posted 15 days ago on techdirt
There are thousands of different beers in the world, so it would take a while to try all of them. And at some point in a hypothetical exhaustive test taste, you'll run into the problem of how to define what a beer really is. If you're not too picky, here are a few kinds of beer-like beverages that you might want to try. Heineken has diluted beer with lemonade and introduced this concoction to 23 markets. Adding a lime wedge to a Corona isn't too strange for Americans, but a 50-50 mix of lemon soda and beer strays pretty far from beer. [url] If you've ever wanted to "just add water" to beer concentrate to get a beer, you can buy such a thing from Pat's Backcountry Beverages. Pat's BCB sells a portable carbonator and a couple of different beer mixes that take a few minutes to turn into 16oz bottles of freshly-made beer. [url] Starbucks is testing a beer-like beverage (without alcohol) called the Dark Barrel Latte. Supposedly, it mimics the dark, malty flavors of a Guinness... but you can get it with whipped cream and a caramel drizzle. Uh, yum? [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 15 days ago on techdirt
Earlier this year, I wrote about a dumb criminal who reportedly broke into someone's home and incriminated himself by taking a selfie with his victim's phone. Our always helpful community did the digging they so dig to do and uncovered that the story had since been debunked. Many of you must have thought that this should have been obvious. After all, some of you surely thought, even the most idiotic bad guys aren't going to go out of their way to photograph themselves in the midst of committing their crimes. Ah, sweet vindication is such a wonderful side-dish in a main course of schadenfreude. Not only has a recent dumb criminal proved he's perfectly willing to take a selfie with a phone he stole from his victim, but he's been taking multiple selfies. All these self-incriminating bits of narcissism are, of course, being uploaded to the victim's iCloud account and are currently being shared by police, who I imagine are also rolling around on the ground laughing. Police in Stockton, Calif. are sharing the photo of a man they say stole a victim's iPhone. The police have identified the man because he's continued to take selfie photos that show up on the victim's iCloud account. Oh, yes, and there have been all kinds of follow up reports on this, indicating that I won't be getting egg on my face this go around. In the meantime, the police are of course blasting this wonderful gentleman's self-portrait all over social media and local news. I expect he'll be in custody shortly, if he isn't already. Look now upon the face of a mastermind. And, as I said, the selfies reportedly are still rolling in. Here's to our unnamed phone thief getting a nice, big mirror in his holding cell.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
Update: We've just noticed that we originally named Walmart in this story when it should be Kmart. We've removed the instances of Walmart and deeply regret the error. Also, it should be noted that Kmart Australia and Target Australia are divisions of Wesfarmers Limited and not related to the US corporations with similar names. As you may have heard if you follow gaming news, the next-gen console version of Grand Theft Auto 5 release in Australia hit a bit of snag this past week. Now, let's start this off by noting that it was only recently that the government of Australia finally agreed to treat its citizens like adults and allow the kind of video games we enjoy in the States to even be sold in the land down under. It came along with a strict ratings system, of course, but at least these games were finally available for purchase. It was a victory for speech and art. And now, stupidly and cynically, retailers are pretending to be prudish, in the face of a petition by a vocal minority making almost purely emotional arguments, and have agreed to remove Grand Theft Auto 5 from their shelves. The focal impetus of this response by both Target and Kmart in Australia appears to be this Change.org petition, which is about as Change.org-petition-y as it gets. It's a game that encourages players to murder women for entertainment. The incentive is to commit sexual violence against women, then abuse or kill them to proceed or get 'health' points. As anyone who has played the game, as I have, can tell you, this is only half true. Or, actually, perhaps less than half, because all the same violence, sexual misanthropy, and cruelty applies at least to the men in the game as well, and I'm pretty sure I remember smacking around some wildlife during my foray into the game as well. The point of GTA5 isn't to demean women; it's to demean everyone and everything. The whole thing is a farce for violence and cruelty. That's its very point. But, to understand the plea of the petition, you have to understand who is issuing it. We have firsthand experience of this kind of sexual violence. It haunts us, and we've been trying to rebuild our lives ever since. Just knowing that women are being portrayed as deserving to be sexually used by men and potentially murdered for sport and pleasure – to see this violence that we lived through turned into a form of entertainments is sickening and causes us great pain and harm. Let's be clear about two things. The first is that any real life abuse of women, sexual or otherwise, is a horrific thing and should not be tolerated in any fashion anywhere. It's horrible and it breaks my heart knowing that survivors of such abuse must slog through life on a daily basis overcoming the abuse every step of the way. The second thing we must be absolutely clear on is that for anyone that values free speech, be it government or a corporate entity, the fact that these women issuing their petition are abuse survivors doesn't matter even a little bit. Free speech and artistic expression don't simply get to be limited just because some people may be emotionally hurt by it. The two retailers, Target and Kmart, being private entities, can of course do as they please. But when they say the following in their press release: "We've been speaking to many customers over recent days about the game, and there is a significant level of concern about the game's content," [Target's GM of Corporate Affairs] Mr Cooper said. "We've also had customer feedback in support of us selling the game, and we respect their perspective on the issue. However, we feel the decision to stop selling GTA5 is in line with the majority view of our customers." then they must also explain why this decision over a forever-controversial gaming franchise is only coming upon the re-release of the game, which originally came out a year ago, and how they can also take the following stance. Mr Cooper said Target would continue to sell other R-rated DVDs and games. "While these products often contain imagery that some customers find offensive, in the vast majority of cases, we believe they are appropriate products for us to sell to adult customers. Because the first quote from Mr. Cooper obviates his company's need to take such a stance. All he and Target must do, to remain consistent, is constantly follow the demands of whichever group is shouting the loudest. Because, given that we're talking about one of the best-selling videogames in the history of the medium, that line about Target listening to the majority of consumers is a big bucket of bullshit. And, of course, Target and Kmart will happily sell the game elsewhere in the world, and make gobs of money off of it, while the petitioners updated their petition with "Thank you Target/Kmart" posts. Fails all around, so... well done everyone. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
As you may have heard if you follow gaming news, the next-gen console version of Grand Theft Auto 5 release in Australia hit a bit of snag this past week. Now, let's start this off by noting that it was only recently that the government of Australia finally agreed to treat its citizens like adults and allow the kind of video games we enjoy in the States to even be sold in the land down under. It came along with a strict ratings system, of course, but at least these games were finally available for purchase. It was a victory for speech and art. And now, stupidly and cynically, retailers are pretending to be prudish, in the face of a petition by a vocal minority making almost purely emotional arguments, and have agreed to remove Grand Theft Auto 5 from their shelves. The focal impetus of this response by both Target and Walmart in Australia appears to be this Change.org petition, which is about as Change.org-petition-y as it gets. It's a game that encourages players to murder women for entertainment. The incentive is to commit sexual violence against women, then abuse or kill them to proceed or get 'health' points. As anyone who has played the game, as I have, can tell you, this is only half true. Or, actually, perhaps less than half, because all the same violence, sexual misanthropy, and cruelty applies at least to the men in the game as well, and I'm pretty sure I remember smacking around some wildlife during my foray into the game as well. The point of GTA5 isn't to demean women; it's to demean everyone and everything. The whole thing is a farce for violence and cruelty. That's its very point. But, to understand the plea of the petition, you have to understand who is issuing it. We have firsthand experience of this kind of sexual violence. It haunts us, and we've been trying to rebuild our lives ever since. Just knowing that women are being portrayed as deserving to be sexually used by men and potentially murdered for sport and pleasure – to see this violence that we lived through turned into a form of entertainments is sickening and causes us great pain and harm. Let's be clear about two things. The first is that any real life abuse of women, sexual or otherwise, is a horrific thing and should not be tolerated in any fashion anywhere. It's horrible and it breaks my heart knowing that survivors of such abuse must slog through life on a daily basis overcoming the abuse every step of the way. The second thing we must be absolutely clear on is that for anyone that values free speech, be it government or a corporate entity, the fact that these women issuing their petition are abuse survivors doesn't matter even a little bit. Free speech and artistic expression don't simply get to be limited just because some people may be emotionally hurt by it. The two retailers, Target and Walmart, being private entities, can of course do as they please. But when they say the following in their press release: "We've been speaking to many customers over recent days about the game, and there is a significant level of concern about the game's content," [Target's GM of Corporate Affairs] Mr Cooper said. "We've also had customer feedback in support of us selling the game, and we respect their perspective on the issue. However, we feel the decision to stop selling GTA5 is in line with the majority view of our customers." then they must also explain why this decision over a forever-controversial gaming franchise is only coming upon the re-release of the game, which originally came out a year ago, and how they can also take the following stance. Mr Cooper said Target would continue to sell other R-rated DVDs and games. "While these products often contain imagery that some customers find offensive, in the vast majority of cases, we believe they are appropriate products for us to sell to adult customers. Because the first quote from Mr. Cooper obviates his company's need to take such a stance. All he and Target must do, to remain consistent, is constantly follow the demands of whichever group is shouting the loudest. Because, given that we're talking about one of the best-selling videogames in the history of the medium, that line about Target listening to the majority of consumers is a big bucket of bullshit. And, of course, Target and Walmart will happily sell the game elsewhere in the world, and make gobs of money off of it, while the petitioners updated their petition with "Thank you Target/Walmart" posts. Fails all around, so... well done everyone. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
You can buy it but you can't own it. Digital goods remind us of this fact all the time. But physical goods? Those should be ours. But somehow, they often aren't, especially if the company behind the product is trying oh so hard to lock customers into a closed ecosystem. Amazon's entry into the streaming device market is the Fire TV, a dense black block that puts its Prime library on your TV, as well as providing access to other popular streaming services (Netflix, Hulu) and a (smallish) assortment of games. But what it won't do -- at least not anymore -- is allow purchasers to root their devices in order to play media stored on USB devices or force it to play nice with Google's Play Store to expand the limited selection of "native" games to justify shelling out $20-40 for the optional gamepad. Techdirt reader techflaws sends in this link to Amazon's Fire TV firmware updates, hosted at AFTVNews, a site dedicated to (and run by) Fire TV aficionados. Alongside the expected bug fixes and features list is the following warning: “Self destruct” eFuse added to kernel which gets triggered if an older bootloader is used. This means Fire TVs that update to stock 51.1.4.1_user_514013920 can never be downgraded, even if a method to root them is discovered. So, if you try to make Amazon's Fire TV behave the way you want it to, your device will be irrecoverably bricked. The tripped eFuse won't even let you roll it back to when it worked. For most Amazon TV purchasers, this update came and went without any noticeable effect. But for those making the most of their purchases, this came as a shock. After all, the Fire TV runs a modified version of Android, itself an ostensibly open system. Not only that, but Amazon seemed to encourage this sort of experimentation and modification by making the source code freely available. But its updated firmware took away all of that, locking the gate of its ecosystem and tossing the key -- along with some previously working devices -- into the proverbial sewer grate. Rbox, a very active member of XDA Forums, was the one who first made others aware of the issue, finally narrowing it down to malicious firmware. Intentionally malicious firmware. From what I can tell, they did 2 things. First, they added an extra service to the kernel ramdisk that blows an efuse which prevents the old bootloader from working. Second, they modified the bootchain to use that fuse (or maybe a second, I'm not sure) to prevent downgrades. So once a box gets 51.1.4.1 stock, it can never be downgraded. So, while there are workarounds available now (as well as custom firmware developed by the enthusiasts at XDA Forums), there's been nothing official released by Amazon. The message is clear: play within the walls of our garden or GTFO. With most users opting for automatic updates, the firmware has made the final decision for them. Those who wish to stay rooted will have to do without any critical updates, added content selection, security fixes, etc. that Amazon may provide if they're not fortunate enough to find fixes that work from third parties who are kind enough to unbrick devices that have been forcibly neutered by the proprietor of the walled garden. Notably, this decision hits hardest the people Amazon should most want on its side: the diehard hobbyists who push the limits of prefab products and show developers the possibilities inherent in their offerings. Equally terrible, it sends the message to purchasers that they don't own their purchases. Car manufacturers (there are exceptions, of course) don't send street teams by to tear off the ridiculous spoiler and neon undercarriage you bolted onto your stock sedan, no matter how ridiculous it makes their product look. They don't remove the tachometer you forced into the dashboard array when you bring it in for an oil change. But for some reason, certain companies still think that they can force your purchased products to play by their rules, long after turning the products over to their new "owners." Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
The FBI had better start polishing up its "front door" pitch because Sen. Ron Wyden is pitching legislation that would prevent it from crafting its own backdoors. The Secure Data Act will prohibit Federal agencies from requiring that private entities design or alter their commercial information technology products for the purpose of facilitating government surveillance. Wyden's one-page summary of the bill [pdf link] notes that FBI Director James Comey's ongoing push to create some sort of "law enforcement only" security holes in Apple and Google's on-by-default encryption undermines the government's push for better personal and professional security as well as does further damage to the limited amount of trust remaining in the wake of the Snowden leaks and increasing evidence of law enforcement overreach. U.S. government and independent experts have extensively documented the multi-billion dollar threat posed by constant cyberattacks from criminal organizations and foreign government-sponsored hackers. The U.S. government also urges private companies and individuals to protect sensitive personal and business data, including through the use of data security technologies such as encryption. The recent proposals from U.S. law enforcement officials to undercut the development and deployment of strong data security technologies by compelling companies to build backdoors in the security features of their products work against the overwhelming economic and national security interest in better data security. Moreover, the decision of government officials to repeatedly misled the American public about domestic surveillance activities has resulted in an erosion of public trust. Requiring computer hardware and software companies to now create intentional gaps in their data security products to facilitate further government access to personal data will undermine the effort to restore trust in the U.S. digital economy. Government-driven technology mandates to weaken data security for the purpose of aiding government investigations would compromise national security, economic security and personal privacy. Here's the actual wording of the backdoor ban [pdf link], which has a couple of loopholes in it. (a) IN GENERAL.—Except as provided in subsection (b), no agency may mandate that a manufacturer, developer, or seller of covered products design or alter the security functions in its product or service to allow the surveillance of any user of such product or service, or to allow the physical search of such product, by any agency. Subsection (b) presents the first loophole, naming the very act that Comey is pursuing to have amended in his agency's favor. (b) EXCEPTION.—Subsection (a) shall not apply to mandates authorized under the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (47 U.S.C. 1001 et seq.). Comey wants to alter CALEA or, failing that, get a few legislators to run some sort of encryption-targeting legislation up the Congressional flagpole for him. Wyden's bill won't thwart these efforts and it does leave the NSA free to continue with its pre-existing homebrewed backdoor efforts -- the kind that don't require mandates because they're performed off-site without the manufacturer's knowledge. This still in early draft form and will likely be finessed as it heads towards becoming a finished product, hopefully addressing a few of these issues on the way. If nothing else, it sends yet another message to James Comey and like-minded law enforcement officials that there's a whole bunch of legislators waiting to thwart their pushes for instant, permanent access to the American public's cellphones. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
The great Sony hack of 2014: what's it all about? Is it a subversive plot by North Koreans operating out of China in revenge for a film starring two guys from Freaks and Geeks? Or maybe it's simply fodder for stupid politicians to remind us that all the world's ills could be cured if only internet service providers took on the challenge of fixing all the things in all the places? No, my dear friends, no. The Sony hack of 2014 is a beautiful Christmas gift (your religious holiday may vary) of a wake-up call to anyone silly enough to think that Sony would bother to learn the lessons very recent history has tried to teach it. To prove this, one need only review the latest file dump in the leak, which features the wonderful naivete of whatever bright minds are in charge of Sony's internal password conventions and storage policies. In a small file titled "Bonus.rar," hackers included a folder named "Password." It's exactly what it sounds like: 140 files containing thousands upon thousands of private passwords, virtually all of them stored in plaintext documents without protection of any kind. Some seem personal in nature ("karrie's Passwords.xls") while others are wider in scope ("YouTube login passwords.xls"). Many are tied to financial accounts like American Express, while others provide access to corporate voicemail accounts or internal servers, and come conveniently paired with full names, addresses, phone numbers, and emails. In case you're unfamiliar with the hack against Sony's Playstation Network a mere three years ago, the problem was -- you guessed it -- the exact same thing. In that case, the hack produced customer names, addresses, emails and login/password information because that information was stored in plain text, contrary to the advice of every competent network security person on the planet. Take, for instance, one security researcher quoted in the link above: Passwords in plaintext? These guys are pretty bad - I don't think I've ever encountered this before. What's the point of using common password storage/hashing techniques if your staff is keeping all your passwords in plain text on open fileshares? Shit, why bother having locks on the doors at all? The worst of all the problem's this hack revealed is that this question should have been answered in the wake of the events of three years ago. It's one thing to screw up. It's quite another to screw up in a manner that went public in a spectacular way and simply refuse to take measures to ensure it doesn't happen again. But that's Sony for you: long live plain text. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
As their name suggests, free trade agreements are designed to help trade flourish between the countries involved. The hope is that when trade increases, society as a whole benefits. One of the key metrics for assessing that outcome is to look at changes in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which provides one index of economic activity in a country. It does not, of course, measure other things that may be important to people, such as public services or quality of life, but it's widely used. GDP growth is one of the main benefits that will flow from US-EU TAFTA/TTIP, according to its supporters. They point to a study from the CEPR group in London, which was conducted on behalf of the European Commission as part of the preparations for negotiating a trade agreement with the US. Here are the headline figures from the study, as reported on Commission's TTIP Web pages: Independent research shows that TTIP could boost: the EU's economy by €120 billion; the US economy by €90 billion; the rest of the world by €100 billion CEPR's detailed report (pdf) explains that those figures would be the uplift in 2027 if an "ambitious" agreement were reached, as compared to the economies in 2027 without TTIP. So the predicted extra 0.5% GDP growth for both the EU and US is actually cumulative growth after ten years, and represents around 0.05% extra GDP per year, in the best possible case -- hardly impressive. Another way of looking at TAFTA/TTIP is in terms of its effects on the trade flows between the EU and US. According to the CEPR study, in the most ambitious (that is, most optimistic) case, imports to the US from the EU would increase by about €187 billion in 2027, while exports from the US to the EU would increase by €159 billion in the same year. But again, looking more closely at CEPR's figures shows that 47% of those increased imports would be cars, which would also represents 41% of the increased exports. In other words, nearly a half of the increased trade that TTIP might bring according to this forecast would consist of swapping cars across the Atlantic. What about the economic impact of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)? Figures for this have been harder to come by, which makes a new publication from the US Department of Agriculture particularly valuable, since it gives official estimates of what benefits might flow from TPP. Here's the basic result: Agricultural output in the United States will increase in most sectors due to increased market access within the TPP region, especially in cereals (1 percent), dairy products (0.5 percent), and meat (0.4 percent). Among TPP members, the largest percentage gains in agricultural output will be in meats in Australia, dairy in New Zealand, and "other agriculture" in Singapore. Agricultural output quantities will decline in most sectors in Japan and Vietnam in 2025 relative to the baseline. As you can see, this details increases in agricultural production in 2025. But what about the increases in overall economic activity -- GDP? The largest macroeconomic impact of the TPP, in percentage terms, takes place in Vietnam, where real GDP would be 0.10 percent higher in 2025 with the implementation of the TPP than it would be under the baseline. Small gains in real GDP will also accrue to Japan (0.02 percent), and to New Zealand, Malaysia, and Mexico (all 0.01 percent). The TPP is projected to have no measurable impacts on real GDP in any other TPP member countries. So according to the US Department of Agriculture's model, the country whose GDP receives the biggest boost from TPP would be Vietnam, which would see a gain of 0.1% in 2025. Most countries would see considerably less than that, with both the US and Australia experiencing "no measurable impacts on real GDP" as a result of TPP. Now, it's important to note that this study concentrated on the agricultural products. As it points out: The scope of the TPP negotiations goes well beyond cutting tariffs; they also cover other areas that could impact agricultural trade, including investment, trade in services, technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary barriers, etc. This analysis does not account for the gains that might be achieved in these other areas of the negotiations. In other words, there could be more significant gains for the US and other nations in these areas. But many countries are banking on TPP giving a considerable boost to their agricultural sectors, whereas the new US study predicts no extra growth as a result, anywhere. That's important, because the governments of both Australia and New Zealand have indicated that it will be necessary to make concessions in other areas in order to obtain those hoped-for positive results for their key farming sectors. But if the prediction is that these concessions will only result in increased agricultural trade, but not increased GDP overall, the question has be asked: is it really worth accepting things like longer copyright terms and stronger pharma patents if the payback in terms of real growth is small or non-existent? Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
When it comes to spoilers, I generally think people get entirely too worked up over them. It's not particularly difficult to keep from having shows/movies/sports spoiled for you with a minimal amount of effort. Still, sometimes there are a ton of spoilers out there that fans can accidentally come across and sometimes the producers of the show/movie do the spoiling themselves. Whichever the case, the backlash usually isn't pretty. But the reason that cable channel AMC accidentally spoiled the death of a character on The Walking Dead for a huge portion of the audience is pretty hard to stomach: people there apparently forgot that timezones exist. What the hell is missing over at AMC that a cable television company could forget about timezones? Brains? So, here's how it went down. During the midseason finale, that AMC zombie show that all of our significant others' find too disgusting to watch with us, killed off Beth, a main character (See? I really don't care about spoilers). As you might expect, it created quite a buzz on social media amongst the show's fans right away. AMC, being in the business of making money off of that buzz, decided to try to capitalize on it with this Facebook status update. In case you missed it, or thought that the image itself was ambiguous, the text at the bottom of the image read: "RIP Beth." That might not seem like all that big a deal, except that the network's Facebook pages put that post up immediately following the East Coast airing of the episode. Anyone who has followed AMC's larger hits knows that tagging along on its social media sites and website is something many fans do, which means that as folks were settling in to watch the show in the other timezones within these great United States, they already knew that Beth bit it. The backlash was apparently bad enough that AMC issued an apology. But the channel did at least have a little fun with it. "We heard your feedback to last night's post, and we're sorry," the post read. "With zero negative intent, we jumped the gun and put up a spoiler. Please know we're going to work to ensure that, in the future, possible spoilers by official AMC social feeds are killed before they can infect, certainly before the West Coast (U.S.) broadcast of The Walking Dead. As always, thank you for watching, and keep the comments coming. We appreciate all of your support. #RIPSpoiler" In the end, AMC's blunder really was rather stupid. On the other hand, if you're that upset at coming across a spoiler, just do what I do: avoid everything to do with a show until it comes out on Netflix and then binge watch the hell out of it.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
One of the first things many people do when they get a shiny new smartphone is put a case and a screen protector on it. Some people do this because they want to customize the look of their phone, but others just want to protect the phone from the inevitable drop on concrete that'll put an annoying scratch (or worse) on the screen. A few folks prefer naked phones, and for those users, there may be some nifty ways to keep phones scratch & dent free in the future. Here are just a few examples. Apple has a patent on a way to get a phone to fall like a cat -- so that it tries to land screen side up to minimize damage. Patent 8,903,519 describes ways to alter the center of mass of a device by using positioning sensors to control motors that could adjust the angular momentum of a phone in freefall. [url] Jeff Bezos also has a patent on a way to protect a falling phone -- using a kind of airbag system. Future phones might also include tiny canisters of compressed gases to provide a bit of thrust that might allow the device to land more gently -- if manufacturers license US8330305 or wait until it expires. [url] Maybe someday we'll just get sapphire displays that would take a diamond to scratch such a screen. However, it might be a bit difficult to get sapphire that's both scratch resistant AND tough enough not to shatter upon a hard impact. It's not easy to make sapphire screens economically, either. [url] Until then, maybe Corning's new tougher Gorilla Glass 4 will be good enough. According to Corning, Gorilla Glass 4 can survive drops onto rough surfaces (such as sidewalks) up to 80% of the time. It's also one-tenth the cost of sapphire, almost two times lighter, and more transparent. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
Another citizen dies at the hand of a police officer and another grand-jury-in-name-only can't be bothered to return an indictment. I won't rehash the stats, but the grand jury process exists for one purpose: returning indictments. And now a system that almost always acts as the prosecutor's rubber stamp has failed to do so. Of course, in both cases, the accused were law enforcement officers and that changes everything. There are some similarities between the Eric Garner case and the Michael Brown case, and they are significant. In both cases, the men were large, black and unarmed. In both cases, a minor crime was allegedly involved -- petty theft in Brown's case and (very allegedly -- this narrative appeared well after the initial reports) the sale of untaxed single cigarettes ("loosies") in Garner's. The cases diverge, as well. Brown was shot. Garner was choked. In Brown's case, there were multiple eyewitnesses, but they offered conflicting and shifting accounts of what happened. In Garner's case, there were multiple unblinking witnesses -- cellphone cameras -- that captured the entire incident. In both cases, the grand juries spent weeks examining the evidence. Cases involving those outside of the law enforcement community are examined in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. The grand jury doesn't need a preponderance of evidence to return an indictment in 99.9% of its cases. All it needs is a prosecutor to tell it that probable cause exists and what charges it should bring. A minimum of evidence is provided for its consideration and, in almost every case, the grand jury applies the rubber stamp and the wheels of the "justice" system continue to roll. Officer Pantaleo faced a greater challenge than Officer Wilson, though. There was videotaped evidence of his every move during the incident. At multiple points, his testimony directly contradicted what the recordings showed. He acknowledged that he heard Mr. Garner saying, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” and insisted that he tried to disengage as quickly as he could… Watch the video for yourself and see if Pantaleo's statements match his actions. Pantaleo may have released the chokehold, but he didn't "disengage." Instead, he moved toward the top of Garner's body and held his face down on the pavement. These two moves, one forbidden and one possibly unnecessary, were all that was needed to kill Eric Garner. I don't use the word "kill" lightly. That's quoting the findings of the medical examiner. "Compression of the neck and chest." "Homicide." That's from the official autopsy. Garner was killed by Officer Pantaleo. Pantaleo defended his chokehold further by stating that Garner's audible complaints that he couldn't breathe were evidence that he could actually breathe. Fair enough, I suppose, but what Garner was saying was that he was having great difficulty breathing, using what little oxygen he had available to inform the officer of this fact. Just because he didn't phrase it more accurately doesn't change the facts. Garner had trouble breathing, thanks to Pantaleo's actions, right up until he couldn't breathe anymore. According to his lawyer, Pantaleo justified his chokehold further -- first by stating his fear for his and the other officers' safety and second, by claiming he detached himself as quickly as he could and cleared the path for paramedics to provide assistance. Again, the video contradicts his testimony. “That’s why he attempted to get off as quick as he could,” Mr. London said. “He thought that once E.M.T. arrived, everything would be O.K.” The recordings show Pantaleo restraining Garner well past the point of any resistance before heading to the periphery and waving to the cameras. There's a long wait between Pantaleo's disengagement and the paramedics' arrival, during which time a variety of cops appear to believe (despite the physical evidence they're manhandling) that Eric Garner is simply unconscious -- and attempt to undo his death by shouting at him and rolling his lifeless body back and forth This death is linked to Ferguson mostly in terms of chronology. Garner's death at the hands of a police officer bears more resemblance to the extended restraint and excessive force that brought about the deaths of Kelly Thomas and David Silva. The autopsies contain certain similarities -- like the listing of preexisting health conditions that may have contributed to their deaths. Of course, it's very likely that all three men would still be alive if not for their "interactions" with law enforcement, but medical examiners aren't really interested in pointing this out. But Garner's was different in this respect: it was determined to be a homicide. But the grand jury viewed all the evidence provided to them by prosecutors uninterested in prosecuting and somehow managed to avoid bringing any charges at all. As Scott Greenfield states in his excellent writeup on the subject, this presents a bit of a problem. Unlike Missouri, where charges can still be pursued without a grand jury indictment, in New York it's a grand jury or nothing. The District Attorney of Richmond County, New York, has, by the intentional sabotage of his own grand jury presentment, created the legal conundrum of a homicide without a perpetrator. It cannot be, yet it is, because he chose to make it so. Pantaleo now resides in this impossible state. Possibly not for long, as the federal government is launching a civil rights inquiry, but for the time being, he is the recipient of one of the justice system's many "miracles." While it's true that a medical examiner's declaration of "homicide" doesn't actually denote a criminal act has taken place, it does signify that the death was neither accidental nor natural. There was a perpetrator involved and in a normal grand jury setting, this would easily have resulted in an indictment. The jury trial following the indictment would have sorted out the particulars of the death, and perhaps Pantaleo would have walked free nonetheless, but because the grand jury process resulted in "no true bill," Garner's death remains in limbo -- a homicide with no perpetrator to hold accountable or to clear of culpability. The NYPD is readying its body cam pilot program, but that seemingly offers little in the way of reassurance in light of this outcome. We have just seen an officer who choked a man to death walk away a free man, despite three separate recordings of the incident. What good are cameras if the system continues to grant abusive officers this much leeway? What difference does damning footage make when grand juries believe cops' statements about "fear for their safety" more than their own eyes? These questions can't be answered, at least not with any degree of certainty. And they're uncomfortable questions, both for those who fear that excessive force and misconduct will remain a constant no matter what corrective measures are put in place, as well as for those who generally come down on the side of law enforcement. For those wishing to hold police accountable, each incident caught is more evidence of systemic problems. For those siding with the police, it's just one more indefensible position for them to defend. One thing is certain, this case would never have received as much attention if cameras hadn't been present. We may not like the outcome, but the process that brought it this far was pushed along by the existence of multiple recordings. I'm not of the belief that this wholly negates the benefits of body cameras. What it does serious damage to is the notion that they can be tools of greater accountability. The system skews heavily in favor of officers facing charges and hours of footage detailing abuse and misconduct won't change that, at least not on its own. But the gathering of evidence is important, nonetheless. So is the deterrent effect, in which the knowledge of being filmed alters behavior -- both for police officers and the people they interact with. But using this outcome to declare police body cameras useless accomplishes nothing. We've already seen what happens without them. The alternative is to allow things to proceed as they have so far, and no one's happy with the status quo. The court of public opinion can't return indictments, but it can provoke needed changes within the system -- and that's a lot easier to do when there's footage backing up the claims. It won't be an overnight process, but it can be done. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
Recently, the IP Troll Tracker blog decided to try to officially define "patent troll" to a level that might satisfy a patent holder who insists that there is no such thing as a patent troll. For many years, we here at Techdirt avoided using the phrase "patent troll" because it did seem rather undefined, but it became so commonplace that we eventually gave in and used the phrase regularly. The term has showed up in all sorts of places, including courtrooms and discussions on legislation. In some circles, policy makers often use the term "non-practicing entities" (or NPEs) instead of "patent trolls" but that upsets some who feel that there are "NPEs" (like universities) that do research that they wish to license off, but which will never be "practicing entities." Some have also called them "Patent Assertion Entities" (PAEs) to describe companies who do nothing more than assert patents. At least that leaves out universities -- but then that also leaves out companies who do other things but who also, do some patent trolling (including, frankly, some universities, since we're discussing them). Stephanie Kennedy, who runs the IP Troll Tracker blog, came up with the following definition: Patent Troll, n - 1/ A company or individual who, using patents that either never should have been issued or are broadly constructed (intentionally for the purpose of misuse, or as a result of poor USPTO patent examination practices), sends letters to various and sundry companies and/or individuals that simultaneously request license fees and threaten legal action if the recipient fails to respond correctly by paying up and who will, in the face of inaction by a demand letter recipient, actually file suit in Federal District Court, the District of East Texas being the most popular venue. 2/ A company set up to act as a cover for large corporations who try to breathe new life into older patents which they would ordinarily let expire but, as a result of greed and/or pressure from Wall Street, have decided are ripe for assertion or litigation. 3/ Intellectual Ventures I recommend not clicking on the link for number three. Anyway, I like this formulation a lot better than the simplistic "NPE" designation, because I think there are lots of "practicing entities" that do trollish behavior (Microsoft being a big one). The problem with patent trolling tends to be that it's little more than a classic shakedown. Trying to get companies to pay up because the cost of paying up is usually a lot less than the cost of going to court to explain why you shouldn't have to pay up. There is, not surprisingly, a fascinating discussion in the comments to the IP Troll Tracker's definition. A lot of it is people quibbling with who's to blame here -- arguing that there may be problems with the Patent Office granting patents it shouldn't or with some form of "litigation abuse," but that patent trolls aren't the "problem." That's... questionable at best. While it may be true that patent trolls aren't doing anything "illegal," it doesn't take any special economic skills to recognize that what they are doing is a deadweight economic loss. Anyone who's spent any time exploring the murky underworld of patent trolling knows what is mostly happening. Quite frequently it's lawyers -- often former patent attorneys -- who absolutely know they're abusing the system for profit and they don't care about it at all. They buy up a few patents that they know are just vague enough and then they just start sending out the settlement letters and wait for the cash to come in. This is not "promoting the progress." It is not advancing any innovation. It is purely about taking money away from those who actually innovate, and handing it over to trolls and their investors, not to reinvest in any sort of innovation, but to reinvest in trolling.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 17 days ago on techdirt
Before the 2009 National Trademark Expo, an event most of us have marked on our calendars EVERY YEAR, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) decided to design a kid-friendly trademark mascot to act as an ambassador to all the future Kleenex and Xerox designers nestled within America's younger demographics. What the office came up with was a Poochie for the IP wonk crowd (10 and under division). Here's T. Markey doing something approaching rad in celebration of the 2012 National Trademark Expo. There's also a QR code on the poster, which probably does whatever it is that QR codes do. Trendy as hell. Parker Higgins -- EFF member and IP wonk in his own right -- FOIA'ed any documents related to the skateboarding, hang gliding, hot air ballooning mascot and received not only several pages of badly-scanned mockup art, but several pages of badly-scanned redactions [pdf link]. Because the USPTO is nothing if not extremely secretive about its… searches for existing design elements? The USPTO drops the dreaded b(5) exemption all over its internal emails, withholding stuff seemingly just to be withholding stuff, which is what the b(5) exemption does best. Supposedly this exemption is limited to memos or letters that would not be available to anyone but a "party in litigation with the [responding] agency," but in this case, seems to cover information otherwise in the public domain. Here's another redacted set of search results, covering variations like MARKY or MARKEY appearing on clothing. Hopefully, the two pages of black ink are covering up images rather than words. Otherwise, it would appear that the MARKY/MARKEY market is incredibly overcrowded. Why the agency decided to black out these search results is a mystery, considering the USPTO's site itself allows anyone to search for registered word and image marks. Maybe the USPTO just wanted to be like its big brothers (pun possibly intended), the FBI and the NSA, and just redact something, no matter how insignificant. And then there's this, in which bad scanning meets a third- or fourth-generation copy to create a murky, impressionistic nightmare in which Mickey Mouse is slowly consumed by a malevolent but iconic 70s-era smiley face that oozes all-encompassing blackness. Possibly a metaphor for something, but more likely just another piece of roadkill at the intersection of Technology and Bureaucracy. You can never be too safe when releasing responsive documents, it would appear, even when your biggest secret is how examiners maintain straight faces when approving certain patent and trademark applications.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 17 days ago on techdirt
After a short break (and a teaser) last week, it's now time for Episode 3 of the Techdirt Podcast. If you still haven't subscribed, you should follow us on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, or simply plug the RSS feed into your favorite podcatcher app (we have a few recommendations). Of course, you can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt. This week we've got a special guest, and someone who should be familiar to regular Techdirt readers: Amanda Palmer, an artist who has been taking an innovative (and sometimes controversial) approach to succeeding in the music business for a long time. The episode kicks off with Amanda reading an excerpt from her new book, The Art Of Asking, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Let People Help, then moves on into a discussion about the book, her experiences in the music and publishing industries, the anger that has arisen around some of her creative business model experiments, and much more. For the music this week, we've got a clip of Amanda's own The Killing Type from her album Theatre Is Evil. A big thanks to Amanda Palmer for visiting the podcast, and we hope you enjoy the episode! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 17 days ago on techdirt
The saga of the Authors Guild v. Google Books continues to make its way through the courts. This has been going on for years and years, and we don't need to rehash all of the background, other than a few of the more recent situations. Last year, the case went to the 2nd Circuit appeals court, supposedly to discuss the Authors Guild's desire to make its case into a class action lawsuit. However, the appeals court judges basically ignored that issue, and said it was meaningless since it seemed pretty clear that Google Books was fair use. Thus, it sent the case back to the lower court asking it to determine if Google Books is fair use. The argument is that, if it's fair use, whether or not it's a class action is moot. The lower court dutifully declared Google Books fair use a year ago. Now the case is back before the appeals court as the Authors Guild is insisting loudly that it's not fair use. Thankfully, the judges appear to be very, very skeptical. Perhaps this isn't a surprise, since they were the ones who last year were so focused on the fair use point. It seems clear that Judge Pierre Leval -- known for his support of fair use -- wasn't very interested in the Authors Guild bringing up false arguments that because Google makes money, Google Books can't be fair use: In his argument Wednesday, attorney Paul Smith quickly sought to differentiate the Guild’s case against Google from its unsuccessful HathiTrust case, citing Google’s commercial nature. But almost immediately, Judge Pierre Leval shut him down, telling Smith he would not succeed by arguing that Google’s commercial nature precluded fair use. Smith, however, pressed on, arguing that Google’s scanning deprived authors of a potential market to license books for search. Again, Leval pushed back, noting the transformative nature of the use is what mattered, not whether somebody might potentially pay to make that use. Another summary, from Courthouse News, notes that Leval compared Google to the NY Times: Leval warned that Smith "would lose" the case if his argument was premised on the fact that "Google, like The New York Times, is a profit-motivated enterprise." It makes no difference that, unlike Google, the Times stands to gain "dwindling, small profits" as opposed to Google's billions, he added. Leval also, thankfully, was pretty clear in rejecting the idea that just because publishers could find someone to license a work it means everything needs to be licensed: Smith argued that Google's business model prevented authors from licensing their books to companies like Microsoft, which he said was creating a licensed database before Google Books arrived. "The test is not how transformative is the use," Smith said. "The test is this the type of use that would be licensed." Strongly disagreeing with that point, Leval said. "You'd always find someone who would be willing to pay [a licensing fee] to avoid a lawsuit." However, the craziest argument of all came from the Authors Guild's lawyers in which they tried to point to Aaron Swartz as a reason why Google Books shouldn't be fair use. The argument here is a bit convoluted: Google points out that it only shows snippets, not large swaths of scanned text. The Authors Guild then counters that maybe, just maybe, some enterprising hacker might figure out how to break into the backend and release all the text... because Aaron Swartz: Google Books avoids copyright violations by only allowing users to read portions of books that match their searches, but the Authors Guild raised the possibility of hacker disseminating the digitized books in full. Waxman emphasized that this has never happened in the history of Google Books. In rebuttal, Smith said that he mentioned this concern in light of "an MIT student" distributing academic articles from a university database because he believed, "Information should be free." This is clearly a reference to Swartz, but it's wrong in all sorts of ways (including that Swartz was never an MIT student). Swartz also never "distributed" those academic articles. He merely downloaded them. It's unclear if he actually intended to distribute them or not. He also didn't hack the system. He had full access to the articles he was downloading. And he didn't do it because "information should be free." As we've noted, that phrase tends to be a bogus strawman that copyright system supporters toss up to mock anyone who is in favor of fixing copyright law's problems. No matter what, it clearly has no relevance whatsoever to the case at hand and whether or not book scanning to create a searchable index is fair use. The Authors Guild has been flailing about wildly for a while, and dredging up Aaron Swartz just seems to show how ridiculously desperate it's become.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 17 days ago on techdirt
It's over. The tech kids have won. Shut down the NYPD's counterterrorism unit and brace yourselves for a crimewave of Biblical proportions. Tech-savvy anarchists ran rings around the NYPD during last week’s Ferguson-related protests — and cops are now on edge over what the renegades may be able to pull off after a ruling in the Eric Garner case. The overt message is that the NYPD can't keep up with decentralized opposition. That's right on top. The underlying message is that the NYPD still hasn't stopped sending its uninvited officers to various locales to gather intelligence/annoy the locals/rack up per diem charges. Yes. The NYPD sent detectives to gather intel at the Ferguson protests. These are the takeaways from the NYPD's bumptious interlopers. The NYPD can't stop anything. Protesters are "running rings" around the technologically inept force -- one of the largest and most highly-trained in the nation. Cue the whining: A “technology gap” … favors the activists, many of whom have the newest electronic gear, sources said. “A lot of these anarchists are from the Occupy Wall Street group. They are little rich kids, little techie brats,’’ a source said. “They get their money from Mommy and Daddy. And they travel from the West Coast to the East Coast and everywhere in between to disrupt events that involve corporate America, world summits, civil rights and especially those that involve law enforcement.” “They have their little MacBook Air computers, their Wi-Fi, their smartphones, and they’re off to the races. We’re reacting to these situations, which means we are not fully in control of them,” the source said. Can you feel the resentment? These cops (all unnamed) hate the fact that they're being outwitted by a class of people they obviously feel superior to. There's no "technology gap" here. The cops have laptops, WiFi, smartphones and access to the same social media services. It's just that one group knows how use these tools to coordinate efforts -- and it isn't the group with millions of dollars and years of training behind them. If this is how easily the nation's top police department is tripped up by "new" tech like Airbooks and WiFi, it should just call it a day and disband its (mostly self-) touted counterterrorism unit, as Marcy Wheeler points out. If I were a NYC taxpayer, I’d call for the CT squad to be shut down right away. Partly because of the insubordination in the face of people peacefully protesting. But just as significantly, because of this claimed helplessness in the face of a far easier target than they’re ostensibly paid to pursue. Or maybe give the NYPD the benefit of the doubt. Surely, it can adapt to meet the challenges of this connected era? The unnamed officers state their concern about possible (now definite) protests following the grand jury's decision in Eric Garner's death at the hands of a plainclothes police officer (spoiler alert: no indictment), but they have a finely-honed plan in place to disrupt the disrupters. “We’re expecting strong reaction and demonstrations when the decision comes down,” one source said. Another source said: “The cops on standby will be in riot gear. That means helmets and sticks.” If you can't beat 'em, beat 'em.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 17 days ago on techdirt
While debate over the Comcast merger had hit a bit of a lull for Thanksgiving, it was revived this week with the launch of a group calling itself the Stop Mega Comcast Coalition. Formed by a combination of companies like Dish and consumer advocacy groups like Public Knowledge, the group is lobbying to stop the merger on the grounds it harms competition, price and innovation across a number of markets, including broadband, television, and advertising. Of course, group participants Fairpoint Communications and Dish would likely give a limb to wield the kind of market power Comcast enjoys, but you're apparently supposed to ignore that and just applaud their selfless dedication to consumer welfare. The unveiling of the group resulted in Comcast penning a blog post in which it slammed the new group for trotting out complaints that "weren't found to be credible" in the company's past transaction reviews (like when Comcast acquired NBC, then ignored the merger conditions crafted by itself). To hear Comcast tell it, the company found at least 600 "thoughtful and positive" people who think Comcast getting immensely more massive is a great idea:"While it’s no surprise that the same competitors and special interest groups who’ve gone after Comcast in the past are at it again, the record tells a very different story. Over the last several months, the FCC has received an outpouring of nearly 600 thoughtful and positive comments about the transaction from a wide range of supporters. Unlike most of the criticism, the support has been very transaction-specific. This support includes more than 100 Chambers of Commerce and business organizations, as well as a wide array of small businesses, start-ups, and technology companies. It includes more than 20 programmers, nearly 200 diversity groups and community partners, and over 150 state and local leaders of both parties."Did we mention we pay most of these people for their support? I think we might have forgotten to mention that. Kind of amusingly, Kate Cox at the Consumerist noticed that when Comcast originally blasted telecom reporters and analysts with an e-mail copy of its blog post, the company apparently forgot to proofread it and actually included some internal editing notes. Comcast has proudly and repeatedly stated that because Comcast and Time Warner Cable don't directly compete, the merger can't possibly be bad. Except, in its accidentally-included blog note, Comcast indicates that it wasn't entirely sure of this fact:"We are still working with a vendor to analyze the FCC spreadsheet but in case it shows that there are any consumers in census blocks that may lose a broadband choice, want to make sure these sentences are more nuanced."That's essentially Comcast accidentally publicly admitting that, even after a year of merger prep and defense, that it doesn't actually fully understand the impact of its own deal proposal. The note suggests Comcast had to pay an outside vendor to double check FCC data (provided to the FCC by Comcast), and then would have softened its rhetoric depending on what the analysis found. In a follow up e-mail to me, Comcast denies that it doesn't understand its own $45 billion mega-merger, but then adds to truly do so would take actually visiting some neighborhoods:"Karl, our filings have detailed this issue in the past. It would literally take someone walking the streets or going down to a house by house map to find out if there is any actual overlap - and this would be if any likely in only a very very small number of homes."Perhaps you should maybe go do that before repeatedly insisting there's no competitive overlap? Sure, it's true that the merger is more about vertical integration, programming leverage and monopsony concerns than direct market competition, but that doesn't make Comcast's stumbling, bumbling defense of the deal any less entertaining.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 17 days ago on techdirt
The FBI is suddenly very interested in the Los Angeles School District's $1.3 billion iPad purchase. Earlier this fall, the LASD board voted to lower retention periods on email to one year, bringing it conveniently back in line with the district's policy, but more to the point, hopefully ensuring that it wouldn't be embarrassed again by emails older than 365 days. The decision comes less than three weeks after KPCC published two-year-old internal emails that raised questions about whether Superintendent John Deasy's meetings and discussions with Apple and textbook publisher Pearson influenced the school district's historic $500 million technology contract. What's detailed in these emails appears to be the impetus for the following: L.A. school district officials turned over 20 boxes of documents Monday in response to a federal grand jury subpoena for documents related to its troubled iPad project, officials confirmed Tuesday afternoon. The subpoena asked for documents related to the bidding process as well as to the winning bidders in the $1.3-billion effort to provide a computer to every student, teacher and campus administrator. The contract, approved in June 2013, was with Apple to supply iPads; Pearson provided the curriculum as a subcontractor. LASD's attempt to put some sort of device in every one of its students' hands has failed miserably. Students cracked the school's proprietary lockdown measures within days of receiving them, loading up the tablets with unapproved software and photos, all the while browsing a now-uncensored web. The district's tech distribution plan has now ground to a halt. The allegedly crooked superintendent behind the iPad/Pearson partnership has since resigned and only 91,000 of the 650,000 iPads destined for students and teachers have actually been purchased. The district is now giving schools the option of picking up cheaper Chromebooks, which would have been a great idea if only the district hadn't previously spent money purchasing laptops that were pricier than the $768 iPads (which also come bundled with $200 worth of Pearson software -- software found to be mostly useless by evaluators, who noted that only one classroom in the 245 surveyed was actually using it for daily work). The new superintendent (who inherited former superintendent John Deasy's possibly illegal mess), Ramon Cortines, states that the iPad program is now off the table completely. The morning after the FBI seized the documents, Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said he was shelving the contract. Cortines said his decision was not based on the surprise visit by FBI agents to district headquarters. Yes, well, maybe not "based" entirely on that, but the FBI's removal of 20 file boxes of documents related to the iPad purchases certainly must have played a small part. Now, we'll have to see what the FBI uncovers as a previous investigation by the LA County district attorney's office found no evidence of wrongdoing -- or at least, nothing wrong enough to result in criminal charges. While the intention of the tech rollout was good (put devices in the hands of students who couldn't otherwise afford them), everything else about it was wrong, not the least of which was the former superintendent's cozy relationship with the two primary vendors. Nearly useless software tethered to locked down devices ensured that the only beneficiaries of this project were those selling hardware and software. This was $1.3 billion spent with little more to show for it than an open FBI investigation -- hardly the sort of results anyone could call "encouraging."Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 17 days ago on techdirt
No sooner had I chastised the executive branch for its half-assery in all things 1033-related than it delivers its findings on the much-criticized program [pdf link]. A little over a week ago, I wrote this. Others -- including President Obama -- promised to look into the program. Obama ordered the first top-level review of the Pentagon's 1033 program in over 20 years, but weeks later, there's been nothing reported. The administration is now forcing me to eat my words, having responded fairly quickly to my caustic single-sentence editorial. The pithily-titled "Review: Federal Support for Law Enforcement Equipment Acquisition" has been released, detailing the review's findings and concerns about the Pentagon's "An MRAP in every PD" program. The opening "Background" plays up a few talking points: Particularly in the years since September 11, 2001, Congress and the Executive Branch have steadily increased spending and support for these programs, in light of legitimate concerns about the growing threat of terrorism, shrinking local budgets, and the relative ease with which some criminals are able to obtain high-powered weapons. Of course, the "growing threat of terrorism" often cited on acquisition forms usually becomes "toys for drug warriors" or "nothing says warrant service like an armored vehicle" in practice. Or in Keane, New Hampshire's (pop. 23,000) case: "the terrorists hate us for our annual PumpkinFest." The review posits that there are three possible issues with the 1033 program, which it acknowledges has expanded at a faster rate than the policies governing it. During the course of this review, White House components have explored whether existing federal programs: 1) provide LEAs with equipment that is appropriate to the needs of their communities, 2) ensure that LEAs are properly trained to the equipment they obtain, and 3) encourage LEAs to adopt organizational and operational practices and standards that prevent misuse/abuse of the equipment. A large percentage of the program's dispersals (96%) are routine: office equipment, medical supplies, computers and basic protective gear. But because of the size of the program, the remaining 4% ("controlled equipment," which covers the most controversial items) is still very sizable. However, this 4% translates into 78,000 pieces of controlled equipment transferred from DOD to LEAs. To date, approximately 460,000 pieces of controlled property are currently in the possession of LEAs across the country. That's a lot of equipment, almost all of it deployed without training, oversight or specific policies. It's also distributed without transparency in many cases. Utilizing DHS grants often allows local law enforcement agencies to bypass city councils and other parts of the purchasing process that would allow for at least a little public oversight. The review makes several suggestions to plug the many loopholes in the 1033 program. Develop a consistent list of controlled property allowable for acquisition by LEAs. Require local civilian (non-police) review of and authorization for LEAs to request or acquire controlled equipment. Mandate that LEAs which participate in federal equipment programs receive necessary training and have policies in place that address appropriate use and employment of controlled equipment, as well as protection of civil rights and civil liberties. Agencies should identify existing training opportunities and help LEAs avail themselves of those opportunities, including those offered by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) and the International Association of Law Enforcement Standards and Training. Require after-action analysis reports for significant incidents involving federally provided or federally-funded equipment. Harmonize Federal programs so that they have consistent and transparent policies. Develop a database that includes information about controlled equipment purchased or acquired through Federal programs. As it stands now, any sort of tracking or accountability has been performed by civilians, usually in the form of FOIA requests. MuckRock has compiled all of its responsive documents for 1033 acquisitions and other FOIA requests have uncovered multiple incidents in which the normal purchase process has been bypassed. While it's nice to see the administration realize that the program has created multiple issues, the corrective measures still rely on honest self-reporting, something law enforcement agencies aren't known for. See also: the gaping holes in data on citizens shot by law enforcement officers. Agencies will continue to cite the protection of investigative means and methods to justify the withholding of data, much as they do with their IMSI catchers. Interestingly, the administration's review also touches on the subject of asset forfeiture, even though it's not directly related to the 1033 program (agencies can buy 1033 equipment with seized funds). However, its assessment of the program doesn't touch on the numerous problems inherent in policing for profit, instead focusing on the particulars of participating in the program. LEAs participating in the ESP [Equitable Sharing Program] must comply with three basic requirements: 1) Funds must be maintained in a separate revenue account, 2) Participants must maintain a log of all tangible property purchased with equitable sharing funds or received from DOJ, and 3) Participants must maintain records of all expenditures made from equitably shared funds. Not addressed is the loophole this program creates for law enforcement agencies that are forbidden by state laws from directly profiting from seizures. Partnering with the federal government allows agencies to bypass state restrictions and receive a portion of its seizures from the US government, rather than turning everything seized over to the state. This has lead to 7,500 law enforcement agencies splitting up $2.7 billion since 2009, even when limited to making seizures above $5,000 without an accompanying criminal prosecution. (This falls to $1,000 with a criminal prosecution.) While this may put a damper on nickel-and-dime seizures, it has no discernible effect on the overall abuse of this law enforcement privilege. Overall, the recommendations for fixing the 1033 program are a step forward. But considering the free-for-all it's been for years, the fixes are not so much groundbreaking as they are the re-introduction of common sense and (minimal) oversight. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 17 days ago on techdirt
You may recall, back in June, that there was a key House vote that took NSA supporters by surprise. An amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill pushed by a bi-partisan team of Thomas Massie, Jim Sensenbrenner and Zoe Lofgren passed overwhelmingly, with a plan to slam the door shut on questionable NSA "backdoor searches" (as described in detail earlier). The House voted 293 to 123, making it a pretty clear and overwhelming statement that Congress did not, in fact, support such practices by the NSA. But, of course, the NSA gets the last laugh. As part of the big lameduck CRomnibus effort in Congress, it appears that the House leadership has agreed to drop that amendment, despite the fact it passed overwhelmingly. Apparently, this is angering many who supported that amendment, and in response, according to Cato's Patrick Eddington, Congress is going to bring up the CRomnibus under closed rule to basically block anyone attempting to add it back in as an amendment (which is what some had hoped to do). It's basically yet another giant middle finger to the idea of any meaningful surveillance reform -- even one that the majority of Congress wanted.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 17 days ago on techdirt
Before Photoshop, there were real airbrushes and paintings that were just a bit more flattering than a mirror. Movie magic is improving all the time with computer generated effects, and it's getting harder and harder to tell what's been altered (just assume everything is). You might not want to meet your favorite actors in real life after seeing how they've been modified. Here are a few links on digital touch-ups. Hollywood actors/actresses don't just rely on makeup and botox. They also have "beauty work" done that isn't quite turning actors into Andy Serkis (yet). Digital touch-ups can remove a lot of "flaws" and make people look just a bit younger looking than they are in reality. [url] Photoshop is used routinely to make the covers of magazines look a bit better (or worse, depending on your preferences), but what images does your brain really prefer? If you think you hate the sound of your own voice when it's recorded, you might prefer a touched-up version of your portraits, too. [url] Esther Honig tried an experiment to see the different standards of beauty -- as depicted by 40 photoshop artists from dozens of different countries modifying a photo of Honig. A few verions of her photo appeared to be barely altered, but a bunch of these photos strayed pretty far from the original. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 17 days ago on techdirt
Netflix's path of disruption has been nothing if not entertaining, whether it's the company's attempt to disrupt antiquated theater release windows with simultaneous theater and streaming releases, or its foray into original content. As Netflix passes the 53.1 million subscriber mark worldwide, it's been equally entertaining to watch the global legacy TV industry stumbling around trying to thwart this inevitable progress, whether it's AMC theaters refusing to carry Netflix's "Crouching Dragon" sequel, the increasingly absurd shenanigans we've seen afoot on the ISP interconnection front, or Australia's attempts to outlaw VPNs. When it comes to measuring the transition to Internet video, viewer tracking firms like Nielsen have been very happy to ignore data illustrating Netflix's rise -- so broadcast and cable executives are more comfortable with their heads buried deeply in the sand. Speaking in Mexico to promote his company's international expansion efforts, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings this week stated Nielsen's recent announcement to finally track Netflix and Amazon viewers was "not very relevant," since Nielsen still isn't capable of tracking phone and tablet viewing specifically. Hastings also took the opportunity to offer up his predicted expiration date for the legacy TV industry:"It's not very relevant," he said. "There's so much viewing that happens on a mobile phone or an iPad that [Nielsen won't] capture."...As for free-to-air TV, Hastings believes its days are numbered. "It's kind of like the horse, you know, the horse was good until we had the car," he said. "The age of broadcast TV will probably last until 2030."Maybe, maybe not. There have been significant strides in getting broadcasters to loosen up licensing rights for live TV streaming, and that's going to result in a slew of standalone streaming services launching in 2015 from the likes of Dish Networks, HBO, Showtime, Sony and Verizon Wireless. Netflix, Amazon and company have also been making great strides in developing original content that doesn't suck, from Netflix's "House of Cards," to Amazon's "Transparent." Even the industry analysts that used to mock and deny the cord cutting trend have finally, quietly, acknowledged the trend is real. That said, the incumbent gatekeepers won't magically disappear as IP television becomes the norm. Whether it's the allegations they're intentionally throttling interconnection points, attempts to regulate Netflix to death, or the use of usage caps to protect TV revenues, there's every indication they're not going to be taking the transition gracefully. The industry's core strategy at the moment is to use regulatory to ride the legacy cash cow right into the ground with a series of endless rate hikes for massive channel bundles, then complain vocally when users fail to see the value in that equation. Only when consumers begin to cut the cord en masse will the cable industry finally respond to consumer demands for things like cheaper, a la carte content -- probably right around the year 2029.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 17 days ago on techdirt
We recently wrote about how a judge in Connecticut's New Britain Superior Court, Stephen Frazzini, apparently was somewhat confused by the concept of prior restraint and the First Amendment in issuing an injunction barring the publication of an article by the Connecticut Law Tribune concerning documents in a case that had been posted to a public docket. As we noted, this is classic prior restraint, and the Connecticut Law Tribune protested. It appears that Judge Frazzini has realized the error of his ways and has vacated the original order, but has apparently kept his reasoning under seal, and won't even allow the publication's lawyer to let the publication know the details: Superior Court Judge Stephen Frazzini has vacated his order forbidding The Law Tribune from publishing a story about a child custody case. Daniel Klau, the Hartford lawyer who has been representing the Law Tribune, said the judge issued "a nine-page order, explaining why he vacated his injunction." The entire order, like the other rulings in this matter, remain under seal, and Klau has been ordered not disclose them to his client. Later in the article, Klau notes that he's "moving to unseal the court record of the proceedings" so that hopefully the details will become public. To be fair, the article does note that Frazzini himself may have realized the problems with the initial order on his own, calling a hearing, asking both parties to discuss if his original order was Constitutional. Other statements from the judge certainly suggest a recognition that his original ruling was a mistake on multiple levels: At the Dec. 1 hearing, to illustrate his concern about the constitutionality of his injunction, Frazzini read from part of his still-sealed order, in which he quotes U.S. Supreme Court decisions, CBS v. Davis (1994), and Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart (1976). Those decisions warn that any prior restraint of expression bears a heavy presumption against its constitutional validity. Parties wishing to block publication also carry a heavy burden of justifying the imposition of such a restraint, and judges should impose it only when an "evil" is both grave and certain to occur, Frazzini noted. Finally, the judge noted, any remedy that included prior restraint needs to be "narrowly tailored" for the least intrusion upon speech and press freedom. The judge also said he is vexed by the continued existence on other websites of the court document that is at the focus of the Law Tribune article and the target of the injunction. One of the blogs that link to the court document is associated with The Washington Post. The judge wondered aloud how he could prohibit publication of confidential details by the Washington Post or the New York Times, even if he did have "long arm" jurisdiction. And why should the Connecticut Law Tribune be enjoined from publishing what every other newspaper could freely publish? The situation isn't over yet, however, as the state Supreme Court is likely going to hear an appeal, though there's some confusion about the process given the new move to vacate the original order: In the meantime, the state Supreme Court said it would hear appeals in the case, bypassing the state Appellate Court. The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut has already filed an amicus brief to the court on behalf of the Law Tribune and its right to publish. Joining that brief are two open government organizations, three media organizations and more than a dozen media outlets. The filing argues that barring the Law Tribune from publishing the story "is absolutely prohibited by the free speech and press sections of the Connecticut Constitution." Either way, there's no doubt that the information in the case may be sensitive -- involving children -- but that still shouldn't lead to prior restraint.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 18 days ago on techdirt
Well, that Sony hack that has alternatively been blamed on everyone from disgruntled ex-employees to current Sony employees to freaking North Korea is getting stranger. Most of the strangeness, or at least eyebrow-raising content, comes from some of the files pulled in the hack that are being distributed throughout the internet. Most notably, a 25GB torrent is making the rounds that purportedly includes everything from executive salaries, employee identifying information and compensation packages, and early comments on the torrent file that were postulating theories as to how all this happened appear to have been coming from Sony-linked addresses. It seems all too facile at this point to publically speculate that some very embarrassing information about internal Sony dealings will be coming to light in the coming days. Perhaps the least noteworthy result of the hack is the release of some Sony films onto the internet, where they have been downloaded in somewhat large numbers. As first reported here on TF, following the hacks last week several unreleased Sony movies leaked online. Fury, featuring Brad Pitt, was by far the highest profile and today we can confirm that the title has been downloaded by BitTorrent users more than a million times. A million times on a torrent available worldwide? Meh. Still, everyone had to know that the making available of Sony films was not a crime that would go unnoticed by the industry, nor by the politicians they've bought that independently favor the entertainment industry. And since those politicians aren't in any way interested in grandstanding or blaming the wrong people, you can imagine how carefully they've taken their aim to blame the appropriate parties for the crimes inflicted upon Sony. Mike Weatherley MP, the recent IP advisor to Prime Minister David Cameron, has published several piracy reports including one earlier in the year examining the advertising revenue on pirate sites. He believes that companies with no direct connection to the hack or subsequent leaks should shoulder some blame. “Piracy is a huge international problem. The recent cyber-attack on Sony and subsequent release of films to illegal websites is just one high-profile example of how criminals exploit others’ Intellectual Property,” Weatherley writes in an email to TF. “Unfortunately, the theft of these films – and their subsequent downloads – has been facilitated by web-hosting companies and, ultimately, ISPs who do have to step-up and take some responsibility.” Got that? Piracy, a huge international problem, shouldn't be dealt with directly. Instead, this enormous, mega-large super-problem should be indirectly tackled by forcing parties that took no part in the crimes to do...well, what exactly? Because this is the UK we're talking about, where ISPs are already proactively blocking so-called infringing sites, and it hasn't done a whole lot of good, since those blocks are easily subverted by proxies and other easily accessible methods. So what should ISPs, who've already cooperated thus far, be forced to do now? The only answer from MPs like Weatherley appears to be: "MOAR!" Absent from his speech is any actual content, by which I mean solution. What does he want ISPs to do? More. More of what is already not working, the blocking of sites? Yes. How should this be done? Silence. Why would this be more effective than what's being subverted today? Silence. Why? Because Weatherley likely knows that he's pushing for something that doesn't make sense. Overall, it’s clear that forcing technology companies into shouldering blame for the actions of others is a difficult game and one that has yet to make any noticeable dent in piracy volumes. Still, that won’t stop rightsholders pursuing claims against them and influential characters like Weatherley pushing for reform. Easier than going after the actual criminals or pushing for business model reform, I suppose. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 18 days ago on techdirt
Earlier this year, we wrote about Rep. Bob Latta -- whose campaigns have been bankrolled by basically every big broadband player -- introducing laughably misleading legislation designed to block the FCC from putting in place net neutrality rules. As we noted at the time, nearly every claim that Latta made in his announcement about the legislation was flat out false. Laughably so. The worst was just the fact that he argued that his bill -- which would directly block the FCC from putting in place rules that would keep the internet "open and free" is described as legislation that would "ensure the internet remains open and free." He's not just co-opting the language of the other side, he's making a mockery of it. And, apparently, having been called out on spewing pure bullshit, he's not backing down. On Monday he sent out a "Dear Colleague" email to all other members of the House, asking them to co-sponsor his legislation (HR 4752), once again claiming that it was necessary to "preserve a free and open internet." Dear Colleague: Please join me in becoming a co-sponsor of H.R. 4752, a bill to limit the authority of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over providers of broadband Internet access service. As you know, the Internet has flourished under a light-touch regulatory framework that has long governed its operation and functionality. However, the FCC is considering reclassifying broadband from an information service to a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act and regulating it using laws based on the monopoly telephone era of the 1930s. This proposal would go against the FCC’s long-standing precedent on broadband classification and stall the growth and innovation we’ve seen over the past two decades. Reclassification would add unnecessary regulation on broadband providers and restrict their flexibility to innovate and stunt their ability to make robust investments. H.R. 4752 would prevent the FCC from regulating broadband Internet access as a Title II service, which would ultimately benefit consumers by providing the certainty that Internet Service Providers need to continue investing in expansive broadband networks without fear of excessive regulation. Most importantly, it would uphold the very regulatory structure that has enabled the Internet to remain open and free. Once again, almost everything stated here is wrong or misleading. First of all, cable was only classified under Title I as an information service as of 2002 and DSL as of 2005. Before that, DSL especially was recognized as being classified under Title II as a common carrier service and had its highest levels of investment prior to the FCC decision to go with Title I, rather than Title II. So arguing either that there is "long-standing precedent" or that the "past two decades" of internet growth and investment is due to Title I, rather than Title II, is flat out false. It's a lie. Congressional Reps shouldn't be allowed to get away with lying, even if they do so regularly. Second, it's a flat out lie to claim that the current "regulatory structure" is what "has enable the Internet to remain open and free." Nothing of the sort is true. In fact, the big broadband players for years have been threatening to put up tollbooths and to break with the past concerning the open and free internet. AT&T's Ed Whitacre kicked it all off back in 2005 by saying he wanted big successful companies like Google to pay him extra to be able to reach his users. The only thing that has stopped that from happening has been the ongoing effort by the FCC to block any such attempt with a variety of net neutrality rules. And, yes, the courts have struck down the FCC's previous attempts, but to argue that the existing regulatory structure stopped the big broadband players from putting up tollbooths on the internet is clearly wrong. Finally, there's nothing in his bill that would actually encourage an "open and free internet," nor does Rep. Latta (or his financial backers) actually want that. They want the reverse. They want a lack of barriers or rules from the FCC so they can break the open internet, allowing them to put up tollbooths that charge successful companies (like Netflix, Google and others) extra just to reach their end users, because they know they have terminating access monopolies, and as such can act as gatekeepers. There are real debates to be had about the rules and the authorities that the FCC is looking at using. But that's not what Rep. Latta is doing. He's cynically trying to block the FCC from doing anything meaningful on protecting an open and free internet, while pretending that his solution (let the broadband guys do whatever the hell they want) will magically keep the internet free and open even as those very same broadband players have made it clear they would like nothing more than to end the open and free nature of the internet, so they can charge more and block out competition.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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