posted 11 days ago on techdirt
As we covered last week, the FBI has apparently been paying Best Buy Geek Squad members in exchange for tips about illegal material discovered on customers' computers. This is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, adding a financial incentive could lead to Best Buy employees digging around in users' computers in hopes of finding something to turn in, rather than limiting themselves to the job at hand: repairing the device. Second, while companies are legally obligated to report the discovery of child porn to law enforcement, this occurs as a "private search." As such, it's perfectly legal and can result in the probable cause needed to perform a forensic search of the computer, as well as (possibly) any other electronic devices the customer owns. But when the FBI turns Best Buy employees into confidential informants -- paid or not --it's no longer a private search. It's a third-party search at the government's request. The government can't task private individuals with performing warrantless searches on its behalf -- at least not if it wants to hold onto the evidence. The government is arguing that there was nothing wrong with the FBI's relationship with Best Buy. This is being argued despite the growing amount of evidence showing the FBI's role in Best Buy searches of computers is anything but passive. One former agent confirms [PDF] in her declaration that the employee who alerted the FBI to alleged child pornography found on the computer of the defendant in this case, had been signed up by the agency as a “confidential human source” (CHS) in 2009 — two years before the offending content was discovered in this case — but contends that this worker was “never asked” to “search for child pornography or evidence of any other crime on behalf of the FBI.” However, in a Dec. 19 order [PDF] in this case, the judge notes that emailed communications may hint at a deeper connection between the agency and the Geek Squadder. For instance, in Oct. 2009, this agent emailed the Best Buy staffer to set up a meeting “to discuss some other ideas for collaboration.” The since-retired agent now says she has no “independent recollection of what ‘collaboration'” refers to in that email, blaming her memory lapse on brain damage caused by Lyme disease. Whatever the case may be, the documents do seem to show what Mark Rettenmaier, the defendant at the center of this case, alleges they do: a close partnership between the FBI and Best Buy that has gone on for years. Judge Cormac Carney's ruling on Rettenmaier's demand for document production from the FBI indicates that what he's seen so far (many of the documents handed over by the FBI to date are under seal) points in this direction. According to the FBI, [Best Buy employee] Meade was a CHS [confidential human source] for two periods of time—October 2008 to January 2009 and November 2009 to November 2012. During the first CHS period, Meade worked with FBI Agent Richard T. Boswell. (See Bates 1123; Dkt. 152 at 6.) Before the second CHS period, Agent Jennifer Cardwell took over for Agent Boswell (Agent Riley took over for Agent Cardwell in July 2010 (Bates 1028)). (Bates 1122–23.) Meade estimates that he contacted the FBI reporting child pornography approximately six to nine times per year. (Bates 544–45.) Though the FBI has had eight different CHS at Best Buy’s Kentucky facility, at the time when Best Buy had Rettenmaier’s hard drive, only Meade and Ratliff were connected to the FBI. (Dkt. 152 at 6.) Both Ratliff and Meade received payment from the FBI; every CHS prior to February 2012 received payment. The government is refusing to hand over any more information that may shed more light on this relationship, but Judge Carney isn't going to let it get away with it. The government claims any such evidence, if produced, would only "undermine" Rettenmaier's "unsupported argument" about the FBI/Best Buy BFF situation. Judge Carney basically says we won't know until we see it, will we? The Court cannot determine whether Rettenmaier’s “unsupported” argument has merit as long as the Government refuses to produce the evidence that may support it; the Government’s hope that the evidence will undermine Rettenmaier’s motion does not exempt its production. The ruling almost completely denies the government's motion to quash, which means that the documents demanded -- if they exist -- will have to be turned over to the defendant. Most will probably be filed under seal, but some are bound to escape the FBI's desire for complete secrecy. What leaks out around the edges will be interesting, and mostly sussed out through defense motions and judicial orders. If the FBI is treating private companies' employees as confidential informants, then it's basically utilizing the private sector to perform warrantless searches for it. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 12 days ago on techdirt
Here's a story that starts out well. One of the UK's top police officers, Chief Superintendent Gavin Thomas, has said that putting people in prison for offenses like hacking into computers makes no sense. He points out that it costs around $50,000 a year to keep someone in a traditional prison, and that education programs are likely to be a far more cost-effective solution, especially in terms of reducing recidivism. This is absolutely right, and it's great to hear a senior officer admit it. Unfortunately, things go downhill from here. He told the Telegraph: If you have got a 16-year-old who has hacked into your account and stolen your identity, this is a 21st century crime, so we ought to have a 21st century methodology to address it. His solution is as follows: He said convicted criminals could be fitted with electronic jammers around their wrists or ankles which blocked wifi signals and prevented them from going online. Leaving aside the human rights implications, which to his credit Thomas acknowledges, there is another big problem with the proposal, as Techdirt readers have doubtless already spotted. The people wearing these WiFi jammers would be those who have been found guilty of some computer-related crime. By definition, then, they are likely to be tech-savvy. So they probably have other computers that can use Ethernet connections to access the Internet. In addition, they are unlikely to have any problems using Bluetooth or a USB cable to reverse-tether their mobiles to a system with wired access. The more adventurous might even try to rig up some kind of Faraday shielding to jam the jammer. In other words, this isn't going to work, but would probably cause havoc with everyone else's WiFi connections. Back in 2015, Thomas was quoted by Computer Business Review on the topic of encryption, and the problems it posed for the police, when he said: It is utterly essential for detectives and criminal investigators to use data held on smartphones and other devices when they are investigating serious crimes. Given his belief that jamming bracelets would stop convicted computer criminals from using the Internet, the worry has to be that he shares the mistaken view that tech companies can create a safe system of crypto backdoors or "golden keys" that only the authorities can use. Let's hope he takes some expert advice before offering an opinion on that one. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 12 days ago on techdirt
Curtis Waltman, filing his public records request through MuckRock, has obtained several hundred pages of documents related to IMSI catchers/Stingray devices from the Sarasota (FL) Police Department. There are a handful of interesting aspects about this haul, not the least of which is the fact that US Marshals basically raided the Sarasota PD's office in 2014 to remove Stingray-related documents ahead of the ACLU's scheduled examination of the files. What's been obtained by Waltman is presumably part of the stash the Marshals didn't take. The other interesting fact is that there is no reference whatsoever to Stingray devices or IMSI catchers in the documents, despite that being specifically what was requested. Here's Waltman's request: To Whom It May Concern: Pursuant to Florida's Sunshine Law (Fla. Stat. secs. 119.01 to 119.15 (1995)), I hereby request the following records: Documents concerning IMSI catchers or any of the following words: "Stingray", "cell site simulator", or "dirtbox". including: -Contracts with the Harris Corporation regarding the acquisition of their Stingray or KingFish IMSI catchers -Department policies and procedure regarding the use of IMSI catcher technology -policies and procedures on the keeping of statistics about the Department's use and acquisition of IMSI catchers The requested documents will be made available to the general public, and this request is not being made for commercial purposes. Whatever search the Sarasota PD performed was in response to these search terms. But as Waltman points out in his post about the document haul, none of those terms are found in the hundreds of pages returned. These documents are the result of Joint Law Enforcement Operations Task Forces (JLEOs) that the SPD participated in from the years 2008 to 2014 with various local departments in their area, and also the DEA and the Marshals. Considering that South Florida has been designated as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, or HIDTA, it’s not surprising that they are engaged in high level operations with federal law enforcement agencies. What is surprising is how often they resorted to pen register and trap and trace court orders to be officially permitted to use their Stingray. Referring to cell site simulators as “trap and trace devices” is common, even by the DOJ. Obviously, the Sarasota PD engaged in the same obfuscatory tactics other law enforcement agencies have, urged on by the FBI's omnipresent demands for secrecy. The PD was either using its own devices or those belonging to the US Marshals service, but the outcome was the same: court orders and subpoenas for dialing data covering up the use of cell tower spoofers to obtain this information in real time. What is left in documents left behind by the Marshals seems to indicate the Sarasota PD has at least one device of its own. A DEA communication with the agency says a task force would be using "SPD's equipment" and a "Pen Order" to cover up this deployment. Also of note is the fact that the US Marshals service seems to enjoy using the Sarasota PD's personnel and equipment, but is a bit more reluctant to pay its tab. This is part of an ongoing response to Waltman, so there will be more documents on the way. What's arrived so far shows the PD is actively engaged in hiding its Stingray usage from courts by generating a misleading paper trail filled with redundant pen register orders. What may never arrive, however, is the documents the Marshals removed from the PD's office shortly before ACLU reps were supposed to meet with the PD to discuss the release of this information. In any event, there's still plenty of secrecy enshrouding law enforcement's use of "secret" technology that honestly isn't that much of a secret anymore. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 12 days ago on techdirt
As you may have heard, last week we were sued for $15 million by Shiva Ayyadurai, who claims to have invented email. We have written, at great length, about his claims and our opinion — backed up by detailed and thorough evidence — that email existed long before Ayyadurai created any software. We believe the legal claims in the lawsuit are meritless, and we intend to fight them and to win. There is a larger point here. Defamation claims like this can force independent media companies to capitulate and shut down due to mounting legal costs. Ayyadurai's attorney, Charles Harder, has already shown that this model can lead to exactly that result. His efforts helped put a much larger and much more well-resourced company than Techdirt completely out of business.  So, in our view, this is not a fight about who invented email. This is a fight about whether or not our legal system will silence independent publications for publishing opinions that public figures do not like. And here's the thing: this fight could very well be the end of Techdirt, even if we are completely on the right side of the law. Whether or not you agree with us on our opinions about various things, I hope that you can recognize the importance of what's at stake here. Our First Amendment is designed to enable a free and open press — a press that can investigate and dig, a press that can challenge and expose. And if prominent individuals can make use of a crippling legal process to silence that effort, or even to create chilling effects among others, we become a weaker nation and a weaker people because of it. We are a truly small and independent media company. We do not have many resources. We intend to fight this baseless lawsuit because of the principles at stake, but we have no illusions about the costs. It will take a toll on us, even if we win. It will be a distraction, no matter what happens. It already has been — which may well have been part of Ayyadurai's intent. I am beyond thankful to the many of you who have reached out and offered to help in all sorts of ways. It is heartening to know so many people care about Techdirt. At some point soon, we may set up a dedicated legal defense fund. But, in the meantime, any support you can provide us will help — whether it's just alerting people to this situation and the danger of trying to stifle a free press through meritless lawsuits, or it's supporting Techdirt directly (or, if you have a company, advertising with us). As always, you can support us directly as a Friend of Techdirt, or check out some of the other perks you can get in our Insider program. You can also support us via Patreon. If freedom of expression and the press is to actually mean something, it needs to be protected, not stomped on with baseless lawsuits that silence independent voices and opinions.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 12 days ago on techdirt
Within Karl Bode's post about Verizon's insistence that all of the people who continue to use grandfathered unlimited data plans don't actually exist was a brief note about the company's decision to increase the cost to upgrade the phones themselves. As mentioned in the post, Verizon claimed that the reason to push upgrade costs from $20 to $30 was due to increasing costs. Fleshing that out a tiny bit, a Verizon spokesman commented for Ars Technica. When asked why the upgrade fee was raised, a Verizon spokesperson told Ars, "These fees help cover increased cost to provide customers with America’s largest and fastest 4G LTE network." As both Karl's and the Ars post note, there's a bit of a problem with this statement. Verizon's earnings reports are publicly available, you see, and the company's own reporting details a fairly significant decline in operating costs compared with the previous year. So, what was sold as a need to make up for increased expense appears instead to be something else. Once the post went live, another Verizon spokesman reached out to Ars again. After this story published, Verizon responded that it was referring to "ongoing costs to maintain and enhance the network," but did not provide any further details. Making the additional comment rather useless, I would say. We still have source material in the form of Verizon's own financial statements that suggest lower expenses for the company, not higher. What you do find, in addition to that, is a slightly smaller decline in revenue. It would make some sense for the company to try to make up for a revenue decline by raising upgrade fees. If that were the case, however, why not just say so? Why instead invoke the expense and the spectre of the future without anything concrete to back that up? It's not like the telecom industry has some sterling reputation when it comes to how and when it deploys the cost of maintaining or upgrading their networks as the reason to take certain actions. And why on the one hand charge extra fees to burgeon the network while at the same time eliminate data plans that could take advantage of a beefed up service? The only thing that's certain in this is that Verizon appears to be dipping ever-further into tactics that are designed not to provide its customers with additional value, but to instead merely prop up a decreasing revenue number. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 12 days ago on techdirt
The $39 Professional Android Developer Bundle includes 5 courses designed to help you create interactive apps from scratch. You will learn the fundamentals of operating systems and you'll dive into Java, one of the most universally used programming languages, and build a strong foundation in Object-Oriented Programming. The courses also cover JavaScript and the essentials of building apps in the Android operating system. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 12 days ago on techdirt
A Texas cyberbullying law is running into unexpected opposition. The law [PDF], which would criminalize any "electronic harassment or bullying" of anyone under the age of 18, is intended to give schools more resources to deal with cyberbullying. Of course, the law would also extend schools' reach beyond the confines of the campus, allowing them to take control of off-campus behavior. It's one thing if this was limited to disciplinary action by the school. It still would be an extension of government power, but at least the damage done would be limited to in-school punishments. (That's still a significant amount of damage, considering school disciplinary actions cover things like extended suspensions and expelling students -- neither of which do much to alter troubled students' futures in any positive way.) Turning this into a criminal act means schools will become even more instrumental in routing students into juvenile detention centers and local jails. This is what has advocates for the health and safety of children concerned. Will Francis, the government relations director for Texas’ National Association of Social Workers, doesn’t necessarily think schools should be working so closely with the police. Instead, he said, the bill should focus on improving mental health resources in schools to address bullying before it becomes criminal. “My concern is that we’ll just be sticking more kids with felonies,” said Francis, who says he's been advising Menendez on the bill’s focus. “I worry we’ll see more schools in poorer, non-white areas using hard and fast punitive criminal justice as a solution.” As schools have come to rely more and more on SROs (Student/School Resource Officers), the tendency has been to hand over almost every disciplinary matter to campus law enforcement officers. Routine student misconduct is being addressed with arrests, deployments of force, and prosecutors bringing criminal charges against students for behavior that previously would have resulted in detention, suspension, or a long conversation between administrators and the student's parents. Right now, Texas schools are employing twice as many police officers as counselors, according to numbers obtained by the San Antonio Current. The disciplinary playing field is already slanted towards law enforcement. Turning bullying into criminal activity makes this ratio more harmful. If the state has a desire to produce better students, this law isn't going to help it achieve its goal. If it's more interested in creating a new (and profitable) set of criminals, this expansion of power will definitely help that dream come true. It's not just the lack of resources for mental health issues that's a problem. It's also the overreach itself. As the EFF points out, giving schools jurisdiction over students' off-campus activities infringes on their Constitutional rights. “We believe — and most courts agree — that schools are very limited when it comes to punishing off-campus student speech,” [EFF attorney David] Greene said. Student speech is still protected by free speech laws, regardless of how cruel and unusual it is — especially when they’re off-campus. [...] "There’s no rule in the First Amendment for speech that causes harm for a minor,” he said. “If they want to pass these protections, it will have to fit within current laws.” While there is definitely much to be done to address student bullying -- and there's no denying this has become easier and more prevalent with the rise of multiple social media platforms -- the solutions lie in better resources for bullied students and those who engage in bullying. While the outcome of sustained bullying sometimes results in truly horrific tragedies (as is the case here), criminalizing this behavior will only result in a greater number of destroyed futures. The law -- which is still in its proposal stage -- promises to do both: criminalize off-campus behavior and bring in more resources to help schools deal with bullying. But it gives school resource officers subpoena power to unmask anonymous social media users and, due to the criminalization of the act, encourages schools to rely more on law enforcement and less on counseling or diversion programs for perpetrators that may allow them to turn themselves around and contribute positively in their new environments. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 12 days ago on techdirt
Donald Trump famously said during the campaign that, if elected, he would "open up" our libel laws. Of course, after he was elected, in an interview with the NY Times, he walked back some of that promise, noting that someone had pointed out such laws might be used against him too: MARK THOMPSON: Thank you, and it’s a really short one, but after all the talk about libel and libel laws, are you committed to the First Amendment to the Constitution? TRUMP: Oh, I was hoping he wasn’t going to say that. I think you’ll be happy. I think you’ll be happy. Actually, somebody said to me on that, they said, ‘You know, it’s a great idea, softening up those laws, but you may get sued a lot more.’ I said, ‘You know, you’re right, I never thought about that.’ I said, ‘You know, I have to start thinking about that.’ So, I, I think you’ll be O.K. I think you’re going to be fine. And now he's had some more time to think about that, and hopefully he's pretty happy with how carefully our libel laws are designed to protect free speech, because they just protected Donald Trump himself from a questionable defamation lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed by Cheryl Jacobus about some tweets from the now-President elect. As summarized by Eriq Gardner over at The Hollywood Reporter: Jacobus sued Trump and his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski over comments made in the midst of a heated Republican primary. Seeking $4 million in damages, she alleged in her complaint that the Trump campaign tried to recruit her in May 2015, even attempting to entice her with the prospect of a post-campaign job at Fox News. She says Lewandowski told her that Trump was very close to Roger Ailes. She further claimed of coming to the judgment that working for Trump was untenable because Lewandowski was a "powder keg." In January 2016, she appeared on CNN to discuss Trump's decision to skip a primary debate on Fox News and opined that Trump was "using the Megyn Kelly manufactured kerfuffle as an excuse." A few days later, she returned to Don Lemon's show and was dubious about Trump's claims of self-funding his campaign. This may have set Trump off. In one tweet, he wrote how he "turned her down twice and she went hostile. Major loser, zero credibility." Trump filed for a motion to dismiss, and argued that his statements were purely opinion -- and the judge in her ruling agreed to dismiss the case, pointing, in particular, to the nature of debate and rhetoric on Twitter. As the ruling properly notes, "context is key." As context is key..., defamatory statements advanced during the course of a heated public debate, during which an audience would reasonably anticipate the use of "epithets, fiery rhetoric or hyperbole," are not actionable. Later in the ruling, the judge pointed out that a bunch of angry tweets are quite different than, say, an investigative article in the NY Times. In addition, "[t]he culture of Internet communications, as distinct from that of print media, such as newspapers and magazines, has been characterized as encouraging a 'freewheeling, anything-goes writing style.'".... ["Internet forums are venues where citizens may participate and be heard in free debate involving civic concerns."]). Thus, "epithets, fiery rhetoric or hyperbole" advanced on social media have been held to warrant an understanding that the statements contained therein are "vigorous expressions of personal opinion" "rather than the rigorous and comprehensive presentation of factual matter." .... [reasonable reader would believe that statements made on an Internet blog during sharply contested election generally referencing "downright criminal actions" were opinion, "not factual accusation of criminal conduct"]). Consequently, "New York courts have consistently protected statements made in online forums as statements of opinion rather than fact.".... Similarly, comments made on television talk shows, given the "give and take" of the show, and the "spirited" verbal exchanges between the host and guest, and the "at times heated" "interplay with audience members," are deemed nonactionable opinion. And what that leads to is Trump's statements simply aren't defamation -- because our defamation laws are designed to (1) protect freedom of expression and (2) take context into account: Trump's characterization of plaintiff as having "begged" for a job is reasonably viewed as a loose, figurative, and hyperbolic reference to plaintiff's a state of mind and is therefore, not susceptible of objective verification.... To the extent that the word "begged" can be proven to be a false representation of plaintiff's interest in the position, the defensive tone of the tweet, having followed plaintiff's negative commentary about Trump, signals to readers that plaintiff and Trump were engaged in a petty quarrel. Lewandowski's comments, overall, are speculative and vague, and defendants' implication that plaintiff was retaliating against them for turning her down, notwithstanding the unmistakable reference to her professional integrity, is clearly a matter of speculation and opinion. Moreover, the immediate context of defendants' statements is the familiar back and forth between a political commentator and the subject of her criticism, and the larger context is the Republican presidential primary and Trump's regular use of Twitter to circulate his positions and skewer his opponents and others who criticize him, including journalists and media organizations whose coverage he finds objectionable.... His tweets about his critics, necessarily restricted to 140 characters or less, are rife with vague and simplistic insults such as "loser" or "total loser" or "totally biased loser," "dummy" or "dope" or "dumb," "zero/no credibility," "crazy" or "wacko," and "disaster," all deflecting serious consideration.... Got that? The very nature of our libel laws are designed to enable and encourage public discourse and debate -- even recognizing that it sometimes gets heated and involves insults -- and Twitter, blogs and social media are some of the best representations of that. This is why Trump should be quite happy that our libel laws are as they stand today, and that there's a strong First Amendment bar that has to be cleared to bring a defamation lawsuit against someone, like Donald Trump, who engages in name calling and verbal attacks on someone he disagrees with. This is exactly what the First Amendment is about: ... with the spirit of the First Amendment, and considering the statements as a whole (imprecise and hperbolic political dispute cum schoolyard squabble), I find that it is fairly concluded that a reasonable reader would recognize defendants' statements as opinion, even if some of the statements, viewed in isolation could be found to convey facts. Moreover, that others may infer a defamatory meaning from the statements does not render the inference reasonable under these circumstances. And that, right there, is why we have strong defamation laws. Even if you dislike Trump and what he stands for (and if you dislike his petty squabbles on Twitter), you should celebrate this ruling for a variety of reasons: it upholds the First Amendment and supports free expression online and it helps demonstrate to Trump himself how important the protections built into our defamation laws today can be.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 12 days ago on techdirt
AT&T continues to try and sell regulators on the company's $100 billion acquisition of Time Warner, making all kinds of promises (few actually being true). Consumer advocates are highly wary of the deal, arguing that a more powerful AT&T (with its rich history of anti-competitive behavior and outright fraud) would be in a perfect position to hinder streaming competitors from licensing the content they need to compete. That's of course when AT&T isn't busy giving its own DirecTV Now service an unfair market advantage via zero rating and usage caps. But AT&T's path to merger completion just got a bit easier. Outlets had been noting for some time that an FCC review would only be triggered if AT&T attempted a transfer of the two dozen or so Time Warner satellite licenses or the station license for WPCH-TV in Atlanta. Avoid those, and you avoid even a possibility that the FCC could block the deal or saddle it with conditions. And that's precisely what AT&T appears intent on doing according to a new regulatory filing with the SEC:"Time Warner has conducted a review of all licenses that it holds that are granted by the FCC,” says the company. “While subject to change, it is currently anticipated that Time Warner will not need to transfer any of its FCC licenses to AT&T in order to continue to conduct its business operations after the closing of the transaction." If, as AT&T contends, these licenses don’t need to be transferred — or if Time Warner divests itself of the licenses before merging — the companies seem to believe the FCC has no authority to intervene and review the merger.The deal would still need approval from the Justice Department, but Donald Trump remains a bit of a wild card in AT&T's equation. Trump promised to block the deal in the lead up to the election, claiming "it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few." But Trump's telecom transition team consists largely of folks interested in defunding and defanging regulators. These aren't exactly the kind of folks who'll be supporting government blockades of (or restrictive conditions attached to) telecom sector mega mergers. Neither is the most likely top FCC choice, Ajit Pai. But there's a wrinkle. Trump may still block the deal, just for reasons other than what he claimed on the campaign trail. A recent New Yorker column on Megyn Kelly contained an interesting tidbit, noting that Trump has turned to News Corporation boss Rupert Murdoch for tips on choosing the next FCC boss. Murdoch's also urging Trump to block the deal as a favor to Murdoch and his obvious competitive interests:"If Fox News’ politics ultimately solidify as more pro-Trump than they were during the campaign, that might be to the benefit of Murdoch’s business interests. According to a well-placed source, Trump has asked Murdoch to submit names for FCC Chairman. Murdoch, another source said, also wants conditions put on the AT&T-Time Warner merger, and he could lobby Trump to make that happen."In other words (assuming this report is correct), Trump could block the deal, but only to benefit Murdoch's own news empire, and not because it would protect consumers, smaller competitors, or the media and streaming markets. There's another possible factor as well. Bloomberg recently reported that Trump was opposed to the deal, but mainly because he's still bitter about CNN's coverage of his campaign -- and CNN is, of course, part of Time Warner. So there are still more "personal" reasons why Trump may want to block the merger. That's going to likely cause friction among Trump's own telecom sector and tech appointees, who have made it abundantly clear they don't want regulators doing much of anything outside of nodding dumbly and looking busy. Regardless, AT&T remains publicly optimistic, insisting there's just no way regulators would dare block its latest megamerger; it's simply too fanastic:"In the modern history of the media and the internet, the U.S. government has always approved vertical mergers like ours, because they benefit consumers, strengthen competition, and, in our case, encourage innovation and investment," AT&T executive VP and general counsel David McAtee said of the transaction."Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on techdirt
The joke about asset forfeiture is that it's actually not a joke. Advisors to law enforcement have actually said it's a great way for cops to go shopping for things they want. It's not just cash being taken, although it's primarily that. It's vehicles, too. And when that just doesn't seem to be enough, it's houses. And everything in them. So, the "going shopping" joke is one very dark punchline. Here's another one: "take everything that isn't nailed down." Except that this actually happens. And it includes things that are nailed down. Reason's C.J. Ciaramella has more details. In 2012, Rehfeldt says the Hind County Sheriff's Office raided his client's apartment on suspicion her boyfriend was a drug dealer. Anything purchased with drug proceeds is fair game to be seized by police under civil asset forfeiture laws, and they determined the boyfriend had furnished the apartment, so off went her TV, her table and chairs, her couch, her lamps, and even the pictures on the wall. "Her case is the first in my 38 years of practicing law where they took the furniture," Rehfeldt says. What's the proper response? Shock that this sort of thing actually happens? Or relief that law enforcement doesn't clean out a person's home every time they have a hunch something may have been purchased with the proceeds of criminal activity? In this case, most of what was taken by the sheriff's office was eventually returned. Rehfeldt's clients is one of the lucky ones, able to navigate a legal pathway that's a greased downhill slope for law enforcement, but an expensive, uphill battle for those whose property has been seized. His client got everything back. Well, not everything. "It is, therefore, ordered and adjudged that one Visio television, one dining room table and chairs, pictures and lamps are to be returned to the plaintiff upon execution of this Order by this Court," the Feb. 10, 2015 order in the Hinds County Court reads. "Additionally, one white couch is hereby forfeited to the Hinds County Sheriff's Office." For reasons unexplained, the sheriff's office was allowed to keep the couch. Perhaps deputies had grown attached to it after it was placed in the breakroom. Or maybe it was "disposed" prior to the forfeiture being finalized and there was simply no way to retrieve it. Or maybe it was just the state's skim -- the percentage taken off the top of every forfeiture, whether or not the seizure was legally-justified. The skim is part of the problem. Mississippi's legislature is looking at overhauling the state's forfeiture laws and a Senate committee letter obtained by Reason confirms that law enforcement's tendency to charge fees or withhold some percentage of the property seized gives the program the appearance of impropriety. Upon a cursory analysis of these orders, PEER staff notes that Agreed Orders tend to have the most potential for indicating possible abuse. This is because most Agreed Orders are entered into upon a settlement agreement in which the arresting authority receives some or all of the forfeited property as a condition subsequent to some sort of agreement made between the arresting party and the defendant. As the arresting party often seizes a large amount of property or cash and many of these Agreed Orders stipulate that some or most of the said property or cash will be returned while some will be forfeited, a reasonable person might assume that the arresting party is using its authority to gain assets from an arrest by settling with the defendant. If this is how it's routinely handled, it encourages law enforcement to take everything it can get its hands on, if for no other reason than it increase its chances of being able to retain some of it if the forfeiture is challenged. This settlement system perverts incentives, changing it from serving the general public through the targeted crippling of criminal organizations (however loosely-defined) to serving law enforcement agencies by allowing them to directly profit from the taking of citizens' property. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on techdirt
Last month, we recognized that while it was still a long shot, it was interesting that the Iceland Pirate Party actually had a chance to form the new government there. A few previous efforts had failed and the job had fallen to the Pirate Party. However, it didn't take long for reports to leak out that the Pirate Party was having trouble building a coalition that would form the new government. And now a new government has been formed without the Pirate Party as part of the coalition: Iceland's center-right Independence, Reform and Bright Future parties have agreed to form a coalition government and will give parliament a vote on whether to hold a referendum on joining the European Union. Together, the coalition will hold 32 of the 63 seats in parliament. The Independence Party will have 21 seats, making it the largest party in the coalition. This was always the most likely result -- as these groups also got the first crack at trying to form a coalition, and couldn't make it work at the time. That was part of what left an opening for the Pirate Party to try. It certainly would have been interesting to see what a Pirate Party-led Iceland would have been able to do -- especially in a time where we really could use a haven for freedom of expression, internet freedom and privacy. But, alas, it didn't happen this time around.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on techdirt
Twitter has cut off another social media "surveillance" company from using its API. To date, the platform has forced third-party Dataminr to cut off connections to the CIA, DHS/law enforcement "fusion centers," and Geofeedia. All of these denials of service were the result of the company's policy against use of its API for surveillance. Very little of what was being done could truly be considered "surveillance," since Dataminr's access to basically every tweet produced did nothing but cull data from public accounts. What Twitter seemed to have more of a problem with was the marketing tactics of companies like Geofeedia, which insinuated their products were perfectly suited for keeping tabs on First Amendment-protected activity, like protests. As for the CIA and DHS, Twitter apparently felt these government agencies were far more involved in surveillance than the FBI, which just signed a contract with Dataminr for access to its every-tweet-ever API. The latest recipient of a Twitter disconnection is Canada-based Media Sonar. Again, the issue here appears to be the language used by the company to market its social media monitoring service. Media Sonar touts its social media monitoring software and algorithms as ideal tools for police and corporations to aggregate and filter data to improve safety and protect corporate assets. But a U.S.-based investigation turned up marketing language that ran afoul of Twitter's policies, which state that posts on the popular social network should not be mined for surveillance purposes. Media Sonar's emails to past clients explicitly stated that the software, which allows officers to comb through publicly available posts on the likes of Twitter and Instagram, could help police search for "criminal activity" and "avoid the warrant process" when flagging people who have come under scrutiny. I'm sure Media Sonar never expected the contents of these marketing emails to be made public, but that's a risk you take every time you send something out inviting law enforcement to use your product to avoid complying with Canadians' rights. Of course, most of what's viewed by law enforcement with tools like these wouldn't require a warrant to obtain. The move by Twitter may be seen as noble, but it does very little to curb government agencies' monitoring of publicly-available posts. If Twitter users want to remain off the government's radar, it's on them to take more control of the visibility of their tweets. For most users, this isn't a concern and while some may express dismay at law enforcement's use of their posts against them, there's nothing about this outcome that isn't preventable, even without Twitter's periodic announcements that it's cutting another third party off. The problem isn't with the use of the API so much as it is the interpretation of obtained data. While hashtags may make it easy to track protests and other activity deeply tied to social media interaction, more nebulous data may show correlations that aren't actually there. Overreliance on monitoring tools could result in a lot of false positives, as Canadian Internet Policy staff lawyer Tamir Israel points out. Israel said most social media monitoring companies rely on algorithms to parse the vast amount of data and pull out meaningful information for clients. Those algorithms, he cautioned, can be misleading. Israel said they often analyze posts out of context and are unable to account for slang, cultural norms or other factors that give a post meaning. He cited a recent example of a British tourist who tweeted about his intention to "destroy the United States" on an upcoming trip. His post raised alarm bells with U.S. security, but the tourist had been trying to express his plans to party while abroad using common British slang. In addition to these concerns are privacy protections granted by Canadian law, which actually gives publicly-available social media posts more protection than those made by US citizens. [Citizen Lab's Chris Parsons] said law enforcement and federal agencies must demonstrate a need for mining online data, adding that they cannot look through material indiscriminately. "Just because I say something on Twitter doesn't mean the RCMP can hoover it up," he said. "There has to be a reason, and they have to be able to articulate it." This may be why the company stealthily sold its product on its warrant-dodging merits. Allowing a third-party to sort and shape the data may allow Canadian law enforcement agencies to wash their hands of any "indiscriminate" hoovering/searching accusations. In any event, Media Sonar's product has suddenly become a lot less useful, and that's going to keep it from being a heavy hitter in the social media monitoring field. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on techdirt
On the surface, the idea of "pro and con" debates seems like a good way to ensure an issue is fully explored. But is it truly a productive approach? This week, we debate the nature of debates and possible alternatives to the adversarial approach. Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes or Google Play, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt. If you're a fan, consider supporting us on Patreon to access special bonus episodes. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on techdirt
Looks like another convicted felon is abusing the DMCA process in hopes of cleansing the web of his misdeeds. Chad Hatten of Houston, Texas, was arrested on multiple counts related to ID theft and access device fraud. Hatten stole credit card numbers to buy gift cards to resell at a discount. He was indicted in 2005 and sentenced to 66 months in prison in 2006. Now that Hatten is (presumably) no longer behind bars, he's been doing a little DIY SEO work. His first attempts to get the DOJ's press releases delisted by Google occurred in 2012, which would line up with the termination of his sentence. In his first two attempts -- both filed under "music" -- it appears a third-party link removal service failed to achieve Hatten's objectives. These links are lsited as blocked , when using the URL removal tool, yet continue to appear in search results. The link targeted was the DOJ's press release announcing Hatten's indictment. His second 2012 DMCA targets the announcement of his conviction. The links targeted in 2012 have since rotted away, which perhaps explains the six-year gap between Hatten's removal efforts. The targeted releases have since resurfaced with new URLs. So has Chad Hatten. This time he's brought... someone else's patents? And warnings of impending violence. protected work. Additionally, the high page rank of this result places lives at stake. Please at least manually lower this result. Someone could die as a result of this appearing so high. More detail on the DOJ's deadly press releases can be found in yet another Hatten takedown attempt -- one that also includes someone else's patents as the supposed "original work" being infringed. If anyone actually reads this, this link is 12 years old, and is ruining my life. It is placing my safety at risk. Please either remove this, or manually lower the page rank. I could die as a result of this link. If it's difficult to discern why a publicly-posted press release might be viewed as potentially deadly, it's even more difficult to comprehend the inclusion of someone else's patents in the DMCA takedown notice. And yet, that's what Houston's Chad Hatten has done. He's dragged along someone else he found in his frantic vanity searches in hopes that their intellectual property will somehow push his bogus takedowns past Google's spot checkers. This is the so-called "original URL" listed in Hatten's request: http://google.com/patents/WO2016007659A1?cl=no While there may be those engaged in credit card theft who dabble in chemistry from time to time, it's highly doubtful the convicted Chad Hatten is also the inventor Chad Hatten, employed by Illinois-based energy company, Coskata Inc. It's also doubtful Chad Hatten the DMCA abuser could explain the following in layman's terms: Processes for controlling the concentration of co-produced oxygenated organics in anaerobic fermentation broths for the bioconversion of syngas to product oxygenated organic compound And, even if it was Hatten's (the convict's) patent, a DMCA notice has nothing to do with patents and would never be able to stop this sort of infringement no matter how many URLs it delisted. But wait! There's (one) more! Hatten also engages in the more expected form of DMCA abuse: fraudulently claiming information he wants delisted is actually his own creation. Targeted by this DMCA notice is a PDF of Hatten's unsuccessful appeal of his conviction, as rejected by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. According to Hatten's DMCA, the federal appeals court decision is "my writing." Proof of Hatten's "creation" supposedly can be found at joemoore.com (listed as "Original URL"), a URL which automatically redirects to Joe Moore's IMDb page… as it has since 2013. (The first few years of that URL's history are very different from its current incarnation as a promotional redirect for a second unit director. [But SFW.]) None of this represents how the system is supposed to work. But all of it demonstrates how easy it is to abuse. Google tends to vet DMCA notices pretty well, but it's unclear if other search engines are as attentive. Of course, to many people Google represents The Internet, so hitting up Google with bogus takedown notices is the only stop they'll ever make. Chad Hatten's attempts have fallen short of his DIY right-to-be-forgotten goal, but there's plenty of evidence out there that the DCMA process works just well enough (in terms of abuse) that it's always worth a try. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on techdirt
Back in 2011, AT&T and Verizon eliminated their unlimited data plans, instead shoving users toward metered plans with limited data allotments. While the two companies did "grandfather" their existing unlimited data users at the time, they've been engaged in a quiet war to drive these users off the plans for years, ranging from AT&T's decision to block Facetime from working unless users signed up for metered plans, to throttling these users (and then in some instances lying about it). This is all of course accompanied by a constant barrage of rate hikes (AT&T imposed another $5 bump just last week). Six years after first getting rid of the plans, Verizon shows no sign of backing off its crackdown of these unwanted users. The company this week confirmed that it was taking new aim at unlimited consumers, the company confirming that it's now telling any user that consumes more than 200 GB per month that they will be booted off the Verizon network:"Because our network is a shared resource and we need to ensure all customers have a great mobile experience with Verizon, we are notifying a small group of customers on unlimited plans who use more than 200GB a month that they must move to a Verizon Plan by February 16, 2017," Verizon spokesperson Kelly Crummey told Ars today." Of course, the biggest plan Verizon advertises is 30 GB for $130 per month. Users can call and get larger plans, but they'd best expect to take out a second mortgage to pay for them. While Verizon was busy tightening the noose on its dwindling and data hungry unlimited users, it was also busy bumping activation and phone upgrade fees from $20 to $30, citing "increased costs" that have actually declined as the company continues to set earnings records thanks to metered billing and the company's usage caps. And while it's understandable that Verizon would want to crack down on users on older data plans that give them a better value, the company continues to insist that nobody wants unlimited data. Just last September, Verizon CFO Fran Shammo again proclaimed that nobody needs an unlimited data plan. The company went so far as to hire a consultant willing to pen a blog post in which he claimed the consumer desire for simpler, unlimited data plans was just a "gut feeling" detached from any reality:"So, while unlimited data may sound attractive, there is no practical effect of data limits on the majority of users. Understanding this should bring rationality to a discussion that is often held on a “gut feeling” level. Keeping adequate speed and performance while allowing all users to share the limited commodity we call wireless data is the fair way to deal with wireless connectivity. And ultimately, that is what is beneficial for wireless consumers." To be clear, small cells and WiFi offloading have made great inroads in helping carriers handle the video load. T-Mobile and Sprint have certainly found a way to offer users unlimited data, albeit with some net neutrality trampling caveats. Sprint, for example, now throttles all games, music and video for unlimited data users by default, then charges them a premium if they want these services to run at full speed. To try and combat these new plans Verizon briefly tried to market its metered data plans as "limitless" (as in, they don't throttle them like Sprint) but was soundly mocked for the effort. All told, the industry still can't quite figure out that if you can't actually offer unlimited data, you shouldn't advertise unlimited data. They're still also struggling with the concept that in a truly competitive market, consumers tell you what they want (and hopefully, you provide it). In wireless, executives still apparently think it's the other way around.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on techdirt
Learn the tricks of cyber intelligence and security with the $44 Comprehensive Cyber Threat Analysis Bundle. You'll learn how to hunt for malware and other threats using a variety of tools. The courses also cover understanding and practicing how to dissect the most sophisticated and advanced persistent threats. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on techdirt
Someone else who doesn't understand Section 230 of the CDA is suing search engines for "refusing" to delist revenge porn. The short complaint -- filed in New York and spotted by Eric Goldman -- is signed by an actual lawyer, but the complaint is so devoid of legitimate (or any) legal arguments, it could be mistaken for a pro se attempt. According to the complaint, a number of sexually explicit videos were posted to porn websites after a relationship went bad. The plaintiff contacted the websites and had the videos removed, which would seem to have solved the problem. But it didn't. According to the plaintiff, Yahoo, Bing, and Google searches for her name still bring up websites containing the explicit videos. Here's the wording used in the complaint [PDF]: 5. That Plaintiff contacted Defendants, Google, Yahoo, and Bing to remove the name ANGELE BRILIHON BOLOU ABODO from Defendants' web search engine. 6. That the search Plaintiff's full name on Defendants' website led and still leads to pornographic videos of the Plaintiff, and other derogatory comments aimed at the Plaintiff and containing Plaintiff's full name. A search for her name does pull up everything she complains of. According to Abodo, these search results have prevented her from getting a job and have tarnished her reputation. However, her complaint demands the removal of her name from search engines, which is an impossibility. She obviously wants the search results for her name removed, but hasn't actually asked for that in her complaint. This filing will be sent back for amending as soon as a judge reads it, but applying some fixes to that particular language won't turn this into a winnable case. Her other efforts -- contacting websites to have the videos removed -- is something she's had some success with. It won't work with every site and there's almost no chance the "derogatory comments" scattered around the web will be removed, no matter how much she petitions these websites. But that's going to be far more productive than this litigation will be. Section 230 gives the sites immunity for users' comments. It's also the reason targeting search engines isn't likely to result in delistings. Search engines return search results. They're in no way responsible for the content contained in the search results. This is the easiest route -- far easier than tracking down those making the comments or posting the videos -- but it has about the same chances for success. Even with the damage being done to Section 230 by courts recently, it's going to take far more than this bare-bones pleading to even begin to mount a successful legal battle over unflattering search engine results. But this short filing does lie at the crux of an issue where Section 230 is likely to receive the most collateral damage: revenge porn. Legislative efforts have been made in many states and, with almost no exceptions, the efforts include language that undermines the protections of Section 230 by attempting to shift some degree of culpability to service providers. The same sort of damage could result from a precedential ruling in a federal court if any revenge porn-based case makes it that far. The underlying activity is horrendous and does a significant amount of damage to victims, but shifting the responsibility anywhere but the person posting the content poses the risk of opening up service providers to criminal charges and/or civil litigation -- something that would do tremendous harm to openness and freedom of the internet. This isn't the case that's going to start that ball rolling, however. The actual perpetrators aren't listed as defendants, which means this is nothing more than a low-cost Hail Mary by Abodo and her legal rep. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on techdirt
So we've noted that killing net neutrality isn't the only goal for large ISPs in the new year. Trump's top telecom advisors have all made it abundantly clear they'd like to defang and defund the FCC as a consumer watchdog entirely, and roll back the decision to classify ISPs as common carriers under Title II. This would not only dismantle net neutrality, but it would also eliminate the relatively basic broadband privacy rules the FCC recently passed. Those rules, in short, require that ISPs not only clearly disclose what's being sold and who it's being sold to, but also require they also provide working opt-out tools. Unsurprisingly, ISPs made quite a stink about the "draconian" nature of the rules, and sector lobbyists are getting a running head start in dismantling them. After all, informed customers with the tools to protect their own privacy could cost them billions of dollars annually. Especially since the rules require that consumers opt in to collection of more sensitive financial data. The cable industry's largest lobbying and trade organization, the Internet & Television Association (NCTA), is urging the FCC to eliminate the rules entirely, claiming they simply weren't necessary:"They are unnecessary, unjustified, unmoored from a cost-benefit assessment, and unlikely to advance the Commission’s stated goal of enhancing consumer privacy,” wrote the Internet & Television Association, known as NCTA."Except if you've tracked why the rules were created, you'd know that's simply not true. The FCC acted after security researchers discovered that Verizon Wireless was modifying user data packets to track consumers around the internet, without informing them or providing working opt out tools. The FCC was also concerned that some ISPs (Comcast, AT&T) had begun exploring charging users a steep premium if they wanted to actually protect their own privacy. Similarly, the FCC acted after some ISPs claimed they'd started providing worse customer service depending on a customer's credit score. That alone should show you two truths: one, the broadband industry's claim that it can self-regulate on privacy issues is a joke. Two, the lack of competition in the broadband space opens the door to abuses you won't see in the broader, more competitive content markets Verizon, Comcast and AT&T are interested in rushing toward. These ISPs have long tried to claim that placing additional regulatory burdens on them is unfairly "asymmetric" because Google, Facebook and friends don't face them. But Google, Facebook and friends don't operate in a competitive vacuum thanks to a generation of lobbying, dysfunction, and regulatory capture, something these ISPs would prefer we all ignore. Like the NCTA, the industry's biggest telco lobbying organization (US Telecom), had plenty to say about the new privacy rules. In its own filing with the FCC (pdf), the group urges the FCC to "modify key elements" of the privacy rules (read: all the ones that mean anything) right after it gets done eliminating net neutrality. The organization actually tries to claim at one point that privacy protections for consumers aren't necessary because ISPs don't really know all that much about you and hey, if you really don't like it you can always encrypt your data:"...the Order ignores the record facts when it predicates this scheme of asymmetric regulation on the premise that ISPs are nearly omniscient and have greater visibility into consumer data than any other Internet company. That premise is false, as Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly and many commenters have explained. Given the recent rise of encryption and multiple ISP connections per user, any given ISP has rapidly declining visibility into the details of consumers’ Internet usage and, in some respects, less visibility than leading social media platforms, search engines, and data brokers."This idea that ISPs aren't actually information super vacuums has been used consistently by dollar per hollar telecom sector think tankers, and it's nonsense. As exposure of deep packet inspection and Verizon's stealthy super cookies shows, incumbent ISPs do have nearly "omniscient" awareness of everything a consumer sees, watches, hears, or does. And encryption isn't a privacy panacea; ISPs can still observe user online behavior based on overall traffic patterns and volume, unencrypted portions of communications, and the growing volume of unencrypted Internet of Things traffic. And a VPN is no guaranteed blockade to ISP snooping either, since again IoT devices won't use VPN, and ISPs can often still monitor user behavior via DNS anyway. Large ISPs could have avoided these regulations by making sound, reasoned policy choices. Instead, they chose to hoover up every shred of data they could find and sell everything that wasn't nailed down, making consumer choice and transparency a distant afterthought. And thanks to limited competition, broadband consumers have no way of "voting with their wallet" to avoid many of these practices, which is why the FCC crafted them in the first place. You either need to fix broadband competition, or impose rules protecting consumers from the symptoms of that particular disease (net neutrality and privacy violations). So far, there's every indication that the new, incoming FCC intends to do neither.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on techdirt
A few years back, we detailed how ongoing grandstanding and toothless legal threats finally forced Craigslist to shut down its "adult services" section. None of that did anything to stop prostitution or human trafficking online. It just moved to other sites -- which was particularly ridiculous, given that Craigslist had been proactive in working with law enforcement to help them track down the actual perpetrators of crimes via the site. And, the illegal behavior just moved on to somewhere else -- as did the ridiculous grandstanding. The main target since Craigslist shut down its services: Backpage.com, the Craigslist-alike site that spun off from Village Voice Media. And now, after an even more intense grandstanding and legal campaign, Backpage has also been pressured to shut down its adult section. If you go to it now, you'll see this instead: And here's the craziest part. This happened on the same day the Supreme Court basically said Backpage is legal and the legal claims against it are bogus. But the law is apparently meaningless in the face of a pair of grandstanding Senators who want their names in the headlines, pretending they care about human trafficking, while actually making the problems worse. Last May, we wrote about an excellent 1st Circuit appeals court victory for Backpage.com, which (like nearly every other court before them) found that the site was clearly protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. As we've discussed many, many times, there are a number of people out there who would like to ignore the fact that while some users of Backpage may be violating the law to engage in prostitution, the proper response is to go after those actually breaking the law, and not the platform they're using. That's the very heart of Section 230, and it's exactly what many, many courts have realized. The case we wrote about last May (and also wrote about when Backpage prevailed at the district court level the previous May) involved three clear victims: women who were forced into selling sex as teenage runaways. Their situation is undoubtedly awful -- but it was the fault of those who exploited and abused them, and not the online service they happened to use. On Monday, the Supreme Court effectively put its stamp of approval on the 1st Circuit appeals court ruling by denying the plaintiff's petition to hear an appeal on that ruling. While it's not quite the same as saying that the Supreme Court fully endorsed the opinion of the 1st Circuit saying that Section 230 clearly protects Backpage from being blamed for how people use the site, it certainly suggests that the court didn't see any major problems with the ruling. But... there's just something about Backpage that makes politicians want to stupidly and misleadingly grandstand. Just hours after the Supreme Court effectively blessed the 1st Circuit ruling saying Backpage hadn't broken the law, Senator Claire McCaskill released a report (with Senator Rob Portman) that blasts Backpage for "knowing facilitation of online sex trafficking." This is in advance of a grandstanding Senate hearing that McCaskill/Portman have prepared to parade out the executives of Backpage to yell at them for facilitating sex trafficking, even just as the Supreme Court has basically said this entire line of argument is completely bogus. The report is a joke. The crux of the report is that, via subpoena, the Senate staffers were able to determine that Backpage edits and or bans certain words that indicate an ad is for prostitution. Let me repeat that: the Senate is mainly annoyed that Backpage proactively looks for and blocks situations where it appears that the ads may be for prostitution -- especially involving children. Yet, the Senate investigators twist this to make it sound like a bad thing. Over time, Backpage reprogrammed its electronic filters to reject an ad in its entirety if it contained certain egregious words suggestive of sex trafficking. But the company implemented this change by coaching its customers on how to post “clean” ads for illegal transactions. When a user attempted to post an ad with a forbidden word, the user would receive an error message identifying the problematic word choice to “help” the user, as Ferrer put it. For example, in 2012, a user advertising sex with a “teen” would get the error message: “Sorry, ‘teen’ is a banned term.” Through simply redrafting the ad, the user would be permitted to post a sanitized version. I'm not entirely clear what they're complaining about here. You could also quite clearly see this as Backpage letting users know that it is not a place that should be used for sex trafficking, because it clearly alerts them to things that they don't want on the site. But the Senate staffers seem to have intentionally spun this to appear in the absolute worst light. On top of that, Section 230 is again quite clear that any effort a platform does take to moderate stuff doesn't change the fact that a site is protected from liability. And that's to encourage exactly the type of behavior that Backpage is already doing: which is choosing voluntarily to block certain types of ads that they don't want. Now, I'm sure some will argue, as the Senate report tries to say, that because Backpage then allows another ad without the "banned" words through, that it's not stopping the underlying activity, but that's basically mandating that any online platform have incredibly adaptive and complex filters to make sure that anyone who tries to get around their filters cannot do so. That's a very dangerous precedent, and would basically make it impossible for any online service to exist, without being massive. The report argues that the "editing" of posts by Backpage takes away 230 immunity: Backpage and its officers have successfully invoked Section 230 in at least two other cases to avoid criminal or civil responsibility for activities on the site. In neither case, however, did the court have before it evidence that Backpage had moved beyond passive publication of third-party content to editing content to conceal illegality. The argument here rests on the ruling in the infamous Roommates.com case from nearly a decade ago -- which remains the biggest case where a Section 230 defense failed. But that's a very different situation. Roommates.com failed because the Roommates system itself was asking questions deemed to be illegal under housing law (about racial preferences and such). That was part of the site that was fully created and controlled by Roommates.com. The difference here is that while Backpage may be running some of its posts through a filter, that's to moderate the content to remove descriptions of illegal sex trafficking or illegal prostitution. In other words, what Backpage is doing is actually moderating content, which is explicitly allowed and encouraged by the "Good Samirtan clause" of CDA 230, found in section (c). That part of the law says that the immunity applies even for "any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected." It seems quite clear that Backpage editing posts to remove such content falls squarely into that bucket. The report is also strange in that it uses Backpage's own helpfulness to law enforcement against it. It highlights how law enforcement regularly gets reports and details of child trafficking because of Backpage: According to the latest report from NCMEC, 73% of the suspected child trafficking reports it receives from the public involve Backpage. According to the Massachusetts Attorney General, “[t]he vast majority of prosecutions for sex trafficking now involve online advertising, and most of those advertisements appear on Backpage." In other words, one of the best tools out there for finding and stopping sex trafficking is... Backpage.com. And the Senators response is to blame Backpage and make them legally liable? How does that make any sense at all? Now that Backpage has shut down those ads, they'll scatter elsewhere. Sex trafficking won't stop and it will be harder for law enforcement to track down and find actual perpetrators or save actual victims. Let's be clear: Senators McCaskill and Portman, in an effort to get their names in the headlines, have just made sex trafficking easier, by making law enforcement's job harder. The report also makes a big deal out of the fact that Backpage's execs know that the site is used for trafficking and prostitution, but, again, so what? That's like the same claims that the legacy entertainment industry made about YouTube. Just because you know that a site can and sometimes is used for illegal behavior does not automatically make the site liable for that illegal activity. That's quite clear under Section 230, yet totally ignored by this report. The Supreme Court got this right... while Senators Claire McCaskill and Rob Portman appear to be yet another set of politicians who are grandstanding by blaming a platform, rather than doing anything that will actually help stop sex trafficking. And the end result is that Backpage has shuttered that section. This won't stop or even diminish sex trafficking and prostitution online. Just as it moved from Craigslist to Backpage, it will continue to move elsewhere -- and that will probably be to a site that is even less willing to work with law enforcement to help track down and stop real illegal behavior. Similarly, this witchhunt has taught any new platform that any attempt to diminish the blatant use for sex trafficking and prostitution will be twisted to pretend that it's just trying to "hide" that activity. This is a travesty. McCaskill and Portman will get their headlines, and sex trafficking will continue -- it will just be harder to help actual victims.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
Turkey has a long history of blocking Internet services. It's become such a thing, there's even a site called TurkeyBlocks that is exclusively about this phenomenon. A couple of recent stories on the site suggest the Turkish government is aiming to tighten its local control over the online world even more. First, in order to prevent people circumventing social media shutdowns, the Turkish authorities are going after Tor: The Turkey Blocks internet censorship watchdog has identified and verified that restrictions on the Tor anonymity network and Tor Browser are now in effect throughout Turkey. Our study indicates that service providers have successfully complied with a government order to ban VPN services. But even that is not enough it seems. Here's the latest plan: Turkey is building a domestic search engine and email service compatible with national culture and values, according to statements made by Ahmet Arslan, Minister of Communication, in a television interview on Friday. Minister Arslan explained the urgency of the plans in the live show on NTV, citing the need to store user data within the country and ensure that communications can be analysed domestically. Details such as the service's name, logo and organisation structure have yet to be announced. It's interesting to see data localization being invoked here, just as it was in Russia. Fear of surveillance by the US seems to be one reason for the move, but the second part about allowing communications to be "analysed domestically" is also noteworthy. It could be a reflection of the fact that Gmail uses encrypted connections that prevent the Turkish authorities from monitoring who is saying what. One obvious step would be to ban Gmail and Google completely in Turkey in order to force people there to use the new domestic offerings. That would allow the government to monitor its citizens more closely, and to control the flow of online data more strictly. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
Seeds might not seem to have much to do with digital technology, but the DNA that lies at their heart is in fact digital information, and thus many of the issues that concern Techdirt also apply here. One of the key battlegrounds for seeds and their ownership is Africa, as we discussed back in 2013. The Belgian site Mondiaal Nieuws has an update on what's happening in one of the poorest African countries, Tanzania. Things aren't looking good there following a change in the relevant law: "If you buy seeds from Syngenta or Monsanto under the new legislation, they will retain the intellectual property rights. If you save seeds from your first harvest, you can use them only on your own piece of land for non-commercial purposes. You're not allowed to share them with your neighbors or with your sister-in-law in a different village, and you cannot sell them for sure. But that's the entire foundation of the seed system in Africa", says Michael Farrelly [from an organic farming movement in Tanzania]. Under the new law, Tanzanian farmers risk a prison sentence of at least 12 years or a fine of over €205,300 [about $213,000], or both, if they sell seeds that are not certified. "That's an amount that a Tanzanian farmer cannot even start to imagine. The average wage is still less than 2 US dollars a day", says Janet Maro, head of Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania (SAT). The article indicates that "certified" in this context means patented. That's obviously a problem for small-scale farmers, since they would be unable to afford to go through the patenting process, even if that were even a realistic option. For multinationals like Syngenta or Monsanto, by contrast, patenting is as natural as breathing, and so the new system will strengthen their hand considerably. "As a result, the farmers' seed system will collapse, because they can't sell their own seeds", according to Janet Maro. "Multinationals will provide our country with seeds and all the farmers will have to buy them from them. That means that we will lose biodiversity, because it is impossible for them to investigate and patent all the seeds we need. We're going to end up with fewer types of seeds." Here's why this is all happening: Tanzania applied the legislation concerning intellectual property rights on seeds as a condition for receiving development assistance through the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (NAFSN). The NAFSN was launched in 2012 by the G8 with the goal to help 50 million people out of poverty and hunger in the ten African partner countries through a public-private partnership. The initiative receives the support of the EU, the US, the UK, the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. What's particularly regrettable here is not just the loss of biodiversity, and the fact that African farmers will be beholden to Western corporations, but that the NAFSN program will achieve the opposite of its stated aims, and end up taking away what little independence Tanzanian farmers enjoyed under the traditional seed system. No wonder, then, that last year Members of the European Parliament called for the NAFSN to " Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
The fallout from cheap field drug tests continues. The lab that does actual testing of seized substances for the Las Vegas PD had previously expressed its doubts about the field tests' reliability, but nothing changed. Officers continued to use the tests and defendants continued to enter into plea bargains based on questionable evidence. The Las Vegas PD knew the tests were highly fallible. After all, the department had signed off on a report saying as much and handed it into the DOJ in exchange for federal grant money. But cops still used them and prosecutors still relied on them when pursuing convictions. Nothing changed until ProPublica stepped in with its own investigation into the faulty drug tests. In response to this reporting, prosecutors are finally taking a closer look at the tests officers deploy hundreds of times a year. The Clark County District Attorney’s Office in Nevada established a conviction review unit in October. In what appears to be one of its first efforts, the unit has been seeking information about problematic convictions resulting from one of the office’s routine practices: accepting guilty pleas in drug cases that rely largely on the results of field tests done by police that can be unreliable. Unfortunately, this initial move is being handled poorly. Rather than have its prosecutors reexamine any cases relying on field-tested evidence, the DA's office is dumping the workload on already-burdened public defenders. Daniel Silverstein, head of the newly formed unit, in November asked a statewide organization of defense lawyers for any information they had on cases that might have involved inaccurate field tests, and thus resulted in potentially wrongful convictions. This isn't the defense attorneys' problem. While they're definitely interested in a solution, the wrongful convictions were pursued by the DA's office and its attorneys should be the ones looking for convictions that might need to be overturned. The DA's office has more resources and it is the entity that chose to continue pursuing cases against citizens based on nothing more than unreliable $2 test kits. Howard Brooks, the Clark County Public Defender’s appellate director, called the district attorney request to defense attorneys “an absurd challenge.” Brooks argued it is the duty of prosecutors to verify the integrity of their convictions — both those that have already been won and those being brokered today in Clark County courts. Then there's the fact that this examination process won't end up reversing many convictions. As ProPublica points out, seized evidence is routinely destroyed after convictions are obtained. And while lab tests are run on seized substances, that only happens if everyone coordinates to run the samples through as soon as possible. This is something that almost never happens. Prosecutors routinely delay crime lab analysis to check results of field tests until the eve of trial, court records show. When defendants plead guilty at preliminary hearings, the alleged drugs rarely even reach the lab. In Clark County last year, according to court data, just eight of 4,633 drug convictions went to trial. Add to that the fact that the PD itself has never tracked the failure rate of its field drug tests, despite having access to this data. It may have signed off on a damning report, but its discoveries about the tests' fallibility changed nothing about its day-to-day business. The drug tests remained in use by the police department and were treated as unquestionable evidence by the DA's office when pushing for plea deals. About the only immediate positive result of this investigation is the higher bar prosecutors will have to clear before admitting field drug test results as evidence. The state's public defenders are planning to challenge every field drug test submission during evidentiary hearings. Of course, this assumes the judicial process will even make it this far. For many of the accused, accepting plea deals nets them shorter sentences and a slightly less-awful future than going to trial might. Defendants often accept deals just to avoid actual jail time. On the prosecution scorecard, it still counts as a win. As a bonus, additional evidence possibly pointing to the field tests' abysmal accuracy rate vanishes, allowing cops, prosecutors, and sympathetic judges to continue lying to themselves about the tests' accuracy. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
Chuck Canterbury, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, has been given an editorial megaphone over at the Daily Caller. Canterbury's using this platform to defend the pretty much indefensible: civil asset forfeiture. Colloquially known as "cops going shopping for things they want," asset forfeiture supposedly is used to take funds and property away from criminal organizations. In reality, it's become an easy way for law enforcement to take the property of others without having to put much effort into justifying the seizures. In most states, convictions are not required, meaning supposed criminal suspects are free to go… but their property isn't. Canterbury, who previously aired his grievances nationally over director Quentin Tarantino's participation in an anti-police brutality rally, opens up this piece by trying to equate factual reporting with current hot button topic "fake news." Amidst the current national furor against “fake news” is another, more pervasive issue of creating “fake issues” like the myth of policing for profit. There’s been widespread discussion about the need to end the Federal equitable sharing program because a journalist or columnist writes a sympathetic piece describing a case in which the system may not have functioned as intended. Canterbury admits the "system" doesn't always "function as intended" (although many could argue these cases illustrate the system working exactly as intended), but argues that every report about a questionable seizure is the equivalent of fake news. Innocent people being deprived of their property by profit-focused law enforcement agencies is a "fake issue" -- something that apparently wouldn't be covered by a more responsible press. As is the case any time law enforcement agencies feel compelled to defend their most questionable actions, Canterbury places the blame on the media: At a time when the number of officers is declining, federal assistance to state and local agencies is evaporating and deliberate attacks on law enforcement officers are rising, how can this issue be a law enforcement priority? Why are anecdotal accounts in the media suddenly making this a priority in the editorial pages of some newspapers? Oddly, Canterbury views reports backed by court documents and judicial orders as "anecdotal." This may be because asset forfeiture doesn't have much to do with anything normal people consider to be "facts" or "evidence." Very little beyond the anecdotal is needed to permanently separate citizens from their property, as Fault Lines' David Meyer Lindenberg points out: Once the feds had made their showing of probable cause, the burden, then as now, shifted to the claimant to prove his property wasn’t the proceeds or instrumentality of a crime. Needless to say, that requires him to prove a negative. Even better, while the government only had to show probable cause, the claimant, in proving his negative, had to prove it by a higher standard: a preponderance of the evidence. There were countless other inequities, like the fact that the government could use hearsay as evidence while claimants couldn’t. All in all, the deck was about as stacked against property owners as one could imagine. That was how forfeiture worked back in the 1980s, before reform efforts were put into place. Pretty much indistinguishable from now, after the passage of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA) in 2000 -- something Canterbury claims shows he's on the right side of history with his pro-forfeiture arguments. The FOP does not disagree that there is a need for civil asset forfeiture reform. In fact, we worked very closely with Senator Jeff Sessions on this issue going back to the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA) of 2000. The law enforcement community came together to make the necessary changes to the program to ensure due process protections while preserving equitable sharing as a critical law enforcement tool. This is Canterbury's bid for being perceived as then good guy heading a union full of officers and agencies being unfairly misrepresented by media clickbaitery. Lindenberg points out that pretty much the entirety of the "reform" in the 2000 reform act was the placing of the word "reform" in the bill's title. Before CAFRA, “fungible” property could be forfeited even if the government couldn’t tie the assets before it to a crime, but only in money laundering cases. CAFRA extended that provision to all civil asset forfeiture cases. CAFRA reinstated the fugitive disentitlement doctrine, which banned fugitives in criminal cases from trying to recover their assets. CAFRA amended 28 U.S.C. § 2461 to authorize criminal forfeiture whenever civil forfeiture was allowed. This let the government seize people’s assets before they were tried on criminal charges, thus potentially depriving them of the ability to fund their defense. Canterbury worked with Sessions (himself a forfeiture fan who has stated the only thing it does is take stuff from people who've "done nothing more than sell dope their whole lives") to weaken this reform effort. A more serious reform effort never had a chance. This is a list of the concessions given to law enforcement in exchange for giving citizens an incrementally-better chance at recovering wrongfully seized property. The biggest lie in Canterbury's editorial is also the most expected: that asset forfeiture is actually having an effect on criminal activity. For over 30 years, the asset forfeiture program has allowed law enforcement to deprive criminals of both the proceeds and tools of crime. The resources provided by the equitable sharing program have allowed agencies to participate in joint task forces to thwart and deter serious criminal activity and terrorism, purchase equipment, provide training upgrade technology, engage their communities, and better protect their officers. It has been remarkably successful. Sure, that was the theory. In actuality, billions of dollars have flowed into law enforcement agencies with barely any diminishment in the amount of drugs flowing into the country. It may seem like the use of forfeited funds to purchase law enforcement equipment lightens the load on taxpayers but that's only if you don't consider any person whose property has been seized without evidence to not be part of the pool of taxpayers. Using these funds is also a boon for cash-strapped cities and towns, and they're in no hurry to have to start looking for other revenue streams if this one dries up. So, there's plenty of internal opposition to forfeiture reform efforts as well. Canterbury keeps going back to the claim he can't back up: that asset forfeiture has done anything else other than enrich the law enforcement agencies participating in it. He wraps up his editorial with the standard cop rhetorical device: our word against yours. [T]o end a decades-long program which is worth hundreds of millions of dollars to our nation’s communities and has documented success in deterring and fighting crime based on anecdotal media reports is simply not sound public policy. Unfortunately for Canterbury, his claim of "documented success" is at least as anecdotal as the media reports he appears to feel have turned the nation against this honorable practice of taking money from alleged criminals without going through the process of actually proving any criminal activity took place. But when you're used to separating people from property using little more than hearsay and hunches, I'm sure anything that contradicts your narrative looks like nothing more than hysteria urged on by an irresponsible press. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
As stories from the UK, Kenya, Peru, Slovakia, Canada, Germany,

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
If you were to sit down and consciously select a politician that best represents the stranglehold giant telecom companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast have over the legislative process, you probably couldn't find a better candidate than Tennessee Representative Marsha Blackburn. From her endless assault on net neutrality, to her defense of awful state protectionist laws written by ISP lobbyists, there has never been a moment when Ms. Blackburn hasn't prioritized the rights of giant incumbent duopolists over the public she professes to serve. Blackburn has been fairly awful on technology policy in general, from her breathless support of SOPA to her claim that fair use is just a "buzzword" obscuring our desperate need for tougher copyright laws. As such, there should be little surprise that Blackburn has been selected to head the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. The subcommittee tackles most of the pressing internet-related issues, with Blackburn replacing Oregon Representative Greg Walden. Blackburn joins a growing chorus of GOP insiders who have made it a core mission to dismantle net neutrality protections, despite the fact that they have broad, bipartisan appeal among consumers. At least Blackburn has been consistent; she spearheaded the "Internet Freedom Act," which attempted to kill net neutrality by effectively codifying non-net neutrality into law and hamstringing any regulator that tried to protect it. According to Blackburn, this wasn't just because AT&T and Comcast are among her biggest campaign contributors, but because she really, truly adores "innovators":"Once the federal government establishes a foothold into managing how Internet service providers run their networks they will essentially be deciding which content goes first, second, third, or not at all. My legislation will put the brakes on this FCC overreach and protect our innovators from these job-killing regulations." Blackburn has also gone out of her way to defend AT&T and Comcast's efforts to pass state-level protectionist laws. These laws, passed in more than nineteen states, prevent towns and cities from improving local broadband infrastructure -- even in instances where incumbent ISPs have refused to upgrade. According to Blackburn, these competition-killing laws -- which serve solely to protect duopoly revenues -- are somehow necessary to protect "free market competition":"After witnessing how some local governments wasted taxpayer dollars and accumulated millions in debt through poor decision making, the legislatures of states like North Carolina and Tennessee passed commonsense, bipartisan laws that protect hardworking taxpayers and maintain the fairness of free-market competition."Needless to say, Blackburn's home state of Tennessee consistently ranks as one of the least connected states in the nation as a direct result of her hard work. More recently, Blackburn went so far as to suggest that ISPs should be forced to remove "fake news" from the internet:"If anyone is putting fake news out there, the ISPs have the obligation to, in some way, get that off the web. And maybe it's time for these information systems to look to have some type of news editor doing some vetting on that. Whether it's the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians or whomever. You do not want that out there because it's... because it's fake news!" In other words, Blackburn doesn't believe in protecting a healthy and open internet, thinks letting incumbent ISPs write competition-killing protectionist law is somehow good for broadband competition, consistently complains about government overreach, and yet wants the government to force ISPs to dictate what is or isn't acceptable news, while dramatically expanding draconion and unnecessary copyright law. Clearly she's the perfect choice to lead tech policy toward the twenty-second century -- provided you like living in something akin to a poorly-written dystopian novel.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...