posted 12 days ago on techdirt
On Tuesday, as part of a discussion of the future of capitalism, we mentioned the skewed perception (on both sides of the political spectrum) of capitalism caused by extremists, most notably Objectivists. This spurred Mason Wheeler to take the next step and win most insightful comment of the week by suggesting adding Objectivism to the list of philosophies that society treats with a high baseline of skepticism: The problem, as you suggested, is the Objectivists. For decades they've been a very influential voice defining capitalism as the twisted monstrosity Ayn Rand had in mind, to the point where today, people espousing the actual theories and principles of Adam Smith get accused of being dirty commies. And if infinite goods is gonna destroy that capitalism, where do I sign up? Objectivists are a blight on society, and while I hesitate to use terms like "guilty until proven innocent" even as hyperbole, they need to be regarded with the same "treat as suspicious by default" viewpoint as Scientologists, and for the same basic reason: a key defining characteristic of practitioners is their religious adherence to an ideology that is actively and maliciously harmful to those around them. (Further evidence of the unholy coupling between Rand and Hubbard!) In second place on the insightful side, we've got Karl expanding on the many ways the Aereo ruling will effect cloud computing: One of the many idiocies that Spangler repeats is the notion that the Aero ruling won't affect cloud services, because those services are "already protected from liability for copyrighted material illegally uploaded to their services under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act." (Others, like amateur-turned-professional copyright maximalist Terry Hart, have made the same argument.) For one thing, he's wrong, because a ruling against Aero would create infringement where there currently is none. If streaming from the cloud to a single user is a "public performance," then it wouldn't matter whether the user acquired the content legally. The streaming itself - not the acquisition of the content - would infringe on the public performance right. Second, even if he were correct, requiring DMCA protections for what are now private performances would be disastrous for cloud services and anyone who uses them. If they got DMCA protections, it likely wouldn't be under 512(a) ("Transitory Digital Network Communications"). The content is actually hosted on the cloud provider's network, so they would be protected under 512(c) ("Information Residing on Systems or Networks At Direction of Users"). This is one of the sections of the DMCA that falls under the "notice and takedown" provisions. This means that the only way cloud services would escape libaility is if they allowed copyright holders to issue takedown notices of users private files. It also includes the controversial "red flag" sections that were recently (and solely) used to find the MP3Tunes guy personally liable for millions. There is absolutely no way a company is going to risk that sort of liability for cloud services, especially if their officers must operate under the threat of personal liability. The only possible way that cloud computing can continue to operate is if they don't need DMCA protection in the first place. And it should be obvious why they shouldn't. As long as a single copy of a copyrighted work is streamed to a single user, both the legal history and common sense dictate that it shouldn't be a public performance. (I posted this same comment on the Variety story, so we'll see if there's a response.) For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start with a comment from Beech suggesting professors use good ol' market forces to teach Nature a lesson about open access: Duke should tell the professors that there will be no waivers, then hand them a list of other reputable journals that don't require such bullshit. Nature won't have much of a reputation if no one publishes through them. Next we've got Roger Strong, who casts the government's response to CIA torture in a deservedly uncomfortable light: Obviously if America's slavery were a little more recent, Saxby Chambliss would call it "enhanced employment" and would object to claims that it wasn't justified. He would label any talk about the issue "a distraction." Tom Coburn would call it slavery, but would insist that it was done in "good faith" to promote agriculture. Feinstein would be willing to call it "a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen" but would refuse to call it slavery. Over on the funny side, first place goes to Mark Wing, who realized that maybe we've just been misunderstanding the NSA's purpose all along: "To serve America" is really just a cookbook. (This may remind some of you of another great culinary misunderstanding.) In second place, we've got a second win for Roger Strong (whose roster consists of a mere 14 comments so far!) This time, in response to the story of a botched drug raid and ensuing coverup, he noted that as with so many things, it's all a matter of scale: The Iraq invasion and occupation? Just a rumor. Highly inaccurate. Never happened. Our next move then was to check on a country - Afghanistan - which was in close proximity. For editor's choice on the funny side, we start with a comment from ethorad offering Dick Cheney a semantic escape from his flat-out lies: He claimed that there has not been a single case of NSA abusing its authority. He's right you know. There hasn't been a single case, there's been loads of them! And, finally, we've got an anonymous comment reminding us that if climate change was (unfathomably) a hoax, it'd be a shockingly benevolent one: Oh dear ... What if it is all a big hoax and we make the planet a better place for nothing? (As long as we don't get too smug...) That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on techdirt
Another week, another time to reflect on what we were writing about five, ten and fifteen years ago. Five Years Ago: Turns out this week was the first time we wrote about two of my favorite folks in the music industry, both of whom have been at the forefront of embracing changing technologies, and both of whom I now consider friends. First up was Dave Allen (now at Beats Music) talking about helping bands try out a pay what you want scheme for their merchandise, and finding that fans actually paid more than when they set prices. We also wrote about Amanda Palmer singing a song asking that her label drop her. They eventually did (much, much later), and she's gone on to do many amazing things, including having one of the most successful Kickstarter projects ever (though, that may be one of the least interesting aspects of all she's done to build a community around her music). That week were also surprised but hopeful to see the Appeals Court rule in the Golan Case that pulling works out of the public domain was unconstitutional. Unfortunately, a few years later, the Supreme Court overturned that ruling, in yet another awful Supreme Court ruling on copyright. Five years ago was also when France passed the law that launched its 3-strikes Hadopi regime, which has since been recognized as a complete and total failure, and basically shut down. On that front, one of the main music industry lobbying groups was found infringing on copyrights, because that always seems to happen. Also, Time Warner Cable was in the process of expanding its capped broadband plans. Some things never ever change. Ten Years Ago: As you may have heard, this past week was the launch of Gmail with the immediate question raised of whether or not it was "creepy." While a California State Senator quickly sought a law to ban Gmail, claiming that was "an absolute invasion of privacy," it seems that the vast majority of folks out there were never that concerned about it. 500 million users don't seem to mind -- and as others have noted, Gmail has significantly changed how people use email. 10 years ago we also wrote about Pennsylvania officials seizing computers from an ISP, blaming the ISP for some child porn found on Usenet. That case was CDT v. Pappert, and became a very important case on establishing how Section 230 protecting internet service providers from the actions of their users. It's too bad, this week, we had to write about efforts to undermine Section 230. Also 10 years ago, two of Hollywood's favorite Senators, Orrin Hatch and Patrick Leahy, introduced the PIRATE bill, which would have given millions of dollars to the DOJ to file civil cases against people accused of copyright infringement. While it eventually passed the Senate, it died a welcome death in the House. Fifteen Years Ago: It was actually a fairly quiet week... but we did have stories on the launch of Tivo (and the big funding of its one time competitor, ReplayTV) and the fact that Mark Cuban became a billionaire by selling Broadcast.com to Yahoo. Happy anniversary, Mark. Twenty Years Ago: Okay, we weren't publishing then, but twenty years ago Netscape was founded (originally as Mosaic Communications). I remember reading about it, and had been an NCSA Mosaic user prior to that. I also remember downloading an early copy of Netscape, which was a massive 4 megs in size. I had to set it to download overnight on my 2800 baud modem while I slept. That was about the time I really started to think about upgrading to a superfast 14.4 k modem. Exciting times. Either way, Netscape was a key part in mainstreaming the web, and my entire career has been based on the web, so a big thank you to Marc Andreessen and Jim Clark.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on techdirt
Yeah, so you've heard about how Facebook recently bought Oculus, perhaps the most high profile virtual reality company out there, for about $2 billion. But there are a number of others out there working on virtual and augmented reality projects. For this week's awesome stuff post about interesting crowdfunding projects, we thought we'd look at a few projects that seem more geared towards mainstreaming this technology. First up, we've got the Altergaze -- which might also be described as the poor man's Oculus Rift. It's a 3D printed (and it looks it) contraption for holding your mobile phone, and having an Oculus Rift-like virtual reality experience for a less money. The video clips of people reacting to it are fantastic. The project is based out of the UK, so the pricing is in £s. If you're willing to do some self-assembly, it'll run you just £50, but can run up to £100 or more if you want an assembled version. The project is designed to be open source hardware, so if you've got your own 3D printer (and access to the right lenses) you could conceivably try to build your own. This project is about halfway to its £50,000 goal after just a day or so. With nearly a month left it'll fly past that goal. Next up, we've got the Rescape, which creates an augmented reality/virtual reality game on a mobile phone. It uses a funky "game controller," which is more or less a device to make you feel like you're holding a gun in a first person shooter, and which holds your phone on top, through which you can view the game. Tough to describe in words, easy to understand if you watch the video. Basically, it puts you live inside a first person shooter, using your mobile phone, even clothing other "players" in military outfits or whatever. If you ever wanted to "live" in a first person shooter, rather than just watching one on a TV or computer screen, check it out. This one seems a bit pricey, as you'll have to shell out over $100 for just a single "controller," and that's probably not nearly as fun as having a few in order to play with friends. While this looks like quite a lot of fun, they're having trouble attracting buyers. With just over a week to go, they're only around 20% of their $150,000 goal. Finally, this last one may be my favorite of the bunch, in part because the Matt Hat makes no effort at all to hide the fact that this is not a consumer product, was started entirely as a joke, but since people seemed interested in it, he'd toss it up on Kickstarter. Basically, it's an attempt to create a DIY augmented reality heads up display, a la a Google Glass, but rather than something like Glass, this is just taking an old baseball cap, a visor and a smartphone -- and then patching it all together. It looks terrible, and the guy behind it doesn't hide that at all. Also, assembling it yourself is required (even though he'll include a baseball cap in the package -- though no indication what kind). That involves cutting a hole in the cap, some rubber bands and a variety of other random things. As Matt himself notes, this is functional, not fashionable. The video showing you how to put it together yourself is fantastic. This one will run you about $50 Australian, which is about $46 US. Even so, not too many people are going for it. At the time writing this it has just 5 backers after a few days of being live. That's not going to get Matt anywhere near his $50,000 goal. I haven't decided to support this one yet, but there's something tempting about it. For all the talk of people reacting to "Glassholes," I'm really curious how people walking down the street would respond to this monstrosity. That's it for this week. Go enjoy some real reality.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
We recently covered how Comcast's top exec in charge of getting its merger with Time Warner Cable approved has insisted that only ignorant and unreasonable people oppose the merger. And yet... somehow, the public (ignorant and unreasonable as they are...) still don't seem to think too positively of the merger itself. And, for some reason, the terrible, terrible deal that American cable providers (mainly: Comcast and Time Warner Cable) continue to offer Americans as basically their only real broadband possibility still seems to inspire creative derision. Almost exactly a year ago, we posted a hilarious fake commercial of what your cable company (likely: Comcast or Time Warner Cable) would say in a TV commercial if it were honest. The mildly NSFW video includes the important fine print: You'll have the option of choosing from several of our completely unwarranted ripoffs, including internet speeds almost 200 times slower than Korea... at twice the price. TV packages with over 500 channels, 90% of which you can't view and we guarantee a plethora of hidden fees. Then our barely trained technicians will come to install your service somewhere between the hours 8am and 10 pm, knock once while you're in the shower, and promptly leave.... Why you ask? We're part of what is called an "oligopoly." It's like a monopoly... only legal! Watch it again: Soon after that, we posted another video from some guys pretending to be Time Warner Cable customer service employees asking people around NY what they could do to make service even worse. Go ahead, watch that again too: And, now, with the attempted merger underway, we've got a third video to add to the bunch. This one comes from Funny or Die, and directly addresses the issue of the merger, and is titled: Comcast Doesn't Give a F*CK. Like the first video above, it's made to look like a traditional cable company commercial, with the direct message being that, well, you know what the message is. Here, watch it: Key excerpt: We've read your comments and complaints, and know that a lot of you are very nervous about our merger with Time Warner Cable. So I wanted to talk to you today and let you know, that no matter what happens, we don't give a fuck about you. Whether you're calling in for an appointment about your cable box, or wondering why your favorite channel disappeared, we don't give a fuck. That's what makes us an industry leader in terrible customer service. We don't give a fuck because we don't have to. What? Are you going to go to another cable service provider? [Laughs] Chances are we own whatever movie or network you're watching, so that's still money in our pocket. You could watch Netflix or Hulu. In fact, you should. We own Hulu. We also make Netflix pay us extra for streaming content, meaning they'll probably pass those costs on to you. Bottom line: Fuck You. I'm sure all these kinds of videos keep popping up, because the American public doesn't understand how good the service we get from our "local" (and by "local" I mean, Comcast) cable provider is. Or maybe Homer Simpson was on to something. Nah, must just be all those unreasonable and ignorant folks.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
While the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to declassify its $40 million, 6,300 page report detailing the CIA's torture regime -- including the facts that it went beyond what was authorized, produced no useful intelligence and then the CIA lied about it all -- three members of the Committee voted against it. Senators James Risch, Dan Coats (though, who knows if he had any idea what he was voting on) and Marco Rubio all voted against declassifying, with Risch and Rubio putting out a statement claiming that the State Department didn't want the report declassified. The Senate Intelligence Committee today voted to send a one-sided, partisan report to the CIA and White House for declassification despite warnings from the State Department and our allies indicating that declassification of this report could endanger the lives of American diplomats and citizens overseas and jeopardize U.S. relations with other countries. Therefore, we could not support declassification of this product at this time. This raised some eyebrows, since the Obama administration has consistently said it supported declassification, even as the CIA was fighting it. Still, it's rare that the State Department would actively contradict the White House. However, the Daily Beast now has more details on the State Department's desire to block the declassification: A senior Senate aide told The Daily Beast that the Rubio-Risch statement referred to a June 2013 classified letter to senators signed by Philip Goldberg, who at the time served as the State Department’s top intelligence official. The warning was in reference to the fact that the report contains information about cooperation with foreign intelligence agencies and the existence of still-undisclosed CIA “black site” prisons in foreign countries where abuses may have occurred. CIA facilities implicated in the report have allegedly been located in Thailand, Poland, Lithuania, and Romania, sparking public debate and resentment against the U.S. government in those countries. But officials and senate aides said the report contains information on several more locations. Diplomats representing those countries, aware of their vulnerability to exposure, have been quietly meeting with administration officials and lawmakers urging them to protect the secrecy of those intelligence relationships. Many foreign governments are still angry about the disclosures of NSA spying by leaker Edward Snowden. To be fair, the article notes that the letter from Goldberg was not cleared nor reviewed by State Department leadership. Thus, it may be seen less as "the State Department" making these comments, and more as the dude who has to deal with foreign spy agencies for the State Department. But, even so, the letter is ridiculous. There is a semi-legitimate point that the eventual disclosure of what countries helped the CIA torture people will certainly create some troubling diplomatic situations for those countries. But that's not the fault of the disclosure process. It's because (1) the CIA tortured people and (2) those other countries went along with it. Don't like that that will be disclosed? Then maybe they shouldn't have done it in the first place. The CIA's torture program was a dark moment in American history and we don't get past it by burying it -- and the story of those who helped -- under the rug. It needs to be out in the open. Even Vice President Joe Biden has said exactly that: “I think the only way you excise the demons is you acknowledge, you acknowledge exactly what happened straightforward,” Biden said. “The single best thing that ever happened to Germany were the war crimes tribunals, because it forced Germany to come to its milk about what in fact has happened.” To argue that the embarrassment of admitting that we partnered up with other countries in conducting illegal torture means we shouldn't reveal the details at all goes against everything that we're supposed to stand for, in being willing and able to admit our mistakes. It's shameful that anyone at the State Department -- with or without approval from leadership -- would send such a letter, giving cowardly Senators extra cover for not approving the declassification of the report.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
USTR Michael Froman is trying to push the illusion that the TPP negotiations are transparent. In the past, various USTR spokespeople have made similar assertions, one of which is claiming that Congress, being so-called "representatives" of the public, are a perfectly suitable proxy for actual transparency. This ignores the fact that, while Congress may be able to view the TPP documents, it can't actually make copies or take notes or even pass it along to staffers who may have more expertise to offer -- to say nothing of the public all the way at the end of the food chain. Of course, key special interest groups and key stakeholders have full access through a login to the USTR website, which allows them to view the documents at any time (and presumably take notes, disseminate, etc.), rather than be limited to asking the USTR for permission to view a trade agreement--one that not only affects the US and the US public, but several other countries around the world. Businesses that stand to benefit from the agreement have better access to both the documents and our representatives, and yet, the USTR continues to protest that it's open and transparent. Here's the latest "see how open we are" statement from USTR Froman, the same guy who once touted the transparency of the trade negotiations from the comfort of a Hollywood studio. “As we pursue this agenda, we will continue to consult with Congress and seek input from a wide range of advisors, stakeholders and the public. We have held over 1,200 meetings with Congress about TPP alone – and that doesn’t include the meetings we’ve had on T-TIP, TPA, AGOA or other trade initiatives,” he said. “Our Congressional partners preview our proposals and give us critical feedback every step of the way. We also ensure that any Member of Congress can review the negotiating text and has the opportunity to receive detailed briefings by our negotiators.” Once again, the USTR is claiming secrecy-shrouded "meetings" with Congress to be synonymous with "seeking input from… the public." This isn't even remotely the same thing. Members of Congress aren't free to disseminate the TPP documents or take notes, which ensures nothing substantial will be passed on to the public. Froman's statement takes the public for idiots (something the USTR has done before), expecting them to believe their representatives will hear their voices over the crosstalk of legacy industries and special interest groups. And the public still has no access, outside of leaked documents. Looking beyond the US-centric view, the stakeholders and public in other countries aren't getting the same level of "transparency." Sure, the USTR may be wearing down the local pols with incessant "meetings," but there's little to indicate there's been as many meetings with foreign officials. There's nearly 40% of the world's GDP at stake here (according to the USTR's numbers) and yet, only a very minute percentage of the world itself has any access to the TPP's documents and negotiations. As can be expected, Froman listed IP as the top priority for worldwide trade agreements. “The United States is an innovative economy, and the Obama Administration is committed to protecting intellectual property (IP), which is vital to promoting and encouraging innovation and creativity,” he said. “Millions of American jobs rely on IP, and we will continue to use our trade agenda in 2014 to defend the IP rights of our creators and innovators while supporting the freedom of the Internet, encouraging the free flow of information across the digital world, and ensuring access to medicines, particularly by the poor in less developed economies.” But that's all a lie, especially the last part about "ensuring access to medicines." The TPP is fighting cheap medicine on several fronts. It contains provisions that make it harder for local companies to produce generics by resetting the patent clock when the drug is introduced to foreign markets. The USTR has also directly told other countries that cheap, affordable medical care/products "fail to recognize the value" of overpriced US offerings. The USTR isn't interested in the free flow of information related to the TPP negotiations, so it's highly unlikely it has any interest in "encouraging the free flow of information across the digital world." The phrase "supporting the freedom of the internet" doesn't sound right coming from an entity that was one of ACTA's biggest supporters, and one backed by some of SOPA's biggest supporters. It's a colossal joke, this supposed "transparency" of the USTR and TPP. It smells of old money being carried through revolving doors. When it comes to super-secret negotiations involving legacy players and massive corporations, Congress is hardly a reliable stand-in for the US public. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
Maybe you like Caesar salads or the supposed health benefits of drinking raw eggs (a la Rocky Balboa), and you already know about the risks of Salmonella. Well, there's some good news for you: you might be able to get some pasteurized eggs that are virtually indistinguishable from conventional raw eggs. While previous pasteurization methods made eggs a bit thicker in texture, food scientists have been working on fixing that. Here are just a few links on eating raw eggs, if that's your thing. About one out of every 20,000 chicken eggs commercially produced in the US is at risk for spreading Salmonella. Fortunately, a new radio-frequency (RF) heating technique could be used to pasteurize eggs more quickly without affecting the taste or texture. [url] Not surprisingly, the CDC recommends that eggs be kept refrigerated and cooked fully before eating. Erring on the side of caution, no one should eat raw or undercooked eggs -- unless the eggs have been gone through a pasteurization process. [url] If you love raw eggs, you can test your luck and immune system -- and hope that egg industry standards for cleaning eggs have sufficiently improved to reduce the risks of contracting Salmonella. Plenty of people consume raw eggs and are fine, but thousands of Americans are sickened from egg-borne Salmonella each year. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
For a while we had followed the bizarre situation with Megaupload's servers. As you may recall, the Justice Department seized them all, following its criminal indictment against Megaupload and many of its executives. However, soon after seizing all of the company's servers, the DOJ announced that it no longer needed them and told the hosting company that had them that the data on them could be destroyed. We pointed out that this seemed like a clear case of destruction of evidence by the DOJ. First, it seized pretty much all of the assets of a company, prior to any conviction, and then before any actual judicial proceedings, asked for most of those assets -- many of which could include exculpatory evidence -- to be destroyed. It seemed... quite questionable. That resulted in a bit of a legal battle, as the hosting company storing them, Carpathia, asked what it should be doing (since it's suffering from the cost of keeping the servers). Megaupload sought to buy the servers, but the DOJ has blocked that effort. Last we'd heard, the judge had told everyone to work it all out by themselves. Torrentfreak has an update, noting that everyone's in a stalemate and nothing seems to be happening: This effort was stopped because the U.S. didn’t want Kim Dotcom to have access to the files. Hoping to get out of this stalemate the Court then suggested that all affected parties should get together and come up with a solution, thus far without success. “In separate written requests in the past year both Carpathia and Megaupload have asked Magistrate Judge Anderson – who was appointed by Judge O’Grady to mediate the cloud storage server data issue – to preside over follow-up negotiations on data preservation and consumer access,” Rothken tells TF. “The US DOJ has shown little interest in such negotiations and the Judge has not been inclined to set any additional meetings,” he adds. The whole situation is bizarre. Individuals who had legitimate content stored on Megaupload are still asking for access to get back their content, but the DOJ doesn't seem to care at all. In fact, it's coming up with increasingly bizarre excuses to justify shutting down an entire business based on the entertainment industry's say so, and seems to have no qualms about how many people this has created massive problems for. As the Aereo case is about to be heard, and various concerns about its impact on cloud computing are being raised, people should look over at what's happening with Megaupload's servers and be even more concerned. If the broadcasters succeed in redefining what is a "public performance," it's entirely conceivable that the DOJ could choose to do the same to other cloud services you rely on -- and there seems to be no recourse whatsoever.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
Let's all admit something: being in government ain't easy. Between all the lies you have to keep straight, counting all that bribe lobbying money, and constantly looking over your shoulder to see if the CIA is having you followed back to your office, being a representative of the people is one hell of an undertaking. Maybe that's why that revolving door of government and lobbying keeps spitting folks out of our congressional buildings. Take Senator Dan Coats, for instance. Coats is a serious guy with serious thoughts, such as "Hey, why can't the damned public trust us to spy on them?" and "That guy looks like he has no friends, so he's probably a terrorist!" His most recent thoughts, however, appear to be something along the lines of, "Holy crap, where the hell am I?" Here's your senator at work, Indiana. Should you be unable to see the video, that's Senator Coats sitting down and questioning the wrong witness at the wrong hearing that he wasn't even supposed to be attending. He rambles on a bit and you can almost see the hamsters spinning up in that noggin as he looks at the witness: "Wait a minute, something isn't right." But he powers through his mistake like a champion until a helpful aide passes him a note that I imagine read something close to: "The home called and they want you to go back to your room and take your pills." Look, it's a mistake, I get that. Hell, I've shown up at some really awkward places due to a scheduling mishap (big shout out to all my girls from the Saint Benedict's Nunnery bathroom, yo!), but to not only show up in the wrong place at the wrong time, but actually start questioning the wrong damned witness makes me wonder if Coats has anyone around him helping him out. He's not...a loner, is he? Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
While the Senate Intelligence Committee has finally started the process of declassifying at least some of the $40 million, 6,300 page report about the CIA's torture efforts, we're getting more and more leaks about what's in the report. Previous leaks showed that the torture program was completely useless and that the CIA simply lied about its effectiveness (in fact, taking information gleaned by others through normal interrogations, and claiming they got it via torture). The latest leak highlights how, despite claims by the CIA's supporters, that the torture was done in "good faith" and was approved by the DOJ and the CIA, it turns out that (of course), that the CIA's torturers actually went much further than they were approved to go. CIA officers subjected terror suspects it held after the Sept. 11 attacks to methods that were not approved by either the Justice Department or their own headquarters and illegally detained 26 of the 119 in CIA custody, the Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded in its still-secret report, McClatchy has learned. The spy agency program’s reliance on brutal and harsh techniques _ much more abusive than previously known _ and its failure to gather valuable information from the detainees, harmed the U.S.’s credibility internationally, according to the committee’s findings in its scathing 6,300 page report on the CIA’s interrogation and detention program. So, again, we have evidence that the CIA tortured people, did so beyond any actual authority (as sketchy as such an authority might be), got nothing of value from the torture, and then repeatedly lied about the torture and the value of it to Congress and the American public. And... no one is going to jail over this. Well, except for the guy who blew the whistle. In fact, many of those responsible for the torture program are still in positions of power. This is a total disgrace.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
By now, it's well-known that James Clapper directly lied to Congress over a year ago when Senator Ron Wyden asked him whether or not the NSA collected any data at all on millions of Americans (a question he had sent Clapper a day earlier, so he wouldn't be surprised by it). Clapper insisted the NSA did not, something we now know is completely false. While Clapper first tried to dodge this lie by saying he thought Wyden was asking about a different program, and later claiming that this was the "least untruthful" answer, he eventually admitted that he lied and apologized to Senator Wyden. Back in December, however, a bunch of members of the House Judiciary Committee, led by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (the author of the PATRIOT Act) asked the DOJ to investigate Clapper for lying to Congress, noting that it is a criminal act to "knowingly and willingly" make any "materially false" statements to Congress. So, how's that investigation going? Sensenbrenner is wondering that himself, because he received no response at all from the DOJ, leading him to feel the need to send yet another letter, asking whether the DOJ ever planned to get back to him. On December 19 of last year, I wrote, along with six of my colleagues, to request that you investigate Director of National Intelligence James Clapper for his "erroneous" testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last year. Nearly three-and-a-half months later, we have not received a response or an update on the status of your investigation. On March 12, 2013, Senator Ron Wyden asked Director Clapper, "Does the N.S.A. collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?" Director Clapper answered "No, Sir." Wyden pressed, "It does not?" Clapper replied, "There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly." Now declassified documents reveal that Director Clapper's testimony was false, and further, that he knew it was false when it was offered. Congress is currently considering proposals regarding intelligence reform. In considering these proposals, we need assurances that we can adequately conduct oversight following new legislation. Congressional oversight, however, depends on truthful testimony. Intelligence officials cannot be permitted to lie with impunity. I respectfully request an update as soon as possible. It's good to see Sensenbrenner following up, though I highly doubt that the DOJ will do a damn thing about it.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
Oh, Comcast. Remember how it was going to try to be a bit more subtle in pushing for approval of its merger with Time Warner Cable? Well, you can only deny your true nature for so long. The main force behind getting the merger approved, Comcast's Executive VP David Cohen -- the company's most powerful lobbyist who isn't registered as a lobbyist because he's realized that as long as he says he's not lobbying, he isn't -- has announced that no one knowledgeable or reasonable has objected to the merger. By implication, of course, this means that everyone objecting to the merger is ignorant and unreasonable: "I have been struck by the absence of rational, knowledgeable voices in this space coming out in opposition or even raising serious questions about the transaction." Cohen added. Meanwhile, the obviously ignorant and unreasonable Writers Guild of America West has spoken out against the merger, noting that Comcast's increasing use of broadband "caps, tiers, metering or other usage-based pricing" could create serious problems in killing off competitive online video distributors. And the eminently knowledgeable and reasonable Comcast retorted that it doesn't have any caps at all. Oh no. It's merely "testing data thresholds." "We don’t have data caps — and haven’t for about two years," said Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast’s vice president of government communications. "We have tested data thresholds where very heavy customers can buy more if they want more — but that only affects a very small percentage of our customers in a few markets." Apparently, spewing complete bullshit is the only thing that counts as "reasonable" and "knowledgeable" in the minds of Comcast's top execs.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
Nothing sucks more than a great new technology with old-world thinking attached to it. Such has been the case with ebooks, unfortunately, with antiquated views on DRM, pricing, and storefront protectionism resulting in pissed off customers and libraries hollering from the nearest rooftop. What we're left with is a platform that could do much to spread knowledge and the practice of reading among entire populations being stifled by those that still think the world should operate based on analog philosophies. Reader zip writes in about a nice write up detailing how cyclical this has made reading, with protectionist policies regarding ebooks cutting the benefit of the technology right out from underneath it. Today, the situation has come full circle. If a student in Freiburg wants to read the hard-copy version of a book from the university library in Basel, he or she can simply order it via an interlibrary loan. But if only an electronic version is available, interlibrary loans are generally not an option. The student has no choice but to climb into a train and head to Switzerland to read the book on a university computer. It is a paradox: Books that traveled around the world via interlibrary loan in the 20th century paper era are safeguarded locally in the Internet age. Indeed, it is the sheer ease with which electronic publications can be sent around the world that is now resulting in their being locked up behind digital bars. The book doesn't go to the reader, the reader comes to the book -- just like in the 19th century. If that doesn't strike you as absurd, you're likely missing some significant sections of your brain. The very benefit the entire digital experience has brought most other marketplaces and forms of communication and learning in the past thirty years is being blocked by a trumped-up policy born out of fear. Just think about that for a moment: the same book I can get on loan from a far-off library is unavailable to me in ebook format, even though the transfer of that ebook is easier, cheaper, and quicker. That, friends, is the dumbest thing I've ever heard. But it gets more stupid. This doesn't simply apply to fictional entertainment, but to true knowledge platforms as well, and the willingness to be wasteful is astounding. The issue is the core of the knowledge economy: essays, articles and books from researchers. "We have thousands of e-books that we could make available to our users via the Internet," says Harald Müller, head librarian at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg. "Be we often aren't allowed to because licenses are so restrictive." Copyright laws often lead to "delightful absurdities," says Müller. If, for example, he wants to read an essay from an American library via interlibrary loan, "they will print it out on paper and send it over by fax -- and I will then scan it into our computers here." Sending it as an email attachement is forbidden. In other words, everyone ends up in the exact same place they would if ebook lending was opened up, except it's slower, less efficient, costlier, and requires physical resources that nobody is actually interested in using. This is the epitome of inefficiency, and it's the answer to whether or not the originators of copyright law would support this kind of application: no they damn well wouldn't. Imagine Thomas Jefferson being showed how copyright was being used to limit knowledge and that imagining had better end with Jefferson punching everyone involved. So, who's fault is it? The answer is the combination of governments unwilling to consider change and, of course, publishers. Most egregious are the academic publishers. In many cases, it is the readers themselves who, through their taxes, pay the university authors whose studies they are then unable to access. It is also likely that many professors themselves cannot even afford a subscription to the journal in which their work is published. Subscription rates of up to €15,000 ($20,633) per year are hardly a rarity. The Journal of Comparative Neurology, for example, comes with a price tag of more than €20,000 annually. Authors who publish their works in such a journal usually don't see a single cent for their labors. Publishing companies such as Reed Elsevier, by contrast, regularly achieve pre-tax profit margins of over 25 percent. "Publishers of scientific journals make so much money because they collect their product for free from taxpayers and then sell it back at inflated prices," says Günter M. Ziegler, a distinguished mathematician at Berlin's Free University. And the suppression of knowledge is the result of all this protectionist nonsense. When we've reached the point where the researchers aren't being paid and the public can't access their papers, things need to change.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
This will hardly come as a surprise, but Cindy Lee Garcia -- the actress who appeared in 5 seconds of the 13-minute "trailer" known as "Innocence of Muslims" and somehow convinced the 9th Circuit Appeals court to say she had a copyright interest in the film, allowing her to demand a widespread and highly questionable order to force Google to take down all copies of the video on its platforms -- doesn't think there's anything wrong with the ruling or with the 9th Circuit's denial of Google's request to stay the order until the case could be reconsidered. As we noted earlier, the court has asked for briefs on whether or not it should reconsider the request for the stay (prior to even deciding if it should reconsider the entire ruling). Garcia's lawyer, Cris Armenta has filed their brief on this issue, and as with many earlier filings, it is problematic on many levels. In short, though, she of course argues that the original ruling was correct, that her "copyright" has been infringed and that any ruling to the contrary leaves her in great danger. Despite plenty of copyright lawyers and experts reacting in horror to the original ruling, she insists it's obvious that every actor in a film gets a copyright in their own performance. As for the fact that the Copyright Office itself rejected her copyright claim saying that "longstanding practices do not allow a copyright claim by an individual actor or actress in his or her performance contained within a motion picture," Garcia says that the court should just ignore all that bluster. I mean, really, who does the Copyright Office think it is, anyway? Actually, she first challenges the "questionable provenance" of the Copyright Office's rejection of her copyright, since she says Google got a copy before she did, and then that it apparently doesn't include a statement from the Copyright Office that it "is a true and correct copy of the record in question." Even then, she begs the court to ignore the Copyright Office. Further, this court should not defer to the letter because it is inconsistent with the Copyright Office's previous interpretation of the Copyright Act.... Previously, the Copyright Office interpreted the Copyright Act much differently than it does now. As recently as 2010, the Office explicitly stated that performances consisting of "the art of imitating or acting out situations, characters, or other events" are copyrightable as pantomime. Of course, that's a totally different issue. Yes, the Copyright Office says that pantomimes are copyrightable (a different issue that has its own problems), but that's unrelated to the question of whether an actor in a motion picture retains the copyright in their performance. Instead, Garcia tries to reverse this question, by saying that nowhere has the Copyright Office ever said that actors do not get a copyright in their performance. Because anything the Copyright Office doesn't say is clearly what they allow. With respect to the issue of motion pictures, nowhere does the Compendium state that actors who are not employees and who have not transferred the rights in their work are not entitled to copyright protection.... Indeed, the Compendium only states that a film's producer is the "author" for purposes of copyright in situations where the participants are employees or have entered into work-for-hire agreements. If the Office's "longstanding practices" truly forbade an actor who never assigned the rights in her performance from asserting copyright, the Office would have mentioned those practices before now. Of course, the other problem with Garcia's filing is that it doesn't actually focus on the issue at hand. The Court specifically asked that the filings focus on the question of whether or not an en banc panel should rehear the question of a stay for the injunction. Garcia's filing focuses on the overall ruling, not the specifics of the stay, and why the initial injunction can't be stayed until further proceedings occur. That said, given the way Kozinski has handled this so far, who knows what will happen.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
In our post about the Senate Intelligence Committee agreeing to declassify the executive summary and major findings of the $40 million, 6,300 page "devastating" report on how the CIA tortured people for no good reason and then lied about it, we noted that there was still a battle over who would handle the declassification process. Senator Mark Udall directly noted that the White House had a choice. It could handle the declassification efforts itself, give it to the director of national intelligence... or give it over to the CIA itself. Guess which choice the White House has gone with? Yup, you guessed it: The CIA itself gets to choose which parts of the report remain secret. Considering the CIA has spent many months attacking the report, declaring that it was misleading and full of errors, it seems rather ridiculous that the Agency itself is in charge of determining what can and can't be released from the report.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
Let me let you in on a little fantasy of mine: every once in a while, I like to imagine finding myself meeting the person who came up with the term "global warming." Why? So I can punish that person. Severely. See, what a term like "global warming" does is allow the guy in the cubicle next to me to point out of the window in Chicago and say, "If global warming is true, why is it snowing out again?" And that, friends, is something nobody should have to deal with. Climate change is the better term, of course, and the majority of the scientific community firmly believes that there is such a thing as man-made climate change. From there, we could have a discussion about how profound the effects of climate change are, whether they're actually better or worse, what other contributing factors might be in play in impacting climate, and all the rest, and those would be worthy conversations to have. What we shouldn't do is try to use the law to silence dissenting opinions, particularly if those opinions come in the form of scientific research. Yet, that is exactly what one scientific journal has allowed to happen after publishing an article on the link between those who deny climate change and those who believe in a more wide-ranging array of conspiracy theories. Frontiers originally published the piece last year, but took it down once the legal threats started rolling in. After an internal investigation found the peer-reviewed study to be sound, you'd have thought they'd re-publish it. You'd be wrong. Here's the statement about the retraction from the journal itself. In the light of a small number of complaints received following publication of the original research article cited above, Frontiers carried out a detailed investigation of the academic, ethical and legal aspects of the work. This investigation did not identify any issues with the academic and ethical aspects of the study. It did, however, determine that the legal context is insufficiently clear and therefore Frontiers wishes to retract the published article. The authors understand this decision, while they stand by their article and regret the limitations on academic freedom which can be caused by legal factors. In other words, a study that was judged by peers to be scientifically sound, has been disappeared over the murky threats of possible legal action. Let that sink in for a moment: science is undone because some people didn't like it. The author of the study resided at the time in the UK, where libel laws used to be of a construction specifically designed to fill the courthouses with all manner of craziness. Just recently, the UK has improved its libel laws to lessen the chilling effect of lawsuits from harming the progression of science. On top of that, the internal review at the journal found no issues with the study after making some minor alterations to appease the angry. Frontiers didn't see fit to re-publish, however. It is hard to imagine a set of outcomes that would have better remedied each issue flagged by Frontiers as a matter of concern. So it came as quite a shock to hear that the journal had decided to retract the paper ostensibly because “the legal context is insufficiently clear”. Look, if you're a climate change denier, that's cool. I don't agree with you, but feel free to write up your own research, publish any compelling information you can come up with, and all the rest. Consensus is never something I've been much interested in; I'd rather have multiple ideas to choose from and study. And, hey, if you think we never landed on the moon, Hitler was actually fighting the lizard-people now running world government, and 9/11 was all a holographic light-show designed to allow George Bush to fulfill his childhood dream of landing on an aircraft carrier in a flightsuit, have at it. I want you to let me know you believe in that stuff, because that's how I'll know to keep my future children away from you. But the other side of the coin is that we shouldn't be allowing your side to silence science, either. Fair is fair, after all. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
Last fall, one of the big stories concerning NSA surveillance efforts was around the fact that it had spied on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone calls. While this didn't sound particularly surprising (spying on foreign leaders is kind of what you expect intelligence agencies to do), from a diplomacy standpoint, it certainly was awkward. In response to this, the White House agreed to stop spying on her, but it appears to have simply shifted to spying on everyone she talks to. Just a few days ago, new leaks showed how NSA partner-in-spying, GCHQ out of the UK directly targeted Merkel with its spying tools. Given all of this, Germany has now launched hearings into the spying done by the US, and apparently some lawmakers would like to bring Ed Snowden to testify in person: The hearings also have the potential to provoke further antipathy. Indeed, a number of lawmakers here are now demanding safe passage to Berlin for Snowden — who is living in self-imposed exile in Moscow — to testify before the eight-person committee. Any such move would likely outrage the United States, which is seeking to take Snowden into custody. Given the potential for angering Washington, analysts believe Merkel’s government will find a way to sidestep such a move. Nevertheless, the push to give Snowden his day here serves as another reminder that, even as the scandal appears to be dissipating in other parts of Europe, it remains at the top of the agenda in Germany. As noted above, this seems unlikely to happen and is almost certainly just for show. I would imagine that Snowden himself might not feel all that safe in Berlin either, given its close ties to the US, though potentially he could use a trip to Berlin as a launching point to go somewhere else (one issue he's had in seeking asylum is that many countries say you have to be present in that country before requesting asylum). Also, there's a separate issue that suggests much of this is just for show, which is that Germany's own intelligence agencies are likely involved in similar activities themselves. So while it makes sense from a political standpoint to stomp and scream about all of this, it's doubtful that Germany will do too much, for fear that its own intelligence practices will become public as well.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
More than three years ago, I wrote a post predicting that "the revolution will be distributed." In talking about a variety of attacks (mainly on Wikileaks), I pointed out that these were only going to inspire more and more interest in building an internet that is not nearly as centralized, but actually much more decentralized and distributed -- and that those defending the status quo still don't realize what an astoundingly big impact this will have. Soon after, we noted that the real battle lines for the future will be about distributed and open systems against centralized and closed systems. Movement in this arena has certainly been slow, but it's continued to move forward. The Snowden leaks of the past year have really only accelerated the process -- and interest in these kinds of projects. Over at the New Yorker, they have a pretty good status update on "the mission to decentralize the internet," though, unlike a big centralized project, that "mission" is done in a decentralized and open manner as well. The short summary might lead some to dismiss this whole trajectory -- as many of the initial attempts have failed to gain much traction. But that would be a huge mistake. One of the things that you will see, if you study the history of innovation, is that this is exactly how it always happens. The early projects may have some minor successes here and there, but are littered with failures. But the amazing thing about a rapidly changing world where people are doing things in a decentralized and open way is that each of those failures only contributes to the knowledge for future projects, in which more and more people are testing more and more things, getting closer to hitting that point in the "innovator's dilemma" curve, where the new systems actually serve people's needs much better than the old way. It often feels like these new systems suck at first, and it's easy to dismiss them as not being real competition for the established ways of doing things -- but the rapid rate of improvement, and the almost underground nature of many of these advancements means that when they suddenly catch on, they'll catch on quickly, and the folks who previously dismissed them as not being viable won't know what hit them. In fact, I've seen a few much more ambitious projects than what Joshua Kopstein discusses in his article, which suggests we're already well on our way to creating much more distributed systems that will make many of the debates we have today about the internet, internet governance, surveillance, copyright and much, much more totally obsolete. It's an issue I'm planning to explore in much more detail in 2014, so stay tuned...Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...
posted 15 days ago on techdirt
Late yesterday, a superseding indictment was filed in Barrett Brown's case, knocking the charges down to just two, with the main one being that he somehow offered assistance to Jeremy Hammond, who had taken an earlier plea deal for the Stratfor hack. As many people suggested, this new indictment was almost certainly because of a plea deal, which has now been confirmed, as the court also granted a motion to seal the plea deal. The case against Brown has been something of a travesty from the beginning, as Brown was clearly never involved in the hack, but was involved in reporting on the hack and then involved in some rather misguided public ranting in which he threatened the feds if they came after him. As it became clear that the key part of the government's case hinged on the idea that copying and pasting a link found elsewhere was tantamount to hackking, the DOJ was forced to back down and dismiss most of the charges. Brown has been in jail for many months already, and it's likely that the plea deal will keep him in for a short while longer. Accepting a plea deal is pretty standard in these situations. If you're not familiar with how these things go down, when the DOJ is embarrassed -- as they clearly were in this case -- they almost always pressure defendants into agreeing to some minor plea deal, to save face for themselves. It takes the "risk" away from the defendant, and generally speeds up the process. It's the same sort of thing that happened to Thomas Drake. As we've said before, if you think plea deals like this are an actual admission of guilt, we suggest you watch the documentary Better This World, which shows you how the DOJ deals with cases like this, where they will do basically anything to get people to plead guilty.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...
posted 15 days ago on techdirt
The space race created a lot of ambitious plans and designs for spaceships that never actually made it into space. While we're entering a new era of a space race, which includes commercial ventures and fragile alliances with certain countries, it's fascinating to look back at some government-funded projects that could have been taken to the next step. Would anyone even consider nuclear-bomb propulsion systems today? Here are just a few plans to ship people to the moon or Mars (or farther!) that are just gathering dust. Pictures of a secret Soviet lunar lander from the Moscow Aviation Institute shows an unsuccessful program to put a man on the moon. An orbit module and a landing module were constructed that look superficially similar to Apollo spacecraft, but only one cosmonaut would travel in this vehicle. [url] In the early 1970s, NASA had plans for a Reusable Nuclear Shuttle (RNS) that could travel back and forth to the moon. This nuclear-powered shuttle would never land on Earth, and if you approached it from the wrong side, you might get a fatal dose of radiation. [url] Project Orion was an ambitious plan to build a spaceship the size of an ocean liner and send it to Mars (and beyond)... using atomic bombs as propulsion. The Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 made it difficult for any practical work to continue on this kind of spacecraft design. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...
posted 15 days ago on techdirt
Over the years, we've covered story after story after story of horrible practices by music collection societies. These organizations, often (though not always) granted a monopoly in countries to collect and distribute money to musicians, all too often seem to be riddled with corrupt practices, sometimes to extreme levels, such as in Spain, where the management of the collection society was accused of diverting nearly half a billion dollars away from actual artists to "friends" of the directors of the organization. While you would hope that these kinds of stories are rare, it appears that when you give one organization the power to collect and distribute money, temptation to cheat is quite strong. Even in organizations, like those in the US, where the practices are more strictly monitored, and generally considered above board, there are widespread stories of collusion and diverting money from small independent artists to big famous artists. A couple years ago, Jonathan Band put together a whitepaper that went through a very long list of examples, showing the parade of horror stories associated with collection societies around the globe. It appears that we have one more such story to add to the list, but there's at least some chance that some good will come out of this particular horror story. This one takes place down in Peru. Last time we had checked in on Peru, there were efforts under way to put in place very bad copyright legislation, copying the approach in SOPA to place copyright liability on service providers. It looks like that didn't take -- but what has happened is a scandal with that country's collection society, the Peruvian Association of Authors and Composers (APDAYC). In recent years, the Copyright Office had accumulated several investigations and even sanctions against the APDAYC, but little has this done to make matters change. In early March, there was confirmation that the APDAYC was applying questionable rules for measuring popularity and distribution of royalties among its associates, which persuaded the Indecopi Copyright Commission to order the temporary suspension of the current directors of the company. In response, the APDAYC called the decision “unfair and illegal” and announced that they were willing to exhaust all possible means of defense and had already filed an appeal which has put the decision on hold. Apparently this has created something of a scandal in Peru, and may have kickstarted some good copyright reforms focused on increasing user rights (too frequently mislabeled as "limitations and exceptions"). In fact, some of the proposals will put things like fair use on par with the ability to exclude granted by copyright law. Some of the proposals are also about reforming how APDAYC works, but it has also opened up the possibility of these other important public-focused reforms: As a result, there are currently thirteen bills pending that seek to change different parts of Legislative Decree 822, copyright law of Peru. Some of these bills propose changing specific rules on how collecting societies operate, stemming from the allegations in recent months against the APDAYC. Therefore, there is an intent to change the method of electing its governing board, banning re-elections, avoiding direct and indirect conflicts of interest, and the obligation of having to convincingly demonstrate their legitimate representation of works that they charge for. However, there are also proposals for even deeper reforms. Some proposals include new exceptions and limitations for domestic purposes, non-profit activities, libraries, small businesses and religious activities. Our copyright law, published in 1996, has been changed very few times and has almost always worked in favor of a more rigid and maximalist system. For the first time in eighteen years, there are many bills that seek to put the rights of users at the same level as those of the authors. Regardless of the outcome , the mere discussion of these issues is very necessary and welcome in a country that is moving forward in many cultural aspects and is eager to have better access to culture and knowledge. So perhaps yet another story of corruption in a collection society will actually help spur beneficial copyright reform, not just cleaning up questionable practices within such an organization, but also increasing the rights of the public that have been yanked away by over-aggressive copyright law.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...
posted 15 days ago on techdirt
Anyone can make a mistake. The best solution is to acknowledge it, make amends if needed, and move forward, striving to learn from the experience. Far too many entities opt instead for bluster, obfuscation and intimidation, rather than deal with the consequences of their screwup. This is especially true for law enforcement agencies, who often use everything in their power to avoid having to admit anything went wrong, much less take responsibility for it. Here's what went wrong recently, to the detriment of a person who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time: his own house. A Benedict Avenue resident contends Huron County deputies forced their way into his home Tuesday without a search warrant. John Collins, who lives in one unit of a triplex home at 114 Benedict Ave., contends deputies got the wrong address when they executed the search warrant. The warrant was for the unit next to his, he said. The deputies handcuffed him and left him lying on the floor in his unit for 20 minutes after they realized the mistake, Collins said. Bad enough, but it gets worse. They tore through his home, he said, after cuffing him and forcing him to the floor facedown. “They searched my whole house, pulled stuff out my closet, broke a couple knick knacks” he said. One deputy also stepped on his tablet, shattering its screen. Another broke a ceramic decoration that once belonged to his now-deceased son, Collins said... Two deputies must have realized the mistake, Collins said, because they recognized him from their school days and had to have known he was not the man identified in the search warrant. The deputies went next door, he said. They made contact with the residents there — who were later arrested for drug trafficking. But six or so other deputies continued searching Collins’ home. How did the offending deputies rectify the situation after they realized they had both the wrong home and the wrong person? They uncuffed him and left, as if all of the above had never happened. Collins filed a complaint against the Huron County Sheriff's Department and asked for a copy of the search warrant. This is when the department went on full lockdown with some help from the local judiciary. Huron County Common Pleas Court Judge Timothy Cardwell issued a secret gag order March 21 to seal the search warrant. The gag order is also secret, Cardwell’s court clerk said after the Register asked for a copy of the order. Even Collins' complaint itself is now under seal, and the Sheriff's Department is circling the wagons, digging a moat around the circle and filling that moat with blustery statements and unanswered phones. First, the department flatout denied it had done anything wrong, calling Collins' story a "rumor" that was "highly inaccurate." And, who knows, maybe that would still be up for debate (citizen v. cop and all that), but then the department went and had the complaint sealed. And the warrant. And the gag order itself. It also issued a contradictory statement a few days later. "We finished a search warrant at 114-1/2 Benedict Ave," he said Thursday. "Our next move then was to check on an individual who may have a warrant in close proximity." Patrick said deputies "became aware of warrants for an individual in close proximity, which was next door." Now, the story has changed. According to this narrative, the department supposedly had a warrant for Collins' address but then decided to pursue a different warrant after tossing the first house for twenty minutes while its resident lay face down on the floor, handcuffed. Warrant news must travel really slowly in Huron County, though. The warrant that deputies "became aware of" during their search of the wrong address was issued in 2012. From that point on, the department (wisely, or at least as close to "wise" as any of this gets) decided to cut the lines of communication, as Matt Westerhold of the Sandusky Register notes in his description of the department's "Plan B." As Sheriff's Howard's spokesman, make yourself as unavailable and be unfriendly as possible to any reporter who has questions about the inconsistent story you're trying to make sure the public hears. Still, the department (via Capt. Ted Patrick) continues to insist that it did nothing wrong. But it's completely unwilling to provide any evidence to back that assertion up. Instead, it expects to just push its way through the mess it's created without ever having to explain exactly what went on that night, all with the implicit blessing of a local judge. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...
posted 15 days ago on techdirt
Last summer, we wrote about the case of Adel Daoud, an American teenager who was caught in one of the FBI's home grown plots. Even before the whole Snowden situation broke, late in 2012 when the Senate was "debating" (and I use that term loosely) the renewal of the FISA Amendments Act (which created Section 702, the key piece of the PRISM program), Senator Dianne Feinstein strongly fought for the renewal... using Daoud's case as an example of where Section 702 was a key component in stopping terrorism -- saying that it was necessary in "a plot to bomb a downtown Chicago bar." That describes the Daoud case, if by "plot" you mean Daoud and a bunch of undercover FBI agents creating a plan that was never actually going to happen. Feinstein's admission that the FISA Amendments Act was used in the Daoud case took his lawyers by surprise, since none of the evidence they'd been shown involved that. His lawyers then asked for access to the evidence that was obtained via the FAA. After the Snowden revelations (including how information obtained via FISA is often "laundered" to various law enforcement agencies to keep it out of court), his lawyers got even more aggressive. While their initial shot failed, in January, Judge Sharon Coleman decided that, assuming (as claimed) Daoud's lawyer had security clearance, he should be able to see the FISA related materials. As she noted: While this Court is mindful of the fact that no court has ever allowed disclosure of FISA materials to the defense, in this case, the Court finds that the disclosure may be necessary. This finding is not made lightly, and follows a thorough and careful review of the FISA application and related materials. The Court finds however that an accurate determination of the legality of the surveillance is best made in this case as part of an adversarial proceeding. The adversarial process is the bedrock of effective assistance of counsel protected by the Sixth Amendment.... Indeed, though this Court is capable of making such a determination, the adversarial process is integral to safeguarding the rights of all citizens, including those charged with a crime. “The right to the effective assistance of counsel is thus the right of the accused to require the prosecution’s case to survive the crucible of meaningful adversarial testing.” It won't take a psychic to guess what happened next. A few days ago, the DOJ appealed this order explaining a theoretical parade of horrors that might happen if a lawyer with security clearance were given access to the evidence against his client. But a court’s preference for the adversarial process—a circumstance that exists in all litigation—cannot serve as a basis for declaring that disclosure of FISA materials is “necessary to make an accurate determination of the legality of the surveillance” under the statute. Congress envisioned that FISA litigation be handled ex parte, in camera, with disclosure the rare exception.... Yet the district court’s reasoning would turn that regime on its head. A court could always say that an adversarial proceeding would be the “best” way to determine the legality of the FISA collection. To compel disclosure on that basis would trivialize FISA’s necessity standard and work a sea change in FISA litigation. Right. How dare anyone think that it might be reasonable or sensible for courts to make sure that lawyers representing clients who were involved in plots created by the FBI actually get to see the secret evidence that the FBI got via a FISA court order? Why, due process might break out! And we're the US government. Can't have that! Furthermore, the DOJ is positive that the courts simply don't understand the security issues, and the judge shouldn't worry about such things, because the smart people in the executive branch can decide for themselves which classified surveillance efforts are appropriate to reveal: The district court also misjudged the damage to national security that could result from disclosing the FISA applications and orders, even to cleared defense counsel under a protective order, as substantiated by declarations from the Attorney General of the United States and the Acting Assistant Director of the FBI for Counterterrorism. A “need-to-know” must exist before classified information may be disclosed, even to those who possess a security clearance, and that essential prerequisite is present only where disclosure to defense counsel is “necessary” for a court to adjudicate the legality of the FISA collection. When viewed under the correct “necessity” standard, nothing about the challenged FISA collection justifies the district court’s outlier decision. As the classified record makes clear, the ex parte process that the statute provides readily permits an accurate determination that the FISA collection was lawful, and the defendant’s allegations to the contrary are unfounded. A court reviewing the applications would have no difficulty determining that they established probable cause to believe the target was an agent of a foreign power and that a significant purpose of the collection was to obtain foreign intelligence information. This all seems... completely bogus. But what makes it especially bogus is that after it came out that the Solicitor General, Donald Verrilli made false statements to the Supreme Court about whether or not defendants in such cases would be told about evidence collected via the FISA process, the DOJ promised that it would start letting defendants know when the FISA process was used in the investigation. Yet, what the DOJ's response here shows, is that even when that's the case, the DOJ will do everything possible to keep the details of what was done via FISA (and whether or not it was legal or appropriate) out of the case.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...
posted 15 days ago on techdirt
While not entirely unexpected, it's good to see that the Senate Intelligence Committee has finally voted to declassify the key parts of the massive 6,300 page report on the CIA's torture program. As we've been discussing for months, this report, which cost $40 million and has been progressing for years, has been the subject of a pretty big fight from the CIA. It was expected that the Intelligence Committee would approve declassifying the executive summary -- which itself runs 480 pages -- along with "20 findings and conclusions" from the report. It seemed clear that the Democrats on the committee would support declassification (and President Obama has supported it as well), though it was unclear if Republicans would. Yesterday, we noted that Republican Senator Susan Collins announced her support for declassification, while also directly calling the CIA's program "torture," -- something that others on the committee have been afraid to do. What's a bit surprising is that the vote wasn't even close: 11 to 3 in favor of declassifying the report, and even the highest ranking Republican, Saxby Chambliss voted in favor of declassification, though he did so under what appears to be a bit of a protest. His statement about the vote certainly sounds like sour grapes, rather than strong support: "Today, I voted in favor of sending a portion of this majority report to the executive branch for declassification. Despite the report’s significant errors, omissions, and assumptions—as well as a lot of cherry-picking of the facts—I want the American people to be able to see it and judge for themselves. In addition, this study has been an expensive, partisan distraction that has hindered the committee’s ability to provide oversight of current national security issues, including NSA reforms, cybersecurity, Russia, Syria, and Afghanistan. I hope we can put this behind us and focus on the national security challenges at hand. While I agree with some of the conclusions in this report, I take strong exception to the notion that the CIA’s detention and interrogation program did not provide intelligence that was helpful in disrupting terrorist attacks or tracking down Usama bin Ladin. This claim contradicts the factual record and is just flat wrong. Intelligence was gained from detainees in the program, both before and after the application of enhanced interrogation techniques, which played an important role in disrupting terrorist plots and aided our overall counterterrorism operations over the past decade." Another Republican on the committee, Tom Coburn also called it torture, though he insisted that the CIA did it in "good faith" and voted "present" rather than in favor of declassification. “I agree that some of the more extreme Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs) could be considered torture, and that in the future this country should not rely on such techniques. Yet, at the time, they had legal sanction. Readers of the report will make their own judgments about how they were implemented. I believe that the CIA acted imperfectly, but in good faith and under great urgency to prevent an attack from a little understood enemy that had brought devastation to our shores." Feinstein was willing to call it "a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen" but refused to call it torture. Of course, the "fight" is not over yet. There will certainly be a fight over how the declassification is handled and the public won't see the report for many, many months. Senator Mark Udall, who has been a big critic of the intelligence community for a while, has asked that the CIA not handle the declassification itself, knowing that it will over-classify: "Following today’s historic vote, the president faces what I believe should be a straightforward question. He can defer declassification decisions to the CIA — which has demonstrated an inability to face the truth about this program — or pass this authority to the Director of National Intelligence or hold on to the redaction pen himself. The president needs to understand that the CIA’s clear conflict of interest here requires that the White House step in and manage this process." Of course, throughout the past few weeks, more and more details of what's in the report have been leaked to the press (including some more leaks today, which we'll try to write about shortly)...Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...
posted 15 days ago on techdirt
The folks at the NSA and their defenders used to use the argument that we were on the verge of a "cyber pearl harbor" in their constant attempts to change laws to give the NSA and others in law enforcement and intelligence more powers to spy on everyone (the argument being that they would do this in order to "protect" us). But... it's beginning to look like the "cyber pearl harbor" wasn't an attack from foreign hackers... but from the NSA itself. Eric Schmidt recently noted that the NSA's actions were a hostile "attack" and it appears that many Americans agree. A new poll found that nearly half of American adults who responded have changed some form of online behavior because of the NSA stories, and they think a lot more carefully about where they go, what they say and what they do online. We've pointed out (since the Snowden revelations began) that this was going to have a negative impact on the tech industry, but much of the concerns was from overseas users. However, it's clear that it's impacting how Americans view their online habits as well: When it comes to specific Internet activities, such as email or online banking, this change in behavior translates into a worrying trend for the online economy: over one quarter of respondents (26%) said that, based on what they have learned about secret government surveillance, they are now doing less banking online and less online shopping. This shift in behavior is not good news for companies that rely on sustained or increased use of the Internet for their business model. Importantly, the study also found that, contrary to the claims of many, the Snowden revelations aren't just being followed by security-obsessed techies. While the general public may not be keeping tabs on all the details, they are getting the basics. And in case anyone is tempted to think that this is a narrow issue of concern only to news junkies and security geeks, let me be clear: according to this latest survey, 85% of adult Americans are now at least somewhat familiar with the news about secret government surveillance of private citizens’ phone calls, emails, online activity, and so on. Once again, it appears that the federal government, and the NSA in particular, have created a huge cost for innovation and economic growth, while having almost no real benefit to show for it.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

Read More...