posted 9 days ago on techdirt
As Techdirt has been warning for some time, one of the dangers with the flood of "anti-terrorist" laws and powers is that they are easily redirected against other groups for very different purposes. A story in the Globe and Mail provides another chilling reminder of how that works: The RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] has labelled the "anti-petroleum" movement as a growing and violent threat to Canada's security, raising fears among environmentalists that they face increased surveillance, and possibly worse, under the Harper government's new terrorism legislation. As the Globe and Mail article makes clear, environmentalists are now being considered as part of an "anti-petroleum" movement. That's not just some irrelevant rebranding: it means that new legislation supposedly targeting "terrorism" can be applied. The legislation identifies "activity that undermines the security of Canada" as anything that interferes with the economic or financial stability of Canada or with the country's critical infrastructure, though it excludes lawful protest or dissent. And it allows the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service to take measures to reduce what it perceives to be threats to the security of Canada. Clearly, that's an incredibly broad definition, and would apply to just about any environmental or social movement -- especially since even the most peaceful protests are often considered "illegal." That, in its turn would allow Canada's security agencies to collect information on these groups, and "disrupt" them. What's also troubling about the leaked RCMP "intelligence assessment" that forms the source for the Globe and Mail story is the very clear political position it seems to be taking on fossil fuels and climate change: The report extolls the value of the oil and gas sector to the Canadian economy, and adds that many environmentalists "claim" that climate change is the most serious global environmental threat, and "claim" it is a direct consequence of human activity and is "reportedly" linked to the use of fossil fuels. That sounds more like something that would come from the oil and gas industries' marketing departments, rather than from a country's impartial police force. However, as Techdirt has reported before, the current Canadian government has been muzzling other groups that dare to disagree with its policies, especially on climate change, for some time. Redefining environmentalists as anti-petroleum extremists is clearly part of the same repressive approach. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Although Arduino has figured a few times here on Techdirt in the DailyDirt section, it's not very well-known outside the world of open hardware, where it was one of the pioneers (its reference designs are distributed under a CC-BY-SA license, and all of its software under the GNU GPL or LGPL). One sad sign that Arduino has arrived is that there is currently a falling out between some of the founders (original in Italian), partly over the rising monetary stakes involved. The Italian company set up by one founder, Gianluca Martino, has been the main supplier of Arduino products for years -- the open hardware license allows others to make them, too, but not to claim that they are "official." Originally called Smart Projects, it has now renamed itself Arduino Srl, and taken on a new CEO with the aim of growing sales and taking the company public in a few years' time. That hasn't gone down too well with perhaps the best-known of the founders, Massimo Banzi, who oversees the development of the whole Arduino project, and heads up the Swiss-based company Arduino Sa, a subsidiary of the main Arduino Llc, registered in Massachusetts. Alongside the original Arduino site arduino.cc, Martino's company has now created arduino.org, with a similar color scheme, and the motto "the adventure continues." Both Martino and Banzi say they are discussing partnerships with other manufacturers -- Martino with Bosch and Panasonic, Banzi with Intel -- with a view to selling more Arduino boards around the world (original in Italian). Inevitably, perhaps, the two factions are fighting each other in lawsuits. However those suits are decided, it seems possible that there will be some kind of fork of Arduino, with the two rival camps claiming to be the true heirs of the original project. That's common enough in the world of open source software, but this will probably be the first time it has happened in the open hardware field. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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I guess if you're going to engage in a stupid, neverending "war," the most honest way to approach it is stupidly. Sixteen kilos of methamphetamine the Border Patrol found in an SUV was struck from the record by a federal judge because the agents didn't get the driver's consent to X-ray the vehicle. The CBP had two suspects exactly where it wanted them: detained by agents at a checkpoint. And the longer they were detained, the more nervous they got. Despite a search of the interior turning up nothing and the drug-sniffing dogs failing to alert, the CBP officers were pretty sure they had just captured two smugglers. So, the agents routed the vehicle through their backscatter X-ray scanner, skipping a step in the process. Agent Buchanan testified that he did not rely on probable cause for the backscatter search, but rather on consent to search given by Defendants. He testified, “we always ask for consent for the backscatter . . . unless we’ve already found something in the vehicle.” He testified that he typically has another agent get consent to search the vehicle with the backscatter. Agent Buchanan was unable to identify the agent he asked to get consent from the Defendants and was unable to confirm that such consent was requested. So, Buchanan was unable to come up with any evidence or probable cause, but decided to perform the backscatter anyway, despite his doing so being completely contradicted by his portrayal of the CBP's standard m.o. This wasn't the only contradictory statement in the CBP's testimony. Agent Valdez, who remained in the secondary waiting area with the Defendants, testified that he was present when Defendants gave consent to the backscatter search. However, he was unable to identify the agent who requested consent, how the request was phrased, and how the Defendants replied. Valdez, despite being "present," couldn't actually say whether the defendants had given consent (or who to), but went ahead and told the court that the two men had consented. The backscatter device -- an additional search that required consent or a warrant -- uncovered 14 wrapped packages of meth, 16 kilograms in all. From that Fourth Amendment-skirting search, the CBP compiled its criminal complaint. Now, all of that narrative is nearly useless, thanks to these officers' actions. The court, on its way to dismissing as evidence the 16 kilos of meth obtained that day, points out the government's contradictory statements, as well as its inability to find anyone to corroborate the multiple claims that permission for the search had been granted. Defendants argue that Border Patrol agents did not request their consent to search the vehicle with a backscatter. Agent Buchanan testified that he asked another Border Patrol agent to obtain that consent, but he was unable to identify the agent and was unable to confirm that the agent requested consent. Although Agent Valdez testified that he was present when Defendants gave consent for the backscatter search, he was unable to recall which agent requested consent and what was said by the agent and the Defendants. More importantly, the Government failed to identify and to offer the testimony of the agent who purportedly sought and obtained the consent. And away goes 16 kilos of evidence, along with the bust itself, most likely. Kind of hard to prove the defendants were smuggling drugs when you can't introduce the smuggled drugs in court. Everyone at this particular CBP checkpoint apparently felt someone else would handle the consent issue. And even if the agents had been rebuffed, it's not as though the detainees were free to go. A warrant could have been acquired, most likely with minimal effort. This isn't a huge bust nor would it have put a significant dent in a drug lord's operation. The CBP only had a couple of guys who had muled themselves out for a few hundred dollars. That, in and of itself, is just one of the problems with this nation's drug war. Thousands of tiny arrests like these happen every day and the "problem" isn't anywhere closer to being "solved." The other thing this incident is symptomatic of is our nation's law enforcement agencies' extremely casual relationship with the Fourth Amendment. Time after time, we see the government (national and local) doing everything it can to avoid obtaining warrants -- whether it's their tendency to ask dogs for "permission" to perform warrantless searches or officers themselves using everything from imperceptible whiffs of drug odors to declaring every sign of nervousness as tantamount to a full confession. "Probable cause" is a low bar, but law enforcement agencies seem willing to sidestep it with alarming regularity. The CBP had a car full of drugs and two suspects nailed, but it showed that its "respect" for the Fourth Amendment was just a formality. Now, it has nothing more than two men suspected of smuggling the same drugs that can't be used against them in a court of law.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Every profession faces some disruption with technological improvements. Robots have slowly been taking over dangerous and labor-intensive jobs in manufacturing for decades, but advanced algorithms are starting to creep into careers that were previously safe from automation. Sure, translation software has provided some hilarious examples of how bad they are, but the first chess programs weren't so good, either. Lawyers could outlaw their robotic replacements, but they might have to act fast. Here are just a few links on technology getting into the field of law. Science fiction writers are thinking about how artificial intelligence systems could take over legal processes, and a world of automated contracts actually isn't too far in the future. However, do we want to govern society (or parts of it) with infallible logic trees that don't necessarily adapt to changing conditions? [url] Watson can play a mean game of Jeopardy, but can it answer your legal questions, too? IBM's cognitive computer can scan through bazillions of legal documents far faster than any team of junior attorneys, so maybe it can come up with a few good insights, too. [url] The legal network of the European Union can be analyzed to point out how resilient a legal system is or to help legislators determine the possible effects of proposed changes. Or help lobbyists manipulate legislators... [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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As companies expand the amount of data hoovered up via their subscribers, a common refrain to try and ease public worry is that consumers shouldn't worry because this data is "anonymized." However, time and time again studies have highlighted how it's not particularly difficult to tie these data sets to consumer identities -- usually with only the use of a few additional contextual clues. It doesn't really matter whether we're talking about cellular location data, GPS data, taxi data or NSA metadata, the basic fact is these anonymous data sets aren't really anonymous. The latest in a long stream of such studies comes from MIT, where researchers explored (the actual study is paywalled) whether they could glean unique identities from "anonymous" user data using a handful of contextual clues. Studying the purportedly anonymous credit card transactions of 1.1 million users at 10,000 retail locations over a period of three months, the researchers found they could identify 90% of the users' names by using four additional data points like the dates and locations of four purchases. Using three clues, including more specific points like the exact price of a purchase, allowed the identifying of 94% of the consumers. Intentionally trying to make the data points less precise didn't help protect consumer privacy much:"The MIT researchers also looked at whether they could preserve anonymity in large data sets by intentionally making the data less precise, in order to examine whether preserving privacy would still enable useful analysis. But the researchers found that even if the data set was characterised as each purchase having taken place in the span of a week at one of the 150 stores in the same general area, four purchases would still be enough to identify more than 70 percent of users."Note they're not saying they can ascertain your personal identity from this data alone, but they (or a hacker that nabs this data) can identify you if they have just a smattering of other contextual clues as to who you are. In an age when cellular companies track and sell your daily location down to the minute, and your automobile, insurance companies and toll payment systems are all gathering even more precise data, that's not going to be a particularly difficult task. The gist of the study isn't going to be a shock to most of you: privacy in the modern age -- unless you're willing to go to extreme lengths -- is an illusion."We are showing that the privacy we are told that we have isn't real," study co-author Alex "Sandy" Pentland of MIT said in an email...The study shows that when we think we have privacy when our data is collected, it's really just an "illusion", said Eugene Spafford, director of Purdue University's Centre for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security. Spafford, who wasn't part of the study, said it makes "one wonder what our expectation of privacy should be anymore."That said, it's very important to remember that we can probably trust that companies rushing head first toward vast new revenue generation opportunities are spending the time and resources necessary to ensure consumer privacy is at the very top of their list of priorities.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The question of whether law enforcement's warrantless (and subpoena-less) access to hotel records falls outside the confines of the Constitution will be answered by the Supreme Court. An en banc hearing by the Ninth Circuit Court found that Los Angeles' ordinance granting local law enforcement this power was unconstitutional. Not content with this finding, the city of Los Angeles has managed to bump it up to the highest judicial level. Along the way, the city has argued that its access-on-demand doesn't constitute a search, much less violate hotel owners' (or their customers') civil liberties. It also argued that the end justifies the means, and that because the files were often electronic, there was no real intrusion. The city's arguments rely heavily on two oft-misused Fourth Amendment-related terms: "reasonable expectation of privacy" and the infamous "Third Party Doctrine." The Cato Institute has entered a brief in support of the plaintiffs which points out that both of these go-to justifications for warrantless access to the papers of others are deeply flawed. (via Overlawyered) As we’ve done in many prior briefs, we discourage the Court from applying the “reasonable expectation of privacy” test. “Reasonable expectations” doctrine is a contortion of the Fourth Amendment that springs from one concurrence in a 1967 case. Rather than estimating whether hoteliers have a “privacy expectation” in their records, we invite the Court to adhere to the Fourth Amendment’s language and determine whether the the right of Los Angeles hoteliers “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects” is protected by a statute that permits any search of their records law enforcement should want. The same could be said for hotel guests, whose expectation that any info turned over in exchange for access to a room would be limited to them and the business owners -- and not forcibly "shared" with any law enforcement officer who happened to wander into the building. The brief also argues that the court should revisit the Third Party Doctrine, as long as it has the eternally-ethereal "reasonable expectation of privacy" on its mind. This doctrine has been used to justify all sorts of warrantless demands for data, as well as forming the backbone of the NSA's most infamous domestic surveillance program, the Section 215 telephone metadata dragnet. The argument frequently deployed by the government is that any information voluntarily turned over to a third party is fair game. But is the information gathered by hotel/motel operators, in any shape or form, voluntary? The answer should be obvious, but has rarely been given by federal judges. A hotel owner isn't going to give someone a room unless they give up a certain amount of personal information. It clearly isn't voluntary. It's a requirement -- one that's no different than AT&T refusing to give you cellphone service unless it can collect data on calls made and received, along with a certain amount of location data to ensure no roaming fees go uncollected. This "exchange" is no more "voluntary" than the hotel/customer exchange. But yet, the government continues to insist it is, and it is very rarely challenged on this assertion. As Cato points out, to continue to rely on a barely-there precedent from nearly 50 years ago is absurd. After all, if this outdated view on "reasonable expectation of privacy" was weaponized to turn businesses into ad hoc informants for intelligence and law enforcement agencies, it would be pure madness. There would be no end to it if the government were allowed to require businesses to perform surveillance on its behalf. Banks could be made to collect and turn over sensitive financial information about customers. The phone company could be made to turn over information about Americans’ calling behavior. The list goes on. Ha. It's funny because IT'S EXACTLY WHAT HAS HAPPENED. The government has no "right" to warrantless access to anything it decides is "voluntarily" being turned over to third parties. Or, at least, it shouldn't have this right, but the courts (and secret laws with secret interpretations) have turned warrantless acquisition into the default mode. If the end is law enforcement, then these agencies need to be forced to produce something resembling "probable cause" in exchange for the wealth of data being generated by citizens every minute of every day. But respecting the Fourth Amendment is often pitched to judges as an impediment to efficient law enforcement. There has been some very recent pushback from the judicial branch that calls into question the long-held assumption that the ends are self-justifying. The same needs to happen here at the highest court in the land.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've discussed for years how broken the CFAA (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act) is. The law, which was written many years ago, is problematically vague in certain areas, allowing prosecutors to claim that merely breaking a terms of service you didn't read is a form of felony hacking -- as they define it as "unauthorized access." While there have been many egregious CFAA cases, one of the most high-profile, of course, was that of activist Aaron Swartz, who was arrested for downloading too many research papers from JSTOR from the computer network on the MIT campus. The MIT campus network gave anyone -- even guests -- full access to the JSTOR archives if you were on the university network. Swartz took advantage of that to download many files -- leading to his arrest, and a whole bunch of charges against him. After the arrest, the DOJ proudly talked about how Swartz faced 35 years in prison. Of course, if you bring that up now, the DOJ and its defenders get angry, saying he never really would have faced that much time in prison -- even though the number comes from the DOJ's (since removed) press release. Swartz, of course, tragically took his own life in the midst of this legal battle, after facing tremendous pressure from the DOJ to take a plea deal as a felon, even as Swartz was sure he had done nothing illegal or wrong. Since then, there have been a few attempts to update the CFAA to block this kind of abuse, but they have been blocked at every turn by a DOJ that actually wants to make the law even worse. This includes the White House's latest proposal for CFAA reform, which would actually make more things a felony under the CFAA, and could drastically increase sentencing for things that many of us don't think should be a crime at all -- such as tweeting out a list of worst passwords on the internet. Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder has done his best to ignore or downplay any suggestion that his Justice Department abused the CFAA in going after Swartz. And it looks like his likely replacement is trying to do the same. Senator Al Franken questioned nominee Loretta Lynch about Swartz and the CFAA and got back a response that is basically her avoiding the question. She doesn't say anything about Swartz, but goes off on some FUD about the dangers of malicious hackers and how the DOJ needs the tools to fight spyware. She then claims that the newly proposed CFAA changes are okay because they only increase the possible maximum sentences, but not the minimums, leaving things up to the discretion of judges (and prosecutors): Question 1. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) has received attention for its potentially harsh penalties. In 2013, I wrote a letter to the Department of Justice expressing my concern about the way in which Aaron Swartz was aggressively prosecuted under the CFAA, and associating myself with a similar letter by Senator Cornyn. The Department’s response was, in short, that the prosecution of Swartz was consistent with the Act. Since then we have heard many people – from all over the political spectrum – call for reform of the CFAA. Recently, the White House announced a proposal to amend the Act. Some have characterized the proposal as a step in the wrong direction, noting – for example – that it would increase certain sentences. What is your assessment of these criticisms, and what is your opinion of the proposal? RESPONSE: I believe that the Department of Justice has a responsibility to protect Americans from invasions of their privacy and security by prosecuting and deterring computer crimes. Accordingly, we must ensure that the CFAA, like all of our tools, remains up-to-date and reflects the changes in the way that cybercrimes are committed, changes that have occurred in the decades since it was first enacted. For example, I understand that the Administration’s proposals include provisions designed to facilitate the prosecution of those who traffic in stolen American credit cards overseas, to enable the Department to dismantle botnets that victimize hundreds of thousands of computers at a time, and to deter the sale of criminal “spyware.” With respect to the sentencing provisions contained in those proposals, I believe it is appropriate to ensure that, in the event a defendant is convicted of a hacking offense, the sentencing court has the authority to impose a sentence that fits the crime. For example, the enormous harm caused by the massive thefts of Americans’ personal financial data from retailers illustrates the need to ensure that the maximum sentences available are adequate to deter the worst offenders. As the level of harm caused by the worst cybercrimes increases, I support increasing the maximum penalties available to punish those crimes to a level commensurate with similar crimes, such as mail fraud or wire fraud. It is also important to understand that these statutory maximum sentences do not control what sentence is appropriate for less significant offenses under the CFAA. In many criminal prosecutions, including prosecutions under the CFAA of all but the most serious offenses, the statutory maximum penalty has little or no impact on the sentencing of convicted defendants. Instead, in each case, prosecutors make individualized sentencing recommendations, and judges make individualized decisions, based on such factors as the facts of the case, the offender’s history, and the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. Finally, I note that the Administration’s 2015 proposal does not include any new mandatory minimum sentences, and I support the decision not to seek any such new sentences in the CFAA at this time. This, of course, misses the point. First, it assumes that longer sentences are somehow going to do anything to diminish the likelihood of malicious attacks. It won't. This is such a total braindead law enforcement view of things: that if only there were greater punishment it would scare the "bad people" out of doing what they're going to do. That's never really worked, and especially not in this area, where the law is being abused to go after people who don't think they're actually doing anything wrong. Second, it just plays up the FUD that "bad stuff is happening" so "something must be done." But it ignores how vague the law is and how it's wide open to abuse. A good law enforcement official would ask for clearer laws that more narrowly target actual bad behavior, rather than celebrating a broad and vague law that can be, and is, widely abused just to rack up more DOJ headlines and "victories."Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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If you recall, the wireless industry has spent much of the last decade proclaiming that a "spectrum crunch" was afoot, declaring that unless the government did exactly as requested, wireless growth and innovation would grind to a halt. AT&T was quick to claim that it needed to buy T-Mobile because of said spectrum crunch, though the company's own leaked documents highlighted that this simply wasn't true (this hubris being a big reason the deal was rejected). Verizon has also spent years crying spectrum poverty when convenient, despite repeated analysis showing its holdings lead the industry. Yes, there is finite spectrum, but as with all network capacity constraints this has increasingly been mitigated by Wi-Fi offloading, new technologies and smart engineering (not to mention unlicensed options and technologies we haven't even conceived yet). If there is a "spectrum crunch," it's predominantly among smaller competitors that lack the resources to buy huge swaths of spectrum, or the political power to get regulators to tilt the entire playing field (and spectrum auction process) in their direction. Of course, both AT&T and Verizon have breathlessly and repeatedly denied that they warehouse extra spectrum to help keep would-be competitors at bay. After years of warning of spectrum armageddon, Verizon's again making it clear that the entire spectrum crisis was contrived nonsense. After nabbing another $10.4 billion at the recent AWS-3 auction, Verizon CTO Tony Melone this week stated that despite years of claiming spectrum poverty, Verizon never really felt pressured to buy such a huge swath of spectrum:"In a conference call with investors, Tony Melone, Verizon Communications' executive vice president of network, said that "entering the auction there was no markets where we felt compelled to acquire spectrum, irrespective of the price." Verizon did not feel pressure to aggressively bid for spectrum because it already had at least 40 MHz of AWS-1 spectrum in many U.S. markets, especially in the eastern United States, Melone said."It's always kind of amusing when the network guys forget to adhere to narratives set by the policy folks (like the Verizon CFO's recent slip up in admitting Title II isn't a big deal). But Melone's comments are a far cry from claims made by Verizon's policy blog just a few years ago, when the company was trying to get regulatory approval for a huge co-marketing deal with the cable industry:"Rather than waste time arguing about spectrum efficiency, let’s focus on the issue on which we all agree: America’s wireless consumers face a spectrum crunch that won’t be relieved by Verizon’s spectrum purchase. It’s up to the industry, as well as policymakers, to help ensure that more spectrum reaches the marketplace soon, so America’s wireless industry remains the global leader in innovation that it is today."Said spectrum crisis seems to materialize out of thin air when Verizon needs something, then just as quickly disappears when the company candidly decides to talk about its holdings. Of course, Verizon gets away with this kind of stuff, in part, because the tech press (with the occasional exception) loves to regurgitate company claims unskeptically. And if you've been paying attention, you'll note that congestion has long been a useful bogeyman to scare regulators into bending rules to the benefit of the biggest, least competitive companies. Remember the Exaflood? How about usage caps? Does anybody notice a pattern? With Verizon's bloated belly full from the recent AWS-3 spectrum purchases, and new technologies constantly evolving to more than meet mobile network demands, that should be the last we hear about Verizon's spectrum shortfall for a long while, right? Of course not. The big telco threat these days is that if the government imposes tough net neutrality protections, we'll see a dramatic decrease in innovation and network investment leading to (you guessed it) network performance and capacity issues (though we've illustrated how these claims too are bunk). You'd think we'd reach a point, after so many years of false claims, where the press would no longer just take the claims of lumbering, bloated duopolists at face value. If there's a crisis, it remains a crisis of critical thinking.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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China has been trying for some time to clamp down on the Internet, in an attempt to prevent it from being used in ways that threaten the authorities' control. Since the appointment of China's new leader, Xi Jinping, the situation has deteriorated -- China Digital Times speaks of the "new normal" of sharpened control. Here's yet another move to that end, as reported by Reuters: China will ban from March 1 internet accounts that impersonate people or organizations, and enforce the requirement that people use real names when registering accounts online, its internet watchdog said on Wednesday. The ban on parody accounts might seem strange, but is likely to have quite an impact on China's online culture: The ban on impersonations includes accounts that purport to be government bodies, such as China's anti-corruption agency and news organizations like the People's Daily state newspaper, as well as accounts that impersonate foreign leaders, such as U.S. President Barack Obama and Russia's Vladimir Putin, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said on its website. Many users of social media create parody accounts of prominent figures and institutions to poke fun at them. However, once users have registered their real names, they will be permitted to use nicknames, as the new regulation explains: Internet information service providers shall, according to the principle of "real name backstage, voluntary choice front stage”, demand Internet information service users to register accounts after undergoing real identity information authentication. Internet information service users shall, when registering accounts, conclude an agreement with the Internet information service provider, and commit to respect the seven baselines of laws and regulations, the Socialist system, the national interest, citizens' lawful rights and interest, the public order, social moral customs and the veracity of information. That comes from China Copyright and Media's complete translation of the new CAC regulation. Here are the rather stringent rules that apply when choosing an online nickname: The Internet user account name registered and used by any body or individual may not contain the following elements: (1) content violating the provisions of the Constitution, laws or regulations; (2) content violating national security, leaking State secrets, subverting the national regime, or destroying national unity; (3) content harming the honour and interests of the State, or harming the public interest; (4) content inciting ethnic hatred or ethnic discrimination, or destroying ethnic unity; (5) content destroying State religious policies, propagating heresy or feudal superstition; (6) content disseminating rumours, disrupting social order, or destroying social stability; (7) content disseminating obscenity, sex, gambling, violence, murder, terror or instigating crime; (8) content defaming or slandering others, or infringing others’ lawful rights and interests; (9) other content prohibited by laws and administrative regulations. That's obviously a pretty comprehensive list, and might suggest that the Chinese Internet is doomed to become totally boring -- and completely censored. That may be the authorities' intention, but it's worth bearing in mind that this is not the first time that the Chinese government has attempted to impose real-name registration online. A fascinating series of five articles on the Fei Chang Dao site details how similar campaigns to tame the online world have been introduced many times since 2003, evidently without much success. Although the current crackdown on Internet freedom certainly appears more serious than earlier ones, it remains to be seen whether the Chinese authorities manage to impose real-name registration on all services, or whether this will turn out to be just the latest in a long string of failures. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've written a few times about Elon Musk and Tesla's decision to open up all of Tesla's patents, with a promise not to sue anyone for using them. We also found it funny when some reacted to it by complaining that it wasn't done for "altruistic" reasons, but to help Tesla, because of course: that's the whole point. Musk recognized that patents frequently hold back and limit innovation, especially around core infrastructure. Since then, Musk has said that, in fact, rivals are making use of his patents, even as GM insists it's not. However, as some may recall, when Musk made the original announcement, the terms of freeing up the patents were at least a little vague. It said that Tesla "will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology." That "in good faith" claim had a few scratching their heads, and pointing out that still gave Tesla an out. We were a little disappointed that the company didn't make the terms entirely clear, believing that the "in good faith" line would likely scare away some companies from actually using the patents. However, recently, at the Detroit Auto Show, when questioned about this, Musk clarified that he really meant to make them completely free for anyone to use, no questions asked, no licensing discussions needed: Around the three-minute mark someone asks how many automakers have taken Tesla up on the offer to use its patents, and Musk notes: Musk: We actually don't require any formal discussions. So they can just go ahead and use them. Reporter: Is there a licensing process? Musk: No. You just use them. Which I think is better because then we don't need to get into any kind of discussions or whatever. So we don't know. I think you'll see it in the cars that come out, should they choose to use them. In other words, Musk is saying what most of us assumed all along was the point. Hoarding the patents and blocking others doesn't help him at all. Letting others expand the market does. And licensing discussions are unnecessary friction and a waste of time. All good, right? Well, no. It appears that clueless Wall Street types are absolutely flipping out over this (possible registration wall). Some outfit called "Technology Equity Strategies," which doesn't seem to understand the first thing about how innovation actually works, posted an insanely long and ridiculously misguided note on how this is horrifying for anyone invested in Tesla. The descriptions are hilarious, where you can almost hear these Wall Street types pulling out their hair over this idea of *gasp* actually letting others use Tesla's patents. First, it notes that Musk called them "open source" patents, and spends way too much time detailing the "official" definition of open source, and then says that the patents are now "public domain" (apparently not recognizing that public domain and open source are not the same thing -- though in this case it might not matter). Technology Equity Strategies is very upset about this. The restrictions in the June 12 blog of "good faith" and "we will not initiate" are over with. They are finished. These patents are either in the public domain, or they have at minimum been rendered unenforceable against all users, "good faith" or not. Why? Because in their non-innovation minds, all they care about is how do you best value the stock, and giving up patents is giving up an asset. The note first (mistakenly) argues that many areas of the tech industry rely on patents as barriers to entry and that's where their advantage comes in (rather than execution, which is the truth). And so, it thinks now some other company will just come in and eat Tesla's lunch: Is it possible that the massive capital and labor needed to attain leadership might not be eroded in by imitators in Asia, by large companies with resources to buy market share, by companies whose strengths are manufacturing process, global footprint and scale? If so, the embedded option on a leader in a new niche in the auto industry and on a shift in the competitive dynamics in the auto industry might indeed be a valuable option. But Mr. Musk was not interested in that. He is happy to give away the advantages that actually provide great profitability in some sectors of technology. He wants to compete as an auto company, in the brutal and capital intensive way that auto companies compete. More fundamentally, he is willing to eliminate the possibility in the future of competing as a technology company, which depend on the IP protections of patents, copyright, and trade secrets. Of course, the reality is that Musk recognizes what many in this sector recognize: that sharing the ideas helps speed along innovation, creating greater and greater opportunities, which you can realize by executing well. Musk is confident in Tesla's ability to execute and (as we noted earlier) recognizes that sharing the patents actually helps Tesla by getting more electric vehicles on the market, meaning more overall infrastructure that makes Tesla cars more valuable. This is the ridiculousness of Wall Street: sometimes it simply can't understand the nature of a non-zero sum game. Giving up any "advantage" is seen as helping others, without recognizing that helping others can also help you out tremendously. Instead, these investor types believe in the myth of intellectual property, that it's patents that make a company valuable: Intellectual property is an important foundation for valuation technology companies. Funds that own Tesla may not be the same institutions who own GM or Ford, but many will be familiar with Qualcomm and ARM. IP goes a long way in explaining why Qualcomm has a market cap of $110 billion, and ARM has a valuation of 23 billion (18x trailing revenues) while Nokia and Dell were sold for less than two times revenues. Nokia and Dell did fine work for a while as manufacturers and product companies. There was a time when they too looked like winners based on product execution. But they didn't own core IP, and so when product cycles shifted, they were left with little value. Yes, ARM and Qualcomm are both patent-focused companies (that dip their toes into trolling all too often). And, yes, companies that don't execute well can lose out in the end, but cherry picking a few companies that have flopped on execution, while pointing to a few trollish companies as success stories, doesn't make a very strong argument. It's basically saying "yes, invest in the companies that don't believe in their own ability to execute, who have a fallback as a patent troll." That's not exactly a strong endorsement. Tesla believes in its own ability to innovate -- and these Wall Street guys think that's a bad thing. And then there's the rewriting of history: Let's look at Apple. Apple and Steve Jobs learned the hard way. Some of us will recall that an early Apple (believing that IP wasn't important) opened up its IP to the basic Mac interface with a royalty free license to Microsoft. This resulted in Microsoft Windows taking nearly the entire PC market from Apple, and nearly bankrupting Apple. In his second chance, Steve Jobs learned about the importance of IP. This is a lesson that Mr. Musk failed to absorb. Except, that's totally incorrect. While Apple had licensed a few aspects of its UI, that licensing agreement became meaningless by the time of Windows 2.0. Then Apple sued Microsoft and lost, because it was trying to use copyright law to claim things that could not be covered by copyright law. And that's not why the PC took over the market. So this isn't a lesson that Musk failed to absorb, because it never happened. The Grand Gesture shows the worrisome sincerity in Musk's repeated statements that he is primarily on a mission to get other companies to sell a lot of electric vehicles, not to make money. A worrisome sincerity? No, it's showing that Musk recognizes that if the market for electric vehicles does not grow massively, then he won't make money. He very much wants to make money, and a good way to do that is to build out the overall market for EVs, allowing Tesla to thrive. And these Wall Street folks first mock the idea that Musk might first invest to grow the market, by then... claiming that Asian makers might do the same thing: No doubt Mr. Musk believes that if the industry embraces EVs, then Tesla will succeed as part of it. But is this plausible, that everything will just work out for the best. Is it plausible that Musk can succeed as a manufacturer in the U.S. competing against manufacturers in Asia who may take zero margins to grow a business, using Musk's proven designs? U.S. companies have learned over and over that IP is necessary to get a sustained profitable return on their innovations. Actually, no. Plenty of tech companies don't think that IP is "necessary" to get sustained returns -- they think the opposite. Patents get in the way of profitability. They require lots of lawyer time and threats of lawsuits. Frankly, Tesla opening up its patents seems like a move that shows how confident it is in its execution abilities, and makes the company a lot less likely to rest on its laurels and become nothing but a "licensing" company down the road. The fact that people who don't understand what a mess patents are and how they slow down innovation are now jumping in making ridiculous claims like Tesla's decision is why Apple can now jump into the EV car market just shows how little some people understand patents. The "myth" of patents as a powerful tool of innovation is still out there, and that's a shame.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Nothing generates bad press quite like overreaction, and Tulsa University (OK) is busy making itself look vindictive and stupid. How does it handle critical Facebook posts directed at its staff? By punishing the student who didn't write them and following that up with an attempt to silence critics of its terrible disciplinary decision. In a triple blow to free speech, due process, and freedom of the press, the University of Tulsa (TU) arbitrarily banned a student from campus until 2016 for Facebook posts that someone else admitted to writing and then attempted to intimidate student journalists who were trying to cover the story. Student George "Trey" Barnett's husband, Chris Magnum (posting under the name "Christopher Blackstone"), posted comments critical of TU staff to Barnett's Facebook page, tagging Barnett in the process. Despite the fact that Barnett didn't write the posts and Magnum provided a sworn affidavit attesting to his authorship, the university went after Barnett. [S]hortly after TU professor Susan Barrett filed a complaint against Barnett arguing that Barnett could not “avoid responsibility” because someone else was responsible for the posts, TU Senior Vice Provost Winona Tanaka imposed eight restrictive interim measures against Barnett. The sanctions included suspending his participation in certain courses and activities and even barring him from speaking about certain individuals. Further steps in the disciplinary process were sidestepped in TU's push to punish Barnett for something he didn't write. According to school policies, Barnett was entitled to a hearing prior to the meting out of disciplinary actions, but the university refused to follow its own rules. Instead, it claimed Barnett was somehow "responsible" for the insults and criticisms written by his significant other and asserted that he was just "hiding behind" this "excuse" to avoid being punished. The university's disciplinary memo shows a clear lack of understanding of how Facebook works. The memo states that Barnett (already wrong) posted these comments on his page, when in fact, they were posted to his page by someone else. These are very different actions, even if they may look the same to those unfamiliar with Facebook's posting mechanisms. Yes, the posts would have shown up on Barnett's page, but it should have been easily apparent these were not posted from Barnett's account. While the posts were certainly negative and verging on defamatory (one instructor is referred to as "morbidly obese," and that's about the nicest thing that's said; another is accused of being corrupt and the word "racketeering" is carelessly deployed), they were not written by the student who was ultimately punished for them. The university had a sworn affidavit in its possession from the actual author, but it wasn't interested in facts. Not only is Barnett suspended, but he is banned from campus until 2016. And he won't be earning a degree from TU even after he's allowed to return to campus, making his prior investment in his theater degree wasted money. Beyond its vindictive actions towards Barnett, the university also went after its student paper for daring to question its wrongheaded decision. TU has also threatened the expressive rights of the staff of its independent student newspaper, The Collegian, which this week reported on Barnett’s suspension and criticized his treatment. The Collegian reports that after contacting TU administrators for comment, student reporters were told by TU’s director of marketing and communications that if “anything that the university deems to be confidential” is “published or shared, (that) could violate university policies.” The university refused to explain what might constitute “confidential” information and, come press time, the journalists were unsure what action the university might take against them. Strange behavior for a university that claims its students are guaranteed "the rights and privileges granted citizens by the Bill of Rights." So far, the university has attacked students' free speech and arbitrarily stripped away the due process its own policies promise to students facing discipline. So much for that "guarantee." FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) has issued its a statement condemning TU's actions: “TU students are right to be concerned about their free speech and due process rights, given the university’s sheer vindictiveness in banishing Barnett and its treatment of their student newspaper,” said Bonilla. “We’ve warned TU about its dangerously overbroad harassment policy before, yet it continues to fly in the face of its promise that students retain ‘the rights and privileges granted to all citizens in the Bill of Rights.’ The university needs to be held accountable for breaking that promise.” "Held accountable" likely means a lawsuit is in the works, as the university has shown no interest in rolling back its decision. A memo issued sixty days after Barnett's appeal states -- without accompanying explanations for its findings -- that all of his complaints (lack of due process, the school's decision is unsupported by the accompanying facts, etc.) are "without merit" and that the ban will remain in place. Its unwillingness to recognize the many flaws of its decision are likely going to cost it some money down the road. Standing its ground when it's so clearly in the wrong will have a chilling effect on its student body, which now knows any attendee can be punished for the actions of others. The backlash to all of this didn't take long at all to rub the supersensitive university the wrong way. Prolific twitterer, revenge porn nemesis and erstwhile provocateur Adam Steinbaugh headed to Tulsa University's Facebook page to ask it about its stupidity, highlighting how easy it was for someone to post to someone else's Facebook page. This post was swiftly deleted by the page admin. So, Steinbaugh asked again. This too was deleted, as were related questions and comments from others. Finally, the TU Facebook admin went full nuclear ostrich and just deleted everything posted by others to its page, whether it involved the university's vindictive discipline of Barnett or not. Before: After: Nothing says you're wholly in the right quite like a deliberate and proactive avoidance of any discussion on the matter, eh Tulsa? Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The FBI's assessment of its drones' impact on the privacy of Americans has never been made public. It's been nearly a decade since it first deployed drones, and the agency has yet to provide anything on the subject. FOIA requests (there are several out there) have been greeted with nothing -- every single page withheld under the government's go-to exception, b(5). Now, it's telling FOIA clearinghouse MuckRock that its obfuscatory efforts have buried the documents so deep even the FBI doesn't know where its Privacy Impact Assessment is. Six months ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation refused to release its plans to tackle privacy risks posed by drone surveillance. Now the agency claims it can’t track them down at all. So does the one Justice Department office responsible for making sure such reports get filed in the first place. As Shawn Musgrave of MuckRock points out, the FBI's continued secrecy runs contrary to both the FOIA and its own obligations to the general public in terms of its surveillance programs' impact on the American public. By design... PIA reports are meant for public consumption. They are supposed to candidly outline potential privacy risks for a given piece of software, data collection initiative or other technology, as well as the steps taken to address such risks. And unless an agency presents a good case otherwise, PIAs are supposed to be published online. MuckRock refiled its previously-rebuffed FOIA request, adding a demand for any internal memos regarding the FBI's decision to not only withhold this impact assessement in full, but its refusal to post its PIAs online per standard operating procedure. It sent the same request to the Office of Privacy and Civil Liberties -- the oversight agency tasked with ensuring agencies like the FBI don't cut the public out of the loop by withholding required impact assessments. The OPCL also had no idea where this document -- that it is charged with obtaining and holding -- might have gone. Last week, the Justice Department confirmed that neither the FBI nor OPCL had been able to find anything despite “an adequate, reasonable search for such records.” So… did the FBI toss the troublesome document into the nearest shredder (as if it isn't stored online somewhere within its internal network)? Or is it simply uninterested with fulfilling the minimal requirements of its accountability to the public? The latter appears to be the likeliest answer. In an update to MuckRock's original post about the MIA PIA, Shawn Musgrave reports that the DOJ has issued a statement suggesting MuckRock go fuck itself try the same thing that resulted in zero released pages six months ago. Two hours after publication and in the wake of three FOIA requests, the Justice Department declined to clarify whether the FBI has analyzed potential privacy risks posed by its drones. “The questions you raised are best addressed through FOIA,” wrote Peter Carr, a Justice Department public affairs specialist, in reply to an email asking if the FBI had filed drone privacy impact assessments, “and it is my understanding that you sought similar information already through our FOIA office.” The Justice Department’s privacy office thus dodged a yes-or-no matter — has the FBI has completed the legally mandated privacy analysis process? — by referring to previous, unclear FOIA responses. “Should you seek further information, please submit another request,” suggested Mr. Carr in conclusion. "Unclear" is being generous. The original FOIA response looked like this: And the most that could be determined from this "response" is that the FBI's drone impact assessment contains at least 26 pages and, at one point, was somewhere where the feds could actually locate it. EPIC, which is currently suing the FBI over its refusal to publish its privacy impact assessments, is completely baffled by the collective shrug offered by these two agencies -- one which is supposed to craft and publish its assessments and that's supposed to provide (obviously needed) oversight. Both seem equally uninterested in fulfilling the requirements of their jobs. EPIC lawyers are stumped by the Justice Department’s response to FOIA requests for its drone reports, and particularly the OPCL’s claim not to have any PIA documents. “They review the privacy impact assessment—that’s part of their responsibility within the Justice Department,” says Ginger McCall, who heads EPIC’s Open Government Project. Well, transparency and accountability are both part of the three involved agencies' jobs, but none of them seem interested in even creating the appearance of paying lip service to those crucial aspects of their responsibilities to the public. Instead, we get a list of pages the FBI won't let us read, followed by the declaration that the document is missing entirely.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The UK already has a pretty awful reputation when it comes to surveillance, what with millions of CCTV cameras, DRIPA and two recent attempts to shove the Snooper's Charter through Parliament without scrutiny. So perhaps it should come as no surprise to discover that UK police forces have created a giant facial recognition database that includes hundreds of thousands of innocent people: Police forces in England and Wales have uploaded up to 18 million "mugshots" to a facial recognition database -- despite a court ruling it could be unlawful. They include photos of people never charged, or others cleared of an offence, and were uploaded without Home Office approval, [the BBC's] Newsnight has learned. As BBC News notes, the photos of innocent people have been retained in contempt of an explicit order from the court to remove them: It comes despite a ruling in 2012, when two people went to the High Court to force the Metropolitan Police to delete their photos from databases. The judge warned forces should revise their policies in "months, not years". Also worrying is this belief in the database's infallibility: Andy Ramsay, identification manager at Leicestershire Police, told Newsnight the force now had a database with 100,000 custody photos. He said searches of the database using facial recognition were 100% reliable in cases where there were clear images, and could be completed in seconds. No non-trivial matching system is "100% reliable": there are always false positives that make detection of criminals harder, not easier. There is a danger that the UK police will start using this supposed infallibility as an argument in itself: since our system never makes mistakes, if it says you are guilty, you must be guilty. And there is another important issue, articulated here by David Davis, a former Conservative minister: "It's quite understandable, police always want more powers, but I'm afraid the courts and parliament say there are limits," he said. "You cannot treat innocent people the same way you treat guilty people." What's worrying is that UK police forces don't seem to care what the courts say, as they strive to create their video surveillance database that does indeed treat everyone in exactly the same way: as potential criminals until the "100% reliable" system turns them into recognized criminals. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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I've never particularly been under the misguided notion that most of the criminals in this world are any kind of masterminds in their craft. Most criminals, as we've demonstrated again and again, are idiots. Some criminals are dangerous idiots. And some, well, some are so evil it remains only to be thankful that their stupidity helps us to keep their asses behind bars where they belong. Take, for instance, the teenage murderous psychopath who thought snapping and sharing a selfie with the body of his victim was a sweet idea. Maxwell Marion Morton, 16, is being held without bail in the Westmoreland County juvenile detention center on charges of first-degree murder, homicide and possession of a firearm by a minor in connection with the death of Ryan Mangan. Police said the photo they received shows Mangan as he was found at the crime scene. A selfie of a suspect with a dead victim is a first for county District Attorney John Peck, who has been a prosecutor for more than 30 years. “I've never seen it before,” Peck said, “but it was a key piece of evidence that led investigators to the defendant.” Now, I know what you're all thinking: anyone who takes a selfie with the dead body of his victim is someone who wants to get caught, not an idiot. Well, you'd think that was the case, but it wasn't. Morton had sent the pic via Snapchat, believing that the deletion feature would protect him, somehow. The person he sent it to, however, saved it rather quickly, and it ended up in the hands of the police. “(Police) received a copy of the photo which depicted the victim sitting in the chair with a gunshot wound to the face,” a police affidavit states. “It also depicts a black male taking the ‘selfie,' with his face facing the camera and the victim behind the actor. The photo had the name ‘Maxwell' across the top.” Morton also allegedly sent text messages that read, “Told you I cleaned up the shells,” and “Ryan was not the last one.” So, sometimes two plus two equals a very evil and very stupid person. Usually these kinds of dumb criminal stories are somewhat funny. This one just makes me happy that a murderer is behind bars.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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People do all sorts of creative stuff with Lego -- even though Lego hasn't always been cool about people using Lego or Lego-like bricks in various ways. But when Lego interconnecting block enthusiasts are allowed to do anything they want to do, sometimes science benefits. Here are just a few cool Lego-based science links for folks who aren't ready to put away their childhood toys. Scientists from the Natural History Museum London built an insect manipulator out of Lego because it was a cheap way to make a customizable specimen holder. Using these Lego-based insect manipulators, the researchers will be able to digitize a wide variety of little critters. [url] If you've ever wondered how tall the tallest stack of Lego anyone can make would be, the theoretical answer is 3.5km using all 2x2 bricks. That's about 375,000 bricks stacked until the bottom brick starts to deform from the weight. However, in reality, it would be extremely difficult to stack bricks without any leaning -- so the tallest Lego tower actually built has only been about 32 meters tall. [url] The Open Worm project has put a virtual worm brain in a Lego robot body. The software simulates 302 neurons of a worm's brain, but it's not a complete biological replica in Lego plastic -- otherwise if you put two together in a room, they'd be able to make a third robot. [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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Okay, I know that it's become something of a cliche for blogs and news sites to repost John Oliver clips, but dammit, if the guy doesn't keep on covering the types of stories that we normally cover around here. I mean, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart used to touch on related topics maybe once every six months or so, whereas Oliver seems to hit on a Techdirt-worthy topic basically every other week (so often we don't get to all of them!). This past week, he did his big segment on the nasty games that Big Tobacco plays around the globe to market its products to just about everyone. Yes, in the US, most cigarette advertising is blocked, but Big Tobacco has just shifted to more vulnerable populations around the globe. That topic, by itself, isn't directly in Techdirt's wheelhouse -- but in the middle of the segment, there's a discussion about corporate sovereignty, and specifically the use by Big Tobacco of "investor state dispute settlement" (ISDS) provisions to allow the big tobacco companies to sue countries for daring to try to regulate cigarettes, advertising or packaging. The segment on corporate sovereignty starts at around 6 minutes, right after showing examples of ridiculous tobacco commercials that are shown around the globe: Now countries can try to counteract the influence of that kind of marketing, but if tobacco companies feel threatened, they'll put them through legal hell. Let me take you on a world tour of how they attack laws intended to protect public health, because it's kind of amazing. Let's start in Australia. In 2011, they passed a plain packaging law, and what that means is this. [Shows (fair use!) news clip describing required packaging of cigarettes with no branding, and scary health pictures]. Australia's plain packaging law bans tobacco company branding from packaging and replaced it with upsetting photos, such as the toe tag on a corpse, the cancerous mouth, the nightmarish eyeball, or the diseased lung. Now, yes, I'm pretty sure I'd find a healthy lung disgusting, but, that thing does look like you're trying to breathe through baked ziti, so [instructing staff] take it down! Just take it down! Perhaps unsurprisingly, since this law was implemented, total consumption of tobacco cigarettes in Australia fell to record lows and... nightmares about eyeballs have risen to record highs. [Instructing staff] Take it down! Take down the demon eye! To get these laws, though, Australia has had to run a gamut of lawsuits. First, two tobacco companies sued Australia in its highest court to stop them. The result, was a little surprising, as Australia's attorney general let everyone know. [Shows clip of AG announcing not just the victory, but Big Tobacco having to pay the government's legal fees.] Yes! Score one for the little guy! Even if that little guy is the sixth largest country in the world by landmass. And the tobacco companies didn't just lose. The judges called their case "delusive," "unreal and synthetic" and said their case had "fatal defects." .... But Australia's legal troubles were just beginning. Because then, Philip Morris Asia got involved. [Shows clips of a news report saying Philip Morris considering using ISDS provisions to take the Australian government to a tribunal claiming it lowered the value of the company's trademarks]. That's right. A company was able to sue a country over a public health measure, through an international court. How the fuck is that possible? Well, it's really a simple explanation. They did it by digging up a 1993 trade agreement between Australia and Hong Kong which had a provision that said Australia couldn't seize Hong Kong-based companies' property. So, nine months before the lawsuits started, PMI put its Australian business in the hands of its Hong Kong-based Philip Morris Asia division, and then they sued, claiming that the "seized property" in question, were the trademarks on their cigarette packages. And you've got to give it to them: that's impressive. Someone should really give those lawyers a pat on the back... and a punch in the face. But, a pat on the back first. Pat, then punch. Pat, punch.... He then goes on to point out how Big Tobacco further got three other countries to file complaints with the World Trade Organization (WTO) against Australia, claiming the plain packaging law violates trade agreements: Honduras, Dominican Republic and Ukraine. Oliver then shows a clip noting that Ukraine does not have any tobacco trade at all with Australia, showing how ridiculous the WTO claim is. Next, he shows how Big Tobacco is sending threatening letters to other countries, like Uruguay, Togo and Namibia for considering health regulations around tobacco products, even going so far as to totally misrepresent the total loss of its lawsuit in Australia, pretending that it was a victory. Oliver's researchers got letters that Big Tobacco sent these countries, threatening "an incalculable amount of international trade litigation." There's even more in the video -- though it would be great if Oliver also took on the fact that these kinds of ISDS/corporate sovereignty agreements are at the heart of key trade agreements currently being negotiated today by the US and much of the rest of the world in both the TPP agreement and the TTIP agreement. It's because of stories like this that we're so concerned about these corporate sovereignty provisions. Defenders insist they're necessary to stop countries from absconding with assets built by foreign companies and investors, but that risk tends to be fairly limited, compared to how these agreements are actually being used: to allow corporations to effectively step in and block regulations designed to protect the public.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Last December, the IPT (Investigatory Powers Tribunal) ruled that GCHQ's surveillance programs didn't violate human rights, despite being broad and untargeted dragnets. This ruling -- in response to several legal challenges brought in the wake of the Snowden leaks -- was unsurprising. The IPT has overwhelmingly supported GCHQ's spying efforts in the past, having only sided against it in one-half of one percent of the challenges brought against it. The IPT's ongoing support of the UK's intelligence community is unsurprising. To declare any of its programs as illegal or in violation of citizens' rights would be to implicate itself for its near-constant approval of surveillance programs. That makes its February decision a bit of an aberration. In response to Privacy International's legal challenge, it changed course slightly, declaring certain elements of the GCHQ's spying efforts "illegal" -- specifically, information sharing with the NSA. But this was only a partial capitulation. The IPT went on to say that this was once illegal but now was not, thanks to its December 2014 ruling. In some bizarre way, the legal complaints brought against the GCHQ managed to legalize its once-illegal partnership with the NSA. However, its February decision makes it clear that operations prior to December 2014 were illegal, and provides an opening for UK citizens to force a bit more transparency on their intelligence community. Because the IPT found the intelligence sharing to be illegal, anyone, inside or outside the UK, can file a complaint to the IPT and ask if their communications were part of that illegal sharing, and be legally entitled to an answer. [Privacy International's Eric] King explained, “If they don’t find anything, it’s likely they respond ‘no determination’. If they do find something, the IPT is obliged to give a declaration to the individual that their communications were illegally interfered with.” This is far more transparency than has been granted by the NSA, which still responds to similar inquiries about files on citizens (from those citizens themselves) with its omnipresent Glomar declaration, neither confirming nor denying the collected results of its domestic surveillance programs. So, anyone in the world will be allowed to ask -- and receive an answer -- about being swept up in shared GCHQ-NSA dragnets, provided the query only involves shared data and occurred before the IPT's legalization of this partnership in December of last year. And there are even more restrictions. The data has to be something collected by the NSA and shared with the GCHQ, not vice versa, and must still be retained and accessible at the point the GCHQ receives the inquiry. While there are many specifics limiting the public's involvement, there will be no specifics forthcoming from the UK's spy agencies. Despite this apparent narrowness, the number of people that could get a yes could be in the hundreds of millions. However, The IPT will not reveal the granularity of information GCHQ kept on you. “People will never find out if it was their phone records that GCHQ had, or just a specific email,” said King, “They only answer they’ll get is a broad one of yes, GCHQ had data about you illegally from NSA.” Privacy International will be funneling these requests in to the IPT via a submission form at its site. The selectors (email address, name, telephone number) will be handed over to the GCHQ to be used to search for matching, NSA-originated shared data. If found, requestors will be given their detail-free "yes" answer and the illegally-obtained data will be destroyed. It's not a huge step forward but it's a start. What this will do, however, is open up the GCHQ to many more legal challenges -- something that may result in even further accountability and curtailing of its powers. Privacy International is basically creating a class action suit against the UK spy agency. It's not money the group is after, but more transparency. It hopes to force the GCHQ into revealing more details about its domestic surveillance and its partnership with the NSA. Privacy International's Eric King admits this won't be an easy -- or short -- process. It's very likely the GCHQ will mount its own challenge against the IPT's decision, and will resort to its usual opacity and obfuscation to avoid giving members of the public the yes/no answer the tribunal has declared they're entitled to. (And losing the illegally-obtained data in the process...) But in terms of reactions to the Snowden leaks, this decision (potentially) demands more accountability from the UK's spy agency than all of the administration's weak NSA reforms combined. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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If you checked out last week's episode, you know that Barry Eisler is a bestselling author with a lot to say about the publishing industry. What you might not know is that he also used to work for the CIA, and he's got a lot to say about that world as well. This week, Barry is back to talk about the culture and inner workings of the intelligence community. Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
Last Friday, at the White House's Cybersecurity Summit at Stanford, reporter Kara Swisher sat down for a half-hour interview with President Obama (and she even dragged her famous red chairs along). It's a better, more in-depth interview than you're ever likely to see from the established mainstream press, and touches on a variety of issues regarding technology and security. While I don't agree with some of the answers, I will say that the President appears to be extremely well-briefed on these issues, and didn't make any totally ridiculous or glaringly misleading remarks. You can see the whole interview here: In it, he admits that the "Snowden disclosures" (as he calls them) hurt "trust" between DC and the tech industry, and admits that the government has been "a little slow" in updating the laws for how the NSA operates online. However, he does say that surveillance on US persons is very carefully controlled and that he can say "with almost complete certainty that there haven't been abuses on US soil." He admits that's not entirely the case overseas, where there are basically no limits on the NSA's surveillance, and he recognizes that needs to change. Of course, if that's the case, he can do that right now -- because the NSA's authority for all of that is an executive order, 12333, and he could revoke it and write a new one. But he hasn't. Then he gets to the area I found most interesting and want to focus on, the question of encryption. After discussing how he's looking to update the rules for surveillance and his relationship with tech, the interview proceeds like this: Obama: There's still some issues like encryption... Swisher: Let's talk about encryption. Obama: ... that are challenging, and that's something that's been brought up... Swisher: What's wrong with what Google and Apple are doing? You have encrypted email. Obama: Absolutely. Swisher: Shouldn't everybody have encrypted email and have their protections? Obama: Everybody should. And I'm a strong believer in strong encryption. Where the tension has come up, is historically what's happened is that... let's say you knew a particular person was involved in a terrorist plot, and the FBI is trying to figure out who else are they trying to communicate with to prevent the plot. Traditionally, what's been able to happen is they get a court order, the FBI goes to the company, they request those records, the same way they'd go get a court order to request a wiretap. The company technically can comply. The issue here is, partly in response to consumer demand, partly in response to legitimate concerns about consumer privacy, the technologies may be built to a point where, when the government goes... Swisher: They can't get the information. Obama: ... the company says "sorry, we just can't pull it. It's so sealed and tight that even though the government has a legitimate request, technologically we cannot do it." Swisher: Is what they're doing wrong? Obama: No. I think they are properly responding to a market demand. All of us are really concerned about making sure our... Swisher: So what are you going to do? Obama: Well, what we're going to try to do is see if there's a way for us to narrow this gap. Ultimately, everybody -- and certainly this is true for me and my family -- we all want to know if we're using a smartphone for transactions, sending messages, having private conversations, we don't have a bunch of people compromising that process. There's no scenario in which we don't want really strong encryption. The narrow question is going to be: if there is a proper request for -- this isn't bulk collection, this isn't fishing expeditions by government -- where there's a situation in which we're trying to get a specific case of a possible national security threat, is there a way of accessing it? If it turns out there's not, then we're really going to have to have a public debate. And, I think some in Silicon Valley would make the argument -- which is a fair argument, and I get -- that the harms done by having any kind of compromised encryption are far greater than... Swisher: That's an argument you used to make, you would have made. Has something changed? Obama: No, I still make it. It's just that I'm sympathetic to law enforcement... Swisher: Why? What happened? Because you were much stronger on... Obama: No, I'm as strong as I have been. I think the only concern is... our law enforcement is expected to stop every plot. Every attack. Any bomb on a plane. The first time that attack takes place, where it turns out we had a lead and couldn't follow up on it, the public's going to demand answers. This is a public conversation that we should be having. I lean probably further in the direction of strong encryption than some do inside law enforcement. But I am sympathetic to law enforcement, because I know the kind of pressure they're under to keep us safe. And it's not as black and white as it's sometimes portrayed. Now, in fairness, I think those in favor of air tight encryption also want to be protected from terrorists. Swisher: True. Obama: One of the interesting things about being in this job, is that it does give you a bird's eye view. You are smack dab in the middle of these tensions that exist. But, there are times where folks who see this through a civil liberties or privacy lens reject that there's any tradeoffs involved. And, in fact, there are. And you've got to own the fact that it may be that we want to value privacy and civil liberties far more than we do the safety issues. But we can't pretend that there are no tradeoffs whatsoever. I actually think this is a very good, nuanced answer to this issue. It doesn't descend into hyperbole about child predators and ticking time bombs like law enforcement officials have done. He admits that there are tradeoffs and, at least publicly, seems to be willing to admit that stronger encryption without compromise might be the best solution. Of course, where we're left with questions is about his requested "public debate." Where and how is that happening? Because, to date, the only noise on this issue coming out of his administration has been on the other side, pushing for new legislation that would require backdoors and compromise encryption. We haven't seen anyone in the administration presenting the other side at all. And, for those of us who strongly believe that a basic cost/benefit analysis of weakening encryption vs. letting law enforcement do their job through traditional detective work would show that the "costs" of weakened encryption vastly outweigh the "threats" of criminals getting away with stuff, it would be nice to see the government at least recognizing that as well. President Obama chides civil liberties and privacy folks for not getting that there are tradeoffs here, and I don't think that's accurate. Most do recognize the tradeoffs. It's just that they believe the true benefit in terms of "stopping criminals" to weakening encryption is not very great, while the cost to everyone in risking their own privacy is massive. What we have not seen is any indication that law enforcement recognizes that there are tradeoffs, or that they care. Yes, as the President admits, they're weighing some of this against "not getting blamed" when an inevitable "bad event" happens -- but they don't seem to be willing to recognize, at all, the risks to everyone's privacy. That's why they keep talking about golden keys and magic wizards who can make special encryption that only good guys can use. So I'm glad that the President at least seems to recognize this is a nuanced issue with tradeoffs, but I wish that others in his administration, especially from the law enforcement side, were willing to recognize that as well.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
In theory, the marketplace for goods works like this: a purchaser hands over $$$ and in return receives a product that they own and can use as they see fit. In reality, purchasers often hand over $$$ and find that the product they purchased is still in the grips of the company that took their money but seems loathe to honor its end of the deal. Case in point #38,909: guess what NVIDIA thinks is a "bug," not a "feature." Starting with the Fermi drivers, though, a software overclock was possible in the drivers, which allowed you to adjust your laptop GPU's clockspeeds at will. Tools like AfterBurner from Micro-Star International Comp., Ltd. and Turbomaster by ASUSTek Computer Inc. allowed users to more easily and safely tweak their GPU's clockspeeds on select gaming laptops with cooling solutions designed to cope with the higher thermal load. Companies like the Clevo Comp., Sager, ASUS, MSI, and Dell's Alienware regularly sold models billing overclockability as a sales feature. What OEMs apparently didn't expect was that NVIDIA would rob customers of that feature. But that appears to be precisely what happened. NVIDIA pushed out new drivers last December that took away customers' ability to overclock their cards. These were targeted at cards for mobile and hybrid devices, where the chance of overheating (and causing serious damage) was more pronounced. Those who had overclocked their cards but now were unable to do so demanded answers from the manufacturer. And wouldn't you know it, the explanation for NVIDIA's removal of this option cites "safety" as the primary motivator. Unfortunately GeForce notebooks were not designed to support overclocking. Overclocking is by no means a trivial feature, and depends on thoughtful design of thermal, electrical, and other considerations. By overclocking a notebook, a user risks serious damage to the system that could result in non-functional systems, reduced notebook life, or many other effects. There was a bug introduced into our drivers which enabled some systems to overclock. This was fixed in a recent update. Our intent was not to remove features from GeForce notebooks, but rather to safeguard systems from operating outside design limits. "Safeguard systems from operating outside design limits" sounds an awful lot like "your purchased items are only as flexible as we allow them to be." Sure, warranty departments handling burnt up/out devices may have been making some noise about dealing with the aftereffects of careless overclocking, but if so, they're no less blameless than NVIDIA. Overclocking is generally one of those warranty-voiding activities, and if companies didn't want to be replacing torched devices, they should have handled it better at their end. (And, as Daily Tech points out, they should probably stop advertising overclocking as a "feature" if it's truly that much trouble in the warranty department.) But NVIDIA's action takes the purchased product out of paying customers' hands. Most people who dabble in overclocking are technically adept and know the limits of their hardware (and the terms of their warranties). There will always be those who push too far or get in over their heads, and a few overclockers who disingenuously expect the device's manufacturer to bail them out when things go wrong, but these customers are in the minority. When a company takes away a feature (especially one that has been advertised by the devices' manufacturers) and calls it a "bug," it's basically telling customers that they won't ever own what they purchased. In this case, NVIDIA is hurting some of its most loyal customers -- people who know their devices inside and out and will pay good money to stay ahead of the tech curve. And NVIDIA's being a bit disingenuous itself. It calls overclocking a "bug" when explaining why it took this feature away. But if it truly was a bug, why didn't it issue a patch rather than eliminating the option? The obvious answer is that overclocking is no bug and NVIDIA knows it. But it has apparently chosen to placate its OEMs at the expense of some of its most reliable customers. NVIDIA hasn't issued any further statements on its "bug fix," so it's safe to assume it doesn't really care whether it's angered a number of its customers. Its position in the graphics accelerator market is virtually unassailable, especially in the area (mobile/hybrid) where it has just guaranteed its customers will get less product than they paid for.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
We have been tracking for some time the increasingly repressive measures that the Russian authorities have brought in to censor and control the Internet. Of course, Techdirt readers know that an easy way to circumvent both censorship and control is to use tools like VPNs and Tor. Unfortunately, the Russian authorities also know this, and are now calling for action against them, as TorrentFreak reports: Speaking at Infoforum-2015, Russian MP Leonid Levin, who is deputy head of the Duma Committee on information politics, indicated that access to anonymization and circumvention tools such as TOR, VPNs and even web proxies, needs to be restricted. Levin also called for Roskomnadzor, the state agency that oversees communications and the Internet, to be given more powers to intervene. If the views of Vadim Ampelonskogo, Roskomnadzor's chief press officer, are anything to go by, that is likely to have serious consequences for online freedom: Describing the Tor network as a "den of criminals" and "ghouls, all gathered in one place", Ampelonskogo said Roskomnadzor would find a solution to block anonymous networks if it was supported by a relevant regulatory framework. What's troubling about this latest call for even tighter control is that it was entirely predictable. Once governments start blocking sites and restricting freedom of speech online, people inevitably respond by using VPNs and Tor to circumvent these measures. And that means that if governments want their laws to be effective, at some point they will take direct action against circumvention tools. That's why it's particularly worrying that Western governments have started down this road: it implies that they, too, might one day try to ban VPNs and Tor. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
When you get down to it, there are two central overlapping reasons to be opposed to torture. One is that it's wrong, and the other is that it's ineffective. The latter pretty much seals the deal on the former, since the only way someone could even conceivably argue that it's not wrong is if it's clearly preventing more harm than it causes, which has never been the case. After a commenter questioned some of these conclusions, That One Guy won first place for insightful by providing a thorough and excellent rebuttal: Whereas people who claim that torture does work, or even defend it's practice, have shown clearly that they have lost what little humanity they may have had. Before I get to the meat of your comment, let's get the most obvious part out of the way: Even if torture was found to be 100% effective and accurate, it would still not be justified. Ever. Anyone claiming otherwise has shown themselves to be a pure sociopath and/or sadist at best, and absolutely no better, and barely different, than the ones they are fighting. "That's all very well, but you'll still need to use torture in situations like the one just after 9/11." You mean like the situations where the torture report found that the information obtained was either useless, or had been found through other, perfectly legal and humane methods? Those 'situations'? "That's because torture works. It is indeed useless for extracting confessions (people will confess anything, that's true), but it has always worked quite well to extract informations." For the life of me I cannot see how you typed this up and didn't spot the glaring error in it. If torture is useless for extracting confessions, because people will confess to anything, why in the world would you believe that it would be effective at gathering information? In both cases the person being tortured is going to say whatever they think will make the torture stop. They are going to say what they think the one torturing them wants to hear, true or not. "And not extracting informations when you have the chance means making it more likely that terrorists will be able to kill more of your civilians." Here's a hypothetical situation for you: Say you torture someone, and thanks to the information you get from them(assuming, for the sake of the example, that you actually got useful intel), you manage to stop one attack. Good trade right, the basic humanity of the ones performing the torture, and the rights and life of the one being tortured, in exchange for innocent lives? Right, well that was only half of the equation. Thanks to the intel you gathered, you managed to stop one attack. However, due to the way that you got it, you caused a dozen more attacks(and if you think 'Let's just torture more people and stop those attacks!' you haven't been paying attention). You stopped one attack, and caused even more. Still think that was a good trade? I mean come on, if a group, or in this case military/government is known to torture prisoners, do you really think that's going to make people like them? Not even close, but what it will do is to increase the hatred of people that already don't like you, or are fighting you, and drive those that might have supported you before straight into the arms of the people who are already fighting you, causing more attacks, and more deaths. It will also significantly decreases the possibility that those fighting you will be willing to surrender, no matter how bad their situation is, as they know death in combat is preferable by far to what might happen to them if they surrender, which also increases the deaths on both sides. "People who say torture doesn't work think they have found a clever way to avoid the moral dilemma, but they haven't." Not really. The people who put forward that argument do so primarily because they know the people who support torture are such sick bastards that appealing to emotion or basic humanity isn't likely to get them anywhere, so they instead appeal to the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of the actions. And as has been shown, and has been known for decades, if not longer, torture is a terrible way, both morally, and in terms of effectiveness, in gaining useful intel. Torture, at its core, seems like a product of authority and power gone wild — something very familiar in the US, where you've got cops like those in New York asking that resisting arrest be elevated to a felony. Second place for insightful this week goes to Trevor for his counter-proposal to that idea: Maybe we can compromise? If Resisting Arrest is classified as a felony, make it so that if the accused is found not guilty or the charges are dropped, the arresting officer is automatically charged with False Arrest, also classified as a felony. For editor's choice on the insightful side, we'll start with one more comment about the cops, this time regarding their fear of Waze and the possibility that people might share speed-trap locations. As usual, the cops trotted out the line that this practice puts officers in danger of being attacked — and one anonymous commenter quickly underlined how weak that argument is: People killed by (US) police so far in 2015: 119 (US) police killed by people so far in 2015: 0 Next, we head over to the conversation about Sriracha and its creator's refreshingly open and forward-thinking mentality about trademarks. One commenter suggested that, if Tabasco starts making its own "Sriracha", then the company will be profiting from the original creator's work — but an anonymous response clarified why this oh-so-common misconception just isn't true: I disagree. The Tabasco Corp profits from putting sauce in bottles, and selling them. The money is in the work, not the idea. Lots of people don't get that. Over on the funny side, we're sticking with the Sriracha post for first place. One commenter expressed some off-brand preference, pointing to Shark Sriracha as his favorite for its "base vinegar flavor" — but Zonker had even more particular tastes: I prefer Left Shark Sriracha. It just has its own offbeat flavor. And for second place, we double back slightly to the story about cops and Waze, where one anonymous commenter felt what the situation really needed was some healthy sarcasm: Those poor, poor, persecuted police...such a risk they take, riding around in a clearly marked police vehicle, with lights all over it, sidearm, club, taser, and a trunk full of small/mid-size firepower. And now citizens *gasp* knowing where they are! How can they be expected to remain riding around in their clandestine state with this app ruining their cover? Oh, the humanity! /s For editor's choice on the funny side, we'll head off to two entirely new topics. First, after the University of North Carolina attempted to "fix" hate speech with a totally unenforceable ban on a social media app, we noted that it's possible to teach people better ways of dealing with this kind of thing. But, as beech asked, how could a university possibly do that? If only we had a place where we could send people to learn about things... Finally, we've got a response to the FCC's Ajit Pai, whose argument against net neutrality is that it will make it harder for the US to push for open internet in other countries due to how its own policies will be perceived. Except, instead of something like "appearance" or "perception", he was worried about the much flashier-sounding "optics" of the situation, and this led one anonymous commenter to coin an excellent rule of thumb that I'm certain to quote again in future: When someone uses the word "optics" to mean appearance, it's best to maximize your temporal utility by leveraging the geo-spatial functionality of your feet. Well poorly said! That's all for this week, folks. We're off tomorrow for Presidents' Day, and will be back with regular posts on Tuesday. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 13 days ago on techdirt
Five Years Ago This week, let's start by going global. In 2010, Italy blocked the Pirate Bay (again) while Norway refused to do so. The UK was still grappling with the Digital Economy Bill and its onerous provisions, Australia was trying to make Google censor YouTube videos and Iran was trying to pull the plug on Gmail and offer a state-run email service in its place. Meanwhile in Bollywood, one studio was experimenting with simultaneous theater and YouTube releases. A major Icelandic newspaper banned aggregators, while at the same time the country was announcing plans to become a haven of free speech and journalism. And many countries came together for two things: the Winter Olympics (once again utterly mishandled by NBC) and the ACTA treaty (oh sorry, I mean "executive agreement"). Today, many US cities are competing for a shot at Google Fiber, but it was this week in 2010 that the project was first announced — though we knew it couldn't spur real broadband competition all by itself. In the world of media, you can guess what was happening, because it's always the same: various companies were struggling to figure things out with varying levels of success and denial. Warner Music was dancing around the obvious fact that hiking the price of music downloads slowed sales growth, and at the same time announcing the end of all free streaming licenses. Meanwhile, the Author's Guild was still fighting over Google Books, and trying to separate itself from groups like the RIAA — while a former music exec was telling them they were more alike than they realize. One author was complaining that ten bucks is an absurdly low price for ebooks, while at the same time new research showed that unauthorized ebook copies boost sales. Ten Years Ago Today, the anti-net-neutrality argument that people don't need or want faster broadband and wireless speeds is ludicrous, self-serving and shortsighted — but, admittedly, in 2005 things weren't quite so clear. There was some evidence that people couldn't find enough to do with broadband and were even giving it up for dialup, and the hype over forthcoming 3G was stymied by the fact that a lot of people weren't sure why they needed it. Of course, there was also already something fishy about the cable companies trying to downplay the importance of speed and the think-tanks railing against muni broadband. And today we know how things really played out: having all that broadband penetration led to the development of new, robust applications and services that nobody could have easily envisioned beforehand. Of course, this was 2005, so plenty of people were still clueless about technology, including lots of politicians — the British parliament even banned Blackberries. People were still trying to foist self-destructing DVDs on the public, and cable television was feebly trying to mimic the internet. But we also saw the emergence of trends that are clear and dominant today: the use of email as a persistent storage and filing tool, the abandonment of landline phones, and the fact that musicians don't make money from copyright (that last one, while clear and dominant in reality, is not necessarily so in the minds of industry folk). Also this week in 2005: Google Maps was launched, and so was MP3tunes (guess which one is still around!), we saw some of the earliest examples of companies freaking out about negative reviews, and Salon founder Dave Talbot stepped down. Fifteen Years Ago In 2000, we see the even deeper roots of even bigger trends. The severity of cybercrime was becoming clear, and DoS attacks were getting lots of attention — but also already often being blown out of proportion with lots of conspiracy theories and rumors of inside jobs attached to various incidents. People were predicting the post-PC era and the death of the newspaper (which still haven't quite arrived) and the coming wireless web (which absolutely has). People liked to toss around bold proclamations about the internet being dead or not dead or whatever the case may be, it was no longer cool to include ".com" in the name of your company, and people were rightfully asking questions about the future of online privacy. We also started noticing the growth of a questionable (and now extremely common) trend in tech startup culture: companies built with the sole purpose of being acquired for a cash-out. Seventy-Seven Years Ago If you're a fan of Star Trek, or Dr. Who, or Battlestar Galactica, or anything else from the pantheon of television science fiction both old and new, then you should know that it all started this week in 1938 when the BBC aired the first known science fiction TV program. What's more, the program was itself an adaptation of a monumental piece of sci-fi history: R.U.R., the 1920 Czech play that introduced the word "robot" to the English language and the sci-fi genre. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 14 days ago on techdirt
For this week's awesome stuff, we've got some assorted pieces of new crowdfunded audio gear. waveBlend The folks behind the waveBlend make a pretty good point: rigging up a house-wide wireless audio system is still a lot more annoying than it needs to be. The best systems out there are expensive, proprietary and always centralized around some sort of master unit. The waveBlend system does away with that: each modular cubic speaker connect to existing WiFi network and teams up with all the others (up to a dozen — however many you need, wherever you need them) to create a no-hassle home audio setup. gMIX On the one hand, the gMIX isn't as big a deal as the creator might want to make it sound — a four-channel audio mixer that runs "without batteries" is just a passive line mixer and not a technological breakthrough. That said, the best products aren't always revolutionary, and gMIX does appear to be filling a gap: pro audio gear is expensive, there aren't that many choices of passive mixers around compared to active (powered) ones, and most such gear includes lots of additional features that aren't needed for a lot of applications. The gMIX, on the other hand, is cheap and simple and gets the job done. Gigcaster A lot of the innovation around live streaming focuses on video, while audio is often left to languish in "good enough" territory. That's fine for meetings and conferences and speeches, but not so great for music. Enter the Gigcaster: a compact, standalone unit with the sole purpose of making it easy to broadcast quality live music online. This initial model is built using Raspberry Pi, and there are plans to move towards a more fully-featured production model — but there's also a huge focus on hackability, with the device running open source software and allowing for user-made firmware pushes. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 14 days ago on techdirt
So the saga of the Left Shark and Katy Perry's lawyers keeps getting more and more strange. We've already covered the legal threat from Perry's lawyers to the guy who was offering a 3D printed figurine of the Left Shark, followed by the response explaining to Perry's lawyers that there is no copyright in left shark, leading to Perry's lawyers to issue a uh huh there is... while also using the figurine maker's own photo of his 3D printed shark in their (now abandoned) trademark application. So, what could make this situation stranger? Bonobos. You know, the hip and trendy pants company? Right, so back during the Superbowl, their social media folks tried to get in on some of that sweet sweet free Super Bowl advertising, and tweeted, asking if they should crowdfund a project to start selling a Katy Perry shark costume: And, apparently, the company felt there was at least enough interest to set up a site for people to express interest, if not a full crowdfunding campaign: But, now, the Bonobos people have read about the legal threat over the 3D figurine, and rather than recognizing that there is no copyright interest at all here, have decided to try to milk this advertising opportunity go the safe, boring route of "asking for permission" in a rather public way, sending a "cease and insist" letter to Perry. In the tweet announcing it, they ask people to retweet "so we can make this damn suit." If you can't read it, the letter says: NOTICE to Cease listening to your lawyers and Insist you let Bonobos make the shark suit. Dear Katy Perry: We're impressed. Like, really impressed. First, you tamed a creepy lion-robot thing, and then you conquered Marine Biology. Neither Jacques Cousteau nor Taylor Swift ever discovered a sea creature as adorable as Left Shark! In the history of pop music and oceanic sciences, this is a first. And maybe a last. Sigh. Look, Katy. We have a problem. Our marketing team got amped up on Skittles and did something reckless. During a popular Sunday football game we promised the Internet shark suits, because duh. But then came Monday morning, and our lawyers gave us the shame stare. You know, the "we'er not angry, just disappointed." Except they were also angry. Mostly angry, actually. Apparently, we cannot sell shark costumes without your permission. In addition to being an esteemed marine biologist, you are also, it appears, a legal guardian for sharks. With that in mind, this is our humble offer: allow us to sell shark suits, and we'll donate all profits to the charity of your choice. You have 10 days to respond, or we'll wait longer. Sincerely, Bonobos Of course, while the letter is a mocking advertisement more than any actual legally sound statements, the claim that Perry has any legal claim over the shark costume is highly questionable, though it is entirely possible that in a fit of liability avoidance that Bonobos lawyers legitimately said the company should try to get permission -- even if none is actually needed. Either way, what Perry should do is exactly what lawyer Chris Sprigman originally suggested in his letter to her lawyers over the 3D printed Left Shark: just let it go. The Left Shark is an internet meme, and Perry should celebrate it, not try to claim made up intellectual property claims over it.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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