posted 18 days ago on techdirt
Wind Power Monthly (I had no idea such a thing existed) has an article about how Intellectual Ventures is apparently targeting its patent trollery towards wind power, having filed a bunch of patents on very broad and basic concepts related to wind power. Of course, IV is trying to hide its involvement here by using one of its many shell companies. For reasons that are beyond me, Wind Power Monthly declines to name the shell companies. It's not clear why it does this -- even withholding the name after it got IV to confirm that it's an IV shell. There seems to be no journalistic reason for withholding the name, but Wind Power Monthly still does it. Asked about the IV holding company, a spokesperson confirmed its relationship and added: "Intellectual Ventures does file some patents invented during sessions held by its in-house invention group... under the holding company [name withheld] to help maintain its patent portfolio." The report further warns that patent trolls appear to be on the lookout to buy up other broad, wind power-related patents on the cheap as this particular market is expanding. Second or third-tier wind manufacturers may be most exposed to trolls, especially as wind patents are currently relatively cheap, as they are during any downturn. Such manufacturers are a worthwhile target financially, may not have a robust IP strategy, and are far more likely to settle rather than fight in court. Of course, right now we should be helping to speed up the adoption of alternative energy sources like wind power, but these patent trolling activities do the exact opposite, they make it more expensive. Notice that the article doesn't talk about any of these methods actually advancing the pace of innovation in the field, mostly because they don't. These aren't companies with experience building or managing wind power systems. These aren't experiences learned in the field. They appear to be pure trolling techniques designed to put a toll on the companies actually innovating in the field.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 18 days ago on techdirt
Two years ago, Techdirt noted the price that Switzerland paid for daring to suggest that unauthorized file-sharing really wasn't such a problem: it was put on the USTR naughty step, aka the "Special 301 list." A post on Intellectual Property Watch explains the current copyright situation in Switzerland: Anybody can download a movie or a soundtrack and share it with his family in the realm of the private sphere. The downloaded movie or soundtrack cannot, however, be made public on the internet -- for example through a social media platform -- or transmitted to third persons, the [Swiss] official said. Switzerland is in the process of revising its copyright laws, and you might expect that by now it has been "persuaded" by the US to change its mind about allowing people to download files freely and share them in this way, but to its credit, that doesn't seem to be the case (pdf). Here's what the official Swiss working group carrying out the review of copyright, known as AGUR12, is recommending: In view of the measures proposed below... downloading from illegal sources, as provided for in current law according to the prevailing doctrine, should remain legal. The proposed measures mentioned there concern new responsibilities for ISPs, designed to help remove unauthorized online content. These include "takedown": Hosting providers should remove content that has been illegally uploaded when notified to do so by the rights holder or a competent authority. "Staydown": Hosting providers, whose business model is clearly designed for the infringement of copyright by users, or who intentionally promote running the risk of performing illegal acts through measures or omissions for which they are responsible, need to remove illegally uploaded content when notified to do so by the rights holder and take all reasonable measures to prevent any further illegal uploading of such content. And blocking: On the order of the authorities, access providers located in Switzerland need, in serious cases, to block access to web portals that feature obvious illegal sources by means of IP and DNS blocking. The blocking of approved content along with unapproved content (overblocking) is to be avoided, as far as possible, by the competent authorities. All blocking measures are to be made publicly known in an appropriate form by the competent authorities and they may not compromise the technical functionality of the IP or DNS system. AGUR12 also proposes introducing a new warning system for users, which concerns sharing materials on P2P networks: An overzealous enforcement of the law is problematic and is perceived as being aggressive because internet users are often unclear about the legal situation. Prior notification may remedy this. It is therefore important to create the possibility for access providers to issue a one-off notification, when notified by the rights holder or a competent authority, to owners of internet connections who seriously infringe copyright by using peer-to-peer networks. Rights owners should adequately compensate access providers for the costs incurred for delivering such notification. Upon receipt of the notification, the subscriber will then have to take appropriate steps to prevent continued use of his connection for copyright infringement via peer-to-peer networks in order to avoid facing joint civil liability in the event of recurrence. To this end, the necessary legal basis is to be established and a guarantee of judicial review is to be observed; in particular, ISPs and consumer organisations must have the possibility of appealing to the competent authority upon notification from a rights holder. As these excerpts of the recommended changes indicate, while revising their laws for the digital age, the Swiss seem to be keen to maintain their refreshingly moderate and rational approach to copyright. Which doubtless means that we can expect to see the country placed on the Special 301 list for some years to come. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
While you would think this position exists at multiple agencies (NSA, FBI, CIA, the NYPD), it's never been captured in stark black-and-white. Morgan Smith, reporter for the Texas Tribune, recently tweeted out a photo of a rejected FOIA request. A rejected FOIA is not necessarily newsworthy. But it is when it's been rejected by someone bearing the unlikely title of "FOIA Denial Officer." Here's to transparency in job titles! #foia pic.twitter.com/x3nxnDL29a — Morgan Smith (@MorganSmith) August 12, 2014 Taylor D. August, of the Dept. of Education's Office for Civil Rights, is also a FOIA Denial Officer. Considering the government's general antipathy towards transparency, you'd think several agencies would have a full-time request denier on staff. But while many agencies spend more time stonewalling and denying requests, only the Dept. of Education actually has designated employees on hand solely to reject requests. A look at the DOE's FOIA FAQ gives us the first clue: 10. Who has the authority in ED to withhold documents (in part/whole)? The FOIA Officers, the Office of Inspector General and the Regional FOIA Denial Officers have the authority to withhold documents. It appears this agency is extremely well-equipped to handle numerous rejections. Three tiers of rejection are available to requesters, running all the way up to the OIG. There's no reason given as to why the DOE would need regional "denial officers," but this position traces back to 2006. In a section titled (of all things) "Customer Service," the DOE details its FOIA response automation, which routes through the Office for Civil Rights. Citing the "significant number" of requests it receives (at that point averaging around 900 per year), the agency detailed its efforts to keep up with the paperwork. To further customer service with respect to FOIA and Privacy Act requests, OCR has been a significant participant in the Department’s initiative to automate case management under these laws. Executive Order 13392, “Improving Agency Disclosure of Information,” issued on Dec. 14, 2005, emphasizes the need for more efficient and effective processing of FOIA and Privacy Act requests. What most of us would believe was an order intended to increase the release of responsive documents, the DOE read it as an indication it wasn't rejecting requests efficiently enough. In addition, in FY 2006, consistent with Executive Order 13392, OCR established new FOIA procedures, including delegation to the 12 OCR office directors of the authority of FOIA denial officers. This allows FOIA requests to be processed in a more efficient and timely manner, and establishes clear accountability for FOIA processing. As of 2006, the DOE had 12 more officials dedicated solely to rejecting FOIA requests than all other government agencies combined. (Unofficial numbers obviously impossible to obtain, much less verify, but the term "FOIA denial officer" produces search results that indicate only the DOE has such a position.) More details on the "Denial Officers" can be found in the agency's FOIA policies and procedures (embedded below.) Here's the definition of the term: Denial Officers. The FOIA Officers, the Secretary's Regional Representatives, or officials designated by them (Regional FOIA Review Officers), and the Office of Inspector General (OIG) who are authorized to withhold records, in whole or in part, that fall within one (1) or more of the nine (9) exemptions or three (3) exclusions of the FOIA. Initial determinations are made by regular FOIA officers who look for possible withholding exemptions and consider fee waivers. This is handled regionally and requests possibly eligible for rejection are passed on to one of the 12 regional denial officers. In each instance in which it is recommended that record(s) or portion(s) thereof be withheld, carefully separate materials to be withheld from those to be released, redact (e.g., remove) all exempt information from the records, and forward a copy of the redacted materials, along with an unredacted version for comparison, to the appropriate denial official. Indicate where in the records the redactions occur and why the relevant exemption(s) apply; In each instance where "no responsive records" are located, forward (a) a memorandum to the appropriate denial official describing with particularity what records (both electronic and hard copy) were searched, search times (differentiating between computer search times and manual searches since there is a different fee rate assessed for each of these searches), and who conducted the search, and stating that the search results were negative together with (b) a draft denial letter to the requestor to be signed by a FOIA Officer; Denial officers will always be the be the bearer of bad news. If the denial official agrees with the recommendation to deny the request, the denial official notifies the requestor in writing of the decision to withhold the information, in whole or in part, and informs the requestor of his/her appeal rights. However, the denial officer isn't solely limited to writing rejection letters. He or she can also push back. If the denial official disagrees with the recommendation to deny the request, he/she notifies the FOIA Coordinator and the PO Action Office and directs the FOIA Coordinator to provide the records to the requestor. At which point, the requester receives the responsive documents thanks to a denial officer, but from someone whose title is less resolutely negative. As much fun as it might be to press the REJECT button, denial officers will never know the joy of making a requester happy. It's a thankless job with a brusque title… unless you're the sort of person who enjoys doling out rejection or simply takes pride in your work, no matter what that work might mean. It seems odd that the DOE would stand alone in its creation of a FOIA Denial Officer. So many government agencies are more than happy to reject request after request (and appeal after appeal), but none have been so brutally honest as to create a position solely for this purpose. The DOE's system may actually be more streamlined than those at comparable agencies, but only the DOE has the strength of character to let requesters know that a fully and specifically trained expert is behind their request's rejection. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
It's sometimes hard to believe, but government employees are people. And like most people who have access to an internet connection, they occasionally go surfing for porn. Perfectly normal. Except… well, except for many things. Only the truly unemployed would be likely to go searching for porn as often as one SEC employee did, when he ran into the agency's anti-porn firewall 1,800 times during a two-week period, without ever once considering this was how the system was designed, rather than just an indication that he wasn't trying hard enough. Multiple employees at the agency were reprimanded for watching porn on their work computers for "98% of the workday." A state official in Oregon infected the government's computer system with a nasty trojan hitchhiker picked up while surfing for porn. This resulted in a data leak, but the employee was reprimanded solely for using a work computer inappropriately. An investigation by the EPA's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found one employee had downloaded and viewed more than 7,000 pornographic images while on the clock. When OIG investigators went to ask the employee about the images, they found the employee "actively viewing pornography." Recent investigations are finding more of the same. Government employees apparently can't seem to separate work and [self] pleasure, using both tax dollars and work computers to facilitate their porn habits. But it's not so much the habit that's truly infuriating It's the excuse. For one Federal Communications Commission worker, his porn habit at work was easy to explain: Things were slow, he told investigators, so he perused it “out of boredom” — for up to eight hours each week. [...] “He stated he is aware it is against government rules and regulations, but he often does not have enough work to do and has free time,” investigators wrote of another federal employee, this one at the Treasury Department, who viewed more than 13,000 pornographic images in a six-week span. [...] In another recent case, a GSA employee who spent about two hours a day on a computer looking at pornography and dating sites “sometimes became bored during these long hours at the computer and would often use the computer for personal use to pass the time,” according to a case report by the GSA inspector general last year. Now, I don't know about you, but I've had boring jobs before, where not every minute of the day was spent working. And I've had access to the internet at the same time. And not once did I think the lack of work meant I should use work computers to access porn. Not once. But for these government employees, it's apparently a legitimate excuse. Boredom is all the justification needed to break the universal rule that work computers should not be used to access NSFW sites. And they didn't just do it a couple of times. They did it constantly. It's completely disingenuous to blame your job for your porn habit, especially when your employment is funded by money taken from people directly out of their paychecks without their explicit consent. But what's worse is that those farther up the food chain at these agencies are treating this piss poor excuse as though it's valid -- or at the very least, refusing to take the situation seriously. Investigations at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Commerce Department and the General Services Administration have turned up similar cases, though memos show the employees rarely face criminal prosecution for time and attendance fraud. A spokesman for the FCC declined to comment on what, if any, action the agency took after the FCC’s inspector general singled out the eight-hour-a-week porn peeper. FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield said only that the agency follows Office of Personnel Management guidelines on disciplinary matters and officials could not comment on specific cases. So, bored federal employees will continue to surf for porn or otherwise waste tax dollars because there's zero accountability. These stories surface so frequently because an OIG investigation only uncovers wrongdoing. The reports are almost always scathing indictments of federal money being misspent and mismanaged and yet, all the OIG can do is make recommendations. The agencies themselves have to change and they almost universally refuse to do so. The problems are so ingrained at this point that no one wants to make the effort needed to enforce some level of decorum and accountability. Only rarely does external pressure have any influence, and legislators have been hesitant to create additional means of enforcement or deterrence. The government mantra seems to be "if it's broke, don't fix it." There's nothing wrong with viewing porn, but there's plenty wrong with using government computers and punching the clock while doing it. If we can't expect lower-level agencies to be accountable to the public, why should we be surprised the administration itself feels exempt from this crucial aspect of democracy as well?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've been debating internally whether or not to cover the mess that is currently going on in Ferguson, Missouri. There has been plenty of attention paid to the protests and the failures by police there -- and we frequently cover problems with police, as well as the militarization of police, which was absolutely on display in Ferguson (if you've been under a rock, police killed an unarmed teenager there last week, leading to protests over the past few days -- and the police have been handling the situation... poorly, to say the least). However, the situation was changing so rapidly, it wasn't entirely clear what to cover. The pictures from Ferguson of a very militarized police force were disturbing, and we've been thinking about writing something on that (and we may still). However, this evening, things got even more ridiculous, as not only did the SWAT team show up, but it then arrested two of the reporters who had been covering the events: Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post. Both had been vital in getting out the story of what was happening on the street. Here are a few of their tweets (prior to being arrested): I counted 70+ SWAT officers. Guns trained on crowds. Insanity. pic.twitter.com/stev2G6v4b — Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) August 13, 2014 Overkill in #Ferguson. Officer won't answer my question about why this is needed. pic.twitter.com/iSPsP1Rxa1 — Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) August 13, 2014 This exchange-> RT @AntonioFrench: State Senator asks the #Ferguson police chief if she's going to be gassed again. https://t.co/bXTjTbc7kM — Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 13, 2014 And then, soon after those and other tweets, another reporter, Jon Swaine from the Guardian, reported that he saw two reporters detained by police in a McDonalds: Two reporters just cuffed and put in cop can outside Ferguson McDonald's where @WesleyLowery said he and @ryanjreilly were working — Jon Swaine (@jonswaine) August 13, 2014 Lowery and Reilly each had live tweeted the police entering the McDonald's, followed by a long silence from their accounts: Police come into McD where me and @ryanjreilly working. Try to kick everyone out. — Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 13, 2014 SWAT just invade McDonald's where I'm working/recharging. Asked for ID when I took photo. pic.twitter.com/FOIsMnBwHy — Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) August 13, 2014 A fourth reporter on the scene, Matt Pearce of the LA Times, contacted the police chief about the situation, who was apparently surprised at the turn of events and said he'd order them released: I just called Ferguson police chief to ask about @WesleyLowery and @ryanjreilly, told him what I knew. His response: "Oh, God." — Matt Pearce (@mattdpearce) August 14, 2014 I just talked to the Ferguson chief again about Wes and Ryan. "I told them to release them," he said of the riot command. — Matt Pearce (@mattdpearce) August 14, 2014 Ferguson chief tells me @WesleyLowery and @ryanjreilly's arresters were "probably somebody who didn't know better." — Matt Pearce (@mattdpearce) August 14, 2014 Soon after, both Lowery and Reilly tweeted about their experiences, which were not exactly pleasant. Officers slammed me into a fountain soda machine because I was confused about which door they were asking me to walk out of — Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 14, 2014 Detained, booked, given answers to no questions. Then just let out — Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 14, 2014 Also Ryan Reilly of Huff Po. Assaulted and arrested — Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 14, 2014 @ryanjreilly and @wesleyLowery have been arrested for "not packing their bags quick enough" at McD's #Ferguson — Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) August 14, 2014 Unfortunately my last Vine featuring the officer who assaulted me was deleted when other my phone died. — Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) August 14, 2014 I'm sure that we'll have more on this whole thing, but as GideonsTrumpet notes, Lowery and Reilly were technically detained, not arrested, "which is far more insidious" because there's no accountability. No charges to challenge. Nothing. It's just a way to silence the press who were diligently getting the word out there on what they were doing. There are all sorts of very questionable activities going on in Ferguson, including intimidation and threats against the protestors exercising their right to assembly and free speech. Detaining reporters in the middle of that is just the latest in a long string of "fuck your constitutional rights" by the (very heavily militarized) police down there.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
If there were some simple things you could do that would make you smarter, you'd do them, right? Unfortunately, it's difficult to guarantee that a particular activity will actually cause you to be smarter. If you'll settle for a nice correlation, though, there are plenty of things to try! Here are just a few. People who stay up late and wake up late (aka night owls) seem to be smarter than people who go to sleep early and wake up early. People who are skeptical of this statement are even smarter. [url] A study published in JAMA Pediatrics reports that breast-fed babies have measurably higher IQ scores by age 7. Just wait for the manufacturers of infant formula to sponsor another study.... [url] College kids who want a slightly higher GPA should join a gym. When hearing this, the smart students ask, "Does just paying for a membership count?" [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
If your irony detector seems to be malfunctioning, this video of Los Angeles police officers confronting some activists flying a drone over a LAPD parking lot should reset it. At the very least, it should at least indicate whether the batteries need to be changed, as any powered irony detector should have the needle buried within minutes. With a straight face and zero self-awareness, this was the message delivered to the drone operator and camera crew. “What concerns us is that they are filming over private property and it's gated – you’re looking at the layout of the police station, how we operate, personnel license plates,” police Lt. Michael Ling said. “It’s kind of like if it was your house, if they’re flying over your backyard you’d start asking questions about it.” Really? Can we start asking questions now? From June of this year: On Friday, the [LAPD] announced that it had acquired two "unmanned aerial vehicles" as gifts from the Seattle Police Department. The Draganflyer X6 aircraft, which resemble small helicopters, are each about 3 feet wide and equipped with a camera, video camera and infrared night-vision capabilities. The LAPD says these drones will be deployed for "narrow and prescribed" uses, which even at its tightest reading means more than a few flights over private property. And considering the LAPD has been completely obfuscatory about its Stingray usage, there's no real reason to believe it will handle this technology any more responsibly than its cell tower spoofers. Oh, and I thought license plates were public and could be gathered by the millions without raising privacy issues. In its 2012 guidelines on ALPR, the International Association of Chiefs of Police remind us that a license plate “identifies a particular vehicle, not a particular person.” When the Drug Enforcement Agency wanted to install ALPR along Utah highways in 2012, an official told local legislators, “We're not trying to capture any personal information--all that this captures is the tag, regardless of who the driver is.” While the LAPD has acknowledged the privacy implications of its massive license plate database (though mainly used as an excuse to thwart public records requests), it has also said this: Releasing the subject ALPR data held by the Department would likewise "expose to the public the very sensitive investigative stages of determining whether a crime has been committed." All ALPR data is investigatory - regardless of whether a license plate scan results in an immediate "hit" because, for instance, the vehicle may be stolen, the subject of an "Amber Alert," or operated by an individual with an outstanding arrest warrant... The very process of checking license plates against various law enforcement lists, whether done manually by the officer or automatically through ALPR technology, is intrinsically investigatory - to determine whether a crime may have been committed. The mere fact that ALPR data is routinely gathered and may not --initially or ever-- be associated with a specific crime is not determinative of its investigative nature. All license plate data is "investigatory." So, capturing plate data from LAPD officers' personal vehicles is nothing more than evidence gathering, whether or not any crime has been committed. This drone is the new Neighborhood Watch, no different than the LAPD's newly-acquired drones. This interaction led to the following rebuttal. "They bring up the expectation of privacy, I’m not buying it,” [drone operator Daniel] Saulmon told the Los Angeles Times. "Suddenly they’re talking about how I’m trespassing on a public sidewalk. They do not have an expectation of privacy…if you want privacy, build a roof." The LAPD can't have it both ways. It can't claim the right to "film" citizens and prevent them from reciprocating. Or can it? Los Angeles police on Friday said they have asked the city attorney’s office and county prosecutors to explore whether they can legally prohibit civilians from flying drones with cameras over department-owned parking lots. Really? If the city attorney has even the smallest amount of self-awareness and/or spine he or she will laugh the LAPD right out of the office. If these entities support a prohibition of drone flights over their public buildings, they should be asked to ground their drones and disable their plate readers. I'm sure the words "officer safety" will be thrown around to justify yet another double standard, but screw the LAPD for having the temerity to think this idea should be entertained, much less having crossed its mind without tripping all over itself. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
Between trying to negotiate disputed charges with increased levels of internet service, releases of customer retention employee handbooks that are hella damning, and the release of a recording with a customer retention rep that alarmed even the most cynical of us, Comcast hasn't had an easy go of it lately. Two things have become pretty clear as these stories have rolled out to the public. First, thou shalt always record your conversations with Comcast reps (local/stupid two-party consent laws apply) or thou shalt be forever filled with regret. Second, Comcast really needs to change the way its customer service reps handle calls. And perhaps now we're seeing evidence that a change has indeed been implemented. Though, the process of simply putting cancelling customers on hold until the office closed probably won't win Comcast any brownie points. That's Aaron Spain of Chicago (holla!), who waited on hold with Comcast about as long as it takes some people to run a marathon, three and a half hours. Upon notifying Comcast that he was trying to cancel his service, he was in fact put on hold long enough that the Comcast offices had closed while the elevator music continued to play. Aaron confirmed this by calling back into Comcast with a different phone and getting the automated message that all the people tasked with helping him cancel his service had gone home for the day. Now, you might be wondering why someone would wait on hold for three and a half hours with Comcast to begin with. I like to think that Aaron saw this as some kind of completely idiotic test of wills between a megalithic corporation and himself, and he'd be damned if he wasn't going to win. Call it the Chicago spirit. Call it boredom. Call it the opportunity for a great YouTube video. Whatever you call it, don't call Comcast about it, because they'll put you on hold until they leave for the day. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
One final story to highlight from James Bamford's really wonderful Wired profile of Ed Snowden. This one might not be that surprising, but the NSA was building an internal automated "cyberwar" system called MonsterMind, which would seek to detect an incoming "cyber attack" and then automatically launch a counterattack. Here's how Bamford describes Snowden's explanation in his article: The massive surveillance effort was bad enough, but Snowden was even more disturbed to discover a new, Strangelovian cyberwarfare program in the works, codenamed MonsterMind. The program, disclosed here for the first time, would automate the process of hunting for the beginnings of a foreign cyberattack. Software would constantly be on the lookout for traffic patterns indicating known or suspected attacks. When it detected an attack, MonsterMind would automatically block it from entering the country—a “kill” in cyber terminology. Programs like this had existed for decades, but MonsterMind software would add a unique new capability: Instead of simply detecting and killing the malware at the point of entry, MonsterMind would automatically fire back, with no human involvement. Yeah, because false alarms never happen at all. Hell, just this week I was hearing about a series of false alarms when the US thought that Russia had launched thousands of nuclear missiles at the US. Imagine an automated system taught to respond to that? And, of course, this only works... if the NSA has access to private company's networks: In addition to the possibility of accidentally starting a war, Snowden views MonsterMind as the ultimate threat to privacy because, in order for the system to work, the NSA first would have to secretly get access to virtually all private communications coming in from overseas to people in the US. “The argument is that the only way we can identify these malicious traffic flows and respond to them is if we’re analyzing all traffic flows,” he says. “And if we’re analyzing all traffic flows, that means we have to be intercepting all traffic flows. That means violating the Fourth Amendment, seizing private communications without a warrant, without probable cause or even a suspicion of wrongdoing. For everyone, all the time.” This puts into context some stories from last year, which noted that Keith Alexander seemed particularly focused on getting companies to give the NSA access to their networks. Last October, he gave a speech in which he pitched exactly that: Drawing an analogy to how the military detects an incoming missile with radar and other sensors, Alexander imagined the NSA being able to spot "a cyberpacket that's about to destroy Wall Street." In an ideal world, he said, the agency would be getting real-time information from the banks themselves, as well as from the NSA's traditional channels of intelligence, and have the power to take action before a cyberattack caused major damage. And in a Washington Post profile of Keith Alexander from over a year ago, a similar idea was discussed: His proposed solution: Private companies should give the government access to their networks so it could screen out the harmful software. The NSA chief was offering to serve as an all-knowing virus-protection service, but at the cost, industry officials felt, of an unprecedented intrusion into the financial institutions’ databases. The group of financial industry officials, sitting around a table at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, were stunned, immediately grasping the privacy implications of what Alexander was politely but urgently suggesting. As a group, they demurred. “He’s an impressive person,” the participant said, recalling the group’s collective reaction to Alexander. “You feel very comfortable with him. He instills a high degree of trust.” But he was proposing something they thought was high-risk. “Folks in the room looked at each other like, ‘Wow. That’s kind of wild.’ ” This all should probably make you wonder why those very same financial institutions seem willing to shell out somewhere between $600,000 and $1 million per month for Alexander's "patent-pending" solutions to "cybersecurity." Furthermore, this should shed some light on why the NSA was so in favor of CISPA and now CISA -- cybersecurity bills in Congress that would give private companies liability protections if they... shared network data with the NSA (and other parts of the federal government). The NSA needs those liability protections to get some companies to be willing to open up their networks to do this kind of MonsterMind offering, or they won't participate. It's also why Congress shouldn't pass such a bill.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
You may recall that, back in 2012, Syria suddenly dropped off the face of the internet. It actually happened twice. There was all sorts of speculation about how it happened. At the time, Cloudflare's analysis was one of the most thorough, noting that it almost certainly "was done through updates in router configurations" rather than a physical failure or a cable cut or something. Of course, everyone assumed that it was the Syrian government, trying to cut off access to the outside world. However, in James Bamford's big Wired article about Ed Snowden, Snowden reveals it was actually an NSA hack gone wrong: One day an intelligence officer told him that TAO—a division of NSA hackers—had attempted in 2012 to remotely install an exploit in one of the core routers at a major Internet service provider in Syria, which was in the midst of a prolonged civil war. This would have given the NSA access to email and other Internet traffic from much of the country. But something went wrong, and the router was bricked instead—rendered totally inoperable. The failure of this router caused Syria to suddenly lose all connection to the Internet—although the public didn't know that the US government was responsible. (This is the first time the claim has been revealed.) Inside the TAO operations center, the panicked government hackers had what Snowden calls an “oh shit” moment. They raced to remotely repair the router, desperate to cover their tracks and prevent the Syrians from discovering the sophisticated infiltration software used to access the network. But because the router was bricked, they were powerless to fix the problem. Fortunately for the NSA, the Syrians were apparently more focused on restoring the nation’s Internet than on tracking down the cause of the outage. Back at TAO’s operations center, the tension was broken with a joke that contained more than a little truth: “If we get caught, we can always point the finger at Israel.” Thus, it appears that Cloudflare's speculation that it was done as a router update was entirely correct -- just that no one realized it was the NSA that was updating the routers, rather than the Syrians.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've explained a few times now why the idea of mandatory kill switches for mobile phones is a really bad idea and a slippery slope to abuse. So, of course, the California legislature has passed a bill mandating it, introduced by California State Senator Mark Leno and sponsored by SF District Attorney George Gascon. While end users could "opt-out," how many people do you think will actually make that decision? The reasoning behind this bill seems sound: a kill switch makes stealing phones less valuable, thereby decreasing phone theft. But, the mandate is dangerous for a number of reasons. If individuals want to use a kill switch there are plenty of third party apps they can get to do that themselves. But much scarier is how such kill switches will undoubtedly be abused. Having a single technology that can brick a ton of phones will be a very tempting target for hackers. And, it will probably be even more tempting for law enforcement for a variety of reasons. Someone videotaped the police doing something bad? Instead of having to go confiscate the phone, why not just brick it from afar? This seems like yet another bill pushed with good intentions that risks some very dangerous consequences.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
We've written numerous times about how one of the major problems of the Espionage Act, which the Obama Administration has used more than twice as many times as all previous administrations combined, is terrible in part because there is no whistleblowing defense. In fact, any and all evidence of the public interest in revealing the information is inadmissible as evidence. Instead, the Act just focuses on whether or not information was released. For hopefully obvious reasons, this has tremendous (and dangerous) implications for free speech and whistleblowing (something President Obama claims to strongly support). However, Harvard Law professor/Berkman Center guru, Yochai Benkler, has proposed creating a special Public Accountability defense for national security leakers and whistleblowers, which he outlines in a recently published paper. The proposal is well worth reading. As Benkler notes, there is evidence that the most recent round of leaks are important for democracy, because they are challenging the legitimacy of intelligence community and government policies. If legitimacy crisis, rather than technological change, is the primary driver of the increase since 2002 of the particular class of leaks that is most important in a democracy, then the present prosecutorial deviation from a long tradition of using informal rather than criminal sanctions represents a substantial threat to democracy. In particular, it threatens public accountability for violations of human and civil rights, abuses of emergency powers, and unchecked expansion of the national security establishment itself. Seen in that light, aggressive prosecutions are merely a symptom of the self-same post-9/11 national security overreach that instigated the legitimacy crisis: they manifest the government’s need to shield its controversial actions from public scrutiny and debate. The deep degree of secrecy and lack of accountability means that these leaks are incredibly important in actually making sure that these government efforts are, in fact, aligned with democratic values: Secrecy insulates self-reinforcing internal organizational dynamics from external correction. In countering this tendency, not all leaks are of the same fabric. “War story”-type leaks that make an administration look good or are aimed to shape public opinion in favor of an already-adopted strategy or to manipulate support for one agency over another, trial balloons, and so forth, are legion. While these offer the public color and texture from inside the government and are valuable to the press, they do not offer a productive counterweight to internal systemic failures and errors. Some leaks, however, provide a critical mechanism for piercing the national security system’s echo-chamber, countering self-reinforcing information cascades, groupthink, and cognitive biases that necessarily pervade any closed communications system. It is this type of leak, which exposes and challenges core systemic behaviors, that has increased in this past decade, as it did in the early 1970s. These leaks are primarily driven by conscience, and demand accountability for systemic error, incompetence, or malfeasance. Their critical checking function derives from the fact that conscience is uncorrelated with well-behaved organizational processes. Like an electric fuse, accountability leaks, as we might call them, blow when the internal dynamics of the system reach the breaking point of an individual with knowledge, but without authority. They are therefore hard to predict, and function like surprise inspections that keep a system honest. By doing so, these leaks serve both democracy and security. To deal with this, Benkler says that Congress should act and clearly create that "Public Accountability" defense. Aggressive prosecution of national security whistleblowers and accountability leaks threatens to undermine the checking function that whistleblowing provides. To address this threat, I propose that Congress adopt a new Public Accountability Defense as a general criminal defense, on the model of the necessity defense. The defense would be available to individuals who violate a law on the reasonable belief that by doing so they will expose to public scrutiny substantial violations of law or substantial systemic error, incompetence, or malfeasance even where it falls short of formal illegality. It is most important to the leakers themselves, but would also be available to journalists and others who participate in disseminating the leaked information. It would provide a defense not only against specific criminal provisions protecting classified materials, but also against any charge brought for actions arising out of the same set of facts involved in the leak. The full paper goes into much more details and is well worth the read. It makes it clear that this is not the only, or even the best, way to protect whistleblowers. In fact, more direct whistleblower protections could be quite valuable. But, in general, adding this public accountability defense, similar to a "necessity" defense, both makes sense and would be a useful tool for many people who have good reasons for what they're doing when it comes to leaking information.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
Okay, so we debunked this silly argument back in 2006 (and again in 2008), but it appears to be back again now that the net neutrality battle is heating up: it's the idea that because we have CDNs, the internet has never been neutral. But that's based on a bogus definition of "net neutrality" that only telco shills or very confused people make. The simplest way of explaining this is as follows: CDNs make the surfing experience better for everyone, by better distributing content to speed delivery to everyone. The efforts by big broadband to break net neutrality is to set up a tollbooth so that they get to pick winners and losers. In short: CDNs benefit end users. Breaking net neutrality only benefits the big broadband gatekeepers. This is about the power of big broadband to pick winners and losers. And yet... it's the myth that just won't die. The worst example comes from Ev Ehrlich. As you may recall, we wrote about Ehrlich's reality-challenged claims a few months ago (right after a PR person who pushed those thoughts to us refused to confirm or deny whether Ehrlich was being paid by big telcos or broadband providers). Ehrlich's arguments weren't even close to accurate back then, and in the intervening months, they seem to have become even more reality-challenged: It's great to say that everything on the Net should be equal. But there's nothing neutral about the Net now, despite what a few strident voices say. When Google caches its content around the world so that its stuff gets to you faster than its competitors, is that neutral? When Netflix buys - or perhaps one day builds - its own, faster private network to take its movies from its servers to your ISP so it can get a competitive advantage, is that neutral? Again, no one has ever said that internet providers can't improve the overall experience for all of their end users. The issue is not about that, no matter how badly Ehrlich and other broadband shills would like it to be. It's about whether or not the broadband gatekeepers can pick winners and losers by setting up tollbooths and fast and slow lanes. When Google and Netflix improve their networks, the benefit goes to everyone. When Comcast sets up tollbooths, the only thing that goes to everyone is... increased costs. The only thing neutral about neutrality is the price these big websites pay - under Netflix's "strong neutrality" proposal, it would pay nothing to get access to you. And that means that you pay more than you should. Bullshit. Seriously. This is flat out bullshit. Netflix pays through the nose for its bandwidth. As we've asked in the past, any time a big broadband shill makes the bogus argument that Netflix "pays nothing," let's see if Ev Ehrlich will trade his broadband bill with Netflix's. After all, they pay "nothing" right? Of course, the weasel wording here is paying nothing "to get access to you." But that's also bullshit. Netflix pays to get on the internet. People pay to get on the internet to get access to Netflix. If Netflix then has to pay again to get access to you, then it's double paying for the bandwidth you already paid for. That's a big part of what big broadband is trying to do: to get everyone to pay twice for the same internet access. And the idea that you pay more because Netflix doesn't have to pay tolls to Comcast, Verizon and AT&T is ludicrous. Hell, Netflix recently did agree to pay interconnection fees to all three of those companies. So, according to Ehrlich, now that it's paying, Comcast, Verizon and AT&T should all be lowering their bills, right? Right? When that doesn't happen and the bills actually go up, will Ehrlich admit that his argument is ridiculous? Somehow I doubt it. Furthermore, it doesn't take a genius to recognize that if every internet site has to pay once for bandwidth and then a second time to "get access" to end users, that the cost of basically every internet service out there is going to go way up -- meaning that end users will be paying a lot more. But that sort of "logic" eludes Ehrlich. Why? Think of it this way. The cable, fiber, DSL, wireless and satellite companies that bring you the Internet serve two markets at the same time. They try to attract customers to be their users, and they try to attract websites to be their content. The more users they get, the more content they attract, and the more content they attract, the more users they get. This is also totally incorrect. It's as if Ehrlich has never actually been on the internet. The big broadband companies have never tried to "attract websites to be their content." No internet site in the history of internet sites was created because a big broadband provider said, "Hey, be content for us!" No, internet sites are created because those sites want end users, and those end users are on the internet requesting their content. Hell, based on this ridiculous argument, shouldn't Comcast, AT&T and Verizon be paying me for being "their content"? The problem is, however, only one side of that two-sided market pays - you, people like you and me and Selby. Again, not true. Both sides pay for their bandwidth. What Ehrlich wants is for internet companies to pay again for the bandwidth you already paid for. Content pays the neutral rate for the neutral service, which means they can keep their advantages (like caching and private-backbone networks) and create congestion, while letting you pay for the Internet, lock, stock and barrel. Again, those "advantages" improve the internet for everyone. The congestion -- as many broadband providers have more or less admitted -- is entirely their own fault. They have more than enough capacity, but are letting ports clog to create fake bottlenecks to try to force these companies to pay. Think about a newspaper - it works the same way. The Chronicle attracts readers so it can attract advertisers. It also attracts advertisers so it can attract readers. What if The Chronicle weren't allowed to accept money from advertisers because "newspaper neutrality" made it impossible to let some stores advertise and others not? The price of the paper would go up, because the reader would have to carry the entire cost of the paper. Bad analogy is bad. It doesn't work the same way, at all. The real analogy here is that imagine if you paid for your newspaper subscription and the newspaper pays the delivery fees and their taxes, but then the guy who paved the road to your house demanded that the newspapers also pay an extra fee to use those roads that he paved (even though he was fully paid for the paving). It's a tollbooth. And that's what the big broadband providers are doing. And let's remember that the premium signal that the neutrality advocates want would make it harder to get distance learning, remote medicine, live entertainment, gaming and other innovations that need an unbuffered connection. If you have one speed limit, you can't have ambulances. None of this is true. It's outright dishonesty. There is more than enough capacity to provide those services if the big broadband providers don't deliberately let ports clog, as they're currently doing. Ehrlich's entire piece is incredibly dishonest. And, furthermore, the San Francisco Chronicle does not disclose the fact that he's paid by a lobbying firm hired by the big broadband providers to spew this sort of misleading crap. I guess if you're going to be totally dishonest about the arguments for net neutrality, why not also be dishonest about who's paying the bill, huh? Meanwhile, a similarly misguided piece appeared in the Wall Street Journal, by the paper's former publisher, L. Gordon Crovitz. At least with Crovitz, I don't think that he's directly being paid by broadband companies. I just think he's shown a pretty long history of being somewhat clueless about how the internet works and is incredibly gullible to claims made by biased parties about how things work. In the past, Crovitz flunked internet history by arguing that it was created by private companies without government support (not at all true). Crovitz also recently argued that all Snowden had really proven was that the NSA is really, really careful about its surveillance. Once again, here, he's quite confused on the facts: But as Internet use grew, sites like Google created their own fast lanes by sending data directly to ISPs such as phone and cable companies via what are called "peering" arrangements. Sites like Netflix created another set of fast lanes using "content delivery networks" to place their computer servers inside local ISPs so that video and other bandwidth-hoggers can be delivered smoothly. In other words, fast lanes won't kill the Internet. They've saved the Internet. Again, this is buying into the myth that CDNs violate net neutrality. They don't. Full stop. CDNs make things better for all internet users equally. Violating net neutrality doesn't. If it weren't for these fast lanes, the Web would have screeched to a halt when photos and video began to supplement text-based traffic. At peak times, Netflix alone now accounts for one-third of all Internet traffic. If it weren't using its own network to cache video locally around the world, other traffic on the Web would get hung up or delayed. Fast lanes keep everything else flowing smoothly, from email to security cameras to remote surgery. Again, (yes, I'm on repeat here), CDNs are about improving access for everyone. As others have pointed out, a CDN doesn't degrade other traffic. It improves the overall experience by moving content closer to the edges of the network. The efforts by Comcast, Verizon and AT&T are entirely different. They're looking to reallocate traffic to burden some players in favor of those who pay. That's picking winners and losers. The impact is wholly different. A CDN benefits everyone. The gatekeeper broadband providers are looking to hinder some sites in order to favor those who pay. Crovitz then goes further, buying into the broadband spin and bullshit about what reclassification would mean: Activist groups in Washington with benign names like Free Press and Public Knowledge want the Internet reclassified as a public utility, subject to the sort of regulations that micromanaged railroad monopolies in the late 19th century and the phone monopoly in the 20th. That would spell the end of permissionless innovation on the Internet. Bureaucrats would have authority to dictate how networks operate, which technologies can be used, and what prices can be charged. Regulators would approve or disapprove innovation in business terms as well as in technology. No, it wouldn't. There's a reason we keep talking about forbearance rules in association with reclassification, and it's because with forbearance, the FCC could restrict all of that bureaucratic mess. And, even if it didn't, it wouldn't make a direct difference for "permissionless innovation on the internet" because that's actually protected by not allowing the big broadband providers to pick winners and losers as it desires. There are legitimate concerns to be raised about how to best protect the internet and innovation online. But bogus arguments claiming that CDNs prove that there is no net neutrality don't help. They just make whoever wrote them look clueless about how the internet works. Those claims were debunked nearly a decade ago. To keep bringing them up today requires being willfully or deliberately ignorant of the facts.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 20 days ago on techdirt
For many years, we've talked about the very questionable practice by the USTR to set up "Industry Trade Advisory Committees" (ITACs), who had full access to the various documents concerning the trade agreements that were being negotiated. Obviously, for big companies, being one of the very small group of people on the inside, helping to shape trade agreements, is enormously powerful -- especially since industries long ago learned that you can "launder" policy changes that Congress doesn't want to make via the international trade agreement process, thereby putting pressure on Congress to act. It's why we've pointed out that it seems rather unfair that the RIAA has direct access to the TPP agreement, but Senate staffers (including experts on international trade) have been refused access. Of course, one of the lame responses from the USTR and others is that, technically President Obama's ethics rules forbade "lobbyists" from being on those and other committees. But that was already very narrowly focused just on people who met the official definition of lobbyist. And, you could still have other people who work directly with lobbyists on the committee. So, for example, Neil Turkewitz, a VP with the RIAA is currently on the IP advisory committee. He can do that because he's not technically a "lobbyist" -- he just happens to work for an organization where the main function is lobbying, and where most of his colleagues are lobbyists. Apparently, that sort of looseness wasn't enough. The White House has now changed the rules to make them even friendlier to lobbyists: In new guidance issued Tuesday, the administration said registered lobbyists will once again be allowed to serve on the boards so long as they are representing a client. The new rules now say: Under the Memorandum and this Revised Guidance, federally registered lobbyists may not serve on an advisory committee, board, or commission (hereinafter, “committee”) in an “individual capacity.” In this Revised Guidance, the term “individual capacity” refers to individuals who are appointed to committees to exercise their own individual best judgment on behalf of the government, such as when they are designated as Special Government Employees as defined in 18 U.S.C. 202. The lobbyist ban do es not apply to lobbyists who are appointed in a “representative capacity,” meaning that they are appointed for the express purpose of providing a committee with the views of a nongovernmental entity, a recognizable group of persons or nongovernmental entities (an industry sector, labor unions, or environmental groups, etc.), or state or local government. The original ban was one of President Obama's apparent "sweeping" changes, and which the President insisted showed how he was reducing the influence of lobbyists in government. Here's what he said back in 2010 about this: My Administration is committed to reducing the undue influence of special interests that for too long has shaped the national agenda and drowned out the voices of ordinary Americans. Special interests exert this disproportionate influence, in part, by relying on lobbyists who have special access that is not available to all citizens. Although lobbyists can sometimes play a constructive role by communicating information to the government, their service in privileged positions within the executive branch can perpetuate the culture of special interest access that I am committed to changing. Apparently, the administration is a little less committed to changing that these days. Admittedly, the White House was somewhat pressured into this by a lawsuit from some lobbyists who (I'm not joking) argued their First Amendment rights were being violated. While a lower court rejected this argument, earlier this year, the DC Circuit appeals court claimed it was a legitimate First Amendment issue and that "the ban pressures them to limit their constitutional right to petition." Frankly, that's ridiculous. Almost no one is allowed on these advisory committees. The Intellectual Property Advisory Committee has a grand total of 16 people. I'm sure there's no way in hell I would be allowed on it. Does that mean that my constitutional right to petition the government has been denied? Of course not, because that's a ridiculous interpretation of the First Amendment. The Appeals Court ruling wasn't the end of the case, as it was was sent back to the lower court for further review -- but it appears that the Obama administration has effectively thrown in the towel and will allow the lobbyists back onto the committees that none of us are likely to ever be allowed on. Because that process wasn't corrupt enough already...Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 20 days ago on techdirt
It seems unlikely to expect FCC boss Tom Wheeler to say much that really matters concerning the key issues the FCC is facing until the final decisions are made (and, if history is any indication, even when those decisions are made, the statements will be bland nothingness), but it's still worth noting that he recently responded to two very different letters from members of Congress. The first was a letter from a number of Senators coming out strongly in support of reclassifying internet access under Title II, basically defining it as a common carrier service, and creating real rules that prevent broadband providers from picking winners and losers. Wheeler's response could be summed up as "Yeah, we're considering it." But that's about it. As I stated in the June 30. 2014, letter to you, our Notice proposes that the Section 706 framework set forth by the court provides us with the tools we need to adopt and implement robust and enforceable Open Internet rules. However. the Commission is also seriously considering moving forward to adopt rules using Title II of the Communications Act as the foundation for our legal authority. The Notice asks specific questions about Title II. including whether the Commission should 1) revisit its classification of Broadband Internet Access as an information service; or 2) separately identify and classify as a telecommunications service a service that "broadband providers . . . furnish to edge providers," as proposed by Mozilla in a May 5. 2014, Petition filed with the agency. The Notice seeks comment on the benefits of both Section 706 and Title II, including the benefits of one approach over the other, to ensure the Internet remains an open platform for innovation and expression. In other words, nothing new at all. In fact, the response is frustratingly circular. Wheeler asked for feedback on whether the FCC should reclassify, and these Senators said, "Hell yes, you should reclassify," even explaining why reclassifying is the only way for the FCC to "put truly effective open Internet rules on the books," and Wheeler's response was, "Yes, we've asked people to tell us what they think of Title II." It's a complete brush off in someways. Imagine asking your significant other what you should have for dinner, and they explain why it makes sense to have fish for dinner, and you respond with "Yes, I am asking people for options, and fish is one of them," rather than actually responding to the direct explanation as to why fish is the answer. It would be pretty obvious that you're not really paying attention and don't want fish. The second letter comes from a bunch of Representatives in the House who idiotically flipped out over Wheeler's announced plans to preempt questionable state laws that block municipal broadband. These laws are almost always driven entirely by the big broadband companies, and local politicians have even admitted that they're just doing the bidding of folks from the big broadband providers. The letter comes from the same folks in Congress, led by Marsha Blackburn, who has already helped pass an appropriations amendment that would block Wheeler's plans. Wheeler's response here is a bit stronger and more direct. He points out that the FCC has the authority to promote competitive broadband markets, and if that means trampling on big broadband lobbying efforts that restrict competition, that's well within the FCC's authority. He also points out that for all of Blackburn's supposed "concern" about the federal government overruling "local" governments, she doesn't seem to have a problem with state governments blatantly blocking municipal governments from doing what they want. [M]any states have enacted laws that place a range of restrictions on communities' ability to make their own decisions about their own future. There is reason to believe that these laws have the effect of limiting competition in those areas, contrary to almost two decades of bipartisan federal communications policy that is focused on encouraging competition. I respect the important role of state governments in our federal system, but I also know that state laws which directly conflict with critical federal laws and policy may be subject to preemption in appropriate circumstances. I recognize that federal preemption is not a step to be taken and must be done only after careful consideration of all relevant legal and policy issues. The rest of the letter is him basically repeating that there will be lots of "careful consideration" before any move is actually taken. It's almost as if Wheeler doesn't want to reveal what he's going to do until he does it (shocking, I know). At this point, it's not worth making too much of either letter, other than noting that Wheeler is sending responses that basically repeat the same thing he's been saying all along. And that takes us back to the point that many of us have been raising about the FCC for over a decade. It does an awful lot of talking, but rarely does much of substance. The real question here is if the Wheeler FCC will stand up and do something beyond a lot of talking.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 20 days ago on techdirt
All kinds of technophiles are looking forward to new and better-looking smartwatches and wearable devices that don't make a person look like a member of the Borg. Everyone has seen gadgets getting smaller and more fashionable over time, so it's not just foolish optimism to hope that wearable tech will be amazing and cool in a few short years. Some cool wearable stuff is being developed right now, but it doesn't look too fashionable yet. Here are some examples. Employees of Daewoo who are building ships in South Korea have access to robotic exoskeletons that can help them lift 70 lbs of stuff effortlessly. These prototype robotic suits are going to be able to lift over 200 lbs in the near future, and they also sound like an awesome toy for a billionaire superhero.... [url] Wearable robots are already helping out the disabled, but there are still a lot of bugs to work out before these powered exoskeletons are ready for full-time use. Walking around instead of rolling in a wheelchair is a nice feature, but robotic legs need to handle falls better and have longer lasting batteries. [url] Wouldn't it be cool to wear a mask that could give you superhuman abilities -- like superhearing or supervision? These face prosthetics look bulky and scary, but it might not be too long before something like Google Glass is offering super-abilities instead of dorky augmented reality. [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 20 days ago on techdirt
The Supreme Court's recent finding that warrantless cell phone searches are unconstitutional is already generating some pretty interesting arguments in ongoing cases. The government obviously wishes to mitigate the "damage" done by this decision by still doggedly pursuing data through warrantless methods. In this particular case, the government is arguing that it has every right to access cell site location information (CSLI) without a warrant, claiming that the Riley decision solely pertains to the contents of cell phones. Obtaining CSLI without a warrant is still Constitutionally-dubious, however. One state court and a federal court have held that this information should only be obtained with a warrant. In the prior case, it was found that the state's Constitution provided more protection than the US Constitution and in the latter, the finding was very narrowly tailored to the case at hand, making it very difficult to apply to others cases, even under the same jurisdiction. While the government makes the usual claims about third party data and warrant requirements being an undue burden, the appellant's reply takes those arguments apart. The government is quite candid in its brief that it wishes to use cell phone location data to conduct dragnet surveillance without any individualized suspicion, or even a belief that a crime has occurred. It claims that CSLI is a simple building block at the beginning of an investigation that is the equivalent of chatting with bystanders. Riley refused to countenance this warrantless practice when it explained that location data qualifies as one of the “privacies of life” that the Fourth Amendment protects. The appellant's reply further disassembles the government's assertion that grabbing cell location info is like "chatting with bystanders" in order to help "build an investigation." In one footnote, it asks why the government feels it shouldn't need a warrant for the cell location data when it obviously found a warrant necessary elsewhere, belying its "building an investigation" claim. Here, this argument is demonstrably false. Appellants had already been arrested and indicted–and multiple search warrants had already been issued–before the government first sought the 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d) orders. In fact, some of the warrants were to search the cell phones. In another, it attacks the ridiculousness of the Third Party Doctrine, which the government claims gives it the "right" to grab records without warrants and, in essence, turns the cell provider into nothing more than an impartial witness/bystander. Contrary to the government’s assertion, nobody at Sprint witnessed Appellants’ movements, let alone any criminal activity. The government required Sprint to record his movements, using Sprint as the custodian. The technology itself needs only ephemeral and anonymous detection of location. Using this artefact of the technology as a retrospective homing beacon does not transform Sprint into a witness. Without the government’s action, no person would have ever known or seen the Appellants’ every move over the course of seven months. If there's anything the court should pay particular attention to, it's this footnote. The government has successfully argued for years that so-called "business records" carry no expectation of privacy while hiding the fact that many of these records are maintained to meet government regulations. The government compels the production of records and then claims it should have broad, warrantless access to them because cell phone owners "voluntarily" generated these by using their phones. It ignores the fact that there's no way for customers to opt out of these collections, short of not using a phone. This ties into the Riley decision, in which the Supreme Court noted that having a cell phone isn't some sort of luxury enjoyed by a small percentage of the population but a necessity of modern life. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've written in the past about the idea of "soft corruption," in which the direct exchange of money isn't necessarily obvious, but the very clear appearance of conflicts of interest certainly erode the trust of the public in the policy makers. Even when everything is technically above-board, these actions attack the credibility of the policy process. Witness the latest example. Comcast and Time Warner Cable are each shelling out significant cash to "sponsor" an event which is honoring FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn who, of course, is in the midst of a review over the merger proposal between the two companies. As Politico reports: Comcast will pay $110,000 to be a top-level “presenting sponsor” at the Walter Kaitz Foundation’s annual dinner in September, at which Clyburn is receiving the “diversity advocate” award, according to a foundation spokeswoman. Time Warner Cable paid $22,000 in May to the foundation for the same event, according to a Senate lobbying disclosure filed at the end of last month. The foundation supports diversity in the cable industry. Diversity is a good thing and we're all for it. It's also great that Comcast and TWC want to "support" diversity. But the questionable optics here are quite troubling -- even if it's technically legal: There are no rules preventing businesses from helping to honor regulators in this way, and both companies say they have supported the foundation for years. Comcast further claims that it's "insulting" to suggest that its donation here has anything to do with Clyburn being honored at the event. And, indeed, Comcast has sponsored similar events from the same group, giving similar amounts -- all while past honorees tended to be industry insiders, rather than public sector officials. So it's doubtful that this is any sort of direct tit-for-tat type payment. But, again, that's part of what's so troubling about the nature of "soft corruption." There's still a pretty clear conflict of interest in the entire setup which -- whether true or not -- creates the perception that people in the public sector are in debt to the very companies they're supposed to be regulating.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As you probably know by now, Comcast has been in the news quite a bit lately for all the wrong reasons. It started with a recorded call of one Comcast customer attempting to cancel his service before being passed over to a "customer retention" representative who had watched entirely too much Boiler Room. Comcast made a great deal of noise about how this wasn't how they told their reps to conduct their business, which, thanks to the Verge's call for input from past and current Comcast employees, was shown pretty conclusively to a complete lie. It's been a pretty, nice, little lesson in why breeding the kind of monopoly that Comcast tends to hold in many areas of this country is a really crappy idea. The other lesson that this should be teaching all of us is the importance of recording customer service calls with Comcast*. And that appears to apply even for customers of Comcast that aren't trying to flee their brand of customer service. Tim Davis uploaded a (NSFW due to language) recording to YouTube of a couple of conversations he had with Comcast's customer service. If you can't listen to the audio, or want a quick breakdown: Tim had moved recently and chose to relocate his Comcast service because, according to the video, he didn't have a choice due to a lack of competitive providers. I've gone through this myself several times in Chicago; it sucks. In any case, he did the internet portion of the install himself, as I too have done several times. All went well until a few weeks later when he was experiencing intermittent outages. An initial call with Comcast confirmed the problem was with the wiring outside the home, not the internal setup. Tim recorded that conversation, including when a Comcast rep confirmed that there is no charge to have a technician do work on outside lines to provide adequate service. Makes sense. A tech comes out, fixes the outside line issue, tests the network inside the home to assure connectivity is restored, and leaves. Then this happens. All is fine until a week or two later when Davis receives a bill that includes $99.99 for "Failed Self Install," another $32 for "Failed Video [Self Install Kit]," and $49.95 for "Wireless Network SET Up." That's $181.94 in total. But, insists Davis, the problem wasn't that he failed to do the self-install correctly or that there was a failed self-install kit, since the problem involved cables entering his property that he never touched. Similarly, the tech never set up or did anything with Davis's WiFi system, so the set-up charge is bogus. When Tim calls up to dispute the charges, he's told several things. First, the rep applies a "discount" that wipes out about fifty dollars. Then she insists she cannot apply any credits because all of the tech's service charges are valid, despite Tim informing her of both the recording of the call with the other rep that said there would be no charge and the fact that the tech would have had to have the apartment landlord's approval to access what the tech claimed he'd worked on. Instead of applying a credit, she suggests she upgrade his internet for a year for free instead, which would be of a $60 or so value. $121 or $60 in temporary service upgrades...guess which Tim wanted? He insisted the bogus charges to be credited back to him. The rep then claims she'd get back to him. When she did, she confirmed that everyone on the planet should be recording their calls to Comcast's customer service. She eventually calls back later than planned, and after escalating his call one final time she tells him that the full $82 will actually be credited back to his account. When Davis asks why she couldn't simply do that during the earlier call, her explanation is enough to make you pound your head through a wall in frustration. "We try to negotiate, and again, that is a valid charge," she answers. "But since I advised my manager that there is a recording and you were misinformed, then she's the one who can approve that $82." Seemingly flabbergasted, Davis asks to confirm, "You're telling me that if I didn't have a recording of that call, you wouldn't have been able to do it?" "Yes, that is correct," answers the rep, confirming that the only way to get Comcast to erase a bogus charge from your account is to have recorded evidence that you were promised in advance that the call would be free. Everyone got that? Customer service reps dealing with disputed charges will try to "negotiate" with you and you only have a chance at legitimate recourse if you record all your calls with them. Keep digging, Comcast. I don't think the grave is big enough yet. * Oh, but if you're recording your call, you may want to pay attention to the local laws about such things. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 20 days ago on techdirt
Techdirt recently wrote about Spain's imminent and almost unbelievably foolish new copyright law designed to prop up old and failing business models in the publishing sector. Mike mentioned that it was potentially disastrous for things like fair use, Creative Commons and public domain material -- so broad is the reach of this new law's "inalienable right" for publishers to be paid when snippets of works appear elsewhere. Now Paul Keller has put together a great post on Communia's blog exploring the details of this particular threat: The law creates a right for 'electronic content aggregation providers' to use 'non-significant fragments of aggregated content which are disclosed in periodic publications or on websites which are regularly updated' without the permission of the rights holder. However such uses require payment of a 'fair remuneration' to the rights holder (via a collecting society). This is a right that content providers already have and can choose to license or waive assuming the non-significant fragments are copyrightable and absent an applicable exception or limitation. What this new legislation does is eliminate the ability of providers to choose how to exercise this right, and impose a mandatory royalty on reusers even for content that has been made available under a public license such as Creative Commons or that is otherwise available under an exception to copyright or in the public domain. It's that last fact -- that the mandatory royalty can't be turned off, even for works released under Creative Commons licenses that are explicitly designed to encourage payment-free sharing -- which is so disturbing. It threatens to undermine not only Creative Commons licenses by negating one of their key features, but also the central feature of a digital commons -- that anyone can draw upon it freely in order to create new works that are then returned to an enriched commons for the benefit of all. I can't believe even the Spanish legislators who put together this misguided law really intended this attack on the Creative Commons world, but that simply suggests they are largely clueless about how the digital world and its commons operate. That's confirmed by another post on this topic, this time from Renata Avila, writing for Global Voices. She explores the likely impact of this new law on another uniquely-digital phenomenon -- open access publishing: The current reform of Spain's copyright law incorporates a new levy on universities that is related to open access to publications. Under the policy, universities that want to share research or other content for free will be prohibited from doing so beyond the confines of their institution and personnel. In other words, if you are an author from a university and you want to share beyond the academic world and someone links to your journal article, that person must pay even if you do not even want the payment. A percentage of these fees will be collected by the Spanish agency CEDRO (Centro Español de Derechos Reprográficos) and the virtual campuses of universities will be required to comply. The new law's provisions thus negate the whole point of open access, which is to facilitate the free sharing of academic materials on a global scale so as to accelerate research and its benefits. That's naturally a tragedy for the researchers who want to share their work so that others can build on it, but it's also a tragedy for Spanish society. If this law is passed, it means two of greatest benefits arising from the widespread use of the Internet -- the creation of a digital commons that can be shared by all, and the wider dissemination of knowledge thanks to open access -- will be seriously harmed. As a consequence, gifted entrepreneurs and academics in Spain are likely to move to other countries with a greater understanding of these matters, helping to drive innovation and intellectual discovery there instead, while Spain may well find itself turning into a digital backwater. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 20 days ago on techdirt
Dan Hunter and Nicolas Suzor (two Australian academics) have a great article for The Conversation, which officially is looking at the latest copyright reform proposals in Australia, but makes a much bigger point: Making a living as a content creator has always been massively difficult, and it's foolish to think that stronger copyright will change that. Unfortunately, in a campaign driven by the legacy gatekeepers (who often do benefit from stronger copyrights), many artists (especially independent ones) have been misled into thinking that the internet is the problem and stronger copyright laws will fix things. What's left out is that it's always been difficult, and the internet has actually made it easier to build a successful independent career. That doesn't mean it's easy and many will still fail, but it's not the problem of the internet and copyright laws being too weak. First, a reminder that it's always been difficult for artists to make a living -- even when it came to famous and "major label" musicians, approximately 90% of them flamed out and didn't turn music into a career. Only the very top of the top in the old system were able to make a living as musicians. Artists and their representatives are right, of course: it is unfair that artists and creators can’t make a living from their art. Society probably would be a better place if creators could spend all day writing great novels and great songs, and not have to support themselves in other ways. But it’s always been like this: Beethoven taught piano to the children of nobility, Bach earned his keep as an organist and choirmaster, not as a composer. The old joke about barkeeps and waitstaff being mostly underemployed actors and authors is a cliche because it has always been true. But does stronger copyright solve this? The evidence certainly suggests no: Since the 1990s the copyright system has been made more and more onerous – but most artists haven’t been getting any richer. Each one of these reforms has failed, and the new proposal is almost certainly going to be a bust. The government could impose the death penalty for copyright infringement and it still would not create a future where the bulk of people who want to be independent artists can reliably make a good living from their work Instead, stronger copyright seems to help the traditional gatekeepers, but doesn't filter down to the actual creators: Copyright helps large producers and distributors in film, television and publishing industries. An individual artist is still more likely to win the lottery than make the big time. Those artists who do win the lottery win big – and those who don’t have to take other jobs. But the internet -- despite all the blame being placed on it -- has enabled many more creators and artists to make money and build careers. That doesn't mean that every artist can be successful because of the internet, because that's just not true. It's still a very, very difficult world in which to make a living. But that's because of the nature of the market for creative works, not the internet or the state of copyright laws. But if you look and see how many artists are making a living today because of the internet, who never would have gotten anywhere under the old system, you realize how much more opportunity there is today. The internet has allowed a brand-new group of creators to emerge, like remix artist Pogo, off-beat current affairs show Juice Rap News, and the creators of video game channels on YouTube. The internet makes it easier than ever before to be a creator and to build an audience for your works. Some of these creators are being paid for their efforts – and some aren’t in it for the money. It’s not an exaggeration to say that we’re living in a Golden Age of Creativity, even if creators who won under the old media model are suffering. As they note, it's still tough to be an independent artist, but there's much more opportunity than in the past: Becoming a successful independent artist is still a worse bet than the lottery. But for the much larger group of artists working in arts industries and the even larger group of creatives working in other industries, wages and job satisfaction are actually substantially higher than the national average. And thus, proposals like the one in Australia by Attorney General George Brandis get the equation entirely backwards. They attempt to make the internet worse, by imposing onerous restrictions and liabilities on the internet providers, thereby setting up barriers to the tools that are helping artists. At the same time, the current proposal will impose costs on communications providers like ISPs, search engines and cloud computing providers, as well as the everyday consumer. Compliance costs and liability risks will drive some providers offshore. They will also increase the cost of internet access for everyone. [....] Harming the communications infrastructure is a bet against the future – and against those newly emerging creators who don’t follow the model of the past. It's unfortunate that so many have twisted the fact that it's always been hard to make a living as a creator into an attack on the tool that has provided the most help to many of those artists... and as an excuse to ratchet up laws in a way that will make the internet worse.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 20 days ago on techdirt
We've already written about the DEA's deep involvement with the intelligence community, including them being trained to lie about getting info from the intelligence community when it uses it to bust drug dealers -- a system known as parallel construction, which is encouraged throughout the agency. We also know that AT&T (and possibly others) have employees embedded at the DEA to provide it with even faster access to any information that the DEA wants. We've also covered how the DEA often gets unchecked access to private information and has been caught circumventing laws to get medical records without a warrant. The DEA is also the force behind the NSA's recording of every phone call in the Bahamas. Basically, as bad as the NSA, CIA and FBI may be, the DEA appears to be a pretty massive violator of civil liberties in pursuit of any and all information it can get its hands on. So, given that, it shouldn't be even remotely surprising that the DEA apparently forked over $854,460 to a secretary working for Amtrak to get her to hand over private passenger information for a period of 20 years. Except there is this: The DEA could have lawfully obtained [this information] for free through a law enforcement network. Also, it seems worth noting that it took Amtrak's inspector general 20 years to figure all this out, and then the operation decided to let the (unnamed) secretary retire (with $854,460 more than she "earned") rather than face any discipline. On Monday, the office of Amtrak Inspector General Tom Howard declined to identify the secretary or say why it took so long to uncover the payments. Howard's report on the incident concluded, "We suggested policy changes and other measures to address control weaknesses that Amtrak management is considering." DEA spokesman Matt Barden declined to comment. So, the DEA wasted nearly a million dollars to get private info that it could have obtained for free -- but which it probably shouldn't be allowed to have without a warrant. And the "rogue" secretary who forked over this info, while padding her own income, gets off without any consequence at all. Good thing she didn't download public domain material from the internet...Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
While attempting to do nothing more "infringing" than listen to (fully licensed) music, I ran into the sort of bizarre, pointless restrictions I thought only German citizens had to deal with. Alec Empire, founder of Digital Hardcore Recordings and leader of Atari Teenage Riot, recently compiled a list of his 13 favorite albums for UK music site, The Quietus. Along with this, he put together a three-hour mix of tracks from these albums and posted it to Mixcloud. It seemed to be the natural companion piece so I headed to Mixcloud and ran straight into a wall set up by several music licensing services. For reasons that only make sense to a host of PROs (performance rights organizations), this upload is "unavailable in my country." Why? Good question. Fortunately, Mixcloud has an answer, but not one that will make anyone (but performance rights groups) happy. (And even then, how? But that's a question for later). In America Mixcloud has blanket music licences with SoundExchange, ASCAP, BMI & SESAC. These licences stipulate certain rules around how you can listen to a service like Mixcloud: - The tracklist must be hidden until you hear it - You cannot scrub or rewind backwards within a Cloudcast, only forward - Cloudcasts with more than 3 tracks by the same artist may not be available for listening As music lovers ourselves, we understand that this may be frustrating at times, and we hope that in the future the rules will evolve to be more open to new types of services like Mixcloud. The problem here isn't artists or labels. The problem here is middlemen that collect performance rights on behalf of artists. But what exactly are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC going to collect if no one in the US can stream these tracks? Even the top 5% of artists that receive the majority of collections are earning nothing if the tracks (by such non-top 5-percenters like Duke Ellington, Shizuo, Goblin and Pharoah Sanders) can't be played. So, this collection of PROs (not that SoundExchange is completely faultless either…) is "assisting" its roster in making a slim percentage of… nothing. And look at all the technology that's being disabled in order to satisfy this motley collection of acronyms. No skipping tracks. No replaying tracks. Nothing over three songs by the same artist. You can't even view the tracklist in the United States, so there's no way of seeing what Empire chose to include in his mix. It's two-thousand-fucking-fourteen and a bunch of PROs have turned a streaming site into the equivalent of an unlabeled C90 being played on a malfunctioning tape deck. Or, in this case, not played. Sure, licensing agreements for streaming tend to have all sorts of specific terms delineating interactive and non-interactive services, but a license that "permits" no interaction at all? If this is all that's "allowed" by Mixcloud's licensing agreement, why even bother? It might as well just route affected users to a static page saying "Not For You" and save itself the hassle of supposedly pro-artist groups like this that so severely kneecap a service that it has all the functionality of a bitmap. Once again, this is helping artists how? People unfamiliar with the artists Empire is showcasing (which would be most people) won't have any idea if they like them or not, which isn't really going to increase sales. Running into such an inherently stupid, counterproductive wall is also likely to put off people from a) searching for these artists on their own, and (more importantly), b) using Mixcloud as a platform for listening and/or uploading. The saddest part is that Mixcloud has blanket licensing agreements with these entities and despite that, it can't even offer a functioning service to a country that would likely provide it with its largest user base. Do these PROs view this sort of abject ridiculousness as some sort of victory, one that sacrifices its artists in order to maintain absolute control of Mixcloud's platform? How does this help anyone sell more albums or earn more streaming revenues? I doubt anyone at the acronymous (and acrimonious) agencies have any idea. I doubt further that they care.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
As we commented back in June, one of the key questions posed by the important ruling of Europe's highest court that the EU's current data retention requirements were "invalid" is: so what will the EU's Member States do now? Will they simply repeal their national legislation that was passed to implement the EU Directive, or will they claim that broad-based data retention is nonetheless still possible, as the UK has done? Although the UK government will doubtless try, it's going to be much harder to argue that the European Union's Court of Justice ruling leaves any room for the kind of broad-based data retention that David Cameron's government wants in the wake of the following news: civil liberties campaigners AK Vorrat have now obtained internal documents showing that at a recent closed meeting of EU Justice and Home Affairs ministers the Council's Legal Services stated that paragraph 59 of the European Court of Justice's ruling on the Data Retention Directive "suggests that general and blanket data retention is no longer possible". Here's what paragraph 59 of the ruling says: Moreover, whilst seeking to contribute to the fight against serious crime, [the Data Retention] Directive 2006/24 does not require any relationship between the data whose retention is provided for and a threat to public security and, in particular, it is not restricted to a retention in relation (i) to data pertaining to a particular time period and/or a particular geographical zone and/or to a circle of particular persons likely to be involved, in one way or another, in a serious crime, or (ii) to persons who could, for other reasons, contribute, by the retention of their data, to the prevention, detection or prosecution of serious offences. That admission is likely to strengthen legal challenges to the UK's new DRIP law. It also undercuts claims by the Australian Attorney General George Brandis that data retention is "very much the way in which Western nations are going". Since EU lawyers have said that any kind of excessive data retention is illegal in European Union nations, Brandis will find it harder to paint his own extreme retention plans as nothing to get worked up about and simply part of a wider trend. Whether or not they were before, now, they're certainly not. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Late in 2012, two mentally-ill minors were taken from their cells at Rikers and beaten by a shift captain and multiple guards, who took turns punching the two inmates while they were restrained. A jail clinician reported seeing one of them being punched in the head while handcuffed to a gurney. Another clinician said she saw staff striking the other while he screamed for them to stop hurting him. One of the two told consultants he was still spitting up blood "more than a month after the incident." This was prompted by the inmates' refusal to "comply with earlier search procedures" and for "throwing urine" on guards. When questioned about this retaliatory beating by a prison physician, the captain said the inmates had banged their own heads against the wall. Other statements gathered infer that those involved pressured clinic staff to corroborate this story. The official report said simply: "The inmates were escorted to the clinic without further incident or force used." We've long since dismissed the idea that the prison system offers any sort of reform or rehabilitation. Instead, it's a place where people are sent to be forgotten, broken down or completely destroyed. The Rikers Island prison in New York is no exception, but it does "offer" something many others don't. Because New York law treats everyone 16 and up as adults when it comes to criminal charges, minors are sent into the general population to co-exist with those with years or decades of criminal experience under their belts. But there should be someone acting as a force of good, or at least neutrality, inside the prison: the guards. According to the DOJ's investigation of Rikers Island, those tasked with watching the prison population are indistinguishable from the long-term inhabitants. And those perceived as weakest -- the newly-imprisoned minors -- are targeted most frequently. In the driest terms, the DOJ breaks down the problems at Rikers. We conclude that there is a pattern and practice of conduct at Rikers that violates the constitutional rights of adolescent inmates. In particular, we find that adolescent inmates at Rikers are not adequately protected from harm, including serious physical harm from the rampant use of unnecessary and excessive force by DOC staff. In addition, adolescent inmates are not adequately protected from harm caused by violence inflicted by other inmates, including inmate-on-inmate fights. Indeed, we find that a deep-seated culture of violence is pervasive throughout the adolescent facilities at Rikers, and DOC staff routinely utilize force not as a last resort, but instead as a means to control the adolescent population and punish disorderly or disrespectful behavior. Moreover, DOC relies far too heavily on punitive segregation as a disciplinary measure, placing adolescent inmates—many of whom are mentally ill—in what amounts to solitary confinement at an alarming rate and for excessive periods of time. This opening statement is alarming, but the devil is in the details, as they say. And Rikers' staff are operating at near-Satanic levels. Based on a review of Department 24-hour reports from October 2012 through early April 2014, we identified 64 incidents involving blows to an adolescent inmate’s head or face. This is undoubtedly an underestimate of the number of headshots during this period, because 24hour reports contain only initial incident summaries prepared by staff themselves. Indeed, our review of incidents and witness interviews suggest that headshots were utilized far more frequently during this period. However, the fact that these summaries so often openly refer to headshots is disturbing. Our consultant reported that headshots are far more common at Rikers than at any other correctional institution he has observed. In many instances, correction officers readily admit hitting inmates but claim they acted in self-defense after being punched first by the inmate. As a threshold matter, even when an inmate strikes an officer, an immediate retaliatory strike to the head or face is inappropriate. Moreover, there is often reason to question the credibility of the officer’s account. These incidents also disproportionately occur in locations without video surveillance, making it difficult to determine what transpired. Those who intimately know the system know how to abuse it. The report details incident after incident that cannot be fully confirmed because it occurred out of view of the cameras. This is no accident. Inmate-on-guard violence can almost always be quantified because the inmate either doesn't know the camera's full scope or just doesn't care. But guards who want to hide their violent acts know where to go to escape the pervasive surveillance. Where video exists, [there is a] failure to describe the events on the video. Often there is just a summary statement that the video was reviewed and consistent with officers’ use of force reports. Because video recordings so frequently go missing, as described above, without an accurate and detailed description of the video recording, there is no longer any objective record of the incident. They also know how to deploy CYA phrases for beatings with witnesses, a little trick often used by abusive police officers. While utilizing force, staff often yell “stop resisting” even though the adolescent has been completely subdued or, in many instances, was never resisting in the first place. This appears intended to establish a record that the continued use of force is necessary to control the inmate. Officers who witness the incident also frequently report that they heard the inmate was resisting, even though that is false. In law enforcement, "stop resisting" is a mantra to be chanted while swinging fists, batons or anything else that might inflict pain. Rikers Island fits right in with its brothers on the outside. This list neatly summarizes the brutal force that is the Rikers Island staff: force is used against adolescents at an alarming rate and violent inmate-on-inmate fights and assaults are commonplace, resulting in a striking number of serious injuries; correction officers resort to “headshots,” or blows to an inmate’s head or facial area, too frequently; force is used as punishment or retribution; force is used in response to inmates’ verbal altercations with officers; use of force by specialized response teams within the jails is particularly brutal; correction officers attempt to justify use of force by yelling “stop resisting” even when the adolescent has been completely subdued or was never resisting in the first place; and use of force is particularly common in areas without video surveillance cameras. The long report details numerous, extremely violent incidents, like this one: In August 2013, four adolescent inmates were reportedly brutally beaten by multiple officers. Based on accounts provided by the inmates, several officers assaulted the inmates, punching and kicking them and striking them with radios, batons, and broomsticks. The beating continued for several minutes after the inmates already had been subdued and handcuffed. The inmates were then taken to holding pens near the clinic intake where they were beaten again by several DOC Gang Intelligence Unit members, who repeatedly punched and kicked them while the inmates were handcuffed. Two of the inmates reported that they had lost consciousness or blacked out during the incident. The officers’ written statements assert that the inmates instigated the fight and they used force only to defend themselves. The Department’s investigation of the incident was ongoing at the time this letter was prepared. The inmates sustained multiple injuries, including a broken nose, a perforated eardrum, head trauma, chest contusions, and contusions and injuries to the head and facial area. And chillingly matter-of-fact footnotes point to the pervasive culture of violence maintained by Rikers staff. RNDC inmates suffered 22 jaw fractures during the first 5 ½ months of 2012 alone. The ultimate problem here is that the DOJ could investigate nearly every prison in the country and come away with reports nearly as damning. A severe imbalance of power, only occasionally addressed by very minimal checks or repercussions, leads directly to this sort of behavior. The violence is abhorrent. That it's often directed at the weakest members of the prison population is even more so. And the staff knows what it's doing is completely wrong. The report shows that staff falsified reports, destroyed recordings, instructed clinic staff to corroborate their lies, told visiting teaching staff to "look away" from violent incidents (and keep their students from viewing these beatings as well) and failed to investigate questionable reports in a thorough or timely fashion. Going to prison is never expected to be a pleasant experience, but one would hope they only needed to watch out for their fellow inmates. The Rikers staff's behavior ensures there is no safe haven inside its walls.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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