, a bill of rights for the Internet is something that concerns everyone, not just citizens of enlightened nations like Brazil and Italy. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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So, Apple got plenty of kudos from security and privacy folks in deciding to encrypt mobile phone data, but over on the desktop side, apparently the message hasn't quite gotten through. Instead, it appears that the latest Mac operation system has the company automatically sending all of your desktop searches back to Apple. These aren't internet searches, but just what you're searching for locally. The function is part of Spotlight search, which was updated with last week’s launch of new Mac computers and Apple’s latest operating system, Yosemite OS X, which also is available for download to owners of older machines. Once Yosemite is installed, users searching for files – even on their own hard drives -- have their locations, unique user IDs and search terms automatically sent to the company, keystroke by keystroke. A pop-up window discloses the change, saying collecting the data helps provide results “more relevant to you” as Spotlight also looks beyond individual computers to gather information across the Internet, much like popular search engines such as Google already do. But privacy advocates worry that users won’t understand what information is collected and how to stop the transmission of data to Apple, which happens by default. And, if you think there's no big deal in having this data collected, think again. Testing by The Washington Post found that the locations revealed in Spotlight searches can be strikingly precise, placing a user within a particular building in Washington, D.C., even though the disclosure box on Spotlight refers to collecting “your approximate location." In addition to sharing information with Apple, Spotlight also actively downloads relevant Web pages and Wikipedia articles about the topics covered by a search query, revealing potentially sensitive information about the user’s activities to other Web sites as well. You can (and perhaps should) turn off this "feature" -- and you can see how in some specific cases there may be beneficial reasons for individuals to share this information, the idea of having it on by default just seems like a privacy nightmare.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The number of ways to get people into space is at a record low right now, but some projects on the horizon are planning to get more people living in space in the not too distant future. Commercial space ventures are going to be shuttling (or capsule-ing, as the case may be) people to low earth orbit, and some other projects are aiming for more distant journeys. Here are just a few space exploration plans to keep an eye on if you still want to be an astronaut someday. In December, NASA is planning to launch Orion on a Delta IV Heavy rocket as a test for its next generation manned space vehicle that may one day get astronauts to Mars. No one will be on board for the first trip, but the craft will be gathering data to make sure the vessel is suitable for transporting people comfortably and safely. [url] The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is an inflatable habitat that can connect to the International Space Station and provide commercial living space for a little over $50 million for a 2 month stay. This will be a steal compared to the current $40 million price tag for an individual to stay on the ISS for a week. (No word yet if you'll be able to re-rent out your spot on Airbnb.) [url] The optimism of the Mars One project should not be dismissed, but the technology to actually build a viable colony on the red planet may be further from reality than 2025. An analysis from some MIT students concludes that Mars One is unlikely to be sustainable with the current state of its technological progress. [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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The facts are in, thanks to Vice Media and Jason Leopold. Washington, DC police have a Stingray cell tower spoofer and have been using it for several years. The Metropolitan Police Department was an early adopter, but moving too fast cost it about five years of use. Back in 2003, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in Washington, DC was awarded a $260,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to purchase surveillance technology called Stingray — a contraption the size of a suitcase that simulates a cell phone tower and intercepts mobile phone calls and text messages. The rationale behind the DHS grant to MPD and other law enforcement agencies was to help them secure new anti-terrorism technology from private corporations. But the grant fell a little short, because the MPD couldn't come up with the extra several thousands dollars it needed to train officers how to use and maintain Stingray — so the device sat unused in an "Electronic Surveillance Unit equipment vault" at the department for more than five years. In 2008, the Stingray was revived and upgraded and has apparently been in use ever since. Of course, it's no longer terrorism that justifies its usage, but rather good, old-fashioned drug dealing and other vanilla criminal activity, as one memo points out. "The procurement of this equipment will increase the number of MPD arrests for fugitives, drug traffickers, and violent offenders (robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, Homicide), while reducing the time it takes to locate dangerous offenders that need to be removed from the streets of DC." No doubt the news that bad guys are being speedily apprehended will make up for all the dropped calls and blocked data experienced by public servants employed in the metro area. They'll also be pleased to know that all sorts of unfiltered information about their phone calls, location, etc. was hoovered up along with the suspects'. Not that this doesn't affect the "little people," who are just as likely to wonder why their cell phones aren't picking up a signal and are just as likely to be irritated that the local PD is scooping up a bunch of unrelated data in its search for bad guys, but this now affects the "real people" of DC -- policymakers and higher-ups whose complaints actually manage to find worthy ears quite frequently. If the MPD is driving around DC with Stingray devices, it is likely capturing information about the locations and movements of members of Congress, cabinet members, federal law enforcement agents, and Homeland Security personnel, consular staff, and foreign dignitaries, and all of the other people who congregate in the District…. If cell phone calls of congressional staff, White House aides, or even members of Congress are being disconnected, dropped, or blocked by MPD Stingrays, that's a particularly sensitive and troublesome problem. Of course, this has been ongoing for half a decade now, and if no one's complaining about it yet, it's because it hasn't been noticed or it's because too many of those officials mentioned are more than willing to sacrifice their privacy (along with everyone else's) for small gains in law enforcement efficiency -- even more so if the spectre of international terrorism is raised (which it was, initially), despite everyone knowing that the real targets would be normal, no-panic-needed criminal activities (as is almost always the case). Will these newly-freed documents prompt a bit more activity from the Beltway? Well, the cheery outlook says, "anything's possible," which is as much an admission of defeat as it is a rallying cry. The more realistic viewpoint sees that multiple documents have been uncovered over the past few years with little more than a few, very localized reactions being observed. It will probably take more than the off-chance of being swept up in a surveillance dragnet to convince those in charge to take a second look at law enforcement tools and capabilities. In fact, many of them helped agencies (via legislation) like the DHS and FBI sell the courts on the idea that nearly everything related to human communication in this day and age carries with it "no expectation of privacy." Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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I really thought we were done writing about Walter O'Brien -- the claimed "inspiration" for the TV show Scorpion. We already wrote two separate posts detailing the questionable, unbelievable or obviously false claims that he has made recently. And we did another post calling out the "professional journalists" who simply repeated his claims without any skepticism. And, once again (since this comes up every time), I have absolutely no problem with CBS making whatever TV show they want. The problem I have is with O'Brien using the obviously bogus claims to try to build a business on false premises, leading people to believe that giving him money will get you results not unlike those in the obviously farcical TV series. In that last post, we noted that a couple of the journalists who had originally written fawning profiles had taken the concerns to heart and had tried to reach out to O'Brien to respond about the inconsistencies. Susan Karlin, at Fast Company, had written a profile about O'Brien that repeated many of the claims. When many of us raised questions, that story was briefly dropped behind an unimpeachable paywall (it said it was behind the paywall, but offered no way to pay) and then reemerged with a note acknowledging the questions raised and saying that Karlin was reaching out to O'Brien for a followup. We were skeptical that any followup would happen, but alas, late last week Karlin had a new story describing O'Brien's weak attempts at responding to the questions about his life story. It appears he avoided most of the really damning stuff -- ridiculously claiming that "non-disclosure agreements" prevented him from discussing them. On the IQ question: IQ: Regarding his absence from IQ lists, O'Brien wrote: “I was about nine years old when a teacher administered my IQ test," said O'Brien. "Unfortunately, as I was nine, I didn't know that I needed to keep the paperwork for future reference.” O'Brien did not respond to a follow-up question asking, since he was using his IQ as a marketing element, why he didn’t later take a Mensa-endorsed test in case that figure got challenged. First off, this proves what we said in our last post, that all of his claims about being "the fourth smartest" are complete bunk. Elsewhere, he had admitted that it was the Stanford-Binet test he took. At age 9, in 1983, the version of the Stanford-Binet that was out was known as the L-M version (two versions ago), in which the scores were not based on standard distributions, but rather a ratio scoring system (i.e. "this score at this age, compared to a normal person at this age"). And yet, to back up his claim of being the 4th smartest, he pointed to this chart, which uses the modern Stanford Binet "standardized" scoring system to compute "rarities." So he's mixing his metrics. Worse, research has shown that scores on the L-M test (especially at the high end) correspond to lower scores on the current Stanford-Binet test (SB5). So, even if the test was accurate, his score would be lower. On top of that, all the test showed was that at age 9 Walter was probably much brighter than other kids his age. It means nothing about him being particularly smart today. At the very least, for someone who puts so much weight on his IQ score and claims to be so smart, you'd think maybe (just maybe) he'd actually have a working understanding of how IQ scores work. O'Brien did clear up some of the inconsistencies about his appearance in the International Olympiad in Informatics in Argentina, showing that he absolutely did attend (he has a "participant" certificate). O'Brien completely ignored the question about why his visa application to come to the US claims he came in 6th place in that competition, when it's clear he did not. At best there are reports that he came in 90th, though the explanation for why that 90th place doesn't show on the website for the Olympiad doesn't make much sense: “The application from Ireland to compete had just missed the cut-off deadline,” said O’Brien. “We applied for an exception and it was granted, that's why Ireland doesn't appear in the registry, but did compete, and I certainly was there.” But, clearly, the website was updated after the competition to show who won, so it's difficult to understand why they did not add his results. O'Brien does admit to having faked the picture of the headquarters, as we pointed out, but says that the company was run virtually and he never thought people would think it was real: Regarding the Photoshopped German building, he added, “I apologize if the building image on the website was misleading, as it was just a cool graphic that our website designer provided years ago. To me it was clearly a made up image since it has a large scorpion tail reflected in the glass and no sky in the background, but I can see how you could think it was our headquarters.” Regarding the bogus number of 2600 employees and the UPS Store as his address: O’Brien said Scorpion was run virtually, to reduce overhead, utilizing approximately 2,600 pre-screened independent contractors on an as-needed basis to solve large software problems for companies, individuals, and governments. “Most of our systems are either in the cloud (like Amazon's) or at a large customer's data center (like a military base), so we spend our time either at a customer site or telecommuting from our laptops,” he said. "Because we are virtual (and for security reasons), as with many companies, we use a P.O. box for our address.” I'm all for virtual businesses running online, but there is no business in the world making over a billion dollars that can run entirely virtually without at least some semblance of a real office -- and various stories have claimed that Scorpion makes over a billion dollars in revenue. You don't run a billion dollar business out of a UPS store box. No one does. Small businesses run out of such things -- which is great for them. It's logistically impossible to run a large business that way. The "2,600 pre-screened independent contractors" excuse is also bogus. First of all, I'm quite familiar with the expert network business, and I've never seen an expert network so careless as to come even close to suggesting that the network members are the equivalent of employees. But, more importantly, with every expert network, it's very common for the members of that network to promote that they're members on things like LinkedIn. And yet, it seems that almost none of these folks associated with Scorpion do so. It's possible that the rolodexes of the very small number of people (it appears to be less than 10) who actually do work at Scorpion may total up to 2600 people, but that's a very misleading way to promote the business. Speaking of incredibly misleading ways to promote your business, O'Brien also responds to the hilarious claim that Scorpion was a venture fund with $204 billion under management: O’Brien also stood by the $204 billion venture fund. That figure “was true at the time,” said O’Brien. “That statement simply referred to the total net worth of all the investors and venture capitalists that Scorpion had a relationship with and often hire Scorpion for due diligence. This is collectively referred to as a fund source as we are allowed to show these investors any new companies or inventions that we thought were worth the investors taking a closer look at.” That's bordering on fraud -- to the point that it seems like the SEC might be interested. You don't get to claim "because I sometimes work with these investors, I can claim to have a fund worth the value of all their assets." He also never bothers to explain why -- if he was managing a fund with over $200 billion and building up a company with over $1 billion in revenue (out of a UPS store) and 2,600 "independent contractors" -- he was still working a day job doing QA for The Capital Group. Karlin also turns up some other lies from O'Brien that we had missed. O'Brien claimed that the following happened back in 1992: 1992 Presented A.I. discoveries, Invited to speak at the Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science conference at the University of Limerick (A.I.C.S.), by special invite from Dr. Padraig Cunningham. The youngest Scientist ever invited to present his SPEAKART project. This project was a fifth generation computer application, in the Dublin Hitachi research lab which resulted in being offered an apprentice position at HITACHI. Karlin contacted Dr. Cunnigham and found a rather different story: “That’s not true that I invited him to speak,” said Padraig Cunningham, now a professor in computer science at University College in Dublin, when contacted by Fast Company. “And he wasn’t offered an apprentice position at the Hitachi Dublin lab. I’d just finished working there in September, 1992, and he was not offered a job. “I Googled his name and found this softer version of events in a news article published on one of his sites,” he added. (It reads: “Later that year [1992] Dr. Padraig Cunningham of T.C.D. invited him to attend the two-day Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science Conference in Limerick University.”) “It appears he later hardened his claims that he was invited to speak and got a position at Hitachi,” said Cunningham. “This is a really old item, but it’s consistent with the idea that he’s become more effusive about his claims.” This is the same thing that seems to keep coming up with O'Brien. He takes snippets of reality and extends and extends and extends those claims, embellishing the story each and every time. Being invited to attend a conference eventually turns into being invited to speak and then into getting a job. In regards to all the other obviously bogus claims -- including the ones about "catching the Boston Marathon bombers," stopping wars, having his software misused leading to 2,600 civilian casualties in the Gulf War (yes, same number of "independent contractors" he now claims to have), stopping soldiers in Afghanistan from drinking water laced with arsenic from local drug lords... O'Brien doesn't want to respond to any of it. “Much of our company’s work, especially with military/government clients is subject to strict Non-Disclosure Agreements, so we can’t say more than has been cleared for news. “I’ve answered all the questions I have time to right now,” he replied in response to follow-up questions. “All that remains to be said is that I’m proud of and stand by my career, my company, and all the good we have done.” It appears the strict non-disclosure agreements allow him to promote things that are extraordinarily dubious (and debunked by other information), but not to actually present any evidence to confirm. How convenient.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
Not all things can be trademarked, and one of the most common reasons a term, word, or phrase is refused protection is if it is purely descriptive. The stock examples of this make sense to us inuitively: a company couldn't trademark "Black Computers" as part of their business, since the term is neither unique nor does it do anything besides simply describing the product. But I think real-world examples of this sort of thing drive the point home even more. Via the wonderful Five Useful Articles newsletter (a comedic newsletter about intellectual property that you should subscribe to), we learn that there is a company called "Legal Hackers LLC" and that the company has a trademark application in for the term "Legal Hackers." We also learn that there is a cordial but healthy discussion going on throughout the legal hacking community over whether or not this should be allowed. Indeed, one hacker-lawyer (which is an awesome title) has filed a dispute against the mark (embedded below) and fleshed out his reasoning in a blog post. From a trademark law standpoint, I think the term “Legal Hackers” is descriptive and therefore should not be eligible for protection on the primary trademark register. In reviewing the application record at the USPTO, the examining attorney did not raise the descriptiveness issue, although such oversights are not uncommon. I don’t think anyone would deny that the term “hacker” has been in use since well before April 2012 to describe a certain type of activity (the earliest Urban Dictionary entries date to 2003 and reference pop-cultural use of the term relating to computer hackers at least as early as 1982 (Tron) and 1983 (War Games)). Since then, “hacker” (or “hack” or “hacking”) has been used to near-ubiquity to describe innovation in just about any thing or activity you can think of: Ikea, Gardening, Running, Walking, apparently even Sex (thanks Buzzfeed). In fact I challenge you to think of some activity and run a Google search on that activity plus “hack.” Any of these categories are simply descriptive of the activity being hacked–I can’t see how “Legal” is any different. It's not different, of course. What is different in this particular case is that you don't have one company fighting another over the trademark application. Instead, you have a cadre of legal hackers going up against a single company, Legal Hackers, for attempting to lock up a term the the former thinks applies to what they do. This would be the grassroots version of trademark disputes, with a subsection of the public balking at a company's attempt to lock up the language describing what they do. The post doesn't only make the legal argument, however. Common sense plays a role as well. Beyond the formal legal argument, however, I think having the term “Legal Hackers” under trademark protection is a bad idea. For one, the notion that someone could tell someone else they can’t call themselves a Hacker of any sort seems inappropriate, if not unheard of. I can see a legitimate argument that “my hack is better than your hack,” or “I’m a better hacker than you are,” or even “your hack isn’t truly a hack because it’s something most people would normally do so it isn’t hack-worthy.” But I can’t find legitimacy in a claim that “your hack isn’t a hack because I own the term “Hack” and I get to say what is or isn’t one.” Or, “You aren’t a hacker because I control the term “Hacker” so I get to say who is and who isn’t.” Taken further, the idea that the ability to bestow or withhold the “hack” or “hacker” label would carry the weight of federal trademark law is preposterous. Look, the good news is that both sides of this discussion appear to be friendly, cordial sides that genuinely have good interests. That said, I love this story because to me, it means more to see trademark opposition come not from an economic interest, but from a genuine community and language interest. This isn't someone trying to make a buck, it's a group of people who love their community and love what they do and don't want to see the ownership of some of the language surrounding their activities. DV.load("//www.documentcloud.org/documents/1314535-86247678.js", { width: 560, height: 550, sidebar: false, text: false, container: "#DV-viewer-1314535-86247678" }); 86247678 (PDF) 86247678 (Text) Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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ASIO -- Australia's NSA -- runs the tightest spying ship in the spying-ship-spying-on-spying-ships business. It's all detailed in one tiny paragraph hidden 26 pages deep in an 100+ page Inspector General's report. [pdf link] "ASIO intercepted, without warrant, calls made from one of its own regional offices due to a technical error. The data was deleted and processes put in place to ensure it does not happen again." I'm not sure what tipped the spooks off. Maybe it was the range of the familiar voices (possibly their own, even!) heard during the transcription process. Or maybe it was the embarrassing moment where one ASIO agent admitted to the agent at the other end of the line that he was a "long-time listener" but a "first-time caller," shortly before the feedback loop made the call too painful to continue. The above screw-up didn't violate the privacy of anyone but a few privacy-violators and the Inspector General readily notes that this sort of thing won't be happening again. Presumably, future warrantless interception will be checked against the very short list of DO NOT SPY numbers, most of which should be readily apparent by their in-house extension numbers. The report quickly moves on from this little embarrassment but failing to clarify whether it was the interception or the lack of a warrant that was the problem. A "we don't spy on ourselves" policy would make sense but wouldn't necessarily be a violation of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act. On the other hand, the warrant requirement for ASIO is basically an impediment no thicker than the ink applied by a rubber stamp -- all that stands between what the agency wants to do and what it's going to find a way to do anyway. As the laws governing ASIO's surveillance stand now, a warrant is nothing more than a nice afterthought. The Bill introduces the concept of a "delayed notification search warrant" -- often referred to in the United States as a 'no-knock warrant' -- which would allow Australian Federal Police to search premises without prior warning and "without having to produce the warrant at the time of entry and search". Maybe the warrant was still in transit, or maybe ASIO though the interception of its own calls fell under one of its other broad warrants, some of which could easily be interpreted as pertaining to every device connected to the Internet. But these are this year's laws and that is last year's violation, so it still doesn't add up. What it does do is throw some hazy light on an agency that thrives in the dark and just successfully ushered in a brave new world of domestic surveillance. This incident proves a valuable point about trust (namely: don't) and answers an important rhetorical question: Who watches the watchers? Clearly, the watchers do. Sometimes. But only inadvertently. And it won't happen again. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The West's constant push for stronger patent protection in agreements like TPP and ACTA is based on the belief that they will then be able to deploy their supercharged patents against the rising economic might of China. What this completely overlooks is the fact that China will be able to turn the self-same strengthened patent regime against the West by acquiring patents and suing Western companies. Techdirt has already reported on how China is providing financial incentives for its companies to file huge numbers of patents overseas. Now it has taken another step in bolstering its patents strategy against the West by setting up a company called Ruichuan IPR Funds. Here's a press release that the site Citizen Outreach has issued on this move: With China's creation of Ruichuan IPR Funds, imagine the assault that U.S. companies will face. Reports are that this government-sponsored troll has been seeded with $50 billion to acquire patents that will be used in actions against U.S. companies. Inasmuch as trolls aren't sticklers for the quality of the patents they purchase, Ruichuan IPR Funds will be able to build a massive arsenal for use in harassment litigation. China will now be in a better position to manipulate markets, handicap the overseas competition, and push itself to the head of the pack in the global patent wars. A little hyperbolic perhaps, but essentially correct -- and completely foreseeable. The Chinese government's move is part of a larger story that recapitulates America's own evolution from a "pirate" nation that fuelled its industrial revolution by ignoring the law and appropriating Western Europe's patented ideas, to one using the same legal instruments against European companies. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
FBI Director James Comey is apparently a likable guy, but if he's going to attack encryption, it might help if he actually understood it better than, say, the editorial board of the Washington Post, who recently argued against "backdoors" in technology, and for a magical "golden key" -- as if the two were somehow different. We wrote a quick take on Comey's Brooking's talk last week, but the deeper you dive into his talk the more and more evident it is that he not only doesn't quite understand the issues he's talking about, but that he doesn't even seem to understand when his own statements conflict with each other. Just two days earlier, in a 60 Minutes interview, Comey had insisted, incorrectly, that the FBI can never read your email without a court order. This was simply false, and Comey had to 'fess up to that at the Brookings event when called on it. But if he needed to "clarify" that, it seems like he needs to do much more clarifying as well. Because much of his speech presented scenarios for why the phone encryption now being put in place by Apple and Google would have harmed investigations -- and after digging into those examples, it appears that his explanations were, once again, incorrect. Here are his examples: In Louisiana, a known sex offender posed as a teenage girl to entice a 12-year-old boy to sneak out of his house to meet the supposed young girl. This predator, posing as a taxi driver, murdered the young boy and tried to alter and delete evidence on both his and the victim’s cell phones to cover up his crime. Both phones were instrumental in showing that the suspect enticed this child into his taxi. He was sentenced to death in April of this year. In Los Angeles, police investigated the death of a 2-year-old girl from blunt force trauma to her head. There were no witnesses. Text messages stored on her parents’ cell phones to one another and to their family members proved the mother caused this young girl’s death and that the father knew what was happening and failed to stop it. Text messages stored on these devices also proved that the defendants failed to seek medical attention for hours while their daughter convulsed in her crib. They even went so far as to paint her tiny body with blue paint—to cover her bruises—before calling 911. Confronted with this evidence, both parents pled guilty. In Kansas City, the DEA investigated a drug trafficking organization tied to heroin distribution, homicides, and robberies. The DEA obtained search warrants for several phones used by the group. Text messages found on the phones outlined the group’s distribution chain and tied the group to a supply of lethal heroin that had caused 12 overdoses—and five deaths—including several high school students. In Sacramento, a young couple and their four dogs were walking down the street at night when a car ran a red light and struck them—killing their four dogs, severing the young man’s leg, and leaving the young woman in critical condition. The driver left the scene, and the young man died days later. Using “red light cameras” near the scene of the accident, the California Highway Patrol identified and arrested a suspect and seized his smartphone. GPS data on his phone placed the suspect at the scene of the accident and revealed that he had fled California shortly thereafter. He was convicted of second-degree murder and is serving a sentence of 25 years to life. The evidence we find also helps exonerate innocent people. In Kansas, data from a cell phone was used to prove the innocence of several teens accused of rape. Without access to this phone, or the ability to recover a deleted video, several innocent young men could have been wrongly convicted. Powerful stories, right? Just imagine if the data on those phones were locked up and unavailable to law enforcement? Well, imagine-no-more, because people have been looking into these stories, and Comey's fear mongering doesn't check out. First up, The Intercept looked into these cases and their results can be summed up in the URL slug which includes "FBI Dude Dumb Dumb." In the three cases The Intercept was able to examine, cell-phone evidence had nothing to do with the identification or capture of the culprits, and encryption would not remotely have been a factor. In the most dramatic case that Comey invoked — the death of a 2-year-old Los Angeles girl — not only was cellphone data a non-issue, but records show the girl’s death could actually have been avoided had government agencies involved in overseeing her and her parents acted on the extensive record they already had before them. In another case, of a Lousiana sex offender who enticed and then killed a 12-year-old boy, the big break had nothing to do with a phone: The murderer left behind his keys and a trail of muddy footprints, and was stopped nearby after his car ran out of gas. And in the case of a Sacramento hit-and-run that killed a man and his girlfriend’s four dogs, the driver was arrested a few hours later in a traffic stop because his car was smashed up, and immediately confessed to involvement in the incident. The link provides a lot more details about each of those cases, suggesting phones had little to nothing to do with any of those stories, and if there were encryption on those phones it wouldn't have made the slightest difference. And it's not just the folks over at The Intercept recognizing this. The Associated Press called bullshit on most of the examples as well. And, remember, these were the hand-picked examples the FBI came up with after weeks of time to prepare its case for not allowing such encryption. And they don't hold up under scrutiny. During the Q&A, Comey was again challenged on these and asked for "real live examples" where encryption would be an issue and his answer did not inspire confidence that Comey has any idea what he's talking about: Rescuing someone before they’re harmed? Someone in the trunk of a car or something? I don’t think I know – yet? I’ve asked my folks just to canvas – I’ve asked our state and local partners are there some examples where this – I think I see enough, but I don’t think I’ve found that one yet. I’m not looking. Here’s the thing. When I was preparing the speech, one of the things I was inclined to talk about was — to avoid those kids of sort of ‘edge’ cases because I’m not looking to frighten people. Logic tells me there’re going to be cases just like that, but the theory of the case is the main bulk of law enforcement activity. But that said I don’t know the answer. I haven’t found one yet. In the talk, Comey also disputed the notion of a "back door," but rather claimed he wanted a "front door." We aren’t seeking a back-door approach. We want to use the front door, with clarity and transparency, and with clear guidance provided by law. We are completely comfortable with court orders and legal process—front doors that provide the evidence and information we need to investigate crime and prevent terrorist attacks. Right. So, just like the question of what's the difference between a back door and a magic golden key, Comey was asked about the difference between a front door and a back door, and his answer was... he doesn't know. When asked technical questions about the solution he was suggesting, Comey didn’t have the answers. At one point, the host, Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brooking Institution, asked Comey to explain his “front door” distinction, to which he responded, “I don’t think I am smart enough to tell you what 'front door' means.” Yup. You're the director of the FBI and you just gave a key speech -- pushing for legislation -- which focuses on the idea of wanting a "front door" into technology, and when questioned on what the hell that means your answer is "I don't think I'm smart enough to tell you what 'front door' means"? This isn't making me feel any safer. You know what would make me feel safer? A hell of a lot more encryption. And you know who agrees? the FBI. This is from the FBI's own website for "safety tips to protect your mobile device" In case you can't read it, it says: Depending on the type of phone, the operating system may have encryption available. This can be used to protect the user’s personal data in the case of loss or theft. It also recommends passcode protecting your phone (which is how these default encryption systems now work). So, um, here we have the FBI telling people to encrypt their phones... and complaining that such things will lead to the end of the world, though it's unable to actually give an example, or even explain what its new proposal is really about. As Marcy Wheeler pointed out before the speech, this sort of clueless dichotomy seems to follow Comey around. In that 60 Minutes interview, he both talked about how dangerous the internet is, and why people need to protect themselves... and then attacked one of the most important tools for people to protect themselves. It's almost as if Comey has absolutely no idea what he's talking about. And that's because he almost certainly does not. He may understand other issues related to crime and law enforcement, but when it comes to encryption, it appears he's reading the hastily prepared script of someone else. The simple fact is that he's wrong. Strong encryption is in the public interest and not only protects people from questionable surveillance, but from bad actors as well. It's the best way to make us all safer -- much better than relying on FBI agents running around trying to snoop on phones. Thankfully, so far, the folks in Congress don't sound particularly impressed by Comey's demand for "front doors" that he's not smart enough to understand. Hopefully it stays that way.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
Deputy Matt -- the psuedonym employed by the law enforcement officer behind this op-ed -- is here to blame everyone else but he and his fellow officers for today's law enforcement-hostile climate. It all leads back to Ferguson… When we finally located the son, who is of mixed ethnicity (dad is white, mom is Hispanic), he instantly began cussing and yelling at us. He took a fighting stance and said he was not going to do anything we told him. Luckily, we were able to calm him and get him into handcuffs without any blows being thrown. We asked why he was so hostile towards us. His response? Ferguson. The cops could not be trusted because of what happened in Ferguson, Missouri. He told us that he wanted to kill all white cops because of what “they” had done to Michael Brown. From the strength of a single anecdote, a nationwide attitude is extrapolated. It's not just criminals -- who Deputy Matt fully expects to be less-than-submissive -- it's everybody. Sadly, this feeling has not only infected the normal criminal element that I expect that behavior from, but even seems to be effecting [sic] middle class families as well. As goes the middle class, so goes the country. Deputy Matt could learn something from reactions to Ferguson. He could. But he finds it easier to blame everyone else for the unpleasantness of his job. Cops are still the wonderful, self-sacrificing people they've always been, he says. It's the American public that's gone downhill. The same people who we used to count on for support, the good, law abiding general public, are now reluctant to trust us. We, the local cops they have seen and contacted in the past, have not changed. We have done nothing different. The public is wrong. And why is the public wrong? Because it's too stupid to avoid being led by the nose. What has changed is the public’s perception of us, created by the reckless reporting by nearly every news outlet very early after the shooting of Michael Brown. The rush to be first with the story over the desire to be correct is having dire consequences nationwide, and quite honestly, has made my job more difficult and more dangerous. While I have my own issues with mainstream media and its shallow coverage of certain issues, Deputy Matt's problem seems to be that this one time, the slant briefly went the other direction. For the most part, the mainstream doesn't cover incidents like these. And when it does, it follows safe narratives (rioters!) and grants way too much deference to statements made by law enforcement/government officials. Compared to the way those outside the mainstream cover incidents like officer-involved shootings, Deputy Matt would be better off not biting the hand that (more often than not) feeds him. Going beyond the thinly-veiled insults (people are stupid and they get their information from sensationalistic sources) to the heart of Deputy Matt's argument ('It's everyone else!'), I'm inclined to agree with the general push of his article: cops haven't changed. To Deputy Matt, this signifies the blame should lie with the public. To anyone who's been paying attention over the past several years, the problem is that cops haven't changed. Many still believe they can operate without scrutiny, oversight or accountability. The omnipresence of recording devices (operated by both the public and officers themselves) doesn't prevent misconduct, brutality or unjustified killings. It just makes it more difficult to cover up. It also (very occasionally) forces law enforcement officials to hold officers accountable, but these are sadly still the exception rather than the rule. Putting more eyes on officer behavior and tactics -- whether it's by bloggers and journalists dedicated to this field or by the thousands of hours of amateur footage hosted at YouTube -- has resulted in a shift in the public's perception. But Deputy Matt is wrong to blame it on the public… or mass media… or Ferguson. The problem is Deputy Matt and the officers he's decided to speak for. They haven't changed. The cop who always laid a few extra licks on an "uncooperative" arrestee still does so… only there's a good chance the punches/baton swings/taser bursts have been captured on "tape." The cop who always performed a little extracurricular searching during routine traffic stops continues to do so… only now he's being served with civil rights lawsuits and the dashcam recording of his illegal efforts is splashed all over the news thanks to the plaintiff's lawyer. If the public no longer implicitly trusts the police to be the "good guys," the problem isn't the public. It's the cops who take money from citizens just because local laws say they can. It's the multiple agencies who feel the only way to handle the drug problem is as violently as possible. It's cops who shoot people's pets, rather than allow the animals' owners to restrain them. It's officers who constantly "fear for their lives" endangering the lives of citizens around them with careless use of deadly force. This is what's changed the public's perception of law enforcement. Sure, some of it may be based on bad info and careless hyperbole, but a majority of the damage done to the reputation of law enforcement has been inflicted by the officers themselves. Ferguson may have (slightly) altered the mainstream media's approach to officer-involved shootings. The more apparent side effect has been a heightened awareness of the immense divide between the general public and those charged with policing them. In between, there's a certain amount of hashtag activism and coat tail riders -- some of which culminates in a teen arrestee miles from ground zero name-dropping Ferguson as an excuse for his anti-cop aggression. But Deputy Matt's complaint ignores even the slightest, most minimal bit of culpability on behalf of his fellow officers. This massive blind spot prevents him from seeing the truth directly in front of him: if the public -- generally-speaking -- no longer trusts police officers, it's because -- generally-speaking -- police officers aren't worthy of the public's trust. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
Earlier this month, we wrote about the DEA's decision to set up a fake profile of a woman who was charged in a case related to drug dealing. The DEA argued that the woman's "consent" to using evidence from her seized cell phone in their investigation included allowing them to (without telling her) set up a Facebook profile in her name, post pictures of hers and other children (from the phone) and "friend" people that the woman knew in real life, in an effort to get more evidence in the drug case. After the story got attention, thanks to a Buzzfeed article, the DOJ said it will "review the practice" of creating such fake Facebook profiles (implying this isn't the only one). Facebook itself has now stepped into the fracas, noting that the DEA's actions are a "knowing and serious breach" of the site's policies, and that those policies still apply to the government. Most fundamentally, the DEA's actions threaten the integrity of our community. Facebook strives to maintain a safe, trusted environment where people can engage in authentic interactions with the people they know and meet in real life. Using Facebook to impersonate others abuses that trust and makes people feel less safe and secure when using our service. Indeed, as we have observed at Facebook, such deceptive actions are often used to further harmful conduct, such as trolling, hate speech, scams, bullying, and even domestic violence. This impact is markedly different from undercover investigations conducted in the "real" world. It further asks that the DEA "immediately confirm that it has ceased all activities on Facebook that involve the impersonation of others or that violate our terms and policies." Of course, I wonder if it would even be possible for Facebook to figure out when the DEA sets up a fake profile, but it appears that this tactic by the DEA may not be usable going forward. You can read the full letter below or download it here (pdf).Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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