posted 11 days ago on techdirt
Today's demonstration of post-brutality scrambling is brought to you by the California Highway Patrol. First off, we'll take a look at the "alleged" brutality, which looks incredibly similar to non-alleged brutality. (Apologies for the watermark the person who recorded the incident slapped all over the video.) This head-punching (David Diaz, who recorded the incident, counts 15 punches in total) was performed as an act of civil service, according to the CHP. Speaking to the television station ABC7, the California Highway Patrol said that the officer had ordered the woman to stop walking, out of fears for her safety. She failed to follow this order, possibly due to mental illness. After the unnamed officer's fists were finished ensuring her safety, the CHP sent the woman to a mental health facility and refused to allow her family to see her. The video surfaced shortly thereafter, forcing the CHP to make further statements about how "physically combative" the woman was, as well as expressing its utmost desire to find a way out of this to see justice done. "We're looking at every possibility, every fact, every circumstance that have contributed to this situation, and we're going to try to come to a just conclusion," Highway Patrol Assistant Chief Chris O'Quinn said at a news conference on Friday. "Just," in this context, seems to actually mean "exonerating." The investigation continues, apparently, albeit in unexpected (and terrible) directions. California Highway Patrol investigators have seized the medical records of a woman seen on video being repeatedly punched by one of its officers on the side of a Los Angeles freeway. Chris Arevalo, executive administrator for psychiatric services at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, confirmed that the CHP served the search warrant Tuesday for Marlene Pinnock's records. Why the CHP would need to seize the records, rather than just view them, is completely inexplicable. The person served the warrant noted that it was issued to grab "property or things" as part of a felony investigation, which apparently included communications with her doctor about her well-being and "references to her attorney." I'm sure the ongoing investigation will clarify the CHP's need to violate its victim's privacy before this debacle is wrapped up. That's how it works. But it looks like an uphill battle. The statement released by the CHP commissioner sounds like even he was caught off-guard by this bizarre, smells-like-a-cover-up records seizure. "I think what they're trying to do is, they don't have a statement from her, and they're trying to find that out," Farrow said. "I don't think the CHP is trying to put her on trial or make it an issue about her. What I'm looking at is entirely about the circumstances, we all saw what happened. Our job is to find out the why and the how." So, the CHP gets statements by hospitalizing someone and seizing their medical records. While these records may offer some insight as to why she didn't immediately follow the officer's instructions, they really don't fill the "statement" void -- unless the CHP is going to further violate her privacy by releasing a statement on its own behalf using information gleaned from the seized records. As it stands now, it looks exactly like the CHP is planning to "make it an issue about her." If it isn't, then perhaps it might quid pro quo with the release of the disciplinary records of involved officers. Moving on from this larger wrongness, I'd like to take a little time to point to the complicity of the Associated Press in the low-level whitewashing of this latest development by using that famous law enforcement standby, the passive voice. My first notification came to me via Officer.com, whose headline read: CHP Seizes Medical Records of Woman Seen Punched "Seen punched?" Punched by whom? By the CHP, of course, not that this headline indicates that. As far as this headline goes, it may have just been a random mugging. A more accurate headline would be "CHP Seizes Medical Records of Woman They Were Seen Punching." Clumsy, but more honest. Considering this AP story was reposted by a police-centric site, the passive voice is completely expected. But it's not just cop sites like Officer.com. It's other places as well. The AP buries the lede and other media sites run the feed without even altering it. Of course, Police One took the AP's weak title and made it even worse. CHP seizes medical records of woman in scuffle with cop Not only does it side more with the CHP, but it also makes it appear as though the CHP seized her records during the "scuffle." We expect this use of the passive voice from police officers. The media doesn't really need to assist law enforcement spokespeople in their blame-deflection efforts. When misconduct allegations arise, they're always followed by details of "weapons discharging" and innocent bystanders "receiving gunshot wounds" and officers never striking anybody but always "responding" to actions, movements or words from some person whose personal safety was ensured by hospitalization. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
Drones: they're a thing. They were once reserved for the military to use to remote control the fiery death of scary people most of us have never met, some of whom may occasionally, ahem, be, you know, American or whatever. Now all kinds of commercial applications are being explored for these sky-borne death-machines, like getting me my damned tacos delivered through the sky, the way God intended. Well, the FAA went all crazy-pants over the idea of businesses using UAVs, which was followed by the NTSB ruling that the FAA had no jurisdiction over commercial drones. Following an FAA appeal, the agency then decided to claim that drones were only for fun, not profit. You know, like sex. That brings us to today, where we get to read news about the FAA investigating the use of a drone to take sky-recordings of the wedding of a US Congressman who sits on the subcommittee that oversees the FAA. The agency's carefully worded statement doesn't mention Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., by name, but said it was looking into "a report of an unmanned aircraft operation in Cold Spring, New York, on June 21 to determine if there was any violation of federal regulations or airspace restrictions." Maloney has acknowledged hiring a photographer to produce a video of his wedding using a camera mounted on a small drone. The wedding took place in Cold Spring on June 21. Maloney is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's aviation subcommittee, which oversees the FAA. Well, if the NTSB can't get the FAA to calm the hell down about minor commercial uses of drones, darkening the memories of a congressman's wedding with a pointless investigation sure as hell might. Particularly when that congressman is directly involved in overseeing said FAA. Boys, you may just have bit off a little more than you can chew. And this all comes off as particularly silly, given that this particular drone is the increasingly common small helicopter with a video recorder attached to it. The chances that this thing is going to interfere with airborne Boeings seem, shall we say, slim. "On their wedding day, Sean and Randy were focused on a ceremony 22 years in the making, not their wedding photographer's camera mounted on his remote control helicopter," Stephanie Formas, spokeswoman for Maloney, said in a statement. Formas, citing the judge's ruling, said there was "no enforceable FAA rule" or regulation that applied to "a model aircraft like the helicopter used in the ceremony." I rather expect that point to be driven home at an upcoming subcommittee meeting. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
We've been highlighting how Italy's public prosecutor has suddenly decided that he gets to be the judge, jury and executioner of any websites he deems to be engaged in copyright infringement. Back in March he ordered dozens of websites to be censored based entirely on his say so. And now he's back with another big list, except this time it includes two very big names: Russian webmail/social networking giant mail.ru and Kim Dotcom's cloud storage provider Mega.nz. No matter what you might think of Kim Dotcom and Megaupload, Mega.nz was clearly set up to be quite different from Megaupload -- and the company is known for being quite responsive to takedown requests. As for mail.ru, it's owned by Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, who (not surprisingly) is a pal of Vladimir Putin. The company put out a statement in which it says it was not informed about any of this and only found out once its users in Italy started complaining. The company is not happy about the situation. "“[Eyemoon Pictures] made no attempt to resolve the situation pretrial.... No notification of illegal content or requirements to remove copies of [Eyemoon's] films has been addressed to Mail.Ru Group from law enforcement agencies and Italy." Fulvio Sarzana, an Italian lawyer who follows these things (and first alerted us to the news) is claiming that these sites have been "seized" by the Italian government. In this context, Sarzana explained via email, the government technically is "seizing" the site, but since they have no actual ability to do so, they order ISPs to block access to them. The decision came after an Italian film distributor complained that two movies -- that have not yet been released in Italy -- could be found on these sites. But, they could just as easily discover that someone had uploaded such films to YouTube or Dropbox or Amazon's S3 or Gmail. Would the public prosecutor order all of those sites completely blocked with no adversarial hearing whatsoever? If prosecutors in Italy truly believe that these entire sites should be "seized" or blocked in Italy, why not take them to court and hold a trial? Why jump immediately to a complete shutdown of sites used by millions for perfectly legitimate activity, just because someone was able to find two infringing files? The chilling effects in Italy from this kind of activity should be massive. It would appear to make it absolutely impossible to build any kind of internet company that allows any form of user generated content, because on a whim, the government might seize everything.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
We've been highlighting how Italy's public prosecutor has suddenly decided that he gets to be the judge, jury and executioner of any websites he deems to be engaged in copyright infringement. Back in March he ordered dozens of websites to be censored based entirely on his say so. And now he's back with another big list, except this time it includes two very big names: Russian webmail/social networking giant mail.ru and Kim Dotcom's cloud storage provider Mega.nz. No matter what you might think of Kim Dotcom and Megaupload, Mega.nz was clearly set up to be quite different from Megaupload -- and the company is known for being quite responsive to takedown requests. As for mail.ru, it's owned by Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, who (not surprisingly) is a pal of Vladimir Putin. The company put out a statement in which it says it was not informed about any of this and only found out once its users in Italy started complaining. The company is not happy about the situation. "[Eyemoon Pictures] made no attempt to resolve the situation pretrial.... No notification of illegal content or requirements to remove copies of [Eyemoon's] films has been addressed to Mail.Ru Group from law enforcement agencies and Italy." Fulvio Sarzana, an Italian lawyer who follows these things (and first alerted us to the news) is claiming that these sites have been "seized" by the Italian government. In this context, Sarzana explained via email, the government technically is "seizing" the site, but since they have no actual ability to do so, they order ISPs to block access to them. The decision came after an Italian film distributor complained that two movies -- that have not yet been released in Italy -- could be found on these sites. But, they could just as easily discover that someone had uploaded such films to YouTube or Dropbox or Amazon's S3 or Gmail. Would the public prosecutor order all of those sites completely blocked with no adversarial hearing whatsoever? If prosecutors in Italy truly believe that these entire sites should be "seized" or blocked in Italy, why not take them to court and hold a trial? Why jump immediately to a complete shutdown of sites used by millions for perfectly legitimate activity, just because someone was able to find two infringing files? The chilling effects in Italy from this kind of activity should be massive. It would appear to make it absolutely impossible to build any kind of internet company that allows any form of user generated content, because on a whim, the government might seize everything.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 11 days ago on techdirt
Several days after the crash of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Ukraine, still very little is known about what happened. Things are made much more difficult by the refusal of local armed groups to allow inspectors full and free access to the crash site. It is in precisely this context, where traditional reporting finds it hard to provide useful information, that an alternative -- open journalism -- shows its strengths. One of the central questions concerning the MH17 crash is who fired the missile that seems to have been responsible for its destruction. In the absence of official news, it's natural to turn to the Internet, putting together the many scattered pieces of information to form an overall picture of what happened. That's what the Open Newsroom project has done, as explained here on the Storyful blog: As images and videos purporting to show the missile system in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine began to flood in, Storyful, alongside other journalists and social media experts in our Open Newsroom and elsewhere, worked to verify this information and determine the veracity of these claims. From the images and videos, we were able to determine that members of the Donetsk People's Republic separatist militia, at the very least, did appear to have access to an anti-aircraft system capable of an attack like the one carried out on MH17. Open Newsroom was launched last year by Storyful, now owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Here's a good explanation of the thinking behind the site, and of the benefits of working collaboratively, in the open: In the competitive, now-is-the-deadline world of news, sharing information openly is a tough thing for news organisations to come to terms with. Traditionally, you don't share a half-baked story before it's ready, and risk losing a scoop to a competitor. That's just madness. Because Storyful provides journalism as a service, our news clients obviously don't want us doing that either. They want what we find first. There are times, however, where the scoop isn't the goal, and where being open about your processes benefits everyone. Where there's a fake image or document being circulated, it serves the entire media to help stop it in its tracks. It serves to slow down ridiculous speculation, which only adds to the noise and obscures the facts. Doing this effectively can mean drawing in the people who are best placed to help. That demands a certain amount of openness and vulnerability. You need to share what you already know in order to allow others to build on it. And sometimes, the best-placed people will be other journalists. So we're creating a space for that on Google+, and with a small, experimental group, it's looking really promising. We have had contributions from independent journalists like Eliot Higgins and James Miller, NGO experts like Peter Bouckaert (Human Rights Watch) and Christopher Koettl (Amnesty International) and a host of others chipping in, along with members of Storyful's editorial team. Eliot Higgins, mentioned there, and who writes under the pen name of Brown Moses, is one of the pioneers of open journalism. He is probably best known as the unemployed Briton who became the world's leading expert on Syrian's weapons, purely using open source information found on the Internet -- central to open journalism. As Mathew Ingram explains: One of the most fascinating things about Brown Moses from a journalistic point of view is that he is completely self-taught, and gets no income from what he does -- he appears to be motivated purely by curiosity, and a desire to get the truth out where everyone can see it, something that is a fundamentally journalistic impulse. And yet he has no training as a journalist, and probably wouldn't qualify as one even under the broadest interpretation of a recent U.S. "shield law" aimed at protecting journalists. Higgins has also been working on locating the missile launcher using open resources, and he has just announced a Kickstarter project called Bellingcat, which "will unite citizen investigative journalists to use open source information to report on issues that are being ignored": Bellingcat will bring together both critically acclaimed and emerging citizen investigative journalists using open source information to investigate, collaborate, and report on worldwide issues that are being underreported and ignored. Open source information, which is information freely available to anyone through the Internet -- think YouTube, Google Maps, Reddit -- has made it possible for ANYONE to gather information and source others, through social media networks. Think the Syrian Civil War. Think the Arab Spring. At a time when newspapers and magazines have diminishing resources for detailed and possibly long-term research on important but often obscure stories, and when journalism is increasingly constrained by governments and companies in terms of what they are allowed to report on -- even in supposedly "free" Western societies -- open journalism is likely to play an increasingly important role in verifying and reporting on the facts that the powerful do no want exposed. And those are, after all, the only kind that really count. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
Well, it didn't take very long at all for the Copyright Office to add another layer of absurdity to the Aereo situation, stating in no uncertain terms that it doesn't care what the Supreme Court says about Aereo being a cable company. Ultimately, the big question throughout this whole situation has been a simple one, summed up anonymously in this week's most insightful comment: Hmm, I wonder how all of this smacking down of Aereo encourages the development of culture, science and innovation. What happens when you don't let innovations like Aereo move forward? You end up with industries full of incumbents that rest on their ever-dwindling laurels. Like Comcast, whose disastrous customer service went viral this week, prompting Michael to take second place for insightful with the observation on everyone's mind: When your business model relies on making the process of cancelling so annoying that people decide it isn't worth it, you have taken a wrong turn somewhere. Of course, innovation means change, and sometimes change is difficult. Some people decry technological process with the age-old accusation that it costs us jobs — and this week's first editor's choice for insightful goes to jupiterkansas for a nice, clear response to this perennial complaint: The whole technology destroys jobs argument has been made for over 150 years since the industrial revolution, and there are more different kinds of jobs available today despite an explosion in population. While technology does lead to job loss in the short term, and it can be very hard on people in that short term, in the long term society has benefited it has enabled whole new fields of work and better working conditions. Not to mention that a lot of the jobs people complain about losing were created by technology in the first place. This includes books! All these thoughts about innovation and progress also serve as excellent reminders of just how important the net neutrality debate is. With the FCC accepting public comments, there has been plenty of interesting stuff to look at if you can sift through the overwhelming volume. Adrian Lopez did just that, and his findings are our second editor's choice for insightful: Let's play a game of "spot the shills on the FCC's comment page". Here's my nomination: http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=7521380183 Over on the funny side, we start out where you might expect: the saga of Kenneth Eng's quixotic legal crusades, which recently swept us up in their wake for daring to republish public documents that contain his address. But among his many indiscriminate targets was also an old friend of the meme-loving internet: the Philosoraptor. This week's first place winner for funny is Indy, and there's nothing to quote in the comment — rather, it's a link to an eminently appropriate use of the meme-in-question. Watch out imgur — Eng might be coming after you next. In second place, it's back to Comcast, with an understandably anonymous comment about how to get better service: When they asked me for a reason, I told them God told me "less tv, more gun-cleaning." It was a short conversation after that. This implied threat would be doubly ominous based on a theory from Michael, who takes our first editor's choice spot for funny: I'm pretty sure that murdering a call center employee from Comcast is only a misdemeanor and small fine. And, finally, we come full circle to Aereo again, much as Aereo continues to do laps of the runaround it's being put through. Silverscarcat tried to come up with a way to break free: Aereo should just say... "Well fine, we're a cable company that doesn't pay re-transmission fees because no one wants our money." (It's better than my idea of carving a fake wooden Aereo to draw the industry's fire.) That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 13 days ago on techdirt
Another week? Another week to look back through Techdirt history. Five Years Ago:: Oh the lawsuits we witnessed. A sculptor sued the Post Office for featuring his sculpture on a stamp -- even though that sculpture was a part of the Korean War Memorial in DC. The amazing thing was the sculptor eventually won the lawsuit. To this day I don't get it. I can't see how (a) no one bothered to get the rights from the guy in the first place and (b) how this wasn't fair use. Speaking of nutty legal situations, this was also the week that Kevin Cogill, the guy who uploaded (but did not initially leak) Guns 'N Roses long-awaited album was sentenced to 2 months house arrest and told to produce propaganda for the RIAA -- something he never actually had to do, leading to him telling the full story of his crazy situation earlier this year. This week the National Portrait Gallery in the UK threatened someone at Wikipedia for downloading public domain images. A filmmaker sued some online forums because commenters cost him a job and Wells Fargo sued itself. Meanwhile, Amazon had made the book 1984 disappear from people's Kindles, a Swedish ISP was refusing to give up IP addresses and (in a twist) Belgium was fining Yahoo for protecting the privacy of its US users. Finally, we were writing about artists who were refusing copyright as against their religious beliefs, journalists demanding money from Google, songwriters insisting that they can't write songs without copyright and newspapers still believing that paywalls would solve all their troubles. Ten Years Ago: The RIAA was busy a decade ago. Not only were they pushing the "INDUCE" Act to try to make inducing copyright infringement a form of copyright infringement (Congress never passed it, but the Supreme Court effectively created an inducement standard soon after), but they were also busy pushing Audible Magic's filtering system as the precursor to ContentID. In fact, most non-YouTube sites still make use of Audible Magic. Meanwhile, Streamcast was accusing the record labels of collusion (some things never change). Microsoft won $4 million from a spammer, Cameron Diaz was sending legal threats to Gawker and we were just figuring out how to use mobile phones on planes. Just in time, too, because 3G mobile services were just starting to show up. Fifteen Years Ago: Oh those dot com boom days. Microsoft became the first company to be worth over $500 billion. They're well below that today. Petopia -- one of a big list of "pet dot coms" raised $66 million despite not having launched yet. Network Solutions randomly transferred Excite.com's domain to some dude in Illinois. Other than pet dot coms, the most overhyped thing in that time was "free PC" companies who would offer you free (but really crappy and underpowered) computers if you let them put ads all over the screen. Except... all of those companies were failing to make any money. Meanwhile, Virgin was trying to get ahead of the digital music world by allowing you to download music and burn it to a CD (what a concept!). In one of our earliest stories about patent lawsuits, Ask Jeeves was being sued for infringement and we noted with disgust that it was by a company that didn't appear to actually do anything, but just try to sue people. This was before the term "patent troll" was popular. Those were the early days of patent trolling though. 46 Years Ago: We weren't around, but this week Intel was founded, after Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore and Andy Grove split from Fairchild Semiconductor (which Noyce, Moore and six others had started as the "traitorous eight" after quitting Shockley Semiconductor as a group). Intel, of course, became a key player in the computer revolution, but the story of the company's founding is also an important Silicon Valley lesson in the nature of people who aren't happy with their current jobs jumping ship to start something new. So much of Silicon Valley history is based on stories like that.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 13 days ago on techdirt
For this week's Awesome Stuff post about interesting crowdfunding projects, we're taking a look at products that are a kind of modern rethink of some more "retro" ideas. Of course, I'll also toss in a quick reminder that our own crowdfunding project for our net neutrality coverage is still moving forward. We're close to 60% of the way there, and could use your help (and, remember, all pledges are backed with matching money!). RocketSkates Yes, RocketSkates. Both retro and futuristic (though a bit dorky) these are electric skates that you can use to zoom around. Think of them as a poor-man's Segway, without the giant clumsy machine to have to drag around. You control them with your feet (so no remote necessary), and can easily switch to walking when necessary. Also, because everything these days has an app, it has an app for route tracking, interactive games (?!?) and more. LaMetric The modern take on the classic ticker machine. This one is one that you can set up (via an app of course) to display whatever kind of info you might like. The square pixel display, however, is very, very retro. The video highlighting the project is... a bit over the top at points, but I can definitely think of a bunch of use cases where something like this could come in handy. Coolest Cooler The cooler to end all coolers. With a retro look, but every possible modern convenience you could think of -- including a battery powered rechargeable blender, a waterproof bluetooth speaker, USB charger, built in cutting board and integrated storage for plates and knives, it's the cooler that cooler people have only dreamed about. I'm not much of a "cooler" guy, but if I were, it looks like this would be a tough cooler to beat. And it looks like tons of people agree. It's already over $6 million with a month and a half to go, meaning it has a chance to pass the most funded ever, the Pebble. Already it looks like it's either the third or 4th most funded with plenty of time to go. That's it for this week... have a happy retro weekend, and don't forget to check out our own campaign as well...Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 14 days ago on techdirt
Back in March of last year, we were somewhat disturbed by UPS agreeing to forfeit $40 million to the US government for shipping drugs from "illegal internet pharmacies." Not that such drugs or pharmacies should be legal (that's a whole different discussion), but it's insane to pin the blame for the shipments on the shipping company, whose sole job is to get packages from point A to point B. In fact, we don't want shipping companies to be liable for what's in packages, because then they have not just the incentive, but the mandate to snoop through all our packages. Apparently, FedEx was unwilling to fall on its sword and cough up a similar amount to the US government, so the DEA and DOJ have announced they've gotten a grand jury to indict the company for delivering drugs associated with internet pharmacies. You can read the full indictment, which tries to spin a variety of stories into evidence that somehow FedEx "knew" what was in those packages. The indictment does describe FedEx deliveries to vacant homes and parking lots where carloads of people would be waiting. As early as 2004, FEDEX couriers and customer service agents in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia expressed safety concerns to their management, including the following: FEDEX trucks had been stopped on the road by Internet pharmacy customers demanding packages of pills; delivery addresses included parking lots, schools, and vacant homes where people would wait for deliveries of drugs; customers would jump on FEDEX trucks and demand Internet pharmacy packages; FEDEX drivers were threatened if they insisted on delivering a package to the address instead of giving the package to the customer who demanded it; and customers would use multiple names and identification documents to pick up packages of drugs. A FEDEX employee also raised concerns to FEDEX management that some recipients of Internet pharmacy packages were engaged in "doctor shopping," were "known to be selling and using," and that "some of the recipients have overdosed and died." While that may sound damning, remember this is the DEA/DOJ's spin on things. Even if everything above is true, FedEx's job is to deliver packages, not examine everything inside those packages to make sure they're legal. Even in some of the cases -- as described in the indictment -- where FedEx becomes aware that some of the companies ran into trouble with the DEA for selling drugs illegally, it's hard to see how that means FedEx should automatically drop all business connections with those entities. Presumably, a firm that was caught selling drugs illegally could have other legitimate business to continue and would make use of services like FedEx going forward. It's not FedEx's job to examine everything in those packages. This is, quite literally, blaming the messenger. FedEx is fighting these claims pretty aggressively, insisting that it's crazy to make it responsible for what's in the packages: "We are a transportation company �” we are not law enforcement." Furthermore, the company notes that it has long asked the DOJ to provide it with a list of online pharmacies that it shouldn't do business with, so that it didn't have to just guess. The government did not provide the list, and seems to think that FedEx must be psychic (and should know what's in all packages and whether or not they're illegal." "We have repeatedly requested that the government provide us a list of online pharmacies engaging in illegal activity," [VP Patrick Fitzgerald] said. "Whenever DEA provides us a list of pharmacies engaging in illegal activity, we will turn off shipping for those companies immediately. So far the government has declined to provide such a list." Even a former DEA official interviewed by Bloomberg, Larry Cote, claimed the situation was extreme and unprecedented: The criminal case is an unprecedented escalation of a federal crackdown on organizations and individuals to combat prescription drug abuse, said Larry Cote, an attorney and ex-associate chief counsel at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. “Targeting a company that’s two, three steps removed from the actual doctor-patient, pharmacy-patient relationship is unprecedented,” said Cote.... “The DEA does believe that everyone in the supply chain is responsible and has an obligation to understand where their products are ending up,” said Cote, calling that “a stretch.” We often talk about secondary liability on the internet, but it's the same basic principal here. The company that's merely acting as the conduit shouldn't be liable for what's traversing over its system. The implications of changing that, and holding a company liable are very serious. It's going to create massive incentives for shipping companies to not just open up and look at what's in our packages, but to also make on-the-fly determinations of whether or not they think it's legal.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 14 days ago on techdirt
When it comes to putting people in prison, it seems as if law enforcement can't act fast enough. But when it comes to getting them out -- especially after the uncovering of misconduct or malfeasance -- there seems to be a distinct lack of urgency. The Inspector General of the Justice Department has just released a report detailing the FBI's foot-dragging response to crime lab issues first uncovered in 1996. This is the third report to follow up on the DOJ "task force" and its efforts to right the wrongs caused by "serious irregularities" in its lab. The report made public Wednesday was the third since 1997 to follow up on irregularities at the famed FBI lab. The prior inspector general reports focused on lab problems. The new report focused on the Justice Department’s task force created to identify and follow up on the cases involving scientifically unsupportable analysis and overstated testimony by FBI Lab examiners. The problems ultimately lead back to 13 examiners. But those problems were multitudinous. In total, these 13 took part in nearly 8,000 cases, 2,900 of which resulted in convictions. This discovery led to the appointment of a DOJ task force, which then led to... not much. The new report said the Justice Department "failed to ensure that prosecutors made appropriate and timely disclosures to affected defendants" and that the department "failed to staff the Task Force with sufficient personnel to implement a case review of the magnitude it undertook." The work took far too long, investigators said. How did this lack of activity on law enforcement's end add up for some of those affected? [T]hree other defendants, Donald E. Gates, Santae A. Tribble, and Kirk L. Odom, had served sentences in excess of 21 years based in part on FBI hair analyses and testimony that DNA analysis subsequently proved erroneous. The OIG drills down the specific failures of the DOJ task force, as well as those who were supposed to be cooperating with the investigation. [D]espite some effort by the Task Force to segregate for priority treatment cases involving defendants on death row, the Department and the FBI did not take sufficient steps to ensure that the capital cases were the Task Force's top priority. We found that it took the FBI almost 5 years to identify the 64 defendants on death row whose cases involved analyses or testimony by 1 or more of the 13 examiners. The Department did not notify state authorities that convictions of capital defendants could be affected by involvement of any of the 13 criticized examiners. Therefore, state authorities had no basis to consider delaying scheduled executions. No problem. Just death on the line. No need to push the disputed cases to the front of the line. Not even if it kills someone who would have been exonerated. As a result, one defendant (Benjamin H. Boyle) was executed 4 days after the 1997 OIG report was published but before his case was identified and reviewed by the Task Force. The prosecutor deemed the Lab analysis and testimony in that case material to the defendant's conviction. An independent scientist who later reviewed the case found the FBI Lab analysis to be scientifically unsupportable and the testimony overstated and incorrect. Two other capital defendants were executed (Michael Lockhart in 1997 and Gerald E. Stano in 1998) 2 months and 7 months, respectively, before their cases were identified for Task Force review as cases involving 1 or more of the 13 examiners. Although we found no indication in the Task Force files that the Lab analyses or examiners' testimony were deemed material to the defendants' convictions in these cases and, according to the FBI, the OIG-criticized examiner found no positive associations linking Lockhart or Stano to the crimes for which they were convicted and executed, the Task Force did not learn this critical information before the executions so that appropriate steps could have been taken had the analyses or testimony been material to the convictions and unreliable. There's a lot more bad news in the report, but nothing really tops the FBI contributing to the death of at least one innocent person. This isn't something that was uncovered after the execution. This information came to light in 1996, but no one involved made any attempt to prioritize affected convictions. Innocent people died or were locked away for years and yet, the DOJ portrays itself as the injured party. "Decades ago, the FBI corrected the deficiencies that led to the creation of the Task Force," the department noted in its official response, adding that the Task Force's work was "unprecedented both in its magnitude and its complexity." Really? Lab examiner Michael Malone's work led to someone being falsely imprisoned for 27 years. He also contributed faulty work that resulted in the overturning of five other convictions. Malone retired in 1999, but was still working for the FBI as a contractor (performing background checks). The OIG's review finally led to his termination of his employment with the FBI... on June 17, 2014. According to the evidence gathered by the OIG, the FBI greatly contributed to the inability of the task force to do its job in a timely fashion, with a majority of reviewed cases being returned to the DOJ more than 14 months after the FBI obtained them. Some, including capital cases, were held onto for as long as two years. What the FBI plans to do in the future to prevent more injustices is yet to be seen. The OIG suggests it partner with the opposite end of the spectrum for best results. We encourage the Department and the FBI to consider working with defense organizations, such as the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers or entities which work to ensure protection of defendants’ rights, such as the Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union, to ensure a comprehensive and effective plan designed to achieve maximum and effective notice to all potentially affected individuals. This will hopefully give the DOJ and FBI some more insight into what it's like for the other side whose best efforts to defend the accused are undermined by shoddy lab work or the withholding of exculpatory evidence. What it absolutely doesn't do, though, is give Benjamin Boyle back his life, or add years of extra life to those who gave up a decade or two of theirs while locked away for crimes they didn't commit. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The NYPD may be arbitrarily slapping the word "secret" on its internal documents and making sure all of its intelligence stays safely within its walls, but when it comes to communicating with the outside world, it's apparently a one-way transaction. It talks (when it wants to and can completely guide the narrative) but it rarely ever listens. Case in point: the Brooklyn DA says he won't prosecute low-level marijuana possession charges, so naturally the Brooklyn division tells its officers that low-level marijuana possession arrests will continue uninterrupted. Now, it's facing a lawsuit for its refusal to stop arresting citizens for filming police officers. A recent court of appeals decision UPHELD (all caps for a reason) the public's First Amendment right to film police officers and other public servants. The ruling was loaded with exceptions, but it did reaffirm what was already a legal right, albeit one that is routinely trampled by members of law enforcement who take offense to being publicly recorded while performing their public duties. A federal lawsuit, which cites arrests of people who recorded police confrontations or activity, was filed on Tuesday asking a judge to declare that people have a right under the First Amendment to film or record officers working in public places. The suit was filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan on behalf of one of the people arrested, and seeks a permanent injunction barring New York City employees from retaliating against those who record them in public. The NYPD apparently believes it's exempt because there's been no specific ruling from a district court covering its jurisdiction. This despite the fact that the DOJ itself fired off a letter in response to a lawsuit brought Baltimore that stated plainly: [T]he justification for this right is firmly rooted in longstanding First Amendment principles. This also despite the fact that its own Patrol Guide say photographing police isn't an arrestable offense. [T]he Police Department Patrol Guide states that “taking photographs, videotapes or tape recordings” do not constitute probable cause for arrest or detention so long as the activity does not jeopardize the safety of officers or others. This also despite the fact that the NYPD's own chief of federal litigation made the following statement: "[B]ystanders are allowed to film police officers as long as they’re not interfering with the officers’ duties and/or police operations.” The NYPD may be trying to dodge this on jurisdiction specifics, but note that the DOJ's letter doesn't specify this only applies to Baltimore. The letter plainly says "First Amendment right," which is something applied to all Americans, regardless of jurisdiction. It also references the Glik decision, which plainly established citizens' right to record. Recording governmental officers engaged in public duties is a form of speech through which private individuals may gather and disseminate information of public concern, including the conduct of law enforcement officers.(2) See, e.g., Glik v. Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78, 82 (1st Cir. 2011) The footnote (2) begins with this unambiguous sentence: There is no binding precedent to the contrary. And yet, the NYPD continues to harass, arrest and shut down citizens who record police interactions. Shawn Thomas' experience, which we detailed here earlier, saw him harassed by a police officer who claimed he was interfering with police business despite the fact that he had to walk 30 feet away from the detained suspect to deliver this statement. The whole interaction began with police intimidation tactics and culminated in the arrest of Thomas. Thomas was not an isolated incident. Debra Goodman, was taking a cellphone video of paramedics assisting a woman in a wheelchair on West 73rd Street and Broadway last year before a police officer intervened. "He asked me to produce ID. I refused, because I knew I wasn’t doing anything wrong,” Goodman told CBS. “And then he grabbed my arm and handcuffed me, and told me I was under arrest.” She was held for 25 hours. This lawsuit asks for a permanent injunction prohibiting retaliatory actions from NYPD officers against those who record them. Time and money are going to be poured into "protecting" a right that already unequivocally exists. And there's no guarantee the NYPD will pay attention even if it receives a jurisdiction-specific injunction. After all, a federal appeals court ruled the state's wiretapping law (something frequently abused to prosecute citizens for recording cops) was unconstitutional and this decision was greeted by Morgan County prosecutors and law enforcement with a "so, business as usual" shrug. It took the involvement of the ACLU to get Morgan County to align itself with a ruling that plainly stated recording police was not a violation of the wiretapping statute. What the NYPD is doing is ignoring common knowledge and several court decisions. The DOJ's letter may have been addressed to Baltimore's police department, but the wording (and the cases cited) apply to every law enforcement agency. The US government itself has declared that citizens have this right, something that comes bundled with the First Amendment. It's utterly ridiculous that anyone should have to force the issue in a "local" court in order to make the NYPD respect citizens' First Amendment rights. 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Pizza is a really popular menu item. Seriously. It's everywhere. So it shouldn't be too surprising that folks are trying to deliver pizza to people in new and better ways. While we probably won't see pizzas delivered by drone anytime soon (thanks, FAA!), it looks like we can look forward to seeing pizzas in more and more vending machines. The US military is developing a pizza MRE that can last three years without any special storage requirements (and still remain safe to eat). Pizza isn't the easiest food to store indefinitely because its sauce promotes mold growth and makes the crust soggy, but there are some modern food science tricks that might help keep pizzas tasty (or at least edible) for a surprisingly long time. [url] This video shows how a frozen pizza is mass produced, if you like to see how the sausage is made.... One of the more intriguing parts of this process is the quality control step at the very end that rejects pizzas right before they're supposed to go into a box. [url] Sure, there are plenty of vending machines that sell pizzas, but only recently can a vending machine make a pizza from scratch in under 3 minutes. Mixing dry ingredients into dough, making it into a flat circle, and then adding toppings and cooking it all on demand is an impressive feat -- as long as the product actually tastes like pizza when it comes out of the machine. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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It was just a week ago that Techdirt warned about a new "Snooper's Charter" that would be rammed through the British Parliament in record time. As feared, that has happened, and the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill -- DRIP to its friends -- has received the Royal Assent and is now law in the UK. That's the bad news; the good news is that the fight back has already begun. Today, the UK's Open Rights Group (ORG) announced that it would be challenging DRIP in the courts: Whilst Parliament swallowed Theresa May’s tired arguments that "terrorist plots will go undetected" and "these are powers and capabilities that exist today", she failed to make a compelling argument that holding everyone's data is necessary and proportionate. Frankly, the Government was evasive and duplicitous, and they were in a hurry to cover their tracks. Tom Watson MP described the process as "democratic banditry, resonant of a rogue state. The people who put this shady deal together should be ashamed." And the European Court's decision was very clear: blanket data retention is unlawful and violates the right to privacy. The courts will have the final say on whether DRIP breaches human rights. And no matter what David Cameron believes, the UK has international obligations. The European Convention on Human Rights, the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and our own Human Rights Act -- all exist to defend our rights and are where we will be able to challenge DRIP. And that's what we will do. Although that's hugely welcome, it's not surprising: bringing these kinds of cases is very much why ORG was set up. The following, though, is unexpected: As the controversial Data Retention and Investigation Powers Bill (DRIP) slips its way through the House of Commons and into the House of Lords, the outspoken boss of broadband ISP Andrews & Arnold (AAISP), Adrian Kennard, has promised to use "all practical legal means" in order to protect their customers from state sponsored Internet snooping. Now, that may just be one ISP, but the example of iiNet in Australia, which has been fighting on behalf of its users there for years, shows what can be done. It would be nice if more UK ISPs did the same, but even if they don't, it's likely that others will join the fight against DRIP and its undemocratic passage through the UK Parliament, given the outrage this has caused -- in some quarters, at least. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The FCC has confirmed that over 1 million comments have already been filed in the open comment period concerning net neutrality and the open internet. The official comment period closes tonight at midnight (and even that's kind of meaningless because there's a "reply" commenting period for the next few months that will let people respond to initial comments), and we've started sorting through some of the many comments filed. We'll be highlighting some interesting comments and trends that we spot, but last night I found one filing so odd, it deserved a quick post on its own. Kurt Schaake of Lawrence, Kansas, appears to have filed the Dishwasher User Instruction manual for a Whirlpool dishwasher as his comment. I don't know if this is an accident, performance art, a weird and incomprehensible statement on the nature of the free and open internet or what. About the only immediate information I can find on Schaake is that he's an engineer who spent a bunch of time helping to rebuild Iraq a decade ago. Here's a photo of him sitting in a "golden throne" at Saddam Hussein's presidential palace. What any of this has to do with net neutrality is beyond me, but it is oddly amusing.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Following on the news that Ed Snowden told the Guardian how NSA employees routinely passed around pictures they had intercepted of "extremely attractive" people who were naked, the NSA has issued one of its typical non-denial denials. In an email to Forbes' Kashmir Hill, NSA spokesperson Vanee Vines basically said, "If we knew about it, that wouldn't be allowed": “NSA is a professional foreign-intelligence organization with a highly trained workforce, including brave and dedicated men and women from our armed forces,” said spokesperson Vanee Vines by email. “As we have said before, the agency has zero tolerance for willful violations of the agency’s authorities or professional standards, and would respond as appropriate to any credible allegations of misconduct.” Except, of course, what nearly every story talking about this has left out is that this is hardly the first such revelation. The NSA has a history and pattern of this kind of thing. Back in 2008, it was revealed that NSA analysts had been listening in on and passing around tapes of Americans having phone sex: Not only were calls between Americans listened to and recorded on a regular basis, the "good parts" (i.e., phone sex) were sent around to other operators to listen to as well. One of the operators said that on a regular basis messages would be sent around with messages like: "Hey, check this out. There's good phone sex or there's some pillow talk, pull up this call, it's really funny, go check it out." Even if we take the NSA at its word that it has a "zero tolerance" policy for this kind of thing, that actually makes the story even worse. Because it just shows how weak (to non-existent) the NSA's "100% auditability" really is. Keith Alexander insisted that everything done by people with access to these databases was tracked and audited. But it's becoming increasingly clear that that's not true at all. And it makes you wonder just how much abuse is going on that the NSA has no idea about -- potentially for things even worse than listening in on phone sex or passing nudie pics around the office.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Apparently, like clockwork, the original RickRoll video on YouTube has to disappear from the site every two years. In 2010, we wrote about the video being taken down from YouTube due to a "terms of service violation" that was never explained. In 2012, the video was once again taken down, this time due to a copyright claim from "AVG Technologies." Both times the takedown didn't last too long, but it did happen. Here we are two years later, and guess what? The video is currently blocked in the US and other countries for no clear reason: I'm assuming that someone will notice the attention this is getting and flip a switch to turn it back on, but it once again highlights the unfortunately transient nature of today's cultural milestones. This is a problem when we build a world of digital silos where third parties get to have control over what you can and cannot access. The ability to just wipe away a piece of culture that people always expect to be there is rather troubling.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As you know, despite Netflix having already agreed to pay Verizon's shake down fee to avoid interconnection congestion for its streaming, Netflix and Verizon are fighting a very public fight about who's to "blame" for the network congestion. Netflix took a public shot at Verizon by publicly highlighting Verizon's congested network to users, leading Verizon to send a cease-and-desist letter, claiming it was misleading. As we noted, there's no doubt that it's actually Verizon at fault, because it's not delivering exactly what it sold customers (and we wonder why the FTC is still not getting involved yet). If Verizon's network is getting congested, that's on Verizon to fix, since it sold its users a promise that they could reach anywhere on the internet, including Netflix. Verizon tried to spin the story back in its favor last week, with a blog post about "the congestion myth," in which it claimed that the real problem was how Netflix chose to route its traffic to Verizon. It presented the following nifty chart, claiming that there was no congestion at all on Verizon's network, and saying that it was all about how Netflix was choosing to deliver its traffic to Verizon's network: As you can see in the "red" arrow, it's showing that there's 100% utilization at the interconnection link. And Verizon claims this is all on Netflix. Here's Verizon's explanation: One might wonder why Netflix and its transit providers were the only ones that ran into congestion issues. What it boils down to is this: these other transit and content providers took steps to ensure that there was adequate capacity for their traffic to enter our network. In some cases, these are settlement-free peering arrangements, where the relative traffic flows between an IP network provider and us remain roughly equal, and both parties invest in sufficient facilities to match these roughly equal flows. That is the traditional basis for such deals. In other cases there may be traffic imbalances, but the networks or content providers have entered into paid arrangements with us to ensure connections and capacity to meet their needs for their out-of-balance traffic. Some reporters took this at face value, but it never made any sense at all. The chart above pretty clearly shows that the congestion point is actually Verizon's border router. And if it just made a basic upgrade to accept the traffic that it has promised to consumers, there would be no problem at all. Level3 has now jumped into this debate as well, with even more data showing that Verizon is the real culprit here. Level3 is carrying a bunch of that Netflix traffic, and notes that it has more than enough bandwidth to carry it. It says the only problem is Verizon refusing to take 5 minutes to upgrade its system: Verizon has confirmed that everything between that router in their network and their subscribers is uncongested �“ in fact has plenty of capacity sitting there waiting to be used. Above, I confirmed exactly the same thing for the Level 3 network. So in fact, we could fix this congestion in about five minutes simply by connecting up more 10Gbps ports on those routers. Simple. Something we’ve been asking Verizon to do for many, many months, and something other providers regularly do in similar circumstances. But Verizon has refused. So Verizon, not Level 3 or Netflix, causes the congestion. Why is that? Maybe they can’t afford a new port card because they’ve run out �“ even though these cards are very cheap, just a few thousand dollars for each 10 Gbps card which could support 5,000 streams or more. If that’s the case, we’ll buy one for them. Maybe they can’t afford the small piece of cable between our two ports. If that’s the case, we’ll provide it. Heck, we’ll even install it. Level3 has provided a (not quite as nicely designed) image to zoom in on the border router situation, showing that it has plenty of capacity ready -- all it needs is for Verizon to let it connect more ports: Again, this is what plenty of people have been saying since the beginning of this interconnection fight. Verizon, Comcast and AT&T have deliberately made the decision not to make rather basic and inexpensive upgrades to their interconnection points that would solve the congestion problems with Netflix. In doing so, they are the ones creating the bottleneck and congestion -- and effectively using it to shake down Netflix, getting them to pay extra for the bandwidth that the broadband providers' customers have already paid for. Looking at this, it once again becomes clear that it's Verizon, AT&T and Comcast that have deliberately caused this congestion, using their positions as dominant players with monopoly control over the last mile to force Netflix to pay them extra. As Level3 notes, it takes two parties to take the "trivial" steps to remove the congestion, and it's Verizon that's the party who isn't cooperating: All of the networks have ample capacity and congestion only occurs in a small number of locations, locations where networks interconnect with some last mile ISPs like Verizon. The cost of removing that congestion is absolutely trivial. It takes two parties to remove congestion at an interconnect point. I can confirm that Level 3 is not the party refusing to add that capacity. In fact, Level 3 has asked Verizon for a long time to add interconnection capacity and to deliver the traffic its customers are requesting from our customers, but Verizon refuses. As we've discussed, Verizon, Comcast and AT&T know exactly what they're doing here. People hadn't been so concerned with interconnection disputes in the past, because they didn't think the big broadband players would be so crass and so anti-consumer to purposely let interconnection points clog up. But, those three companies have such control over the market at this point that they are able to do that and can effectively shake down internet companies to get them to double pay for the bandwidth that subscribers are already paying for. Today it's Netflix, but soon it's likely to be lots of other companies as well. That's why, in our own comments to the FCC, we noted that the interconnection fights need to be a part of the open internet discussion.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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There's probably no better way to announce that the broadband service you're providing is inadequate than the mayor of a town feeling compelled to write an apologetic letter to tourists, apologizing in advance for the lousy connection (or the complete lack of one). Blogger Ewan Grantham came across the following letter in his hotel room in Tusayan, AZ (right outside the Grand Canyon). [link to photo of the letter] Dear Tusayan Guest- As a guest in one of our wonderful Tusayan hotels, we know that like our residents, you have expectations in today's technology age of being able to easily and consistently access the internet highway during your stay in our community. Again, like our residents, we understand your frustration with the inconsistent strength of the broadband signal, or even total lack of an ability to connect. It is an issue that we have to deal with on a daily basis due to a lack of sufficient signal from our primary service broadband provider, CenturyLink. What bandwidth we have coming into the entire community has been severely over-subscribed (sold to too many users for the small signal strength available) and thus the poor quality of connectivity in our community. The situation is NOT due to a lack of effort or desire to provide you a quality service by the hotel where you are staying. It is due the lack of availability of broad bandwidth from CenturyLink. The Town itself has been working for many months to try and resolve this situation by working with several entities to bring in a consistent and reliable service to meet not only our residents needs, but to also provide the level of service that we feel our guests and visitors to the Grand Canyon deserve. Hopefully we will be able meet those needs in the near future. Please understand that the issue is beyond our control as a whole community and not just this individual business and bear with us and we work to join the internet highway with quality services. In the meantime, enjoy the reason you have come to our community, the Grand Canyon in all its magical and powerful beauty. We very much appreciate you choosing to stay in Tusayan and hope that you will also enjoy our great rooms, food & beverage services and the wonderful people and staff that call Tusayan their home. Respectfully, Greg Bryan Mayor Town of Tusayan That CenturyLink's connection is indeed lousy has been confirmed by Grantham. Unfortunately I can vouch that service throughout the area surrounding the national park was rather bad anywhere we went. In the national park itself service was actually pretty good, but I gather that is because the NP has it's own AT&T contract that avoids using the CenturyLink backhaul. Grantham also wonders what purpose this letter ultimately serves: whether it's to push CenturyLink to the bargaining table, or hoping that the negative attention will draw bids from competing services. Either way, there's no shaming quite like public shaming, and CenturyLink is getting its shaming from the top man in town. A look at Tusayan's city council meetings shows that the town has been unhappy with CenturyLink for nearly four years now. The minutes from the June 1, 2011 meeting state the following: Councilmember Rueter gave a presentation on internet opportunities for the Town and recommends continuing discussions with Century Link, but also to research options for a tower for the Town. A report on that meeting quotes the mayor as saying previous discussions with Qwest (which CenturyLink bought) date back even further. Mayor Greg Bryan said he was not encouraged by his own findings. Using his business, the Best Western Squire Inn, as an example, he said conversations with Qwest regarding Internet expansion began nine or ten months ago. In order to provide fiber optics in town, Qwest said they would need around $1,000,000. More details from that council meeting indicate that Qwest/CenturyLink was looking for a 10-year commitment for a certain number of Tusayan businesses before it would move forward with expanding its capacity -- on top of the $1,000,000 investment from the city itself. Mayor Bryan said that Qwest was refusing to move forward until it received more service renewals for Tusayan businesses. Further notes from later council meetings indicate CenturyLink has been unwilling to budge from either its long contracts or $1 million in funding from the town. Oct. 26, 2011: Robbie Evans, Tusayan Fire District, suggested that the Council look into the Arizona Corporation Services in reference to CenturyLink providing the town with broadband service. CenturyLink is supposed to be serving the town with internet and the Arizona Corporation Services can be contacted if CenturyLink does not. Feb. 15, 2012: CenturyLink is unresponsive to a solution as it is costly to install. There is current legislation that would allow ADOT to lay conduit along highways or allow vendors to lay conduit in the right away. The Town may need to lay aside money for the next several years to address this problem. Council Member Rueter would like to see fiber laid as wireless broadband would only address the problem temporarily as the need for use increases. To that end, it appears the city has now abandoned hope of working this out with CenturyLink and is seeking bids on fiber optic lines. While considerably more expensive (this 2013 meeting's minutes contain a quote from NI Solutions of $1.7 million), this may finally give the town a connection that won't disappoint incoming tourists and, at least at this point, doesn't seem to come bundled with a demand for a 10-year contract with a single provider. (NI provides "open-access" fiber connections which can be utilized by any service provider.) On the other hand, the situation doesn't seem to have progressed much past the estimate stage. Mayor Bryan's letter indicates things are still at a standstill with CenturyLink, and no competitor has offered to take over the territory. Bryan's shaming letter also indicates that CenturyLink's purchase of Qwest didn't improve local service, despite earlier hopeful comments that the new providers were "more attuned to help[ing] rural Arizona areas." This lack of movement possibly suggests that no bids are in the range the town is willing to spend, or it could be that CenturyLink is actively blocking competitors from receiving additional federal funding, something it has done in the past. Bryan's move, however, is a smart one (if not a little self-interested -- he owns a hotel in town): put more eyeballs -- especially those of people who drive the town's economy -- on the problem.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Some more good news on the patent front. Following the Supreme Court's ruling last month in the Alice v. CLS Bank case, there has been some question about how the lower courts would now look at software patents. As we noted, the Supreme Court's ruling would seem to technically invalidate nearly all software patents by basically saying that if a patent "does no more than require a generic computer to perform generic computer functions" then it's no longer patentable. But that, of course, is basically all that software does. Still, the Supreme Court's ruling also insisted that plenty of software was still patentable, but it didn't give any actual examples. Now in the first post-Alice ruling on a software patent at CAFC (the appeals court that handles all patent cases, and which is infamous for massively expanding the patentability of software over the years), the court has smacked down a patent held by one of the many (many, many) shell companies of patent trolling giant Acacia. The shell, Digitech Image Technologies, got control of US Patent 6,128,415, which had originally held by Polaroid. The patent supposedly describes a setup for making sure images are consistent on a variety of different devices. Acacia/Digitech did what patent trolls do and basically sued a ton of companies, including NewEgg, Overstock, Xerox, Toshiba, Fujifilm and more. A lower court kicked out the patent, and now CAFC has upheld that ruling, making use of the Alice ruling to make it doubly clear this isn't patentable. The court doesn't waste too much time, as the ruling is quite short. The key bits: There is no dispute that the asserted method claims describe a process. Claims that fall within one of the four subject matter categories may nevertheless be ineligible if they encompass laws of nature, physical phenomena, or abstract ideas..... The Supreme Court recently reaffirmed that fundamental concepts, by themselves, are ineligible abstract ideas. Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank... In determining whether a process claim recites an abstract idea, we must examine the claim as a whole, keeping in mind that an invention is not ineligible just because it relies upon a law of nature or mathematical algorithm. As noted by the Supreme Court, “an application of a law of nature or mathematical formula to a known structure or process may well be deserving of patent protection.” ... A claim may be eligible if it includes additional inventive features such that the claim scope does not solely capture the abstract idea.... But a claim reciting an abstract idea does not become eligible “merely by adding the words ‘apply it.’” The method in the ’415 patent claims an abstract idea because it describes a process of organizing information through mathematical correlations and is not tied to a specific structure or machine. [... Discussion of specific claim in the patent ...] The above claim recites a process of taking two data sets and combining them into a single data set, the device profile. The two data sets are generated by taking existing information�”i.e., measured chromatic stimuli, spatial stimuli, and device response characteristic functions�”and organizing this information into a new form. The above claim thus recites an ineligible abstract process of gathering and combining data that does not require input from a physical device. As discussed above, the two data sets and the resulting device profile are ineligible subject matter. Without additional limitations, a process that employs mathematical algorithms to manipulate existing information to generate additional information is not patent eligible. “If a claim is directed essentially to a method of calculating, using a mathematical formula, even if the solution is for a specific purpose, the claimed method is nonstatutory.” As Tim Lee notes, this ruling is great for folks opposed to software patents, and should send chills down the spines of those who support them. Because that basic reasoning can invalidate a hell of a lot of software patents. Consider Google's famous PageRank patent, which covers the algorithm at the heart of Google's search engine. In the language of the Federal Circuit, it claims the use of "mathematical algorithms" (involving eigenvectors) to "manipulate existing information" (a list of links between web pages) to "generate additional information" (a ranking of the pages). The number of software patents out there that use algorithms to manipulate existing information to generate additional information is... rather large. And they may all be invalid.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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One of the repeated talking points by the NSA for years has been about how there are all these "strict controls" on who has access to data and how it's used. We've seen pretty clear evidence that the NSA's definition of "strict controls" (like so many NSA definitions of plain English words and phrases) is different than what most people consider "strict controls." After all, it insisted for months that Snowden didn't have any access to actual surveillance data... until it was revealed that he did. There were also all those cases of flagrant abuses of the NSA's system that were revealed last fall. The NSA pretended this showed how good they were at catching anyone who abused the system, but the details suggested otherwise. Many of the "caught" abuses only came out years later when the people who abused the systems to spy on lovers and friends admitted to it during interviews. Keith Alexander insisted that the NSA had "100% audibility" of the actions of their employees and they made sure that no one abused their powers: "The assumption is our people are just out there wheeling and dealing. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have tremendous oversight over these programs. We can audit the actions of our people 100%, and we do that," he said. Addressing the Black Hat convention in Las Vegas, an annual gathering for the information security industry, he gave a personal example: "I have four daughters. Can I go and intercept their emails? No. The technical limitations are in there." Should anyone in the NSA try to circumvent that, in defiance of policy, they would be held accountable, he said: "There is 100% audibility." Of course, that doesn't explain why so many of the "LOVINT" cases only came out after people self-confessed many years later, rather than through any audits. Meanwhile, in the latest Ed Snowden interview (done with the Guardian's Alan Rusbridger), Snowden reveals that NSA employees routinely would share naked photos that had been intercepted: “You've got young enlisted guys, 18 to 22 years old,” Snowden said. “They've suddenly been thrust into a position of extraordinary responsibility where they now have access to all of your private records. In the course of their daily work they stumble across something that is completely unrelated to their work in any sort of necessary sense. For example, an intimate nude photo of someone in a sexually compromising position. But they're extremely attractive. “So what do they do? They turn around in their chair and show their co-worker. The co-worker says: ‘Hey that's great. Send that to Bill down the way.’ And then Bill sends it to George and George sends it to Tom. And sooner or later this person's whole life has been seen by all of these other people. It's never reported. Nobody ever knows about it because the auditing of these systems is incredibly weak. The fact that your private images, records of your private lives, records of your intimate moments have been taken from your private communications stream from the intended recipient and given to the government without any specific authorization without any specific need is itself a violation of your rights. Why is that in a government database?” Then Alan Rusbridger, The Guardian’s editor-in-chief, asked: “You saw instances of that happening?” “Yeah,” Snowden responded. “Numerous?” “It's routine enough, depending on the company that you keep, it could be more or less frequent. These are seen as the fringe benefits of surveillance positions." Of course, none of this is really that new. Way back in 2008, you may recall, that it was revealed that NSA analysts were listening in on pillow talk phone calls between Americans overseas and loved ones back home... and sharing those recordings around the office: Not only were calls between Americans listened to and recorded on a regular basis, the "good parts" (i.e., phone sex) were sent around to other operators to listen to as well. One of the operators said that on a regular basis messages would be sent around with messages like: "Hey, check this out. There's good phone sex or there's some pillow talk, pull up this call, it's really funny, go check it out." That was revealed years before Snowden even worked for the NSA. It would appear that little has changed.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 14 days ago on techdirt
No one's immune from careless document handling, not when a government's in charge! The ongoing war of words over the Internal Revenue Service's lackluster data retention continues, with the agency claiming emails relevant to a House investigation all simply vanished during a series of coincidental computer crashes. That these should have been backed up to hard copy (as IRS policy dictates) and backed up further by servers elsewhere has been the topic of conversation for a few weeks now, but all the posturing in the world isn't going to bring these emails back. The UK has its own problems with keeping relevant records intact and accessible. A little over a week ago, the UK Foreign Office was asked to produce documents detailing the use of its Diego Garcia base for CIA extraordinary rendition flights. In a variation of the "computer ate my homework," the Foreign Office offered up this explanation for its failure to produce the requested records. ''Daily occurrence logs, which record the flights landing and taking off, cover the period since 2003. Though there are some limited records from 2002, I understand they are incomplete due to water damage.'' Oh, well. It's only stuff from 2002 that's somehow too wet to recover. Out of a decade's worth of records, that's not too bad. Except that records from 2002 are exactly the records pertinent to the discussion, as indirectly acknowledged by a Foreign Office spokeswoman: ''With or without flight records we have firm assurances from the US government, as recently as December 2013, that apart from two instances of rendition through Diego Garcia in 2002 there have been no other instances in which US intelligence flights landed in the UK, our overseas territories or crown dependencies with a detainee on board since September 11, 2001.'' So, if we choose to believe the "firm assurances" of the US government, 2002 would be the only year with acknowledged rendition flights, making the rest of the non-wet documents largely extraneous. Cue disbelief from pretty much everyone but the Foreign Office. First, the CIA's "torture tapes" vanish and now records on its rendition flights somehow managed to sustain very specific damage. Maybe it's true. Maybe only the records actively being sought happened to be stored in harm's way. Either way, the cries of "cover up" forced the Foreign Office to take a closer look at the requested files, quite possibly for the first time. Foreign Office minister Mark Simmonds said a ''fuller inspection'' from BIOT immigration officials has revealed ''previously wet paper records have been dried out''. This variation of "Oh, you mean these records?" has prompted further disbelief and, presumably, an above-average amount of cynicism. The Foreign Office has also declared that it will (rather belatedly) remove these files from beneath the "leaking roof" and digitize them into compliance with Two-Thousand-Freaking-Fourteen. Unlike the thoroughly destroyed tapes, wet things will dry out, provided someone makes an actual attempt to recover the files and assess the damage. The Foreign Office appears to have done none of that when first asked to turn them over. Instead, it took the word "wet" to mean "irrecoverable" until the building outrage forced it to actually send someone to take a look at the files it declared lost. Odd how that works. Wet things becoming dry. Destroyed records suddenly becoming recoverable. The Foreign Office loses either way. There have been too many previous attempts by the UK government to cover up its involvement in some of the US's more questionable activities. This sudden about-face on missing documents only confirms that default mode is still secrecy. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 14 days ago on techdirt
Back in March, we reported on the growing rejection of corporate sovereignty in TAFTA/TTIP, even by the German government. Since then, criticism of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), which puts corporations above nations, has become even louder and more widespread. Some significant manifestations of that took place during a plenary session of the newly-elected European Parliament, where Karel De Gucht, the commissioner leading the negotiations for the EU, made a brief statement on TAFTA/TTIP. Here's how one member of the European Parliament (MEP) responded, as reported by The Parliament magazine: During Tuesday's plenary session GUE/NGL deputy Helmut Scholz addressed De Gucht, saying, "You carried out a public consultation on the inclusion of an investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) clause which received over 115,000 responses. "Citizens don't want ISDS; neither in TTIP nor in the agreement with Canada," the German deputy argued. Many of those 115,000 responses were made using Web sites that offered a (negative) template for responding. That means the European Commission will probably try to dismiss them as bulk submissions. But others will be much harder to ignore -- like this rigorous response made by more than a hundred prominent scholars from all over Europe and across the globe. Also speaking at the plenary session was the Scottish MEP David Martin, who issued the following warning: The Socialists were proud to be at the birth of TTIP, and we do not want to be its assassins, and I want to tell the Commission clearly now, though, that if we have to be, we will be. And that's why we want the Commission to listen carefully to our concerns. Martin's words are doubly significant. First, because TTIP will not pass without the support of the Socialists, so the threat to kill the agreement is not an idle one. And secondly, because Martin played a key role in stopping ACTA two years ago, when he was the rapporteur -- the European Parliament's expert -- for the brief, and advised his fellow MEPs to vote against the agreement. The video of Martin's speech linked to above begins by showing a number of MEPs holding up placards against TTIP, and that's not the only demonstration that took place recently. A small group of protesters disrupted the latest stakeholder meeting in Brussels, before being bundled fairly roughly from the room: Another senior socialist politician with serious concerns about TTIP, and about corporate sovereignty in particular, is the MEP who chairs the influential committee on international trade, the principal one for TAFTA/TTIP: German Socialist Bernd Lange, who said procedural rules would stop [right-wing MEP] Le Pen grandstanding or using sessions for publicity, also warned that an investor-state dispute settlement mechanism should be dropped from TTIP. If it wasn't, he said, the Parliament’s next resolution on TTIP could be negative. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the most powerful individual in the EU, Jean-Claude Juncker, has also come out against ISDS in his "Political Guidelines for the next European Commission" (pdf), published earlier this week: As Commission President, I will also be very clear that I will not sacrifice Europe's safety, health, social and data protection standards or our cultural diversity on the altar of free trade. Notably, the safety of the food we eat and the protection of Europeans' personal data will be non-negotiable for me as Commission President. Nor will I accept that the jurisdiction of courts in the EU Member States is limited by special regimes for investor disputes. The rule of law and the principle of equality before the law must also apply in this context. Given this resistance to corporate sovereignty at the highest levels of the European Commission and European Parliament, it's hard to see how De Gucht can continue to push for it in his negotiations with the US. After all, once TAFTA/TTIP is agreed, the European Parliament will have a yes/no vote, and will be unable to modify it. That means the only way to block ISDS is to reject the whole deal -- just as it happened with ACTA for the same reason. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 15 days ago on techdirt
So let's say you're a highly-paid CEO of Seattle's publically-owned utility company, City Light, and you've just been ironically kicked around in the media for a couple of weeks because you spent public money to boost your own reputation. Let's say that, far from being successful in said reputation-boosting, you're now facing questions over why you spent thousands of dollars to do this in the first place and that now all search results tend to point to this story rather than whatever it was you were originally trying to drown out. What do you do? You ask for a damned refund, of course. And that's exactly what City Light's chief, Jorge Carrasco, is going to do, even if it has to spend even more public money to get that public money back. The project was concocted by the CEO’s chief of staff, Sephir Hamilton. In an interview with Ars, Hamilton said that the agency may even file a lawsuit to enforce this refund. "We're leaving our options open,” he said. “I hope that they'll see that what we signed up for was not the service that they delivered. We were sold one bill of goods and we were given another.” Ah, yes, the old "spend more public money on a lawsuit to get a refund on the public money we shouldn't have spent" strategy. I like it, not only because it's hilariously recursive, but because it allows for the possibility that City Light loses and the maximum amount of taxpayer money is spent inappropriately. Not that the folks they decided to do business with, Brand.com, seem to be anything remotely resembling reputable (editors note: alliteration combo!). “We were told that they would provide help in getting some of our past material and news releases placed in reputable blogs and journals and ultimately didn't know that they would be paying for placement or creating fake news websites to place that news,” Hamilton said in an interview. “And ultimately, all of the material that was generated has been taken off search results because it violated Google's policies.” E-mails from City Light show that Justin DeLisi, a Brand.com campaign manager, provided links to “stories” posted to websites that have since been pulled down and that appear to have been utterly fake. The "whois" information on those domains, which include weeklytimes.com, gazers.com, and advisories.com, is also obscured. So, just to summarize, City Light, a publically owned utility, paid a shady reputation company thousands of dollars to placate the ego of its CEO and now wants a refund because said shady company wasn't able to produce results. Oh, and they're willing to spend the money to file and fight a lawsuit to get this refund. Look, at some point you just have to stop digging, even if you've legitimately been had. City Light's reputation hasn't been done any favors by any of these actions. Jorge Carrasco may want to take a little bit of advice from himself. Carrasco said at a press conference that he regretted the entire effort to scrub his online reputation. Hamilton concurred. “It was an experiment that certainly didn't work and we would not do it again,” he told Ars. Right, so just extend that regret out to this entire situation and stop digging yourself holes. Come on, guys, I don't want to have to write a third post about you. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 15 days ago on techdirt
Materials with nanoscale structures promise to make a lot of things vastly better. The obvious application for smaller and faster computer processors will likely extend Moore's Law for a few more years, so maybe people won't really notice the improvements because everyone is already accustomed to computers getting faster at an insane rate. The noticeable nanotechnology might show up in things that never really existed before. Here are just a few examples of materials that could lead to nanotech cloaking devices or some other cool stuff (if nanotech can actually be produced economically someday). Surrey NanoSystems has developed a material made of carbon nanotubes that is "super black" and absorbs nearly all the visible light that hits it. They named it Vantablack, and it reflects a record low 0.035% of incident light. (They don't say how durable the coating is, but they do say it's "very expensive" to make right now, so don't expect to see this stuff outside of laboratories and super sensitive telescopes.) [url] A nanostructured material made up of tiny cones can cover a surface and hide underlying objects from your sense of touch. Most cloaking devices shield things from being seen or heard, but a thin layer of this stuff prevents anyone from feeling what is underneath it (better than any typical foam or padding). [url] A spray-on window coating can selectively block heat OR light, according to how much voltage you apply to the film. This material can block about 50% of incoming heat and 70% of visible light, but researchers are still working on improvements to make it better and cheaper for commercial applications. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We just noted that the UN has made it clear that mass surveillance and broad data retention likely violates international law. Given that, perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise to hear that UN human rights commissioner Navi Pillay has said that Ed Snowden should not face a trial, since he was revealing human rights violations: "Those who disclose human rights violations should be protected: we need them," Pillay told a news conference. "I see some of it here in the case of Snowden, because his revelations go to the core of what we are saying about the need for transparency, the need for consultation," she said. "We owe a great deal to him for revealing this kind of information." While this is unlikely to lead the US to suddenly drop its Espionage Act charges against Snowden (when has the US ever cared about what the UN has to say?), it's yet another example in a growing list of people recognizing just how extreme and isolated the US government's kneejerk reaction was to the Snowden revelations. If the US government were actually willing to be self-critical, it might realize what a mistake it's doing in trying to string up the messenger. We should be examining the appropriateness of the surveillance state, not whether the person who revealed the details should spend the rest of his life in jail.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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