posted 12 days ago on techdirt
We've been talking for a while about the ridiculousness of the civil asset forfeiture system in the US, whereby law enforcement can basically steal what they want (and some cops will even admit that, to them, it's shopping for stuff they want). If you don't remember, it basically just involves police taking stuff and then insisting that it was ill-gotten goods from some sort of law breaking activity -- which would be kept by filing a civil lawsuit against the stuff itself rather than the person. There didn't need to be any criminal conviction at all. Earlier this year, Eric Holder tried to limit the DOJ's assistance of such shopping sprees by law enforcement, but police were still open to using the process to take stuff. And, now, some states are trying to take action. Virginia lawmakers started pushing for a requirement of a criminal conviction. A similar bill in Wyoming passed out of the legislature overwhelmingly, but was vetoed by the governor who seemed to argue that all civil asset forfeiture "is right" despite plenty of evidence of abuse. However, in New Mexico, not only did the legislature agree on a bill requiring a conviction, but now Governor Susana Martinez has signed the bill: House Bill 560 (HB 560) makes numerous changes to the asset forfeiture process used by law enforcement agencies in New Mexico. As an attorney and career prosecutor, I understand how important it is that we ensure safeguards are in place to protect our constitutional rights. On balance, the changes made by this legislation improve the transparency and accountability of the forfeiture process and provide further protections to innocent property owners. This is great to see and hopefully other states will follow suit -- or we can get a federal law stating that police can't just take stuff without a criminal conviction.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Hersh Reddy, co-host of the Techdirt Podcast who has been away the past few weeks, is a patent attorney with a computer science degree and a long history of working in the tech industry. In this first half of a double episode, he discusses the many ways in which the patent system is broken, and how it got that way. This week's music is Destroy All Patent Trolls by Jonathan Mann (CC-BY). Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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If you're constantly on the go to far-flung places and looking for ways to keep your gadgets charged, today's deal on the ZeroLemon SolarJuice 10000mAh Battery may have what you want. For $26 (47% off of the original price), this battery pack comes with a 1.2W monocrystalline solar panel, a built-in LED flashlight, and is water-resistant and shockproof. While it takes a long time to fully charge the battery pack with the solar panel alone (it comes with a USB charging cable for plugging into a wall outlet), it's nice to have to keep it topped up throughout the day. This rugged little pack can charge 2 devices at once and has a very long life. Grab this pack from the Techdirt deals store with free shipping (continental US only, unfortunately) in the next few days. Note: We earn a portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
Every couple of years, like clockwork, the RIAA gets its friends in Congress to introduce some form of a performance rights bill, that would require radio stations to pay compulsory licenses to performers of the music they play on the radio. Every year it goes nowhere because the radio owners' big lobbying group, the NAB, is about equal in power to the RIAA. So the two sides fight it out, donate a lot of money to Congress, and nothing changes. There's generally a lot of FUD thrown up in the process, along with some crap about "fairness" when that's not what they're really pushing for at all. It's all about more revenue for the record labels and that's it. If you're unaware, playing music on the radio already requires payments to songwriters/publishers, but not to performers. The reason being that being on the radio acts as promotion, allowing the musicians to make it up elsewhere. We know that this happens because of the widespread practice of payola, in which the labels pay the radio stations to play their music. If it wasn't worth it to get on the radio, the labels wouldn't regularly get involved in payola scandals. And yet, they do, because radio play (even today) remains great advertising for music. We thought things had reached a new low four years ago when Rep. John Conyers sponsored one of these bills and insisted that radio stations playing musicians' music was the equivalent of slavery. Apparently, the RIAA liked that line so much it fed it to a different Congressional Rep. this year. RIAA darlings Jerry Nadler, Marsha Blackburn and Ted Deutch have joined Conyers in releasing the latest version of a performance rights act, this time called the "Fair Play, Fair Pay Act of 2015" and the RIAA's spin doctors somehow decided that having Rep. Nadler use the slavery line was a good idea: Previously, radio complained about the economy, asserting that they simply couldn’t afford to pay performers. But as far as the radio industry is concerned, “it's never the right time,” Nadler said. “What other industry says, ' We can’t afford to pay our workers; We want them to work for free,'” he cracked. “We got rid of that argument here in the U.S. in 1865," referencing the abolition of slavery legislated by the 13th Amendment. I'm sorry, but in no possible way is promoting someone's music on the radio the equivalent of slavery. To say so is not just insulting and offensive, but it's ridiculous. You can argue about the appropriateness of royalties, compulsory rates or anything else -- but to argue that getting played on the radio without direct compensation (despite all the indirect compensation) to slavery is just flat out ridiculous. Nadler doesn't get paid each time he goes on TV to talk about whatever bill he's supporting, does he? Is that slavery? No, it's promotional, just like music being played on the radio. Just the fact that Nadler has to resort to this silly and tired argument again, despite it flopping five years ago, should tell you all you need to know about this weak attempt by the RIAA to squeeze out more money without doing anything different.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 12 days ago on techdirt
Revenge porn is now officially a crime in the UK, as last year's amendments to the Criminal Justice and Court Acts come into effect. This particular amendment targeting revenge porn was proposed last October. The change will cover the sharing of images both online and offline. It will mean that images posted to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter will be caught by the offence, as well as those that are shared via text message. Images shared via email, on a website or the distribution of physical copies will also be caught. Those convicted will face a maximum sentence of 2 years in prison. The offence will cover photographs or films which show people engaged in sexual activity or depicted in a sexual way or with their genitals exposed, where what is shown would not usually be seen in public. Victims and others will be able to report offences to the police to investigate. Officers will work with the Crown Prosecution Service to take forward cases for prosecution. Fortunately, the law contains affirmative defenses, including one for journalistic entities or other disclosures in the public interest. It also appears to keep the burden of proof (mostly) where it should be: on the entity bringing the charges. However, this amendment seems to be more borne of social pressure than actual need. Trafficking in revenge porn has been punished successfully under the UK's harassment laws. This law just feels extraneous -- a way to "do something" that increases penalties for violating existing harassment laws. There's a two-year maximum sentence attached to this amendment, which is far lower than the surprising 18 years handed to revenge porn site operator Kevin Bollaert, but far more than a previous "revenge porn" prosecution under the UK's already existing laws, which only netted a 12-week sentence. The enacted amendments also give UK Justice Secretary Chris Grayling what he wanted: increased penalties for the crime of being a jerk online. The UK has jailed trolls before, but now the government has a new upper limit on sentencing - quadrupling the former 6-month maximum. This revenge porn law may be less broadly-written than others we've discussed, but that slight positive is negated by the UK's vastly more limited free speech protections. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 13 days ago on techdirt
A couple of weeks ago, Mike provided an in-depth analysis of China's new tactic in its longstanding efforts to restrict access by its population to material that challenges the official narrative. This powerful DDoS attack has now been dubbed "China's Great Cannon" by researchers in a fascinating analysis published by The Citizen Lab. As Mike pointed out, one reason why this new approach has been developed is that it is not possible to block individual URLs when HTTPS traffic is involved. Thus, ironically, the increased use of encryption -- which is meant to protect users online -- led to the development of a powerful new digital weapon that potentially makes them not just victims, but even part of the attack. However, encryption is also a remedy, as The Citizen Lab researchers write: Our findings in China add another documented case to at least two other known instances of governments tampering with unencrypted Internet traffic to control information or launch attacks -- the other two being the use of QUANTUM by the US NSA and UK’s GCHQ. In addition, product literature from two companies, FinFisher and Hacking Team, indicate that they sell similar "attack from the Internet" tools to governments around the world. These latest findings emphasize the urgency of replacing legacy web protocols, like HTTP, with their cryptographically strong versions, like HTTPS. However, the remedy is only partial. Writing on his blog, Brian Krebs quotes Bill Marczak, one of the lead authors of the Great Cannon report, as saying: Relying on an always-on encryption strategy is not a foolproof counter to this attack, because plug-ins like https-everywhere will still serve regular unencrypted content when Web sites refuse to or don't offer the same content over an encrypted connection. What's more, many Web sites draw content from a variety of sources online, meaning that the Great Cannon attack could succeed merely by drawing on resources provided by online ad networks that serve ads on a variety of Web sites from a dizzying array of sources. "Some of the scripts being injected in this attack are from online ad networks," Marczak said. “But certainly this kind of attack suggests a far more aggressive use of https where available." This confirms that encryption is no panacea, but is certainly worth deploying. The fact that it can make China's Great Cannon attacks harder, if not impossible, should also give pause to government officials around the world as they try to demonize encryption and call for it to be weakened or even banned. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Late last year, we wrote about the ridiculous situation in which the state of Utah effectively banned Zenefits, the innovative HR software service provider that tons of companies now use. As we noted, Zenefits came up with a creative way to build a real business by giving away its (really useful) HR software for free: coupling it with an insurance brokering business. You get to use its software for free, and Zenefits also makes it easy for businesses to get insurance and takes a cut of those deals. Zenefits started out by first just building the software, but then realized that it could tack on this business model after it found that most insurance brokers collect huge fees without really doing anything all that useful. So here, Zenefits could provide a more useful service, offer it to companies for free, and have a really successful business model. A win for everyone. Well, except traditional insurance brokers who found it more difficult to compete. And thus, the Utah Insurance Department, run by former insurance broker Todd Kiser, declared that Zenefits broke a bunch of rules in Utah by daring to give out its software for free. Kiser determined that this violated rules against "inducements" or "rebates." This was from the ruling against Zenefits last year: Zenefits' providing free software use of its electronic platform and dashboard violates Utah's inducement and indirect rebate insurance laws. By Zenefits offering clients the free use of its electronic platform and dashboard, by which employers can control and coordinate payroll functions and manage tax-related elections; generate tax forms; access FSA, HSA, and accounts; and administer 401k retirement savings plans and stock options; Zenefits has created a significant free inducement for clients to purchase insurance products through Zenefits. This software use is neither part of the insurance contract nor directly related to the insurance contract. Also, Zenefits connecting of the various HR benefits and insurance together creates advantages for customers to have a single internet access site to manage all HR and insurance needs; however, again, because Zenefits does all of this for free, it creates an violating inducement and indirect rebate for clients to purchase insurance through Zenefits. Thankfully, Utah policymakers appeared to realize fairly quickly just how backwards and anti-innovation this made the state appear. A bill -- HB 141 -- was quickly produced, modifying the state insurance code to make it clear that software like Zenefits was not considered an inducement or rebate. The bill overwhelmingly passed out of both legislative houses. And, as of this morning, Utah's governor Gary Herbert signed the bill allowing Zenefits to operate freely in Utah once again. It's good that the state reacted quickly to make this possible, but it still seems ridiculous that it had to get to this stage in the first place. Innovation shouldn't be dependent on incumbents not getting upset and/or having to convince an entire legislative body and executive branch to change the rules just to let you provide a better service that people like.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 13 days ago on techdirt
A common complaint for closed source software-as-a-service is that it can just go away almost any minute -- leaving users abandoned without any immediate backup solutions. There might be alternatives to switch to, but the alternatives are not exactly the same, and this is why people complained so much when [GeoCities, Google Reader, FormsCentral, etc.] shut down. Users get accustomed to certain features that may be unique. Some companies are better at handling service shutdowns than others, but in the end, it's still really annoying. Apple acquired FoundationDB, and the support of its distributed database software will abruptly end. Users can still continue to use the software they've downloaded already, but there won't be much help if there's a problem. [url] Xeround suddenly shut down its database as a service business in 2013, giving paying customers just 2 weeks notice to migrate their data. At least Xeround's service was based on scaling MySQL, but no one likes to have to move large scale databases in just a couple of weeks. [url] A really easy-to-use database service called Dabble DB shut down after the team behind it was hired by Twitter. They gave users 60 days notice before shutting down, but nothing exactly like it seems to exist anymore. [url] After you've finished checking out those links, if you have some spare change (or more) and would like to support Techdirt, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Over the past decade, criminals have apparently gained an insurmountable technology lead over law enforcement. I'm not sure how this is possible, especially considering many criminals don't have access to the same technology cops do, much less access to generous DHS funding, and yet, here we are witnessing police officers (following orders from the FBI) tossing cases and lying to judges in order to "protect" secret tools that aren't all that much of a secret. We recently covered a Baltimore detective's courtroom admission that a) the Baltimore PD had deployed its Stingray equipment 4,300 times over the past seven years and b) that it had hidden this information from courts and defendants. The argument for this secrecy was that doing otherwise allows criminals to devise ways to beat the system. No one's looking to expose ongoing investigations, but as far as some law enforcement agencies are concerned, everyone is under continuous investigation by default. And since that's the case, anything that might be construed as giving criminals a head start is subject to a thoroughly ridiculous code of silence that excludes the majority of the justice system. This cop-specific technopanic is so all-encompassing that it has bled over into the unreality of creative efforts -- like TV shows. (via The Verge) David Simon, creator of "The Wire" and a former Baltimore Sun reporter, said in an email that "the transition from landlines to cellular technology left police investigations vulnerable well over a decade ago." He noted that there was new technology at the time — such as Nextel phones that mimicked walkie-talkies — that "was actually impervious to any interception by law enforcement during a critical window of time." "At points, we were asked by law enforcement not to reveal certain vulnerabilities in our plotlines," Simon said. That included communications using Nextel devices. The Wire also featured detectives using a cell signal-capturing device called a "Triggerfish." Any relation to today's Stingrays is likely not coincidental, no matter what the post-credits disclaimer might have stated. The Stingray isn't a secret, but it has been awarded an unprecedented amount of secrecy. Cops lie to judges, defendants and even prosecutors to keep the Stingray out of the public eye. And yet, it seems clear that The Wire's creators knew something about the technology over a decade ago. But the inherent ridiculousness of asking a fictional television show to withhold dramatic elements just because they may have hewed too closely to reality can't be ignored. Criminals will find vulnerabilities in the system and law enforcement will work hard to close these gaps. But criminals aren't so far ahead as to be unstoppable. This attempt to censor The Wire isn't much different than the law enforcement secrecy efforts we see being deployed in courts. The motivation behind these efforts is highly suspect. It doesn't seem so much to be aimed at preventing criminals from exploiting vulnerabilities as it is at keeping law enforcement officers from working any harder than they feel they should have to. It's not about keeping bad guys from outmaneuvering cops. It has more to do with preventing public disclosure from resulting in unwanted changes -- like additional scrutiny from magistrate judges or the challenging of submitted evidence. It's about preserving the most efficient law enforcement methods -- generally anything that doesn't require permission from an outside entity or generate a paper trail. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 13 days ago on techdirt
We recently had an excellent two-part podcast discussion (Part I, Part II) with professor Gabriella Coleman, all about Anonymous, its "many faces," and how it shifted from just being about the "lulz" into real political activism. Of course, it covered the many contradictions of Anonymous -- including the idea that anyone can just declare themselves a "member" and take on whatever they want, meaning that sometimes Anonymous' actions are self-contradictory. One faction may decide to do one thing, while another faction may disagree with it entirely. And that's all perfectly reasonable under the banner of Anonymous. You can see that in the recent effort by Anonymous to take on ISIS with #OpISIS. Over the past few years, Anonymous certainly got plenty of attention for jumping into some fights in the Middle East, gaining plenty of attention for its attempts to aid protesters in Tunisia, which kicked off the Arab Spring. Even so, the strategies of #OpISIS are a bit baffling, and certainly seem to go against Anonymous' general stance in other situations. Last week, it put out a list of hosting/infrastructure companies that it claimed was hosting pro-ISIS content, with the aim of demanding such sites takedown that content. One of the main targets: CloudFlare, a company that many websites (including Techdirt) use to protect against denial-of-service attacks and to generally improve reliability. CloudFlare has responded by pointing out the obvious: it makes decisions to stop serving websites based on court orders, not mob rule: CloudFlare does not itself host the content of the websites, meaning blocking its service would not actually make the content go away. The service instead protects sites from malicious traffic and cyber threats, meaning without it websites would be more vulnerable to attacks from Anonymous. "We're the plumbers of the internet," [CloudFlare founder & CEO Matthew] Prince said. "We make the pipes work but it's not right for us to inspect what is or isn't going through the pipes. If companies like ours or ISPs (internet service providers) start censoring there would be an uproar. It would lead us down a path of internet censors and controls akin to a country like China." [....] CloudFlare has previously faced criticism for protecting websites associated with Anonymous, however Prince asserts that their service is only removed if told to do so by a court of law. "The irony is there is no organisation that we have had more requests to terminate services for than the hacking group Anonymous, including from government officials - which we have not done without following the proper legal process," Prince said. In other words, careful where you aim that gun, #OpISIS, because it might point back at you as well. It seems even more ironic when you realize that one of the earliest "high profile" campaigns by Anonymous was when it targeted companies like Paypal and Amazon after each made the decision to cut off Wikileaks. Thus, Operation Payback began, targeting those who chose to arbitrarily cut off Wikileaks, without waiting for any sort of official legal process. So it seems rather bizarre and counterproductive for this particular segment of Anonymous to now be pushing for the same thing: companies to arbitrarily cut off other content, while in the past it has argued that infrastructure providers should not bow down to the opinions of a few without a legal basis. It's fascinating that Anonymous is targeting ISIS, showing just how bizarre this world has become, but doing so by trying to pressure companies into voluntary censorship campaigns seems really counterproductive and completely contrary to the message that Anonymous has presented to the world in the past.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Whether you're a Linux newbie or are already reading Techdirt right now on a Linux box, you can probably stand to learn more about Linux. Today's Daily Deal is here to help. You can grab the Linux Learner Bundle at 91% off (over $500 in savings). The bundle includes 6 courses from Udemy with over 50 hours of content -- from a quick (5 day) lesson for beginners to more advanced concepts for those looking to set up, run and protect Linux servers. Go through all six of the lessons and get prepared to get Linux Professional Institute Certification (LPIC). This deal comes with a 30-day money back guarantee and it ends soon. Note:We earn a portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 13 days ago on techdirt
It's no secret that some in the law enforcement and intelligence communities are hell bent on stopping encryption from being widely deployed to protect your data. They've made it 100% clear that they want backdoors into any encryption scheme. But when actual security folks press government officials on how they're going to do this without undermining people's own security and privacy, we get a lot of bureaucratic gobbledygook in response. Either that or magical fairy thinking about golden keys that basically any security expert will tell you are impossible without weakening security. Not surprisingly, the law enforcement and intelligence communities are not giving up yet. The latest is that the White House appears to be floating a proposal to setup a backdoor to encryption that requires multi-party keys. That is, rather than just having a single key that can decrypt the content, it would require multiple parties with "pieces" of the "key" to come together to unlock it: Recently, the head of the National Security Agency provided a rare hint of what some U.S. officials think might be a technical solution. Why not, said Adm. Michael S. Rogers, require technology companies to create a digital key that could open any smartphone or other locked device to obtain text messages or photos, but divide the key into pieces so that no one person or agency alone could decide to use it? “I don’t want a back door,” said Rogers, the director of the nation’s top electronic spy agency during a speech at Princeton University, using a tech industry term for covert measures to bypass device security. “I want a front door. And I want the front door to have multiple locks. Big locks.” Of course, this proposal is nothing new. As Declan McCullagh points out, during the first "Crypto Wars" of the 1990s, the NSA proposed the same sort of thing with two parties holding parts of the escrow key. It was a dumb idea then and it's a dumb idea now. The idea being floated here is that by setting up such a system, it's less open to abuse by government/law enforcement/intelligence communities. And maybe that's true. It makes it marginally less likely to be abused by the government. But it can still be abused quite a bit. It's not like we haven't seen multiple government agencies team up to do nefarious things in the past, or even federal officials and private companies. Hell, just look at the recent discussions about the DEA's phone records surveillance program, where the DEA later teamed up with the NSA. And, also, that program required the more or less voluntary cooperation of telcos. So the idea that the requirement of multiple parties somehow lessens the risk seems like a stretch. But, even if it actually did reduce the risk of direct abuse, it doesn't get anywhere near the real problem with this approach. If you're building in a back door, you're building in a vulnerability that others will eventually be able to exploit. You are flat out weakening the system -- whether or not you split up the key. You're still exposing the data to those with nefarious intent by weakening the overall system. Thankfully, at least some in the government seem to recognize this: “The basic question is, is it possible to design a completely secure system” to hold a master key available to the U.S. government but not adversaries, said Donna Dodson, chief cybersecurity advisor at the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technologies. “There’s no way to do this where you don’t have unintentional vulnerabilities.” So, now the questions is if the White House will actually listen to the cybersecurity experts at NIST -- or the people who want to undermine cybersecurity at the NSA and the FBI?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 13 days ago on techdirt
Last week, we wrote about the FBI arresting John Booker, who was involved in yet another of the FBI's own plots. At the beginning of our post (and the criminal complaint) against Booker, we noted how a year ago Booker had tried to join the army, and had then been denied after posting stuff to his Facebook page about how he was going to "wage jihad" and planned to die. It was noted that the FBI visited him at that time, and we found it odd that if he was such a threat, why wasn't he arrested then. Instead, it appears that months later, the FBI got together and concocted a ridiculous plot for Booker to join, in which the FBI itself did all the planning. What he hadn't realized was that when the incident happened last year with Booker and his Facebook page, there was actually news coverage about it, with the FBI actually saying that they had investigated and Booker was no threat at all: The alert, which was sourced to “an FBI agent,” stated it was distributed to “inform and protect officers who may encounter this individual or others exhibiting the same aspirations.” Four days later, on Tuesday, the FBI downplayed the "routine" alert, saying it was not actively searching for Booker. The agency said it did not believe he posed an "imminent threat," despite the original alert's invocation of the Fort Hood shooting, where an Army psychologist killed 13 and wounded more than 30 on a Texas military base in 2009. “We have interviewed this individual,” an FBI spokesman said. “There is not a manhunt and there never was one. There is no imminent threat to public safety, nor should the public be concerned that this threat exists from an individual at large." The reporter who wrote that above now works at the Intercept and has revealed more details, including the FBI's Situational Information Report after it had interviewed Booker a year ago. It notes that not only had Booker checked himself into a mental health facility a month earlier, but also that he basically had no way of carrying out any threat: BOOKER does not have access to a vehicle or other form of transportation at this time, nor is there evidence he possess firearms. It appears that Booker only became a real threat... once two FBI informants showed up and created the plot for him.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 13 days ago on techdirt
Change a teacher's desktop wallpaper? That's a felony. The Pasco County Sheriff's Office has charged Domanik Green, an eighth-grader at Paul R. Smith Middle School, with an offense against a computer system and unauthorized access, a felony. Sheriff Chris Nocco said Thursday that Green logged onto the school's network on March 31 using an administrative-level password without permission. He then changed the background image on a teacher's computer to one showing two men kissing. Seemingly everyone at every level of government wants to talk about cybersecurity. Most of what's discussed is delivered in the breathless cadence of a lifetime paranoiac. (Won't someone think of the poor multimillion-dollar studios?!!?) This school is one level of government. So is the sheriff's office. Both felt the 14-year-old's actions were severe enough to warrant felony charges. Why? Because somebody hacked something. If you can even call it "hacking…" Green had previously received a three-day suspension for accessing the system inappropriately. Other students also got in trouble at the time, he said. It was a well-known trick, Green said, because the password was easy to remember: a teacher's last name. He said he discovered it by watching the teacher type it in. The teen changed a computer's wallpaper and was able to do so because the most basic of security precautions weren't taken. Multiple students took advantage of this lax security to access computers with webcams so they could chat "face-to-face" while utilizing the school's network. The school got all bent out of shape because some of the computers accessed contained encrypted test questions. It turned the student over to law enforcement because it deemed his "breach" of its system too "serious" to be handled by just a 10-day suspension. It had him arrested because of things he could have done, rather than the thing he actually did. One of the computers Green, 14, accessed also had encrypted 2014 FCAT questions stored on it, though the sheriff and Pasco County School District officials said Green did not view or tamper with those files. And yet, Sheriff Chris Nocco is still looking to prosecute a 14-year-old for attempting to annoy one of his teachers. Here's the student's description of what he did. "So I logged out of that computer [because that computer didn't have a webcam] and logged into a different one and I logged into a teacher's computer who I didn't like and tried putting inappropriate pictures onto his computer to annoy him," Green said. Here's Sheriff Nocco's statement: "Even though some might say this is just a teenage prank, who knows what this teenager might have done," Nocco said. Well... you do know what "he might have done," Sheriff Nocco. And yet, your response to this situation is to hand out felony charges to a teen for something he might have done? Is that the way law enforcement is really supposed to work? [The FBI has issued the following statement: "That's the way it works for us. Almost exclusively."] He told you exactly what he did and why he did it. Your own investigative efforts confirmed he never accessed the oh-so-untouchable FCAT questions. Incredibly, Sheriff Nocco wants to not only punish this student for something he might have done, but any other teens who might do stuff. The sheriff said Green's case should be a warning to other students: "If information comes back to us and we get evidence (that other kids have done it), they're going to face the same consequences," Nocco said. Shorter Nocco: I will arrest and charge teens with felonies for annoying educators and/or exposing their inability to make even the most minimal effort to keep their computers secure. If I lived in this county, I'd be very concerned that law enforcement officials are keen on the idea of arresting and prosecuting teens for stuff they didn't do (access test questions) or things they might have done (TBD as needed for maximum damage to teens' futures). Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 13 days ago on techdirt
For a while now, Techdirt has been tracking the continuing efforts of the Russian government to rein in the Internet, at the cost of squeezing much of the life out of it. As an article on Global Voices reports, this has now reached ridiculous levels: Russian censors have determined that one of the most popular forms of Internet meme is illegal. According to Roskomnadzor, the Kremlin's media watchdog, it's now against the law to use celebrities' photographs in a meme, "when the image has nothing to do with the celebrity's personality." Roskomnadzor's statement is the result of a decision by a court in Moscow, which decided that a particular photo meme violated the privacy of Russian singer Valeri Syutkin -- the Global Voices post has the fascinating details. Although no new law is involved, Roskomnadzor's power is such that it is able to make these kinds of rule changes -- and enforce them. Along with a ban on the use of celebrities' photographs in what are termed "image macros", the new ruling also forbids the creation of parody accounts or sites (original in Russian.) The key problem with the image macro part is the following: Roskomnadzor's vague new policy threatens to do more than crack down on potentially defamatory juxtaposition, however. By saying it is illegal to add celebrities' images to memes that "have nothing to do with the celebrity's personality," the Kremlin could be opening the door to banning a whole genre of absurdist online humor. Even if the policy is not rigorously enforced, it could have a chilling effect on the Russian online space, already under pressure because of previous censorship moves. And that's probably precisely what the authorities are seeking to achieve here. After all, when it comes to Russian celebrities' photographs with witty captions, what name springs to mind? Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 14 days ago on techdirt
Thanks to The Wire, Baltimore is where many people first learned what a Stingray device was — but the revelation that the real Baltimore PD has deployed them thousands of times and hidden that information from the courts goes far beyond the wiretap-misuse by its fictional equivalent. Mason Wheeler won most insightful comment this week with his reaction to the department's troubling instructions to the FBI: “Does it instruct you to withhold evidence from the state’s attorney and the circuit court of Baltimore city, even if upon order to produce?” asked defense attorney Joshua Insley. “Yes,” Cabreja replied, saying he spoke with the FBI last week about the case. This is the thing that mystifies me about all this. An NDA is a contract. How can anyone--and particularly an expert whose professional specialty is the law--think that a contract between two specific parties can somehow trump a generally-applicable law? And more specifically, how can anyone think that a contract can trump obligations to a court, when a court's authority is obviously greater by the simple fact that a court has the power to declare a contract unenforceable? As it happens, The Wire was just added to Canada's Netflix this year. Prior to that, plenty of Canadians used a VPN to watch the show from the US collection, in an act that big media companies are now saying violates copyright law (actually they were talking about New Zealand, which has it even worse in terms of access). Second place for insightful this week goes to pixelpusher220, who pointed out that this is really getting ridiculous: I do like how now even PAYING for content is being classified as infringement. It's not like Netflix provides content for free. Wouldn't it be fraud to take customers money and then not provide them the service they paid for? For editor's choice on the insightful side, we'll stick around on that post for an anonymous comment that beautifully (with one notable typo) lays out how tragic the bigger picture is in conflicts like this: It baffels me still... that so many people want to ruin the best opportunity the world has ever had. I am not just talking about money here, but the worlds greatest library. The greatest opportunity for understanding each other across borders. The internet is probably the single greatest global achievement the world has ever made, and we made it together. Yes, there is violence, trolls, arguments and silly pictures a plenty... but this is also the best insight into different cultures and people that we have ever had. The internet is not just the 8'th wonder of the world, it is greater than the others combined... and still some people are only interested in tearing it down. How sad these people are. Next, we've got a long comment from Socrates providing a piece-by-piece response to some criticism of the EFF's dealings with the USPTO: Knowing full well that once more what I have to say will be met with the blunt force of TD's lack of experience in matters of practicing before the USPTO Yes, serial applicants have more experience in practicing before the USPTO than Techdirt. The implication that only those who profit from a malpractice should be allowed to criticize it is borderline funny though. , I am disappointed that once more this site is coming to the defense of EFF staff who choose to engage the USPTO on substantive matters that implicate prosecution practice without having demonstrated any substantive knowledge of the rules governing such practice. And yet EFF proves it understands Alice, and show a "patent" rejected by a federal court under Alice and does a side-by-side comparison of the refiled "patent" proving that the USPTO either doesn't understand it or perhaps even flout the Supreme court. I find it interesting that neither of the EFF's supposed experts is even admitted to practice before the USPTO, and yet they seem not to have the slightest reluctance to mock the office when it raises issues with which such experts disagree. The side-by-side comparison shame the USPTO for all to see. Perhaps that is why the USPTO invoke the Streisand effect? The purely fact based analysis is not mocking, or indeed opinion at all. The silliness is all the USPTOs. Obviously the EFF has found a home at TD, but given its reaction as outlined in this article it is no wonder why its effectiveness in patent matters is presently marginal at best. Neither EFF nor TD is a failed serial applicant. EFF and TD is simply not serial applicants at all. Their effectiveness in patent matters is thus not relevant. Perhaps they choose to have morals instead? If you intended to say effectiveness in limiting malpractice in patent matters, by informing decision makers and bring about such decisions as Alice, there is ample evidence that you are mistaken. Few if any have had such a positive effect. Even if one disagrees with the USPTO, there are ways to present such a disagreement without resort to approaches such as the infantile one utilized in this instance. Proving that a serial litigant, serial aplicant, refile a rejected "patent" and USPTO approve it, is not infantile. Perhaps you ment infallible? Over on the funny side, we start out on the story of YouTuber Angry Joe, who has sworn off Nintendo videos after the company blocked him from monetizing one. One commenter very reasonably asked how such a video wasn't fair use, and another anonymously responded: Let's Play ad revenue: $250 Lawsuit to defend Let's Play ad revenue: $8,000,000 explicit fair use law: priceless There are some things money can't buy. For everything else, there is the Supreme Court. In second place, we head to our post asserting that the patent system is faith-based and ignores all the data. It's hard to argue with that, but if anyone's going to try, it's someone we all (unfortunately) know, who demanded an example of someone who ignores the data. Well, that's an easy one, and DogBreath quickly provided it, with a mirror: antidirt. For editor's choice on the funny side, we start out on a post that provides a perfect example of the kind of rituals the USPTO's faith requires: shuffling things in the system to make sure the notable nine-millionth patent wasn't an embarrassing one. Dfed guessed what came next: Patent #9000001, however, was a "Method for practically gaming the USPTO patent system to achieve numerical synergy." Finally, we head to our post about Comcast and its pleas that it has most certainly not paid anyone to support its merger with Time Warner Cable. Karl suggested that anyone who believes that shouldn't be put in charge of anything, including your lawn care, but one anonymous commenter smartly pushed back on that last point: I most certainly would put them in charge of lawn care. Do you know how much high-quality composted manure costs? That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 15 days ago on techdirt
Five Years Ago This week in 2010, the patent office hired an economist in a move we hoped would help bring some reason to the patent system. Meanwhile, we wondered if you could save software patents with a team of "obviousness" developers, and one IP lawyer was telling people to stop wasting money on patents. We also took a closer look at how bogus patents get approved, and witnessed a patent fight over the Dominos pizza tracker. Over in the UK, the house of commons hatched a plan to rush through the Digital Economy Bill, and then did just that. One ISP quickly said it would not follow the rules while a member of the UK Musician's Union (which supported the bill) wrote an excellent open letter about his disappointment. All told, it was a bill proposed by the unelected, debated by the ignorant, and voted on by the absent. Ten Years Ago Back in 2005, technology was rapidly changing life in sometimes-unexpected ways. Watchmakers looked on in horror as their once-widespread devices were replaced by smartphones, while plumbers capitalized on a booming new business in retrieving phones from toilets. Online groceries were catching on in NYC, and kids were buying (crappy) homework online. Of course, not all trends were entirely true: Pew admitted that it pumped up the numbers on the prevalence of podcasting, and the creator of the idea of "toothing" (finding sex hookups via Bluetooth) admitted it as all a hoax. We were already noting the fact that copy protection was not the issue faced by the entertainment industries, and that there were lots of opportunities to sell music the way people want it, especially since sharing music is a cultural thing and the newfound ease of content creation was already making its mark. Fifteen Years Ago Let's all say happy birthday to Verizon, I guess. It was this week in 200 that Bell Atlantic and GTE announced that, in their merger, they would abandon both brands and operate as the shiny new "Verizon". Meanwhile, we also learned of another big merger negotiation between BellSouth and SBC. Also in 2000: the Microsoft antitrust ruling came out, leading some to wonder just how much it meant; Mattel dumped The Learning Company that it had bought only a year before; Dot Coms were struggling to find events to sponsor, while we noticed some were being run by kids who were hiring their parents; it turned out the question of deep linking wasn't quite closed; and we pointed to an article saying something that has been a guiding principle of Techdirt for a long time: that you need to understand the legal system to understand the goings-on in technology. Three-Hundred And Five Years Ago Most of you probably know that basically all modern copyright descends from the Statute of Anne, an early 18th-century British law that created the first ever government-run copyright system. Well, it was on April 5th, 1710 that the bill passed and received royal assent, and the Statute of Anne became law. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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For this week's awesome stuff, we're looking at some devices that help you monitor, track and control things that are useful to monitor, track and control. WEZR Most people's knowledge of the weather is limited to forecasts, the thermostat, and looking out the window. The savvy may check live atmospheric maps and other data, but few people are able to build their knowledge based on the full synthesis of information available to them. WEZR aims to change that: it's a weather monitor that combines forecasts with a variety of live data and its own array of sensors to derive specific, hyper-local and constantly-updated weather conditions and pipe them to your smartphone. It then shares sensor data to help improve accuracy for all users. Planty Anyone who's kept houseplants has also, at some point, let one die — while some of us have given up the endeavour entirely after minor massacres. Planty aims to make the task of caring for plants a little easier and smarter: it's a wi-fi connected planter pot that monitors soil, temperature, light and water levels and sends you alerts when upkeep needs to be done. Even better, it includes an automatic watering system that you can remotely control to feed plants exactly what the amount of water they need from anywhere. Meld Home appliances are getting smarter and smarter, but not everyone has the funds or even the desire to replace all of their stuff just to get access to some time-saving features. That's why devices like this are so cool: they add some of those features without requiring a complete upgrade or even significant alterations. Meld is an automated range knob that simply clips onto your existing stove and communicates with a wireless sensor that goes inside the oven. It can be programmed to make automatic, on-the-fly adjustments throughout cooking according to the needs of the specific dish. Not only does this make life easier, it vastly improves the accuracy of cooking temperatures since the average range is poorly calibrated. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
Remember Personal Audio? That's the company that claimed it had a patent (8,112,504) from years ago that covered all podcasting and then sued a bunch of top podcasters over it. The company got itself lots of attention, including from EFF, who filed with the UPSTO to invalidate the patent. In response, Personal Audio tried to intimidate EFF's donors. Eventually, Personal Audio realized that podcasters don't actually make that much money and settled a bunch of its lawsuits -- even with Adam Carolla (which actually does make a bunch of money) who had insisted he wasn't going to settle. Most of those settlements were for no money, but the company did win its lawsuit against CBS (in Eastern Texas, of course). However, the EFF's initial effort to invalidate the patent at the USPTO (which is a separate process from the lawsuits) has now resulted in the Patent Office invalidating the key claims in the patent. You can read the USPTO's decision, in which it notes that the key parts of the claim were clearly obvious to practitioners skilled in the art at the time of the patent and that the prior art invalidates the patent as well. We are persuaded by a preponderance of the evidence that Petitioner’s rationale for obviousness is supported by rational underpinnings. Kudos to the team at EFF, who have been doing some great work on patents lately (contrary to one of our grumpy commenters who insists that the EFF lawyers will never be seen as "serious professionals" by the US Patent Office, and will remain "marginal players at best"). Can't wait to see what patent projects they take on next...Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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FOIA clearinghouse MuckRock has scored another revealing document, this time from Customs and Border Protection. As we're well aware, the US border isn't technically considered to be part of the United States, at least not as far as the Constitution is concerned. All bets are off, 4th (and others) Amendment-wise. If you're traveling with anything -- whether its a vehicle, suitcase or laptop -- expect it to be searched. What MuckRock has obtained is the DHS's Privacy Impact Assessment of the CBP's search policies. The only thing seen of this near-mythical document to this point has been a two-page summary of the report's contents, released nearly three years after its border search policy went into effect.The assessment basically says privacy will be severely impacted… and not much else. To do otherwise is to open the borders to terrorists, illegal immigrants, drug runners, child porn traffickers... at least according to the talking points. If you're none of the above, you're not exempt from in-depth warrantless searches of your person and belongings, including laptops and other electronic devices. Based upon little more than the opinion of a single US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer, any device can be searched and its contents read. With approval from a supervisor, the device can be seized, its contents copied in full, or both. These opinions, also known as "gut feelings" and "mental coin tosses" (the latter extremely popular with the TSA's Behavioral Detection Officers), are all it takes to initiate a very intrusive search. Part of this we can blame on the courts and their deference to national security fears. Under DHS authorities to conduct border searches, travelers' electronic devices are equally subject to search as any other belongings because the information contained in them may be relevant to customs and immigration inspection processes and decisions. While the terms "merchandise" and "baggage" are used, the courts have interpreted border search authorities to extend to all of a traveler's belongings, including electronic devices and the information in such devices. Beyond the hunches that trigger warrantless searches of electronic devices, the CBP also has the authority to demand travelers translate foreign languages and/or decrypt files. Demand for Assistance: During a border search, ICE and CBP have specific statutory authority to demand assistance from any person or entity. For searches of electronic devices, CBP or ICE may demand technical assistance, including translation or decryption or specific subject matter expertise that may be necessary to allow CBP or ICE to access or understand the detained information. In some cases, travelers will be notified that their device has been searched. In others, the CBP and ICE will withhold this information from the person who owns the searched device. This includes cases where the agents image the entire contents of the device in order to perform a search later. In fact, in most cases where this is done, the person is cut out of the informational loop. Instead of detaining the electronic device, CBP or ICE may instead copy the contents of the electronic device for a more in-depth border search at a later time. For CBP, the decision to copy data contained on an electronic device requires supervisory approval. Copying may take place where CBP or ICE does not want to alert the traveler that he is under investigation; where facilities, lack of training, or other circumstances prevent CBP or ICE from performing the search at secondary inspection; or where the traveler is unwilling or is unable to assist, or it is not prudent to allow the traveler to assist in the search (such as providing a password to log on to a laptop). And, again, this sort of detainment/search can be triggered by nothing more than an agent's feelings about the person being vetted. And while a CBP officer may have to check with a supervisor before imaging a device, ICE agents are able to self-approve intrusive searches and seizures. As federal criminal investigators, ICE Special Agents are empowered to make investigative decisions based on the particular facts and circumstances of each case. The decision to detain or seize electronic devices or detain, seize, or copy information therefrom is a typical decision a Special Agent makes as part of his or her basic law enforcement duties. However, although no additional permission is required at this stage, Special Agents must comply with precise timeframes and supervisory approvals at further stages throughout each border search. While there are oversight guidelines in force, they aren't set in motion until after the copying/searching has already been performed. As the PIA notes later, the DHS's agencies don't care whether it's papers in a briefcase or the entirety of your digital life housed within a smartphone. Either way, it claims to have the right to search, seize and copy data without probable cause. Or so it did until recently. The 9th Circuit Court's 2013 decision on border searches of electronic devices undercuts a lot of the assertions in this 2009 DHS document. Most importantly, the decision forces the government to stop pretending the contents of a laptop or cellphone are no different than the contents of a briefcase or suitcase. (h/t to Daniel Nazer for pointing out this superseding decision) The amount of private information carried by international travelers was traditionally circumscribed by the size of the traveler’s luggage or automobile. That is no longer the case. Electronic devices are capable of storing warehouses full of information. The average 400-gigabyte laptop hard drive can store over 200 million pages—the equivalent of five floors of a typical academic library.... Even a car full of packed suitcases with sensitive documents cannot hold a candle to the sheer, and ever-increasing, capacity of digital storage. The nature of the contents of electronic devices differs from that of luggage as well. Laptop computers, iPads and the like are simultaneously offices and personal diaries. They contain the most intimate details of our lives: financial records, confidential business documents, medical records and private emails. This type of material implicates the Fourth Amendment’s specific guarantee of the people’s right to be secure in their “papers.”.... The express listing of papers “reflects the Founders’ deep concern with safeguarding the privacy of thoughts and ideas—what we might call freedom of conscience—from invasion by the government.”... These records are expected to be kept private and this expectation is “one that society is prepared to recognize as ‘reasonable.’” This decision partially restores the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution-free Zone -- at least the portion covered by the Ninth Circuit. The decision doesn't forbid these searches. It just holds them -- and the CBP/ICE -- to a higher standard than agents' hunches. So, in all the principles (transparency, minimization, information safeguards) listed in the DHS's 2009 Privacy Impact Assessment of warrantless border searches, there's not a single one devoted to warrants, warrant requirements or establishing reasonable suspicion. It took a court to reach that obvious conclusion and it took a court's explanation as to why a laptop isn't a briefcase to force the CBP to stop behaving like a law unto itself in the Ninth's jurisdiction. A privacy impact assessment that doesn't mention Fourth Amendment implications is a waste of 50 sheets of paper. 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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
It's difficult to keep a good thing going without changing and adapting to the times. McDonald's is a national icon -- and it basically represents America to certain parts of the world. There's even a Big Mac Index to gauge currency exchange rates and global purchasing-power parity. McDonald's business has had some challenges in the last year, and the brand is the default whipping boy for activists. If you're still lovin' it, though, maybe you can get your favorite McBreakfast any time of the day now. McDonald's breakfast menu seems to be the key to maintaining its fast food dominance. Getting an Egg McMuffin after 10:30 am appears to be an important menu option, but it might not be as easy as it sounds. [url] It might sound simple to serve breakfast all day (since plenty of other places seem to do it), but McDonald's optimizes the space in its kitchens in a way that makes it difficult to expand its menu significantly during a lunch rush. Perhaps pancakes in the Age of Enlightenment will be a bit longer of a wait, but customers will learn to handle it. [url] McDonald's faces increasing competition from more fast food joints in the US, and its reputation around the world is inconsistent and influenced by politics. This fast food giant could try a few different strategies to correct its course, so it'll likely try to experiment with operational changes in selected markets before changing its entire franchise network. [url] After you've finished checking out those links, if you have some spare change (or more) and would like to support Techdirt, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
Nova Scotia's supremely awful cyberbullying law is finally receiving a much-needed tweak, but it took a trip to the Supreme Court to do it. (As noted by a commenter below, the Supreme Court is just Nova Scotia's first level of trial court, rather than the province's highest court.) The law's original wording was so broad it had the potential to "make bullies of us all," as MacLean's Jessie Brown put it when the law went into effect. The law -- hastily pushed through the legislative system in response to a cyberbullying victim's suicide -- contained this passage, which was open-ended enough to criminalize all sorts of previously-protected speech: …any electronic communication through the use of technology including, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, computers, other electronic devices, social networks, text messaging, instant messaging, websites and electronic mail, typically repeated or with continuing effect, that is intended or ought reasonably [to] be expected to cause fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other damage or harm to another person’s health, emotional well-being, self-esteem or reputation, and includes assisting or encouraging such communication in any way. As attorney Karen Bennett-Clayton explains, this wording eliminates nearly every form of defense against cyberbullying allegations. (via Barry Sookman) This definition of cyberbullying captures a wide range of communication, from the truly insidious statements calculated to cause fear and intimidation to statements that are simply embarrassing or somehow harmful to the recipient’s emotional well-being. The definition contains no requirement to show motive or intent, nor does it require that the communication be false or misleading. On a plain reading of it, true statements could be considered cyberbullying so long as they are repeated and are distressing or harmful to someone’s self-esteem. Moreover, and as it includes those who “assist” in such communications, the definition is also arguably broad enough to include those who publish the electronic communication, such as web hosts or internet service providers (ISPs). Safeguards that are typically seen in defamation and harassment laws are completely missing from Nova Scotia's cyberbullying law -- which would explain why a person who felt himself a victim of defamation or harassment might take the easier route and use the badly-written cyberbullying law to shut down his "bully," instead. And that's true, even though much of what was said had not risen to the level of defamation, and much of what was contested occurred before the law went into effect. The court examined the law and the protective order issued by a lower court justice of the peace and found both wanting. As for the law's wording itself, the Supreme Court found it too inclusive to be anywhere near reasonable and, in fact, a threat to normally protected speech. While the law is in place to address cyberbullying, the definition is vague enough to cover far more than internet communications. This has the potential to stymie news reporting through traditional channels, as well as cover "communications" never intended to be included in the cyberbullying law. Both the ordinary meaning of “electronic” and the inclusive definition capture uses of electricity for communication that were common long before cyberspace (1984). Here are a few examples from the old days: cylinder phonograph records (1877); disc gramophone records (1894) including 78s (1898), long plays (1948), singles (1949), and extended plays (1952); studio cast recordings (1943 or before); broadcasting by way of commercial radio (1920s), commercial television (1928), walkie-talkie (1940), and citizens’ band (1948), and, of course; telegraph (1834) and telephone (1876), including fax (1964). All of these are within the definition of “electronic”, at least when it is read literally. The Supreme Court continues, providing examples of how this badly-written law could be twisted to cover nearly every form of communication imaginable, so long as the communication itself causes "fear, intimidation or distress." The first thing to note in the definition of cyberbullying is the disconnect between the ordinary meaning of the word and the literal definition. One who communicates electronically, whether it be by text message or telephone, and says something reasonably expected to cause fear, intimidation, humiliation, or distress is a cyberbully. The next thing to note is the absence of conditions or qualifications ordinarily part of the meaning of bullying. Truth does not appear to matter. Motive does not appear to matter. Repetition or continuation might (“repeated or with continuing effect”) or might not (“typically”) matter. A neighbour who calls to warn that smoke is coming from your upstairs windows causes fear. A lawyer who sends a demand letter by fax or e-mail causes intimidation. I expect Bob Dylan caused humiliation to P. F. Sloan when he released “Positively 4th Street”, just as a local on-line newspaper causes humiliation when it reports that someone has been charged with a vile offence. Each is a cyberbully, according to the literal meaning of the definitions, no matter the good intentions of the neighbour, the just demand of the lawyer, or the truthfulness of Mr. Dylan or the newspaper. As the court sees it, the law demands the inclusion of a motivation -- malice -- and yet, its hurried passage failed to include this key element. Adding in that factor goes against the lower court's finding justice of the peace's decision and nullifies the issued protective order. The evidence does not malice as required, according to my interpretation, for a finding of cyberbullying after August 6, 2013. Firstly, the events after that date, except for the mikemacdonald1975@hushmail.com e-mail, are relatively mild. Secondly, the full correspondence between Mr. Baha’i and Mr. Fraser about removal, which Justice of the Peace Gass did not see, shows efforts by Mr. Baha’i, an unanswered request for suggestions, and statements of Mr. Fraser’s assessment of Mr. Baha’i’s liabilities closing the discussion. This correspondence is inconsistent with malice on Mr. Baha’i’s part. [...] Mr. Self chose his forum. It is one in which Mr. Baha’i is entitled to disclosure and discovery, to fully test the many allegations. Unlike Cyber-safety Act proceedings, it is one in which the parties can find out who is behindmikemacdonald1975@hushmail.com, rather than speculate. It is also a forum in which serious risk of defamatory repetition could be controlled by interim injunction, without the ex parte one-sidedness of the Cyber-safety Act. Despite this, the cyber protection order prevents Mr. Baha’i from communicating with the very person who is suing him. The evidence satisfies me that malicious repetition by Mr. Baha’i is unlikely. Unlike Justice of the Peace Gass on the ex parte application, I have a full picture of the attempts to satisfy Mr. Fraser’s demands on behalf of Mr. Self. Whether he can force Mr. Baha’i to expunge what is not in his control, and whether he can recover damages against Mr. Baha’i for third party reproductions, risk of repetition by Mr. Baha’i is not in issue. Also, unlike the justice, I take into account that the Cyber-safety Act was not law when Mr. Baha’i was active on the present subject. Summing up, the Supreme Court finds Nova Scotia's cyberbullying law -- as written -- to be a threat to protected speech. In my assessment, the damage caused by the cyber protection order to Mr. Baha’i’s constitutional right to free speech and to his property right to use his own equipment outweighs the potential harm to Mr. Self if Mr. Baha’i is able to communicate freely. Justice requires that the order be revoked. This fixes one of the major holes in the law, and restores much-needed protections for uninvolved third-parties (social media platforms, ISPs) who can't, by definition, show malice by hosting or transmitting communications made illegal by this law. Unfortunately, it doesn't address another of its major flaws -- the wholly ex parte accusation process, which can result in severe penalties for the accused (loss of internet connection or access to electronic devices, gag orders, etc.) without being allowed to present their side of the issue in court. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
Nova Scotia's supremely awful cyberbullying law is finally receiving a much-needed tweak, but it took a trip to the Supreme Court to do it. The law's original wording was so broad it had the potential to "make bullies of us all," as MacLean's Jessie Brown put it when the law went into effect. The law -- hastily pushed through the legislative system in response to a cyberbullying victim's suicide -- contained this passage, which was open-ended enough to criminalize all sorts of previously-protected speech: …any electronic communication through the use of technology including, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, computers, other electronic devices, social networks, text messaging, instant messaging, websites and electronic mail, typically repeated or with continuing effect, that is intended or ought reasonably [to] be expected to cause fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other damage or harm to another person’s health, emotional well-being, self-esteem or reputation, and includes assisting or encouraging such communication in any way. As attorney Karen Bennett-Clayton explains, this wording eliminates nearly every form of defense against cyberbullying allegations. (via Barry Sookman) This definition of cyberbullying captures a wide range of communication, from the truly insidious statements calculated to cause fear and intimidation to statements that are simply embarrassing or somehow harmful to the recipient’s emotional well-being. The definition contains no requirement to show motive or intent, nor does it require that the communication be false or misleading. On a plain reading of it, true statements could be considered cyberbullying so long as they are repeated and are distressing or harmful to someone’s self-esteem. Moreover, and as it includes those who “assist” in such communications, the definition is also arguably broad enough to include those who publish the electronic communication, such as web hosts or internet service providers (ISPs). Safeguards that are typically seen in defamation and harassment laws are completely missing from Nova Scotia's cyberbullying law -- which would explain why a person who felt himself a victim of defamation or harassment might take the easier route and use the badly-written cyberbullying law to shut down his "bully," instead. And that's true, even though much of what was said had not risen to the level of defamation, and much of what was contested occurred before the law went into effect. The Supreme Court examined the law and the protective order issued by a lower court and found both wanting. As for the law's wording itself, the Supreme Court found it too inclusive to be anywhere near reasonable and, in fact, a threat to normally protected speech. While the law is in place to address cyberbullying, the definition is vague enough to cover far more than internet communications. This has the potential to stymie news reporting through traditional channels, as well as cover "communications" never intended to be included in the cyberbullying law. Both the ordinary meaning of “electronic” and the inclusive definition capture uses of electricity for communication that were common long before cyberspace (1984). Here are a few examples from the old days: cylinder phonograph records (1877); disc gramophone records (1894) including 78s (1898), long plays (1948), singles (1949), and extended plays (1952); studio cast recordings (1943 or before); broadcasting by way of commercial radio (1920s), commercial television (1928), walkie-talkie (1940), and citizens’ band (1948), and, of course; telegraph (1834) and telephone (1876), including fax (1964). All of these are within the definition of “electronic”, at least when it is read literally. The Supreme Court continues, providing examples of how this badly-written law could be twisted to cover nearly every form of communication imaginable, so long as the communication itself causes "fear, intimidation or distress." The first thing to note in the definition of cyberbullying is the disconnect between the ordinary meaning of the word and the literal definition. One who communicates electronically, whether it be by text message or telephone, and says something reasonably expected to cause fear, intimidation, humiliation, or distress is a cyberbully. The next thing to note is the absence of conditions or qualifications ordinarily part of the meaning of bullying. Truth does not appear to matter. Motive does not appear to matter. Repetition or continuation might (“repeated or with continuing effect”) or might not (“typically”) matter. A neighbour who calls to warn that smoke is coming from your upstairs windows causes fear. A lawyer who sends a demand letter by fax or e-mail causes intimidation. I expect Bob Dylan caused humiliation to P. F. Sloan when he released “Positively 4th Street”, just as a local on-line newspaper causes humiliation when it reports that someone has been charged with a vile offence. Each is a cyberbully, according to the literal meaning of the definitions, no matter the good intentions of the neighbour, the just demand of the lawyer, or the truthfulness of Mr. Dylan or the newspaper. As the court sees it, the law demands the inclusion of a motivation -- malice -- and yet, its hurried passage failed to include this key element. Adding in that factor goes against the lower court's finding and nullifies the protective order it issued. The evidence does not malice as required, according to my interpretation, for a finding of cyberbullying after August 6, 2013. Firstly, the events after that date, except for the mikemacdonald1975@hushmail.com e-mail, are relatively mild. Secondly, the full correspondence between Mr. Baha’i and Mr. Fraser about removal, which Justice of the Peace Gass did not see, shows efforts by Mr. Baha’i, an unanswered request for suggestions, and statements of Mr. Fraser’s assessment of Mr. Baha’i’s liabilities closing the discussion. This correspondence is inconsistent with malice on Mr. Baha’i’s part. [...] Mr. Self chose his forum. It is one in which Mr. Baha’i is entitled to disclosure and discovery, to fully test the many allegations. Unlike Cyber-safety Act proceedings, it is one in which the parties can find out who is behindmikemacdonald1975@hushmail.com, rather than speculate. It is also a forum in which serious risk of defamatory repetition could be controlled by interim injunction, without the ex parte one-sidedness of the Cyber-safety Act. Despite this, the cyber protection order prevents Mr. Baha’i from communicating with the very person who is suing him. The evidence satisfies me that malicious repetition by Mr. Baha’i is unlikely. Unlike Justice of the Peace Gass on the ex parte application, I have a full picture of the attempts to satisfy Mr. Fraser’s demands on behalf of Mr. Self. Whether he can force Mr. Baha’i to expunge what is not in his control, and whether he can recover damages against Mr. Baha’i for third party reproductions, risk of repetition by Mr. Baha’i is not in issue. Also, unlike the justice, I take into account that the Cyber-safety Act was not law when Mr. Baha’i was active on the present subject. Summing up, the Supreme Court finds Nova Scotia's cyberbullying law -- as written -- to be a threat to protected speech. In my assessment, the damage caused by the cyber protection order to Mr. Baha’i’s constitutional right to free speech and to his property right to use his own equipment outweighs the potential harm to Mr. Self if Mr. Baha’i is able to communicate freely. Justice requires that the order be revoked. This fixes one of the major holes in the law, and restores much-needed protections for uninvolved third-parties (social media platforms, ISPs) who can't, by definition, show malice by hosting or transmitting communications made illegal by this law. Unfortunately, it doesn't address another of its major flaws -- the wholly ex parte accusation process, which can result in severe penalties for the accused (loss of internet connection or access to electronic devices, gag orders, etc.) without being allowed to present their side of the issue in court. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
There have been a bunch of these lately, but today the FBI gleefully announced that it had stopped a terror plot in Topeka, Kansas -- inspired by ISIS. Here's how the FBI describes its big arrest: John T. Booker Jr., 20, of Topeka, Kansas, was charged in a criminal complaint unsealed today with one count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction (explosives), one count of attempting to damage property by means of an explosive and one count of attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated foreign terrorist organization. Booker is expected to make an initial appearance this afternoon before U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree of the District of Kansas in federal court in Topeka. Booker was arrested this morning near Manhattan, as he completed his final preparations to detonate a vehicle bomb targeting U.S. military personnel. There have been a bunch of these arrests lately of random people supposedly planning to do something big to join ISIS. But, looking at the details in the actual complaint, it quickly becomes clear that this is yet another of the FBI's own plots. Yes, Booker appears to be an idiot who publicly proclaimed that he wanted to blow stuff up to join in the whole jihad thing, but his actual ability to do anything was basically non-existent until the FBI gave him two helpers who presented the details of the plan. First, Booker did try to do something himself, but blabbed so much about it that the FBI came and spoke to him, ruining his original plan (though they didn't arrest him then): John T. Booker, Jr., a/k/a “Mohammed Abdullah Hassan,” (“Booker”) is a 20-year-old United States citizen who is currently living in Topeka, Kansas. In or around February 2014, Booker had been recruited by the United States Army in Kansas City, Missouri, and he was scheduled to report for Basic Training on April 7, 2014. On March 15, 2014, Booker publicly posted on Facebook: “I will soon be leaving you forever so goodbye! I’m going to wage jihad and hopes that i die.” On March 19, 2014, Booker publically posted on Facebook: “Getting ready to be killed in jihad is a HUGE adrenaline rush!! I am so nervous. NOT because I’m scared to die but I am eager to meet my lord.” That same day, the FBI became aware of Booker’s postings based on a citizen’s complaint. The FBI was able to identify Booker based on the publically available content on his Facebook account. On March 20, 2014, Booker was interviewed by FBI agents related to his Facebook postings. After being advised of and waiving his Miranda rights, Booker admitted that he enlisted in the United States Army with the intent to commit an insider attack against American soldiers like Major Nidal Hassan had done at Fort Hood, Texas. Booker stated that if he went overseas and was told to kill a fellow Muslim, he would rather turn around and shoot the person giving orders. Booker stated that he formulated several plans for committing jihad once enlisted, including firing at other soldiers while at basic training at the firing range or while at his pre-deployment military base after completing his initial military training. Booker clarified that he did not intend to kill “privates,” but that he instead wanted to target someone with power. Booker also said that he did not intend to use large guns, but instead a small gun or a sword. Booker was subsequently denied entry into the military. Okay, so we've established that Booker is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but at least was willing to state his idiotic plans publicly and then admit them to the FBI. But other than denying him entry into the military, they didn't do anything else... other than try to set him up for a big arrest later. That's because a few months later, they sent an FBI informant to befriend Booker and urge him to move forward with his "blow shit up" plans: Since on or about October 8, 2014, Booker has engaged with an individual who is, unbeknownst to Booker, an FBI Confidential Human Source (CHS 1). Booker has repeatedly expressed to CHS 1 his desire to engage in violent jihad on behalf of ISIL. For example, during a face to face conversation on October 10, 2014, Booker told CHS 1 in relevant part, that he: “was in jihad before, okay. I got captured. Okay, a long story short the people at the Masjid don’t like me because I support al Qa’ida openly. I’m not afraid, I was captured before . . . I was captured by FBI before . . . because I was with al Qa’ida.” Booker stated that he “joined the United States Army” and he “hadn’t really completed, I hadn’t really started . . . I was going to go in there and kill the American soldier.” Booker told CHS 1 that he dreamt of being in the Middle East, and then he showed CHS 1 a video on his phone of Muslims fighting American forces in Iraq. Booker said he dreamt about going with the fighters and wished he was with them. Booker told CHS 1 that he had heard about Americans joining ISIL and that Booker wanted to join, but he didn't know anyone who could help him do so. So, here we have Booker admitting that he doesn't actually have the capabilities to join ISIS or do anything really. But, have no fear, because the FBI informant is there to help: That same day, CHS 1 told Booker that he had a “cousin” (who is also a FBI Confidential Human Source, hereinafter referred to as CHS 2) who could get people overseas and asked Booker what he wanted to do. Booker answered, “Anything. Anything you think is good. I will follow you.” So, now we've got a plot in which two of the plotters are actual FBI informants, while the only other guy is a guy who clearly has no idea what he's doing: On or about March 9, 2015, while under FBI surveillance, CHS 1 introduced Booker to CHS 2, who he explained was a high ranking sheik planning terrorist acts in the United States. Then, the plan is set in motion, with the informants basically directing Booker in what he should do -- saying that they would give him the equipment needed to build explosives, and that he should rent a storage space to keep the stuff: Previously, CHS 1 told Booker that he (CHS 1) may send him some items for Booker to hold until the next time CHS 1 visited – perhaps a package or something in the mail. Booker told both CHS 1 and CHS 2 that his house was not safe to store things because he shares it with his cousin. At that point, CHS 2 suggested that Booker may want to rent a storage locker. [....] On or about March 25, 2015, CHS 1 met with Booker. During this meeting, CHS 1 told Booker that he had been “selected” to accompany Booker on his suicide mission. CHS 1 provided Booker with a list of supplies that they needed to purchase in order to build the bomb. Booker even relied on the two FBI informants to build the (totally fake) bomb he was going supposedly going to use, and to give him a map of where he was to set it off: The second storage unit held a large amount of inert explosive material that Booker understood was to be used to build their Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (“VBIED”). Pursuant to Booker’s plan, Booker understood that CHS 1 and CHS 2 would build the VBIED, Booker and CHS 1 would eventually deliver it to Fort Riley, and Booker would detonate the VBIED in a suicide attack. CHS 1 and CHS 2 then provided Booker with a map of the area of Fort Riley at Booker’s request. And then, just this morning, one of the FBI informants was needed to tell Booker how the device worked so he could "blow it up." On or about April. 10, 2015, Booker and CHS 1 drove to a location near Junction City, Kansas where they met CHS 2. CHS 2 met Booker and CHS 1 in the van in which CHS 2 had purportedly constructed the VBIED. CHS 2 explained the function of the inert VBIED to Booker and demonstrated how to arm the device. CHS 1 and Booker then drove the VBIED to an area near Fort Riley that Booker believed to be a little used utility gate that would allow them to enter Fort Riley undetected so that they could find an area to detonate the VBIED that would kill as many soldiers as possible. While Booker was making final connections to arm the inert VBIED at the gate, he was taken into custody without incident by members of the FBI. And thus, he's been arrested. It seems pretty clear that he's not a fan of the US, but this story matches many previous stories of the FBI stopping its own plots, in which the people they arrest tend to be hapless individuals with no ability to carry out any sort of terrorist attack on their own... until the FBI shows up and provides them with the fake tools to do so.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
We all know that in the land of mobile applications, Apple has long seen itself as the keeper of the moral compass, gently navigating humanity towards the City upon a Hill one rejected phone-game at a time. The reasons for refusal have varied, from the inclusion of fictional narcotics, to the slight chance somebody somewhere might see a breast or a penis, all the way up to a moral stance against comic books, because this is apparently the nineteen-twenties. And through it all, those of us that use Android devices have held up Google's Play store as a nanny-free alternative, free of censorship and hypocrisy. Well, no more. Google, it appears, has rejected a mobile version of the infamous game Postal over the violent content within the game. Postal won't be making it to Android devices. Why? Because apparently it has been rejected from the Google Play Store because it contains "GRATUITOUS VIOLENCE." Oh, dear. It appears a second nanny has entered the game, as though we poor gamers were somehow caught in between a vice constructed of Mrs. Doubtfire and Mr. Belvedere, each pressing in on us for the high crime of simply wanting to play a damned game. We're adults, after all, or at least many of us gamers are these days. Thirty-five or so, that's the average age of a gamer today. We don't need to be coddled and protected from gaming violence, it's what we want. Or, again, some of us do, but that's a choice for the consumer, not the platform. And specifically not for a platform whose decision plunges it into the depths of hypocrisy. As the original forum post over at Running With Scissors notes, it's not as though keeping Postal out of Google Play preserves some violence-free app-Utopia. "We know many of you have been excited that POSTAL is going to be made available on Android devices, but it seems we have hit a bit of a snag. Unfortunately it appears POSTAL has been rejected from Google Play due to it containing "GRATUITOUS VIOLENCE". Sadly this means it won't be welcomed alongside the Grand Theft Auto series, Carmageddon and horde of Zombie games on Google Play." It's a point well-made and a point not designed to take aim at GTA or zombie games. The sights are set on Google's hypocrisy instead. I imagine the looks of surprise on the faces of the game designers were severe when the rejection notice came. The Play store was our alternative to this kind of nonsense. Perhaps we'll have to go elsewhere in the future. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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