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Play your music anywhere with great sound to boot with 60% off of the Sound Step Lightning 2 Bluetooth Speaker. You can choose to play your tunes via Bluetooth, audio jack plug, a Lightning dock for iPhones or with the Soudfreaq radio app. The speaker has a dedicated sub-woofer and a USB port for charging your device while it plays. You can control everything from your device or directly on the speaker, or with a handy remote control. At around 3 pounds, this little speaker can pack a big sonic punch at your bbqs, tailgates, around the house and more. 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

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A few years back, we did a deep dive into the actual numbers for how the entertainment industry had been faring in the post-Napster era, and found that, contrary to the doom and gloom stories the legacy entertainment industry has been stating, the sky was rising, not falling. Since then, we've continued to release updated versions of our Sky is Rising reports, which continue to show the same basic thing: more creative output than ever before in history, more people creating content than ever before in history, more people making money as content creators than ever before in history and more money being spent on content than ever before in history. In other words, the whole idea that the internet and file sharing somehow killed the entertainment industry is complete bunk. It appears that people are finally starting to notice. Steven Johnson, who has written some fantastic books over the years (and built a few startups) has a thorough and detailed piece in this weekend's NY Times magazine, basically making the exact same point that we made in our Sky is Rising reports, going through a lot of the same data. He calls it "The Creative Apocalypse that Wasn't (which is perhaps more catchy than our title). The short version: things are really, really good for creative content. He starts with musicians: What do these data sets have to tell us about musicians in particular? According to the O.E.S., in 1999 there were nearly 53,000 Americans who considered their primary occupation to be that of a musician, a music director or a composer; in 2014, more than 60,000 people were employed writing, singing or playing music. That’s a rise of 15 percent, compared with overall job-­market growth during that period of about 6 percent. The number of self-­employed musicians grew at an even faster rate: There were 45 percent more independent musicians in 2014 than in 2001. (Self-­employed writers, by contrast, grew by 20 percent over that period.) Of course, Baudelaire would have filed his tax forms as self-­employed, too; that doesn’t mean he wasn’t also destitute. Could the surge in musicians be accompanied by a parallel expansion in the number of broke musicians? The income data suggests that this just isn’t true. According to the O.E.S., songwriters and music directors saw their average income rise by nearly 60 percent since 1999. The census version of the story, which includes self-­employed musicians, is less stellar: In 2012, musical groups and artists reported only 25 percent more in revenue than they did in 2002, which is basically treading water when you factor in inflation. And yet collectively, the figures seem to suggest that music, the creative field that has been most threatened by technological change, has become more profitable in the post-­Napster era — not for the music industry, of course, but for musicians themselves. Somehow the turbulence of the last 15 years seems to have created an economy in which more people than ever are writing and performing songs for a living. And, as we saw in our report, it's not just in music that this is happening. The O.E.S. numbers show that writers and actors each saw their income increase by about 50 percent, well above the national average. According to the Association of American Publishers, total revenues in the fiction and nonfiction book industry were up 17 percent from 2008 to 2014, following the introduction of the Kindle in late 2007. Global television revenues have been projected to grow by 24 percent from 2012 to 2017. For actors and directors and screenwriters, the explosion of long-form television narratives has created a huge number of job opportunities. (Economic Modeling Specialists International reports that the number of self-­employed actors has grown by 45 percent since 2001.) If you were a television actor looking for work on a multiseason drama or comedy in 2001, there were only a handful of potential employers: the big four networks and HBO and Showtime. Today there are Netflix, Amazon, AMC, Syfy, FX and many others. Ah, but some will respond, all this new content is mostly crap. Well, there have been some attempts to look into that as well, which found the opposite. The flood of content has actually created more absolute great content (and, yes, more crappy content with it, but it's easy to ignore). In other words, more content across the spectrum, catering to more tastes. Johnson's research found something similar. He points out that basically everyone agrees that TV is better now than in the past, so there's little argument there. And he presents some evidence of great new films, though they're often financed through different and independent means, rather than the big Hollywood studios. How about books? The one thing that he finds is that the data there is mixed, but he finds it noteworthy that while big chain bookstores have been falling by the wayside, indie bookstores are thriving. This would be even more troubling if independent bookstores — traditional champions of the literary novel and thoughtful nonfiction — were on life support. But contrary to all expectations, these stores have been thriving. After hitting a low in 2007, decimated not only by the Internet but also by the rise of big-box chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble, indie bookstores have been growing at a steady clip, with their number up 35 percent (from 1,651 in 2009 to 2,227 in 2015); by many reports, 2014 was their most financially successful year in recent memory. Indie bookstores account for only about 10 percent of overall book sales, but they have a vastly disproportionate impact on the sale of the creative midlist books that are so vital to the health of the culture. Johnson concludes the piece by looking at why this has happened, and why the fear mongering and doom and gloom of the RIAAs, MPAAs, Authors Guilds of the world, and the politicians who often repeat their talking points, were all completely wrong. He points out that while content may now be easier for users to access, that also means people get exposed to a lot more -- and there are many new ways to pay for it as well. Also, perhaps more importantly, without the need to hand over so much money to gatekeepers (who like to take pretty much everything), the ability to go direct, and leverage various platforms, means that even if a particular artist is grossing less revenue, they're keeping more. And, further, as the tools of production have gotten cheaper, the upfront capital costs of creating, promoting and distributing content has dropped massively. It's a worthwhile read, though it won't be surprising if you've read our reports. However, hopefully, with this appearing in the NY Times, it means this concept is finally going mainstream.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've written a few times now about the leak of data from Ashley Madison, the "dating site for people who want to cheat on their spouses," mostly discussing the company's bizarre infatuation with abusing copyright law to try to take down anyone posting content from the leak. We haven't taken part in any of the stories about naming and shaming individuals who have been found in the database (or just where they might work). As a lot of people have been noting (thankfully) in their stories, for no clear reason, Avid Life Media (the company that owns Ashley Madison) doesn't do email verification. That means anyone can create an account using anyone else's email address. In fact, last month, reporter Farai Chideya noted that someone had created an account using her email. And, apparently, someone thought it would be funny to do the same to me. Yesterday afternoon, I got a message telling me "Welcome to Day 1 of your Ashley Madison Experience." Someone using my email signed me up, using the rather creative account name "masnicator." I'm kinda surprised that Ashley Madison is still even allowing online signups (let alone not using an email verification system, or for that matter even keeping the site up at all). But, perhaps even more ridiculous is that in the "welcome" email, it highlights how the service is "100% Secure." Perhaps even more amusing is that just three minutes after this fake registration, I also got a fake message from someone. And, no, I'm not going to see what the message is, nor even let the image show up (not even for journalistic curiosity). But this certainly adds that much more support to the theory that the site regularly used fake profiles and fake come ons to get men to pay up. As if anyone is (1) still using the site at all and (2) going to respond to an obviously bogus account three minutes after it's created. As if to hammer home just how bogus the whole thing is, the site sent me another email just a few hours later, claiming that it was showing me new people who had just signed up near me. Of course, if anyone is actually "signing up" now, I'm guessing it's for the same reason that someone signed me up: to mess with people or to joke around. Not sure why whoever did this did this, though, I guess thanks for the story?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Thanks to a string of theater-related tragedies, going to the theater is about to become as enjoyable as going to the airport. Following two recent deadly incidents at movie theatres in the US, the Regal Entertainment Group – the nation’s largest movie theater chain – this week added a bag and purse check policy as a security measure in some of the 569 theaters it operates. “Security issues have become a daily part of our lives in America. Regal Entertainment Group wants our customers and staff to feel comfortable and safe when visiting or working in our theatres,” the chain said in a statement. This may sound like a harmless bit of "doing something" in response to a few tragic incidents, but there's nothing really harmless about it. First off, it subjects everyone to the same level of scrutiny -- provided they're carrying a bag of some sort. If you have a purse or backpack or (god forbid) a fanny pack, you're a potential threat. Everyone else? Free to go. Weapons tucked into waistbands or shoved into pockets will go undetected. And, like the TSA its emulating, the security measures will be easily thwarted and ultimately useless. For every weapon the TSA brags about seizing, many more end up on planes. A recent audit of the TSA's security efforts found it missed 95% of smuggled weapons and explosives. Anyone thinking Regal's security force is going to be better trained and more thorough than the TSA is kidding themselves. Like the TSA's efforts, this will give moviegoers the illusion of safety, rather than actual safety. An illusion might be comforting enough for most moviegoers and it's all Regal can actually offer. This move is more about PR than reality. According to a new survey conducted by consumer research film C4, following the Nashville incident, 48% of moviegoers are willing to pay $1 or more per ticket for the additional measures. Nineteen per cent of respondents said they would pay $3 or more. And I'm sure Regal will be more than happy to take $1-3 more from every moviegoer in exchange for a hassling a few moviegoers. But Regal's move -- while good-intentioned -- is ill-advised. Offering your customers mostly-theoretical protection places responsibility for any future shootings almost solely on each individual theater. Now, if anyone shoots up a theater, Regal will very likely be successfully targeted in wrongful death suits. After all, it instituted additional measures to prevent further shootings... and then failed to prevent a shooting from happening. The additional measures seem unlikely to dissuade anyone but the most easily-deterred shooters from following through with their plans. In exchange for little more than a temporary bump in goodwill, Regal is assuming a great deal of liability. And given what we know about the most recent theater shootings, a bag check wouldn't have stopped anything. James Holmes, who killed 12 and wounded 70 in Aurora, CO, stashed his weapons in his vehicle. The shooter in Louisiana may have had a backpack (reports are inconclusive), but it wasn't on or near him when police got to him, and a controlled detonation later proved there was nothing harmful inside it. The shooter at the Antioch, TN theater was carrying two backpacks -- one of which was strapped across his chest. When police engaged him, he was also wearing a surgical mask. Most of what was in his bags weren't actually weapons, though. Pepper spray, a hatchet and an Airsoft gun were used in the theater attack. Only one of these is an actual weapon, and Regal's new policy doesn't make it clear what will happen to those who bring in legal items that aren't weapons but the theater decides could be deployed as one. This focus on bags also makes it clear to potential attackers that security will be looking out for one thing -- backpacks and bags. Avoiding scrutiny simply means not doing that one thing. So, while some moviegoers will be comforted by this security charade being performed on their behalf, many more will be irritated that attending a movie will be nearly as annoying as boarding a plane. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We knew this day was coming. Ever since the EU decided something called the "right to be forgotten" existed, and that Google (mainly) would be tasked with the "forgetting," the descent into an Inception-esque state of forgetting about forgetting about the forgotten was the illogical next step forward. Google has been ordered by the Information Commissioner’s office to remove nine links to current news stories about older reports which themselves were removed from search results under the ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling. The search engine had previously removed links relating to a 10 year-old criminal offence by an individual after requests made under the right to be forgotten ruling. Removal of those links from Google’s search results for the claimant’s name spurred new news posts detailing the removals, which were then indexed by Google’s search engine. Google refused to remove links to these later news posts, which included details of the original criminal offence, despite them forming part of search results for the claimant’s name, arguing that they are an essential part of a recent news story and in the public interest. As everyone should have known, forcing a state of forgetfulness more often results in the opposite happening. All Ms. Streisand wanted was for people to stop looking at her house. Now, more than a decade later, many internet denizens can conjure up a mental image of her coastline mansion with minimal effort. Now, when journalists are informed that certain stories need to be "forgotten," they're obviously going to write about it. And with good reason. A stupid decision by the European Union basically gives almost anyone the right to vanish away facts about their past misdeeds. And journalists are going to be righteously angered that past reporting on factual events just has to "go away." So, they report on the requests. And now those hoping to erase the past are condemned to repeat it. Not fair, says the ICO. Henceforth, more stupidity. The UK's Information Commission (ICO) seems to know what it's asking is basically a futile gesture with one foot firmly planted in the realm of impossibility, but it's going to ask for it all the same. [Deputy Commissioner David] Smith said: “Let’s be clear. We understand that links being removed as a result of this court ruling is something that newspapers want to write about. And we understand that people need to be able to find these stories through search engines like Google. But that does not need them to be revealed when searching on the original complainant’s name.” See? It's so easy. This can all be fixed just by ensuring complainants don't find anything they don't like when using their own name as a search term. There are no specific instructions for Google to follow other than to delist any requested article discussing Google delistings in response to "right to be forgotten" requests. Obviously, this decision will only result in more articles about requesters and their requests, which will populate search results, leading to more requests to be forgotten, followed by more directives by the various European government bodies, reaching the point where Google will be asked to remove links to articles discussing the removal of links to articles discussing removed links. Repeat until nauseated. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The DOJ has released its inaugural report on use of subpoenas to obtain information from "media sources." This is part of former Attorney General Eric Holder's nod to transparency -- a nod he gave shortly before leaving office. We'll have to watch this space in 2016 to see if it will actually become an "annual" report. (And if it is, we'll also have to watch this space to see if Reason and Popehat are considered by the DOJ to be "media sources" after tangling with both over the discussion of federal judges and woodchippers.) That being said, there's some interesting information in here, including the DOJ's hassling of the New York Times. In connection with the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, who was charged with, and convicted of, offenses related to his unauthorized disclosure of national security information, the Attorney General authorized the Criminal Division and the USAO for the Eastern District of Virginia to issue a subpoena to New York Times reporter James Risen. The authorization was limited to eliciting testimony at trial and/or pretrial hearings confirming (1) that Risen has a confidentiality agreement with a particular source, (2) that Risen authored a particular chapter in his book State of War, (3) that statements attributed to an unnamed source were, in fact, made by an unnamed source, (4) that statements attributed to an identified source were, in fact, made by an identified source, and (5) the existence of a prior non-confidential reporter-source relationship with Sterling. [...] The subpoena was issued, and Risen testified at a pretrial hearing. He was not called to testify at trial. That last sentence is particularly interesting as it pretty much glosses over the DOJ's about face on Risen's testimony. It pushed hard to force Risen to testify in hopes of getting him to reveal his confidential source. Risen did testify (pre-trial) but refused to disclose his source's identity. The DOJ then decided that if it wasn't able to get what it wanted from him, then neither should anyone else. It moved to declare Risen an "unavailable witness," in hopes of blocking the defense from using any testimony he would provide against the government. In the DOJ's retelling of the event, its fruitless struggle to obtain information and its subsequent attempt to block further testimony from Risen is reduced to a very short and very neutral sentence: "He was not called to testify." Of additonal bemusement is the DOJ's interest in determining whether Risen's "unnamed source" was actually an "unnamed source." It appears the government believes it should be the sole provider of "unnamed sources," and then only when such statements deliver the government's unofficial official positions. The DOJ also tried to compel an unnamed "television news producer" to testify on inflammatory statements made to him by convicted terrorist Khalid al Fawwaz. Although the "transparency" report doesn't name the source targeted by the subpoena, the information the DOJ remains coy about is already in the public domain, as Britain Eakin of Courthouse News Service points out. Media reports last year identified the witness in question as "60 Minutes" news producer Richard Bonin. The DOJ says it wanted the producer to testify about anti-American and anti-Semitic statements al-Fawwaz made to him, but that prosecutors ultimately decided not to issue the subpoena when the producer said he would contest it. Other items listed are more run-of-the-mill, including the subpoenaing of media footage of the 2013 Boston Marathon finish line, as well as other footage/recordings of interest to criminal prosecutions. Subpoenas were also issued to media entities to obtain information related to the DOJ's investigation of these entities for antitrust violations and a "tax-related prosecution." The government's insatiable desire for redundancy is also on display in the three-page report. In connection with the prosecution of Roger Key for conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire, attempted murder-for-hire, and aiding and abetting the unlawful discharge of a firearm. the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York authorized the issuance of a subpoena to a news media entity for the broadcast footage of, and script for, a report concerning a related murder. The news media entity expressly agreed to provide the requested recordings in response to a subpoena. So far, so good. But... Ultimately, the news media entity failed to respond to the subpoena. That sucks, except… [W]hile the subpoena was pending, the USAO negotiated with the defense a stipulation regarding the admissibility of the publicly broadcast report. Yes, the DOJ subpoenaed a publicly-broadcast news report. I would guess the media entity decided not to respond because the information sought was already publicly available. The DOJ's move to obtain a stipulation while the subpoena was still pending suggests someone involved realized this paperwork was unnecessary to achieve its aims. The report may be brief, light on specifics (some of it due to ongoing prosecutions) and occasionally needlessly opaque (not identifying Robert Bonin, etc.), but it does retain one distinct advantage over all previous DOJ subpoena reports: this one actually exists! Here's to next year's annual report, which will hopefully give us a look at the DOJ's investigation of comment thread bombast and hyperbole. 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We've mentioned some interesting ways to rest in peace before -- turning your body into diamonds or sending your ashes into orbit. It may be a bit morbid, but some space fans really want to get off this planet even after they've died. If you want to leave this world (after death), you can get a ticket on more than one kind of spacecraft headed off beyond the Earth. A startup called Elysium Space will launch your ashes into space -- and even get cremated remains to the moon. The first 50 buyers will get an early bird price of $9,950 to go to the moon, and after that, it'll set you back $11,950. Just burning up in orbit (aka the Shooting Star option) costs just $1,990. [url] The ashes of Clyde Tombaugh, the guy who discovered Pluto, are flying out of our solar system into deep space. Tombaugh's remains (just an ounce) were packed on NASA's New Horizons probe to investigate Pluto, along with a few other trinkets. That spacecraft is coasting beyond Pluto now, making Tombaugh the human body that's traveled the farthest. [url] The ashes of Gene Roddenberry and his wife -- as well as Arthur C. Clarke and James Doohan -- were planned to be put into deep space, too. However, the Sunjammer mission was cancelled, so their ride on a solar sail spacecraft might have to wait. Celestis, the company behind this space memorial, has sent some of these ashes into space before, so it'll probably try again on another mission (or if Sunjammer is revived). [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Back in April of this year, Washington DC mayor Muriel Bowser sided with the city's law enforcement against transparency and accountability. The mayor promised to outfit officers with body cams in the wake of several, high-profile police-involved shootings. But two weeks after this promise in her State of the District speech, Bowser tucked a provision into a budget bill that would exempt the footage from public records requests. Supposedly, this was done in the interests of "privacy," but the blanket exception just meant local law enforcement would never feel compelled to hand over less-than-flattering footage. Bad news, to be sure, but only a few months later and Mayor Bowser has completely reversed course. Police in the nation’s capital would release more footage from body cameras than in any other major U.S. city under a plan from Mayor Muriel E. Bowser that reverses her previous opposition to making such videos public. Bowser’s proposal, which has the potential to shed light on thousands of recorded interactions between police and the public, would allow private citizens to obtain copies of video recorded on street corners, during traffic stops and elsewhere outdoors. There will still be some exemptions. Anything recorded in a private residence would be limited to court proceedings and footage of traffic stops resulting in no arrests or citations will be heavily redacted to prevent the inadvertent release of personal information. The reason for Bowser's change of heart? Police officers just kept right on killing people. In a statement to The Post, Bowser cited continued police shootings over the past year as a reason for the change, saying the tide has tilted in favor of greater disclosure even as governments must strike a balance between privacy and transparency. The balance has been tipped back in favor of the public, thanks to the actions of law enforcement. In addition to making most camera footage responsive to public records requests, DC citizens will also be allowed to view footage of incidents they're involved in by heading to their local police station within 90 days of the event. Access to all footage will be granted to researchers studying the effects of body-worn cameras. DC cops who thought their videotaped misconduct would be stashed away from the prying eyes of the public aren't going to be thrilled with this reversal. And they have no one to blame but their colleagues. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Back in April, USA Today had a detailed report on a massive DEA phone records surveillance program that pre-dated 9/11 (and the NSA's similar phone records mass collection). The DOJ put an end to the DEA's program after the Snowden revelations when it realized that the government's own defense of why the NSA program was legal would conflict with the DEA program. Specifically, it kept trotting out "terorrism" and "national security" but that didn't apply to the DEA's program, which was actually used much more widely than the NSA's (according to the report, the DEA searched the database as many times in a day as the NSA did in a year). However, a day after this report, Human Rights Watch, represented by the EFF, sued the DEA over the program -- citing both the First and Fourth Amendment as being violated. As expected, the DEA pulled out the usual defenses to try to get the lawsuit dismissed, including arguing that without direct evidence of surveillance on Human Rights Watch, the organization had no standing. Those arguments were given much more credence by the courts in the pre-Snowden era, but lately the courts have been much more skeptical. And, thus, the district court has (somewhat, narrowly) rejected this argument by the DEA and allowed the EFF to move forward with a bit of discovery, which hopefully will enable it to find out at least some details of the surveillance program. More specifically, the court ruling by Judge Philip Guitierrez says that HRW has enough standing on the 4th Amendment question, but not on the 1st Amendment question. Specifically, on the 4th Amendment issue, the court finds HRW's claims to be entirely plausible, which is enough to allow discovery. First, the Government argues that HRW has not pled that it suffered an injury in fact as a result of the Mass Surveillance Program because HRW has not plausibly alleged that its call records were ever collected pursuant to this Program.... The Government contends that HRW’s allegation that “Defendants obtained records of HRW’s communications to the Designated Countries as part of the Mass Surveillance Program,” ..., is insufficient because it lacks supporting factual allegations that render the claim plausible, rather than merely possible.... For example, the Government highlights that the Complaint and the attached Patterson Declaration do not identify the specific U.S. telecommunications companies that received administrative subpoenas under the Program or a time period during which the Government requested and collected call information.... The Court acknowledges that the Complaint does not contain such particularized pleadings as: HRW staff called individuals in Iran using Verizon lines in 2012; the Government issued subpoenas to Verizon for all 2012 Iranian call data; Verizon produced all 2012 Iranian call data to the Government; the Government obtained HRW’s 2012 Iranian call data. However, HRW’s allegation that the Government collected records of its communications to designated foreign countries pursuant to the Mass Surveillance Program is supported by some specific factual allegations that render this allegation plausible, rather than merely possible. The Patterson Declaration states that the Government compiled a database “consisting of telecommunications metadata obtained from United States telecommunications service providers pursuant to administrative subpoenas served upon the service providers under the provisions of 21 U.S.C. § 876.” ... The metadata “related to international phone calls originating in the United Sates and calling [] designated foreign countries, one of which was Iran, that were determined to have a demonstrated nexus to international drug trafficking and related criminal activities.” ... The database could then “be used to query a telephone number where federal law enforcement officials had a reasonable articulable suspicion that the telephone number at issue was related to an ongoing federal criminal investigation.” ... From these factual representations, HRW alleges that the program collected call records for “all, or substantially all” telephone calls originating in the United States and terminating in the “designated countries” since at least 2011.... This allegation that “all, or substantially all” of these calls were collected necessarily embraces the more specific factual allegation that the Government issued subpoenas to all, or substantially all U.S. telecommunications companies to collect these calls.... Moreover, HRW’s allegation that the Government collected call data on “all, or substantially all” calls is plausible. First, the Patterson Declaration did not contain language indicating that the Government targeted only some U.S. telecommunications providers, instead it stated broadly that metadata was “obtained from United States telecommunications service providers.”... Further, because the only criteria for collection were the involvement of certain initiating and receiving countries and the Program’s aim was to create a broad database for criminal investigation queries, it is not implausible that subpoenas would be issued to all U.S. telecommunications companies requesting all qualifying data so that the Government could compile a complete database to better serve the investigative query purpose. And thus: In light of the plausible allegation that nearly all such calls were collected pursuant to the Program, the pled facts regarding HRW’s telephone practices support the ultimate allegation that the Government did collect HRW’s call data, as directly alleged in the Complaint. The government also argued that since the program is over, there's nothing to fight over any way, and there's no standing to seek an injunction since there's nothing to stop. However, the court finds that because the government has not said it destroyed the data, there is at least enough of a reason to move forward to determine if the government retained the data. Standing over the First Amendment claim is rejected, however, because the complaint did not claim a concrete injury: The Court does not reach the legal sufficiency of this claimed injury because HRW has not alleged this First Amendment injury with factual sufficiency. Injury in fact requires a harm that is “‘concrete’ and ‘actual or imminent,’ not ‘conjectural’ or ‘hypothetical.’”... HRW does not provide any factual allegations that indicate that HRW’s chilled communication concern is actual and imminent rather than conjectural. For example, HRW does not allege that any of its contacts know about the Mass Surveillance Program or that they have ever refused to communicate with HRW due to the Government’s retention of collected telephone metadata pursuant to a Program that has been occurring for years. Without alleging any specific supporting facts, HRW’s statement that its “ability to effectively communicate with people inside the Designated Countries” has been burdened is a conclusory allegation that the Court does not accept. Moreover, the allegation that HRW “cannot assure its associates abroad that their communications records will not be shared” is implausible in light of the Patterson Declaration’s attestation that the Government is not currently using or querying the collected information. Still, the win on standing over the 4th Amendment issue is important, and it will allow discovery to move forward -- but in a fairly limited way, focused on determining if the government did, in fact, retain the records. The Court agrees that some limited discovery directed toward the Government is warranted because such discovery could possibly provide HRW with jurisdictional evidence suggesting that the Government still possesses HRW’s call records in some form. Accordingly, the Court will allow HRW the opportunity to conduct limited discovery on this issue. [....] The Court limits the interrogatory topics to the following issues: (1) whether the Government retains call records in repositories other than the purged database; and (2) whether the Government retains Program call records in derivative forms. Accordingly, the Court orders that HRW is permitted to serve no more than five interrogatories on the Government regarding these two issues. This is fairly narrow, and it's entirely possible that the government may now try to get out of this whole case by simply saying that it has purged all those records. However, at the very least, as the EFF notes, it will let the world know whether or not the government has kept all those phone records.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Asset forfeiture finally found its way into the mainstream after years of coverage by media outsiders. The sudden increase in negative attention brought about some needed reform efforts. The DOJ issued new guidelines on civil asset forfeiture, as did the IRS, which announced it would no longer pursue seizure of funds under "structuring" statutes unless there was evidence the money came from criminal sources. One of the victims of the IRS's bogus "structuring" seizures (made pre-policy shift) is Randy Sowers, a dairy farmer who had $63,000 seized by the agency in 2012. The cash came from sales made at local farmers' markets, but the IRS viewed it as a criminal act simply because Sowers never topped the magical $10,000 mark with his deposits. The Sowers were "working" with the IRS to have the funds returned (this implies a modicum of due process that doesn't actually exist in civil forfeiture). Then Randy Sowers almost screwed things up, as Melissa Quinn of the Daily Caller reports. While the couple was in the midst of settlement negotiations with the government, hoping to have most of their money returned, Randy Sowers spoke with a reporter from The City Paper in Baltimore, Md., about his experience with structuring and civil asset forfeiture. On the day the article was published, Stefan Cassella, the assistant U.S. attorney overseeing Sowers’ structuring case, told the family’s lawyer he had a “problem” and was no longer willing to negotiate a settlement amount, according to court filings. This attitude seems to be common to IRS prosecutors. They don't mind taking your money for the flimsiest of reasons and they don't mind fighting you every step of the way should you choose to challenge the seizure, but goddamn if it doesn't piss them off if you decide to discuss your situation in public. If you'll recall, another victim of a bogus structuring seizure took his case (mostly anonymously) to a Congressional hearing. The prosecutor in that case reacted just as badly to the public airing of IRS-related grievances. He sent a letter to the Institute of Justice (which is representing the convenience store owner who had $107,000 seized by the IRS) that basically stated any publicity resulting from this would only harm this person's case. Because vindictiveness. I do not know who did that, and I am accusing no one, but it was not from our office and could only have come from your clients. That was certainly not my intent in making this available. Whoever made [the document] public may serve their own interest but will not help this particular case… Your client needs to resolve this or litigate it. But publicity about it doesn't help. It just ratchets up feelings in the agency. The prosecutor then offered a take-it-or-leave-it deal of 50% of the seized cash back. C-store owner Lyndon McLellan chose the latter. Sowers, however, did eventually settle with the IRS, receiving (coincidence?!) half of the seized funds. Why settle when you're clearly in the right? Because it's tough to run a business when your liquid assets have suddenly vanished. Half is better than nothing, especially if you want to remain solvent. Now, he wants the other half. And he's brought backup. A bipartisan group of lawmakers on the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee is coming together to ask the Treasury Department to return nearly $30,000 it seized from Maryland dairy farmers in 2012. The letter, sent August 11 to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, calls on the agency to return $29,500 the Internal Revenue Service seized from Frederick-based dairy farmers Randy and Karen Sowers through civil asset forfeiture. The lawmakers also asked Lew to review similar cases and return money seized by the tax agency under the practice. The letter reminds the Treasury Department that the seizure program is in place to stop money laundering, drug trafficking and disrupt the funding of terrorist organizations. It is not just a quick and dirty way for the government to take money from cash-heavy businesses who frequently deposit cash in sub-$10,000 quantities. In many of these cases, it appears business owners have received bad advice from well-meaning family members or friends. In other cases, the bad advice comes from the bank employees themselves. What doesn't appear to be integral to these disputed cases is any link to criminal activity. A very long petition for the return of the money has been lodged with the DOJ. It points out that under the agency's current rules, the sort of seizure they've experienced would not even be initiated. It also points out that the couple was apologized to by several members of the Congressional committee and the IRS Commissioner himself. And yet, the Treasury Department refuses to cede any ground on the other half of the Sowers' funds. Hopefully, a three-page letter from a bunch of legislators will compel the return of the Sowers' money -- something their 209-page complaint has yet to accomplish. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 10 days ago on techdirt
We're starting a new feature here at Techdirt, in which each week we'll promote a book -- either new or old -- that we think our audience really might enjoy reading. For a while now, we've had an Amazon widget over in the right-hand column, and all of the books we discuss here will be added to that widget, if they're not there already. And, yes, if you buy via our link to Amazon, we'll get a cut of that, so you'd be supporting Techdirt in addition to getting great and thought-provoking books to read. This week, the book of choice is The Internet Of Garbage by Sarah Jeong. You may already know Sarah from her prolific and entertaining Twitter feed or from her (sadly, apparently now defunct) hilariously funny email newsletter about intellectual property issues, 5 Useful Articles (which she did with Parker Higgins). Sarah has recently joined Vice, where she's a contributing editor to Motherboard. Sarah was also kind enough to participate in our Copia Institute inaugural summit, where she spoke on many of the topics raised in the book. Given the title, some seem to be assuming that the book is a polemic against "bad stuff" online, following the standard pattern of such books that discuss how awful the internet is and then moralize about how it needs to be cleaned up. This book is different, much more nuanced and well worth reading. You probably won't agree with everything, but it will at least get you thinking about the way the internet works today, how harassment is a legitimate problem for a lot of people -- but also how the knee-jerk reactions to it aren't always that helpful either. If you want a sample, I recommend reading this excerpt about how we shouldn't be abusing copyright laws to censor content. Here's just a bit to whet your appetite: When people are harassed on the Internet, the instinctive feeling for those targeted is that the Internet is out of control and must be reined in. The most prominent and broad regulation of the Internet is through copyright, as publicized in the thousands of lawsuits that RIAA launched against individual downloaders, the subpoenas the RIAA issued to the ISPs to unmask downloaders, and the RIAA and MPAA’s massive lawsuits against the Napsters, Groksters, and even YouTubes of the world. In our mass cultural consciousness, we have absorbed the overall success of the RIAA and the MPAA in these suits, and have come to believe that this is how one successfully manages to reach through a computer screen and punch someone else in the face. Online harassment, amplified on axes of gender identity, race, and sexual orientation, is an issue of social oppression that is being sucked into a policy arena that was prepped and primed by the RIAA in the early 2000s. The censorship of the early Internet has revolved around copyright enforcement, rather than the safety of vulnerable Internet users. And so we now tackle the issue of gendered harassment in a time where people understand policing the Internet chiefly as a matter of content identification and removal—and most dramatically, by unmasking users and hounding them through the courts. Yet an anti-harassment strategy that models itself after Internet copyright enforcement is bound to fail. Although the penalties for copyright infringement are massive (for example, statutory damages for downloading a single song can be up to $150,000), and although the music and movie industries are well-moneyed and well-lawyered, downloading and file-sharing continues. The book is well worth reading (and setting aside whatever per-conceived notions you might have about it before jumping in). It notes that nearly everyone instinctively recognizes that some forms of content moderation (e.g., spam filtering) are perfectly reasonable and also that harassment online is both very real and very damaging. But it doesn't immediately resort to ideas that we need to just start deleting "bad" content. It suggests that there are more ways to deal with such behavior than just the single broad tool of content blocking, and that various sites should be a lot more deliberate in understanding all of the options and possibilities (and exactly what those sites are trying to achieve) before jumping willy-nilly to any single solution, which may have serious consequences (intended or not). So, go check it out and let us know what you think of the book... and of our new (hopefully) weekly book discussion.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
Last month, we wrote about attempts by the Indian government to make Aadhaar, the country's identity number system, mandatory. This was despite repeated rulings by the Indian Supreme Court that it should not be compulsory for government schemes. Last month, another application was made to the court, asking it once more to forbid the Indian government from requiring the Aadhaar card and a unique 12-digit identification number for its services. During the case, India's Attorney-General, Mukul Rohatgi, made the following remarkable assertion, reported here by Hindustan Times: "[India's] Constitution makers did not intend to make right to privacy a fundamental right," Rohatgi told the bench, during the hearing of petitions opposing a government order that made the 12-number unique identification number mandatory, especially for seeking government welfare benefits. As the site Scroll.in explains: The Attorney General quoted two decisions in support of his proposition -- from 1954 and 1963. Those opposing his argument contended that these decisions had been overtaken by the constitutional jurisprudence that had since evolved. But as well as his purely legalistic arguments, Rohatgi took another, very different angle, telling the court: It should balance the petitioner's rights against those of the roughly 700 million people, whose subsidies and welfare benefits were dependent on the "fool-proof scheme." Despite this emotional blackmail -- give up your privacy, or 700 million people will go hungry -- the Indian Supreme Court's interim order confirmed that: It is not mandatory for a citizen to obtain an Aadhaar card and the production of an Aadhaar card will not be a condition for obtaining any benefits otherwise due to a citizen. However, the Supreme Court did allow the Aadhaar card and number to be used for a few specific government schemes: those for "distributing foodgrains and cooking fuel, such as kerosene." So perhaps people won't want for food or fuel even if campaigners continue to insist that privacy most certainly is a fundamental right, and that making Aadhaar mandatory would infringe upon it. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
Here at Techdirt, we've had a great deal of fun at the expense of the TSA and the agency's wonderful brand of security theater masquerading as actual airport security. Yes, the government putting on a kind of clinic in the simultaneous overreach into civil liberties for false security and the kind of wasteful government spending that makes the conservative talkshow hosts of the world dip back into the Oxy has been an ongoing source of entertainment. But the TSA can take the same kind of heart that thousands of purported UFO abductees do: you are not alone. No, as it turns out, foreign airport security agencies can be just as laughable as we can be. Witness the Irish, for instance, and the way they bravely disarmed a three year old of a toy fart-gun. Can't believe that a minion fart gun was taken from friends toddler, security felt it posed a threat @UniversalPics pic.twitter.com/iAPLlmdTv3 — Paula (@NursepollyRgn) August 16, 2015 As Paula pointed out, this is a replica of the "Fart Blaster" wielded by the minions in "Despicable Me." So I guess it does have a track record of being used for evil purposes. But in real life it doesn't do anything except make noise and apparently emit an odor that thankfully is said to be banana-scented. Do I want a kid to wield one of these on a plane? No. Does it need to be confiscated by security personnel? No. Well, I do want a kid wielding one of these delightful toys on an airplane, sirs. The very idea of a three year old tumbling down the aisle spraying a bunch of uptight, too-stiff adults with insufficient senses of humor in the face with banana-farts is exactly the kind of life, liberty and happiness no government ought be denying my right to pursue. What's far less funny - kind of - was the Irish authorities' insistence that they confiscated the "weapon" because it violated the rules against replica guns. Replica guns typically refer to realistic representations of actual firearms that don't work. The fart gun is not a representation of a real gun at all. And it most certainly works as intended. The spokesperson noted that the toy was "being kept safe at the airport" so the child can get it back when the family returns, so that's nice. It's not nice; it's exceptionally stupid. The Irish authorities are sitting on a children's toy that they absolutely know is not a weapon over a ham-fisted attempt to play by bureaucratic rules. I think it's time these lads went and had a Guinness and let the kid have his toy back.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
Keep your knowledge current and learn some new skills with $39 for a one-year subscription to SitePoint Premium. You can learn the basics of coding languages and frameworks, how to integrate WordPress, project management and more. With over 130 hours of courses, 80+ ebooks and new material added often, SitePoint offers something of interest for web professionals. 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

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
Earlier, I wrote about how I sent two FOIA requests over the bogus gag order that Assistant US Attorney Niketh Velamoor obtained to silence Reason.com about the bogus subpoena he sent to identify some rowdy commenters. The two FOIA requests were for: (1) the original application for the gag order and (2) any DOJ guidelines on when to apply for a gag order. As we noted, I just received a response to the first FOIA request, in that I was told the DOJ could find no responsive documents. That seemed quite bizarre, given that just a few weeks earlier, the DOJ itself had released exactly that document and it appears to match up exactly with what I asked for in my FOIA request. The DOJ also responded to my second request and -- guess what? -- it's the same damn thing. Yup, the DOJ says it has no responsive documents for any guidelines on when to seek a gag order on a subpoena. Now, this seems to suggest two possibilities -- neither of them particularly good. (1) As with my first FOIA request, the folks at the DOJ FOIA office are simply bad at their jobs (whether on purpose or not) and are simply not finding the document that does exist or (2) the DOJ really doesn't have any guidelines for when it should seek a gag order. Neither of these situations are reasonable. If the first is the case, and we have evidence of that based on the other FOIA response, then the DOJ needs to overhaul its FOIA efforts to actually align with the law itself, which requires them to provide responsive documents. The fact that it's bad at its job (again, on purpose or not) runs counter to the letter and spirit of the law and should be fixed. If the latter is the case, then that's also a serious problem. A gag order in a legal proceeding should only be used in very rare circumstances, and given the fact that this particular gag order was granted based on almost nothing, rubber-stamped by a judge who didn't seem to care about the details, the DOJ really ought to have some fairly detailed guidelines that need to be followed before some kid working in the US Attorneys' office can try to hide what he's doing out of embarrassment (as appeared to be the case here). I will be asking the DOJ to explain this lack of guidelines and will continue to report on what it has to say.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
Everyone likes buying stuff with a bunch of built-in restrictions, right? The things we "own" often remain the property of the manufacturers, at least in part. That's the trade-off we never asked for -- one pushed on us by everyone from movie studios to makers of high-end cat litter boxes and coffee brewers. DRM prevents backup copies. Proprietary packets brick functions until manufacturer-approved refills are in place. Here's another bit of ridiculousness, via Techdirt reader techflaws. German news outlet c't Magazin is reporting that Xerox printers are going further than the normal restrictions we've become accustomed to. For years, printer companies have made sure users' printers won't run without every single slot being filled with approved cartridges. This includes such stupidity as disabling every function (including non-ink-related functions like scanning) in all-in-one printers until the printer is fed. Xerox is going further. Not only do you need to refill the ink, but you have to fill it with local ink. techflaws paraphrases the paywalled, German-language article. Xerox uses region coding on their toner catridges AND locks the printer to the first type used. So if you use an NA (North America) catridge you can't use the cheaper DMO (Eastern Europe) anymore. The printer's display does NOT show this, nor does the hotline know about it. When c't reached out to Xerox, the marketing drone claimed, this was done to serve the customer better, I kid you not. Ah, the old "serve the customer better by limiting his/her options," as seen everywhere DRM/DRM-esque restrictions are applied. But while c't Magazin has only recently stumbled across this issue of region-locked ink cartridges, it's by no means a new issue. Techflaws also points to a 2011 forum post by a user who ran into this problem with his Xerox printer. I have seen hundreds of posts regarding the rejection of ink based on the location of purchase. I asume that Xerox does this to prevent the purchase of ink not manufactured by them. However - forcing a client to pay for a service for a snippet that needs to be installed in order to use the printer is ABSURD. I changed from HP to Xerox because I thought it was a trusted name. I have instead learned that in the process of trying to protect against counterfeit - it is the paying customer that will get a non-functioning printer - with no help unless you are willing to pay for the printer to work as it should have to begin with. So, it appears that if you attempt to forcefeed a Xerox printer not-from-around-here ink, it will potentially brick the device. At that point, you're forced to ask for a Xerox rep to drop by and unlock your purchased printer for you. Here's another confirmation of Xerox's "locals only" ink limitations. As I live in the UK my ink blocks are for the European market. If I purchase from ebay, ink blocks for the USA or Asian market and insert them into my printer, the printer will stop with a contact your engineer code on the LCD. The printer is now unusable. The rate charged to the person in the forum post quoted above was $596/hour. There's no missing decimal point there. Sure, it's only 10 minutes of work, but it's $60 being shelled out by a paying customer just so his printer will go back to printing. The only thing actually "broken" is Xerox's business model. This person notes they switched from HP to Xerox because the latter was supposedly more trustworthy. Apparently not. Printers aren't a business. They're a racket. HP is no better than Xerox. It too will lock your printer to a certain region to ensure you receive only the best customer service purchase only most profitable ink cartridges. If dates are anything to go by, HP likely pioneered the bullshit that is region-locked ink. This is from a 2005 Slashdot post. (The internal link to the Wall Street Journal is dead, so it has been omitted.) Looks like the printer cartridge manufacturers will be borrowing techniques from Hollywood. HP introduced region coding for some of the newest printers sold in Europe. HP's US location and US dollar sliding lead to the situation, where cartridge prices in Europe are significantly higher than those in the States. In the Wall Street Journal article HP representative in Europe claims the company doesn't make any money off regional coding for cartridges, and that consumers will win once the US dollar rises over Euro. Unbelievably, the rep says customers will "win" if an aspect HP can't control (currency exchange rates) happens to shift in the customers' favor. Why not just say consumers will be better off if those scratch tickets are winners? Or if the housing market rebounds and brings the residence housing the HP printer back into the black? How much have consumers "won" since 2005? In January of 2005 (when the post appeared at Slashdot), the exchange rate was 1.312 ($$ to Euros). A decade later, the exchange rate is 1.162. The dollar has gotten stronger, but this change is unlikely to have any appreciable effect on the price of "European" ink (wtf even is that, HP, Xerox, et al -- ink is ink). Thanks for the investment tip, HP PR. Nearly every major printer manufacturer is in on the scam. HP saw an opportunity to increase incremental sales and staked out this territory in 2004. This brave new world of customer-screwing was followed by Lexmark, Canon, Epson and Xerox -- none of which saw anything wrong with illogically restricting ink cartridges to certain regions. Region coding for DVDs and videogames makes a certain amount of sense, provided you're willing to make a small logic buy-in on windowed releases. But ink? It's not like Australians need to wait six weeks for HP to cut loose ink cartridges so as not to sabotage the US release. The only reason to do this is to tie paying customers into the most expensive ink and toner. This lock-in is cemented by many printers' refusal to recognize third-party replacement cartridges and/or allow refills of existing manufacturer cartridges. The excuses made for this mercenary behavior would be hilarious if they weren't so transparently dismissive of customers. Every flowery ode to customers' best interests by PR flacks boils down to nothing more than, "Fuck 'em. It's not like they have a choice." Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
Sometimes you have to wonder if the various political candidates are trying to lose the knowledgeable techie vote. Chris Christie has been strongly pro-surveillance, and it's not hard to guess where he would come down on the whole "backdooring encryption" debate. However, few of the other candidates have been directly asked about that -- though that may be changing. Jeb Bush has now stated that he's against encryption, because, apparently it harms America. “If you create encryption, it makes it harder for the American government to do its job—while protecting civil liberties—to make sure that evildoers aren’t in our midst,” Bush said in South Carolina at an event sponsored by Americans for Peace, Prosperity, and Security, a group with close ties to military contractors. Bush said “we need to find a new arrangement with Silicon Valley in this regard because I think this is a very dangerous kind of situation.” This is, of course, mostly deeply wrong, while also partially right, but for the wrong reasons. First of all, if we want Americans to be safer we should be demanding more encryption, not less. It is a confused state of mind that, just as we keep hearing about more and more data being leaked and hacked into whether by individual malicious hackers or, potentially, nation states, thinks the "answer" to this is somehow less security, rather than more. However, in a weird way, Bush is actually correct. In some instances, encryption actually does make the government's job harder. But that's a feature, not a bug. Bush should, perhaps, listen to his brother's former Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff who recently came out against backdooring encryption, noting: ... we do not historically organize our society to make it maximally easy for law enforcement, even with court orders, to get information. We often make trade-offs and we make it more difficult. If that were not the case then why wouldn’t the government simply say all of these [takes out phone] have to be configured so they’re constantly recording everything that we say and do and then when you get a court order it gets turned over and we wind up convicting ourselves. So I don’t think socially we do that. This is an important point that Jeb Bush (and many folks in favor of backdooring encryption) don't seem to get. Separately, from Bush's quote, it appears he's not even familiar with the details of the debate (not that this stops him from opining ignorantly about it). By saying that merely "making" encryption is bad for America, he's just wrong. The debate isn't about making encryption. It's about whether or not encryption should be (or, realistically, can be) compromised via some sort of backdoor. Experts have explained why this actually makes us all worse off, but it's rather disturbing that people like Jeb Bush have summarized the "we should backdoor encyrption" side of things as "we should be against encryption."Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
As you may remember, earlier this summer, we (and many others) wrote about the ridiculous situation whereby Assistant US Attorney Niketh Velamoor not only sought a bogus subpoena for information on some hyperbolic commenters on the site Reason.com, but also obtained a gag order. At the time, I noted that I had sent in FOIA requests to the DOJ for Velamoor's initial application for the gag order as well as for the DOJ's guidelines on requesting a gag order. It turned out that Paul Levy, from Public Citizen, did the same -- though he (wisely, apparently) made his request directly to Velamoor, rather than to the DOJ's FOIA office. From that, Levy received a copy of the gag order application, which we wrote about last month. So, imagine my surprise to have the DOJ finally respond to my FOIA request a month later, only to tell me that it could find no responsive documents to my request. There is no real detail provided. Just this: Of course, FOIA offices are notorious for claiming no responsive docs if you're not 100% accurate in your request, but I think my request was pretty clear. Here was my request: The June 4th application for a non-disclosure order by the US Attorneys Office in the Southern District of NY concerning the subpoena issued to Reason Magazine (or Reason.com). The non-disclosure order was granted on June 4th by Judge Frank Maass and vacated on June 19th. I am seeking the original application. And, as we learned from the document that was released to Levy, it was an "Application for § 2705(b) Grand Jury Non-Disclosure Order to Service Provider." And it was, indeed, filed and approved on June 4th. And it was clearly "In Re Grand Jury Subpoena to Reason.com." The idea that the DOJ's FOIA staff "could find no responsive documents" suggests a serious problem with how the FOIA office works -- or how the US Attorney's Office in NY files their documents. Clearly the document exists. After all it was released to Levy. And the description I gave of the document is pretty damn close to the actual document. I am, of course, free to "appeal" the "no responsive documents" claim, but it's not clear what the point is here, since the document was already released (unbeknownst to the DOJ's crack FOIA team). At the very least, this should call into question how the DOJ handles its FOIA requests.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
We've long discussed how game downloadable content (DLC) can be done right, but more often than not it's done very, very wrong. On the positive side you have CD Projekt Red, who recently decided to offer two free pieces of DLC for The Witcher 3 every week for months, helping to build a positive relationship with fans while keeping the game consistently in the public (and media's) eye. More often than not however you have efforts like Bungie's recent flubs with Destiny, or Ubisoft's pretty but incredibly shitty DLC approach to Assasin's Creed, Unity. And then there's EA, whose quality control issues, treatment of employees and obsession with low-value microtransactions are now legendary in the gaming industry. The company has made nickel and diming DLC high art, at times stuffing $60 launch titles with dozens of pieces of DLC at $5 or more a pop -- already embedded on the disc. Whether you like this idea or not, there's little debate that EA has quite often pushed the idea of microtransactions too far. But what you might call obnoxious and greedy, EA COO Peter Moore continues to call "innovative value proposition." Speaking recently to Gamespot, Moore quite-proudly proclaimed that it's "nonsense" to believe publishers sell incomplete titles in order to make money off of missing content: "A lot of that resistance comes from the erroneous belief that somehow companies will ship a game incomplete, and then try to sell you stuff they have already made and held back. Nonsense. You come and stand where I am, next to Visceral's studio, and you see the work that is being done right now. And it's not just DLC, this is free updates and ongoing balance changes." Well, one, things like "free updates" and "balance changes" are part of routine maintenance for a title, and since they often involve fixing bugs -- aren't really part of the conversation. Still, Moore would prefer it if gamers thought about future EA DLC as if it were "APIs," not content already on the disc that customers should have gotten with the original game: "Think of them as APIs," he said. "Knowing down the road that something needs to sit on what you've already made, means you have to put some foundations down. What people are confused about is they think DLC is secretly on the disc, and that it's somehow unlocked when we say." And sure, Moore's not entirely wrong. Many are quick to point out that in modern game development, DLC quite often runs parallel and separate from core game design, and the core structure of DLC developed at a later date often exists on disc to make integration easier. Few deny that, and DLC can certainly be done well. But DLC did in fact start with many developers shaving core content off of the original game to make an extra buck, and there's little doubt that many titles are left intentionally sparse so users need to acquire pricey DLC to fully flesh them out. Moore also ignores the unholy atrocity that is pre-order DLC bonuses, which involves only being able to get a vast array of content if you pre-order from select vendors. Cumulatively, the frequency of poorly-implemented microtransactions is still annoying, and it's certainly not "nonsense" if the modern gamer feels that the value proposition of many modern titles from AAA developers has slowly been circling the toilet. On the flip side, it has been interesting to watch the resistance to poorly-implemented DLC slowly erode over the years. Back in 2011, gamer disdain for nickel and dime DLC was utterly palpable. During the first quarter of this year, "extra content" generated roughly $921 million out of EA’s total digital revenue of $2.2 billion, meaning there are plenty of people who now either think DLC offers a great value position or have more disposable income than brains. I personally ignore 99.7% of all DLC. Granted Moore is the same guy who tried to argue that EA won Consumerist's "The Worst Company In America" poll simply because it's big. And EA is the same company that consumes talented developers and shits out broken dreams as a matter of course. As such, EA's probably the last one gamers should ask when trying to differentiate value from a heaping $5 pile of nonsensical, supplementary horse excrement.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
It's been a while since we last checked in on PRS, a collection group in the UK that generally goes around acting as a kind of collection of prosthetic assbags for the musical artists it purports to represent. Actions like demanding money from a grocery store employee who happened to sing a song at work, demanding money from a woman who played some music for her horses, and demanding payment from small businesses it calls up on the off chance it might hear some music being played far off in the background are all taken under the theory that PRS has the best interests of the musical artists at heart. The problem with this theory is two-fold. First, it appears that, for a collection society, PRS is very terrible at collecting money, seeing as it has come to light that it doesn't have enough money for a copyright tribunal hearing over licensing with a television station. Second, in order to support that legal effort, PRS has decided to do what it always decides to do: slurp just a little bit more money away from the artists it represents. When rights owners choose to licence as one through a collecting society, all deal making is subject to extra rules and regulations in order to satisfy competition law. If the society and a licensee cannot reach an agreement, the matter can be taken to a special court, which in the UK is called copyright tribunal. Which is what ITV is now doing having failed to agree a new deal with PRS covering broadcasts from the start of this year. In the letter to its members, posted by the Music Law Updates website, the PRS executive board says that: “We feel it is vital that we fully participate and vigorously defend this referral to secure a fair return for the use of our members’ work. Copyright tribunals are costly but it’s important to protect and champion your work and ensure you are fairly remunerated whenever it is used." And, with that supposed goal in mind, PRS announces that it will increase admin fees by 1 percent on all revenue it generates from music on television. Not just artists whose music is played on ITV, but all music on television. For those of you keeping score at home, that means a collection society that bills itself as a protector of artists' rights has unilaterally announced an increase in its fees because it actually has to do that job, and it's collecting those increased fees from members who do not stand to directly benefit from this legal action. That, my friends, is quite an operation they have going over there at PRS. “The Executive Board has approved a proposal for a one percent increase in our TV admin rates for a period of one year, this being the fairest way of covering the expected costs in defending this referral. While the tribunal will only rule on the ITV licence, it is an important decision for all members whose music is played on TV, meaning we are sharing the cost across all our TV revenues”. Yes, we're taking more money from you artists who will not be affected by this legal action over this license with this television station because it's extremely important to you, because we said it is. And, keep in mind, we alone have your best interests at heart, which is why we're taking more of your money. It's always been this way. Collection societies serve as skimming operations, gently whisking away some percentage of revenue from artists under the guise of good intentions. But what else could you expect? Given how PRS treats the general public, why would artists expect to be treated any better? Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
The space right above our planet's atmosphere is cluttered with human technology and space junk, and it's getting more crowded up there all the time. Sure, the vastness of the universe is practically infinite, but there are only a few Largrane points, and artificial satellites have started to run into traffic problems -- including intentional satellite destruction that might not be quite innocuous. Wars over outer space might become a real thing in the not so distant future, if it's not happening already. About 1,300 active satellites are orbiting right now, and there doesn't seem to be much agreement on a new code of conduct for spacefaring nations. Anti-satellite weaponry has been around for about as long as artificial satellites have existed, and billions will be spent over the next few years to maintain and further develop military space programs. [url] The US is creating a centralized operations center for monitoring space threats such as spy and military satellites. This project will also aggregate satellite data to try to better monitor situations on the ground (or on the water) as well. Thankfully, no one is training astronauts in zero-G hand-to-hand combat.... [url] Is it possible to launch a satellite as an individual? Not just some weather balloon junk, but a cubesat or something that will actually orbit a few times... Yes, but it'll cost you over $100,000 to hitch a ride on a Soyuz mission. Korean artist, Hojun Song, successfully launched a 1-kg cubesat called OSSI-1 -- so if you have the resources, it can be done. And presumably, your satellite will have to be completely harmless, so you don't start an international incident. [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
The presumed illegality of filming police is a law enforcement mental disorder. Far too many officers believe they have the right to perform their public service unobserved. Officers continue to take cameras from bystanders who happen to catch them behaving badly. Abby Phillip at the Washington Post details another apparent act of police misconduct that resulted in more misconduct as officers attempted to shut the recording down. Just after 4 p.m. Thursday, a woman stood a few feet away from several Miami Police Department patrol cars with her cellphone camera recording. After a few seconds, an officer entered the frame, escorting a handcuffed young black man to the back of a police car. Suddenly, the officer put his head inside the car door and appeared to punch the suspect. “Oh!” a woman exclaimed on the recording, reacting to what was unfolding before her. The woman, who the Associated Press identified as Shenitria Blocker, moved closer, and the officer climbed into the back seat of the car. Moments later, the camera shook and the video ended. Here's the video: The camera shake was due to an officer's attempt to take Blocker's phone away from her. Blocker says they then ordered her to delete the footage or face being arrested. While the video does show Blocker moving in very close to the police car to get a better view of the action, any arrestable offense would have been limited to "interference," and that would only be legit if she refused to move away from the vehicle when ordered to. No such order was given. Instead, the cop went for the camera and threatened her with arrest. Even if the cops can't find a sufficiently malleable "violation" to charge photographers with, the law enforcement community (including police departments and, especially, their unions) finds ways to ensure no damning recording goes unpunished. To its credit, the Miami Police Department has suspended the officer caught punching the handcuffed arrestee and is investigating the incident. On the other hand, it hasn't said anything about the unidentified officer who attempted to take Blocker's phone, nor has it issued a statement affirming the public's right to film police officers. The Miami Fraternal Order of Police, on the other hand, is going out of its way to deliver its own brand of "justice" for Blocker having the temerity to catch one of its officers behaving badly. In a statement, the police union said “social media has placed a very negative tone on law enforcement nationwide” and that the officer in question was “protecting our community.” Ah. So that's what happened. A now-suspended officer didn't punch an arrested man who was already in the back of a patrol car. Social media did. In fact, social media should be made to answer for the hundreds of incidents of police misconduct every year. At the very least, people should stop running to social media with their clips of police abuse because being a cop is hard work. But the union has gone farther than simply making the ridiculous assertion that all of these police officers captured on film doing the things they were actually doing is nothing more than negative spin by Social Media Co. LLC. It's also attempting to disparage Blocker herself -- ironically, by using the same social media that's apparently destroying the reputation of its suspect-punching police officer. The union has delivered screenshots of Blocker's since-removed Facebook page, claiming these show Blocker is a bad person and therefore, all video captured by her phone should be disregarded… or something. The remainder of the union’s statement focused on criticizing Smith, the woman who at the time they believed recorded the video. It highlighted screenshots of Smith’s Facebook page and accused her of posting photos of herself with men who have handguns. According to the farcical police officers' group, the real problem is men with guns on Facebook pages, not an officer punching a handcuffed suspect. If only the "community" had done more to raise Ms. Blocker right, Unidentified-and-Suspended Officer X wouldn't have had to punch a handcuffed man in the back of his patrol car. “Our community has accepted behavior that motivates violence in our younger generation. It’s time for the community to take a stand against this reckless behavior and stop the violence,” he continued. “As the saying goes: It takes a village to raise a child. Guns don’t belong in the hands of children.” So, remember: the next time you see a police officer beating a handcuffed person, remember that somewhere out there, there's a male with a gun and someone's daughter might be friends with him. Ask yourself: what's more important here? The reputation of the misbehaving officer? Or the reputation of the misbehaving officer? And then put the camera away. Because as the union sees it, the only people above reproach are the officers whose abusive actions prompt poorly-thought out and thoroughly ridiculous statements from their unions. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
Just recently, we noted that a court in Australia, clearly understanding the issues with copyright trolling, had blocked Voltage Pictures/Dallas Buyers Club from pushing out questionable "settlement" letters (i.e., shakedown letters) to subscribers -- and required a huge bond if the organization wanted to move forward. It appears that some US courts may be thinking along similar lines in an effort to stop copyright trolls from abusing the judicial system as a way to shake people down for money in a practice known as "speculative invoicing" (i.e., pay up or we sue you). The world's largest copyright troll, Malibu Media, has been taking some hits lately, pissing off judges who appear to be catching on to the game that Malibu and its lawyers (mainly Keith Lipscomb) are playing. And now, one judge is taking something of a page from that Australian court, in "allowing" Malibu Media to move forward with a case, but with a ton of restrictions to try to avoid the pure shakedown aspect of the business model (ht to Raul for the pointer). The judge, James Bredar, in Maryland, clearly understands what Malibu Media is hoping to do: get ISPs to hand over names and contacts of a bunch of people, so that it can start bombarding them with demands for money, along with threats to "reveal" the names of embarrassing porn titles it's accusing them of downloading in the form of a lawsuit. Judge Bredar is allowing the discovery process to go on, but with restrictions to avoid the standard out-and-out shakedown game of Malibu Media. First off, before any names will be revealed to Malibu Media, all individuals must be given a chance to quash the subpoena: After having been served with the Subpoena, the ISP will delay producing to Malibu the subpoenaed Information until after it has provided the Doe Subscriber with Notice that this suit has been filed naming the Doe Subscriber as the one that allegedly downloaded copyright protected work;b. A copy of the Subpoena, the complaint filed in this lawsuit, and this Order;c. Notice that the ISP will comply with the Subpoena and produce to Malibu the Information sought in the Subpoena unless, within 30 days of service of the Subpoena, the Doe Subscriber files a motion to quash the Subpoena or for other appropriate relief in this Court. If a timely motion to quash is filed, the ISP shall not produce the subpoenaed Information until the Court acts on the motion. Also, Malibu Media will need to pay all of the ISPs' costs, including attorneys' fees, and then if the subscriber does not seek to quash, the ISP will hand over the names... but, Malibu can't start shaking them down. Instead, it needs to hold the information in a confidential manner, and can only use it to file a lawsuit if it thinks it has a case -- and, even then, the name of the individual will be blacked out. Malibu shall reimburse the ISP for its reasonable costs and expenses, including attorney's fees, associated with complying with the Subpoena and this Order. On receipt of the Information from the ISP, Malibu must mark it as "Highly Confidential," and, in the absence of further order of the Court, may only use it to determine whether, pursuant to Rule 11(b), it has sufficient information to amend the complaint to name as an individual defendant the Subscriber. Unless otherwise ordered by the Court, Malibu, its agents, representatives, and attorneys may not disclose the Information received from the ISP to any person not directly involved as an attorney in representing Malibu in this copyright infringement action relating to the Information received, except as provided below. Any person to whom the Information or its contents is disclosed shall be required to sign an agreement to be bound by the provisions of this Order, enforceable by an action for contempt, prior to being informed of the Information or its contents. Any amended complaint filed by Malibu naming an individual defendant shall be filed so that the name and any specifically identifying information is redacted from the publicly available court docket, to be replaced by first and last initials only, with an unredacted copy of the amended complaint filed under seal. More importantly: no shakedown efforts: Malibu is prohibited from initiating, directly or indirectly, any settlement communications with any unrepresented Doe Defendant whose identity has been revealed pursuant to the Subpoena or deposition described in paragraph 4 above. Any settlement communications with an unrepresented Doe Defendant shall be initiated only as approved by the Court. On request submitted to the Court at any time by Malibu or the Doe Subscriber, whether represented or unrepresented, settlement shall be conducted under supervision of one or more Magistrate Judges designated by the Court for this purpose. Unless otherwise ordered by the Court, any settlement negotiations shall be subject to the confidentiality provisions of Local Rule 607.4. This paragraph shall not prevent Malibu from initiating or responding to a request for settlement communications with a Doe Defendant who is represented by counsel. In other words, the court knows what Malibu is up to and will be watching closely. It will be interesting to see if Malibu Media actually follows through or just cuts its losses and moves on to other courts with less aware judges.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
So just a few hours ago, we were mocking the company behind the "dating site for cheating on your spouse" site Ashley Madison for abusing the DMCA in the false belief it would somehow stop the full leak of the data. And... now that the full leak of data has actually happened, apparently the geniuses at Avid Life Media (said parent company) are still abusing the DCMA to try to get those horses back in the barnyard. From Vice's Motherboard's Joseph Cox: A few hours ago I received a notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) relating to three of my tweets. “Hello,” the email from Twitter starts. “The following material has been removed from your account in response to the DMCA takedown notice copied at the bottom of this email.” The tweet in question had been a "partial screenshot of an apparent floor plan of the Avid Life Media office." But the company asked for more too: ... the DMCA request also asked for another two to be removed. One was a heavily censored screenshot of a spreadsheet which details the shareholders of the company and the percentile of shares they own. The screenshot did not include any names, figures, or other data, but simply the headers of two columns. Another screenshot showed the column headers of a spreadsheet detailing the company's bank accounts. No actual bank data was included. Twitter apparently did not remove these two tweets. It's worth noting, here, that the DMCA notices were not sent on the leaked customer data, but about things that are at least marginally more closely tied to the company -- though it's still unlikely that Avid Life Media has a legitimate copyright claim in any of them. It's possible that it holds the copyright in the floor plan, but such a tweet is pretty clearly fair use. All this should make you wonder why Avid Life Media is running around filing bogus DMCA notices, rather than actually taking care of the damage from this leak?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
Last week, I came across two separate speeches that were given recently about the future of the internet -- both with very different takes and points, but both that really struck a chord with me. And the two seem to fit together nicely, so I'm combining both of them into one post. The first speech is Jennifer Granick's recent keynote at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas. You can see the video here or read a modified version of the speech entitled, "The End of the Internet Dream." It goes through a lot of important history -- some of which is already probably familiar to many of you. But, it's also important to remember how we got to where we are today in order to understand the risks and threats to the future of the internet. The key point that Granick makes is that for too long, we've been prioritizing a less open internet, in favor of a more centralized internet. And that's a real risk: For better or for worse, we’ve prioritized things like security, online civility, user interface, and intellectual property interests above freedom and openness. The Internet is less open and more centralized. It’s more regulated. And increasingly it’s less global, and more divided. These trends: centralization, regulation, and globalization are accelerating. And they will define the future of our communications network, unless something dramatic changes. Twenty years from now, You won’t necessarily know anything about the decisions that affect your rights, like whether you get a loan, a job, or if a car runs over you. Things will get decided by data-crunching computer algorithms and no human will really be able to understand why. The Internet will become a lot more like TV and a lot less like the global conversation we envisioned 20 years ago. Rather than being overturned, existing power structures will be reinforced and replicated, and this will be particularly true for security. Internet technology design increasingly facilitates rather than defeats censorship and control. Later in the speech, she digs deeper into those key trends of centralization, regulation and globalization: Centralization means a cheap and easy point for control and surveillance. Regulation means exercise of government power in favor of domestic, national interests and private entities with economic influence over lawmakers. Globalization means more governments are getting into the Internet regulation mix. They want to both protect and to regulate their citizens. And remember, the next billion Internet users are going to come from countries without a First Amendment, without a Bill of Rights, maybe even without due process or the rule of law. So these limitations won’t necessarily be informed by what we in the U.S. consider basic civil liberties. This centralization is often done in the name of convenience -- because centralized systems currently offer up plenty of cool things: Remember blogs? Who here still keeps a blog regularly? I had a blog, but now I post updates on Facebook. A lot of people here at Black Hat host their own email servers, but almost everyone else I know uses gmail. We like the spam filtering and the malware detection. When I had an iPhone, I didn’t jailbreak it. I trusted the security of the vetted apps in the Apple store. When I download apps, I click yes on the permissions. I love it when my phone knows I’m at the store and reminds me to buy milk. This is happening in no small part because we want lots of cool products “in the cloud.” But the cloud isn’t an amorphous collection of billions of water droplets. The cloud is actually a finite and knowable number of large companies with access to or control over large pieces of the Internet. It’s Level 3 for fiber optic cables, Amazon for servers, Akamai for CDN, Facebook for their ad network, Google for Android and the search engine. It’s more of an oligopoly than a cloud. And, intentionally or otherwise, these products are now choke points for control, surveillance and regulation. So as things keep going in this direction, what does it mean for privacy, security and freedom of expression? What will be left of the Dream of Internet Freedom? She goes on to note how this centralization comes with a very real cost: mainly in that it's now one-stop shopping for government surveillance. Globalization gives the U.S. a way to spy on Americans…by spying on foreigners we talk to. Our government uses the fact that the network is global against us. The NSA conducts massive spying overseas, and Americans’ data gets caught in the net. And, by insisting that foreigners have no Fourth Amendment privacy rights, it’s easy to reach the conclusion that you don’t have such rights either, as least when you’re talking to or even about foreigners. Surveillance couldn’t get much worse, but in the next 20 years, it actually will. Now we have networked devices, the so-called Internet of Things, that will keep track of our home heating, and how much food we take out of our refrigerator, and our exercise, sleep, heartbeat, and more. These things are taking our off-line physical lives and making them digital and networked, in other words, surveillable. At the end of her speech, Granick talks about the need to "build in decentralization where possible," to increase strong end-to-end encryption, to push back on government attempts to censor and spy. And that's where the second speech comes in. It's by the Internet Archive's Brewster Kahle. And while he actually gave versions (one longer one and one shorter one) earlier this year, he just recently wrote a blog post about why we need to "lock the internet open" by building a much more distributed web -- which would counteract many of Granick's quite accurate fears about our growing reliance on centralized systems. Kahle also notes how wonderful new services are online and how much fun the web is -- but worries about the survivability of a centralized system and the privacy implications. He notes how the original vision of the internet was about it being a truly distributed system, and it's the web (which is a subsegment of the internet for those of you who think they're the same), seems to be moving away from that vision. Contrast the current Web to the Internet—the network of pipes on top of which the World Wide Web sits. The Internet was designed so that if any one piece goes out, it will still function. If some of the routers that sort and transmit packets are knocked out, then the system is designed to automatically reroute the packets through the working parts of the system. While it is possible to knock out so much that you create a chokepoint in the Internet fabric, for most circumstances it is designed to survive hardware faults and slowdowns. Therefore, the Internet can be described as a “distributed system” because it routes around problems and automatically rebalances loads. The Web is not distributed in this way. While different websites are located all over the world, in most cases, any particular website has only one physical location. Therefore, if the hardware in that particular location is down then no one can see that website. In this way, the Web is centralized: if someone controls the hardware of a website or the communication line to a website, then they control all the uses of that website. In this way, the Internet is a truly distributed system, while the Web is not. And, thus, he wants to build a more distributed web, built on peer-to-peer technology that has better privacy, distributed authentication systems (without centralized usernames and passwords), a built-in versioning/memory system and easy payment mechanisms. As he notes, many of the pieces for this are already in existence, including tools like BitTorrent and the blockchain/Bitcoin. There's a lot more in there as well, and you should read the whole thing. Our new Web would be reliable because it would be hosted in many places, and multiple versions. Also, people could even make money, so there could be extra incentive to publish in the Distributed Web. It would be more private because it would be more difficult to monitor who is reading a particular website. Using cryptography for the identity system makes it less related to personal identity, so there is an ability to walk away without being personally targeted. And it could be as fun as it is malleable and extendable. With no central entities to regulate the evolution of the Distributed Web, the possibilities are much broader. Fortunately, the needed technologies are now available in JavaScript, Bitcoin, IPFS/Bittorrent, Namecoin, and others. We do not need to wait for Apple, Microsoft or Google to allow us to build this. What we need to do now is bring together technologists, visionaries, and philanthropists to build such a system that has no central points of control. Building this as a truly open project could in itself be done in a distributed way, allowing many people and many projects to participate toward a shared goal of a Distributed Web. Of course, Kahle is hardly the first to suggest this. Nearly five years ago we were writing about some attempts at a more distributed web, and how we were starting to see elements of it showing up in places the old guard wouldn't realize. Post-Snowden, the idea of a more distributed web got a big boost, with a bunch of other people jumping in as well. It's not there yet (by any stretch of the imagination), but a lot of people have been working on different pieces of it, and some of them are going to start to catch on. It may take some time, but the power of a more decentralized system is only going to become more and more apparent over time.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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