posted 8 days ago on techdirt
However much the US government might hope otherwise, there is still widespread concern in Europe about the activities of the NSA and its Five Eyes friends. Here's the latest proof of that: a joint motion signed by all political parties in the Austrian parliament, against illegal surveillance (via Netzpolitik). The Parliament's own summary of what the motion contained reads as follows (original in German): The recent revelations of the US whistleblower Edward Snowden have now acted as a call to action for the six parliamentary groups. In a resolution introduced jointly, they express their support for tackling seriously the illegal spying by the US foreign intelligence NSA, its British counterpart GCHQ and other foreign intelligence services. In their opinion, the [Austrian] government should exhaust all available diplomatic options, and diligently pursue violations of the Austrian Criminal Code. In addition, the MPs urge taking steps at the European level to promote the technological independence of Europe in the field of information and communication technology. In the justification for the motion, reference was made to the recently-discovered "cyberbug", presumably attributable to the NSA. With this new malware, which cannot be detected by anti-virus software, and can even survive wiping the hard disk undamaged, it is possible for encryption to be circumvented, for example. The Members find equally worrying the theft of millions of electronic encryption keys from the Dutch SIM card producer Gemalto. Although the motion in itself is unlikely to achieve much, it's a clear indication of continuing anger among European politicians at the activities of the NSA and GCHQ in spying on innocent members of the public, and undermining key elements of telecommunications infrastructure. If nothing else, it's a timely reminder that there are plenty of unresolved issues here, and that they are likely to have serious ramifications on US-EU relations in the future, not least in areas like Safe Harbor and TAFTA/TTIP. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Maybe, like me, you thought that the Bay Area Rapid Transit system was only good for illegally shutting down cell phone services in its stations to quiet protests that never actually existed. Well, it turns out we were all wrong about that. BART is also good for insanely stupid trademark oppositions. Take, for instance, the recent dispute between the transit group and FiftyFifty Brewing Company, in which the former is attempting to keep the latter from gaining a trademark on its Barrel Aged Really Tasty brew. According to FiftyFifty owner/CEO Andy Barr, the B.A.R.T. beer has been a regular offering for several years. It has been sold at the brewery and bottled in limited production for California distribution; he has legal label approval in the state. But FiftyFifty is now ready to expand its current production (~1200 barrels per year) and start shipping over state lines, so as Barr puts it, “it was a time for a trademark.” However, one party is not so keen on FiftyFifty’s trademark application for the B.A.R.T. label: Bay Area Rapid Transit, which obviously shares an acronym with the FiftyFifty beer in question. An opposition was filed. “We were very surprised to get opposition from Bay Area Rapid Transit,” says Barr, pointing out that trains and beer are very different things, unlikely to cause consumer confusion. “Trademarks are for specific categories. You trademark it for beer, ale, porter. The implication is that we came up with that acronym in order to monetize on the fame of Bay Area Rapid Transit — which is not true,” Barr says. No, it certainly isn't true. Barr further explains that the acronym was devised as an homage to a dead dog that, when alive, used to run around the brewery plant and entertain the workers within it. Now, I'm not saying that trying to co-opt the intention to name a product after a beloved pooch necessarily makes BART an entity very likely run by Satan himself, but it sure doesn't help to disavow the notion, does it? More important is Barr's correct explanation of how trademarks work and within what parameters they operate. One of the key aspects of a valid trademark is the narrow industry to which it applies. BART, for instance, has a trademark on "BART" for the industries of transit, prints, and publication. I would have to be very drunk to confuse a train with a beer, I think. One would think that this entire opposition must be some kind of mistake, except the BART officials commenting on it think they're barking up a perfectly valid tree. “Just as any agency or business does, BART routinely protects its name and registered trademarks,” notes Alicia Trost, Communications Department Manager for the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District. “Use of the BART name by unauthorized parties for commercial gain, whether or not they are in the rapid transit business, is a violation of trademark law, and something BART must protect itself against.” Except, of course, that because we're talking about completely different industries, and because the source of the BART beer name had nothing to do with the BART transit group, none of the above is correct. No protection is necessary at all. Having a communications person publicly comment that the competitive industry doesn't factor into the validity of a trademark claim, which is absolutely false, seems like a huge misstep. Unfortunately, even though Barr knows he and FiftyFifty are in the right, he's facing the realities of our wonderful legal system. “It blows me away that it would degrade and demean anyone else’s brand value,” he continues, expressing concern about the next steps. “We’re not a deep-pocketed organization … So, the question is how do we stand up for ourselves?” Here's hoping David doesn't fall to Goliath. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Who doesn't like a fast broadband connection? The faster, the better! The only problem seems to be that there are some capacity limits with current technology. Details, details. But what if there were some technologies that could vastly increase those capacity limits? There might be some awkward situations where fiber-based internet service wasn't as fast as a wireless connection. Perhaps ingrained data cap pricing tiers would still stick around? Here are just a few developments that could bring much faster broadband (someday, maybe). Alcatel-Lucent's Bell Labs set a broadband record of 10 Gbps over traditional copper telephone lines in 2014. There are some practical limitation, such as the distance couldn't be too far and the copper line quality probably needs to be a bit better than the 100yo stuff running into some homes. Still, the work is pushing the limits of copper further, and there are some predictions that 40 Gbps speeds over copper are on the way. [url] Researchers at Columbia University have created full-duplex radio integrated circuits that could effectively double frequency spectrum resources. Devices made with this technology could transmit and receive data over the same frequency at the same time, but obviously this capability is going to take some time to get into commercial gadgets. [url] The orbital angular momentum (OAM) property of electromagnetic waves could provide nearly limitless data capacity. It might take a really, really long time to see this get out of the lab and into commercial products, but when/if it does, we might never hear about exoflood FUD again. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As we noted a week and a half ago when the FCC released its full net neutrality rules, it seemed like the legal challenges wouldn't start for a little while -- because the rules had to formally be published in the Federal Register, which would then set off the countdown clock for filing a lawsuit against the rules. However, some believe that parts of the new rules fall under a different legal regime, and thus there is a 10 day limit from the date the rules were released to file an appeal. And thus, we have USTelecom, a trade association of broadband providers and Alamo Broadband, a small Texas-based ISP, who have both filed legal challenges over the FCC's rules. Specifically, they're both asking appeals courts to "review" the rules. Alamo is asking the Fifth Circuit court of appeals, while USTelecom is focusing on the DC Circuit (which is where the last challenge to FCC rules happened). The reasoning in both is fairly similar. Here's USTelecom's argument: US Telecom seeks review of the Order on the grounds that it is arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion within the meaning of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 701 et seq.; violates federal law, including, but not limited to, the Constitution, the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, and FCC regulations promulgated thereunder; conflicts with the notice-and-comment rulemaking requirements of 5 U.S.C. § 553; and is otherwise contrary to law. Meanwhile, the focus of Alamo's argument is: Alamo seeks relief on the grounds that the Order: (1) is in excess of the Commission's authority; (2) is arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion within the meaning of the Administrative Procedure Act; (3) is contrary to constitutional right; and (4) is otherwise contrary to law. You'll notice that they're both fairly similar. The focus, as in many lawsuits against FCC actions, is on that "arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion." This is what haters of Title II have been arguing all along, but that seems like it may be a difficult argument to win in court -- especially given what courts have said previously, including in the Brand X ruling (which basically kicked off the process for broadband players classified under Title I instead of Title II) where they more or less said that the FCC should be given deference in these kinds of decisions. It's difficult to see how the suing broadband providers are going to get past that ruling.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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I'm not a coupon person. I don't know why I'm not, but I don't find myself at the grocery store digging through a coupon wallet the way my mother did to ensure I get $.25 off on that discounted meat I like to buy for a little game I call "Will this kill me tonight?" When shopping online, however, it's a completely different story. Like many others, checking out of an online store isn't complete until I run the brand or retailer through a search engine to see if there are any online coupons I can use. One of the common sites that comes up is RetailMeNot, an aggregator of coupon codes. Sometimes the codes work, more often they don't, but it's all part of my buying process. And you have to imagine that, for the most part, retailers love sites like this. Coupons, after all, are designed to get buyers to try out a store or a brand. Making those coupons more widely available should naturally result in more first-tries, more purchases when there might otherwise be less. It's a promotional tool, if nothing else, likely a free advertising source for these stores and brands. Mary Kay Cosmetics, in its never-ending wisdom, has decided to sue RetailMeNot for fraud and trademark infringement, litigating against the hand that feeds them. Mary Kay Cosmetics is suing affiliate site Google Ventures-backed RetailMeNot in federal court for precisely for this reason. The company doesn’t sell directly to the public — though its corporate site makes it appear otherwise — and says it doesn’t offer deals or coupons. Therefore the company says that RetailMeNot’s presentation of Mary Kay coupons misleads consumers and harms the brand and its relationship with its sales reps (independent consultants) in several ways. Okay, a couple of things to note from that pull quote. First, Mary Kay absolutely does sell direct to customers on its website. Not its entire catalog, perhaps. For that, you probably have to deal with one of the low-on-the-pyramid "sales reps" that hasn't figured out the Mary Kay business model yet. As for whether Mary Kay offers coupons or deals, they absolutely do that, too. You can get free gifts with certain purchase amounts or free shipping on certain amounts, for instance. I played along at the Mary Kay website to find out, so you can see the screenshot below. Now, while these aren't the kinds of coupons that have a code, the kind that people will usually travel to a site like RetailMeNot to get, so what? RetailMeNot is a service for alerting consumers to sales, coupons, and deals. When there is no coupon code, the site drives traffic directly to the retailer's site for the deal instead. For instance: The Mary Kay site is displayed and consumers are directed there for their needs. I have no idea where the fraud is here and, if it's trademark infringement, it's the kind of infringement most businesses should be begging for. Driving traffic of interested consumers directly to your website? That deserves a "thank you", not a lawsuit. And, in truth, the higher ups at Mary Kay probably have no problem with any of this. Unfortunately, the Mary Kay business model means that consumers visiting the website really aren't Mary Kay's most important customers. It's lower level employees are. The folks at the bottom of the triangle have been complaining that their customers are referencing the deals on the Mary Kay site that RetailMeNot is pointing out and demanding the same deals from the local reps. And, because Mary Kay makes a fat percentage of its money directly from those reps, rather than from consumers, pissed off "Independant Beauty Consultants" are a problem. Hence the stupid lawsuit in which Mary Kay admits as much. RMN’s listing of these “sales,” “deals,” and “coupons” harms Mary Kay and its relationship with its customers (the IBCs). Mary Kay has received various complaints from IBCs and others, who have been pressured by customers to accept and/or honor the false or unauthorized “coupons” posted on RMN’s website. RetailMeNot's site is pointing back to Mary Kay's website. That's what makes all of this not only legal, but certainly not underhanded. Now, I still can't quite fathom why Mary Kay, even after admitting who its real customers are in a legal filing, can't immediately be disbanded as a pyramid scheme, but that's entirely besides the point. RMN is under no obligation to keep Mary Kay customers happy and driving traffic to a retailer's website isn't grounds for a lawsuit. And it appears the site is willing to fight, according to the statement it provided. RetailMeNot, Inc. takes concerns related to third party intellectual property very seriously. RetailMeNot, Inc. continues to believe that it operates in compliance with law and in the best interests of consumers and its retail partners by aggregating information to help shoppers save money using its websites and mobile apps. RetailMeNot, Inc. believes the allegations in this lawsuit are without merit and intends to vigorously contest this matter. Sigh. No good deed and all that.... Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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If you're a UK-based journalist who's reported on the Snowden leaks, it's safe to say you're under investigation. Not only are you being investigated, but that investigation itself is so secret, it can't be discussed. The Intercept's Ryan Gallagher sent a Freedom of Information request to London's Metropolitan Police (the Met) for more information about the investigation -- something twice publicly confirmed by Met representatives. But when asked specifically for information on the ongoing investigation, the agency had nothing to say. [T]he Metropolitan Police... says everything about the investigation’s existence is a secret and too dangerous to disclose. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from this reporter, the force has repeatedly refused to release any information about the status of the investigation, how many officers are working on it, or how much taxpayer money has been spent on it. The Met wrote in its response: "to confirm or deny whether we hold any information concerning any current or previous investigations into the alleged actions of Edward Snowden could potentially be misused proving detrimental to national security.' In this current environment, where there is a possibility of increased threat of terrorist activity, providing any details even to confirm or deny that any information exists could assist any group or persons who wish to cause harm to the people of the nation which would undermine the safeguarding of national security." The response is hardly a response. In fact, almost the entirety of the nine-page document Gallagher received is simply reasons WHY the Met won't be responding affirmatively or negatively to his inquiry. The only new information gleaned is that control of the investigation has changed hands. AC Mark Rowley has taken over as Head of Specialist Operations following the departure of Cressida Dick That's the one thing the "Counter Terrorism Command" can confirm. This would be the same department within the Met that was directly involved with the detainment and questioning of Glenn Greenwald's partner, David Miranda. Everything else falls under a variety of exemptions, including the oh-so-opaque "state secrets" designation. The Metropolitan Police Service can neither confirm nor deny whether it holds any of the information that you have requested, as the duty in S1(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 does not apply, by virtue of the following exemptions: Section 23(5) - Information supplied by, or concerning, certain security bodies Section 24(2) - National Security Section 30(3) Criminal Investigations Section 31(3) - Law Enforcement Section 40(5) - Personal information There's more detail later, when the response details the agency's decision to declare the request to be "not in the public interest." The security of the country is of paramount importance and the Police service will not divulge whether information is or is not held if to do so would undermine National Security or law enforcement. Whilst there is a public interest in the transparency of policing operations and providing assurance that the police service is appropriately and effectively engaging with the threats posed by groups or individuals there is a very strong public interest in safeguarding the integrity of police investigations and operations in the highly sensitive area of extremism, crime prevention, public disorder and terrorism prevention. [...] After weighing up the competing interests I have determined that confirmation or denial of any information being held concerning whether the MPS has investigated the alleged actions of Edward Snowden or not would not be in the public interest. To confirm or deny that information is held regarding any individual or investigation that may or may not have taken place could be detrimental to any investigations that may be being conducted now or in the future. But, of course, all of this discussion about national security, public interest and possibly compromised investigations does not confirm that there's a twice-previously-confirmed investigation of UK journalists in progress. However, this should not be taken as necessarily indicating that any information that would meet your request exists or does not exist. This UK-style Glomar tosses the request back to The Intercept, which has tossed it to the nearest governing body.. The Intercept has filed a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office, the public body that enforces the U.K.’s freedom of information laws, about the Met’s refusal to release information about the current status of the investigation. The commissioner will now look at how the police handled the request and decide whether they should be ordered to hand over the relevant details. Even in the UK, information doesn't want to be free. It wants to be litigated. The Met continues to maintain its code of silence in the face of its earlier public statements about investigating those publishing the Snowden leaks. When asked how something the agency itself publicly discussed several months ago is now a "national security" issue, the Met offered a swift "no comment" -- a handy way to dodge the logic hole in its Freedom of Information request denial. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A week and a half ago, we launched the Copia Institute, our new business network/think tank. The two day event was really quite amazing, and tons of great ideas came out of the discussions. We'll be sharing some videos and some ideas from all of those discussions as we go forward, but wanted to start out by sharing the presentation I gave at the kickoff, explaining just what we were trying to do, inspired by the Homebrew Computer Club forty years ago. You can see the opening presentation here: As mentioned in the presentation, one of the things that we're focused on is bringing together lots of smart people to think through creative approaches to big challenges, that don't require waiting for bureaucrats and policymakers to make some big decision -- and the number of great ideas that came out of the summit directly, and in a series of conversations since then, has been astounding. In fact, there are probably too many good ideas. However, in the coming days, weeks and months, we'll continue sharing with you the followup on some of these discussions, including additional gatherings, new research and new projects, all designed to help drive innovation forward. I know that many of you who were unable to make the inaugural summit have expressed interest in staying informed and helping out as we launch various initiatives. Please, stay tuned, as there will be plenty of opportunities to join in the discussions and to help accomplish some amazing things.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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For months now, AT&T has been telling anybody who'll listen that Title II-based net neutrality rules are "from a bygone era," will "diminish industry investment and competition," and are a draconian, devastating example of regulatory overreach. In protest over the FCC's new neutrality rules, the company even went so far as to "suspend" its largely phony 100-city fiber-to-the-home investments to "prove" Title II was an investment killer (though it ultimately had to walk back the bluff after the FCC decided to fact check the company's math). While publicly AT&T tries to argue that Title II is a menace of the highest order, privately, AT&T consistently defers to authority of Title II -- when it's in AT&T's best interests to do so. The company recently floated above, around and over Title II and common carrier definitions to skirt an FTC investigation into its throttling practices. You'll note that when AT&T benefits from some of the protections Title II can offer, suddenly, magically gone is all of the rhetoric about Title II being bad simply because it's based on the framework of an older law. The latest example of this involves a billing dispute between AT&T and several smaller telcos. Basically -- AT&T recently complained that Great Lakes Comnet and Westphalia Telephone Company over-billed the telco to the tune of $12 million, and were demanding AT&T pay another $4.3 million in errant charges for interstate connections. AT&T complained to the FCC, stating that Sections 201(b), 203 and 208 of the Communications Act (**cough** Title II) prohibit such charges when they are not "just and reasonable." The FCC agreed, and sided in AT&T's favor:"We agree with AT&T," the FCC wrote. "We find that GLC violated the Commission’s Rules governing competitive local exchange carrier tariffs for interstate access services, and that the tariff therefore is unlawful. We also grant AT&T’s claim in Count III that WTC unlawfully billed for services prior to May 2013 that GLC provided." Just in case it's not clear, AT&T's using Title II to defend itself from over-billing, but has thrown a series of increasingly hostile hissy fits at the very idea the same standards could be applied to defend consumers from AT&T. AT&T's of course not alone in simultaneously demonizing a "regulatory framework developed for Ma Bell in the 1930s" while benefiting from it. Verizon has enjoyed massive tax breaks for years when it comes to classifying portions of its FiOS network under Title II. The wireless industry also witnessed a decade of explosive growth and profit while wireless voice remained classified under Title II. That's because it's not really Title II the telcos are worried about. All they're worried about are the billions they stand to lose should a regulator be able to defend consumers from anti-competitive behavior. As such, it's never really been specifically about Title II -- it has simply been about government daring -- for probably the first time in fifteen years -- to stand up to broadband ISPs when it comes to seriously protecting consumers.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Patent trolls -- sometimes known more politely as "Non-Practising Entities" (NPEs) -- probably have few fans among Techdirt readers, but there are some who try to justify their activities. Here's how the argument usually goes: Defenders of patent trolls ... argue that they serve as business intermediaries between inventors and commercializers. While the traditional theory of the patent system is that patents encourage innovation by allowing inventors to exclude competitors from the market and therefore earn supracompetitive returns, a number of scholars have argued that the patent system can encourage commercialization of inventions once they are made by allowing the inventor to control who can develop the technology. That comes from an interesting new paper from Robin Feldman and Mark A. Lemley, which explores whether patent trolls really do fulfill this theoretical function in practice. It's long and detailed, but its results are pretty clear-cut: Based on our preliminary evidence, the theory that NPEs facilitate innovation either through the creation of new products or by delivering actual technical know-how from inventors to implementers doesn’t hold water. NPEs almost never actually provide any valuable information to their licensees, and they rarely, if ever, prompt the development of any new products. Licensees are paying for freedom to operate -- the right not to be sued for implementing technology they developed on their own but which someone has asserted will fit within their patent rights. Thus, the study does not support the efficient middleman hypothesis for characterizing the role of NPEs. That's a valuable contribution to the debate about patent trolls, but the paper offers other insights. For example, it finds that not only do patent trolls not bring about much technology transfer with their patent licensing, neither does anyone else, either: That doesn’t mean technology transfer doesn’t happen; it does. But it may mean that technology transfer happens early in the life of a technology, and that secrets, collaborations, and informal know-how, not patents, are the primary focus of real technology licensing agreements. That's an important point. The paper also provides yet more evidence that the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act, designed to encourage the commercialization of research results through licensing, actually turns universities into patent trolls -- something that Techdirt has discussed before. Although the authors suggest that further research is needed to confirm their results, it already seems pretty clear that both patent trolls and Bayh-Dole need to go. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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You don't hear much about FBI whistleblowers. Many other agencies have had wrongdoing exposed by employees (and the government has often seen fit to slap the whistles out of their mouths with harsh prosecution), but the FBI isn't one of them. Forty-three years ago, whistleblowers broke into the FBI and retrieved damning documents, but no one's really broken out of the FBI to do the same. In fact, the FBI would rather not talk about whistleblowing at all. An optimist might chalk this up to the FBI being a tightly-run organization that polices itself for malfeasance and wrongdoing. They'd be wrong, of course. Just within the past year, the FBI has twice thwarted its own oversight and may soon face budgetary constraints if it won't turn over the documents the DOJ's Inspector General is seeking. There's a reason no one blows the whistle at the FBI and this GAO report spells it out: unlike every other government agency, the DOJ's internal policies contain nothing to shield FBI whistleblowers from retaliation. Unlike employees of other executive branch agencies, FBI employees do not have a process to seek corrective action if they experience retaliation based on a disclosure of wrongdoing to their supervisors or others in their chain of command who are not designated officials. This difference is due, in part, to DOJ’s decisions about how to implement the statute governing FBI whistleblowers. When issuing its regulations in 1999, DOJ officials did not include supervisors in the list of entities designated to receive protected disclosures, stating that Congress intended DOJ to limit the universe of recipients of protected disclosures, in part because of the sensitive information to which FBI employees have access. To ostensibly protect means, methods and (presumably) the country itself, the DOJ eliminated several options whistleblowers could pursue when taking their complaints through official channels. A 2012 Presidential Policy Directive aimed at increasing whistleblower protections failed to move the needle. In response to this requirement, DOJ reviewed its regulations and in an April 2014 report recommended adding more senior officials in FBI field offices to the list of designated entities, but did not recommend adding all supervisors. DOJ cited a number of reasons for this, including concerns about striking the right balance between the benefits of an expanded list and the additional resources and time needed to handle a possible increase in complaints. By dismissing retaliation complaints based on a disclosure made to an employee’s supervisor or someone in that person’s chain of command, DOJ leaves some FBI whistleblowers—such as the 17 complainants we identified—without protection from retaliation. The DOJ is plainly disinterested in sheltering those who would point out FBI wrongdoing. It has set up a minefield most whistleblowers are unable to navigate. We concluded that, without clear information on how to make a protected disclosure, FBI whistleblowers may not be aware that, depending on how they report their allegation, they may not be able to seek corrective action if they experience retaliation. So, with no roadmap and extremely limited protections, whistleblowers who do manage to bring their complaints up through proper channels are often subjected to retaliatory actions for which they have no remedy. [I]n 2002, former FBI agent Jane Turner filed a whistleblower complaint with DOJ alleging that her colleagues had stolen items from Ground Zero after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. She was then given a “does not meet expectations” rating, placed on leave, and notified of proposed removal. This retalitation was reported by Agent Turner to the DOJ, which then slowly ground its heavy wheels of so-called justice for more than a decade. [The] DOJ ultimately found in her favor in 2013—over 10 years later. Turner's case isn't an anomaly. The GAO found that, while the DOJ was often quick to dismiss retaliation complaints simply because the whistleblower failed to properly navigate its labyrinthine reporting restrictions, it was seldom interested in moving quickly on behalf of those who managed to luck into complete compliance. The 4 complaints we reviewed in our 2015 report that met threshold regulatory requirements and that DOJ ultimately adjudicated on the merits, took up to 10.6 years to resolve, and DOJ did not provide parties with expected time frames for its decisions throughout these cases. The DOJ blames this on "case complexity" and "staffing priorities." The latter excuse is likely the most honest. The DOJ is far more inclined to prosecute whistleblowers than protect whistleblowers. Blowing the whistle at the FBI means being subjected to vindictive actions with little to no recourse. The DOJ may decide to take a whistleblower's case, but will do little, if anything, to escalate its response. In the meantime, whistleblowers are apparently supposed to take a number and wait things out in a hostile environment. Will this GAO report result in better protections? Highly doubtful, considering a directive issued by the President's office itself failed to produce any significant change. Even the agency's inside oversight -- the Office of the Inspector General -- is finding the DOJ completely unresponsive to its complaints about FBI stonewalling and obfuscation. It's highly unlikely the DOJ will handle lower-level whistleblower complaints with more speed or openness. The DOJ, along with the FBI, has successfully neutralized most forms of accountability. The OIG is openly ignored. FOIA requests are frequently greeted with massive amounts of withheld documents and redactions. When pressed, the nation's top law enforcement agency tends to wrap itself in a patchwork of undeclared wars (drugs, terrorism) and claims accountability will lead to an unsafe and unsecured country. Meanwhile, its own underling agencies go rogue while tangled, useless policies keep whistleblowers from ever opening their mouths.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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In the wake of the Snowden leaks, more and more tech companies are providing their users with transparency reports that detail (to the extent they're allowed) government requests for user data. Amazon -- home to vast amounts of cloud storage -- isn't one of them. Amazon remains the only US internet giant in the Fortune 500 that has not yet released a report detailing how many demands for data it receives from the US government. Although people are starting to notice, the retail and cloud giant has no public plans to address these concerns. Word first spread last week when the ACLU's Christopher Soghoian, who's spent years publicly denouncing companies for poor privacy practices, told attendees at a Seattle town hall event that he's "hit a wall with Amazon," adding that it's "just really difficult to reach people there." Zack Whittaker and ZDNet ran into the same wall. Nearly thirty Amazon representatives were contacted but only one provided a response: an anonymous statement that the company was under "confidentiality obligations" not to discuss requests for data. There are several reasons why Amazon might be hesitant to share intel/law enforcement request data, perhaps none bigger than its $600 million/10-year contract with the US intelligence community. It might also be its multiple contracts with other federal agencies, including connecting the nation's law enforcement agencies through its AWS-hosted Criminal Justice Information Service. But that can't be the whole explanation. It's not as if other companies now providing transparency reports aren't similarly engaged with the government at some level. Microsoft has contracts with various governments to provide Windows and Office software. Google offers a range of open-source and cloud-based services to the government, and Apple provides iPhones and iPads to government and military users, thanks to earning various certifications. Even telephone service providers, which have historically been very proactive in accommodating government demands for data -- going so far as to give intelligence analysts guidance on how to skirt legal restrictions -- are producing bi-annual transparency reports. But Amazon simply refuses to do so, and then refuses to explain its refusal. This lack of transparency has gone past the point of being merely vexatious. Amazon isn't satisfied with simply selling and storing. It's gathering far more data than its more famous offerings would indicate. With its smartphone and tablet line-up, the company is taking on even more data -- including browsing history through its Silk browser, reading habits, and other data like IP addresses. The company is slated to be moving into the enterprise and work-based email provider space. Silence and secrecy aren't improving Amazon's reputation, at least not with those with privacy concerns. Unfortunately for them, it's been well-established that Amazon will do whatever it wants with little regard for public opinion. No one's going to "guilt" Amazon into doing anything. But the concerns are legitimate. Who wants to be housed "next door" to the CIA, knowing it has shown little respect for data barriers put in place to safeguard other government entities? I'm sure the answer is "hardly anybody," but Amazon's opacity prevents ordinary people from knowing even the slightest about the government's activities and demands. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 9 days ago on techdirt
In early February, we put out an open letter to Elon Musk, asking him to put SpaceX's photos into the public domain, noting that it was a shame that those photos would be locked up until long after we were all dead. NASA's photos are all in the public domain. While I'm extremely excited about the things that private spaceflight can accomplish -- it would be unfortunate if part of the deal was that we lost a great source of public domain imagery. Last week, the company started releasing its photos under a Creative Commons license, which was definitely a big step forward. However, we noted that we were still disappointed that it wasn't a pure public domain dedication, and in fact had a "non-commercial" restriction. So we once again asked if Musk might consider going that one step further to the public domain. Over the weekend, he did just that: Extra kudos to Elon Musk for recognizing the issue and making the decision so quickly. Of course, the above is not entirely accurate. For reasons that are beyond me, Flickr does not offer a CC0 Public Domain dedication as an option on photos, so it looks like SpaceX has switched the photos to CC BY 2.0, basically removing the non-commercial restriction, but still requiring attribution. Still, given Musk's public statement, it seems likely that the company has no intention to enforce even that restriction. One separate note: I was a bit surprised by the number of comments on our last story that seemed to indicate that it was absolutely crazy of me to dare suggest that a private company put photographic works into the public domain. This is unfortunate. It is depressing how much the myth that everything needs to be "owned" has become pervasive in society, often due to the false claims made by legacy industries. Freeing up works so that the public can benefit them has tremendous global benefits, even for the private interests who put those works into the public domain. Elon Musk recognized this with Tesla's patents and he appears to be doing the same with SpaceX's photos as well. And, yes, freeing these photos likely will come back to benefit SpaceX as well. It will enable others to take those works and build off of them, perhaps doing research or publications that will increase the demand for SpaceX's services in launching things (and, eventually, people) into space. And those benefits are likely to be much more valuable than whatever SpaceX might have gotten in a "license" deal for a few photos to some commercial source. It's astounding to me the short-term, narrow-visioned view of the world some people have, in which they think licensing is the answer to everything, not recognizing just how much innovation and freedom it naturally suppresses. Oh, and since I can now do this without any worry, here are a couple of great SpaceX photos, that Musk says are in the public domain. Enjoy! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 10 days ago on techdirt
After Portland police arrested a homeless woman for charging her phone at a public outlet, we wondered what purpose that could possibly serve. Of course, the sad truth is it's not about purpose at all, as one anonymous commenter spelled out in this week's most insightful comment: This is far more common that you might think Having been homeless, I've seen a lot of this. Police and security guards routinely bully the homeless because they can: who's going to defend them? They're perfect targets for sadistic behavior, and believe me, there's no shortage of that. I've seen cops/guards steal coats ("that's too nice for you, you must have shoplifted it"), kick food away ("you can't eat here"), drag people out of bathrooms ("you can't wash your face here"), refuse transport to the ER ("you didn't get beat up, you just got drunk and fell"), steal money ("you can't beg here, give me all your cash"), demand sex ("blow me and I won't run you in"), and worse. Much worse. Nobody sees. Nobody knows. Nobody cares. Next, we've got a response to the baffling ongoing complaints about Netflix not being the same as traditional television with its release schedules, ruining watercooler chats and causing spoiler tension. Violynne pointed out that the whole point of Netflix is that it changed things profoundly: Two things Netflix did to change the world when it comes to watching a TV show: -It removed 22 minutes of ads despite being a paid service. Hulu + and cable television can't even come close to doing the same thing. -It put the power of viewing in my control, allowing me to actually enjoy watching shows again. Remember NBC's "Thursday Night Must See TV"? Yeah, so do I, and it was HORRIBLE. Unless you had an accompanying guide (most had TV guide), you had absolutely no control what episode aired that evening. Repeat? Pushed back because of a long-running football game? Then there was the idiocy of the "break", where weeks would go by without any new show, allowing the very few people who didn't own a VCR/DVR to "catch up". The entire television industry was broken since the 50s. It's thanks to technology it finally fixed itself so a show can be enjoyed, not aired based on when advertisers wanted eyeballs to their products. There are plenty in this industry who should take notes from Netflix. Right, Hulu? For editor's choice on the insightful side, we'll start out with one more response to the story from Portland. This time it's another anonymous commenter who proposed a radical solution to the concerns of businesses about homeless people: There's a very good productive way for the businesses to get rid of the homeless people. Hire them. Next, we've got a reaction to the latest instance of what I once called copylaundering — the practice whereby big media companies license or otherwise use material they don't own, then later feed it into YouTube's ContentID or other automated screening systems, which then accuse the original creators and rightsholders of that material with infringement. As Mason Wheeler points out, the irony hurts: ...and they call piracy "theft"?!? Over on the funny side, first place comes from the post about Cisco shipping hardware to bogus addresses in order to throw off the NSA's intercept efforts. It's a valiant move, but as Michael pointed out, certain aspects of the strategy sounded very familiar: "We ship [boxes] to an address that's has nothing to do with the customer, and then you have no idea who ultimately it is going to," In a related story, DHL sues Cisco for copyright infringement. In second place, we've got a response to the news that the government will be paying $18,000 to a photographer whose cameras it improperly seized outside a tank plant in Lima, Ohio. Vidiot suggested a continued effort to drive the message home: Throwing it open to all... Announcing... The Lima, OH Tank Plant Photo Contest! First Tuesday of every month, we all meet outside the plant at noon, and start snapping away. Runners-up (which is everybody else) get a free ride in a government vehicle. But one lucky winner takes home the $18,000 jackpot! For editor's choice on the funny side, we start out with a comment from AricTheRed responding to the insane comparison of Google Fiber to... ebola: Man if this is true, I sure hope I catch Google Fiber, as there is no apparent effetive treatment for that either... Finally, we circle back to the complaints about Netflix's new model for TV viewing, where DannyB pointed out that the solution is easy, and would surely be super popular: Look Netflix, here is a simple fix. Introduce an option where a customer can pay an extra fee to their local cable company and Netflix will not allow playing each episode of a series until at least one week after you have watched the previous episode. For an additional fee, Netflix could add a fixed time window option where you must watch the episode in a fixed time, such as 7 PM Thursday Evenings. Failure to watch it at that time means you miss it and will not have another opportunity to watch it for one year. For people who really want the premium experience, Netflix could charge customers an additional fee that enables them to experience commercials conveniently inserted by Netflix at points in time where something exciting has happened or some major plot twist has just occurred. For an additional fee, Netflix could remove your ability to pause the internet stream so that you must watch it live. None of these ideas are technically infeasible to implement. Those of us who want a superior experience from Netflix should send them feedback to implement these features at once. This would allow us to blame someone other than Google for a change. (Of course, we still could look for some reason to blame Google for Netflix's lack of the above features.) Sign me up! That's all for this week, folks. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
Five Years Ago This week in 2010, the Viacom/YouTube lawsuit started in earnest with the motions for summary judgement from both sides, most of which appeared to be a lot of he-said-she-said. As the week wore on, though, the cracks started to show: Viacom couldn't figure out which clips were actually infringing (despite insisting that Google should be able to do so), and people realized that a lot of YouTube quotes in Viacom's filing were taken completely out of context. YouTube's motions, on the other hand, highlighted how industry lawsuits may have slowed innovation, and we wondered if the whole case might lead to an FTC investigation. Over in the UK, Simon Singh stopped writing his Guardian column to fight the British Chiropractic Association's libel lawsuit against him for calling them out on their many pseudoscientific claims. A commission was calling for a tax on Google to prop up newspapers (while Google was telling newspapers to experiment), and the Times Online was blocking aggregators after a ruling that the latter didn't have to pay a license fee. But perhaps the biggest news was the passage of the Digital Economy Bill through the House of Lords, which had only one positive outcome: it garnered another hilarious message song from Dan Bull. Ten Years Ago This week in 2005, Kevin Martin took over as FCC chair following Michael Powell; INDUCE Act author Orrin Hatch was put in charge of the Senate's copyright panel; bad stats were misleading people about reactions to copy protection; and we were wondering about the balance between privacy and anti-piracy efforts (while AOL was actively sacrificing the privacy of AIM users). Internet jurisdiction questions were still heated and unsettled, and strange legal ideas were popping up all over the world such as an attempt by an Indian newspaper to claim that ongoing criticism was a criminal conspiracy. Meanwhile, the MPAA was searching for the legal theory that would make BitTorrent trackers illegal. France was beating up Google on trademark issues while embarking on

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
For this week's awesome stuff, we've got an assortment of technological tidbits for folks who like the customizable, the utilitarian, and the scientific. Trickey: Any Key, Anwhere For all the huge variety of input devices on the market, there is a surprising dearth of truly customizable ones. Some gamer's keyboards have settings and configurations and maybe a few modular pieces, but Trickey takes things to new level with a very simple idea: building the function for each key into the key itself, rather than into the board it connects to. This way, rearranging your input is as simple as popping out keys and plugging them in where you want them. It's a great idea that definitely has applications for gaming and a wide variety of design and creative tasks that use special software, but its one big drawback is the expense: unless the relatively small modular units can be brought down in price, building anything more than a simple four- or five-key custom interface is probably more than most people will want to shell out for. The PocketLab Smartphones have put a wide variety of advanced sensors into everyone's pocket, but as useful as this is, there are limits based on the fact that you usually want to keep your phone close and not put it in a great deal of danger. The PocketLab offloads these sensors — a barometer, accelerometer, thermometer, magnetometer and gyroscope — into a rugged standalone unit that communicates with your phone and the cloud. Now the readings-curious can strap it to a rocket, toss it off a cliff or subject it to whatever other abuse seems likely to produce some interesting data. VIS: Useful Power USB power banks are everywhere these days, with little to distinguish them other than price and capacity. But the creators of VIS realized that a portable battery can have all sorts of additional uses beyond charging your devices, and built them into a slick-looking unit. The VIS serves as a flashlight, and emergency lantern and — in an inspired bit of design that suddenly feels obvious — a jumpstarter for your car with the included jumper-cable attachment. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
Recently, Techdirt noted that the FBI may soon have permission to break into computers anywhere on the planet. It will come as no surprise to learn that the US's partner in crime, the UK, granted similar powers to its own intelligence services some time back. What's more unexpected is that it has now publicly said as much, as Privacy International explains: The British Government has admitted its intelligence services have the broad power to hack into personal phones, computers, and communications networks, and claims they are legally justifed to hack anyone, anywhere in the world, even if the target is not a threat to national security nor suspected of any crime. That important admission was made in what the UK government calls its "Open Response" to court cases started last year against GCHQ. Here's what it reveals, according to Privacy International: Buried deep within the document, Government lawyers claim that while the intelligence services require authorisation to hack into the computer and mobile phones of "intelligence targets", GCHQ is equally permitted to break into computers anywhere in the world even if they are not connected to a crime or a threat to national security. Moreover: The intelligence services assert the right to exploit communications networks in covert manoeuvres that severely undermine the security of the entire internet. The deployment of such powers is confirmed by recent news stories detailing how GCHQ hacked into Belgacom using the malware Regin, and targeted Gemalto, the world's largest maker of SIM cards used in countries around the world. What's important about this revelation is not just the information itself -- many people had assumed this was the case -- but the fact that once more, bringing court cases against the UK's GCHQ has ferreted out numerous details that were previously secret. This shows the value of the strategy, and suggests it should be used again where possible. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
Freedom of information requests have become one of the most useful weapons in the armory of those seeking to bring more transparency and oversight to governments. Indeed, so powerful are they that the person responsible for introducing them in the UK, Tony Blair, later came to regret doing so: "You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop," Blair wrote of himself in his autobiography "A Journey" last year, recalling his adoption of the law, which took effect in 2005. "There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at the imbecility of it." A recent decision in France expands the power of the freedom of information law there in a rather interesting way. The case concerns a request to the Commission for Access to Administrative Documents (CADA, in French), an independent administrative authority responsible for ensuring the freedom of access to administrative documents. Here's what happened, as reported by the French free software organization April: At the end of November 2014, the CADA received a request by Mr X, who asked the Public Finance Department (Direction Générale des Finances Publiques -- DGFiP) to send him the source code of the software for simulating personal income tax, in order to use it for academic research. At its board of 8 January 2015, the CADA issued its opinion, which was "favourable to communicating the requested source code to Mister X, in the format under which the government services store it. The requestor is free to reuse it according to Section 12 of the Act of 17 July 1978, barring any intellectual property rights held by third parties to the government services, which wouldn't have been mentioned by the Director General for Finances". That broadens the application of access to government documents to include government software -- presumably on the basis that its source code is indeed a kind of document. It will be interesting to see whether similar requests will be granted by other government departments in France, and if other countries could be persuaded to adopt the same view. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
Most folks like chocolate, but there are a few weirdos out there who don't. Sometimes, chocolate is used to mask the flavor of stuff that's good for you (like vitamins or minerals), but for the most part, chocolate lovers want to keep their chocolate free of adulterants. The supply of chocolate might have a hard time keeping up with the growing demand for it, so it could be difficult to preserve the exact same recipes for chocolate that we have now -- and there could be "vintage chocolates" on the market, sold like fine wines, someday. Here are just a few chocolate tidbits for the choco-philes/chocoholics out there. The cacao tree is susceptible to a variety of diseases and environmental threats, but there are different varieties of cacao that are more disease resistant, drought tolerant and productive. However, the flavor of the resulting chocolates could suffer, but consumers might not notice the gradual change in the taste of their favorite chocolates. [url] Would you eat chocolate with an anti-aging antioxidant ingredient that claimed to make your skin younger? A $54 box of Esthechoc chocolate contains polyphenols and astaxanthin -- ingredients that the chocolatier states have "clinically proven" benefits for your skin. Sounds like a great excuse to eat more chocolate, but it's probably not as effective as the marketing material implies. Who wants "just the skin" of a 30yo, anyway? [url] Chocolates from the UK are a bit different than some chocolates made in the US -- the first ingredient for many American chocolates is sugar, but it's milk across the pond. Also, due to a settlement between Hersey's and Let's Buy British Imports, certain UK chocolate brands won't make it to the US -- and vice versa. (And someday, we'll have more videos like this of people reacting to trying foreign foods.) [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
As TPP allegedly draws near to completion -- although the participants have been saying this for a long time now -- a new sense of urgency is beginning to spread among those worried by the adverse impact it is likely to have on many aspects of everyday life. This has led to an important declaration in Japan by a group of organizations particularly concerned about TPP's copyright provisions, notably plans to raise the term of copyright to life plus 70 years. As Maira Sutton reports for the EFF: Representatives of the Japanese digital rights organizations, MIAU, Creative Commons Japan, and thinkC, presented a joint statement endorsed by 63 organizations and businesses that describes the threats that the TPP's copyright provisions would pose to Japan's culture. The event was also streamed online, where over 15,000 users tuned in to watch. Specific features of Japan's culture are at risk from TPP: In addition to opposing lengthy copyright terms, the anime and fan-art community are also concerned about the TPP's criminal enforcement provisions. There is a particular section that says that "competent authorities may act upon their own initiative to initiate a legal action without the need for a formal complaint" by the copyright holder. The fear is that this would lead to a major crackdown on derivative works, including written or drawn fan fiction, recorded music covers of songs, or cosplayers, who may upload photos of themselves dressed as characters. These are all elements of Japan's thriving "otaku" culture, which has spread around the world and brought in millions of dollars for Japanese creators. As Sutton points out, both the copyright extension and the "non-complaint" provisions failed to pass in Japan because they were so controversial. The growing realization that TPP will force them on the country anyway may provide the wake-up call needed for more people in Japan to start resisting TPP's unjustified strengthening of already-unbalanced intellectual monopolies. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
Selfies: they're a thing now. Seriously, imagine yourself going back ten years in time and attempting to explain to a thirty-year-old professional that within a decade there would be a term in common usage for snapping off mini-monuments to narcissism with something called a smart-phone. Once that person was done trying to decipher what the hell you just said, he or she would likely dismiss it all completely and get to the business of asking how all the flying cars were working out for everyone. And that, dear friends, is exactly when you'd hit him with your selfie stick and really blow his mind. Ah, yes, the selfie stick. It had to happen, of course, but if you don't know what a selfie stick is, it's a stick that you plant your phone on so that you can take an even better selfie. Science, is there nothing you cannot do? If you extend it a tad further maybe the photo won't show how dead we are inside... In the interest of full disclosure, I own one of these wonder-wands because how could I possibly not? I'm not good at much in this crazy, mixed-up world, but I am great at narcissism. So, you can imagine my extreme, self-aggrandizing displeasure to learn that the great selfie stick ban of 2015 has apparently commenced with a whole list of public venues where I can't bring my second favorite extendable twig. The telescoping arms, meant to widen the angle, enabling selfie takers to incorporate landscapes and friends in their shots, have been deemed ‘hazardous’ at a growing number of museums, monuments and concert venues. There is only one problem: selfie sticks take great, compelling photos. As obnoxious as the arms can be, we are going to miss these impossibly awesome shots. We are particularly aghast at the ban by art museums, whose purpose is to celebrate freedom of artistic expression. The list of venues where the selfie stick has been banned includes, but is not limited to, the Palace of Versailles, The Smithsonian, most New York museums, the Colosseum, all the soccer stadiums of Brazil, and the Art Institute of my beloved hometown of Chicago. Yes, we have a giant metal bean next to which homeless hungry people sleep. Chicago, folks... Perhaps the most baffling venues on the list are the music venues, such as Wembley in the UK. The argument made for banning selfie sticks at concerts might sound good, until you think about it for two seconds. "Selfies are a big part of the gig experience," a spokesperson for the Wembley SSE Arena told NME. "The sticks might mean you are refused entry to the venue so our advice is don’t bring them and stick with the tried and tested use of an arm." If you actually break down this argument and test whether it's good theory or not, and for some reason I'm going to do exactly that, the whole premise becomes immediately silly. Picture yourself at a concert some rows back from the stage. Now picture the jackass in front of you who refused to pass that joint back now turns around and sticks his phone-on-a-stick into the air and takes a quick selfie. Annoying, right? But now picture him doing all those same things, except he sticks his big fat arm up instead. An arm, mind you, that is several times the width of a selfie stick and one which can probably only extend far enough to get his phone directly in your line of sight, as opposed to a selfie stick which extends up further. That's way more annoying, isn't it? Look, the selfie stick is a silly but wonderful little tool of narcissism and public venues that operate on any premise of learning or expression really shouldn't be banning them. Free the selfie stick! Attica! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
The week of attacks on Uber continue. We already noted the problems the company was having in South Korea and France, and around the time that went up, Uber got banned in Germany. And then, a bunch of California taxi cab companies teamed up to sue Uber, claiming Uber is engaging in deceptive advertising by claiming that its safer than a taxi. The companies are particularly annoyed with the fact that Uber charges a "safe rides fee" but it's not clear if the company actually uses that money for safety purposes. As with similar lawsuits in other cities, it's difficult to see how this is anything more than sour grapes against a company that is serving customers better. Uber certainly has its issues, but the arguments that cab companies make against it just seem like the kind of thing competitors who don't want to compete make against the hot new thing. Whatever happened to just competing by building a better service, rather than suing? When I get into any kind of car -- whether driven by myself, a family member, a friend, an Uber driver or a taxi driver, I know that there's some amount of risk involved. That's the nature of getting into a car. I don't think that an Uber driver is any safer, even when I do pay the $1 "safety" fee. I use services like Uber and Lyft for their convenience, not because there's any magical formula for safety. So, when the cabbies make this argument, it just rings hollow: These statements actually deceive, or have the tendency to deceive, customers into believing that riders who pay this $1 per ride fee to use UberX are safer than if they chose transportation via a taxi cab. Because this “Safe Rides Fee” is a separate line item on the receipt that Uber issues to customers, this bolsters the consumers’ expectation that they should be receiving the safest ride possible. Put differently, considering that Uber explicitly specifies that this is an additional safety fee, it is reasonable for consumers to expect that they will be receiving a ride safer than that provided by Plaintiffs’ taxi cabs, as Plaintiffs’ taxicabs simply charge a total fare, without imposing any additional surcharge to ensure a “Safe Ride.” No. I use Uber and I don't think that by paying $1 I'm any safer. But I do think that Uber, like any company, recognizes that having happy customers is important, and that includes making sure that drivers do a good job -- which, for the most part they do. I don't need some extra level of regulation that limits the competition, but doesn't actually make me any safer. I prefer a system where drivers actually compete to do a good job, knowing that if they don't they may get a bad rating and kicked out of the system. Uber works because of competition, and it's that simple fact that has these taxi companies so upset.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
For years, we've wondered (somewhat rhetorically*) why "intellectual property" issues are included in "free trade agreements" at all. By their very nature, intellectual property laws are the exact opposite of free trade. They are clearly protectionist restrictions on the use of information or content. You can argue that these restrictions serve a good reason, and that may (or may not) be true. But you can't argue that they have anything to do with free trade (at least not if you're being honest). * Okay, so we actually know why they're included, and it's because the big legacy special interests in the intellectual property world -- including the recording, movie and pharmaceutical industries, long ago realized that by getting intellectual property included in trade agreements they could force countries to pass laws they didn't want. That's because these trade agreements are conducted in near total secrecy, taking input directly from these industries, but then effectively binding countries to pass the new laws that these industries want. The wonderful, but depressing, book Information Feudalism by Peter Drahos and John Braithwaite goes deep in exploring how those big industries first began this effort -- and it's only gotten more intense in recent years. And, of course, now that these industries have convinced trade negotiators that intellectual property is somehow a trade issue, it's been a central issue in a variety of big trade agreements, including the TPP and TAFTA/TTIP. TPP, the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, is the one that's much further along, and despite promises that it would be completed quite a while ago, it's still limping along. Apparently, at the most recent meeting the main stumbling block was... intellectual property. Yes, it appears the countries are still fighting over the intellectual property chapter in the agreement: In the meeting from March 9, they tried to reach compromises in seven contentious areas but remained apart on intellectual property protection periods for data on medicines. Of course, there's a simple solution here: drop the IP chapter from the TPP and focus on whatever (small) issues are actually holding back the rest of the agreement. If you're going to create a trade agreement, why not have it focus on actual trade issues, rather than on increasing protectionist barriers that serve giant legacy industry players, but at the expense of the public?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
Cisco became an inadvertent (and very unwilling) co-star in the NSA Antics: Snowden Edition when its logo was splashed across the web by a leaked document detailing the agency's interception of outbound US networking hardware in order to insert surveillance backdoors. It moved quickly to mitigate the damage, sending a letter to the President asking him and his administration to institute some safeguards and limitations to protect US tech companies from the NSA's backdoor plans. To date, there has been no direct response. So, Cisco has decided to handle the problem itself. Cisco will ship boxes to vacant addresses in a bid to foil the NSA, security chief John Stewart says. The dead drop shipments help to foil a Snowden-revealed operation whereby the NSA would intercept networking kit and install backdoors before boxen reached customers… "We ship [boxes] to an address that's has nothing to do with the customer, and then you have no idea who ultimately it is going to," Stewart says. "When customers are truly worried ... it causes other issues to make [interception] more difficult in that [agencies] don't quite know where that router is going so its very hard to target - you'd have to target all of them. There is always going to be inherent risk." Stewart acknowledges that Cisco's modified dead drop shipping operations aren't foolproof, but will at least force the agency to do a little more research before intercepting packages. Stewart also noted that some customers aren't taking any chances, opting to pick up their hardware from Cisco directly. There are also variables Cisco simply can't control, like the possibility of inbound components from upline manufacturers arriving pre-compromised. But it's doing what it can to ensure that "Cisco" isn't synonymous with "spyware." Then there's always the possibility that the government may find Cisco's new routing methods to be quasi-fraudulent and force the company to plainly state where each package is actually going. No response has been issued by the ODNI or NSA to this news, and most likely, none will be forthcoming. Any statement on Cisco's fictitious routing would tip its hand. Cisco's plan makes a lot of assumptions about the NSA's capabilities, most of which aren't particularly sound, but this seems to be more a public display of pique than a surefire way to eliminate most of the NSA's hardware interceptions. It also sends a message to the NSA, one it's been hearing more and more of over the last couple of years: the nation's tech companies aren't your buddies and they're more than a little tired of being unwilling partners in worldwide surveillance.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted (in secret, of course) to approve a new cybersecurity bill, dubbed CISA (as it was in the last Congress), though it kept the content of the actual bill secret until this week. The only Senator who voted against it was... Senator Wyden, of course, who rightly pointed out that this bill is "not a cybersecurity bill – it’s a surveillance bill by another name." The good folks over at the EFF have a rundown on why the bill is terrible: Aside from its redundancy, the Senate Intelligence bill grants two new authorities to companies. First, the bill authorizes companies to launch countermeasures (now called "defensive measures" in the bill) for a "cybersecurity purpose" against a "cybersecurity threat." "Cybersecurity purpose" is so broadly defined that it means almost anything related to protecting (including physically protecting) an information system, which can be a computer or software. The same goes for a "cybersecurity threat," which includes anything that "may result" in an unauthorized effort to impact the availability of the information system. Even with the changed language, it's still unclear what restrictions exist on "defensive measures." Since the definition of "information system" is inclusive of files and software, can a company that has a file stolen from them launch "defensive measures" against the thief's computer? What's worse, the bill may allow such actions as long as they don't cause "substantial" harm. The bill leaves the term "substantial" undefined. If true, the countermeasures "defensive measures" clause could increasingly encourage computer exfiltration attacks on the Internet—a prospect that may appeal to some "active defense" (aka offensive) cybersecurity companies, but does not favor the everyday user. Second, the bill adds a new authority for companies to monitor information systems to protect an entity's hardware or software. Here again, the broad definitions could be used in conjunction with the monitoring clause to spy on users engaged in potentially innocuous activity. Once collected, companies can then share the information, which is also called “cyber threat indicators,” freely with government agencies like the NSA. Also, the bill goes away from previous cybersecurity bills that put Homeland Security in charge (which, by itself, isn't great, but DHS is the best option if you're debating between DHS, the NSA and the FBI). While the information still goes to DHS under this bill, DHS doesn't then get to parse through it and figure out where it goes. Instead, the info needs to be shared "in real time" with the NSA. All of which just gives weight to the fact that this is a surveillance bill, not a bill to protect against "cybersecurity attacks." But if you want to know the single biggest reason why this bill is bogus: ask those supporting it what cybersecurity attack this bill would have stopped. And you'll notice they don't have an answer. That's because it's not a cybersecurity bill at all. It's just a bill to try to give the government more access to your user info.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
Overclassification and abuse of FOIA exemptions is a given with most of our nation's security/law enforcement agencies. Two agencies -- the DHS and the FBI -- both redacted publicly-available information on drone possession and usage. Why? Because no one will stop them. Public accountability isn't something these agencies embrace. Their real love is secrecy, obfuscation and an allegiance to the eternal protection of "techniques and procedures," even when the information has already been disseminated elsewhere. MuckRock's Phil Mocek recently received responsive documents from the US Marshals Service on its Stingray usage. The Marshals Service is notoriously secretive about the Stingrays in its law enforcement stable and is equally infamous for the thug-like tactics it has deployed to hide documents from public records requests. So protective is it of this information that its response to Mocek jumped the secrecy shark. Hidden behind the numerous black redaction bars is information freely available on an official government website. While it appears the USMS is not under any nondisclosure agreement with the device manufacturer, the agency has withheld a wide range of basic information under an exemption meant to protect law enforcement techniques. However, much of the redacted data is already available online via a federal accounting website… Particular item names and descriptions are universally redacted throughout the documents. But released invoices and purchase orders indicate that USMS spending on cell site simulators and related services totaled nearly $10 million between September 2009 and April 2014. As MuckRock's Shawn Musgrave points out, this information deemed too sensitive to be released to a FOIA requester can be found at the General Services Administration's website. The GSA handles a majority of government contracts and, as a government entity, is only allowed to display information deemed suitable for public consumption. The same information withheld by the US Marshals Service has been previously cleared for release on the GSA's site. An overabundance of caution by the US Marshals Service? Maybe. Or maybe it's just accustomed to throwing plenty of black ink around when fielding FOIA requests. Either way, this withholding of publicly-available data suggests one thing: the USMS's justification for blotting out this info doesn't mean shit. Extensive redactions throughout the document cache are made under a provision in the federal Freedom of Information Act — exemption (b)(7)(E), for the FOIA nerds — meant to protect law enforcement information. Specifically, per the Justice Department’s own guidelines, this exemption covers information that "would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions”, or that “would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law." The trouble is, much of the information blacked out by USMS FOIA officers is already available online to the general public, and hardly qualifies as law enforcement information as defined in this provision. It's not that the US Marshals Service doesn't understand the correct deployment of FOIA exemptions. It just doesn't care. How a dollar amount can be both publicly-available through the GSA and a too-sensitive-for-the-public "technique or procedure" will never be explained by the wilfully opaque law enforcement agency. At best, it will suggest the redaction was an error. But more likely, it will be happy to stay quiet on the issue and allow the BS exemptions to speak for themselves. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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