posted 16 days ago on techdirt
If you haven't ever seen a Bad Lip Reading video, you've been missing out. For many years, they've posted a ton of videos taking footage from basically anywhere, and overlaying new audio, matching what people are saying/singing with, well, something else, that is plausible (but usually very, very funny). Here's one of the inauguration, a music video and one on the NFL. That gives you the basic idea. The last time we wrote about them was back in 2011, but it was (of course) about a silly DMCA takedown involving one of BLR's videos done by Universal Music. And now, as spotted by Andy Baio, there's another BLR takedown, but it's a weird one. It's on a brand new video put up by BLR using Star Wars' The Force Awakens as the source material and (amazingly) getting Mark Hamill to voice Han Solo (wow!). Except, just after it went up, it went down... thanks to a copyright claim: But... here's the weird part. It's not Disney/LucasFilm doing the takedown, as you might have expected, given the origination of the footage. Nope, it's from "Dramatists Play Service." As Baio explains: You may be asking yourself, what does the Dramatists Play Service have to do with Star Wars? As far as I can tell, absolutely nothing. They don’t appear to have any clear affiliation with the franchise at all. But anyone can make a copyright claim against any video, with little consequence. YouTube “doesn’t mediate copyright disputes,” and while the DMCA allows for penalties for false claims, they rarely result in legal action. Can't wait for the RIAA and MPAA to start making these takedowns permanent, huh? At least for their part, Dramatists Play Service seems to be admitting to some sort of mistake: We have no claim on any works in the video and will be working with YouTube to get the video reinstated ASAP. — Dramatists Play Srvc (@DramatistsPlayS) April 7, 2017 That and all the attention appear to have worked, and the video has been put back up: But, still, this is exactly the kind of First Amendment problem we've repeatedly discussed about copyright law: it's a shoot first, ask questions later, kind of setup, and that's not how the First Amendment is supposed to work. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Pay what you want for the Ashampoo Best Selling Software Bundle and you will get Uninstaller 6, designed to keep your systems running lean. If you beat the average price, you get access to seven more apps including: Burning Studio 18, BackUp Pro 10, Music Studio 6, Photo Commander 15, Snap 9, WinOptimizer 14, and Privacy Protector. 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 16 days ago on techdirt
Almost four years ago, Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance's office issued 381 warrants seeking information on Facebook subscribers. The warrants arrived almost immediately after the first Snowden leaks, which quite possibly pushed Facebook towards challenging the multitude of overbroad warrants. Once the gag order was lifted, Facebook was able to reveal the astonishing breadth of the DA's demands. Hoping to dig up info on participants in a disability fraud scheme -- one that had already resulted in the arrests of more than 100 former police officers and firemen -- the 381 warrants demanded everything Facebook had on the named accounts, including private messages, Friends lists, and a variety of non-public content. Facebook spent the next three years fighting the warrants in New York courts. It hasn't gone particularly well. There's the issue of standing, which few courts are willing to grant to third parties seeking to protect the privacy of their subscribers and users. The case has reached the top of the New York judicial system, and the result is a loss for both Facebook and its users. The state's top court has rejected Facebook's appeal on procedural grounds, saying the company lacks standing to challenge the warrants. According to the court, it's up to individual users to challenge the validity of the warrants, something they can only do after the warrants have been served and fulfilled. Facebook sought to have the warrants treated as subpoenas, which would have given it a bit more standing to challenge prosecutors' demands. It pointed out the warrants used by Vance's office more resembled subpoenas, as they weren't deployed by law enforcement to perform a search of the target's residence/papers, but rather served to a third party to demand digital data. A subpoena would be challengeable by Facebook, seeing as it's both the target and the recipient. The lower court didn't find this persuasive and neither does the New York Supreme Court. From the decision [PDF]: [A]n SCA warrant compels a third party -- here, Facebook -- to compile and turn over digital data under its control, and the presence of a law enforcement officer is not required for service or execution of the warrant. A traditional search warrant, by comparison, authorizes law enforcement to enter, search, and seize property. These differences in execution, however, can be easily explained by the nature of the material sought. The service provider is more likely to be better equipped to access and conduct a search of its own digital information than law enforcement personnel, and the data may be stored in different locations. Thus, the framework of execution for SCA warrants ensures efficiency and minimizes intrusion into the provider's business while promoting and protecting legitimate law enforcement interests in criminal investigation. Despite the minor similarities between SCA warrants and subpoenas, in this post-digital world, we are not convinced that SCA warrants -- which are required under the statute to obtain certain content-based information that cannot be obtained with a subpoena due to heightened privacy interests in electronic communications -- should nevertheless be treated as subpoenas. With that argument out of the way, the court affirms the lower court's ruling: Facebook does not have standing to challenge the 381 warrants issued by prosecutors. If Facebook doesn't like it, it's welcome to take it up with its Congressional representatives. The dissenting opinion is less kind to the majority's opinion -- and to the actions of DA Vance's office. Judge Wilson lays down this scathing description of the warrants the court says Facebook can't challenge. The facts are these: On the basis of a single 93-page affidavit (not subsequently shown to Facebook, or to its users whose files were seized, or to the Appellate Division, or to this Court), Supreme Court issued 381 warrants. Those bulk warrants authorized the seizure of what the District Attorney tepidly describes as "specified categories of information," but which functionally amounts to 381 users' entire histories on the platform. At least several of the users were high school students who are unlikely to have themselves been suspects in the investigation. The warrants compelled Facebook to produce not only any and all text, photos, or videos a user had shared with her limited universe of friends, but also any private messages exchanged between the user and another individual (who could have been a spouse, doctor, religious figure, or attorney), as well as information the user had chosen to no longer share with anyone, such as a previous email address, a deleted friend, or a hidden post, and information the user had never intended to share with anyone, such as her searches and location. It also compelled Facebook to produce content shared by users who were not named in the 381 warrants, and may not even have known anyone named in the 381 warrants, but had the misfortune of posting on the timelines of those users, uploading photos of those users, or simply belonging to any one of the groups with which a named user was affiliated. Wilson's dissent goes on to point out the end result of this "our hands are tied by a perverse combination of federal, state, and local laws" decision: Facebook will be forced to entertain even more of these overly-broad warrants. The court's decision eliminates any possible remedy for service providers. Finally, this appeal is the only opportunity to litigate fully the rights Congress granted to Facebook. The grounds underlying at least one portion of Facebook's motion to quash are specific to Facebook, not its users, and Facebook is before us to defend not only the constitutional rights of its users (where the majority has focused its analysis), but also its own business interests. Even if those users could realistically seek relief for their own injuries through pretrial suppression hearings or Section 1983 suits -- which the majority believes, but I dispute -- Facebook will not be a party to those actions and the hypothetical resolution of their claims would not address or remedy Facebook's injuries. The majority does not suggest an alternative means for the company to vindicate its right to be free of unusually voluminous or unduly burdensome requests. [...] Under the majority's decision, this Court is powerless to protect the business interests of a major company [or] return information seized from either the 381 individuals, many of whom were never suspected of wrongdoing, or the thousands of innocent individuals who communicated or simply happened to share an interest with a user named in the bulk warrants… This is a straight-up win for DA Cy Vance's office and New York law enforcement. It does nothing for anyone else involved in the equation, including the vast majority of those swept up in the "search." As the dissent notes, only 62 of those named in the warrants ever faced criminal charges. Most of those whose information was sought were innocent bystanders who had the unforeseeable misfortune of communicating with -- or being Facebook friends of -- people caught up in an incredibly broad and far-reaching fraud investigation. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
Almost four years ago, Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance's office issued 381 warrants seeking information on Facebook subscribers. The warrants arrived almost immediately after the first Snowden leaks, which quite possibly pushed Facebook towards challenging the multitude of overbroad warrants. Once the gag order was lifted, Facebook was able to reveal the astonishing breadth of the DA's demands. Hoping to dig up info on participants in a disability fraud scheme -- one that had already resulted in the arrests of more than 100 former police officers and firemen -- the 381 warrants demanded everything Facebook had on the named accounts, including private messages, Friends lists, and a variety of non-public content. Facebook spent the next three years fighting the warrants in New York courts. It hasn't gone particularly well. There's the issue of standing, which few courts are willing to grant to third parties seeking to protect the privacy of their subscribers and users. The case has reached the top of the New York judicial system, and the result is a loss for both Facebook and its users. The state's top court has rejected Facebook's appeal on procedural grounds, saying the company lacks standing to challenge the warrants. According to the court, it's up to individual users to challenge the validity of the warrants, something they can only do after the warrants have been served and fulfilled. Facebook sought to have the warrants treated as subpoenas, which would have given it a bit more standing to challenge prosecutors' demands. It pointed out the warrants used by Vance's office more resembled subpoenas, as they weren't deployed by law enforcement to perform a search of the target's residence/papers, but rather served to a third party to demand digital data. A subpoena would be challengeable by Facebook, seeing as it's both the target and the recipient. The lower court didn't find this persuasive and neither does the New York Supreme Court. From the decision [PDF]: [A]n SCA warrant compels a third party -- here, Facebook -- to compile and turn over digital data under its control, and the presence of a law enforcement officer is not required for service or execution of the warrant. A traditional search warrant, by comparison, authorizes law enforcement to enter, search, and seize property. These differences in execution, however, can be easily explained by the nature of the material sought. The service provider is more likely to be better equipped to access and conduct a search of its own digital information than law enforcement personnel, and the data may be stored in different locations. Thus, the framework of execution for SCA warrants ensures efficiency and minimizes intrusion into the provider's business while promoting and protecting legitimate law enforcement interests in criminal investigation. Despite the minor similarities between SCA warrants and subpoenas, in this post-digital world, we are not convinced that SCA warrants -- which are required under the statute to obtain certain content-based information that cannot be obtained with a subpoena due to heightened privacy interests in electronic communications -- should nevertheless be treated as subpoenas. With that argument out of the way, the court affirms the lower court's ruling: Facebook does not have standing to challenge the 381 warrants issued by prosecutors. If Facebook doesn't like it, it's welcome to take it up with its Congressional representatives. The dissenting opinion is less kind to the majority's opinion -- and to the actions of DA Vance's office. Judge Wilson lays down this scathing description of the warrants the court says Facebook can't challenge. The facts are these: On the basis of a single 93-page affidavit (not subsequently shown to Facebook, or to its users whose files were seized, or to the Appellate Division, or to this Court), Supreme Court issued 381 warrants. Those bulk warrants authorized the seizure of what the District Attorney tepidly describes as "specified categories of information," but which functionally amounts to 381 users' entire histories on the platform. At least several of the users were high school students who are unlikely to have themselves been suspects in the investigation. The warrants compelled Facebook to produce not only any and all text, photos, or videos a user had shared with her limited universe of friends, but also any private messages exchanged between the user and another individual (who could have been a spouse, doctor, religious figure, or attorney), as well as information the user had chosen to no longer share with anyone, such as a previous email address, a deleted friend, or a hidden post, and information the user had never intended to share with anyone, such as her searches and location. It also compelled Facebook to produce content shared by users who were not named in the 381 warrants, and may not even have known anyone named in the 381 warrants, but had the misfortune of posting on the timelines of those users, uploading photos of those users, or simply belonging to any one of the groups with which a named user was affiliated. Wilson's dissent goes on to point out the end result of this "our hands are tied by a perverse combination of federal, state, and local laws" decision: Facebook will be forced to entertain even more of these overly-broad warrants. The court's decision eliminates any possible remedy for service providers. Finally, this appeal is the only opportunity to litigate fully the rights Congress granted to Facebook. The grounds underlying at least one portion of Facebook's motion to quash are specific to Facebook, not its users, and Facebook is before us to defend not only the constitutional rights of its users (where the majority has focused its analysis), but also its own business interests. Even if those users could realistically seek relief for their own injuries through pretrial suppression hearings or Section 1983 suits -- which the majority believes, but I dispute -- Facebook will not be a party to those actions and the hypothetical resolution of their claims would not address or remedy Facebook's injuries. The majority does not suggest an alternative means for the company to vindicate its right to be free of unusually voluminous or unduly burdensome requests. [...] Under the majority's decision, this Court is powerless to protect the business interests of a major company [or] return information seized from either the 381 individuals, many of whom were never suspected of wrongdoing, or the thousands of innocent individuals who communicated or simply happened to share an interest with a user named in the bulk warrants… This is a straight-up win for DA Cy Vance's office and New York law enforcement. It does nothing for anyone else involved in the equation, including the vast majority of those swept up in the "search." As the dissent notes, only 62 of those named in the warrants ever faced criminal charges. Most of those whose information was sought were innocent bystanders who had the unforeseeable misfortune of communicating with -- or being Facebook friends of -- people caught up in an incredibly broad and far-reaching fraud investigation. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
So we've noted for some time how "smart" TVs, like most internet of things devices, have exposed countless users' privacy courtesy of some decidedly stupid privacy and security practices. Several times now smart TV manufacturers have been caught storing and transmitting personal user data unencrypted over the internet (including in some instances living room conversations). And in some instances, consumers are forced to eliminate useful features unless they agree to have their viewing and other data collected, stored and monetized via these incredible "advancements" in television technology. As recent Wikileaks data revealed, the lack of security and privacy standards in this space has proven to be a field day for hackers and intelligence agencies alike. And new data suggests that these televisions are even more susceptible to attack than previously thought. While the recent Samsung Smart TV vulnerabilities exposed by Wikileaks (aka Weeping Angel) required an in-person delivery of a malicious payload via USB drive, more distant, remote attacks are unsurprisingly also a problem. Rafael Scheel, a security researcher working for Swiss cyber security consulting company Oneconsult, recently revealed that around 90% of smart televisions are vulnerable to a remote attack using rogue DVB-T (Digital Video Broadcasting - Terrestrial) signals. This attack leans heavily on Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV), an industry standard supported by most cable companies and set top manufacturers that helps integrate classic broadcast, IPTV, and broadband delivery systems. Using $50-$150 DVB-T transmitter equipment, an attacker can use this standard to exploit smart dumb television sets on a pretty intimidating scale, argues Scheel: "By design, any nearby TV will connect to the stronger signal. Since cable providers send their signals from tens or hundreds of miles away, attacks using rogue DVB-T signals could be mounted on nearby houses, a neighborhood, or small city. Furthermore, an attack could be carried out by mounting the DVB-T transmitter on a drone, targeting a specific room in a building, or flying over an entire city." Scheel says he has developed two exploits that, when loaded in the TV's built-in browser, execute malicious code, and provide root access. Once compromised, these devices can be used for everything from DDoS attacks to surveillance. And because these devices are never really designed with consumer-friendly transparency in mind, users never have much of an understanding of what kind of traffic the television is sending and receiving, preventing them from noticing the device is compromised. Scheel also notes that the uniformity of smart TV OS design (uniformly bad, notes a completely different researcher this week) and the lack of timely updates mean crafting exploits for multiple sets is relatively easy, and firmware updates can often take months or years to arrive. Oh, and did we mention these attacks are largely untraceable?: "But the best feature of his attack, which makes his discovery extremely dangerous, is the fact that DVB-T, the transmission method for HbbTV commands, is a uni-directional signal, meaning data flows from the attacker to the victim only. This makes the attack traceable only if the attacker is caught transmitting the rogue HbbTV signal in real-time. According to Scheel, an attacker can activate his HbbTV transmitter for one minute, deliver the exploit, and then shut it off for good." So yeah, that internet of broken things security we've spent the last few years mercilessly making fun of? It's significantly worse than anybody imagined. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A Minnesota judge has granted a motion for suppression in an FBI Playpen case, using an agent's nineteen years of service and expertise against the government's good faith arguments. The court here found the warrant to be invalid from the moment it was signed, meaning everything obtained past that point to be fruit of the poisonous tree. (via FourthAmendment.com) While other courts have noted the warrant's invalidity under Rule 41's territorial limitations (now nonexistent), no other judge has taken time to point out the FBI agent requesting the warrant knew it was invalid when he requested it. First, the decision [PDF] points to the breathtaking scope of the single warrant the FBI obtained. [T]he Government claims legal authority from this single warrant, issued in the Eastern District of Virginia, to hack thousands of computers in 120 countries and to install malicious software for the purpose of investigating and searching the private property of uncounted individuals whose identities and crimes were unknown to the Government before launching this massive worldwide search. From there, the judge makes the point that the government can't claim it had any "good faith" in its warrant because it knew the scope and reach of the warrant exceeded the jurisdictional limitations imposed by Rule 41. As evidence of this knowledge, Judge Franklin Noel points to sworn statements by Agent Macfarlane, which indicate he knew the request was invalid when he submitted his warrant request. The search warrant application and the warrant, as issued, expressly limit themselves to the search of persons or property located in the Eastern District of Virginia. Yet paragraph forty-six of Agent Macfarlane's affidavit explains in some detail how the NIT malware might be deployed anywhere on earth. Specifically, paragraph forty-six provides that "the NIT may cause an activating computer wherever located -- to send to a computer controlled or known to the government, network level messages containing information that may assist in identifying the computer." Under these circumstances, Agent Macfarlane must have known that he was acting in reckless disregard of proper procedure. It was not objectively reasonable for Agent Macfarlane, a "law enforcement . . . veteran" employed by the FBI "for 19 years" to believe that the NIT warrant, which he knew could reasonably reach any computer in the world, was properly issued given the specific territorial limits under Rule 41(b) and the language of the warrant itself… Put differently, it was not objectively reasonable for Agents to believe that a single warrant, which by its terms was explicitly limited to searches in the Eastern District of Virginia, could be used to electronically search Carlson's computer in Minnesota… The judge goes on to point out the government can't avail itself of the "good faith" argument because it relies on a valid warrant's issuance. In this case, the warrant was invalid the moment it was issued, making this akin to having no warrant at all. Good faith denied. The court also finds the warrant defective in other ways. The NIT warrant had no particularity -- a requirement for valid warrants. Since the government didn't know who it would infect with its malware or where they were located, its warrant could not possibly satisfy particularity requirements, even if it somehow managed to adhere to Rule 41 jurisdictional limitations. Identification of the particular place to be searched cannot depend upon facts that have not yet occurred. A warrant must particularly describe the place to be searched at the time it is issued. Just as a warrant must be supported by probable cause at the time it is issued, this Court concludes that the warrant must particularly describe the place to be searched when it is issued. [...] As neither the Magistrate Judge nor the affiant know which computers are to be searched until after the search has already occurred, the NIT warrant fails to particularly describe the place to be searched. This suggests the FBI may not be completely in the clear despite the Rule 41 changes. The malware it deployed targeted individuals who visited the seized server, but the FBI had no way of knowing who would visit or when. This is a take we haven't seen from other judges in Playpen/NIT cases and this order will likely be cited by several defendants still facing prosecution. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 17 days ago on techdirt
Open access isn't a new idea -- the term was first defined back in 2002, and arguably the first examples go back even further to the founding of arXiv.org in 1991 (pdf). And yet progress towards making all academic knowledge freely available has been frustratingly slow, largely because hugely-profitable publishers have been fighting it every inch of the way. In response to that intransigence, academics have come up with a variety of approaches, including boycotts, mass cancellation of subscriptions, new kinds of overlay journals and simply making everything available with or without permission. Here's another interesting move to open up publishing, reported by the journal Science: One of Europe's biggest science spenders could soon branch out into publishing. The European Commission, which spends more than €10 billion annually on research, may follow two other big league funders, the Wellcome Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and set up a "publishing platform" for the scientists it funds, in an attempt to accelerate the transition to open-access publishing in Europe. It was quite surprising to see the Wellcome Trust start its own rapid-publishing unit, called Wellcome Open Research, a move that seems to have encouraged the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to follow suit with the similar Gates Open Research platform, due to start publishing later this year. For the EU's main executive body to do the same is even more extraordinary. It's true that there has been no official announcement about the European Commission's publishing move, but the Science article suggests that it is likely: A commission spokesperson says the two charities [Wellcome and Gates Foundation], which opted for a system in which papers are reviewed after publication, are "models," but that the commission is only "considering" the idea. But last week in Berlin, at a closed meeting of the Open Science Policy Platform (OSPP), European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas suggested a "decision" to create the platform had already been made, says Michael Mabe, CEO of the London-based International Association of Scientific, Technical, and Medical Publishers (STM). OSPP member Sabina Leonelli of the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, who tweeted from the meeting, confirms Mabe’s assessment. For three giant funding organizations -- the Wellcome Trust, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the European Commission -- to be driven to take this step shows just how frustrated they all are with the academic publishing world's unhelpful response to two decades of calls for open access. It also underlines that they now seem determined to open up the research they fund by bypassing completely the traditional publishers who are proving so obstructive. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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An interesting decision has been reached by the Florida Appeals Court as to Fourth Amendment protections for vehicle "black boxes." The black boxes -- which are a mandatory requirement in new vehicles -- record a variety of data in the event of a crash. (h/t FourthAmendment.com) Charles Worsham Jr. was the driver in a crash in which his passenger was killed. His vehicle was seized and impounded by police. Twelve days later, police accessed the data in the black box without obtaining a warrant. Worsham challenged the lawfulness of the warrantless search. The police maintained the black box was full of third-party records which required no warrant or consent from the vehicle's owner. The court sees the issue differently. In a relative rarity, the state Appeals Court decides [PDF] to get out ahead of the issue, rather than wait for precedential decisions to trickle down from the federal courts. It looks at the data harvested by the black box and suggests the amount gathered will only increase in the coming years. Rather than wait until then to make a call on the Fourth Amendment merits, it draws the line now. Citing the Supreme Court's Riley decision (which introduced a warrant requirement for cell phone searches), the court concludes the crash data contained in the black box has an expectation of privacy. A car’s black box is analogous to other electronic storage devices for which courts have recognized a reasonable expectation of privacy. Modern technology facilitates the storage of large quantities of information on small, portable devices. The emerging trend is to require a warrant to search these devices. [...] Although electronic data recorders do not yet store the same quantity of information as a cell phone, nor is it of the same personal nature, the rationale for requiring a warrant to search a cell phone is informative in determining whether a warrant is necessary to search an immobilized vehicle’s data recorder. These recorders document more than what is voluntarily conveyed to the public and the information is inherently different from the tangible “mechanical” parts of a vehicle. Just as cell phones evolved to contain more and more personal information, as the electronic systems in cars have gotten more complex, the data recorders are able to record more information. Also of importance is the difficulty of extracting the information from the black boxes. Extracting and interpreting the information from a car’s black box is not like putting a car on a lift and examining the brakes or tires. Because the recorded data is not exposed to the public, and because the stored data is so difficult to extract and interpret, we hold there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in that information, protected by the Fourth Amendment, which required law enforcement in the absence of exigent circumstances to obtain a warrant before extracting the information from an impounded vehicle. Not only that, but recent legislation (the Driver Privacy Act of 2015) specifically states that the contents of data recorders belong to the vehicle's owner, not the manufacturer or any other third party. The general rule of the statute is that “[d]ata recorded or transmitted by an event data recorder . . . may not be accessed by a person other than an owner . . . of the motor vehicle in which the event data recorder is installed.” The dissent makes some good points as well concerning the application of the Fourth Amendment to data collected by a device many people aren't aware their vehicles contain. Even if the event data recorder harvests some information not observable from outside the vehicle, the information it collects has no intrinsic value to the vehicle's owner -- at least not at this point. The data that the government extracted from the vehicle that was owned and driven by Appellee in this case was not information for which Appellee or any other owner/driver had a reasonable expectation of privacy. The data was not personal to Appellee, was not password protected by Appellee, and was not being collected and maintained solely for the benefit of Appellee. The EDR was installed by the vehicle’s manufacturer at the behest of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and, as distinct from Jones, the purpose of the data collection is highway and driver safety. However, not all event recorders are as limited to what driving information they collect. NHTSA regulations only set the baseline. They don't prevent manufacturers from adding more data collection to black boxes. Right now, the recorders are of little use to anyone outside of law enforcement or insurance agencies. Still, it's nice to see a court be proactive on the issue, rather than wait until the Fourth Amendment issue hits critical mass. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 17 days ago on techdirt
As you probably know by now, there are a whole bunch of "alt" or "rogue" government Twitter accounts, initially inspired by what appeared to be tweets from a former National Parks Service employee containing "rogue" information against the Trump administration. Many of those rogue accounts are questionable in nature and likely fake, rather than being actually run by employees of the parts of the government they claim to represent. Still, it appears that many in the government are concerned. Just yesterday, via a FOIA request, it was revealed that Donald Trump himself got "directly involved" in the hunt for the National Park Service's rogue tweeter: If you can't read that, it's an excerpt from an email saying that "this has become a very sensitive issue, especially since the President has gotten directly involved and contacted Acting Director Mike Reynolds concerned about one of the images..." It appears that other parts of the government are also deeply concerned with unmasking who's involved in these things. Today, Twitter sued the US government because the Department of Homeland Security and its Customs & Border Protection division have apparently been trying to unmask the operator of the @ALT_uscis account, which claims to be run by people working for US Citizenship and Immigration Service presenting the "rogue" view on immigration issues. From the lawsuit: This is an action to prevent the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”), and the individual Defendants from unlawfully abusing a limited-purpose investigatory tool to try to unmask the real identity of one or more persons who have been using Twitter’s social media platform, and specifically a Twitter account named @ALT_USCIS, to express public criticism of the Department and the current Administration. The rights of free speech afforded Twitter’s users and Twitter itself under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution include a right to disseminate such anonymous or pseudonymous political speech. In these circumstances, Defendants may not compel Twitter to disclose information regarding the real identities of these users without first demonstrating that some criminal or civil offense has been committed, that unmasking the users’ identity is the least restrictive means for investigating that offense, that the demand for this information is not motivated by a desire to suppress free speech, and that the interests of pursuing that investigation outweigh the important First Amendment rights of Twitter and its users. But Defendants have not come close to making any of those showings. And even if Defendants could otherwise demonstrate an appropriate basis for impairing the First Amendment interests of Twitter and its users, they certainly may not do so using the particular investigatory tool employed here—which Congress authorized solely to ensure compliance with federal laws concerning imported merchandise—because it is apparent that whatever investigation Defendants are conducting here does not pertain to imported merchandise. Specifically, Twitter argues that DHS is abusing particular laws that CBP/DHS has access to, but for a specific purpse -- and it's not to identify rogue employees: First, the sole statutory authority CBP invoked in issuing the summons—19 U.S.C. § 1509—authorizes the agency to compel production of only a narrow class of records relating to the importation of merchandise. But CBP’s investigation of the @ALT_USCIS account plainly has nothing whatsoever to do with the importation of merchandise into the United States. Section 1509 thus provides CBP no power to compel Twitter to reveal information pertaining to the identity of the individual(s) behind the @ALT_USCIS account. Further down in the complaint, Twitter notes that it appears that DHS/CBP directly misrepresented what was happening here: The CBP Summons states generically that “production of the indicated records is required in connection with an investigation or inquiry to ascertain the correctness of entries, to determine the liability for duties, taxes, fines, penalties, or forfeitures, and/or to ensure compliance with the laws or regulations administered by CBP and ICE.” Beyond that boilerplate language, the CBP Summons provides no justification for issuance of a summons targeting the @ALT_USCIS account. Amusingly, the lawsuit also notes that CBP demanded Twitter hand over this info the day before the summons was sent. And then it points to the clear free speech chilling effects this kind of unmasking could cause: Second, permitting CBP to pierce the pseudonym of the @ALT_USCIS account would have a grave chilling effect on the speech of that account in particular and on the many other “alternative agency” accounts that have been created to voice dissent to government policies. The Supreme Court has long recognized the extraordinary value of the kind of speech emanating from these accounts—pure political speech criticizing government policies and highlighting government waste and mismanagement. And the Court has likewise recognized that anonymity is often essential to fostering such political speech where, as here, the speaker could face retaliation or retribution if his or her real identity were linked to the speech. In this context, the CBP Summons must be declared unlawful and enjoined absent an evidentiary showing by Defendants that some criminal or civil offense has been committed, that unmasking the users’ identity is the least restrictive means for investigating that offense, that the demand for this information is not motivated by a desire to suppress free speech, and that the interests of pursuing that investigation outweigh the important free speech rights of Twitter and its users. Defendants have not even attempted to meet that burden. As for the actual account, since the lawsuit was announced it retweeted the ACLU saying that it will go to court to defend the anonymous person or people behind the account, and then it pinned the following tweet: pic.twitter.com/jMyK38iOcN — ALT🛂 Immigration (@ALT_uscis) April 6, 2017 I have no idea if the people behind the account really work for US CIS, but there's no way that the government should be able to abuse other laws or chill free speech to try to track down people saying things they don't like. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 17 days ago on techdirt
As you probably know by now, there are a whole bunch of "alt" or "rogue" government Twitter accounts, initially inspired by what appeared to be tweets from a former National Parks Service employee containing "rogue" information against the Trump administration. Many of those rogue accounts are questionable in nature and likely fake, rather than being actually run by employees of the parts of the government they claim to represent. Still, it appears that many in the government are concerned. Just yesterday, via a FOIA request, it was revealed that Donald Trump himself got "directly involved" in the hunt for the National Park Service's rogue tweeter: If you can't read that, it's an excerpt from an email saying that "this has become a very sensitive issue, especially since the President has gotten directly involved and contacted Acting Director Mike Reynolds concerned about one of the images..." It appears that other parts of the government are also deeply concerned with unmasking who's involved in these things. Today, Twitter sued the US government because the Department of Homeland Security and its Customs & Border Protection division have apparently been trying to unmask the operator of the @ALT_uscis account, which claims to be run by people working for US Citizenship and Immigration Service presenting the "rogue" view on immigration issues. From the lawsuit: This is an action to prevent the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”), and the individual Defendants from unlawfully abusing a limited-purpose investigatory tool to try to unmask the real identity of one or more persons who have been using Twitter’s social media platform, and specifically a Twitter account named @ALT_USCIS, to express public criticism of the Department and the current Administration. The rights of free speech afforded Twitter’s users and Twitter itself under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution include a right to disseminate such anonymous or pseudonymous political speech. In these circumstances, Defendants may not compel Twitter to disclose information regarding the real identities of these users without first demonstrating that some criminal or civil offense has been committed, that unmasking the users’ identity is the least restrictive means for investigating that offense, that the demand for this information is not motivated by a desire to suppress free speech, and that the interests of pursuing that investigation outweigh the important First Amendment rights of Twitter and its users. But Defendants have not come close to making any of those showings. And even if Defendants could otherwise demonstrate an appropriate basis for impairing the First Amendment interests of Twitter and its users, they certainly may not do so using the particular investigatory tool employed here—which Congress authorized solely to ensure compliance with federal laws concerning imported merchandise—because it is apparent that whatever investigation Defendants are conducting here does not pertain to imported merchandise. Specifically, Twitter argues that DHS is abusing particular laws that CBP/DHS has access to, but for a specific purpse -- and it's not to identify rogue employees: First, the sole statutory authority CBP invoked in issuing the summons—19 U.S.C. § 1509—authorizes the agency to compel production of only a narrow class of records relating to the importation of merchandise. But CBP’s investigation of the @ALT_USCIS account plainly has nothing whatsoever to do with the importation of merchandise into the United States. Section 1509 thus provides CBP no power to compel Twitter to reveal information pertaining to the identity of the individual(s) behind the @ALT_USCIS account. Further down in the complaint, Twitter notes that it appears that DHS/CBP directly misrepresented what was happening here: The CBP Summons states generically that “production of the indicated records is required in connection with an investigation or inquiry to ascertain the correctness of entries, to determine the liability for duties, taxes, fines, penalties, or forfeitures, and/or to ensure compliance with the laws or regulations administered by CBP and ICE.” Beyond that boilerplate language, the CBP Summons provides no justification for issuance of a summons targeting the @ALT_USCIS account. Amusingly, the lawsuit also notes that CBP demanded Twitter hand over this info the day before the summons was sent. And then it points to the clear free speech chilling effects this kind of unmasking could cause: Second, permitting CBP to pierce the pseudonym of the @ALT_USCIS account would have a grave chilling effect on the speech of that account in particular and on the many other “alternative agency” accounts that have been created to voice dissent to government policies. The Supreme Court has long recognized the extraordinary value of the kind of speech emanating from these accounts—pure political speech criticizing government policies and highlighting government waste and mismanagement. And the Court has likewise recognized that anonymity is often essential to fostering such political speech where, as here, the speaker could face retaliation or retribution if his or her real identity were linked to the speech. In this context, the CBP Summons must be declared unlawful and enjoined absent an evidentiary showing by Defendants that some criminal or civil offense has been committed, that unmasking the users’ identity is the least restrictive means for investigating that offense, that the demand for this information is not motivated by a desire to suppress free speech, and that the interests of pursuing that investigation outweigh the important free speech rights of Twitter and its users. Defendants have not even attempted to meet that burden. As for the actual account, since the lawsuit was announced it retweeted the ACLU saying that it will go to court to defend the anonymous person or people behind the account, and then it pinned the following tweet: pic.twitter.com/jMyK38iOcN — ALT🛂 Immigration (@ALT_uscis) April 6, 2017 I have no idea if the people behind the account really work for US CIS, but there's no way that the government should be able to abuse other laws or chill free speech to try to track down people saying things they don't like. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 17 days ago on techdirt
A years-long fight in Italy between copyright rightsholders (chiefly Hollywood) and consumer groups looking to protect Italian citizens, took a dark turn recently. If you aren't already aware, the Italian government put in place a delightful regulation in 2014 giving the Authority for Comunications Guarantees (AGCOM) the authority to simply block websites deemed infringing outright, without the need for such pesky things as court cases or trials. Consumer groups immediately challenged the regulation, stating that it violated the Italian constitution, specifically suggesting that giving a government body the authority to unilaterally block websites without any sort of judicial review was a violation of the exercise of freedom of expression and economic initiative. Given exactly how often demonized websites are demonstrated to have perfectly legitimate uses, not to mention how absolutely terrible every government everywhere seems to be in understanding and protecting things like Fair Use, it's an easy argument to understand. Unfortunately, an administrative court in Italy has chosen to take itself out of the judicial review business when it comes to site-blocking. The case was initially rejected by the Constitutional Court in 2015, which referred it back to the administrative court of Lazio. Last week this court decided that the site blocking procedure is in line with both European and Italian law. According to the court, the site-blocking regulation is compatible with the European Union’s E-Commerce Directive as well as the Italian Copyright Act. In addition, the procedure doesn’t violate the Italian constitution or fundamental rights in general, as opponents had argued. Overall the case is seen as a significant victory for copyright holders. Not only can they continue with their site-blocking requests, but the court also clarified that all the blocking costs must be paid by Internet providers. In other words, it's now open season on sites that rightsholders decide they don't like. No need for a trial in which to prove any actual allegations. No need to prepare a rebuttal from a defendant arguing for their own rights. Instead, rightsholders, such as Hollywood, can petition to have a site blocked and, if AGCOM agrees, the site is blocked without any due process. And, because ISPs are apparently there only to serve failing business models, all the costs associated with these review-less blocks are shouldered by the ISPs. If you think that the copyright trolls and Hollywood aren't licking their chops to go site-blocking crazy after this decision, you've lost your mind. “This is a big win for rightsholders,” says Enzo Mazza, chief of the Italian music group FIMI, who says that they have plans to expand the current scope of the blocking efforts. “Our future goal is now to increase the enforcement of AGCOM to also cover new forms of piracy such as live streaming, stream ripping and similar issues. In addition, we hope AGCOM will extend the blockades to the IP-address level as the Criminal Courts are using now,” Mazza tells TorrentFreak. And away we go. Licensing groups and rightsholders will now look to slam open the door the court left ajar for them. As the blocks are expanded, you can pretty much count on collateral damage that will harm Italian citizens and restrict their freedom both of speech and access to legitimate internet sites. But no worry, because it's not like there is a court that will oversee all of this. Instead, websites and the surfing public will live only at the pleasure of AGCOM. That should go well. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The IRS's Inspector General has confirmed what many of its victims have known all along: the Criminal Investigations' asset forfeiture program isn't really for "disrupting criminal enterprises." It's for taking money from innocent people. The Treasury Inspector General for the Tax Administration (TIGTA) took a look at forfeitures tied to the IRS's so-called "structuring" cases. If you deposit more than $10,000 into a bank account, the IRS is notified and you, the depositor, have extra paperwork to fill out. This fulfills IRS reporting requirements and is generally a headache for the depositor and the bank. If you deposit less than $10,000 in cash, it's perfectly legal. Do it often enough and the IRS starts to believe your cash deposits are the product of criminal activity. Even if you never have enough on hand to clear the $10,000 mark with a single deposit, a string of smaller deposits makes the IRS suspicious IRS's eyeballs turn into dollar signs. The IRS is allowed to investigate suspected structuring. The problem is, the IRS has very little interest in investigations. It likes taking money from people's bank accounts, but has no stomach for the rest of the legwork. The IRS IG pulled a random selection of structuring cases and discovered a large majority of them had no business being called "cases." In 9 out of 10 "cases," there was no illegal activity discovered. [TIGTA Report PDF] In 26 (9 percent) of the 278 structuring cases, we were able to establish that the funds came from a Title 18 illegal source or involved any other illegal activity. In the other 252 (91 percent) of the 278 cases, we did not find evidence that the structured funds came from an illegal source or involved any other illegal activity. Businesses that deal with currency transactions (retail, wholesale, service, automobile, restaurant, gas station, etc.) were primarily (210 of the 252 legal source cases) affected by the structuring seizures. The IRS was able to get away with this for so long because it moved fast. It processed seizures quickly and pressured asset owners into taking settlements, rather than risk turning easy money into trickier criminal prosecutions where actual evidence might be needed. All told, the IRS took more than $17 million away from US citizens without ever establishing the funds were the result of criminal activity or the asset owners were engaged in structuring. And that's just in the ~300 cases sampled for the TIGTA report. The report also notes the streamlined stripping of money comes bundled with the streamlined stripping of rights. It's even worse with the IRS than it is with regular law enforcement, where assets are presumed "guilty" and it's up to owners to prove the innocence of property no longer in their possession. While it's understandable the IRS would find advance warning an impediment to its forfeiture efforts, the lack of investigation beforehand means the agency's seizure warrants were likely seriously deficient. Interviews were conducted only after the seizure warrant was signed by a judge and the property was seized; therefore, judges did not possess information from interviews with the property owner when making their probable cause determination. This could have provided the judge with a possible explanation for the banking transactions to consider before signing the seizure warrant. We are not suggesting that CI should always conduct interviews of subjects prior to obtaining a seizure warrant. In fact, CI indicated that seizures are often conducted before the interview to protect the interest of the Government by ensuring that the assets are not moved. However, when 91 percent of the property owners are not believed to be conducting any illegal activities (other than structuring), conducting the interviews after the seizure leaves judges without relevant information about what subjects knew about CTRs and what their intent was behind their currency transaction patterns... In IRS seizures, the money is taken first. Any investigation follows after accounts are frozen or drained. Once owners are finally made aware of the situation, the CI division does what it can to ensure the IRS maintains control of the seized assets. The Inspector General found IRS agents aren't apprising citizens of their rights and remedies. For 106 of 229 cases, the agents did not state the purpose of the interview or we did not find evidence they did. IRM procedures in Title 26 cases require special agents to advise the property owner regarding the purpose of the contact. For 62 cases, the special agents did not identify the purpose of the contact, and for 44 cases, the interview does not document whether the special agent explained the purpose of the interview to the property owner… For 181 of 229 cases, we identified a problem with the information provided to the property owner about the seizure. In 110 cases, the property owners were not informed until the end of the interview that a seizure took place. In 60 cases, the property owners were not informed that a seizure took place, and in 11 cases we could not determine if the property owner was informed that their funds had been seized. [...] In only five of 229 interviews were property owners provided the noncustodial advice of rights prior to the interview. This extreme indifference towards citizens and their rights and property inevitably leads to this sort of thing: In the one case we can discuss publicly, the property owner alleged that special agents and local police arrived at the property owner’s place of business and used police search dogs in the search. The entrance and exit to the store were allegedly blocked, and it was alleged that the taxpayer was asked to answer questions. The property owner, who spoke limited English, was told that his account was seized, and he was presented with a Consent to Forfeiture to sign. He alleged that officers spoke in loud tones at him instructing him that he should sign. Someone put money in the bank the wrong way... and they're met with police dogs, yelling, and borderline coercion. But I guess that's what's needed to get "criminals" to cooperate. Oh wait. After the Institute for Justice was retained to represent the property owner, all of his funds were returned. All of this leads to the following: the IRS's investigatory arm isn't in the "criminal disruption" business, but rather the simpler, more profitable forfeiture business. Outcomes across the CI Asset Seizure and Forfeiture Program did not appear to be consistently determined by the facts of the cases but rather by property owners’ risk tolerance to the high costs of litigation... If there's any good news to be had, it's that the IRS is (mostly) no longer pursuing alleged structuring cases if the deposited money appears to have come from a legitimate source. That was put into place after a couple of very uncomfortable Congressional hearings back in 2014. TIGTA says, for the most part, the IRS is following the new guideline. However, it still found five cases where the new rule appears to have been ignored and notes the IRS has still granted itself a sizable loophole to exploit. Under the change in policy, CI will no longer pursue legal source structuring cases unless exceptional circumstances justify the seizure and the seizure is approved by the appropriate CI executive. CI has not yet defined what circumstances rise to the level of “exceptional.” The other good news is that enough pressure -- applied by citizens and their representatives -- can get the government to severely scale back a program that brought in lots of easy money. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Java is one of the most commonly used programming languages in app development and is considered one of the best learning languages for first time coders. Regardless of your coding experience, however, the 2017 Complete Java Bundle is sure to fortify your Java ability. For a special price of $49, you'll receive access to 7 lectures and over 50 hours of content. 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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The Appeals Court of California has examined a set of release restrictions imposed on a teen convicted of minor sodomy against his girlfriend. The lower court -- realizing it was being asked to step in and act as a proxy parent for the teen's internet use -- handed down a lengthy list of restrictions supposedly aimed at keeping the teen from committing further criminal acts. This included several restrictions on the teen's internet use, for reasons only apparent to the lower court. (h/t Volokh Conspiracy) Fortunately, the Appeals Court has struck many of these restrictions, finding most of them overly-broad at best, and unreasonably (and unconstitutionally) restricting at worst. Most of these seem to have stemmed from the teen's admission that he masturbated to internet porn once a week -- something that could be said for a great many US citizens of many ages. That the court connected this to the crime committed appears to be the result of a prudish mindset: one that still believes access to pornography leads to criminal sexual acts, despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary. Nevertheless, the lower court felt the way to righteousness led through cutting Mike H. (as the court refers to the minor) off from the internet as much as possible. The Appeals Court does some drastic pruning of the lower court's order, starting with bringing the case up to date to establish that the restrictions imposed had very little to do with the criminal act the teen was charged with. From the decision [PDF]: Mike stated he had anal sex with C.C. because she was his girlfriend; he denied bribing her, telling her not to tell anybody, or keeping her from calling for help. There is no indication Mike used the Internet, a computer, or social media to contact or lure C.C. or otherwise plan his offense. Mike and C.C. communicated by text message, and Mike denied planning or fantasizing about the offense ahead of time. Afterwards, Mike felt it was the "stupidest thing" he had ever done. The probation officer believed Mike was at "low risk for recidivism"; the psychologist agreed, stating Mike's "[r]isk factors for sexual acting out appear to be low." He had never committed a sex crime before and had not reoffended at the time of sentencing. This was the "minor sodomy." Mike was 14. His girlfriend was 15. There was some question as to whether the act was wholly consensual, but Mike's plea deal reduced the charges to this single count. Next, the court addresses the many, many stipulations put in place by the lower court at sentencing. A great many of them are either overly-broad, unconstitutional, or completely ridiculous. All of the restrictions hang on the sheerest of legal connective tissue. The only connection between Mike's admitted offense of sodomy on a minor and computers or the Internet was Mike's admission to the probation officer he masturbated approximately once per week while viewing Internet pornography on his smartphone. Although the court acknowledged Mike's offense did not involve a computer or the Internet, it found the restrictions warranted because Mike had used his smartphone to access inappropriate websites. Here are the first four restrictions the Appeals Court found unconstitutional. Condition 39 prohibits Mike from knowingly accessing the Internet or any online service without supervision by a parent, legal guardian, or teacher. Condition 54 prohibits him from having a social media page or using MySpace, Facebook, or similar social media programs. Condition 58 prohibits Mike from knowingly using any electronic device (such as a computer or smartphone) "for any purpose other than school-related assignments, or legitimate work or personal purposes," as defined by the probation officer, and requires Mike's use of electronic devices to be supervised "by a responsible adult over the age of 21 who is aware that the minor is on probation, is aware of the minor's charges, and is aware of the limits on the minor's computer use." Finally, condition 59 prohibits Mike from using a computer "for any purpose other than school related assignments" and requires supervision of computer use in school and in the common area of his home. Addressing these in bulk, the court says the restrictions are not only unconstitutional, but serve no purpose whatsoever in terms of rehabilitation and reducing recidivism. Using a computer or the Internet is not inherently criminal, and the court acknowledged the crime did not involve a computer or the Internet. Mike did not use the Internet, social media, or a computer to communicate with C.C. or otherwise facilitate his offense. [...] Here, as in J.B. and Erica R., there is no relationship between the minor's admitted conduct of sodomy of a minor and his use of the Internet or electronic devices. There is little reason to believe broad Internet and electronics use restrictions like the ones imposed here will serve a rehabilitative function by deterring Mike from future criminal activity. It calls out Condition 59 in particular for being completely unreasonable. Condition 59 is even more extreme. A blanket restriction forbidding Mike from using a computer for anything other than school-related assignments precludes his extracurricular use of a computer to write letters, create art, use software to learn a foreign language, read the news, check sports scores or movie times, research medical information, and obtain other legitimate information wholly unrelated to his criminal conduct in this case. Such a broad restriction is not narrowly tailored or reasonably related to the state's interest in rehabilitating Mike. The court also strikes the condition forbidding Mike H. from accessing internet pornography. It notes this imposition plays hell with the First Amendment if not narrowly-crafted. This restriction isn't, so away it goes. We conclude restrictions on pornography and sexually explicit content are not reasonably related to the state's interest in rehabilitating Mike. There is no apparent connection between the crime and Mike's viewing of Internet pornography or sexually explicit material. The most ridiculous restriction handed down comes paired with banning Mike H. from creating anonymous social media accounts. The Appeals Court finds the anti-stalking/harassment probation stipulation somewhat justifies preventing Mike H. from obscuring his online identity. But it goes too far when it forbids him from using encryption. As the Appeals Court points out, not only is this stipulation overly-broad, but it's impossible to comply with given the current state of internet-based communications. Given the ubiquity of encryption technology, condition 45 is overbroad as formulated. As Mike notes, "encryption is standard-issue on every iPhone and Mac, with Google requiring new Android phones to be encrypted; every web page that begins 'https' uses encryption, including, for instance, every page on Netflix.com, every page on Wikipedia, and every page created by the federal government." [...] In recent years, Apple, Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Blackberry have all "announced plans to implement end-to-end encryption on a default basis. This means that encryption is applied automatically without a user needing to switch it on." The Appeals Court points out that banning someone from using encryption is pretty much the same thing as banning them from using the internet… or a smartphone. Here, the juvenile court may have reasonably sought to prevent Mike from concealing his online activity or electronic communications through encrypted programs or applications. However, as formulated, condition 45 effectively prohibits Mike from using the Internet or a smartphone. By virtue of accessing certain websites or even turning his smartphone on, he would risk violating the condition. As drafted, condition 45 is therefore unconstitutionally overbroad. It is also impermissibly vague, given other probation conditions allowing Internet and smartphone use. This is the sort of thing that happens when judges (and prosecutors making probation recommendations) don't understand the technology they're dealing with. It only gets worse when the stipulations are predicated on the ridiculous presumption that viewing porn leads to criminal sexual acts. Fortunately, the Appeals Court has eliminated many of the worst probation conditions. What's left in place won't make it much fun to be Mike H. for the next few years, but that's kinda the point. What won't fly are restrictions that stomp all over a person's civil liberties and basically forbid them from accessing the internet. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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While FCC boss Ajit Pai has repeatedly claimed his top priority while running the FCC is eliminating the digital divide, his behavior in just the first few months of his term has made that claim utterly and indisuptably laughable. It doesn't take a sociology degree to realize that Pai's recent decisions to protect prison phone monopolies, protect the cable box monopoly, undermine efforts to bring broadband to the poor and dismantle net neutrality solely help one particular constituency: the telecom sector's biggest, wealthiest, and most powerful providers. And while repealing a previous FCC's policies isn't entirely new or unexpected (especially from somebody with Pai's extremely mono/duopoly friendly voting record), Pai has been pushing his purview even further. Last week the FCC boss announced that he'd even begun stripping away at the conditions attached to Charter's $79 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. While the FCC has a history of relatively toothless merger conditions (often proposed by the companies themselves), Wheeler's FCC went a little further with Charter -- not only banning the company from imposing usage caps and overage fees for seven years, but requiring that Charter continue adhering to FCC net neutrality rules -- even if those rules are killed (something Pai has repeatedly promised to do). But the FCC also mandated that Charter Communications expand its broadband footprint to two million additional locations -- one million of which needed to be in areas already served by cable competitors. Former FCC boss Tom Wheeler had argued that this "overbuild" condition would specifically impose added competition on those regions, "bringing innovation and new choices for consumers, and demonstrate the viability of one broadband provider overbuilding another." But small and large cable company lobbyists had spent months lobbying to have all of the conditions killed, going so far as to threaten to freeze broadband investment if the conditions weren't eliminated (you know you're in a non-competitive market when you labor under the illusion that you get to choose when to compete). Quickly rushing to the aid of these companies before they faced the dreaded specter of additional competition, Pai's office announced that the agency would be retroactively killing the overbuild condition. This was, Pai insisted in an FCC statement, yet another shining example of the FCC boss's relentless dedication to helping "the public interest": "My top priority is making sure that any American who wants high-speed Internet access is able to get it. Today, we take another step toward achieving that goal. Last year, Charter Communications agreed to build broadband out to two million new customers as part of its merger with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. Unfortunately, the FCC appended an “overbuild” condition to the order, requiring that half of those new locations be already served by another provider. Since these one million overbuilt deployments would be credited against the total, it would substantially reduce buildout to unserved areas. This is like telling two people you will buy them dinner, ordering two entrées, and then sending both to just one of your companions. This condition was not and is not in the public interest, and it runs directly against the goal of promoting greater Internet access for all Americans. So one, to believe Pai you'd have to ignore not only his entire voting record, but the fact that he just began dismantling an FCC program specifically designed to help bring broadband to the poor. That said, people should also understand that large ISPs (and those that kneel in fealty to them) like to keep the focus on an ambiguous dedication to "closing the digital divide" because it ignores the real problem: high prices and limited competition. According to NTIA data, there are about 26 million households left in the U.S. that aren't connected to the internet. If you look closely at the breakdown of why these homes aren't connected, the top three reasons either involve these users not giving a damn about being connected, or not being able to afford connectivity due to cost: Because these companies obviously don't want people focused on the lack of competition, you've perhaps noticed that Pai (and the large ISPs that adore him) avoid ever acknowledging that lack of competition -- and the resulting high prices -- are a problem. In fact, it's often comedic to watch how desperately many of these folks (including the lion's share of hired ISP policy mouthpieces and think tankers) try and avoid the subject. Instead, apparently, we get odd metaphors about dinner entrees that don't really make much coherent sense in context. Of course, then, the overbuild condition was axed because it did the unspeakable: actually forced a handful of companies to compete. Granted this overall lack of competition is what lets these companies impose arbitrary and unnecessary usage caps and overage fees -- which are little more than glorified rate hikes. And cable lobbying groups like the NCTA have been lobbying the FCC to get rid of the conditions banning Charter caps as well (pdf). All told, much like the man that appointed him, FCC boss Ajit Pai likes to try and obfuscate his almost mindless dedication to protecting large legacy companies with an utterly phoney dedication to the downtrodden. The Charter merger, approved under the Obama administration, was admittedly a bad deal that has already resulted in higher prices and even worse customer service for impacted customers. But eliminating these conditions only serves to make an already bad deal, even worse. And the pretense that it's being done out of a love of America's downtrodden only adds insult to injury. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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One of the reasons the digital world is so exciting -- and so attractive to startups and investors -- is that network effects help companies to grow quickly, until they end up with what amounts to a monopoly in a sector. A particularly powerful monopoly that is exercising people at the moment is Facebook, and for multiple reasons. Its huge user base is making it so attractive to advertisers that traditional publishers are badly impacted. Another issue is that its reach is so great that it is hard to stop so-called "fake news" from being shared rapidly and widely across the social network, with potentially serious real-world effects. But there's a third aspect, so far little remarked upon, that is brought out well in a post by Jason Ditzian on The Bold Italic site. For the last decade, he's been a keen user of City CarShare, a nonprofit car-sharing service with vehicle stations around the Bay Area. Here's what happened: City CarShare was recently bought by a corporation, Getaround. And Getaround built its platform on top of Facebook. So when I went to migrate my account over to them, I found that there's literally no way to do it as a non-Facebook user. If I want to share cars with my fellow city dwellers, I’m compelled to strike a Faustian bargain. To access the services of Getaround, one must authenticate their identity through Facebook. Ditzian writes that the Getaround site is so tightly integrated with Facebook that it claims there's no way to provide alternative authentication systems. As more companies choose to do the same, using Facebook as the foundation of their services, they too will inevitably require users to possess a Facebook account. That, in its turn, will make Facebook's authentication system even more powerful, driving even more companies to use it -- and even more people to sign up to Facebook just so they can use these services. Leaving aside the serious issue of Facebook extending its online monopoly to become the Internet's de facto authentication system, there's another concern. As more and more services build on top of Facebook, Facebook's terms and conditions may require access to some or even all of the extra information they can provide about their users' activities and interests. That would enable the social network to fine-tune the deal it offers to advertisers, something it is naturally keen to do so that it can boost its rates to drive sales and profits. As Ditzian writes: If we give in to the sheer gigantic sweep of Facebook and the convenience it creates, and feed all our collective information into its ever-more-intelligent algorithms; if news is read and messages are sent primarily within the Facebook network so that each of these interactions sows new data points in our profiles; and if we build up thousands upon thousands of these innocuous-seeming interactions over years and years, and those interactions are overlaid with face-recognized images, marketing data from online purchases, browsing histories and, now, GPS-tracked driving data, is this total bartering of privacy worth the buy-in to Zuckerberg's "supportive," "safe," "informed," "civically engaged," global community? The greatest threat here may not be from Facebook itself, which, after all, is a business that wants to make as much money as possible, rather than a Machiavellian scheme to enslave mankind. But there are other powerful actors -- national governments -- that would love to have access to that rich store of information in order to use it not for profit but for the purposes of political and social control. As Techdirt has reported, China is already creating its own "citizen score" system that will draw heavily on information provided by social networks. The US, too, is starting to carry out "mandatory social media checks" as part of increased scrutiny of visa applications from some areas in the world. A single sign-on for key services makes gathering that information much easier. The more Facebook becomes the point of control for using the Internet, the more governments will be inclined to require its "cooperation," in the form of providing access to its data, as a condition of allowing it to become the Internet's authentication service in their territory. Paradoxically, the more useful that Facebook becomes, the more vulnerable it will be to the threat of exclusion from a country. That may not be to Facebook's liking, but it's another consequence of the network effects that have made it so successful. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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This seems like something we'll need to keep repeating: revealing entertainment spoilers is not copyright infringement. What ought to be common sense is apparently not so for all kinds of content owners in the entertainment space. As such, DMCA notices or threats for DMCA notices have been used to combat spoiler releases in all kinds of forms, from movie predictions, to television show predictions, to video game footage that reveals spoilers. Some of these instances involve actual footage of the copyrighted material while some don't, but the core of the matter is that if you're talking copyright infringement because of spoilers, you're doing copyright wrong. The latest version of this comes from Atlus, developers of Persona 5. The American division of Atlus put out a notice on its website, in which it starts off with bubbling excitement over the release of the game, but then spills into a lecture on what gamers can stream and what they cannot. Ok, now let’s talk Persona 5 streaming and videos. Simply put, we don’t want the experience to be spoiled for people who haven’t played the game. Our fans have waited years for the game to come out and we really want to make sure they can experience it fully as a totally new adventure. Please read our video/streaming guidelines below: Please, PLEASE do not post any specific plot points or story spoilers, and only talk about the game in broad strokes. (Good example: “The game deals with dark themes right off the bat, with a lecherous teacher and other corrupted individuals.” Bad example: “Players immediately run into trouble with the pervy teacher *spoiler*, whose actions go so far as to cause *spoiler*.”) You’re more than welcome to talk/show Confidants, the new combat, the Velvet Room, the dungeons, etc. Just please keep in mind that as a singular story playthrough, viewers are *highly* wary of spoilers! In-game Content Limit: Please limit video content through the in-game date of 7/7. "7/7" refers to a date within the game itself, which means that players of this game who want to stream their playthroughs will apparently have to check their fictitious calendars to make sure they haven't reached the streaming event horizon. That in itself ought to strike you as ridiculous on its face, but reading through the subsequent guidelines about what should be streamed and what shouldn't literally had me chuckling. For example: No major story spoilers, and I’ll leave that up to your good judgment. If you need some guidelines, avoid showing/spoiling the ending segments of the first three palaces. While you can show initial interactions with Yusuke, avoid his awakening scene, and that whole deal about THE painting. Also, don’t post anything about a certain student investigator. This obviously takes live streaming out of the equation. How is one to know what in the sweet hell any of this refers to unless they've already played the game? And dictating commentary topics, as opposed to footage, doesn't carry any weight having to do with copyright infringement. Streamers can discuss whatever they want. And if Atlus allows streaming of its game, it's not clear to me that the DMCA or copyright law allows them to dictate the segmentation of what's allowed for streaming and what isn't. But the stranger part is the American Atlus division's sheepish reason for putting these restrictions out there in the first place. I can't quite tell if some of this is supposed to be taken tongue in cheek or not, but it comes off sounding rather ominous. This being a Japanese title with a single-playthrough story means our masters in Japan are very wary about it. Sharing is currently blocked through the native PS4 UI. However, if you do plan on streaming, video guidelines above apply except length. If you decide to stream past 7/7 (I HIGHLY RECOMMEND NOT DOING THIS, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED), you do so at the risk of being issued a content ID claim or worse, a channel strike/account suspension. Japanese masters? That just sounds creepy. Beyond that, threatening channel suspension with spoilers being the differentiating point between when that threat applies or not doesn't make any sense. I get that spoilers can be annoying for some, but that doesn't fall under the purview of copyright law. Either let people stream or don't. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Copyright trolls are a plague spreading across the world, one which has received far too little social medicine for the taste of many. This virulent form of rent-seeking tends to put out some of the more despicable strategies, from flatout falsely accusing people of piracy, lying to international students about the punishment for copyright infringement, and threatening those that expose their actions. But a case that was winding its way through German courts sees copyright trolls there now going even further, winning the argument over whether parents should have to serve their own children up to the courts for copyright trolls. In 2011, a family received a letter from Universal Music, demanding cash alongside claims that Rihanna’s album ‘Loud’ had been illegally shared via their Internet connection. The parents, to whom the letter was addressed, indicated that they had no interest whatsoever in the R&B star. However, one of their three children apparently did, and the parents knew which one had committed the infringement. Perhaps understandably, however, the parents didn’t want to throw their child to the lions. It’s a position that’s supported by a local law which protects family members from having to testify against each other. The case ended up at the Munich Court of First Instance and the parents were held liable for copyright infringement and ordered to pay almost 3,900 euros. From there the case progressed to the Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof – BGH), which handed down its ruling Thursday. In a big win for Universal, the BGH upheld the decision of the lower court, holding the parents liable for copyright infringement. In other words, in the name of copyright trolls that have naught but an IP address to go on, parents in Germany may now face a flavor of Sophie's Choice: give up your children to the copyright troll or pay all fines themselves. Given that we're talking about children here, that likely amounts to the same result, as parents will be the one footing the bill. Still, there is something sadistic about trying to cooerce parents into naming their own children before the court. Keep in mind that this is mere copyright infringement we're talking about, not the typical crimes for which parents have long been expected to be responsible for when their children violate the law. And keep in mind as well how often these copyright trolls are wrong, have faulty or incomplete evidence, and so on. Levying responsibility for the failure to out one's own family member is almost comically pernicious. That the court saw fit to route around local laws protecting families from this sort of thing in the name of copyright trolls seems doubly so. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Charlie Savage of the New York Times has obtained another document detailing the internal guidelines of the NSA's STELLAR WIND program as a result of the NYT's long-running FOIA lawsuit against the government. The new document is a memo from the Department of Justice, which details its lawyers' attempts to suss out the government's obligation to defendants when it comes to evidence derived from classified surveillance programs. As Savage points out in his post, much of the NSA program's inner workings (and abuses) have been detailed in previously-released documents, including an Inspector General's report obtained by the Times in 2015. That doesn't make this document [PDF] unworthy of a read, however. It doesn't provide more detail on the program or its apparent abuse, but it does make it clear the government didn't seem too concerned about potential due process violations arising from the obscuring of surveillance-derived evidence. First, the memo points out very few DOJ lawyers and prosecutors have been "read in" to the program, which immediately makes it more difficult to balance adversarial issues in criminal prosecutions where the paper trail leads back to the NSA's warrantless surveillance. But the OLC (Office of Legal Counsel) doesn't have the right lawyers on staff to make this determination. Then-OLC head John Yoo himself admits (via a quotation in the memo) that "criminal law is not [his] area." To remedy this, the OLC brought in two lawyers from the DOJ's Criminal Division -- Patrick Rowan and Christopher Wray -- to analyze processes and check for adherence to Rule 16 (defendant' communications and statements in the government's possession) and Brady (exculpatory evidence) obligations. But it appears once the two DOJ lawyers were "read in," they were forgotten about. Wray told the OIG that after his and Rowan's read-in, they "were kind of left on our own." He said that no one directed him or Rowan to continue studying the Rule 16 issues or the government's Brady obligations in connection with international terrorism prosecutions, nor did anyone tell them to develop any judgments or opinions on the subject. What is clear is that whatever changes were made at the NSA and DOJ were the result of journalism. According to Rowan's statements to the NSA's Inspector General, the NSA was, at best, "generally aware" of its evidence disclosure obligations "prior to the December 2005 disclosure… of the Stellar Wind program in The New York Times." But the process in place -- and likely the process that continues today with the OLC's blessing -- was to spot cases that might present discovery issues and take steps to hide the origin of that evidence. Rowan stated that if the NSA located any responsive but classified information, it would be expected to notify senior Justice Department officials with the requisite clearances about the information. Rowan said he was confident that if Brady information were known to the NSA, it would be brought to the attention of the Department and steps would have been taken to dismiss the case or otherwise ensure the program was not disclosed. If the government wanted both program secrecy and a successful prosecution, the FBI would engage in something that looks an awful lot like parallel construction. [Rowan] stated that the FBI had "walled off" any evidence it collected from inclusion in criminal cases by tipping out Stellar Wind-derived information under [REDACTED] with a caveat that the information in the tipper was "for lead purposes only." Rowan noted that OIPR [the DOJ's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review] also had in place a scrubbing process to delete program-derived information from FISA applications. Rowan expressed confidence that these mechanisms ensured that no program information was used in international terrorism prosecutions. Finally, Rowan stated that the FBI is "very quick to get FISAs up," thereby minimizing the likelihood that the NSA's Stellar Wind database would be the sole repository of Brady material. The DOJ lawyers felt evidence issues still remained mostly unaddressed, but the OLC apparently lost interest shortly thereafter. The new head of the OLC discussed some issues with Rowan but told the DOJ "he did not believe the OLC followed up on Rowan's request that it continue researching these issues." Another OLC official said he had seen Rowan's work, but the office apparently decided Yoo's memo (the same Yoo who stated criminal law "wasn't his area") was the final word on the subject. This same official also stated he wasn't aware of any "formal procedures" for handling surveillance-derived evidence arising from the DOJ's examination of the subject. The other DOJ lawyer "read in" to the program confirmed the OLC official's statement. Wray also told us there was no organized Departmental effort to establish formal procedures for reviewing international terrorism prosecutions to comply with Rule 16 disclosure requests and Brady obligations. He said "the thinking was" that the Rowan memorandum was the "first step" toward devising "some kind of systematized process" for such reviews. However, we found no indication that OLC followed up on Rowan's request to further study these discovery issues with any kind of written product. So, the answer on prosecution evidence obligations comes from a guy who knows little about criminal law. On the plus side (haha), he's a strong proponent of making all rights and liberties subservient to national security concerns. The FBI does its part to protect NSA surveillance programs by erecting parallel evidence gathering, which means defendants might actually be able to see the evidence used against them, but be unable to challenge the constitutionality of the original collection. This all works out very well for the government, which somehow managed to slack its way into a playing field tilted towards the prosecution despite having one of its flagship surveillance programs splashed all over the pages of the New York Times. Remind me again how leaks damage the government's ability to pursue investigations and prosecutions? Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As they've long made clear, Trump, FCC boss Ajit Pai, and other net neutrality opponents have every intention of killing net neutrality rules. Of course, given the huge, bipartisan consumer popularity of net neutrality, these folks can't just come out and say they're doing that, lest they incur the wrath of internet users and activists. As such, they've begun laying the groundwork for a misleading argument that attempts to make gutting oversight of the uncompetitive broadband industry -- and killing net neutrality -- sound almost pleasant. The latest example of this came via an op-ed this week in the Washington Post, jointly written by FCC boss Ajit Pai and FTC boss Maureen Ohlhausen, entitled "No, Republicans didn't just strip away your Internet privacy rights." Of course they did, and there's not any real debate that this is what happened, but this being the post-truth era -- countless individuals labor under the illusion that facts are somehow negotiable. Amusingly, the editorial can't even make it a full sentence without being misleading (read: lying): "April Fools’ Day came early last week, as professional lobbyists lit a wildfire of misinformation about Congress’s action — signed into law Monday by President Trump — to nullify the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband privacy rules. So as the nation’s chief communications regulator and the nation’s chief privacy enforcer, we want to let the American people know what’s really going on and how we will ensure that consumers’ online privacy is protected." Of course, 90% of the lobbying at play on this subject came via telecom industry giants like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, who are spending millions of dollars to reduce oversight of one of the least competitive business segments in American industry. Even Google, one-time consumer-advocate, had lobbied in opposition to the rules (pdf). The mortal sin the rules committed was that they required that consumers opt in (the dirtiest word imaginable in advertising) to having their personal financial and browsing data collected and sold. It's also worth reminding folks here that the lion's share of consumers, be they Democrat, Republican or Independent, supported the privacy protections and wanted Trump to veto what was seen, quite correctly and uniformly, as an embarrassing example of pay-to-play politics: Should Trump have signed or vetoed bill repealing broadband privacy rules? Democrats 80% vetoIndependents 69% vetoRepublicans 75% veto pic.twitter.com/5AYWuZBX49 — Will Jordan (@williamjordann) April 4, 2017 So yes, to begin, the only "misinformation" here is originating with Pai and Ohlhausen. The duo proceed to parrot large telecom companies in claiming that people are overreacting because ISPs don't really collect much data about them: "Let’s set the record straight: First, despite hyperventilating headlines, Internet service providers have never planned to sell your individual browsing history to third parties. That’s simply not how online advertising works. And doing so would violate ISPs’ privacy promises. Note the continued use of the phrase "individual" by ISPs and the policymakers kneeling in fealty to them. Yes, ISPs don't sell your "individual" browsing histories (yet), but they do collect wholesale clickstream data, DNS records, location data, redirected search entries and countless other metrics -- using a vast array of sophisticated deep packet inspection and other network gear. Some of this data is "anonymized" and sold and some isn't, but to suggest that ISP "privacy promises" (privacy policies written entirely to protect the ISP from legal liability) are some kind of magic protection for consumers is hysterically and patently false. From there, the pair proceed to parrot the other key talking point ISPs have been pushing over the last year. Namely, that eliminating the FCC privacy rules isn't a big deal because the FTC will rush in to fill the oversight vacuum and protect consumer privacy: "Second, Congress’s decision last week didn’t remove existing privacy protections; it simply cleared the way for us to work together to reinstate a rational and effective system for protecting consumer privacy. Both of us warned two years ago that the FCC’s party-line vote to strip the Federal Trade Commission of its jurisdiction over Internet broadband providers was a mistake that would weaken Americans’ online privacy." That's again, patently false. The FCC stepped in only because ISPs were engaged in all manner of bad behavior and the FTC lacked the authority, motivation, or resources to do anything about it. This ranged from ISPs charging users hundreds of additional dollars a year to opt out of data collection, to covertly modifying user wireless packets to track users around the internet without telling anybody. The FCC's rules were specifically tailored to protect consumers from broadband providers that enjoy limited competition, and thereby limited repercussions for bad policy behaviors. Those that want an open and healthy internet need to understand that this idea that the FTC provides effective oversight of broadband providers is patently false. ISPs aren't lobbying to shift broadband regulatory authority back from the FCC to the FTC because it's fun. They're spending millions of dollars in lobbying to ensure they see less regulatory oversight than ever before. That this return to FTC authority is some kind of panacea is a canard most recently debunked by former FCC boss Tom Wheeler in an interview with Susan Crawford: "In the Trump administration, people are talking about stripping regulatory power from the FCC, and essentially taking the agency apart (including moving jurisdiction over internet access to the Federal Trade Commission [FTC]). “Modernizing” the FCC is the lingo being used. What’s your thought about that? It’s a fraud. The FTC doesn’t have rule-making authority. They’ve got enforcement authority and their enforcement authority is whether or not something is unfair or deceptive. And the FTC has to worry about everything from computer chips to bleach labeling. Of course, carriers want [telecom issues] to get lost in that morass. This was the strategy all along. So it doesn’t surprise me that the Trump transition team — who were with the American Enterprise Institute and basically longtime supporters of this concept — comes in and says, “Oh, we oughta do away with this.” It makes no sense to get rid of an expert agency and to throw these issues to an agency with no rule-making power that has to compete with everything else that’s going on in the economy, and can only deal with unfair or deceptive practices. Make no mistake: the goal is, again, less oversight of one of the least competitive, and most anti-competitive companies in America. Pai and Ohlhausen, as revolving door regulators are wont to do, go to comic lengths to try and pretend the broadband industry isn't a competitive mess: "Others argue that ISPs should be treated differently because consumers face a unique lack of choice and competition in the broadband marketplace. But that claim doesn’t hold up to scrutiny either. For example, according to one industry analysis, Google dominates desktop search with an estimated 81 percent market share (and 96 percent of the mobile search market), whereas Verizon, the largest mobile broadband provider, holds only an estimated 35 percent of its market." That's some lovely, cherry picked bullshit. Most consumers lack the choice of more than one fixed-line broadband provider, and the looming wave of mergers and acquisitions (supported by both Pai and Ohlhausen) are likely to reduce competition even further. Again, you can choose to not use Gmail, Google search or Facebook. Most people have only one or two broadband providers to choose from, both of which are happily engaged in non-price competition with little to no incentive to behave. This lack of competition -- and the government's unwillingness to address this for fear of stifling AT&T, Comcast, Charter and Verizon campaign contributions -- is what triggered the entire net neutrality and privacy fracas to begin with. Of course, there's something else the pair intentionally and comically avoid talking about in their treatise. And that's the fact that to gut FCC authority over broadband and shovel it back to an already-overburdened FTC, regulators need to roll back the Title II reclassification of ISPs as common carriers -- and by proxy the nation's net neutrality rules. Pai and Ohlhausen don't even utter the phrase "net neutrality" in their missive, knowing all-too-well that they'd be laughed out of town if they didn't try to hide their real objective under a parade of half-truths and prattle. But make no mistake, this pretense that we need to shift broadband regulatory oversight back to the FTC because it provides a more "consistent regulatory environment" is a transparently self-serving, telecom industry-concocted canard -- and the opening salvo in what will be the death of net neutrality protections if we don't start paying closer attention. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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On Monday, we published documents we obtained that revealed a massive amount of incompetence and waste at the Copyright Office. They had officially asked for $1.9 million on a technology modernization program, then spent $11.6 million on it without telling anyone about the ever-growing money pit, only to cancel the contract with the vendor last October with nothing to show for it. Oh, and throughout the process, it appeared that the Copyright Register misled both Congress and the Library of Congress. It would appear that this is not the only time that the former Register of Copyrights, Maria Pallante, was found to be misleading Congress and the Library of Congress concerning the Copyright Office's budget and monetary needs. In the recent markup for a bill in the House Judiciary Committee that would make change the Copyright Register position to be a Presidential appointment, rather than by the Librarian of Congress, Rep. Zoe Lofgren revealed that Pallante had apparently put in place a fake $25 million budget line item, asking the Librarian of Congress to testify under oath what it was for, despite it being made up. You can see the comments here or in the video below: If you can't watch that, here's the relevant transcript, as stated by Lofgren. She was trying to add an amendment to the bill that would still allow the Librarian of Congress to fire the Register of Copyrights if necessary (under the bill presented, only the President can fire the Register). This amendment allows the Librarian of Congress to remove the Register. This is an essential provision. How can you expect the Librarian -- as mandated by law -- properly supervise the Copyright Office when the Register is answerable to no one but the executive branch? And how do you truly supervise someone you can't fire? Now, what can a Librarian do if a Register is acting insubordinately, or giving fake budget request numbers. Unfortunately, this is not a hypothetical. While preparing the fiscal year 18 appropriations request, the Library noticed that a $25 million line item in the Copyright Office's request didn't add up. When questioned about this, Register Pallante stated that this number "was no big deal" -- it was just a placeholder and they'd make adjustments after the money was appropriated. In other words, the Copyright Office gave the Librarian fake budget numbers with the intention that she go testify in front of the Appropriations Committee to the need of these funds that was made up. That's fairly astounding. As far as I can tell, the "corrected" 2018 Copyright Office budget justification hasn't been released yet, but the 2017 version shows that there were three line items that added up to a grand total of $74 million. A $25 million dollar "fake budget" item in the Copyright Office's budget justification would represent somewhere around a third of the Office's budget. That's... incredible. Once again, the conspiracy theories claiming that Google somehow had Pallante forced out are looking sillier and sillier. This is twice in one week that we've now come across stories of what appear to be serious problems with how the Copyright Office is managed -- and these issues only came to light after the new Librarian of Congress started actually doing her job and looking into what was happening down at the Copyright Office, only to find it was a disaster of bad project management, wasted budgets and (apparently) "fake budget" line items. And yet, for unclear reasons, Congress continues to rush quickly forward with this bill to block the Librarian of Congress from even appointing a new head of the Copyright Office. That bill was introduced just a couple of weeks ago and would drastically change how things have been done for over a century, with no clearly stated rationale. In fact, Congress had held no hearings on this bill. Instead, in a matter of a couple of weeks it is already trying to get the bill to the floor and voted on, perhaps without even knowing about these scandals at the Copyright Office that have remained hidden until now. Given all of this, and the fact that this is only coming to light now that there's a competent Librarian of Congress who's actually doing her job, why does Congress want to take away the ability of the Library to actually oversee the Copyright Office? How does that make any sense at all? Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Keeping tabs on your network can help keep your important and personal information secure. For $29, GlassWire Pro for PC helps to visualize your past and current network traffic to help you better understand what is going on in the background. It alerts you to suspicious activity, allows you to block access by specific programs with its firewall, and uses limited resources so it won't slow down your computer. The tools allow you to monitor specific applications and protocols, and the Pro version lets you monitor up to 3 computers. 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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So if there's one thing we've probably repeated more than others around here, it's the idea that in the IoT and copyright maximalist era, you no longer truly own the things you think you own. It doesn't matter whether we're talking about video game consoles, software, smart home hubs, ebooks, DVDs or routers -- in the always-connected, copyright mad, instantly-upgradeable firmware age, companies are often quick to remove some or all functionality at a whim, leaving you with little more than a receipt and a dream of dumb technology days gone by. But we've also noted repeatedly that part of this new paradigm involves companies using this capability to punish customers for poor reviews. This is, it should go without saying, an idiotic policy that almost always invokes the Streisand effect and makes the "problem" of a negative review significantly worse than if the company in question had done nothing at all. Case in point: internet-connected garage opener Garadget, which is taking heat this week for bricking a customer's 'smart' garage door opener after the customer in question left a negative review on Amazon. Earlier this month, a Garadget user posted to the company's message board, complaining about problems with the iPhone app that controls the garage door opener: Just installed and attempting to register a door when the app started doing this. Have uninstalled and reinstalled iphone app, powered phone off/on - wondering what kind of piece of shit I just purchased here... Not really uncommon in the internet of broken things era. The user then followed that up with a one star review over at Amazon making the same complaints: Junk - DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY - iPhone app is a piece of junk, crashes constantly, start-up company that obviously has not performed proper quality assurance tests on their products. At this point the company had several options. They could have ignored the complaints, or perhaps done something crazy like use the input to make a better product. Instead, Garadget boss Denis Grisak apparently thought it would be a good idea to inform the user on the company's message boards that his product would no longer be allowed to access the Garadget servers: Martin, The abusive language here and in your negative Amazon review, submitted minutes after experiencing a technical difficulty, only demonstrates your poor impulse control. I'm happy to provide the technical support to the customers on my Saturday night but I'm not going to tolerate any tantrums. At this time your only option is return Garadget to Amazon for refund. Your unit ID 2f0036... will be denied server connection. Yes, nothing teaches somebody a lesson about impulse control quite like -- exhibiting extremely poor impulse control. Only after the entire fracas went viral via the internet of shit Twitter account and over at Hacker News did Grisak begin to realize the error of his ways, posting a follow up forum statement indicating he was fully aware that the Streisand effect was in full bloom: Ok, calm down everybody. Save your pitchforks and torches for your elected representatives. This only lack the death treats[sic] now. The firing of the customer was never about the Amazon review, just wanted to distance from the toxic individual ASAP. Admittedly not a slickest PR move on my part. Note taken. A quote from a random guy. PS: Anybody has Streisand's phone number? That's really a halfhearted apology, especially considering the "toxic" user had what appeared to be entirely legitimate complaints about app functionality. Perhaps the idea that "there's no such thing as bad press" is actually true, but it's just as likely that Grisak's overreaction ensured that countless potential customers -- worried that the product they buy would be arbitrarily nuked -- may look elsewhere for their next garage door opener. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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For years, one of the greasier lobbying and PR tactics by the telecom industry has been the use of minority groups to parrot awful policy positions. Historically, such groups are happy to take financing from a company like Comcast, in exchange for repeating whatever talking point memos are thrust in their general direction, even if the policy being supported may dramatically hurt their constituents. This strategy has played a starring role in supporting anti-consumer mega-mergers, killing attempts to make the cable box market more competitive, and efforts to eliminate net neutrality. The goal is to provide an artificial wave of "support" for bad policies, used to then justify bad policy votes. And despite this being something the press has highlighted for the better part of several decades, the practice continues to work wonders. Hell, pretending to serve minority communities while effectively undermining them with bad internet policy is part of the reason Comcast now calls top lobbyist David Cohen the company's Chief Diversity Officer (something the folks at Comcast hate when I point it out, by the way). Last week, we noted how Congress voted to kill relatively modest but necessary FCC privacy protections. You'd be hard pressed to find a single, financially-objective group or person that supports such a move. Even Donald Trump's most obnoxious supporters were relatively disgusted by the vote. Yet The Intercept notes that groups like the League of United Latin American Citizens and the OCA (Asian Pacific American Advocates) breathlessly urged the FCC to kill the rules, arguing that snoopvertising and data collection would be a great boon to low income families: "The League of United Latin American Citizens and OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates, two self-described civil rights organizations, told the FCC that “many consumers, especially households with limited incomes, appreciate receiving relevant advertising that is keyed to their interests and provides them with discounts on the products and services they use." Of course, folks like Senator Ted Cruz then used this entirely-farmed support to insist there were "strenuous objections from throughout the internet community" at the creation of the rules, which simply wasn't true. Most people understood that the rules were a direct response to some reckless and irresponsible privacy practices at major ISPs -- ranging from charging consumers more to keep their data private, or using customer credit data to provide even worse customer support than they usually do. Yes, what consumer (minority or otherwise) doesn't want to pay significantly more money for absolutely no coherent reason? It took only a little bit of digging for The Intercept to highlight what the real motivation for this support of anti-consumer policies was: "OCA has long relied on telecom industry cash. Verizon and Comcast are listed as business advisory council members to OCA, and provide funding along with “corporate guidance to the organization.” Last year, both companies sponsored the OCA annual gala. AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications and Verizon serve as part of the LULAC “corporate alliance,” providing “advice and assistance” to the group. Comcast gave $240,000 to LULAC between 2004 and 2012. When a reporter asks these groups why they're supporting internet policies that run in stark contrast to their constituents, you'll usually be met with either breathless indignance at the idea that these groups are being used as marionettes, or no comment whatsoever (which was the case in the Intercept's latest report). This kind of co-opting still somehow doesn't get much attention in the technology press or policy circles, so it continues to work wonders. And it will continue to work wonders as the administration shifts its gaze from gutting privacy protections to killing net neutrality. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As we've discussed for many years, Homeland Security and the Justice Department have convinced too many courts that there is some sort of 4th Amendment "exception" at the border, whereby Customs and Border Patrol agents (CBP) are somehow allowed to search through your laptops, phones, tablets and more just because, fuck it, they can. Now bipartisan pairs in both the Senate and the House have introduced a new bill that would require that CBP get a warrant to search the devices of Americans at the border. On the Senate side, the bill is sponsored by Senators Ron Wyden and Rand Paul, and in the House, it's Reps. Blake Farenthold and Jared Polis. Honestly, it's absolutely ridiculous that this kind of bill is even needed in the first place, because the 4th Amendment should just take care of it. But with DHS and the courts not properly appreciating the 4th Amendment's requirment for a warrant to do a search, here we are. Here's a short summary of the bill as well, that notes: The government has asserted broad authority to search or seize digital devices at the border without any level of suspicion due to legal precedent referred to as the “border search exception” to the Fourth Amendment’s requirement for probable cause or a warrant. Until 2014, the government claimed it did not need a warrant to search a device if a person had been arrested. In a landmark unanimous decision, the Supreme Court (in Riley v. California) ruled that digital data is different and that law enforcement needed a warrant to search an electronic device when a person has been arrested. This bill recognizes the principles from that decision extend to searches of digital devices at the border. In addition, this bill requires that U.S. persons are aware of their rights before they consent to giving up online account information (like social media account names or passwords) or before they consent to give law enforcement access to their devices. That last part is especially important, given how eager Homeland Security has been to start demanding social media passwords as you deplane. Unfortunately, the bill as written only applies to "US Persons" as defined here, meaning that it may not be of much help for a new DHS proposal, also revealed this week, to more aggressively pursue phone and social media searches of foreigners. This is a bad idea for a whole host of reasons we've already discussed, but the short version is that it's bad for security, it's bad for tourism, it's bad for Americans' safety (because other countries will reciprocate). It's just a bad, bad idea. At the very least, this new bill would block this from happening for American citizens or otherwise legal aliens, but it should go much further. And, of course, who knows if this bill will get any traction, or get signed by the President. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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