posted 15 days ago on techdirt
Last week, I was a little unfair to our friends over at Fight for the Future in noting that it was too late for President Obama to "dismantle the NSA" as was suggested in a Time article written by FftF's awesome campaign director Evan Greer. I was focusing on why the President should have limited the NSA much more seriously earlier on (like way earlier...), but some interpreted it to mean that I was suggesting that FftF had only just jumped on the bandwagon to stop mass surveillance. That's clearly not true -- as it's been one of the leading voices in the fight to get the President to scale back mass surveillance since the group took on that issue many years ago. My point was really just that waiting until now really limited Obama's options greatly. Even if he wanted to limit what a President Trump could do with the NSA, there's not much he can do that President Trump couldn't immediately roll back. That might be different if Obama had done a full scale surveillance reform program years ago, including much more comprehensive legislation than the USA Freedom Act. But just because there isn't much he can do, that doesn't mean there's nothing he can do. Timothy Edgar, who served in both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations handing civil liberties/privacy issues related to the intelligence community (he was Obama's director of privacy and civil liberties for the White House's national security staff), has written a very interesting article laying out a number of things that the President can do on his way out the door that certainly won't stop the possibility (or even likelihood) of abuse of surveillance powers, but could at least make it somewhat more difficult. Edgar picks up on a point that Ed Snowden made early on, that we've built a system that will enable "turnkey tyranny" in the wrong hands: we delude ourselves if we think they have made the NSA tyrant-proof. In Snowden’s first interview from Hong Kong, warned against “turnkey tyranny.” One day, he said, “a new leader will be elected” and “they’ll find the switch.” With Donald Trump’s election, it is important that this warning not be proved prophetic. While the United States has a robust system of intelligence oversight—the strongest in the world—it still largely depends on the good faith of Executive Branch officials. Edgar then goes through the things that Obama can do, but notes that they "require immediate action" if they're to have any impact at all. Some of them may seem like they're unlikely to have much of an impact -- such as reaffirming to the intelligence community their oath to the Constitution, and that what they do is supposed to be above politics, or even appointing new staff (which Trump could replace, but might not given the rumored staffing troubles he's been having) -- but could actually set a tone that at least acts as a minor buffer. Some of the other suggestions, though, could be more effective: committing to real transparency including declassifying a lot more information about surveillance programs, helping the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board finally get out its long awaited report on Executive Order 12333 and dropping the various attempts to use bogus "states secrets" defenses to various legal challenges to surveillance programs. All of those could be really useful. Edgar also recommends pardoning Snowden, commuting Chelsea Manning's sentence and dropping or wrapping up whatever other leak investigation and excessive Espionage Act cases the DOJ has going. They won't necessarily stop a President Trump from using the same tools against other people, but it will take away gift wrapped cases that could set awful precedents in using the Espionage Act go go after public interest whistleblowers and reporters. Edgar concludes by pointing out that if Obama believes in his own oaths to "preserve, protect and defend" the Constitution -- which are obviously still in effect -- he should do whatever possible to make sure that the next administration cannot completely ignore the Constitution, as many fear (and as Trump has suggested he'd like to do concerning the 4th Amendment and surveillance). Obama has twice sworn an oath to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution. Normally, this means making it possible for the new president to fulfill his promises, even if you disagree with them. Given Trump’s autocratic tendencies, Obama’s oath entails a countervailing obligation. Obama’s last challenge is to do everything in his power to thwart Trump’s promises to abuse our constitutional liberties. Again, these are all fairly limited moves, but they're what's left that can be done. Given how little Obama did in the almost eight years he's had, I won't hold my breath that he'll do any of these things, but lots of us will be watching closely, hoping that we're wrong about what we expect to happen.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 15 days ago on techdirt
So we've noted a few times over the years how current FCC boss Tom Wheeler was a bit of a surprise for many of us covering the telecom sector. As a former wireless and cable lobbyist with some unclear policy positions, alarm bells were raised when his appointment to the chairman spot was first announced. But as Wheeler's tenure rolled on, he wound up being arguably one of the most consumer and startup-friendly FCC leaders in the history of the agency (which, given the agency's history as a rubber stamp for large broadband providers, admittedly wasn't a particularly high water mark). Under Wheeler, the FCC raised the definition of broadband to 25 Mbps (to highlight competition gaps for next-gen speeds), passed and successfully defended net neutrality rules, imposed some relatively basic broadband privacy protections for consumers, fought for an open and more competitive cable box market, fought (albeit unsuccessfully) to stop incumbent ISPs from writing protectionist state laws, and did something few of his predecessors (of either political alignment) could bother to do: admit the U.S. broadband market was uncompetitive. I was so shocked by Wheeler that I issued a mea culpa. But that was then, and this is now. With a Trump victory in the books, Wheeler is now headed for the door. While his tenure technically extends until 2018, it's generally customary for the current FCC boss to step down as chairman. While Wheeler could legally stick around as a regular commissioner, it's not clear Wheeler wants to spend his retirement years playing Sisyphus. Fearing Wheeler might continue, well, trying to help consumers in the months before his departure, the chairs of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and Communications Subcommittee this week officially asked Wheeler to avoid trying to implement any "controversial" or "partisan" efforts in his final months in office:"I strongly urge the FCC to avoid directing its attention and resources in the coming months to complex, partisan, or otherwise controversial items that the new Congress and new Administration will have an interest in reviewing,” Senator John Thune wrote Tuesday in a letter to Wheeler...Any action taken by the FCC following November 8, 2016, will receive particular scrutiny,” the GOP lawmaker proclaimed." At this point we should probably remind you that the GOP has hounded Wheeler for several years now with an endless series of pointless "accountability" hearings with one core function: shame Wheeler for standing up to AT&T, Verizon and Comcast. Absolutely everything Wheeler has done has been deemed "controversial" by the GOP, which was particularly incensed over net neutrality and the reclassification of ISPs as common carriers (necessary to legally defend the rules). In each hearing, Wheeler was cool under pressure despite being repeatedly shamed for simply doing his job. People should also probably be reminded that much of what the GOP tries to insist are "partisan" issues in telecom in fact have broad bipartisan support. Net neutrality, for example, is framed as "divisive" and "partisan" by the GOP, yet has broad support from members of both political parties. Similarly, municipal broadband (communities building their own networks or striking public/private partnerships to address private market failure) is often tagged as "partisan" by the GOP, despite the fact that the idea has broad bipartisan support, and most community broadband networks are built in Conservative areas. The public's disdain for companies like Comcast and their lobbyist stranglehold of government is damn near universal, and indisputibly bipartisan. Much like former FCC boss Kevin Martin did when Democrats made a similar request in 2008, Wheeler was quick to bow to GOP pressure and wipe the FCC calendar clean. With that decision the FCC is effectively now on autopilot, and most of the remaining items on Wheeler's agenda (especially attempts to bring competition to the cable box) can be considered dead. Needless to say, consumer advocacy groups like Public Knowledge weren't all that impressed with the FCC's decision to give up on a number of items (like legacy business data services pricing) the agency had been working on for years:"...the agenda items address real and pressing problems in the broadband marketplace. These problems do not simply go away due to an administration change. When Republicans take over, they will need to address the same competitive problems, or explain to the American people why they plan to perpetuate our broadband duopoly." A number of the things the FCC put on hold at GOP request were simply normal operational efforts the GOP would have needed to address anyway -- including efforts to create a new roaming standard and to classify Voice over LTE (a higher quality audio standard). Senator Ron Wyden also issued a statement pointing out that the freeze also impacts efforts to try and expand funding for wireless broadband in more rural markets -- markets that Trump repeatedly paid ample lip service to throughout his campaign:"I regularly hear from Oregonians in rural counties that it is clear high costs are preventing private sector broadband investment in parts of rural Oregon. The FCC must fulfill its responsibility to provide a lifeline to rural communities and a connection to the global economy. Wireless cell service and broadband internet spur economic opportunity, improve public safety and increase educational outcomes for rural Americans. Any delay causes these rural communities to wait even longer for help," said Wyden." What happens next isn't entirely clear, but early signs aren't promising if you prefer your regulators independent and with a dash of backbone. Trump's telecom transition team is being led by Jeffrey Eisenach, a think tanker with direct ties to telecom (yet not technically a "lobbyist") who has vehemently opposed nearly every pro-consumer policy the agency has ever implemented. Also on Trump's advisory team is Senator Marsha Blackburn, whose faithful support of AT&T and protectionist state laws has played a starring role in ensuring that her state of Tennessee remains a broadband backwater. Trump has said he opposes net neutrality (even if it's not clear he actually understands what it is), suggesting those rules will either be scrapped -- or simply not enforced. Eisenach has similarly made it abundantly clear he sees the FCC's future as one in which its influence over broadband is negligible to non-existent, and net neutrality is no longer the law of the land. In an editorial written over at The Hill in 2010, Eisenach blasted net neutrality as a "radical scheme" crafted (ironically) by bogus populists:"Boiled down to the basics, in other words, net neutrality is a massive scheme for what Richard Posner termed “taxation by regulation” – the transfer of wealth from one group to another by means of government regulation....The populist rhetoric of (net neutrality supporting groups) often strikes a radical pose, but the real radicalism of net neutrality lies in the naked use of Federal regulatory power to redistribute wealth. Eisenach, like so many incumbent ISP allies at the time, intentionally ignored the fact that net neutrality is something the public wanted by an overwhelming, bipartisan degree. And there's nothing "radical" about preventing Comcast, AT&T or Verizon from using their last mile monopolies or arbitrary usage caps to give their own content an unfair market advantage (something they're already happily doing with zero rating). What would be "radical" would be ignoring the will of the public and gutting net neutrality, a decision that will make the SOPA uprisings look like a small summer picnic. While Eisenach picks a new FCC boss who shares his antiquated views, the GOP will be working on crafting entirely new broadband-industry-friendly laws. The GOP has long promised to rewrite the Communications Act with a strict focus on defunding and defanging the FCC, keeping the agency far away from the "amazing innovation" they believe magically blossoms when you refuse to protect consumers or regulate broken, uncompetitive markets. Efforts to try and do this previously have hit brick walls thanks, in large part, to the popularity of net neutrality -- a popularity the GOP seems intent on ignoring. By now, most Comcast or AT&T customers should realize the GOP's antiquated claims that broadband is a healthy "free market" made better by gutless regulators is dated rhetoric from a bygone era of hot garbage. And while you'll be hearing a lot of "let's wait and see" in the months leading up to inauguration, there's every indication the FCC will soon be reverting to its role as a rubber stamp for sector giants. Despite some potentially empty Trump campaign promises to fight the AT&T Time Warner Merger, Trump, the GOP and his transition team have made it brutally clear (in both commentary and transition hiring) that their plan for the FCC involves something in between a solid hamstringing and a frontal lobotomy. To make it very clear: we're gutting the FCC right at the point the agency was starting to actually listen to consumers for arguably the first time in its history -- ironically, idiotically or insultingly (pick two) under the banner of "populist reform." But overreach on net neutrality, and Trump will find himself not only on a collision course with net neutrality activists, but also with Trump supporters who signed on believing the Manhattan billionaire was leading a populist revolt. Wheeler's tenure floundered a bit at the tail end thanks to the agency's refusal to seriously address zero rating, sneaky industry fees, or usage caps and unreliable meters. Even then, most consumers will remember Wheeler fondly as the first FCC Commissioner in the broadband era from either party that was at least willing to actually listen to the will of the public -- a public that's sick to death of uncompetitive broadband markets caused by letting AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast quite literally write protectionist laws that only serve to ensure market dysfunction continues. While the future is uncertain, one thing seems likely: Wheeler's shortcomings on subjects like zero rating are going to seem downright charming compared to the regulatory landscape currently being constructed by the next administration. Tom Wheeler, the man who went from dingo to net neutrality hero, was the closest thing to a true populist the modern FCC has ever had. Completely gutting net neutrality and his other efforts isn't "populist reform," it's the political and intellectual equivalent of a roundhouse kick directly to the face of the American citizenry.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The FBI has, for years now apparently, always wished to be far more than it actually is. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the FBI shifted its focus from law enforcement to "national security." It continues to try to expand this role and believes it should be taking the lead in harvesting foreign informants and protecting the nation against overseas threats -- rather than an agency created solely for that purpose (the Dept. of Homeland Security) or one tasked almost solely with foreign intelligence gathering (the CIA). This isn't a recent development. The FBI has long had CIA-envy, according to documents obtained by Mike Best and published at MuckRock. Long before Sarah Palin was keeping an eye on pesky Russians from the governor's mansion, the FBI wished to do the same. The FBI -- being neither a military force nor a foreign intelligence agency -- thought it should be able to run a covert ops station deep in the coldest part of the Cold War. Added bonus? Screwing the CIA out of prime surveillance real estate. FBI files released earlier this year show the Bureau’s plan to build a secret network of “stay behind” agents in Alaska that would become active in the event of a Communist invasion. The file also reveals that Bureau personnel thought the biggest advantage to this plan was that it would screw over the CIA, ensuring the Bureau’s supremacy in their ongoing feud with other intelligence agencies. As Best points outs, the FBI was its own worst enemy in this push for surveillance dominance. It had no idea how to successfully carry out this plan, but was imbued with enough hubris to ask for permission to do so anyway. It seemed to have little understanding of two key elements: military planning and foreign intelligence gathering. The FBI's folksy racism showed through, aligning it with movie producers of that era -- the kind who believed Charlton Heston could pass as Hispanic and John Wayne to be more than a capable Genghis Khan. Covert surveillance calls for subtlety but if the natives couldn't be trusted, I guess it was up to the FBI's brightest and whitest to pass as Native Americans and Eskimos. Agents selected should be residents of Alaska with established means of likelihood and logical reasons for being placed where they intend to operate and consideration should be given to businessmen, farmers, trappers, fishermen and "bush pilots." Selection of agents from the native groups, Eskimos, Indians, Aleuts should be avoided because of their basic unreliability. Even this limited selection soon proved to be too expansive. The FBI feared informants willing to work for them might also be on the short list for deportation if tensions between the USSR and the US continued to escalate. The files show the FBI was far less concerned with being right than it was with being first. It wanted to stick its flag in the Bering Strait before the CIA decided to do the same and start hoovering up all the intel in the area. In fact, the first advantage listed for the FBI's incursion is that it would be able to lock the CIA out of the market. The principal advantage to the FBI in assuming joint responsibility in the two programs is that it will preclude any other intelligence agency, such as the CIA, getting into the intelligence field in Alaska at this time. Given the agency's Hoover-induced rivalry with actual intelligence agencies, it's hardly a surprise information is rarely shared between agencies, even when the safety of the nation hangs in the balance. Budgets must be defended and credit acquired. That's apparently far more important than working together for the greater good. This sort of behavior isn't going to stop any time soon, not with the FBI helmed by a director willing to push his, and his agency's, agenda (not always the same thing…) with particular fervor. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The California State Bar has finally handed down sanctions [PDF] in a case of prosecutorial misconduct that could have landed a defendant with a life sentence. Last year, a court tossed child molestation charges against a defendant after it came to light prosecutor Robert Murray had altered the transcript of a police interview with the suspect. Murray claimed it was all just a joke. But the "levity" he inserted into the transcript drastically altered the prison sentence the defendant was facing (from 16 years to a possible life sentence), prompting his defense lawyer to push him toward a plea bargain. All it took was two sentences: (Detective): "You're so guilty you child molester." (Defendant): "I know. I'm just glad she's not pregnant like her mother." Even if it was just a joke, Murray made no effort to inform the defense lawyer of these additions, despite claiming it was supposed to be something enjoyed equally by the defendant's legal representation. In fact, Murray didn't admit anything until he was forced to, a full nine days later and only after the actual interview transcripts were made available to the defense. The District Attorney's office didn't like seeing its prosecution vanish. It argued that dismissing charges was too much of a deterrent -- something that should be used only in the most egregious cases of "abject physical brutality." "Oh my, no," said the court. Indeed, there is simply no support for the People’s contention that an act must involve some form of physical brutality in order to support a sanction of dismissal. Meanwhile, there is ample support for defendant’s contention that egregious violations of a defendant’s constitutional rights are sufficient to establish outrageous government misconduct. Now it's time for Murray to face sanctions from the bar association for his "joke." Murray, to his credit, was open and cooperative after being forced to confront his own misdeed. (Indeed, some credit is granted for his cooperation, but it's nowhere near as expansive as Murray hoped it would be. The bar court doesn't have much sympathy for the "Well, I'm really sorry now" argument.) Nearly railroading someone into a life sentence was considered to be only worth about 30 days of professional discomfort to the prosecutor, according to the judge who first handled Murray's case. Fortunately, the bar itself disagreed. And the state bar court agrees with its harsher assessment. It's not a straight-up trade of life-for-possible-life, but it's far more than was originally recommended. After independently reviewing the record (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 9.12), we agree with the courts of record in this matter. We find that Murray deliberately created and inserted a fraudulent document into a criminal prosecution while he was actively negotiating a resolution by plea agreement. This altered evidence bore no indicia of being a "prank," and Murray made no prompt effort thereafter to control the consequences. Murray's behavior is wholly inappropriate and unbecoming of an experienced prosecutor, who is expected to adhere to the highest standards of ethical conduct and to act as a gatekeeper to the fair administration of justice. We therefore recommend a one-year actual suspension to protect the public and to maintain integrity and confidence in the legal profession. Murray sought the 30-day suspension, feeling that his actions were only "gross negligence," as the previous judge had ruled. But the state bar court sees it differently. This wasn't just negligence. It was a purposeful distortion of the justice system -- something that cannot possibly described as merely a "joke gone bad." It was something no one on the prosecution side found even remotely funny, nor could they recall anything like this happening before. Hinman's supervisor, Chief Deputy Kang, said he had never seen a prosecutor play a joke like this on a public defender in his office. When asked whether he thought Murray was joking, he testified: "Maybe, in some measure, in Mr. Murray's mind, this was funny. I don't see it as a joke." Similarly, when Officer Martinez was asked his opinion of Murray's actions, he testified: "I didn't think it was funny." He further testified that in his experience as a law enforcement officer, he had never before seen or heard of a prosecutor doing something like this. Not only did Murray harm his own case and the reputation of the DA's office, but he also hurt the very people he's supposed to be protecting. The dismissal of charges means the 10-year-old victim's allegations will never be fully addressed. Murray's "joke" cost her a chance at justice. He doesn't just have to look the defense in the eye and admit he screwed everything up. He also has to look a child in the eye and try to explain why he single-handedly destroyed her case. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Usually, when trademark disputes get silly, the side bringing the silly is some big corporate entity and the side receiving the silly is some small group or individual with little hope of defending itself. I mean, I'm certain this trend isn't because trademark is too often used as a bully-cudgel. That's just an unfortunate coincidence. But the trademark dispute that serves as the subject of this post is slightly different. On one side, we have the large corporate entity that you've come to expect: Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the company that owns the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs. But MLSE's target is not some no-money lightweight. Nope, it's this freaking guy. photo credit: Eduardo Gabriel CC BY ND Yes, I'm talking about Snoop Dogg. Because 2016 is the universe's attempt to show us what a silly dystopia would actually look like, the Toronto Maple Leafs are attempting to block Snoop's trademark application for his medical marijuana company, Leafs By Snoop. Rapper and entrepreneur Snoop Dogg is facing a trademark showdown with a Canadian ice hockey team over the logo of his LEAFS BY SNOOP marijuana product line. In August, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (“MLSE”), which owns the Toronto Maple Leafs, requested an “extension for time to oppose” a number of trademark applications in connection with Snoop’s mark, and has subsequently followed up by filing a formal trademark opposition with the Alexandria, Virginia-based Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) – a body within the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) responsible for hearing and deciding certain kinds of trademark cases, including oppositions. At chief issue is the use of the word "leafs", which isn't a real word, because the plural of "leaf" is "leaves." The Maple Leafs contend that they have used this non-word for all the years and that its "leafs" mark is super-distinct and unusual, such that anyone seeing its use elsewhere will think there is a connection to the hockey team. Snoop's use of the word, combined with his logo (seen below), create a likelihood of confusion for medical marijuana customers that will surely think that the Canadian hockey team is pimping weed, according to the team. Ok, let's start off with the obvious rebuttal: "leafs" isn't anything remotely resembling highly distinctive or unusual. It's an everyday word with the letter "s" appended to it. While I was pretty sure of it, I actually had to look it up on dictionary.com to make sure it wasn't actually a word. As for the logos... come on. Not only do they not resemble one another in any meaningful way, both logos have the source identity literally spelled out within them. The chances of any customer confusion here are roughly nil, even allowing for the fact that the customers in question might be extraordinarily high. The post goes on to note that both sides are communicating with one another to resolve this, even as the opposition was filed. It will be interesting to see what end befalls a baseless trademark suit when the other side actually has a fighting chance due to money and stature. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
So much for encryption turning phones into inscrutable blocks of plastic, metal, and glass. The Intercept is reporting that Apple is doing some of law enforcement's work for it, routing call records to users' iCloud storage. Russian digital forensics firm Elcomsoft has found that Apple’s mobile devices automatically send a user’s call history to the company’s servers if iCloud is enabled — but the data gets uploaded in many instances without user choice or notification. “You only need to have iCloud itself enabled” for the data to be sent, said Vladimir Katalov, CEO of Elcomsoft. The logs surreptitiously uploaded to Apple contain a list of all calls made and received on an iOS device, complete with phone numbers, dates and times, and duration. They also include missed and bypassed calls. Elcomsoft said Apple retains the data in a user’s iCloud account for up to four months, providing a boon to law enforcement who may not be able to obtain the data either from the user’s carrier, who may retain the data for only a short period, or from the user’s device, if it’s encrypted with an unbreakable passcode. Plain vanilla call records aren't that difficult to obtain. They've long been considered third-party records and can be obtained without a warrant. The Intercept quotes a former FBI agent as saying this is a "boon" for law enforcement because the four-month retention period is longer than most service providers'. That doesn't seem to be correct at all. The EFF's Nate Cardozo points out that most service providers retain call logs for at least a year, with some retaining records for as long as a decade. Kim Zetter, who wrote the piece for The Intercept, believes it might be a misunderstanding. Providers may retain content (messages, etc.) for a shorter time frame than the four months of records Apple automatically uploads, but former agent Robert Osgood (quoted in The Intercept's piece) clearly states he's referring to call logs. The concerning part of this isn't the normal call logs. Those are retained for years by carriers and can be obtained with a subpoena or a pen register/trap and trace order (for "real-time" data). There are two aspects of this automatic collection that should worry iPhone users. First, it's not solely limited to calls placed directly through carriers. FaceTime, which is used to make audio and video calls on iOS devices, also syncs call history to iCloud automatically, according to Elcomsoft. The company believes syncing of both regular calls and FaceTime call logs goes back to at least iOS 8.2, which Apple released in March 2015. And beginning with Apple’s latest operating system, iOS 10, incoming missed calls that are made through third-party VoIP applications like Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber, and that use Apple CallKit to make the calls, also get logged to the cloud, Katalov said. Trying to route around service providers to limit easily-obtainable records of your call activity is somewhat pointless on Apple devices. It all gets captured and can be obtained directly from the company. Presumably this information would still fall under the Third Party Doctrine, meaning law enforcement most likely won't have to present a warrant to collect this data from Apple. The other concerning part of this collection is that Apple does it without informing customers that it's doing it. It does list several forms of data it syncs to users' iCloud accounts, but never states that it's collecting call records. Kate Cox of The Consumerist digs into the iCloud fine print. Under the header “Privacy and security,” Apple writes: Apple takes data security and the privacy of your personal information very seriously, and iCloud features are designed with your privacy in mind. All your iCloud content — like photos, documents, and contacts — is encrypted when sent over the Internet and, in most cases, when stored on our servers. If we use third-party vendors to store your information, we encrypt it and never give them the keys. And security enhancements like two-factor authentication help to ensure that the important information in your account can only be accessed by you, and only with your devices. And the full list of features Apple mentions on the site includes backup for “important stuff like photos and videos”; Notes; iTunes and Apple Music; Mail, Calendar, Contacts, and Reminders; Safari browser history and passwords; Safari password keychain; and Find my [Device]. Nowhere is “call history data” mentioned. Apple's explanation for this hidden syncing is "convenience:" "history syncing" allows users to "return calls from any device." That's fine but it doesn't explain why Apple doesn't list that in the data it syncs to iCloud or why it doesn't give users an easy way to exclude call data from this process. Not that users of other devices should feel superior. Android and Windows phones do the same thing and give users no easy way to disable call tracking. But it does drill another hole in the "going dark" theory. Tons of information from locked phones is being synced to cloud storage that manufacturers hold the keys to. And, in the case of Apple, content from end-to-end encrypted iMessages could be no more than a warrant away from law enforcement's possession. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've already written about how silly and dangerous it is that some people (especially journalists) rushed to blame Facebook for their disappointment that Donald Trump won the election. I've explained why I think the whole "fake news" problem is completely overblown -- but the issue has gotten a new blast of energy from an interesting analysis done by Craig Silverman at BuzzFeed, saying that in the weeks leading up to the election there was more engagement with fake news on Facebook than real news. Here's the key chart that everyone's passing around. That's a pretty scary looking chart. But it's not clear it really supports the argument that fake news was actually an influencing factor. First of all, there are some questions about the methodology here and whether or not BuzzFeed is actually overselling the true story based on the headline (and, yes, there's irony in the idea that a story claiming that fake news is shared more than real news may have a misleading or "fake" title...). Beyond just questions of how you track Facebook "engagement," it's also not always clear if all engagement is the same. Hell, what if many of the comments on a fake news story are versions of "this is fake." That counts as engagement, but undermines the idea that people are interacting with fake news only because they believe it. Even the author of the piece, Silverman, weighed in on Twitter with a bunch of caveats about what the story doesn't actually show (even as many reading it are assuming it does). But, also there's still the much larger question of whether or not fake news actually has an impact, or if it's just being shared. In another interesting article, the folks over at the Guardian got a group of people who identified as either strongly "left" or strongly "right" and tried to get them to use a Facebook feed designed for someone at the other end of that spectrum. And guess what? It didn't change people's minds. In most cases, it just caused people to dig in deeper with their positions, getting angrier at the other side for the stuff that was published on "that side." It would be funny how "tribal" people get if it wasn't resulting in a huge and ridiculous division in our society. In that article, people on both sides used the "opposing" side's feed as some sort of evidence of just how dishonest/angry/evil the other side was. The only person who changed his mind only did so to decide not to vote for President at all. The problem here doesn't seem to be "fake news." The problem (and we see this in our own comments as well) is that people have decided that there are these monolithic groups -- "the left" or "the right" -- and they ascribe all sorts of evil motivations and intentions to them. I can't tell you the number of times we've seen comments about "the left blah blah blah" or "the right blah blah blah" and they're always extreme and ridiculous stereotypes that have very little basis in reality. People are rooting for their "team" rather than good ideas or good policy. That's dangerous. And, yes, fake news that people can share that enforces their viewpoints is a reflection of that attitude, but it's not the cause of it. If people want to fix the "problem" of fake news getting shared, maybe work on ways to get people to stop playing "red team / blue team" and to start recognizing that what matters is the actual policy decisions and actions. That's likely wishful thinking, but it would be nice if people were at least working towards a path to avoid politics as team sports.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
If there are two points worth hammering home on matters of free speech, they are that defenders of free speech must be willing to defend speech they don't like and that the solution to bad speech is more good speech. I would argue that Western democracy as a whole can be defined as a political version of the Socratic Method, by which the electorate engages in public debate, constantly questioning the other side, in order to produce the most optimal thoughts. For those that value this method of discourse, it's instantly recognized that it only works if you have opposing views. To that end, it's imperative that we not only allow, but feverishly welcome, different points of view. But this kind of thinking is currently under assault in America, and from both sides. The latest example of this is Twitter's recent decision to carpet-ban an entire slew of accounts linked to the so-called "alt-right" movement. The social media platform has suspended accounts of several high-profile users associated with the alt-right movement, CBSNews.com reported Wednesday. These include Richard Spencer, Paul Town, Pax Dickinson, Ricky Vaughn and John Rivers. Spencer, among those suspended this week, has been a leader in the alt-right movement since creating a website for it in 2010. He's president of the National Policy Institute, which describes itself as "dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States," and has been described as a white supremacist. Let's get some caveats out of the way. First, Twitter is a private entity and can refuse participants in this manner if it likes. Nothing about this violates any kind of law. Second, many of the accounts in question did give voice to speech and ideas that are the most putrid form of racism and identity politics. This is not optimal thinking or speech. And, where accounts were used to actually harrass and abuse others, we can leave our outrage at the door. But that isn't the case with all of these accounts. Even Spencer, a leader of this racially-charged speech, has not been found to do any sort of harrassing. Yet his account and that of his website were banned as well. In other words, many of these bans appear to be motivated primarily, if not solely, by idealogy as opposed to any actionable abuse. And that's a bad idea for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it legitimizes one of the main claims of the alt-right movement: that it suffers censorship within the marketplace of ideas. It’s precisely the perception of arbitrary and one-sided speech policing that drives so many young men toward radical, illiberal politics. On campus especially, but also in the corporate world—and now on social media—they perceive that wild and wacky things can be said by some people, but not by others. By useful comparison: On the very same day that Twitter suspended the accounts of some alt-right users, DePaul University forbade a scheduled appearance by the broadcaster and writer Ben Shapiro. Shapiro is not an alt-rightist; in fact, the Anti-Defamation League reported last month that Shapiro is Twitter's single most frequently targeted victim of anti-Semitic abuse by alt-rightists. But Shapiro is a scathing polemicist and provocateur—an alumnus of the same Bannon-Breitbart empire that incubated Milo Yiannopoulos—and DePaul expressed worry that his appearance on campus might provoke violence. The culture of offense-taking, platform-denying, and heckler-vetoing—now spreading ever outward from the campuses—lets loudmouths and thugs present themselves as heroes of free thought. They do not deserve this opportunity. Bad ideas, if they are indeed bad, are susceptible to attack from good ideas. Unless we now think that American culture as a majority would line up with alt-right thinking, the only weapon needed against such thinking is a better alternative line of thinking. If we instead take Twitter's lead and simply try to put a lid on speech we don't like, it will only serve to solidify the feeling of victimization amongst those speakers, while leading others to seek them out to find out what all the fuss is about. Strangely, it might be Americans' natural tendency to want to stick up for victims of injustice that lead some to join the ranks of those that would spread injustice to others. And this would be supercharged by companies like Twitter leaning on censorship, achieving the opposite result of its intention. That's not a good strategy. The other problem is that it's difficult to cease going down this censorship road once you've begun. And if the arguments of small-"l" liberalism are so weak that they cannot combat ideas we think are bad, then our arguments are bad and we should think up new ones. But trying to silence others isn't the answer. Look at every major step forward on matters of social justice, be it the end of slavery, economic progress, secularism or LBGT rights, and you will find they all have something in common: an opposition. It's already been proven that good speech can defeat bad speech, and that good ideas can defeat bad ideas. That's all we need. We don't need to be coddled by our social media networks and we cannot win a fight we never are able to have. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
Despite loudly, and repeatedly, raised concerns from activists and members of Parliament, the UK's Snooper's Charter (a.k.a., Investigatory Powers bill [PDF]) has been passed by both parliamentary houses and only needs the formality of the royal signature to make it official. These are the fantastic new things UK citizens have to look forward to with this expansion of government surveillance power. The law will force internet providers to record every internet customer's top-level web history in real-time for up to a year, which can be accessed by numerous government departments; force companies to decrypt data on demand -- though the government has never been that clear on exactly how it forces foreign firms to do that that; and even disclose any new security features in products before they launch. The list of new powers doesn't end with these. UK intelligence agencies are also given permission to perform "electronic interference" -- hack into computers and electronic devices belonging to UK citizens, not just individually, but in bulk. It also codifies secret (and illegal) surveillance of UK citizens that the country's intelligence agencies have engaged in for years without proper authority or oversight. The government, of course, is trying to portray this as nothing more than a fine tuning of preexisting laws, specifically the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). Glossed over in its perfunctory "nothing to see here" explanation is the fact that RIPA was also rushed into existence to codify other secret and illegal surveillance programs. But it's no ordinary update of existing investigatory laws. Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group calls the Snooper's Charter "the most extreme surveillance law ever passed in a democracy." Thanks to the new powers, UK intelligence agencies should be able to put together very extensive dossiers on pretty much anyone they feel like. This is the collection of Internet Connection Records (ICRs)—a record of which services every citizen it is connecting to, logged in real-time. This unprecedented level of micro-surveillance is accompanied by a machine to make sense of the mass of data, called a ‘Filter’, but is in essence, a search engine. It can match these ICRs with your mobile phone location data and call histories. It can, we believe, be used to profile the social relationships and the sexual and political activities of every U.K. citizen. That's how the UK government wants it, apparently: porn filtered out, but spy agencies let in. Beyond the expansion of law enforcement and surveillance powers is the precedent set by the government in its continual codification of secret surveillance programs. Like RIPA before it, the new law sends a message to intelligence and law enforcement agencies that all misdeeds will ultimately be legislatively forgiven by their overseers. Agencies are implicitly invited to hide programs from overseers and explore new collection techniques without running it past anyone else in the government first. And years later, it will all be papered over by "updated laws." This is also good news for other Five Eyes surveillance partners. The NSA and GCHQ's information sharing partnership means the US agency now has access to even more data on British citizens. Almost anything GCHQ can acquire, the NSA can access. And now GCHQ can access more than ever. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Project Management is currently one of the fastest growing fields in many industries as companies attempt to trim the fat and get more efficient. The $69 Ultimate Project Management Certification Bundle lets you explore nine different Project Management tracks. You'll learn how to manage stakeholder engagement, how to analyze data, how to plan human resources needs, how to identify project risks, and much more. You gain access to study materials for PMI Risk Management Professional, Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), Certified Scrum Master (CSM), Project Management Professional (PMP), Six Sigma Green Belt, Six Sigma Black Bundle, PRINCE2 Foundation Certification, and PRINCE2 Practitioner Certification, which can help you prepare for taking the exams you need for certification. 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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We've talked in the past about the ridiculousness of the online advertising business. Over the last few years, the dollar value of most online ad revenue has declined drastically. Remember how musicians whined that their revenue dropped precipitously due to changes on the internet? I know how they feel -- though rather than lash out and blame the internet or demand legal changes, I'm hoping that we can find a better way -- and part of that is by reaching out publicly for support. Here's the thing, though: while the dollar value on ads has continued to decline, there's still been an explosion in companies filling up the online ad space. We're contacted by between one and five internet ad companies every single day, asking us to put their ads on our site. They often make bold promises, which few can actually live up to. We ignore most of these requests. Many are obviously scammy or fly-by-night. Others use language that immediately turns us off. For example, there's one company that emails basically every week promising to help us "fix" our "ad blocking problem" by forcing people using ad blockers to see ads. I don't even want to bother letting them know that we let users turn off ads themselves if they want. We recently received a pitch from a company offering to give us a lot of money if we'd let them track our users in a very specific way. They were, more or less, promising revenue rates that are approximately 3x to 5x what we currently get. After speaking to them, we recognized that they were serious and actually had put a lot of thought into making sure that they were taking users' privacy into account. But, it still felt... sketchy. On top of that, to implement it, it would have required us to change our privacy policy, which just set off alarm bells for us. If we need to change our privacy policy to do something like that, it's probably not worth it, just because we recognize how much many of you value your privacy, and even if they're offering much higher rates, what good is that if we lose the trust of our readership? In the meantime, we are always looking for ways to help keep Techdirt funded that are good for everyone, rather than ones that undermine trust or treat our community poorly. That's why we have this ongoing partnership with Private Internet Access, the popular and excellent VPN service that helps stop companies from tracking you so carefully. And that's why we'll do things like make money off of affiliate fees from helping protect your privacy, instead of selling out any good will and trust by treating you "as the product" (as the slightly ridiculous saying goes). So we've told the tracking company no thanks and to take a hike. I doubt most other websites would do the same, but we thought it was the appropriate move and, in the interest of transparency, wanted to share our decision with you. Obviously, I'm also not just writing this to pat ourselves on the back -- but to give you some transparency into the fact that to keep Techdirt strong, we need support from you guys who make up our community. And, again, picking up your Private Internet Access VPN from us is one great way to support Techdirt (and help you protect your privacy). You can also buy stuff from our Deals Store or support us directly via our Insider Shop. And we'll have some other stuff coming in the future (including, yes, more awesome T-shirts). We try to be overly cautious not to be too aggressive in asking for support, but after our experience with this one tracking company, it seemed appropriate to share that story and remind you of ways you can support us that don't require that we change our privacy policy and compromise our values.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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When Charter pitched its $79 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, the company promised an absolute ocean of improvements for customers, including better broadband speeds, improved cable boxes and new jobs. After blocking Comcast's own merger attempt of these companies, regulators bought into this promise, approving the merger but banning the cable company from imposing usage caps, charging Netflix steep interconnection fees, or otherwise trampling net neutrality (even if the FCC's rules are gutted by the incoming administration). But, even with these conditions, it's becoming apparent to many customers that the already shaky service they had under Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks is actually getting worse. Charter apparently doesn't believe in offering customer support via alternative methods, so it has eliminated most of the alternative customer support offered via social media and third party forums. Despite promising broadband speed upgrades, the company has also frozen the upgrades that had been taking place at the acquired companies. This week, Charter formally applied its branding to acquired Time Warner Cable and Bright House markets. To introduce itself to its new customers, Charter got right to work post merger jacking up the price of service as customers' long-term contracts expire, with an apparent unwillingness to offer any new promotions: (One customer) told me he’d been paying Time Warner about $140 a month for TV, phone and Internet service. But now that Spectrum had reared its head, his bill had shot up to $162. “I guess they’re trying to get their $8 billion back as quickly as possible,” Cohen, 74, said, referring to the fat bag of cash Time Warner Cable paid to be the exclusive distributor of Dodgers games. Charter CEO Tom Rutledge insists that these freshly-acquired customers were "mispriced" and that offering promotions is a dead end game. None of this should be surprising. In telecom, where last-mile competition is little more than a pipe dream, larger mergers and acquisitions almost always result in higher prices, worse service, and job losses. Yet for obvious reasons, state and federal regulators are consistently intent on letting these companies grow larger and more apathetic, and ignoring the negative repercussions of these decisions as if they never happened. Here's the real problem: despite the hype surrounding efforts like Google Fiber, the broadband market is about to get even worse for tens of millions of consumers, thanks, in part, to this consolidation. AT&T and Verizon have given up on millions of DSL customers they don't want to upgrade, and have shifted their focus to media and advertising. Smaller telcos like Windstream, Frontier and CenturyLink don't want to pay to upgrade their DSL lines either, in many areas, and are shifting to enterprise services. So as cable giants consolidate, DSL competitors dwindle, and we move toward a new era of hamstringing regulators that oversee the telecom market, cable's monopoly will grow stronger, and the incentive to provide quality service at low prices will be less than ever before.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Because there doesn't seem to be a politician out there that can interact with Backpages without grandstanding, the attorneys general of two states -- California's Kamala Harris and Texas' Ken Paxton -- combined forces to have company executives arrested on pimping charges. The criminal complaint somehow tried to portray the fees charged by Backpage as profiting from prostitution. While it should have been explicitly clear Backpages was immune from prosecution thanks to Section 230, the two AGs decided to close their eyes, ears, and brains and press forward. It's likely nothing will come of this misguided prosecution -- one that appeared to be instigated almost solely for the press it would generate, rather than for its legal merits. The California court handling the case has pretty much thrown the whole thing out. It's a tentative ruling that doesn't have the full force of a published opinion behind it, but it does give the solid impression that any dreams of being able to prosecute site owners for third-party content will have to be taken to Congress, rather than local courts -- though, the judge has said he'll allow the parties to present more arguments before making a final decision. As it stands now, Section 230 prevents the sort of thing these two AGs are pursuing. From the opinion [PDF]: Backpage’s decision to charge money to allow a third party to post content, as well as any decisions regarding posting rules, search engines and information on how a user can increase ad visibility are all traditional publishing decisions and are generally immunized under the CDA. In short, the victimization resulted from the third party’s placement of the ad, not because Backpage profiting from the ad placement. This does some pretty severe damage the state's argument that charging for ads means profiting from sex trafficking. The last paragraph of the ruling similarly upholds Backpage's Section 230 immunity, even as it moved content from site to site. Here, the People allege that Defendants “created” content and are not entitled to immunity. However, on the face of the allegations, Defendants have, at most, republished material that was created by a third party. The People allege that the content was taken from ads placed by Backpage Escort users and posted onto EvilEmpire.com. The declaration in support of Defendants’ arrest warrant states that the ads placed in EvilEmpire.com were “essentially identical” to the ads placed by the third party on Backpage.com and that EvilEmpire was an “additional platform for Backpage Escort ads.” This demonstrates republication, not content creation. Republication is entitled to immunity under the CDA. (Barrett v. Rosenthal (2006) 40 Cal.4th 33, 63.) To make the charges stick, the state would have to prove that the Backpage actually participated in sex trafficking -- something no one has even alleged at this point. Instead, those fighting Backpage have simply chosen to attack the most visible target, rather than those posting ads and/or exploiting underage prostitutes. The ruling says there's only one way to have the supposed immunity "problem" addressed and that's to push Congress into doing something about it. As stated above, Congress stuck a balance in favor of free speech in that Congress did not wish to hold liable online publishers for the action of publishing third party speech and thus provided for both a foreclosure from prosecution and an affirmative defense at trial. Congress has spoken on this matter and it is for Congress, not this Court, to revisit. No one should be in any hurry for Congress to take another look at Section 230 immunity. Right now, it does a very solid job protecting websites and social media platforms from the speech and actions of their users. Without it, the internet would be a much smaller, more-locked down venue for communication and nowhere near as useful for disseminating information. Anything Congress would do at this point would only harm it. Politicians and prosecutors need to stop taking the easy route and go after those actually breaking the law. If cops want to track down sex traffickers and haul them to court, fantastic. But it does no one any good to pursue baseless pimping charges against site owners, rather than those actually engaged in criminal activity. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 17 days ago on techdirt
Accused hacker Lauri Love is headed to the United States to face prosecution, thanks to an order signed by UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd. The Home Office felt that -- after "all things" were "considered" -- the best place for an Asberger's sufferer with suicidal tendencies is the US prison system, most likely segregated from the general population. The 31-year-old activist, who has Asperger syndrome, lost his legal challenge to avoid extradition in September, and on Monday the Home Office said the necessary order allowing his removal had been signed after Rudd “carefully considered all relevant matters”. The Home Office said Love “has been charged with various computer hacking offences which included targeting US military and federal government agencies”. It didn't have to go this way. A UK court did find the US government's desire to extradite and prosecute understandable and explained away all the arguments Love raised against being forced to leave the country. In the court's estimation, the US prison system is more than capable of meeting Love's particular "needs." Apparently, the court has never read anything at all about the federal prison system. Maybe it feels throwing suicidal people into solitary confinement is just a part of the recovery process. Over 100 members of Parliament signed a letter urging President Obama to drop the extradition. They noted former Home Secretary Theresa May -- no one's idea of a people's champion -- stiff-armed the US's attempt to extract another hacker (Gary McKinnon) for basically the same allegations. The group also wanted to know why it was so necessary to go this route. The UK court system is perfectly capable of handling the process without having to send someone with multiple mental health issues halfway around the world. "We would like to ask, why then is the United States insistent on Mr Love's extradition, despite the UK having a proven track record of appropriately sentencing and rehabilitating individuals who have committed computer-hacking offences against the US?" The answer is "because" and "if you like our surveillance partnerships, you'll do as you're asked." Theresa May pushed back against the US government's demands, but that was pre-Snowden. Now, everyone's favorite secret surveillance programs aren't so secret anymore and are facing numerous legal challenges. No one agency can do it all. The Five Eyes partnership is more important than ever because it allows participating countries to route legislative changes and court rulings. That probably fed into Rudd's decision. Another factor may have been the ongoing hysteria over all things cyber. The US government is routinely hacked and this recent election opened the doors to fears that foreign powers could disrupt the oh-so-sacred election process. Anyone hacking into anything government-related is going to face the full force of as many federal prosecutors the DOJ can spare, so this should certainly go well for Love. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 17 days ago on techdirt
One of the tests for fair use as it pertains to copyright is the impact that the use of a work has upon the original. While this is but one of four tests used, it is arguably the most important when it comes to advising a rights holder on whether or not to move forward with any legal action. After all, regardless of whether the use of the work is indeed fair use, what would be the point of taking action against the use of a work if that original work were not negatively impacted, or if the impact was positive? There would seem to be no point to expending any time or capital in a legal fight in those cases, yet we regularly see such thinking ignored. Such is the case concerning Hugh Atkin, an Australian who produced a parody trailer in the style of A Clockwork Orange for President Elect Trump's campaign, entitled A Trumpwork Orange. He originally put it alongside the original movie's trailer, basically to show how he tried to ape the style for his parody. That version was taken down, however, and now we're left with only this version. Now, when I say that a DMCA notice was filed to get the video taken down, you would be forgiven if you assumed that it had come from our new overly-litigious overlord. But it didn't. Instead, it came from a company that represents Wendy Carlos, the composer behind the soundtrack for A Clockwork Orange. She is the one who created that version of the William Tell Overture featured in the trailer, and she has decided that Atkin needs to license her work to create his parody. In fact, after Atkin filed a DMCA counter-notice and had the video restored, the company representing Carlos went ahead and filed a lawsuit against him in retaliation. In a lawsuit filed in a New York district court, Serendip LLC is now suing Hugh Atkin for the unlawful use of Carlos’ music in his one minute video. “Unbeknownst to, and without permission or license from Serendip, Defendant made derivative use of Wendy Carlos’s music arrangement and master sound recording works of the ‘William Tell Overture’, in the soundtrack of Defendant’s video, entitled ‘A Clockwork Trump vs. A Trumpwork Orange’,” the lawsuit reads. It adds that Atkin uploaded the video around October 23, 2016, “with the apparent purpose of monetizing the video for his own benefit, and with his later stated purpose of ‘providing satirical political comment on the 2016 US Presidential Election campaign of Donald Trump’.” It's worth noting that the parody video was not levying parody on the song in the trailer, which actually hinders any defense in the name of parody and fair use. Still, we're left with the question of what the impact on the original work, Carlos's iteration of the William Tell Overture, was. It's pretty clear that any claim that this original work was harmed by Atkin's parody would be head-scratching at best. Other versions of the original movie trailer exist on YouTube, after all, and this new parody work even included the original trailer alongside the new creation. It seems that this usage impacts the original work only by maintaining the status quo. And yet Carlos decided to sue. Interestingly, Atkin wasn't even aware of the lawsuit until TorrentFreak contacted him. “I did not know that Serendip had commenced proceedings against me. I only found out about the suit via your email, which was a rude shock to wake up to on a Monday morning in Sydney. The complaint has not yet been served on me,” he said. “I received an email from lawyers for Serendip on October 29 in relation to the takedown notification which had been given by Serendip to YouTube under the DMCA and my counter-notification. “I responded by letter on October 30 requesting further information about the alleged claim of infringement and otherwise denying any infringement. I never received a response to my letter, and my video was restored to YouTube last week. From their failure to respond, I assumed that Serendip was not pursuing its claim.” As the TorrentFreak post notes, this isn't the first such lawsuit filed by Serendip. It previously filed a lawsuit against a man in the UK, who used some of Carlos' music in a movie critique of Stanley Kubrick films. That lawsuit is reported to have ended fairly amicably. One hopes that this one will, too. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 17 days ago on techdirt
A disabled vet with PTSD accidentally called a suicide prevention hotline when intending to dial the Veterans Crisis Line. Within hours, he was dealing with DC Metro's finest, dispatched to handle an attempted suicide. This brief quote from the DC Circuit Court of Appeals opinion [PDF] -- part of veteran Matthew Corrigan's first conversation with responding officers -- sets the tone for the next several hours of Constitutional violations. The officer who had asked for his key told him: “I don’t have time to play this constitutional bullshit. We’re going to break down your door. You’re going to have to pay for a new door.” Corrigan Dep. 94:15–18. Corrigan responded, “It looks like I’m paying for a new door, then. I’m not giving you consent to go into my place.” Id. 94:19–21. This is as much respect as the responding officers had for Corrigan's Constitutional rights. The rest of the opinion shows how they handled the supposed suicide case with the same level of care. The opening of the opinion recounts just how dangerous it is to talk to nearly anyone linked to the government about your personal problems. Matthew Corrigan is an Army Reservist and an Iraq war veteran who, in February 2010, was also an employee of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the night of February 2, 2010, suffering from sleep deprivation, he inadvertently phoned the National Suicide Hotline when dialing a number he thought to be a Veterans Crisis Line. When he told the Hotline volunteer that he was a veteran diagnosed with PTSD, she asked whether he had been drinking or using drugs and whether he owned guns. Corrigan assured her that he was only using his prescribed medication and was not under the influence of any illicit drugs or alcohol; he admitted that he owned guns. The volunteer told him to “put [the guns] down,” and Corrigan responded, “That’s crazy, I don’t have them out.” Corrigan Dep. 56:2–5. Despite Corrigan’s assurances that his guns were safely stored, the volunteer repeatedly asked him to tell her “the guns are down.” Id. 56:2–14. When asked if he intended to hurt himself or if he intended to “harm others,” he responded “no” to both questions. Id. 69:6–18. Frustrated, Corrigan eventually hung up and turned off his phone, took his prescribed medication, and went to sleep. Id. 56:10–14; 70:6–7. The Hotline volunteer proceeded to notify the MPD. The MPD picked up the case, drawing in new hunches and "facts," picked up from the world's most direct game of Telephone. At approximately 11:13 p.m., according to the February 9, 2010, Barricade Report from Lieutenant Glover to the MPD Chief of Police, officers from the MPD Fifth District were dispatched to Corrigan’s home for “Attempted Suicide.” Barricade Rpt. 1. Certain undisclosed “information” led them “to believe the subject was possibly armed with a shotgun.” "Undisclosed" may as well mean "imaginary." The only thing relayed by the Hotline was that Corrigan owned guns. And owning guns is not the same as being armed with them, as Corrigan tried to make clear to the hotline operator. This wasn't the only thing the MPD imagined into existence to justify its Constitutional violations and destruction of Corrigan's home. Upon arrival, the officers thought they detected a “strong odor” of natural gas and contacted the gas company, which turned off the gas to the row house. Police officers have the best noses. The greatest. Perhaps the MPD should have spoken to someone who knew Corrigan and the place he lived FIRST. [H]is landlady, upon being advised that the reason for the police presence was Corrigan’s attempted suicide, had insisted that was “outrageous” and repeatedly told the MPD officers that there was “a big misunderstanding” because she had known Corrigan for two years and had “never felt more comfortable with a neighbor in [her] life.” She had explained to the officers that Corrigan had guns because he was in the military and that his home had electric, not gas, appliances. So, the police -- faced with a possible suicide intervention -- did what police do best: turned a neighborhood into a war zone and an "intervention" into a standoff where the police were the only willing participants. The officers contacted Lieutenant Glover at home and he, in turn, gave orders to declare a “barricade situation...” [...] At 2:00 a.m., the ERT assumed tactical control of the situation. At 2:10 a.m., the MPD began to secure the perimeter around Corrigan’s home, including evacuating his neighbors. Inside of this "barricade" was a sleeping war veteran. After being awakened by cops kicking at his front and back doors, Corrigan decided to retreat from the impending confrontation by moving to his bathroom and attempting to return to sleep. When it became apparent sleep wouldn't be an option, he checked his voicemail -- helpfully filled with demands of responding officers -- and placed a call to one of the MPD's "negotiators." He told the officer he was coming out of the house, that he was unarmed, and that he would be carrying his cellphone in his left hand so it wouldn't be mistaken for a gun by trigger-happy suicide prevention "negotiators." He exited his house, locked the door behind him (both to keep his dog in and the MPD out), and laid down on his back. Police zip tied his hand and told them they only wanted to talk to him. He had committed no crime. Corrigan voluntarily agreed to check in at the Veteran's Hospital for PTSD treatment. But he refused to give the "negotiators" permission to search his home. That's what triggered the "fuck you and your Constitution" outburst from the MPD's specially-trained suicide prevention unit. The MPD remained convinced Corrigan's house was loaded with IEDs, weapons, and whatever else they could dream up to justify their unconstitutional invasion. After Corrigan was in MPD custody, Lieutenant Glover ordered the ERT, led by Sergeant Pope, to break in Corrigan’s home to search for “any human threats that remained or victims.” Screw the Constitution. There might be any number of lives to be saved. How do we know this? Because the DC Metro Police firmly believes this is always the case in these situations, despite any information gathered that points to the contrary. As a matter of course, Glover explained, if an ERT unit is called to a scene it goes inside 99.9% of the time, see id. 18:12-14, because “[s]tandard protocol” assumes “if there’s one [person inside] there’s two, if there’s two there’s three, if there’s three there’s four, and exponentially on up,” id. 13:18-21. In the MPD's eyes, every individual is an army. With this being the MPD's "standard protocol," one wonders how it deals with the constant disappointment. Upon breaking in Corrigan’s home, the ERT encountered only Corrigan’s dog; no one was found inside and no dangerous or illegal items were in plain view. Frustrated by the lack of plain view dangerousness, the MPD decided to take it out on Corrigan's uncooperative residence. It did this five hours later and, again, without a warrant. During the second MPD search, EOD officers cut open every zipped bag, dumped onto the floor the contents of every box and drawer, broke into locked boxes under the bed and in the closet, emptied shelves into piles in each room, and broke into locked boxes containing Corrigan’s three firearms. But wait, there's more: Upon returning home, Corrigan found his home in complete disarray: the police had left the contents of his bureau drawers and shelves scattered on the floor, his electric stove had been left on, and the front door of his home was left unlocked. Recovered in the two unconstitutional searches were some weapons, smoke grenades, and fireworks. Corrigan's mistaken call to the wrong hotline resulted in the ten weapons and ammunition charges. That evidence has been suppressed. And because the Appeals Court doesn't find any of the MPD's actions remotely justifiable, the officers performing the searches will have to face Corrigan's lawsuit. Even assuming, without deciding, that the initial “sweep” of Corrigan’s home by the MPD Emergency Response Team (“ERT”) was justified under the exigent circumstances and emergency aid exceptions to the warrant requirement, the second top-to-bottom search by the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit (“EOD”) after the MPD had been on the scene for several hours was not. The MPD had already secured the area and determined that no one else was inside Corrigan’s home and that there were no dangerous or illegal items in plain sight. Corrigan had previously surrendered peacefully to MPD custody. The information the MPD had about Corrigan — a U.S. Army veteran and reservist with no known criminal record — failed to provide an objectively reasonable basis for believing there was an exigent need to break in Corrigan’s home a second time to search for “hazardous materials,” whose presence was based on speculative hunches about vaguely described “military items” in a green duffel bag. And assuming, without deciding, that the community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement applies to a home, the scope of the second search far exceeded what that exception would allow. In the end, what the MPD would have the court hold is that Corrigan’s Army training with improvised explosive devices (“IEDs”), and the post traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) he suffers as a result of his military service — characteristics shared by countless veterans who have risked their lives for this country — could justify an extensive and destructive warrantless search of every drawer and container in his home. Neither the law nor the factual record can reasonably be read to support that sweeping conclusion. Better yet, the "screw your Constitution" officers have had their immunity stripped. Because it was (and is) clearly established that law enforcement officers must have an objectively reasonable basis for believing an exigency justifies a warrantless search of a home, and because no reasonable officer could have concluded such a basis existed for the second more intrusive search, the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity across the board. "Objectively reasonable" is not a high bar. But the MPD never had any intent of reaching it. The officer's statement that there was "no time" for the Constitution made that very clear. The failure to find anything in plain view during the first sweep was treated as an excuse to turn a cooperative man's (cooperative except for consent to search) upside down until officers could find something to excuse their steamrolling of the Fourth Amendment. They figured what they uncovered would save them after the fact. That's the ends justifying the means and that's precisely what the Fourth Amendment is there to protect against. 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posted 17 days ago on techdirt
Here's a pretty encouraging story about fighting asset forfeiture and winning. The convoluted laws surrounding marijuana use are being exploited by California cops as revenue streams. A raid of a legal cannabis collective resulted in a whole lot of forfeited assets. [I]n Oceanside, CA, [attorney Michael] Cindrich’s client Shaun Smith endured a home invasion, a SWAT-style raid where law enforcement took 3 ounces of cannabis concentrates, 55 pounds of cannabis and over $43,000 of his medical marijuana collective’s cash on-hand. Not content with the massive cannabis haul, officers then took everything else it could find. They also took what they felt were his assets, including a Toyota truck, guns, ammunition, and a motorcycle, then rode to the bank and confiscated the $110,000 from his bank account. It appeared to be open-and-shut, especially as forfeiture is purposely extremely difficult to challenge, no matter what state you're in. Weed dealer busted. Assets obtained. Nothing left to do but decide how to split up the proceeds. Fortunately for Smith, his lawyer quickly unraveled the very questionable case against him. The jury reached a not guilty verdict on the manufacturing and distribution charges in less than ten minutes. One of the key pieces of evidence in the prosecution's case -- a small extraction tube often used for butane extraction of cannabis oil (still illegal in the state) -- worked against it. The prosecution tried to claim the tube showed Smith was engaged in illegal extraction efforts. Smith's lawyer, however, obtained documents from the DEA showing the extraction tube had never been in use. The lab notes on the seized evidence stated that there were spiderwebs inside the tube -- something that suggested it had been stored for quite some time, rather than being part of an active extraction effort. From there, Cindrich went on to challenge the forfeiture. Once its case fell apart, the state was unable to successfully challenge Smith's motion for return of property. However, that didn't mean it actually returned all of the seized property. It gave him back all of the seized marijuana, weapons, and other miscellaneous items, but refused to hand over the $150,000 in cash or the motorcycle it took. But in its haste to turn all of Smith's assets into its own, local law enforcement screwed up. It failed to process the forfeiture of these items in a timely manner. All hail "technicalities." Since state agents seized the property pursuant to a state search warrant, the state statute of limitations of one year began on the date of seizure, not the date feds turned it back over to state. Since the one year statute of limitations had lapsed, Cindrich argued that the property return was required. The District Attorney’s office said that the federal government seized the money initially, claiming the law enforcement authorizes involved in the raid were acting as federal agents. The judge found in favor of Smith, noting that while the officers were cross-sworn as federal and state agents, the original seizure occurred under the state's authority, and the belated shift of the assets to the feds (as part of the DOJ's equitable sharing program -- a favorite loophole exploited by local law enforcement agencies to route around more restrictive state laws) didn't change the underlying facts. The attempt to reset the clock on the forfeiture failed and the DA's office is now in the process of returning the last of Smith's property to him. A closed-loop collective that grows and distributes medical marijuana to members is fully legal in California. Obviously, law enforcement wishes this weren't the case. The same goes for the prosecutors who get fed questionable cases like this by overzealous drug warriors. A medical marijuana activist who attended some of the hearings in Smith's case points out that local prosecutors do everything they can to prevent juries from being made aware of this fact. Other cases covered by this advocacy group suggest this technique hasn't been working too well, what with juries returning not guilty verdicts in record time. However, the loss of a prosecution does not automatically result in the return of seized assets. Convictions are not required in cases where the value of assets seized tops $40,000. And this stipulation doesn't go into effect until the beginning of next year -- which will also trigger a tightening of the equitable sharing loophole to prevent law enforcement from routing around the new conviction requirement. The sad fact is that, more often than not, citizens can walk away from bogus charges, but still have nothing to show for it in terms of returned assets. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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There's nothing those operating on the fringes of science hate more than people questioning their means, methods, and conclusions. To question is to be sued, unfortunately. Ken White has again fired up the Popehat signal in hopes of securing a skeptical blogger some legal assistance in fighting off a clearly bogus defamation suit by a junk scientist offended by the blogger's dismantling of his junk science. Pepijn van Erp blogs about science and pseudoscience from the Netherlands. He praises good science and skewers and critiques the bad. Wait a minute. Is that the Jaws theme playing? Yes. Yes it is — because blogging about junk science is a great way to get threatened or sued. In my experience, purveyors of "non-mainstream" science are unusually litigious and sensitive to criticism. You've seen it here at Popehat with "atavistic" cancer theorists and vaccine truthers and naturopaths and fans of questionable cancer remedies and AIDS deniers. I blame the crystals. Pepijn wrote about a guy named Ruggero Santilli. I see that Wikipedia, which has a four thousand word article about Bigfoot, notes that some scientists view Santilli as a "fringe scientist." Santilli has argued against skeptics before, primarily racking up losses. He has his supporters though, ones that claim the mainstream scientific community's refusal to recognize Santilli's groundbreaking antimatter "research" is mainly due to the community being chock-full of Jews. So there's that. Santilli has many pet theories, none of which have garnered much in the way of legitimate support. Why is he viewed [as a fringe scientist]? Well, you can read Pepijn's post about Santilli's claim that he discovered a new type of gas from specially distilled water. Or you could read Pepijn's post about Santilli's claim that antimatter produces "antimatter-light" that can be focused using concave (NOT convex. NEVER convex.) lenses. Santilli doesn't care for being called a "scam artist," "mad professor," or "cunning scam artist." (He's also apparently upset antimatter ITSELF has been defamed by Pepijn's posts.) But rather than provide evidence supporting his conclusions, he has decided to sue Pepijn (and others) in Florida. The lawsuit [PDF] itself is an enjoyable read, especially as it pursues the standard M.O. of bogus libel lawsuits: name multiple defendants including those shielded by Section 230 of the CDA. Santilli is not only suing Pepijn, but his hosting provider, Hosting2Go. Also on the list of defendants is the name "Frank Israel," for reasons only known to Ruggero Santilli. Pepijn's response to the original C&D, purporting to be from Santilli's lawyer but most likely composed and printed on legal letterhead by Santilli himself, questions why this unrelated party has been named in the lawsuit. To start with: your client is complaining about two articles on my personal website. My website is not related to Stichting Skepsis. So why you have also addressed the chairman of Stichting Skepsis, Professor Frank Israel, in this matter with a similar letter, I do not understand. The secretary of Stichting Skepsis, dr. Jan Willem Nienhuys, has sent you an elaborate letter (on paper) explaining most of the following matters in more detail. I’m grateful for his support in this case and I do urge you to read his letter with care. The response letter is a very fun read, especially the part where the blogger informs the lawyer that according to his own law firm's site [archived version as the entire site is now dead], his client cannot possibly expect this lawsuit to survive, no matter how full of merit it might be. All together I don’t think this article can be seen as libelous towards Magnegas [Santilli's company]. Besides, this article is more than three years old and because of that I learn from your own blog that bringing this to court under Florida law seems pointless: http://fortis.law/2016/01/13/is-it-defamation-slander-and-libel-in-florida/ [mirror]. The relevant portion of that blog post [emphasis added]: Statute of Limitations You must bring the issue to the courts within two years of its occurrence for the case to be considered. In cases of internet defamation, this statute applies to the date the post was made, not when it was most recently accessed. Unsurprisingly, Pepijn has yet to obtain a response from the law firm. If an actual law firm was attached to this suit, you'd think it would have withdrawn the suit. The lawsuit, however, is still live, suggesting Santilli is the "asshole" signing "stupid letters" in Joseph E. Parrish, Esq.'s name. No matter how stupid the lawsuit and how miserable its chances of surviving a motion to dismiss are, it still costs money to defend against "scientists" who fight criticism with legal threats and filed motions. Hence the Popehat signal, which will hopefully prevent Santilli from damaging anyone but himself with his litigiousness. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 17 days ago on techdirt
As you may have noticed, a lot of people have opinions on the election that just happened. And, many people are using social media to express those opinions, for good or for bad. Some people are excited, some people are angry. And no matter which side you fall on, you should recognize that expressing opinions on social media is protected (and should be encouraged as part of a healthy political process involving public discussion and debate). Kevin Allred, a lecturer at Rutgers University, is definitely on the side of folks who aren't happy with the results of the election. And, like many, he's been tweeting about his opinions on the matter. Having read through

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posted 17 days ago on techdirt
Stock up for the holidays and get the Fuji EnviroMAX AA Batteries 96-Pack for only $35. These batteries come from an eco-conscious production process, and are Cadmium and PVC-free, so you can be confident you won't increase your carbon footprint while charging your favorite devices and toys. AAA batteries are available in the store as well. 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 17 days ago on techdirt
Sony recently released the slightly-more powerful Playstation 4 Pro console, a beefier version of its existing PS4 console that brings 4K and HDR functionality to customers with 4K sets. 4K was already proving to be a bit of a headache for early adopters, many of whom didn't realize that in order to get a 4K device to work, every device in the chain (particularly their audio receiver) not only needs to support 4K and the updated HDMI 2.0a standard for HDR (high dynamic range), but HDCP 2.2 -- an updated version of the copy protection standard used to try and lock down video content. HDCP has always been a bit of a headache, like so much DRM usually causing consumers more trouble than it's worth, and then being ultimately useless in trying to prevent piracy that occurs anyway. The latest incarnation of this issue appears to be plaguing PS4 Pro owners, who are plugging their $400 console into their expensive new receiver and 4KTV only to find that the unit doesn't work as advertised. For some people, it's because they likely didn't realize (as noted above) that everything in their AV chain needs to support not only HDMI 2.0a, but the latest HDCP copy protection standard:"HDMI 1.4 can handle 4K resolution, but its 4K support is limited to video signals at 30 Hz (or 30 frames per second). HDMI 2.0 is required in order to handle the increased bandwidth required by a 4K feed at 60 Hz. And although all PS4s — including non-Pro consoles — can deliver HDR as of mid-September’s v4.0 firmware update, HDR technically requires HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2.Which is understandable, given that the bleeding edge isn't always a pretty and simple place to reside. There's always tweaking and tinkering required on the bleeding edge, and having to dive deep into your TV's unnecessarily-confusing menus is par for the course. But as the problem persisted through last weekend, many console owners discovered that they were only able to use their new console if they disabled HDCP entirely:"The issue appears to be related to HDCP, the digital copy protection that’s built into the HDMI connection between the PS4 Pro and the TV. Sony launched the PS4 in 2013 with HDMI 1.4, the then-current HDMI specification. The introduction of HDR has brought forth HDMI 2.0a along with HDCP 2.2, the latest version of the port and its copy protection. That’s why the PS4 Pro box includes a high-speed HDMI cable that supports HDMI 2.0."As a PS4 Pro owner I can confirm that out of the box the device simply wouldn't properly transmit a 4K signal to my Samsung TV (you get audio, but no video). To get the console to work I had to boot into safe mode, disable the latest iteration of the HDCP 2.2 DRM, then disable HDCP in the console settings after boot. Note that while this will allow users to at least use the console to play games in 4K with HDR, it prohibits them from being able to use the console to stream video content, given that's not possible with the DRM disabled. At this point it's not entirely clear if the problem is a bug in the PS4 Pro firmware, or a bug in the compatibility firmware embedded in most new "smart" 4K TVs. Some users over at Reddit indicate that many of the TVs impacted by manufacturers like LG have long struggled to play nice with the HDCP DRM. And while the HDCP 2.2 standard may not be the only thing contributing to these interoperability bugs, it's pretty clear at this point that the DRM -- which will inevitably be bypassed anyway -- is at least playing a starring role in consumers not being able to easily use a piece of hardware they paid for.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Remember how, right after the Paris bombings, people started blaming encryption for the attacks, despite the fact it was later revealed that most of the planning was done in the open and communication occurred via unencrypted SMS messages? As we noted, it seemed pretty clear that the bombings were an intelligence and law enforcement failure rather than an encryption problem. Now, just to add more evidence to that conclusion in the most ridiculous way possible, apparently Brussels police just found a mobile phone and USB stick that had belonged to one of the suicide bombers in the Paris attacks, Brahim Abdeslam. The police had seized the phone and USB stick during a drug raid back in February of 2015... and promptly misplaced them entirely. They were found under a stack of papers. Really. A cell phone belonging to Paris attacks suicide bomber Brahim Abdeslam that had been mislaid by Belgian police was found under a pile of documents in a Molenbeek police station, local media reported Tuesday. Officers seized the phone and a USB stick belonging to Abdeslam during a drugs raid in Brussels in February 2015. Following the November 2015 attacks in Paris, authorities wanted to analyze the phone for details about the terror plot, but it could not be found. According to local media, the phone was found by chance last week in Molenbeek, the area of Brussels where Abdeslam and others involved in the Paris and Brussels attacks lived. And yet people want to blame encryption. And, yes, of course police make mistakes and misplace stuff, but perhaps law enforcement should be focused on trying to prevent those kinds of things by being more careful in how they handle evidence before they rush off to blame things like encryption. This all gets back to a larger point that we've tried to make all along about the whole "going dark" thing: good police detective work will almost always beat out merely breaking into phones. Encryption is useful in protecting messages, but it doesn't hide all activity -- and those who are planning criminal or terrorist attacks quite frequently leave lots of other evidence around. Blaming encryption, rather than law enforcement and intelligence efforts, is a lazy solution. It's a way to cover up for a failure to do their jobs with the already quite powerful tools they have at their disposal.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've noted for some time how cable providers over the last few years have added a "broadcast TV" fee to customer bills. Such a fee, which simply takes a part of the cost of programming and buries it below the line, lets cable providers advertise one rate, then hit customers with a higher bill. It's false advertising, but you'd be hard pressed to find a regulator anywhere in North America willing to tackle the problem. When Comcast was criticized for the practice two years ago, the company claimed that burying a sneaky new fee below the line was just the cable company's way of being "transparent" with its customers:"Beginning in 2014, we will itemize a portion of broadcast retransmission costs as a separate line item to be more transparent with our customers about the factors that drive price changes," he said. “In 2014, we will not increase the price of Limited Basic or Digital Preferred video service, and adjustments to other video service prices will be lower than they would have been without the Broadcast TV Fee."While it's true broadcasters impose often unreasonable rate hikes on cable companies, the cost of programming is just one of several costs of doing business, and hiding these costs when listing your prices is the complete opposite of being transparent with your user base. Since the fee began popping up in 2014, some cable companies have as much as tripled the fee, which can now be as much as $6 to $8 per customer, per month. Fast forward to this month when Charter (and now Charter-owned Time Warner Cable) was sued for the practice. The plaintiff in question wasn't asking for monetary damages; they simply wanted to highlight how an estimated 20% of Charter's revenues are now thanks to a practice that lets the cable company "deceive its customers by advertising and promising a lower price while actually charging a higher price." Charter has finally responded to the suit and, like Comcast, is actually claiming that it's misleading its customers for their own benefit:"Our customer friendly approach includes simplified pricing and packaging with no data caps, no modem fee, no early termination fee and no separate USF [Universal Service Fund] fee. We provide simple to understand bills and want our customers to understand what they are paying for, including the skyrocketing cost of broadcast channels."Right, but the lack of data caps is because the FCC banned them for seven years as a merger condition. And while Charter is one of the only cable ISPs that rolls the cost of renting a modem into the overall cost of service, breaking out the broadcast TV fee is the exact opposite of that. Hiding a part of your costs outside of the advertised price, then bumping that fee 300% in just a few years, remains false advertising and misleading jackassery by any measure. Leave it the cable industry to try and argue that intentionally misleading you into thinking you're not getting a rate hike this year is some kind of favor.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 18 days ago on techdirt
In an election without many net positives for people that care about technology issues, one small glimmer of good news actually came out of Florida last week. As we've been noting, utility companies have been going to some incredibly sleazy lengths to fight back against the rise of solar competition, including the creation of entirely bogus "consumer groups" like Consumers For Smart Solar. Groups like this profess to support solar power, yet have spent the lion's share of their utility funding to hamstring solar efforts in a state that could benefit immeasurably from the transition. Fake consumer groups that try to muddy the discourse waters and convince the public to support policies that run contrary to their best interests are nothing new, and have been a cornerstone of telecom lobbying for years. But in Florida, incumbent utilities ran into some trouble recently when one of the think tankers they employed accidentally publicly admitted the group was a sham designed to push Amendment 1. Amendment 1 professed to open up Florida's solar market to competition, but in reality would have done the exact opposite by saddling solar power efforts with intentionally crippling regulation. It's believed that Duke Energy, Florida Power & Light, Gulf Power and Tampa Electric Co. collectively paid around $20.2 million to try and get Amendment 1 passed. Another $6 million was spent on proxy groups tied to utilities that argued for the Amendment. And yet somehow, in an electoral climate where voting against your best self interests is the new sexy, Florida voters defeated the proposal by a narrow margin. Of course Florida utilities won't be deterred, and are looking to impose all manner of other new restrictions on solar providers so they won't have to compete, and won't need to pay solar-powered homes that are contributing power back to the grid. But as local Florida news outlets have noted these efforts may have had the reverse impact than intended, with solar's popularity surging in the wake of these utilities' plans to try and fight an obvious evolutionary path:"I don’t think this was their intent, but what the utilities did with Amendment 1 was bring the discussion of solar energy development in Florida to the forefront,” said Delp, who is working with a company building a 30-megawatt private solar farm in Leesburg. “It’s now a kitchen table issue. There is awareness that there is a lack of solar in Florida and that we lag behind so many other states."Obviously this isn't the end of the conversation. While Miami Beach is spending $400 million to raise their roads in an attempt to buy itself 40 years in the face of rising sea levels, we just elected a President that believes climate change is a Chinese-manufactured hoax. That said, it's at least marginally entertaining that attempts to hamstring solar energy competition in Florida failed largely because the incumbent utilities got too cocky.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 18 days ago on techdirt
The Argentine government has announced the creation of a new national register of everyone using mobile phones in the country (original in Spanish). An article on Ambito.com says that discussions between the government and telecom companies have been underway for some months, and last week the scheme was finally unveiled. According to the Joint Resolution No. 6 of the Ministries of Security and Communications (original in Spanish), the mobile phone companies will be responsible for developing, operating and managing the system "at their own cost." In practice, this is likely to mean that the extra expenses will be passed on to customers. The personal data must be stored in a "safe, audited and permanent" manner, and yes, the records will be available to the authorities. The justification for the national register is to combat theft: according to a report in La Nación, 5000 mobile phones are stolen every day (original in Spanish.) To put that in context, another article in La Nación (original in Spanish) says that there are around 60 million mobile numbers in use, which seems rather high given that Argentina's total population is 42 million. Clearly, some people have two or more phones. Even one is a problem, for reasons that Edward Snowden and Andrew "bunnie" Huang pointed out earlier this year: a mobile phone is "the perfect tracking device." The new register may indeed help tackle the theft of mobile phones in Argentina. But it will also create a powerful and dangerous new resource that the authorities will surely be unable to resist dipping into for other purposes. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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