posted 17 days ago on techdirt
Protecting humans from the harsh environment of space isn't easy, so spacesuits are usually bulky and not too fashionable. Buzz Lightyear's outfit is actually not too unbecoming, but astronauts probably shouldn't dress like animated characters, even if they could. Astronauts shouldn't worry about what they look like as long as they're safely protected, but certain astronaut images might scare off folks (aliens?). Here are just a few spacesuit designs that future space travelers are testing out now. Alan Eustace didn't make it to space, but he did set a new world record by free falling from 25 miles above the Earth. He broke Felix Baumgartner's record by about a mile, and it took a special spacesuit to protect him during his 15-minute fall that exceeded the speed of sound. [url] MIT is working on a form-fitting spacesuit with active compression coils embedded in the fabric. This BioSuit has been under development for a few years already, and it's definitely the most fashionable spacesuit -- if it actually allows astronauts to survive in space. [url] NASA asked people to vote for their favorite new Z-2 spacesuit design, but the winning design won't go into space. The Z-2 suit will be tested for performance and comfort, but it's just a prototype that will influence the design of a future spacesuit that may one day be used for spacewalks and planetary EVAs. [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
Earlier this year, we noted that absolutely-running-for-President-while-pretending-to-think-about-it Hillary Clinton gave a stupid and vague non-answer answer to her position on government surveillance. It was the perfect politician's answer, refusing to really take a position that could be held against her at some point in the future. Except, on important issues, refusing to answer sometimes isn't an answer, and this is a perfect case of that. The leading contenders for the Republican nomination appear to have all made statements one way or the other, while Hillary has done everything possible not to take a position on the matter. If Hillary Clinton has a position on the government's domestic spying, she's doing a good job of hiding it. More than a year after Edward Snowden's leaks, the former secretary of State has yet to offer a meaningful assessment of the National Security Agency's mass-surveillance programs. She's had plenty of chances, but in interviews, speeches, and even her new book, Clinton has repeatedly ducked the issue with vagaries and cliches. The possible 2016 candidate rarely discusses NSA spying unprompted. And when she does, her remarks are often couched in opaque platitudes about the need to balance privacy and national security concerns. Again, it's not surprising from a political standpoint, but you have to wonder if it will come back to hurt her. While surveillance may not be a top voting issue these days, many inside DC seem to be underestimating just how important it is to many people.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 17 days ago on techdirt
The saga of Roca Labs continues. If you're unfamiliar with it, I recommend reading the previous stories, rather than having me rehash it here, but the Florida company, which makes a substance that it claims will help people lose weight is suing PissedConsumer.com because Roca gets many of its customers to agree to a questionable clause barring any negative statements about the product, and Roca claims that PissedConsumer's encouragement of negative reviews is somehow tortious interference. Roca also has a history of threatening lots of people with defamation claims, including all three former customers who came forward as witnesses in the PissedConsumer case... and us at Techdirt for merely covering the case and quoting some of the filings. There was also this weird tangent involving a failed accusation that PissedConsumer's lawyer, Marc Randazza tried to "bribe" a state Senator (that got tossed out pretty quickly). Apparently, though, Roca Labs just keeps threatening people for covering the case. We've heard from a few others who received similar threats to the one we received, and the latest is Tracy Coenen, a fraud investigator who writes the Fraud Files blog, where she covered the Roca lawsuit, the lawsuit against a former customer and the fake implied endorsement from Alfonso Ribeiro. Apparently, Roca's "independent general counsel" Paul Berger didn't like that, and sent her a legal nastygram last week, claiming that she made "numerous false and defamatory statements." Coenen has now responded to Berger's letter, declining to retract the original, noting that the statements in question are either statements of opinion, quotes from the pleadings in the case or factual statements. At this point, I'm just kind of curious as to why Berger thinks this particular strategy is effective. Is it just the only remaining hammer in his toolbag, and thus every bit of coverage looks like a nail he has to bang? In the meantime, the case continues with yet another new lawyer representing Roca (I've lost track of how many there have been). The latest lawyer, James Hetz, who also lists himself as "independent general counsel" for Roca Labs (how many of those do they have?) recently filed a statement that the PissedConsumer case "IS NOT related to any pending or closed civil or criminal case filed with this Court or any other Federal or State court..." That struck me as somewhat interesting, given a blog post from lawyer Ron Coleman last week, in which he revealed that... before Roca had sued PissedConsumer in Florida, PissedConsumer had actually sued Roca Labs for declaratory judgment in New York, after Roca had begun sending PissedConsumer threatening letters demanding it remove all those negative reviews (and apparently claiming, hilariously, it had "suffered damages in excess of $40 million" from the negative reviews). According to the docket on that case, Roca Labs is trying to get it dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, but otherwise the case is proceeding. Given that these appear to be about the very same issue, I'm not sure how the Roca Labs filing in Florida by Hetz is an accurate statement.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 17 days ago on techdirt
It was bad enough when the Australian government announced that it was joining the growing club of countries that would be retaining huge swathes of its citizens' metadata. But now people are beginning to realize that once that store of metadata exists it not only can, but probably will, be used for many other purposes that have nothing to do with the avowed aim of fighting terrorism. The first hint that this might happen came from a slip made by the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, reported here by Gizmodo Australia: When asked if stored metadata could be used to combat piracy, Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Andrew Colvin, replied at a press conference that the stored data of Australians could be used for a whole number of things, including anti-piracy: “Absolutely. Any interface or connection someone has over the internet, we need to be able to identify the parties to that collection. Illegal downloads, piracy, cyber crimes, cyber security. Our ability to investigate them is pinned to the ability to retrieve metadata,” Colvin told journalists. Understandably, this caused such a storm that the Australian government tried to backtrack. The country's Attorney-General, George Brandis, was quoted in TechWorld Australia as saying: "The mandatory metadata retention regime applies only to the most serious crime -- to terrorism, to international and transnational organised crime, to paedophilia, where the use of metadata has been particularly useful as an investigative tool," Brandis told ABC's Q&A program last night. So that's a return to the original script: metadata is for fighting terrorism and serious crimes. But Brandis then went on to say: The laws will apply "only to crime and only to the highest levels of crime," the attorney-general said. "Breach of copyright is a civil wrong. Civil wrongs have got nothing to do with this scheme." The trouble with that argument is that infringing on copyright can also be a criminal offense, as the Australian Federal Police (AFP) site explains: The AFP is committed to taking action against those believed to be the organisers, major importers and/or wholesalers of infringing products. The AFP is committed to building partnerships with industry and other law enforcement agencies to combat IP crime and wherever possible ascertain links to organised crime. Moreover, the recent leak of the TPP IP chapter shows that one of its measures aims to lower the bar for the criminalization of copyright infringement, even when there is no commercial intent: Each Party shall provide for criminal procedures and penalties to be applied at least in cases of willful trademark counterfeiting or copyright or related rights piracy on a commercial scale. {For the purposes of this Article, [US propose, CA/MY oppose: such acts of [NZ: willful] copyright or related rights piracy {on a commercial scale} include at least:] [CA/MY propose: In respect of copyright or related rights piracy, acts carried out on a commercial scale include at least:] [CL propose:181] [182] (a) acts carried out for commercial advantage or financial gain[CA propose:183]; and (b) significant acts [CA oppose: of copyright or related rights piracy], not carried out for commercial advantage or financial gain, that have a substantial prejudicial impact on the interests of the copyright or related rights owner in relation to the marketplace.} [AU propose:184] Since it's still a draft, that's a bit of a mess, but the important parts are at the beginning -- "Each Party shall provide for criminal procedures and penalties to be applied" -- and at the end, where Australia wants criminal penalties even if "not carried out for commercial advantage or financial gain", but simply if they have "substantial prejudicial impact on the interests of the copyright or related rights owner in relation to the marketplace". It's not hard to see how uploading a single music file might be claimed to do that, since potentially it could be copied thousands of times. That non-commercial upload would therefore be subject to criminal penalties under TPP, which opens up the possibility of using stored metadata to track down the person responsible. The transcript of an interesting radio program from the Australian broadcaster ABC reveals another way in which stored metadata might be applied to cases involving alleged copyright infringement: the Government not using metadata to fight internet piracy is one thing, the rights holders themselves using the metadata trove to expose customer details is an entirely different scenario. [Australia's Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull] admitted as much this morning, saying that under legislation, stored metadata would be accessible by third parties via a court order. That could mean that copyright holders could sue ISPs for customer information, forcing them to reveal which user was responsible for a download, opening up the user to claims for damages. But this route could be used for any civil case, despite claims from the Australian government that data retention is only about serious crimes. A lawyer who works for Marque Lawyers, the law firm acting for the copyright owners of the film Dallas Buyers Club, explained on the program: Any civil litigation where a question arises about a person's conduct or activities or where they've been and when they've been there, which often can arise in all sorts of civil cases. This kind of information could be extremely useful. ... It's historically been quite difficult to get information out of telcos because they hold an enormous amount of data and not always in the most easily accessible way and they don't like handing it over. But if they're forced under this new regime into a protocol which establishes a very clear and consistent methodology for storing data for a particular period, then that becomes a much more easily accessible resource and much more difficult to say, "Oh, you know, we can't find it." Yeah, I think, I think it'll be quite popular. It will doubtless be especially popular among copyright trolls, who will be able to use it to track down people before sending in their "speculative" invoices.... Retaining everyone's metadata in order to tackle terrorism was always a bad idea, given the attendant risks, but it looks like it could turn into a legal and political nightmare once the lawyers start applying to Australian courts for routine access to this highly-private information. That's yet another good reason not to proceed with this ill-advised scheme at all. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 17 days ago on techdirt
The ACLU's Jameel Jaffer alerts us to a district court ruling in NY that effectively says that by merely agreeing to AOL's terms of service, you've waived your 4th Amendment rights. The case is the United States v. Frank DiTomasso, where DiTomasso is accused of producing child porn -- with most of the evidence used against him coming from AOL. DiTomasso argues that it was obtained via an unconstitutional search in violation of the 4th Amendment, but judge Shira Scheindlin rejects that, by basically saying that AOL's terms of service make you effectively waive any 4th Amendment right you might have in any such information. To be fair, Scheindlin doesn't get to that conclusion breezily, and earlier in the ruling worries that one can just give up such 4th Amendment rights: I conclude that it would subvert the purpose of the Fourth Amendment to understand its privacy guarantee as “waivable” in the sense urged by the government. In today’s world, meaningful participation in social and professional life requires using electronic devices — and the use of electronic devices almost always requires acquiescence to some manner of consent-to-search terms. If this acquiescence were enough to waive one’s expectation of privacy, the result would either be (1) the chilling of social interaction or (2) the evisceration of the Fourth Amendment. Neither result is acceptable. Agreed. So... what's the issue here? Well, apparently AOL's terms of service are so clear to the point that it would monitor your account for illegal behavior that somehow it's okay in this case: AOL’s policy is quite different. Not only does it explicitly warn users that criminal activity is disallowed, and that AOL monitors for such activity; the policy also explains that “AOL reserves the right to take any action it deems warranted” in response to illegal behavior, including “terminating] accounts and cooperat[ing] with law enforcement.” The policy also makes clear that AOL reserves the right to reveal to law enforcement information about “crimes[s] that [have] been or [are] being committed.” In contrast to Omegle’s policy, which includes only a passing reference to law enforcement — and which gives no indication of the role Omegle intends to play in criminal investigations — AOL’s policy makes clear that AOL intends to actively assist law enforcement. For this reason, I conclude that a reasonable person familiar with AOL’s policy would understand that by agreeing to the policy, he was consenting not just to monitoring by AOL as an ISP, but also to monitoring by AOL as a government agent. Therefore, DiTomasso’s Fourth Amendment challenge fails as to the emails. I'm not entirely sure how to reconcile those two paragraphs. They seem to directly contradict one another. The fine line of difference here is that the court is saying the 4th Amendment rights aren't "waived," but that DiTomasso effectively "consented" to a search by law enforcement. This seems like a distinction without any real difference. Still, there is a separate public policy question here. Many internet service providers similarly analyze emails against a hash database of known child porn images to try to catch people sending around child porn -- and there's a reasonable argument to be made that there's a good reason that this is done. In fact, just a few months ago there was news of a similar situation involving a Gmail user, where Google's automated systems alerted NCMEC to potential child porn. But, even given that, it seems troubling to suggest, even in this somewhat narrow manner, that you could effectively give up your 4th Amendment rights just by agreeing to a terms of service. These are the kinds of loopholes that the government is known to jump all over and expand until they effectively swallow the entire rule. And, of course, almost no one wants to claim that they're trying to better defend people engaged in child porn -- but that's how basic fundamental rights get chipped away. You attack those rights against the kind of people that no one wants to defend, and then that removal of rights is expanded to more and more and more people. Even if you're against child porn (and you should be), it should be concerning that a mere terms of service can be seen as official "consent" to law enforcement to a search of otherwise private communications.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 18 days ago on techdirt
We've only written about Lena Dunham once before, and it was in the context of her threatening a lawsuit against Gawker for daring to publish her book proposal and comment on it, mocking Dunham. At the time, as noted, I'd never even heard of Dunham. I've still never seen her show, but I have seen/heard her interviewed a few times, and I don't quite understand why there's so much hate directed at her some of the time. She seems to have an interesting perspective on life and has turned it into a very successful TV show. Good for her. Still, this is now the second time we've felt the need to write about Dunham and, once again, it's about an apparent legal threat from her, based on her book. This time it's not about the book proposal, but the book itself, now that it's out. The key issue? Some news sites out there interpreted part of her book to be her admitting to sexually abusing her little sister as a baby. These claims appear to be rather overblown. Various experts appear to agree that nothing Dunham did comes close to actual sexual abuse. Still, it appears that Dunham has at least threatened one site, TruthRevolt, for writing just such a story. She demanded a retraction and a (pre-written) apology. TruthRevolt, wisely, refused. Instead, it just reprinted the text from Dunham's own book that highlights the basis for the site's original post. Ken "Popehat" White has the excellent explanation of the legal ridiculousness of Dunham's lawyers' threats: If Ms. Dunham is alleging that the original Truth Revolt article about her is defamatory, she is wrong — unless it has deliberately and extensively misquoted her book. Truth Revolt has admitted that the article originally and incorrectly said that she was 17, not 7, when one of the incidents described took place. But absent proof that Truth Revolt made that misstatement intentionally, that's incompetence, not the actual malice required to prove up defamation of a public figure like Ms. Dunham. Truth Revolt's characterization of Ms. Dunham's memoir is not defamation. It's classic opinion based on specific disclosed facts. You might think that Truth Revolt's interpretation of Dunham's stories of her conduct with her sister is irrational, or unfair, or politically biased, or cruel. That doesn't make it defamatory. If I linked to one of Ben Shapiro's articles and said "this article proves that Ben Shapiro is a secret lizard person sent by Obama to discredit conservatives," that wouldn't be defamation either. It might be crazy, but it's my statement of opinion based on Shapiro's own words. If Truth Revolt had said "people have told me that Lena Dunham molested her sister" or "I have reviewed documents that suggest to me that Lena Dunham molested her sister," that would be different — that would be a statement of fact, or a statement of opinion based on undisclosed facts. Of course, White has an alternative theory as to why all of this is happening as well: Her threat, and her reaction to the coverage, are likely to trigger the Streisand Effect, driving orders of magnitude more eyes to the characterizations of her memoir. She's media-savvy enough that I can't help but wonder whether that's her intention in the first place. It will sell books. Given that this is the second time she's appeared in these pages, and both times it's about threatening some random blog for highlighting her own words and mocking them... that theory is seems to have a fair bit of support.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 18 days ago on techdirt
There are times that I wonder if former NSA General Counsel Stewart Baker is just trolling with his various comments, because they're so frequently out of touch with reality, even though he's clearly an intelligent guy. His latest is to join in with the misguided attacks on Apple and Google making mobile encryption the default on iOS and Android devices, with an especially bizarre argument: protecting the privacy of your users is bad for business. Oh really? Specifically, Baker engages in some hysterically wrong historical revisionism concerning the rise and fall of RIM/Blackberry: Baker said encrypting user data had been a bad business model for Blackberry, which has had to dramatically downsize its business and refocus on business customers. “Blackberry pioneered the same business model that Google and Apple are doing now - that has not ended well for Blackberry,” said Baker. He claimed that by encrypting user data Blackberry had limited its business in countries that demand oversight of communication data, such as India and the UAE and got a bad reception in China and Russia. “They restricted their own ability to sell. We have a tendency to think that once the cyberwar is won in the US that that is the end of it - but that is the easiest war to swim.” While it's true that some countries, like India, demanded the right to spy on Blackberry devices, the idea that this was the reason for the company's downfall is ludicrous. First of all, RIM gave in to some of those demands anyway. But, more importantly, the reason that Blackberry failed was because the company just couldn't keep up from an innovation standpoint -- and that's because early on it made the decision to focus onenforcing patents, rather than truly innovating. RIM got fat and lazy by getting an early lead and then focusing on protecting it, rather than keeping up with the market. And... one of the reasons it got that early lead was because companies were willing to buy into the Blackberry in part because of its strong encryption. The idea that encryption was bad for business because China and Russia couldn't spy on people is not only ridiculous and silly, but it appears to be Baker supporting authoritarian states spying on its citizenry. What the hell, Stewart? Beyond that, Baker insists that, really, the public doesn't want encryption anyway, and if people only knew what was really going on with the "bad guys," we'd all be willing to give up our privacy: Baker said the market for absolute encryption was very small, and that few companies wanted all their employees’ data to be completely protected. “There’s a very comfortable techno-libertarian culture where you think you’re doing the right thing,” said Baker. “But I’ve worked with these companies and as soon as they get a law enforcement request no matter how liberal or enlightened they think they are, sooner to later they find some crime that is so loathsome they will do anything to find that person and identify them so they can be punished. Right. And that's what basic police and detective work is for. It doesn't mean that you need to weaken the security and privacy of everyone else. Anyway, let's see if Baker goes out and shorts Apple and Google's stock now that he believes encryption and protecting the privacy of their users is really so bad for business.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 18 days ago on techdirt
As we've noted more than a few times, we live in an era where the products you think you own can be disabled, crippled or held hostage on a whim. That's been particularly apparent when it comes to video game consoles and software, with an increasing array of titles relying on server connectivity not only for multi-player content, but also for DRM authentication in order to play single player titles. The former was an issue earlier this year when Nintendo announced that the company would be killing online functionality for a wide variety of Wii and DS titles, some of which were only a year or two old. The latter was an issue with Blizzard's Diablo 3, EA's latest incarnation of SimCity, and a growing number of other games. When these servers for older titles get shut down, often gaming communities are left trying to cobble together functionality with little to no support from the companies that made them, and/or with concern they'd be violating section 1201. In their latest list of six DMCA exemption requests, the Electronic Frontier Foundation includes the right to tinker with older games. Not just for the enjoyment of keeping these gaming communities afloat, argues the EFF, but because as games become an increasingly integral part of our culture as entertainment and art, they need to be preserved for historians. That's obviously something you can no longer do if the games are utterly unusable:"The inability to play older games (because the necessary servers have been shut down) inhibits scholarship and research as well – it is much more difficult for game scholars to access older works due to a lack of playable archival copies, and archivists have less incentive to preserve games that are unplayable or only partially playable. Jerome McDonough, a professor who specializes in digital preservation, put it simply. “Digital media are inherently fragile and the ability to migrate games to new hardware/media is critical to any preservation activity we might take, whether through migration or emulation. [The] DMCA’s technological protection measure language takes the difficult case of software preservation and transforms it into a fundamentally impossible case." In the case of multi-player games, it can be impossible for scholars to replicate the experience of playing the game, since player communities often die when servers are deactivated.As the petition notes, the exemption would not apply to persistent online worlds and MMORPGs, where online functionality is all there is. Among the EFF's five other DMCA exemption requests includes two governing the right to bypass automobile DRM for repair and testing, two protecting the remixing of DVD and various online video sources, as well as the renewal and expansion of cell phone and tablet unlocking exemptions. As usual, the EFF expresses justifiable disdain at having to jump through "burdensome and confusing" hoops every three years simply to defend common sense under the dysfunctional mess that is the U.S. Copyright Office's DMCA exemption request process.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 18 days ago on techdirt
Orphan works, that huge collection of older creations which are out of circulation and have no obvious owners, are more rightly called "hostage works," since they remain uselessly locked away by rigid and outdated copyright laws. Even when the issue is recognized by society, lobbyists hold so much sway over the political process that legislation crafted to "solve" the orphan works problem is often worse than useless. So perhaps we should give at least one cheer for a new UK licensing scheme that will make access to large numbers of orphan works a little easier: A new licensing scheme launched today (29 October 2014) could give wider access to at least 91 million culturally valuable creative works -- including diaries, photographs, oral history recordings and documentary films. Here's how it will work: Under the new scheme, a licence can be granted by the Intellectual Property Office so that these works can be reproduced on websites, in books and on TV without breaking the law, while protecting the rights of owners so they can be remunerated if they come forward. That's all well and good as far as it goes, but it turns out that it could have been so much better if other key legislation had been passed first. The UK's Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) explains what the issue is (pdf): Provisions in the [UK's] Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act (ERRA) 2013 gave the government powers to amend the term of copyright for unpublished text based works, engravings and anonymous artistic works (except photographs) to life of the author plus 70 years [instead of until the fixed date of 2039, as at present.] This would bring the UK's copyright terms more closely into line with the harmonised regime across Europe, as intended by the Term Directive. However, implementation has been delayed. There is now a real danger that the issue of 2039 will be lost in parliamentary process before the [UK] General Election on 7th May 2015. That's a problem, because it means all those ancient and unpublished works that would otherwise clearly be out of copyright, are now classed as orphan works until 2039; to use them under the UK's new orphan works licensing scheme then requires considerable effort: In practical terms, because the duration of copyright in unpublished works was not dealt with at the same time that the Orphan Works solutions have been implemented, or at least implemented by March/April 2015, libraries, archives and museums will be expected to conduct due diligence searches (under the terms of the Exception) and also to pay an administration/licence fee (under the terms of the Orphan Works Licensing Scheme). This is a pointless waste of resources, for many of these works are within the scope of the reduction of term measures from 2039 in ERRA 2013. That's part of why UK libraries, lead by CILIP, started the campaign Mike recently wrote about, with libraries displaying empty cases of orphan works that won't be released until 2039. This will also have serious knock-on consequences across the whole of the EU and even beyond: The 'Orphaned' unpublished works will remain in copyright in the UK and therefore Orphan, but be out of copyright in the rest of Europe. This will lead to the works that should be dealt with by the 2039 removal being wrongly registered as Orphans on the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (OHIM) database, causing confusion across Europe and the world in relation to online projects such as Europeana, and more wasted public resources subsequently to put it right. CILIP's fears seem justified. The UK government has just announced a consultation on "Reducing the duration of copyright in certain unpublished works." Since that closes on December 12, it is extremely unlikely that the necessary formalities will be completed to reduce the copyright term of unpublished works before the UK General Election next year. One issue that the consultation wants explored is "quantifiable costs to copyright owners." It's hard not to see that call, along with the unnecessary but critical delay to implementing the term reduction, as part of some backroom deal agreed with the publishing industry as the price of its acquiescence to the UK government's move to liberate millions of hostage works -- an idea that copyright maximalists hate. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 18 days ago on techdirt
We've reported a bunch of times on the various legal fights that Airbnb has had to go through lately. Just a few weeks ago, NY's Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (who has admitted in the past that his interest in Airbnb is really about protecting NYC's big hotels), said that he believed most Airbnb listings in NY to be illegal. Under his standards, every Airbnb I've stayed at in NYC would almost certainly be illegal, despite the fact that I have had nothing but fantastic experiences with Airbnb in NYC (much better than my experiences with hotels). San Francisco seemed to be going in a different direction, however, with the city passing a new law just last week that effectively legalized many Airbnb rentals. This law was actually fought by so-called "housing interests" in San Francisco (who seem to have some trouble understanding basic economics). So you might assume that any legal challenge to the law would come from those "housing interests." Instead, however, it's Airbnb's biggest competitor, HomeAway, perhaps best known for its VRBO site (unofficial motto: "we were Airbnb before Airbnb, dammit"). HomeAway is arguing that the various restrictions that San Francisco put in this new law to appease those "housing interests" are actually unconstitutional in that it unfairly enables Airbnb's particular business model, while limiting HomeAway's. The key issue: many of the people who use HomeAway use it to rent out second homes, while the new law targets short-term rentals of primary residences only. How could that possibly be illegal? Well, that's where you have to dive into the convoluted legal argument of HomeAway, which argues that this new law violates the Commerce Clause of the Constitution by "discriminating against interstate commerce" because there's "differential treatment" between SF-based residents and non-California residents. The Ordinance violates the Commerce Clause because it discriminates against interstate commerce through differential treatment of San Francisco-based and non-San Francisco-based interests that benefits the former and burdens the latter. This unconstitutional discrimination takes two forms. First, by its express terms, the Ordinance allows only permanent San Francisco residents to rent out on a short-term basis (which the Ordinance defines as thirty days or less) residential property they own or lease in San Francisco. Non-permanent residents of San Francisco who own or lease property in San Francisco are barred on the face of the Ordinance from renting out their property on a short-term basis. Second, the Ordinance requires entities that provide “Hosting Platforms,” on which owners and lessees of property may advertise their property for short-term rentals, to conform their business operations in San Francisco to one particular model, and no other, under pain of monetary penalties. This anti-competitive measure forces those seeking to rent property to turn over control of selecting short-term tenants to entities that operate the type of Hosting Platform model sanctioned by the Ordinance and to pay whatever fees those entities might charge today or in the future. While facially neutral, the Ordinance’s Hosting Platform rules have the purpose and effect of discriminating against non-San Francisco-based interests. This seems like a massive longshot. Admittedly, many of the restrictions in the law do seem silly and pointless. It seems reasonable to let people rent out their homes for short-term rentals whether or not it's their primary residence. But to sue the city of the law? And, it seems worth noting that it's not clear that anyone was seriously enforcing the existing law (which is why Airbnb has been so successful), and even with this law in place, it's not clear that anyone would be enforcing it against VRBO owners. Still, it's interesting to see the kinds of legal fights these new kinds of services are facing from all angles these days. It's hard to innovate without a legal team, apparently.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 18 days ago on techdirt
Tech news headlines often imply that a new gadget will completely kill off older devices by making them obsolete. Tablets were supposed to "kill" the PC, but that hasn't happened. On the other side of the spectrum, some folks have suggested that no tool ever completely dies. However, that's an extreme position, too. Innovation involves a succession of minor improvements, and occasionally, there are advances that are so significant that people can't help but try to explain the shifts in exaggerated black-and-white terms. The actual story is usually much more complex. We're getting more and more cool input methods beyond simple keyboards, and here are just a few nifty gadgets that probably won't replace keyboards (or mice) but might make human-to-computer communication a bit easier for people. The Sprout by HP is a PC with a novel interface that uses a camera, a projector and a touchmat (but it can also use a keyboard and mouse). Similar user interfaces have been proposed before (eg. 10/GUI), and sci-fi movies are always promoting floating gesture UI systems that replace keyboards and mice. [url] HaptoMime is a mid-air touch interaction system that uses floating images from a holographic display and provides haptic feedback to mimic a touchscreen interface. The focused ultrasound aimed at your fingertips looks cool -- but also a little bit strange and probably something you'd have to use for a bit to get accustomed to. On the other hand, no more greasy fingerprint-covered touchscreens, yay! [url] The SideSwipe system provides a gesture recognition system for mobile phones. It's far from perfected, however. It has an accuracy rate of about 87% for 14 different gestures, but it doesn't require a camera -- it relies on wireless signal reflections off a user's hand. [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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Many of us were excited, 11 months ago, when District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that the NSA's bulk collection of phone metadata was unconstitutional. This was the first program revealed via the documents from Ed Snowden, and it involved the US using Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, approved by the FISA Court with little explanation (until much later) to say that it's okay to request all phone records from Verizon. What had been often mentioned as a brief aside, is the fact that the plaintiff in the case, Larry Klayman is a bit of a conspiracy-theorist nutjob. That came out loud and clear earlier today during the oral arguments in the appeal (Klayman had tried to go straight to the Supreme Court, which failed, though pretty much everyone expects the case to get back there eventually). Dan Froomkin, over at The Intercept, briefly discusses how Klayman's nutty rantings in the court have the potential to derail the whole thing. But the lead plaintiff in this case is Larry Klayman, a bombastic and litigious conspiracy theorist who happened to file one of the first post-Snowden lawsuits. And when the three-judge panel began peppering him to substantiate his claims of standing and harm, Klayman was unable to make a cogent argument. He accused the government of consistently lying and of getting “into people’s underwear.” And he cast himself personally as the victim of government surveillance and dirty tricks, saying his phone made calls he never placed and that a client’s computer had been broken into. “I can’t talk on the phone anymore,” he complained. He told the judges they were the last defense against tyranny, and warned them of revolution should they fail. Riiiiiiiight. Thankfully, Cindy Cohn from the EFF was also on hand and provided a much more legally relevant and defensible argument: On the crucial issue of how the information being collected by the NSA differs from the information being collected in the 1979 case of Smith v. Maryland, Cohn provided the key answer that Klayman was incapable of summoning: Its size. Smith was about one robbery suspect, whose calls were monitored for three days. “This is the untargeted mass collection of the phone calls of millions of people over many years,” Cohn said. Judge David Sentelle interrupted: “Does it become an invasion because there’s lots of it? Or is a million times nothing still nothing?” Cohn said American citizens have a reasonable expectation that the government isn’t logging all their phone calls all the time for no specific reason. “There are regular people making everyday phone calls, that are swept up in this.” There's much more in the actual discussion, but this is really what the case is about. Can the courts continue to take the awful Smith v. Maryland argument, saying that it was okay to get a single phone's records from the phone company without a warrant, and extrapolate it out to mean that the government can demand every phone record of every call. There's still a lot more to go in this process, including a likely rehearing with the full DC Circuit and then the eventual Supreme Court ruling. One just hopes that Klayman's nuttiness doesn't get in the way of this important case.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Do you ever get the feeling that some law enforcement agencies just do whatever the hell they want? In most areas, this is the exception rather than the rule. In Virginia, however, that ratio seems to be reversed. Last year, an ACLU FOIA request uncovered the Virginia State Police's wholesale harvesting of license plates from political rallies. The privacy expectations may have been minimal (vehicles parked in public places), but the implications of what could be done with this sort of data were much larger. Plate-and-location records could be read to determine likely political affiliations, and the state police's obvious desire to fill its database efficiently makes large gatherings of any sort attractive targets for automatic license plate readers. The revelation of the State Police's actions prompted a strong response from the State Attorney, as well as a clarification of rules governing the collection and retention of license plate data. Now, news has emerged that a handful of law enforcement agencies in Virginia have constructed their own ad hoc phone record database and are inviting others to sign up for access. The database, which affects unknown numbers of people, contains phone records that at least five police agencies in southeast Virginia have been collecting since 2012 and sharing with one another with little oversight. Some of the data appears to have been obtained by police from telecoms using only a subpoena, rather than a court order or probable-cause warrant. Other information in the database comes from mobile phones seized from suspects during an arrest. The five cities participating in the program, known as the Hampton Roads Telephone Analysis Sharing Network (HRTASN), are Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Chesapeake and Suffolk, according to the memorandum of understanding that established the database. The effort is being led in part by the Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Task Force, which is responsible for a “telephone analysis room” in the city of Hampton, where the database is maintained. What it looks like is what it is: a dumping ground for any phone/phone-related records obtained by law enforcement through other means. Rather than being used in an investigation and disposed of upon conclusion, these agencies are dumping it all into a searchable pile and inviting other law enforcement agencies to do the same. The resulting mess is almost certainly illegal, and at least one invited agency -- the Virginia State Police, no less -- has refused to take part in it. The HRTASN agreement presents the database as a fully legal operation while still writing itself a blank check for haystacking. To the extent permitted by law, all participating agencies operating under this MOU agree to share telephone intelligence information derived from any source with the PNETF including: subpoenaed telephone call detail records, subpoenaed telephone subscriber information, and seized mobile devices. "Derived from any source" is an incredibly open statement. And as for the database being "permissible by law," the legislative changes prompted by the Virginia State Police's abuse of its license plate readers seem to make this sort of unstructured, untargeted collection illegal. The ACLU’s [Rob] Poggenklass said the database runs afoul of a privacy law in Virginia known as the Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act, designed to curb the overcollection and misuse of digital personal information by state and local agencies… While law enforcers enjoy some exemptions from privacy laws during the course of an investigation, according to the opinion, those exemptions don’t apply when collected data “is of unknown relevance and not intended for prompt evaluation and potential use.” In other words, there must be a clear law enforcement need. Without it, Poggenklass said, police should not be permitted to collect and retain records indefinitely in a database for future queries. Right now, the database operates with no outside oversight. Worse, it operates with the explicit permission of the five communities whose representatives signed off on their local PD's participation. There's also no information forthcoming about the contents of the database -- whether it's just simple phone records, or if actual content (text messages, photos, contact lists, etc. pulled from seized phones) has made its way into long-term storage as well. Unexpected daylight altered the State Police's use of its license plate readers. There's a good chance exposure will do the same to Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Task Force's database.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A year and a half ago, we wrote about the copyright questions related to Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield recording an astounding cover version of the David Bowie classic "Space Oddity" while actually in space on the International Space Station. We noted the specific copyright issues were mostly unimportant, since Bowie had signed off on the project. Then, back in May of this year, we were taken by surprise when we found out that the video was coming down because the agreement with Bowie was only for a one-year license (Bowie, by the way, in 2002 predicted that copyright would "no longer exist" by 2012). Today, Hadfield announced that Bowie has once again agreed to allow the video to return to its official YouTube spot (unofficial copies were all over the place). Hadfield actually discusses some of the copyright issues, and notes that getting the rights to put it back took quite a bit of time. Thus it was with some regret that we took the Space Oddity video off YouTube last May. David Bowie and his publisher had been very gracious. They had allowed his work, his intellectual property, to be made freely available to everyone for a year, and had in fact worked with us and the Canadian Space Agency to make it happen. There was no rancour, and we removed it from YouTube to honour that agreement. This sequence wasn’t anyone’s fault. The day we took the video down we started to work again to get permission to get it re-posted. But the legal process is careful and exacting, and thus takes time. Despite countless on-line expressions of frustration and desire, it wasn’t anyone’s ill-will or jealousy that kept this version of Oddity off YouTube. It was merely the natural consequence of due process. This time around, Bowie and his publishers have agreed to a two-year license, meaning we may be going through this ridiculous process again in 2016: And now, we are so happy to be able to announce that my on-orbit cover of Space Oddity is back up on YouTube. This time we have a new 2-year agreement, and it is there, for free, for everyone. We’re proud to have helped bring Bowie’s genius from 1969 into space itself in 2013, and now ever-forward. Special thanks to Onward Music Ltd, to the Canadian Space Agency and NASA, to musicians Emm Gryner and Joe Corcoran, to videographer Andrew Tidby, to my son Evan, and mostly to Mr. David Bowie himself. Once again, this process seems silly and unnecessary. If everyone is so happy about this -- and it's reinvigorated the song and attracted plenty of new interest in it -- why not grant a perpetual license? What possible harm is done in granting a perpetual license so that this process doesn't have to be replicated every few years -- other than to the billable hours of the various lawyers who have to negotiate such a silly thing? Copyright defenders often point to the need for copyright to enable agreements like this, but it seems to be enabling a ridiculously inefficient process, rather than making things easier. In the meantime, here you go... for at least two more years: Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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By now you've probably noticed that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his political compatriots aren't particularly enlightened fellows, whether it's their hypocrisy on surveillance or the country's increasingly abysmal record when it comes to free speech. This narrow-mindedness was made even more painfully evident when in 2013 Putin and friends supported the passage of the country's national "LGBT propaganda" law, designed to protect minors from the terrifying menace presented by "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships" while upholding "family values" through discrimination. Since then, interpretation of what constitutes an erosion of said family values has been hysterically and disturbingly broad, and the law in some cases has been used to justify violent, vigilante behavior against the country's LGBT community. Taking interpretation of that law to an entirely new level of ridiculousness, the Russian government this week dismantled a cell-phone-shaped Steve Jobs memorial constructed in 2013 by a coalition of companies in downtown St. Petersburg. Why? Apparently the government was concerned that passers by might contract homosexuality from a statue paying homage to one of the world's most significant technology visionaries:"In Russia, gay propaganda and other sexual perversions among minors are prohibited by law," ZEFS said, noting the memorial had been "in an area of direct access for young students and scholars". "After Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly called for sodomy, the monument was taken down to abide to the Russian federal law protecting children from information promoting denial of traditional family values."Of course Cook also said nothing of the sort in his recent Bloomberg piece, only stating he's "proud to be gay" and that the struggles he's faced over the course of his lifetime have made him both tougher and more empathetic. That's a message apparently missed by St. Petersburg City Councilman Vitaly Milonov, who not-so-gracefully stated he'd like to see the CEO of one of the world's most successful technology companies banned from entering the country:"Shortly after Cook’s announcement, conservative St. Petersburg City Councilman Vitaly Milonov called for Cook to be banned from entering the country because of his sexual orientation. "What could he bring us? The Ebola virus, AIDS, gonorrhea?" Milonov said during an interview with the website FlashNord."As it stands, Milonov might want to be less concerned with students catching homosexuality from slabs of steel and concrete, and a little more concerned with them catching a severe and incurable case of the stupid.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We just wrote about famed pianist Dejan Lazic's rather misguided attempt to make use of Europe's new focus on "the right to be forgotten" to cajole the Washington Post into removing a 2010 review of one of his performances, written by Anne Midgette. The story has gotten lots of attention, and Lazic has posted a response on his website (as far as I can tell, there's no way to permalink just to the response). In his response, he insists that many of his quotes were taken out of context, and notes (correctly) that the Washington Post did not post his entire initial request or response. However, his attempt to explain himself doesn't come off much better. He points out that he knew that the recent court ruling (not a "law" as he claims) was only about search engines in Europe and not publishers in the US -- and says he only made mention of it to explain a larger point he was making. That larger point? Anne Midgette is really mean, and lots of musicians don't like the reviews she writes about them. Yes, as far as I can tell, that's the extent of the larger "truth." Midgette is mean and it would be good to shut her up. Since Lazic felt his previous words were taken out of context, I'm going to post a big chunk of text here, all of which seems to sum up "Midgette writes a lot of mean reviews, and that's just not right!" In my case, I was inspired and encouraged by the dispute maestro Placido Domingo had to endure in 2011 with the same reviewer: www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/classical-beat/post/placido-domingo-and-questions-of-bias/2011/10/01/gIQAbJwhCL_blog.html Therefore, I am not only speaking for myself here but also for many colleagues I dearly respect and/or I have made music and shared same stage with, all of which this particular reviewer criticised on so many occasions so harshly and unfairly, in a manner that is - in comparison with all the other reviews they have ever received (good, tepid, and bad) during their long and highly successful careers (in maestro Placido Domingo's case: 50 years) - simply over the top in sheer negativity and toxicity. That simply does not comply with the principle of fairness in journalism. Judging from numerous readers' comments from the past, I know this is a fact that so many Washington, D.C. area concert goers couldn't agree with more!Can it really be that all these artists performed so often so badly, and that predominantly in Washington, D.C. in presence of this particular reviewer!? So, when can an individual, in this case a creative artist, simply say enough is enough, this journalist has crossed the line?How powerful and successful can an individual actually be in a dispute with mass media or say, a major corporation?Only after a scandal, or after his or her naked pictures have been shown in the newspapers or on the internet, or is there such a thing as intellectual harassment and bullying as well? After how many years would such an article become irrelevant for the society and taken as simply outdated, perhaps downgraded from the top page on Google searches, and when can it be classified as libellous and defamatory? And what do newspaper editors expect from reviewers? Putting all these issues back into the context, it is evident that this case is not simply about retracting a single 'bad review' from the internet for the sake of one's own ego. We have to be able to distinguish carefully between this and the bigger, broader picture of the whole issue and raise important questions for our interconnected society: how much can such regular, frequently horrific and highly destructive reviews by one single reviewer that has been given a chance to write for one of the most prestigious newspapers in the US affect entire generation of young, new potential concert goers, loyal longtime subscribers, sponsors, donors, art lovers and supporters in general, not to mention countless artists, orchestras and opera companies? How much image damaging for the classical music in general can it potentially generate? Can such common, abundant, frequent 'reviews' actually inspire anyone to come and listen for the first time Washington's National Symphony Orchestra, visit the Washington National Opera, hear one of the guest artists, or even encourage somebody to learn to play an instrument at any given age and thus become a richer human being and a potential concert goer? When is such a thing no longer fair journalism rooted in the concept of freedom of speech, and can there still be in the 21st century such a thing as a witch hunt? Can we like this breed new generation of potential music lovers, concert and opera subscribers for many already troubled and financially fragile classical music institutions on a global scale? I don't think so. He does include a lot more before he gets to that point, but as far as I can tell, the issue to him here is that Midgette is really, really critical and some musicians don't like it, and thus it's no longer defamation and somehow... slander? Also, apparently, this one reviewer is helping to kill classical music? Something to that effect, and none of this makes Lazic comes off any better. Yes, there are reviewers out there who tend to be overly critical (and I have no idea if that's the case for Midgette one way or the other), but that's hardly a reason to shut them up. Besides, the idea that one overly critical reviewer is somehow leading to the death of classical music is kind of hilarious. Either way, go back and re-read the original in which Midgette is doing what a real critic should be doing. She highlights Lazic's great talent, and basically just notes that she was disappointed with some of his recent choices. That seems like perfectly valid criticism, and nowhere near anything that resembles defamation or even being uncharitably mean. Look, people say mean stuff online all the time. Some of it is fair. Some of it isn't. Assuming that the stuff that you and your friends don't like deserves to be deleted because it's so mean, is simply ridiculous. There's no defense for that.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Let's pretend for a moment that for-some-reason-a-celebrity Kim Kardashian reads Techdirt. Someone needs to let her know that lawsuits and lawyers are not for temper tantrums over threats to your own celebrity. I'd have thought she'd have previously learned this lesson after Old Navy staved off the lawsuit she filed because the clothing company had the gall to hire a brunette woman for one of their commercials. It would appear not, now that she's reportedly investigating whether or not she can sue a woman named Jen Selter for "copying" Kim's poses (bwah?) and having a big ass. Selter has been posting photographs of her large buttocks on Instagram, an activity Kardashian apparently feels is an unacceptable infringement upon her very raison d’etre: one of the gangplanks of Kim Kardashian’s global celebrity being her nonpareil ability to take photographs of her own large buttocks with a cameraphone. “Kim thinks Jen copies all her poses … she is fuming as she feels her curvy bum is one of her most unique selling points and feels that Jen is just trying to cash in.” After, ahem, extensive research, I can assure you that there is very little in these poses that is either unique or identifiable as being Kardashian-esque, beyond the camera's fixation on the subject's posterior. This isn't a "Blue Steel" Zoolander thing, it's a series of pictures that feature an attractive woman with a particular physical asset. What appears to be upsetting Kardashian, according to the post, is that Selter has been winning modeling and endorsement gigs. “Insiders say Kim has sought legal advice to see if they can stop Jen,” it read, raising the very real possibility that, somewhere in California, a crack team of lawyers may at this very moment be working around the clock to copyright buttocks on behalf of Kim Kardashian. It likely wouldn't be copyright that would come into play, but possibly some combination of publicity rights and/or trademark (trying to think like a really bad lawyer would is not that easy). But so what? It isn't a violation of trademark or publicity rights to simply naturally look in some way similar to another person, and there is absolutely no attempt in these pictures at a depiction of anything to do with any Kardashian anywhere. This reeks of the Old Navy case all over again, except the "look alike" looks even less "alike," and you can expect any legal action from Kardashian to be similarly fruitless.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
New York's Southern District Court -- which has been hosting (along with the Second Circuit Appeals Court) the ACLU and New York Times' long-running, concurrent FOIA lawsuits against the government over its drone killing memos -- has reached a partial decision on some of the embattled documents. The court's decision was actually delivered on Sept. 30th, but its conclusion and order have spent the last month under seal while the government applied its redactions. An accompanying memo from the presiding judge [pdf link] notes that the court isn't buying all the government's redaction arguments. I disagree with the Government's redaction of the bulk of the first full paragraph and the second and third paragraphs on page 9, which as drafted by this court contain not a whit of classified material (the Government does not suggest otherwise), and which I do not believe would tend to reveal any classified information. In order to preserve that issue for appellate review, I will release on the public docket the opinion with all the Government's proposed redactions today, along with this cover note indicating my conclusion about this material. Should the Second Circuit agree with the Government that the material was properly redacted, nothing will be lost; should it agree with my view that nothing the Government has redacted on page 9 should be redacted, it will so indicate. Indeed, page 9 of the order [pdf link] leaves almost everything to the imagination, retaining only a single sentence that really makes you wish the court hadn't deferred to the government's judgement. The issue raised by the Government's objection to disclosure is potentially fascinating and incredibly complicated. The rest of the document is the government's proprietary blend of abysmal scanning and heavy redactions. After some discussion about documents the government has already released and information revealed by government officials' own statements, the court drills deeper into the DOJ's redaction justifications. Of course, we can't actually read the government's reasoning or the court's reactions because the government has final cut approval. The DOJ's broad redactions remove a majority of the last 14 pages, leaving behind tantalizing sentences like: The Government's blithe assertion to the contrary, these waiver issues are not so easily resolved and: if that be true, I see no reason why I am even going through this exercise. The court orders the government to release the contested documents (legal opinions from the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel) discussed in the order (the remaining documents related to the FOIA requests will likely be discussed next year), noting there is "no just reason for delay" considering both the public's interest in these memos, as well as the fact that it has been more than three years since the documents were requested. So, another long-running FOIA lawsuit is showing a little return on investment. Unfortunately, the government's lengthy redactions prevent the public from seeing what arguments it's using in defense of its FOIA stiffarm, as well as keeping it from drawing any legal insight from the court's response.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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So, we weren't too impressed with previous GCHQ (the UK equivalent of the NSA) boss, Sir Iain Lobban, who insisted that GCHQ didn't do "mass surveillance" so long as you defined "mass" and "surveillance" the way he does (and not the way the English language does). This statement was made just days before it was revealed that the GCHQ (contrary to its own claims) gets access to NSA data without a warrant. New GCHQ boss Robert Hannigan has taken to the potentially pay-walled pages of the Financial Times to convince the world that he's a complete nutjob in charge of one of the most powerful spy agencies in the world. His message: basically "terrorists use technology, and because you hate terrorists, we should all be happy to have tech companies share all your private data with us to catch terrorists." Or something like that. Hannigan honestly seems to believe that the public is really on the government's side against the tech companies they use every day. That seems like rather large miscalculation of his audience. Hannigan's pitch relies on (of course) spreading as much FUD as possible, starting with ISIS: Terrorists have long made use of the internet. But Isis’s approach is different in two important areas. Where al-Qaeda and its affiliates saw the internet as a place to disseminate material anonymously or meet in “dark spaces”, Isis has embraced the web as a noisy channel in which to promote itself, intimidate people, and radicalise new recruits. The extremists of Isis use messaging and social media services such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, and a language their peers understand. The videos they post of themselves attacking towns, firing weapons or detonating explosives have a self-conscious online gaming quality. Their use of the World Cup and Ebola hashtags to insert the Isis message into a wider news feed, and their ability to send 40,000 tweets a day during the advance on Mosul without triggering spam controls, illustrates their ease with new media. There is no need for today’s would-be jihadis to seek out restricted websites with secret passwords: they can follow other young people posting their adventures in Syria as they would anywhere else. Got it? Terrorists use the same services you and I do, and they're really, really mean. So, why is the public so upset that GCHQ wants to snoop on what everyone's doing on those services? For bonus points, he also tosses in some child porn fears as well. GCHQ and its sister agencies, MI5 and the Secret Intelligence Service, cannot tackle these challenges at scale without greater support from the private sector, including the largest US technology companies which dominate the web. I understand why they have an uneasy relationship with governments. They aspire to be neutral conduits of data and to sit outside or above politics. But increasingly their services not only host the material of violent extremism or child exploitation, but are the routes for the facilitation of crime and terrorism. However much they may dislike it, they have become the command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals, who find their services as transformational as the rest of us. If they are to meet this challenge, it means coming up with better arrangements for facilitating lawful investigation by security and law enforcement agencies than we have now. Then, finally, he blames the tech companies for not recognizing that by spying on everyone, GCHQ is just trying to protect the free and open society we all love, and assumes that the public is really on his side: To those of us who have to tackle the depressing end of human behaviour on the internet, it can seem that some technology companies are in denial about its misuse. I suspect most ordinary users of the internet are ahead of them: they have strong views on the ethics of companies, whether on taxation, child protection or privacy; they do not want the media platforms they use with their friends and families to facilitate murder or child abuse. They know the internet grew out of the values of western democracy, not vice versa. I think those customers would be comfortable with a better, more sustainable relationship between the agencies and the technology companies. There are lots of things that facilitate murder and child abuse that plenty of people are still fine using. I drive a car. Cars kill lots of people. I use a camera. Cameras are often key to child porn. Phones are frequently used in crimes. Yet, I'm not so ridiculous as to blame any of these tools for the scummy people who use them for bad purposes. And it bothers me that the head of the UK's technology spying effort doesn't seem to understand that distinction. Actually, it doesn't just bother me, it frightens me. As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the spectacular creation that is the world wide web, we need a new deal between democratic governments and the technology companies in the area of protecting our citizens. It should be a deal rooted in the democratic values we share. That means addressing some uncomfortable truths. Better to do it now than in the aftermath of greater violence. Note what Hannigan left out: what's wrong with the existing deal? What's wrong with making a specific case for why you need specific information to a court and then getting a warrant? Why do we need a "new deal" that involves giving a government increasingly broad access to all that data -- especially when the very same intelligence community that has that data has a rather long history of abusing it, violating human rights, stifling free speech and criticism and harassing those who oppose it? In a companion article, the Financial Times notes that, with US tech companies hardening their networks against the intelligence community, the UK has been locked out from the easy access it used to have, which explains some of Hannigan's exasperation. I'm sure it must suck when you used to be able to sift broadly through a variety of private information without everyone realizing it. And having that treasure trove of private data ripped away must not be much fun. But privacy is, in fact, a democratic ideal, contrary to Hannigan's belief that the public is willing to give it up just to stave off some bad guys thousands of miles away. Besides, as the article notes, when the UK government demands access, where should US companies draw the line: One senior executive at a US tech group said any agreement to circumvent the current process, which requires law-enforcement groups to seek a court order before a company hands over data, would be “eliminating due process and that could be a dangerous situation”. “What should we do if the Saudi or Russian government also demanded information be handed over on the spot?” he said. It seems that the intelligence community and the surveillance state has gotten somewhat fat and lazy in the last few years, with so much access to so much data. Back in the old days, they had other ways to get what they needed without violating everyone else's privacy. It's time they learned how to get back to that sort of system that fits much better with our basic ideals of democracy and freedom than this desire to have access to absolutely everything does.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
Earlier this year, there was a lot of hype and uproar about the revelation that, back in 2012, Facebook had run an experiment on news feeds to see if it could make people happy or sad. While I really don't think the experiment was so crazy, others disagreed. Of course, that was hardly the only experiment that Facebook has run on its users, and over at Mother Jones, Micah Sifry last week revealed the details of another Facebook newsfeed experiment from 2012: one that influenced how and if people voted: For one such experiment, conducted in the three months prior to Election Day in 2012, Facebook increased the amount of hard news stories at the top of the feeds of 1.9 million users. According to one Facebook data scientist, that change—which users were not alerted to—measurably increased civic engagement and voter turnout. As the article notes, Facebook had experimented with "I'm Voting" or "I'm a Voter" buttons on its site to see if that would encourage friends to vote, but its civic engagement tactics have gone much further than that. Still, even all the way back in 2010, Facebook had realized that just using those "voter" buttons likely increased voting: After the election, the study's authors examined voter records and concluded that Facebook's nudging had increased voter turnout by at least 340,000. As the study noted, that's about 0.14 percent of the total voting-age population in 2010. Considering that overall turnout rose from 37.2 percent in 2006 to 37.8 percent in 2010—both off-year, nonpresidential elections—the Facebook scientists maintained that the voter megaphone impact in 2010 was substantial. "It is possible," the Facebook team wrote in Nature, "that more of the 0.6 percent growth in turnout between 2006 and 2010 might have been caused by a single message on Facebook." Now, for the 2012 experiment, which Facebook doesn't seem to want to talk about very much (and, in fact, it pulled a video about it, after Sifry started poking around, asking questions): In the fall of 2012, according to two public talks given by Facebook data scientist Lada Adamic, a colleague at the company, Solomon Messing, experimented on the news feeds of 1.9 million random users. According to Adamic, Messing "tweaked" the feeds of those users so that "instead of seeing your regular news feed, if any of your friends had shared a news story, [Messing] would boost that news story so that it was up top [on your page] and you were much more likely to see it." Normally, most users will see something more personal at the top of the page, like a wedding announcement or baby pictures. Messing's "tweak" had an effect, most strongly among occasional Facebook users. After the election, he surveyed that group and found a statistically significant increase in how much attention users said they paid to government. And, as the below chart used by Adamic in a lecture last year suggests, turnout among that group rose from a self-reported 64 percent to more than 67 percent. This means Messing's unseen intervention boosted voter turnout by 3 percent. That's a major uptick (though based only on user self-reporting). There were also other experiments to see what types of messages (i.e., "I'm a Voter" vs. "I'm Voting") were more effective. I'm sure that these kinds of efforts will concern some -- and there are already some people talking about "manipulating the election," but to some extent that's silly. The same is true of just about any political campaigning or "get out the vote" effort. Could there be some concern that Facebook has disproportionate power or (as the article suggests) really only helps one party (more Facebook users are Democrats)? Perhaps, but that's the nature of a (mostly) free and open society where we have democratic elections. Some percentage of the public votes, and lots of people are pushing to either get them to vote or to vote in certain ways. Facebook being a part of that seems interesting to note and to follow, but it's not necessarily a problem or something to be concerned about.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
This isn't a huge surprise, but the Supreme Court has declined to hear the case concerning whether or not Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain. As many news sites are reporting, this more or less means that the character of Sherlock Holmes is considered public domain. It's not quite that simple, of course. Technically, all but the last book of Sherlock Holmes works (covering a few stories) is in the public domain according to the 7th Circuit appeals court. That means the character attributes that are new in those last works are not in the public domain. Also, conceivably, a similar challenge in another circuit could lead to a different conclusion, which might lead the Supreme Court to eventually weigh in another time. But, for now, it's mostly safe to assume that the basic character is in the public domain. So, now, who's going to create some awesome new Sherlock Holmes stories?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
Walking upright may seem like the most natural thing to do for most people, but it's not that easy if you get injured. Thankfully, there's some technology that can help that isn't as limiting as a wheelchair or a pair of under-arm crutches. And if you want to get some super-human abilities, some gadgets out there can help anyone run faster (with some awkward-looking stilts). Bionic boots could help people run a lot faster without much more effort. There have been other devices like Bionic Boot, so maybe in the future we'll all be able to run a marathon in about an hour with the right equipment. [url] Oscar Pistorius may be more famous for homicide now, but his prosthetic leg technology allowed him to keep up with Olympic sprinters. The spikes on the bottom of his carbon fiber prostheses were extensively tested to ensure consistency in traction and shock absorption, and the technology might re-appear on other athletes. [url] The James Dyson Foundation is considering a Dyson Award for an improved crutch design that keeps a user's hands and arms free (unlike under-arm crutches). This device also allows the wearer to sit without taking it off. No running or jumping with this crutch, though, but then the wearer is likely injured and shouldn't be doing those activities anyway. (N.B. it only works with lower leg injuries.) [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 19 days ago on techdirt
Last week, we noted that Attorney General Eric Holder was hinting that the DOJ was near "a resolution" with reporter James Risen -- the NY Times reporter who the DOJ has been harassing and trying to force to give up sources. In a recent interview, Risen makes the rather compelling case, that this effort by the DOJ was never about actually solving any sort of crime (the DOJ knows who did the leak), but rather about totally discrediting and/or punishing Risen for some of his other investigative reports. If the DOJ can undermine the ability of Risen to protect sources, he loses many sources. Still, at about the same time that Holder was (again) insisting that no journalists would go to jail under his watch and that they were close to a resolution with Risen, the DOJ was exploring the possibility of issuing yet another subpoena on Risen to try (again) to force him to reveal his sources: Federal prosecutors obtained 100 blank subpoenas last week for use in the upcoming trial of a CIA officer accused of leaking top-secret information to New York Times reporter James Risen. The move clears the way for the Justice Department to proceed with a new review of whether Risen should be subpoenaed to testify at the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, the CIA employee accused of disclosing details of a CIA effort to set back Iran's nuclear program. Some of this is procedural. The DOJ put some new rules in place since the last subpoena, and so there's an argument that in order to review the possibility of a new Risen subpoena, the DOJ basically has to do all the initial legwork, and then the DOJ (and Holder in particular) will "review" under the new rules before determining whether to try this silly process again or to back down. Of course, that seems silly. It seems much more viable to just come out and say that they won't subpoena reporters like this and make that a clear and stated rule. But the DOJ seems unwilling to give up this harassment and intimidation tool. In the end, it seems likely that Holder will fold, but this game of chicken, putting the threat of jail time on Risen to see who blinks first, is really quite disgraceful by the DOJ. So far, Risen has given no indication he intends to comply -- and has held to the same story all along, that he will not give up his sources under any circumstance. Holder, on the other hand, has promised not to put a reporter doing his job in jail. If both men live up to their word, Holder is the one who needs to blink, and it's pretty stupid to go through this whole charade in the meantime.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
All too often it seems as though companies take themselves entirely too seriously these days. With branding being seen as all important, too often the concept of actually behaving in a human and awesome way is lost, leading to a total lack of personality. Chevy, on the other hand, showed everyone else exactly how to handle the internet's cruel mockery. If you're even a casual baseball fan, you probably watched some part of the game 7 World Series final the other night. If you stuck around for the presentation of the MVP trophy to pitcher Madison Bamgarner, you witnessed local Chevy guy, Rikk Wilde, attempt to give the sponsored trophy away. It did not go well. While it is certainly understandable how a local guy with probably limited experience with speaking publicly before a national audience might fall victim to nerves in this scenario, the internet is a cruel observer and it went nuts with this video. In particular, Wilde's attempt to sell the world on the sweetness of Chevy vehicles due to the inclusion of "technology...and stuff" was instantly transformed into the meme du jour. Twitter blew up with #technologyandstuff tags, and some enterprising memesters came up with stuff like this. All this was inevitable of course, because the internet loves to take a mistake and multiply it into a cultural thing for poops and giggles. It can't help itself. And, of course, Chevy just wouldn't be able to help from completely freaking out that what was supposed to be a carefully orchestrated sponsorship marketing opportunity had turned into a massive joke. They'd simply have to go into damage control. Except they didn't. Nope, not even a little bit. Truck yeah the 2015 #ChevyColorado has awesome #TechnologyAndStuff! You know you want a truck: http://t.co/0NcEoDRSUZ pic.twitter.com/RMiRic8ATF — Chevy Trucks (@ChevyTrucks) October 30, 2014 That's right. Instead of freaking out, Chevy decided to full on embrace the whole thing. Many commentators have suggested that Chevy should be thanking Wilde for his less-than-perfect pitch of the Chevy line and it seems that the company agrees. Chevrolet spokesman Mike Albano, in an email, confirmed that Brian Sweeney, U.S. vice president of sales and service for Chevrolet, called Wilde on Thursday to tell him the Chevy team was behind him. Chevrolet spokeswoman Cristi Vazquez said the company saw a "large spike in hits" at Chevrolet.com on Wednesday night, with visits seven times higher than normal. No kidding. Embracing the meme, even as it mocked the company, was exactly the right thing to do. That said, it isn't always the easiest move to make. Good on Chevy for embracing the meme to its own advantage when using technology and stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
The US intelligence community's $600 million cloud computing deal with Amazon was finalized roughly a year ago, but recent revelations about the CIA's behavior in shared virtual spaces is raising questions about the government's move to virtual computing. Two organizations -- RootsAction.org and ExposeFacts.org -- have just planted the following billboard at the doorstep of Amazon's Seattle headquarters. While there are 17 total intelligence agencies being connected through Amazon's services, the CIA is the one generating the most concern at the moment. Marcy Wheeler (of emptywheel) asks some perfectly valid questions. Marcy Wheeler — who writes widely on the legal aspects of the “war on terror” and its effects on civil liberties including her “Right to Know” column for ExposeFacts.org — said Wednesday that Amazon should answer a number of key questions before its customers and the general public can be assured that personal information from the company’s commercial operations is not finding its way into the CIA’s hands. For instance, she said, Bezos and Amazon should answer the question: “Will there be any overlap between the physical hardware serving Amazon’s commercial cloud service and what is provided to the CIA?” Referring to the CIA’s machinations over the still-unreleased Senate torture report, she added that Bezos should also be asked: “The CIA has admitted accessing documents made available to the Senate Intelligence Committee on shared space — what provisions have you made to prevent similar spying on Amazon’s commercial customers?” If you'll recall, accusations that the CIA "impersonated" Senate personnel in order to access Torture Report-related documents came to light late last month. Unnamed sources close to the action presented the CIA's moves as the misuse of Senate staffer credentials to obtain in-progress documents related to the still-unreleased Torture Report. Another unnamed source closer to the intelligence side of things spun the agency's alleged impersonation this way: “CIA simply attempted to determine if its side of the firewall could have been accessed through the Google search tool. CIA did not use administrator access to examine [Intelligence Committee] work product,” the source said. Peering back "in" using borrowed credentials is a good way to check for leaks, but it also allows the agency to look "out" at anything else stored on shared drives. It's a very handy excuse, and one Marcy Wheeler thinks the agency might be tempted to deploy again within Amazon's cloud service. How thick is the wall separating the intelligence community and private businesses? Does this wall even exist outside of virtual barriers? Intelligence officials seem to be sold on Amazon's ability to protect its assets from outsiders, but don't appear to be nearly as concerned about internal compartmentalization. Will the IC's servers be physically or virtually shared with the general public? Amazon's not saying. And quite obviously, neither are intelligence officials. Adding to the opacity is the fact that Amazon is one of the few tech companies not issuing periodic transparency reports detailing the frequency and number of requests for customer data by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Amazon continues to seek more government contracts, which will result in even more potential intermingling of public and private data in shared virtual spaces. The company hasn't exactly been forthcoming on these government deals, and its ongoing lack of a transparency report isn't much of a confidence builder.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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