posted 14 days ago on techdirt
When you testify before Congress, it helps to actually have some knowledge of what you're talking about. On Tuesday, the House Energy & Commerce Committee held the latest congressional hearing on the whole silly encryption fight, entitled Deciphering the Debate Over Encryption: Industry and Law Enforcement Perspectives. And, indeed, they did have witnesses presenting "industry" and "law enforcement" views, but for unclear reasons decided to separate them. First up were three "law enforcement" panelists, who were free to say whatever the hell they wanted with no one pointing out that they were spewing pure bullshit. You can watch the whole thing below (while it says it's 4 hours, it doesn't actually start until about 45 minutes in): Lots of craziness was stated -- starting with the idea pushed by both chief of intelligence for the NYPD, Thomas Galati and the commander of the office of intelligence for the Indiana State Police, Charles Cohen -- that the way to deal with non-US or open source encryption was just to ban it from app stores. This is a real suggestion that was just made before Congress by two (?!?) separate law enforcement officials. Rep. Morgan Griffith rightly pointed out that so many encryption products couldn't possibly be regulated by US law, and asked the panelists what to do about it. You can watch the exchange here: You see Cohen ridiculously claim that since Apple and Google are gatekeepers to apps, that the government could just ban foreign encryption apps from being in the app stores: Right now Google and Apple act as the gatekeepers for most of those encrypted apps, meaning if the app is not available on the App Store for an iOS device, if the app is not available on Google Play for an Android device, a customer of the United States cannot install it. So while some of the encrypted apps, like Telegram, are based outside the United States, US companies act as gatekeepers as to whether those apps are accessible here in the United States to be used. This is just wrong. It's ignorant and clueless and for a law enforcement official -- let alone one who is apparently the "commander of the office of intelligence" -- to not know that this is wrong is just astounding. Yes, on Apple phones it's more difficult to get apps onto a phone, but it's not impossible. On Android, however, it's easy. There are tons of alternative app stores, and part of the promise of the Android ecosystem is that you're not locked into Google's own app store. And, really, is Cohen literally saying that Apple and Google should be told they cannot allow Telegram -- one of the most popular apps in the world -- in their app stores? Really? Galati then agreed with him and piled on with more ignorance: I agree with what the Captain said. Certain apps are not available on all devices. So if the companies that are outside the United States can't comply with same rules and regulations of the ones that are in the United States, then they shouldn't be available on the app stores. For example, you can't get every app on a Blackberry that you can on an Android or a Google. Leaving aside the fact he said "Android or a Google" (and just assuming he meant iPhone for one of those)... what?!? The reason you can't get every app on a BlackBerry that's on other devices has nothing to do with any of this at all. It's because the market for BlackBerry devices is tiny, so developers don't develop for the BlackBerry ecosystem (and, of course, some BlackBerries now use Android anyway, so...). That comment by Galati makes no sense at all. Using the fact that fewer developers develop for BlackBerry says nothing about blocking foreign encryption apps from Android or iOS ecosystems. It makes no sense. Why are these people testifying before Congress when they don't appear to know what they're talking about? Later in the hearing, when questioned by Rep. Paul Tonko about how other countries (especially authoritarian regimes) might view a US law demanding backdoors as an opportunity to demand the same levels of access, Cohen speculated ridiculously, wildly and falsely that he'd heard that Apple gave China its source code: Here's what Cohen says: In preparing for the testimony, I saw several news stories that said that Apple provided the source code for iOS to China, as an example. I don't know whether those stories are true or not. Yeah, because they're not. He then goes on to say that Apple has never said under oath whether or not that's true -- except, just a little while later, on the second panel, Apple's General Counsel Bruce Sewell made it quite clear that they have never given China its source code. Either way, Cohen follows it up by saying that Apple won't give US law enforcement its source code, as if to imply that Apple is somehow more willing to help the Chinese government hack into phones than the US government. Again, this is just blatant false propaganda. And yet here is someone testifying before Congress and claiming that it might be true. Thankfully, at the end of the hearing, Rep. Anna Eshoo -- who isn't even a member of the subcommittee holding the hearing (though she is a top member of the larger committee) joined in and quizzed Cohen about his bizarre claims: She notes that it's a huge allegation to make without any factual evidence, and asks if he has anything to go on beyond just general "news reports." Not surprisingly, he does not. Elsewhere in the hearing, Cohen also insists that a dual key solution would work. He says this with 100% confidence -- that if Apple and law enforcement had a shared key it would be "just like a safety deposit box." Of course, this is also just wrong. As has been shown for decades, when you set up a two key solution, you're introducing vulnerabilities into the system that almost certainly let in others as well. And then, after that, Rep. Jerry McNerney raises the point -- highlighted by many others in the past -- that rather than "going dark," law enforcement is in the golden age of surveillance and investigation thanks to more and new information, including that provided by mobile phones (such as location data, metadata on contacts and more). Cohen, somewhat astoundingly, claims he can't think of any new information that's now available thanks to mobile phones: Here's Cohen: Sir, I'm having problems thinking of an example of information that's available now that was not before. From my perspective, thinking through investigations that we previously had information for, when you combine the encryption issue along with shorter and shorter retention periods, in a service provider, meaning they're keeping their records, for both data and metadata, for a shorter period of time, available to legal process. I'm having difficulty finding an example of an avenue that was not available before. Huh?!? He can't think of things like location info from mobile phones? He can't think of things like metadata and data around unencrypted texts? He can't think of things like unencrypted and available information from apps? Then why is he on this panel? And the issue of data retention? Was he just told before the hearing to make a point to push for mandatory data retention and decided to throw in a nod to it here? At least Galati, who went after him, was willing to admit that tech has provided a lot more information than in the past -- but then claimed that encryption was "eliminating those gains." Cohen is really the clown at the show here. He also claims that Apple somehow decided to throw away its key and that it was "solving a problem that doesn't exist" in adding encryption: There he's being asked by Rep. Yvette Clarke if he sees any technical solutions to the encryption issue, and he says: The solution that we had in place previously, in which Apple did hold a key. And as Chief Galati mentioned, that was never compromised. So they could comply with a proper service of legal process. Essentially, what happened is that Apple solved a problem that does not exist. Again, this is astoundingly ignorant. The problem before was that there was no key. It wasn't that Apple had the key, it's that the data was readily available to anyone who had access to the phone. That put everyone's information at risk. It's why there was so much concern about stolen phones and why stolen phones were so valuable. For a law enforcement official to not realize that and not think it was a real problem is... astounding. And, again, raises the question of why this guy is testifying before Congress. It also raises the question of why Congress put him on a panel with no experts around to correct his many, many errors. At the very least, towards the beginning of the second panel, Apple GC Sewell explained how Cohen was just flat out wrong on these points: If you can't see that, after his prepared remarks, Sewell directly addresses Cohen's claims: That's where I was going to conclude my comments. But I think I owe it to this committee to add one additional thought. And I want to be very clear on this: We have not provided source code to the Chinese government. We did not have a key 19 months ago that we threw away. We have not announced that we are going to apply passcode encryption to the next generation iCloud. I just want to be very clear on that because we heard three allegations. Those allegations have no merit. A few minutes later, he's asked directly about this and whether or not the Chinese had asked for the source code, and Sewell says that, yes, the Chinese have asked, and Apple has refused to give it to them: Seems like they could have killed 3 hours of ignorant arguments presented to Congress, if they had just not allowed such ignorance to be spewed earlier on.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
When Netflix recently expanded into 190 different countries, we noted that the company ramped up its efforts to block customers that use VPNs to watch geo-restricted content. More accurately, Netflix stepped up its efforts to give the illusion it seriously cracks down on VPN users, since the company has basically admitted that trying to block such users is largely impossible since they can just rotate IP addresses and use other tricks to avoid blacklists. And indeed, that's just what most VPN providers did, updating their services so they still work despite the Netflix crackdown. Netflix's frankly over-stated "crackdown" is an effort to soothe international broadcasters, justly worried about licensing content to a company that is demolishing decades-old broadcasting power centers. But even superficial as it may be, Netflix's crackdown on VPNs still managed to erode user privacy and security, since obviously there are countless people using VPNs for reasons other than engaging in global Netflix tourism. With that in mind, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings probably didn't win any new friends this week when stated on the company's latest earnings call that VPN users are loud but, ultimately, "inconsequential": There was uproar from customers, some of which simply use VPNs to protect their privacy, with a petition calling for the ban to be lifted attracting over 40,000 signatures. But it seems Netflix, which generally cherishes its user experience, doesn’t seem fussed by this uprising. “It’s a very small but quite vocal minority,” CEO Reed Hastings said during this week’s earnings call. “So it’s really inconsequential to us, as you could see in the Q1 results.” And, if looking solely at growth, he's not wrong; the company reported that it now serves 81.5 million members, 42% of whom are now outside of the United States. That's 44,740,000 TV subscribers in the States alone, double Comcast's latest tally of 22,347,000 TV customers. While investors are worried about growing competition from Amazon and grandfathered customers' reaction to next-month's price hike (actually announced two years ago), most customers, VPN or otherwise, aren't leaving. And while Netflix may be annoying some VPN users now, the company has repeatedly stated that its ultimate goal is to eliminate geographic broadcast restrictions entirely. That not only makes it so Netflix tourism is unnecessary, but it should reduce piracy -- something Netflix Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt reiterated earlier this year at CES: “Our ambition is to do global licensing and global originals, so that over maybe the next five, 10, 20 years, it’ll become more and more similar until it’s not different”... “We don’t buy only for Canada; we’re looking… for all territories; buying a singular territory is not very interesting any more.... When we have global rights, there’s a significant reduction in piracy pressure on that content. If a major title goes out in the U.S. but not in Europe, it’s definitely pirated in Europe, much more than it is if it’s released simultaneously,” Mr. Hunt says. In other words Netflix's long-term vision may be to eliminate fractured broadcast licensing so users don't need to use VPNs. But in the short term Netflix should probably try a little harder to avoid alienating its more technically savvy customers. They may be "inconsequential" now during Netflix's heyday, but may prove important once Netflix's streaming battle against Amazon, Hulu, Apple, and countless other companies starts to heat up.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
Drug dogs here in the US are mainly one-trick ponies, to clumsily mix a metaphor. Domesticated canines aim to please. Training of drug dogs involves giving them treats or toys upon alerting. You don't have to be Pavlov to see how this plays out in the real world. Dogs will alert in hopes of a reward or be nudged in that direction by conscious or unconscious "nudges" by their handlers. Hence, we have drug dogs in use with horrendous track records. (But, notably, not horrendous enough to result in judicial smackdowns, for the most part.) The UK deploys its own drug dogs as well. Turns out they have the same problems… sort of. For one, they're not all that great at detecting drugs or other contraband, according to a report by the UK's Independent Inspector of Borders and Immigration. (via Mashable) The report finds the human staff at the Manchester Airport to be mostly capable. The dogs, however, not so much. The deterrent effect of the detection dogs was difficult to measure, but seizures alone represented a low return on investment, given £1.25m spent on new kennels and the costs of operating the unit. Apparently, one of the key forms of contraband the drug dogs were supposed to detect went completely undetected during an eight-month period. Heroin and cocaine were assessed as 'very high' priority within both air passengers and freight. Yet, according to the data provided by Border Force, the dogs had made no Class A drugs detections in the period November 2014 to June 2015. It's not that the dogs weren't detecting anything at all. There were "alerts," but they weren't for illegal drugs, cash, etc. and they weren't false alerts triggered by handlers. Instead, the dogs appeared to be operating on empty stomachs. When deployed, the POAO dog made multiple accurate detections, but most were of small amounts of cheese or sausages, wrongly brought back by returning British holidaymakers and posing minimal risk to UK public health. The only motivation more powerful than the innate desire to please: the desire to consume sausage and cheese. To be fair, the dogs did detect some illegal drugs… In our own sample from 1 November to 30 April (Figure 16), the six detections were three small amounts of Class B drugs and three lots of tablets – Human Growth Hormone, Viagra and Bromazepam. Which is why the Inspector is understandably unimpressed that six dogs have cost the agency £1.25m plus whatever yearly maintenance costs. The report cuts the underperforming dogs a lot of slack by suggesting "routine" use has altered drug smugglers' strategies to route around the drug sniffers. On the other hand, the multiple "detections" of foodstuffs dogs naturally find delicious suggests £1.25m isn't enough money to feed the dogs properly. The agency agrees with the Inspector, leading to this very weird sentence. A senior manager agreed that there was a lack of innovation in the use of the dogs. Perhaps we've reached peak drug dog. There may be no further innovation possible. The reality is that, while the animals enjoy the use of heightened senses, they're still just animals and will default to instinctual behavior faster than (most) humans will. It really wouldn't be a problem if law enforcement and security officials recognized this inherent drawback, but they rarely do. Instead, trained dogs are presented to citizens and courts as miracles of nature and instrumental contributors to various Wars on Things -- even as evidence continues to mount indicating they're no better at detecting contraband than their handlers, who don't possess heightened olfactory capabilities. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
One of central claims made by supporters of corporate sovereignty chapters in trade deals is that companies "need" this ability to sue the government in special tribunals. The argument is that if the extra-judicial investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) framework is not available to a company, it will be defenseless when confronted with a bullying government. A new case in Australia shows why that's not true. A column in The Sydney Morning Herald provides the background, which concerns a US company called Nucoal: In 2013, the NSW [New South Wales] Independent Commission against Corruption found that there had been corrupt conduct relating to the granting of mining licences to Nucoal and other mining companies and the NSW government cancelled the licences. Naturally, Nucoal unleashed its lawyers: [Nucoal] demanded compensation of more than $900 million in Australia's High Court, claiming the decision to cancel its licence without compensation was unconstitutional and had reduced the value of the company. The High Court found in April 2015 that under Australian law Nucoal was not entitled to compensation. Now Nucoal had a problem. Normally, a company in this situation would invoke the corporate sovereignty chapter in a relevant trade deal, and move the case to secret ISDS tribunals, which were likely to be more favorable to its cause than the independent national courts. But with unusual foresight, Australia refused to accept ISDS in the 2004 AUSFTA trade agreement between the US and Australia -- which makes its decision to acquiesce to ISDS in TPP doubly foolish. Despite what fans of corporate sovereignty claim, Nucoal still has another option at this point: Nucoal is pressuring the US government to put a case to the Australian government that the denial of compensation has violated the general investment terms of the [AUSFTA] agreement. This could result in a formal complaint from the US government demanding trade sanctions against the Australian government. Last week The Australian reported that the CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce in Australia has announced that the US government will raise the issue in a closed-door review of the AUSFTA to be held in May. That is, unable to avail itself of the investor-state dispute mechanism, Nucoal now wants to take advantage of the state-state dispute settlement process (pdf) whereby the US government formally complains to the other government concerned. Now, whether the US government should really be taking up a case involving corruption is another question. The key point is that it is not absolutely necessary to include corporate sovereignty provisions in a trade deal to protect companies, because there is always the state-to-state mechanism that can be invoked if necessary. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
Plenty of people like a big, rare steak every once in a while. It's probably not the healthiest meal, but everything in moderation, right? How about insect protein for "meatless Mondays" or seaweed salads before dinner? Everything in moderation, right? Here are just a few interesting ways to expand your palate and maybe eat in a more sustainable fashion -- if you can stomach it. Farm to table isn't really that sustainable for the San Francisco restaurant, The Perennial, which boasts a farm to table back to farm and repeat cycle. Leftovers from the restaurant go back to the farm, but it's not clear how well this really works out if they still have cow meat on the menu. [url] Are you ready to eat home-grown insects from your very own "desktop hive" that consumes your vegetable scraps to feed hundreds of writhing mealworms? You can pre-order a hive from a Kickstarter campaign that reached its goal in January. It's just protein. Do you know where the protein you've been eating comes from? [url] Eating corn fungus doesn't sound so appetizing when the discolored, tumor-like growth is usually called smut or "devil's corn" by farmers. However, Ustilago maydis (the fungus) is also a delicacy that can be eaten, so maybe people just need to re-think what they think is edible. [url] Seaweed farming could be a nice, sustainable way to grow nutritious food -- if only more people ate (and enjoyed) seaweed. Ocean farming and aquaculture could be an alternative to land-based farming, but the practice needs to be researched and studied to make sure it's as environmentally friendly as it can be. It's no use to get a lot of people acquiring a taste for kelp if we destroy the ocean ecosystem to grow it. [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
We don't talk a great deal about online dating here at Techdirt, which is actually kind of strange, because it's a digital evolution of a sort. But the very good Priceonomics site recently had a fascinating post about some of the visible impacts the prevalence of online dating is producing, namely that anecdotal evidence suggests that it is making so-called "mixed-attractiveness couples" more rare. The post starts off by dispelling the myth that opposites attract. Instead, studies seem to suggest that relationships tend to form mostly within our own social circles, class circles, and within our general realm of physical attractiveness. The vulgar way of putting this has always been: a seven will date a seven, a six might date an eight, but a two will never marry a ten. The exceptions to this rule appear to be based around how long two people have known each other before entering a romantic relationship. There is an exception, however, to this seeming rule that people always date equally attractive people: The longer two people know each other before they start dating, the more likely it is that a 3 will date a 6, or a 7 will marry a 10. Which is interesting to think about as dating apps, which match strangers up for dates, take over the dating world. Because if more and more people meet their future spouse on a first date, the mixed-attractiveness couple might just go extinct. That conclusion is a bit simplistic, of course, as there are many other things that enter into the attractiveness equation. But it would be silly to suggest that physical attraction isn't a primary motivator most of the time as far as first impressions go. That's the whole point of the exception to the rule: a person may later learn to be attracted to someone that they were not physically attracted to from the jump. But if these first impressions are based primarily on dating sites and apps where physical appearance is so much easier to discern compared with personality traits? Then certainly a greater weight on physicality will produce less divergence of that trait amongst couples that choose to enter into relationships. This dynamic interested Lucy Hunt, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, who decided to investigate “how time might affect how similarly attractive couple members are to one another.” Working with two psychologists, Hunt looked at 167 couples who participated in a long-term study at Northwestern. They asked each couple how long they’d known each other before they started dating, and they recruited people to watch videotapes of the couples and rate each individual’s physical attractiveness. The researchers speculated that people who had known their partner before they started dating would break the rule of assortative mating. And that’s just what they found. Among couples who met when they started dating, both people were about equally attractive. But among friends-first couples, 3s dated 7s and 5s married 8s. They also did an experiment within a classroom, asking students at the start of a term to rate their classmates' desirability generally and again three months later. At the start of the term, the class generally agreed on who was attractive and who wasn't, but three months later the ratings amongst the class showed a much greater delta. They got to know their classmates better and that affected the ratings. Common sense, right? Except when dating apps come into play, the sorting happens before anyone gets to know anyone. Many dating sites actually incorporate matching people's attractiveness into the matches they offer to users. The swipe-left, swipe-right dating app Tinder, for example, is known for making matches based on an internal attractiveness ranking it calculates for each of its users. As Sean Rad, the founder of Tinder, has explained to Fast Company, Tinder calls each user’s ranking his or her “elo score.” The term comes from the world of professional chess, where elo scores are used to rank players. If an average player beats a grandmaster, her score increases significantly. If a great player loses to an even better player, his elo score only drops a few points. Tinder’s approach is not unique. The founders of the Dating Ring, a service profiled by the podcast “Startup”, have talked about ranking users’ attractiveness from one to ten to match them up. “Studies show that people tend to date people of similar levels of attractiveness, and our whole goal is to try to increase the probability that two people will meet up,” Dating Ring CEO Lauren Kay told the hosts of Startup. “We match people within one attractiveness point.” And with the trend in dating being a shorter time between meeting someone and dating them, with dating sites and apps playing a key role in this shift, matching people based on physical desirability because that's how it tends to work outside of dating sites becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The algorithms will reinforce this by trimming people's pool of candidates to their own desirability class, and we might see the end of mixed-attractiveness couples generally speaking. Is that a bad thing? I don't know. I'm married and never did any online dating at all, so I have zero experience with it. I do know that if I were a user of any of these sites, I would feel potentially cheated out of meeting great candidates because the algorithm thought I was too attractive or ugly to meet them. But that ultimately doesn't matter, as the trends show that online dating isn't going anywhere, so we might just all have to get used to seeing synced up couples from a physical standpoint. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on techdirt
Billing itself as a sort of Uber-for-eye-exams, telemedicine startup Opternative recently came on the scene offering a quick, inexpensive alternative to traditional optical exams that uses your computer and smartphone. Following a 25-minute online exam, an ophthalmologist will approve your results and issue a prescription for a cost of $40. No doctor visit is required. Unfortunately, just like Uber, there's a powerful lobby of incumbents who don't want the status quo disrupted. Now they're pushing legislation in several states to shut down online eye exams. As someone who recently had to get glasses, I like the idea of an online option the next time I need a checkup (and unlike many people, I only have to walk a few blocks from my office to see an eye doctor). Of course, my first question was: "Is it accurate?" But, at least according to its clinical trial, the online version appears to be equivalent in accuracy to its analog counterpart. The technology is approved in 45 states, and the service is currently available in 33. So, unlike transportation network companies like Uber that had to contend with onerous insurance, safety and liability questions, the regulatory status quo of telehealth services like this is that they are legal in most jurisdictions. Indeed, telemedicine is nothing new. Through its more than 40-year history, it has shown great potential for cost savings in both private sector and government programs. This potential will only grow, as wearables and smartphones become more sophisticated and ubiquitous. For instance, in Opternative's case, the service is about half as expensive as a traditional eye exam. Future competitors in the space, or economies of scale, could bring costs down even further. Unfortunately, a powerful lobby of brick-and-mortar optometrists is pushing for legislation to shut them down. In Georgia, a bill (HB 775) was passed by both houses of the state Legislature that would ban these online eye exams. Aptly listed as "restrictions on sale and dispensing of spectacles," this legislation is clear in its purpose to protect licensed brick-and-mortar optometrists from unwanted competition. Now it's up to Gov. Nathan Deal to sign or veto the bill. He has until the first week of May to decide. Blocking new telehealth applications like this one will only serve to raise prices, reduce the ability of low-income or rural individuals to access care and stifle future smartphone-driven innovations. As former Speaker Newt Gingrich wrote in a column for USA Today: There are more than 100,000 smartphone apps for health purposes, including one that detects heart attacks and another that helps diabetics monitor their blood sugar....And every day more are invented. Many of these smartphone enabled apps and devices will be better than the methods they're replacing — more convenient, faster, less expensive, and, in a growing number of cases, more accurate.... In healthcare, however, there is a growing effort by the existing, expensive systems to defend old, costly, less convenient, and slower methods by simply outlawing most of the competition. What's happening in Georgia, Indiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Oklahoma and elsewhere, is a shameless attempt to capture the regulatory apparatus by a rent-seeking cartel that wants to preserve the status quo at all costs. If these acts of cronyism are allowed to proceed unchecked, they inevitably will contribute to a disastrous chilling effect for innovation in the health sector -- an area already encumbered by a massive regulatory burden. This will only make us all poorer, and less healthy.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 15 days ago on techdirt
In a world defined by borders for thousands of years, the global nature of the internet has caused all sorts of confusion and absurdity. Geographically restricted content, fuzzily defined jurisdictions, libel tourism — these are all symptoms of a border-filled world coming to terms with a borderless network. Since attempts to carve up the internet along geographical lines aren't likely to stop anytime soon, this week we ask the question: are such attempts futile, and could online borders really serve any purpose to begin with? Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 15 days ago on techdirt
BlackBerry has finally responded to Motherboard's story on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's apparent full access to encrypted communications -- something that hinted the RCMP may have been given BlackBerry messaging's "Golden Key." Sort of. It's mostly an indirect Glomar followed by a statement that confirms something people already know. BlackBerry still has not commented directly to Motherboard or VICE News on the specifics of the investigation, but CEO John Chen published a blog post on Monday addressing the report in broad strokes… very broad strokes. [...] “Regarding BlackBerry’s assistance,” Chen wrote instead, “I can reaffirm that we stood by our lawful access principles. Furthermore, at no point was BlackBerry’s BES server involved.” BES is BlackBerry Enterprise Server -- the only option available where customers can lock BlackBerry out of access to communications. With BES, encryption keys are set by users, which means BlackBerry can no longer decrypt messages using its global PIN encryption key. Notably, this option is only available to corporate or government customers. Everyone else gets vanilla encryption, which can be decrypted by BlackBerry for law enforcement. Or, as appears to be the case in Canada, the key can be handed out to law enforcement agencies, allowing them to decrypt at will… because there's only one encryption key for all non-BES users. According to BlackBerry CEO John Chen, the ends justify the means he pointedly won't be discussing in detail. We have long been clear in our stance that tech companies as good corporate citizens should comply with reasonable lawful access requests. [...] This very belief was put to the test in an old case that recently resurfaced in the news, which speculated on and challenged BlackBerry’s corporate and ethical principles. In the end, the case resulted in a major criminal organization being dismantled. BlackBerry continues to play both sides of the equation, providing "regular" users with less secure communications while claiming to be the "gold standard" in encrypted communications -- a privilege it only extends to some of its customers, unlike Apple or Google, which provide encryption to all of their customers. The company has nothing to offer customers in the way of assurances, but it does seem to be going out of its way to soothe the nerves of law enforcement officials frustrated by smartphone encryption. It may make a big deal about its fight against Pakistan and its demands for access (Chen highlights this in his blog post), but it seems less than likely to go to bat for a majority of its users when faced with overreach by more "acceptable" governments. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 15 days ago on techdirt
Yesterday we wrote about the fairly unsurprising, but still good, news that the Supreme Court had rejected an attempted appeal by the Authors Guild of the really excellent fair use decision by the 2nd Circuit appeals court over whether or not Google scanning books to build a giant, searchable index was fair use. It's no surprise that the Authors Guild -- which has been tilting at this particular windmill for over a decade -- was upset about the refusal to hear the case, but I wasn't quite expecting the level of ridiculous sour grapes that were put on display: “Blinded by the public benefit arguments, the Second Circuit’s ruling tells us that Google, not authors, deserves to profit from the digitization of their books,” said Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Authors Guild. Did you get that? The Authors Guild is so completely out of touch that it actually thinks that "public benefit arguments" have no place in copyright disputes, despite the very fact that the Constitutional underpinnings of copyright law is to maximize the public's benefit. And, of course, this all ignores the fact that the vast, vast majority of authors greatly benefit from such a searchable index in that it drives more sales of books. But, on with the hyperbole: “Today authors suffered a colossal loss,” said Authors Guild president Roxana Robinson. “We filed the class action lawsuit against Google in September 2005 because, as we stated then, ‘Google’s taking was a plain and brazen violation of copyright law.’ We believed then and we believe now that authors should be compensated when their work is copied for commercial purposes.” What you believe, and what the law says, are different. And that was the case back in 2005 when you filed the suit just like many of us said at the time. “The price of this short-term public benefit may well be the future vitality of American culture,” continued Rasenberger. “Authors are already among the most poorly paid workers in America; if tomorrow’s authors cannot make a living from their work, only the independently wealthy or the subsidized will be able to pursue a career in writing, and America’s intellectual and artistic soul will be impoverished.” This is ridiculous on so many levels. First, most authors cannot make a living today because most books don't sell. That's not the fault of Google Books. In fact, as noted time and time again, Google Books acts as a discovery mechanism for many books and increases sales (I've bought dozens of books thanks to finding them via Google Book Search). Second, the gloom and doom predictions of legacy industries over new technologies is time-worn and has never been even remotely correct. What Rasenberger leaves out of her ignorant whine is the fact that in the time that Google Books has existed, the number of authors has increased massively. No, they're not all making a living, but the purpose of copyright law is to incentivize the creation of new works for the public, and the public is getting an astounding amount of new works -- a totally unprecedented amount of new works actually -- and it's got nothing to do with anything the Authors Guild has done. And, of course, the Authors Guild still won't give up, promising to fight this issue in other courts, hoping to get a circuit split that the Supreme Court will review: Following the Supreme Court’s order, the Guild vowed to remain vigilant to ensure that the Second Circuit’s ruling is not taken as carte blanche for unfettered digitization of books. “The Second Circuit decision took pains to highlight that fair use was found based on the strict display restrictions and security measures currently employed by Google,” said Authors Guild general counsel Jan Constantine. “We’ll continue to monitor Google and its library partners to ensure these standards are met, as we will take appropriate action to ensure that fair use isn’t abused.” To ensure that fair use isn't abused? Lovely people at the Authors Guild who outright declare themselves against public benefit, and then worry about the "expansion" and "abuse" of fair use. Does no one at the Authors Guild recognize that their authors are protected by fair use as well and many of them rely on it all the time? Who would ever join such a backwards looking and thinking organization?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 15 days ago on techdirt
Check up on the health of your car and maybe save yourself a few trips to a mechanic with the FIXD Active Car Health Monitor. Plug it in and connect it to your phone and FIXD will read the error codes from your vehicle. It then deciphers those codes for you to let you know whether you need to act on a problem now or if it can wait. You can use it across multiple vehicles and each car's profile will be stored on your phone, so you can keep tabs on each one. FIXD is available in the Techdirt Deals Store for $38.95. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 15 days ago on techdirt
Here's a bad idea. California Assemblyman Mark Stone is trying to get state and local governments to register copyright on basically anything they can. He may be doing so for what he thinks is a good reason, but the logic is very, very flawed. If you've followed Techdirt (or US copyright law) for any length of time, you're probably familiar with the fact that the federal government is barred from claiming copyright on any work created by the federal government (but it is able to hold copyrights that were transferred to it, which is another issue for another day). However, with state law, it's a bit more murky. Many have (quite reasonably) argued that this same rule should apply to state laws as well. But states sometimes like to claim copyright in their works -- and thus, for now, it's officially a matter delegated to each state to decide for its own works. Remember when the state of Oregon claimed copyright in its own laws? Here in California, government entities can claim copyright, but in very limited circumstances. In an important ruling back in 2009, a state appeals court said that under California's Public Records Act, public entities could only copyright a very limited set of things if first receiving explicit approval from the state government. The ruling in Santa Clara County v. Superior Court noted that based on the state's public records laws, government-created works should be assumed to be public domain, unless the state explicitly deems a category of work to be covered by copyright. In talking about the fact that California's Public Records Act says that nothing is intended to "limit any copyright protections" the court said: In our view, that phrasing operates only as a legislative recognition that copyright protection for software is available in a proper case; it cannot be read as an affirmative grant of authority to obtain and hold copyrights. The Legislature knows how to explicitly authorize public bodies to secure copyrights when it means to do so. It then goes on to list out a few examples where the code explicitly allowed California public entities to get a copyright. This is why, last year, when the City of Inglewood in California tried to sue a critic for copyright infringement for posting mocking videos of city council meetings, the court quickly tossed it out. Well, Assemblymember Mark Stone and some of his colleagues appear to want to change that with AB-2880. It would not just allow California public entities to get a copyright, but would pressure them to do so. Here's the key bit that is fairly concerning: A public entity may own, license, and, if it deems it appropriate, formally register intellectual property it creates or otherwise acquires. Later in the bill, it then forbids state agencies from waiving any intellectual property rights: A state agency shall not enter into a contract under this article that waives the state’s intellectual property rights unless the state agency, prior to execution of the contract, obtains the consent of the department to the waiver. It further notes that any such contract that waives the state's intellectual property rights "shall be deemed void." Other questionable things in the bill would include requiring state entities to develop databases to track any intellectual property (which will only serve to increase the amount of claimed works, because once you have a database and information is tracked, it's natural to want to see the data grow). The bill also would create an "outreach campaign" to teach public entities all about how they should use intellectual property -- and to "develop sample language for licenses" that would be designed to prevent anyone else from using California public entity works. Really. Now, here's the part, where I note why I think Assemblymember Stone and his colleagues meant well, even if they're proposing a horrific idea here that would be immensely troublesome for a variety of reasons. Remember Yosemite? Earlier this year, the famed national park had to dump a bunch of classic and traditional names because it got into a legal fight with the previous "concessions vendor" in the park, who had received a trademark on many of the famous names in the park, and was demanding many millions of dollars in compensation to allow Yosemite to continue using those names. From what we've heard, AB 2880 is something of a reaction to that totally ridiculous situation. And we agree that what happened with Yosemite was ridiculous and never should have happened, but it appears that Stone et al. got exactly the wrong message out of it. Unfortunately, it's the message that legacy copyright industry players have been falsely trying to indoctrinate the world with, and it's that everything must be owned somehow. The end result? Don't want a concessions company to own the name "Curry Village" or "Ahwahnee Hotel?" Well, then make sure a state entity (in this case, Yosemite Park) owns the rights to them. This solution, of course, totally ignores the much better and more appropriate solution which is simply don't grant intellectual property monopolies on such things in the first place. The concession company should never have received those trademarks. But the California legislators pushing this bill don't even seem to consider that. They seem to come from the incorrect (and dangerous) view that everything must be owned and, therefore, if it must be owned, why not make sure the public entity does the owning. The public domain exists for a reason. The California Assembly should embrace it. Having California works go into the public domain isn't something that needs to be stopped, it needs to be supported. There is no "loss" when that happens, the public only benefits. The Yosemite trademarks never should have been valid in the first place. The exact wrong answer is to think "Well, Delaware North shouldn't have them, Yosemite should!" The right answer is: "There is no need for a trademark here." Of course, there's also another big problem with the bill, even if it was designed to address the Yosemite situation. That one dealt with trademarks. But this bill is inclusive of any kind of intellectual property, including copyrights. It's problematic enough when governments get trademarks, but it's much more troubling when they get copyrights -- which is why the federal government is barred from getting copyrights on works it creates in the first place. That's a good example to set -- and it's one that the sponsors of this bill are explicitly rejecting. One hopes that this bill was just an ill-thought out response to the ridiculous Yosemite result and that someone can explain to the sponsors of this bill what a huge mistake it is. I've met Assemblyman Stone in the past (he came to one of our Copia events last year) and was quite interested in building stronger relationships between government and the tech industry. Hopefully he's coming to recognize that this bill would not do that at all, but would create a dangerous mess, in which important government records would be locked up. We've seen how this backfires in other states, or other countries that have concepts like Crown Copyright -- and it's frequently used to silence criticism, free speech and commentary. This bill is a bad idea all around.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 15 days ago on techdirt
Yesterday morning, things kicked off with a ridiculous tweet from the NY Police Department, announcing that it "stood with" the Manhattan DA in calling for "encryption" legislation. Of course, that's inaccurate. What it was really calling for was anti-encryption legislation. Today, 11am at City Hall we stand with @ManhattanDA & advocates to call for encryption legislation. #UnlockJustice pic.twitter.com/hqjRxtAzYO — NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) April 18, 2016 But, suddenly we discovered that not only was Manhattan District Attorney -- and proudly technologically ignorant -- Cyrus Vance continuing to push his dangerous anti-encryption views, but he had somehow created a hashtag and a logo for it (I've sent in a FOIA request to see how much tax payer dollars were spent on the logo, though I doubt I'll get a response). Vance held quite the grandstanding press conference over this, in which he repeated the same misleading claims as in the past about how horrible encryption is, and then trotted out some sob stories of cases where law enforcement failed to do their job, and then blamed it on encryption. DA Vance: Crime victims are entitled to stronger protections than criminals #UnlockJustice pic.twitter.com/003FmSGwYn — Cyrus Vance, Jr. (@ManhattanDA) April 18, 2016 You can watch the half-hour press conference below if you have the stomach for it: Of course, just about everything about this is ridiculous. It took place just a few days after Patrick O'Neill, over at the DailyDot, revealed some details of a FOIA request he'd made with Vance's office about all those cases he claimed he needed to get into phones for -- and found that, of the ones that were listed all had resulted in convictions anyway, even without getting into the phones. And most didn't appear to be for really serious crimes. Meanwhile, as is often the case, an attempt by law enforcement to co-opt whatever "the kids these days" are doing by setting up a hashtag failed spectacularly. First off, Vance's office just happened to pick a hashtag that was already in use. Even worse, it was in use by the Quakers to push for criminal justice reform that would "start to reverse the failed 40-year 'war on drugs.' Ooops. Then, of course, the folks who actually understand technology took the hashtag and ran with it, explaining why Vance's campaign was idiotic. Remember: encryption protects the families of police too. If you break it, you put them at risk. #unlockJustice — Keeper of Lore (@munin) April 18, 2016 Strong crypto prevents serious crimes like identity theft, stalking, sabotage and espionage. #UnlockJustice with strong security and crypto. — matt blaze (@mattblaze) April 18, 2016 People deserve stronger protection than criminals. Default strong encryption protects civilians against muggers and thieves. #UnlockJustice — the grugq (@thegrugq) April 18, 2016 iPhone encryption helps prevent theft, freeing up NYPD to investigate and solve other crimes. #UnlockJustice — emptywheel (@emptywheel) April 18, 2016 Encryption protects the safety of those who have been abused by intimate partners or family members, even if the police don't #UnlockJustice — Riana Pfefferkorn (@Riana_Crypto) April 18, 2016 And you're genuinely arguing that encryption wouldn't help protect victims of cybercrime? #unlockjustice pic.twitter.com/LhOzwh5zzk — Jenna McLaughlin (@JennaMC_Laugh) April 18, 2016 Encryption protects me and my family from criminals who may steal our portable devices. #UnlockJustice — Chris Wysopal (@WeldPond) April 18, 2016 Weakening everyone's security for the vague possibility of catching a few crooks is insanity. #UnlockJustice — Bill Budington (@legind) April 18, 2016 In its quest for total surveillance over our lives, law enforcement is willing to empower criminals by weakening encryption #unlockjustice — Daniel Nazer (@danielnazer) April 18, 2016 I don't trust people who still use fax machines with my sensitive data. #UnlockJustice — Cathy Reisenwitz (@CathyReisenwitz) April 18, 2016 NYPD: We want New Yorkers to be more vulnerable to phone & identity theft, robbery, and data breaches #UnlockJustice https://t.co/KRkUZNobMb — Trevor Timm (@trevortimm) April 18, 2016 Giving government authority over every intimate aspect of your private life is a wide gate to enslavement #UnlockJustice — Jonathan Zdziarski (@JZdziarski) April 19, 2016 Legislate weak encryption and do a big favor for swindlers, identity thieves and nefarious foreign regimes. #UnlockJustice — michael petricone (@mpetricone) April 19, 2016 After going through lots and lots of tweets, I have to admit that I couldn't find any -- outside of those from the DA's office and various law enforcement people that were actually supportive of the campaign. It really makes you wonder, just who does Cyrus Vance think he's protecting?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 15 days ago on techdirt
Techdirt readers know that the Chinese authorities have been steadily tightening their grip on most aspects of online life in the country, but there's one area that hasn't been mentioned much: the Web browser. Recently, a new report from the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab identified security and privacy issues in QQ Browser, a mobile browser produced by the China-based Internet giant Tencent. Here's a summary: The Android version of the browser transmits personally identifiable data, including a user's search terms, the URLs of visited websites, nearby WiFi access points, and the user's IMSI [International Mobile Subscriber Identification] and IMEI [International Mobile Equipment Identifier] identifiers, without encryption or with easily decrypted encryption. Similarly, the Windows version sends personally identifiable data, including the URL of all pages visited in the browser, a user's hard drive serial number, MAC address, Windows hostname, and Windows user security identifier, also without encryption or with easily decrypted decryption. Now, this could just be the result of some supremely sloppy coding combined with lax privacy practice -- in theory, at least. But that generous interpretation becomes rather harder to sustain when you bear in mind that this is not the first time Citizen Lab has found this behavior. To be precise, this is the third time. Last month, it discovered that Baidu Browser, a free Web browser for the Windows and Android platforms produced by Baidu, one of China’s biggest tech companies, has strikingly similar problems to QQ Browser: The report identifies security concerns in both the Windows and Android versions of the browser that may expose personal user data, including a user’s geolocation, hardware identifiers, nearby wireless networks, web browsing data and search terms. Such user data is transmitted, in both the Windows and Android versions, unencrypted or with easily decryptable encryption, which means that any in-path actor could acquire this data by collecting the traffic and performing any necessary decryption. In addition, neither version of the application secures its software update process with a digital signature, which means that a malicious in-path actor could cause the browser to download and execute arbitrary code. And before that, back in May last year, the same researchers found unauthorized transmission of personal data by another widely-used browser: UC Browser is among the most popular mobile apps in the Chinese Internet space. UC Browser claims to have more than 500 million registered users, and is reported to be the most popular mobile browser in China and India. Overall, the application is the fourth most popular mobile browser globally, and is behind only pre-installed Chrome, Android, and Safari browsers. Putting these three browsers together, you have a serious chunk of not just the Chinese online population, but across the whole of Asia. As the Citizen Lab researchers point out: That the three China-based browser applications we have examined all evince strikingly similar data gathering and insecure data handling problems raises an obvious question of whether there is some underlying cause for the similarities. The post runs through all the options, including the most likely explanation: that the companies were ordered by the Chinese authorities to build in these highly-useful vulnerabilities. Not surprisingly: The questions we asked the companies about government directives or influence have not been directly answered. But if anyone still doubts that the Chinese government wants to control every aspect of the Internet, they may like to consider the following recent report in The New York Times: A draft law posted by one of China’s technology regulators said that websites in the country would have to register domain names with local service providers and with the authorities. It's not entirely clear what that means, but there is one possibility that would be very problematic for Chinese Internet users -- and for every Western company operating in the country: If the rule applies to all websites, it will have major implications and will effectively cut China out of the global Internet. By creating a domestic registry for websites, the rule would create a system of censorship in which only websites that have specifically registered with the Chinese government would be reachable from within the country. China's technology regulator has rejected that interpretation, and said that there is a "misunderstanding." But if past experience teaches us anything, it is that there really are no limits to what the present Chinese leadership is willing to do in order to bring the online world under control. And that doubtless even includes cutting China off from the rest of the Internet, if need be. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 15 days ago on techdirt
Alongside the better-known trade deals that aren't really trade deals, TPP and TAFTA/TTIP, the smaller one between the European Union and Canada, CETA, is still trapped in a strange kind of political limbo. It was "celebrated" way back in October 2014, and has been officially in the "legal scrubbing" phase where the text is tidied up and translated into all the relevant languages (lots of them for the EU). Cleverly, the EU has used this period to sneak in the "lipstick on a pig" version of corporate sovereignty in an attempt to head off revolts among EU nations worried about growing public resistance to the idea. But just when the European Commission thought it had everything nicely sewn up, this happens: Romania will not ratify the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada which was concluded in 2014, as an angry reaction to the refusal by Ottawa to lift the visa requirement of its nationals, but also for the lack of EU solidarity for solving the issue. As EurActiv explains, Romania is upset because Canada is requiring Romanian (and Bulgarian) citizens to obtain a visa before visiting Canada, whereas everyone else in the EU can get in without one. As a result: A Romanian government official who asked not to be named said that Romania would "veto" the CETA ratification. Normally the ratification of CETA should conclude by the end of 2016 or 2017. Romania however will not ratify the agreement, EurActiv was told. If that were the only problem with ratifying CETA, it might be possible to resolve with some judicious arm-twisting by the European Commission. But it's not, because SputnikNews is reporting the following: The government of the French-speaking Belgian region of Wallonia has refused to ratify the EU-Canada free trade agreement approved by the Belgian cabinet, the region's minister-president said. Belgium may be a fairly small country, and Wallonia an even smaller part of it, but if the regional government doesn't agree, it would seem that Belgium can't ratify CETA, and without Belgium's OK, the whole CETA agreement might unravel. In truth, nobody really knows -- and that's why these unexpected developments are so worrying for the European Commission. It is uncharted legal territory for EU countries like Romania and Belgium to be unwilling or unable to ratify international trade agreements the Commission has negotiated. One thing is certain: CETA ain't over until it's really, absolutely, definitively over. Until then, grab the popcorn. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 15 days ago on techdirt
El Paso's (TX) government keeps screwing around with local public records laws… and for some truly unexpected reasons. First, the normal stuff. A city council member seems to be toying with the idea of limiting public access to records, starting out with those many members the public might agree shouldn't be allowed to do much of anything. The El Paso City Council stepped back from a hot and slick slope Tuesday afternoon, killing a proposal to deny open records to people with a felony or a single kind of misdemeanor conviction. Most convicts already have diminished rights, depending on their convictions. Denying open records to ex-cons or those in prison denies them access to justice. It doesn't happen often, but prisoners have been able to have their cases reheard by uncovering prosecutorial misconduct through FOIA requests. And let's not forget that a man imprisoned for tax fraud blew the lid off law enforcement's use of Stingray devices while still behind bars, thanks to incessant FOIA requests. The step back from the slope was one of pure capitulation: council member Emma Acosta never tabled the motion. Apparently she was well-aware the discriminatory suggestion wouldn't survive a challenge. She instead proposed that telephone numbers of city employees should be redacted and her "no criminals allowed" suggestion was removed from the agenda. As Watchdog.org points out, this new public records activity follows an outside investigation into the city's withholding of documents requested by the El Paso Times. An outside investigator found it "problematic" that the city's public information officer determined which documents should have been released to the El Paso Times under an open records request the newspaper filed last year. The public information officer, Juli Lozano, withheld two documents that other city officials had said were responsive to a Times request for records related to projects that were requested by City Council members, according to a report from Austin attorney Ross Fischer that was made public Wednesday. But the best action of all occurred late last fall. Acosta, who proposed the questionable ban on convicted criminals requesting public records, managed to pass a measure that forces any public official making public records request to publicly disclose what was requested and how much it cost for the city to fulfill. This only sounds like a step towards greater accountability. While Acosta insisted her measure was designed to increase transparency, opponents said it was designed to inhibit city officials from doing records checks on one another in a toxic climate of internal politics. The internal toxicity surfaced last month with council members calling one another liars and making records requests to read the text messages between rival council members. This was solved in the most self-serving fashion, which, coincidentally, also worked out best for the public. The council decided, unanimously, to solve the problem by prohibiting the mayor and one another from using all electronic devices, including cell phones, during council meetings. Now, if only they would agree to stop using them at all to conduct official business. The use of personal devices and accounts to keep records from the public is a government favorite. It doesn't always work, but it does make searching for records more difficult and almost always ensures a lawsuit (or an investigation) will be part of the extremely-protracted request fulfillment. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 15 days ago on techdirt
Plastics are everywhere. It's hard to imagine all the modern conveniences that exist because of the existence of plastic and polymers, and it would be difficult to continue living a modern lifestyle without plastics. Maybe we're starting to try not to use plastic bags to carry groceries home in some places, but the bad environmental reputation of plastic might have some solutions. Plastics could be made to be easier to recycle. Also, we could replace some of the more problematic plastics with more environmentally-friendly materials. Biodegrading polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles might be more feasible now that Japanese researchers have discovered bacteria (Ideonella sakainesis) that can grow on this common commercial polymer. Maybe this isn't much better than melting down the plastic and recycling it into new bottles, or maybe our ecosystem will adapt to consuming all of our waste. Thanks, Mother Nature! [url] If fungus can be grown quickly enough, perhaps it'll make sense to replace some plastic products with fungus? We've seen a few other examples of fungus as a building material before, and the possibilities are expanding with fungus-based materials that can be stiff, rubbery or flexible like leather. [url] Some commercial plastics, like thermoset polymers, aren't easy to recycle. It's the reason why old tires get stacked up and burned. Making more recyclable thermoset plastics could have significant environmental benefits, allowing tons and tons of our disposable products to find new uses instead of a place in a landfill. [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 15 days ago on techdirt
"Our word against yours," says law enforcement. The accusers are almost always deemed eminently credible. Presumption of innocence and all that, but the accused are almost always deemed… incredible[?]... right up until law enforcement shows its narrative can't hold hydrogen or oxygen, much less water. (via FourthAmendment.com) Roughly paraphrased, this is the story: some cop saw a guy take a white grocery bag full of something and put it in his car. Surveillance commenced. The car's driver failed to signal a turn, which was all the cops needed to begin an exploratory stop. As we know, law enforcement is no longer allowed to artificially prolong traffic stops until probable cause for a search develops. Instead, it must hand out its tickets and move along. Exceptions apply, of course, but that is the gist of the Supreme Court's Rodriguez decision. The traffic stop here had probable cause pre-assumed because of the grocery-bag-to-car move witnessed earlier. When it was all said and done, a failure to signal had turned into possession of a controlled substance. And two warrantless searches: the car and the driver's house. Warrantless searches aren't always Fourth Amendment violations, but law enforcement spent two days tripping all over its story during a two-day suppression hearing. From the opinion: As the suppression hearing unfolded over the course of two days, the credibility of certain law enforcement witnesses was called into serious question. The events of the second day of the hearing were extraordinary: (1) The government reopened its evidentiary presentation in order to correct materially inaccurate testimony provided by its law enforcement witnesses the day before; and (2) the government had to acknowledge that the testimony of the first defense witness – which was diametrically opposed to the testimony of the government’s law enforcement witnesses on day one – was, in fact, the truth. So much for "our word against yours." Still, it usually takes more than a "diametrically opposed" witness -- especially one testifying for the defense -- to undo a prosecutor's case. The narrative stayed coherent for all of one day, as the court notes. Their testimony was largely in lock step as to the October 7, 2014 initiation of a traffic stop of the defendant, the search of his vehicle, the execution of a search warrant upon his home, and the entry of law enforcement into the defendant’s home after the warrant was signed. These things supposedly happened in that order. Traffic stop, vehicle search, search warrant for home, search of said home. As the suppression hearing continued, the order of these events was revealed to be much more jumbled, and much less constitutional. On the first day of the hearing, the government’s witnesses were unshakable in their testimony that no law enforcement officer entered the residence until after the search warrant was signed at 2:31 p.m. That testimony was central to the government’s opposition to the motions to suppress. [...] In addition, [Detective Craig] Brown testified that (1) at no time did any law enforcement officer enter the home prior to the execution of the search warrant, and (2) there was no “protective sweep” of the house before the search warrant was signed at 2:31 p.m. Detective Brown testified that his team had made a "soft entry" -- using a knock-and-talk -- but did not search the home before the warrant arrived. The other seven officers on the scene did not enter the home until after being notified the warrant had been signed. This was later proven to be a lie -- not just by Brown but all of the law enforcement witnesses. As it turns out, all of the government witnesses’ testimony that no one entered until after 2:31 p.m. was false, which was pivotal to the Court’s evaluation of the credibility of the government’s witnesses, as well as to the determination of the issues presented herein. The defendant's wife was subpoenaed. And her testimony directly contradicted the assertion that no search of the house was performed until after 2:31 pm. She testified that her husband left the house sometime around 11:00 a.m. on October 7, 2014. Not long after that, she received a call from defendant from an unfamiliar telephone number, and he told her that the police may be coming to the house. When she looked outside, she saw numerous cars parked around the street. She had started cooking, so she went to the kitchen to check the stove. At about the same instant, she heard a knock at the door, and her little boy informed her that the police were there. Which would have been fine if none of the officers had entered the home before acquiring the warrant. But that's not what happened. According to Ms. Soares, she opened the door and was asked whether there was a male member in the house, to which she replied, “my husband just left.” “More than five” law enforcement officers then entered the house. Those officers include two who were in uniform, Detective Brown, and two other people. They scattered and started looking around. Ms. Soares reported to the officers that she had only recently come to the United States and she did not know the laws and asked “is it okay for you to be here?” The officers answered “yes” and told her that they had just “met” her husband and “he knows we’re coming here.” She asked to see a warrant and asked them for their papers, and the officers said the papers would come. [...] Two uniformed officers stayed in the home with her, and another “kept coming and going,” all day. Ms. Soares believed that officers came in around 11:00 a.m. and remained until about 6:00 p.m., and she was at home with her son the entire time. Still in an "our word against yours" position, though. Cops say one thing. Defendant's wife says another. Until the cops say something else… The government's lawyer informed the court that it had dug deeper into the officers' statements following Ms. Soares' testimony and discovered those statements to be composed mostly of bullshit. The government offered new testimony from Officer Daniels, and his description of the events directly contradicted Detective Brown's. With respect to entry into the home, Daniels testified that he and his rookie trainee followed Brown to the defendant’s house immediately after the traffic stop on October 7, 2014. When they arrived at the home, they went inside the house. Daniels indicated that he did not remember how many officers, but that Daniels and the rookie officer stood on the porch with a “couple of the undercover officers” who “knocked, made contact, and . . . went in.” The undercover officers scattered throughout the home and walked individually through all rooms, including the bedrooms, living room, and kitchen. [...] Thereafter, Daniels and his trainee stayed in the house for “one to two hours” before the undercover officers “came back with a search warrant and executed the search warrant” while Daniels sat with the wife and son. And, because the government dearly loves its exigent circumstances excuses, there's this: He further testified that, prior to entering the home, officers had observed no signs of danger, fire, or weapons in the house, and they heard no unusual noises, flushing, or screams. Daniels, however, stated he did not see Detective Brown enter the house before the warrant arrived. That might have saved Brown, but the detective's own testimony -- in which the timeline was all wrong -- stated he had entered the house (the "soft entry") before the warrant arrived. Brown testified that the officers’ first entry into the home was by Brown knocking on the door, followed by a “soft entry” into the home, and that, at that time, the only people in the home were Ms. Soares and her son. With this new testimony being presented, Brown's "clear" and "unequivocal" statements -- made on the first day of the suppression hearing -- suddenly became much more vague and muddied on the second day. Crucial actions performed by Brown himself (like the knock-and-talk "soft entry") were suddenly things he "couldn't recall" details about. The court is completely unimpressed. (Emphasis in the original.) Based on the demeanor and testimony of the live witnesses and the about face in the government’s theory in opposition to the motion to suppress evidence from the house, the Court has serious doubts as to the credibility of much of the law enforcement testimony that was presented during the hearing. One thing was clear from the testimony heard by the Court: law enforcement officers were hell-bent on getting into the defendant’s home on October 7, 2014. Among other things, the DEA Task Force strategically staged the outside area around the defendant’s home with between 6 to 8 officers from the early morning hours of that day. If only surveillance, or even a traffic stop and potential arrest, had been their goal, a handful of officers would have sufficed. It's not just the warrantless entry that was the problem. The search warrant itself was defective. Moreover, when Brown made the immediate traffic stop and found exactly what officers hoped to find, they still did not believe they had probable cause to arrest defendant, because they did not have a field test for synthetic marijuana, but they used that same as-yet-untested evidence as probable cause to obtain a search warrant for the home. And then Brown couldn't even wait for the questionable warrant to arrive. Before they could obtain that warrant, Brown and others joined up with the rest of the surveillance team at the home and immediately knocked and made entry into the home. They did not have probable cause to arrest the defendant; they did not have yet have a warrant; they did not witness any emergency or danger when they arrived at the home; and they heard no screams and saw no weapons; but they made immediate entry into the home. Lies. (Emphasis mine.) And, before Ms. Soares testified, all law enforcement witnesses inaccurately and adamantly denied that entry. Lies on top of lies. At the conclusion of the evidence, the government’s counsel acknowledged the troubling nature of the facts that (1) officers had not informed the AUSAs of the entry, and (2) the pre-warrant entry and sweep was not recorded in any report. There goes anything obtained during the search of the residence. The court also suppressed the evidence obtained during the vehicle search because of its multiple deficiencies. While the court found the stop was not unreasonably prolonged, it says the search was not consensual and no reasonable person in the defendant's position (flanked by three detectives, with a half-dozen police vehicles with lights flashing parked behind his car) would have felt they were free to go. The government's "good faith exception" Hail Mary is also no-go. No officer testified that Ms. Soares consented to their entry into the home, and Ms. Soares testified that she asked the officers to leave until they had a warrant, but they refused. Officers testified that they did not enter the home before execution of the warrant, and the entry and initial sweep through the home was not listed on any report. While it appears that no evidence was seized until after the search warrant was executed, the Court finds these facts to be critically relevant to the determination of whether the officers’ actions with respect to the entry and subsequent search were in good faith, and concludes that the motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the residence should be granted. The sad thing is the only punishment applied here is the loss of a highly-questionable drug bust. Every officer who swore to the bogus search timeline should be given maximum judicial side-eye every time they take the stand for the rest of their careers. But chances are, the next time "our word against theirs" is the only evidence supplied, they'll still receive far more deference than the defendant. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 15 days ago on techdirt
As we've been discussing, the House has been pushing a new bill dubbed the No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act" (pdf). As the name implies, the bill is being framed as a way to keep an "out of control" government from imposing new price caps on broadband, not coincidentally as the broadband industry increasingly eyes usage caps and overages to take advantage of a lack of sector competition. The bill has numerous problems, not least of which being that a special definition of "rate regulation" included in the bill would effectively prevent the FCC from doing, well, anything. Of course despite these problems the House has passed the measure 241 to 173, with folks like Marsha Blackburn insisting she's saved the day:"We all know that what they'd like to do is regulate the Internet so they can tax the Internet, so they could then come in and set all the rates," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn."With most people still not really even understanding what the Internet is, House supporters of the bill have great success in framing net neutrality as an attempt to tax the Internet. The primary pusher of the bill, Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger, proudly proclaimed at his website that the net neutrality-killing bill would actually foster greater innovation and "better services" for consumers:"Since its inception, the Internet has been free from rate regulation and has thrived under that model. Both Chairman Wheeler and President Obama assured Congress and the public that any regulations that were adopted under the open Internet order would refrain from allowing the federal government to regulate rates of broadband Internet access. H.R. 2666 codifies both the President’s and Chairman Wheelers’ past promises and will allow innovative companies to do what they do best: create new products and better services to benefit consumers."Of course by gutting FCC authority over an un-competitive broadband market you'd obviously be doing the exact opposite, though given that AT&T is a top Kizinger donor, he's apparently willing to overlook any concerns on that front. Fortunately the White House has stated it intends to veto this latest bill should it wind its way through the Senate, making the effort an entirely empty gesture -- outside of it being a public oath of fealty to telecom campaign contributors. As the EFF is quick to note, those who thought the neutrality fight was over last February when the FCC voted to approve the rules need to realize it's going to take constant fighting and public attention to keep those rules in place. The Presidential election and the ongoing industry lawsuits against the FCC remain the biggest threat to the rules, though no limit of bills continue to be introduced that aim to cut neutrality off at the knees, usually under the guise of trying to save the Internet from "Internet populists" and a power-mad FCC.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 16 days ago on techdirt
Here we go: three invasive searches -- each more invasive then the one preceding it -- without even the slightest shred of the Fourth Amendment intact by the end of it. Radley Balko has the details. Here’s what happened: Lakeya Hicks and Elijah Pontoon were in Hicks’s car just a couple of blocks from downtown Aiken when they were pulled over by Officer Chris Medlin of the Aiken Department of Public Safety. Hicks was driving. She had recently purchased the car, so it still had temporary tags. In the video, Medlin asks Hicks to get out, then tells her that he stopped her because of the “paper tag” on her car. This already is a problem. There’s no law against temporary tags in South Carolina, so long as they haven’t expired. As we're well aware, officers need not trouble themselves as to the details of the laws they enforce. If they feel something is a violation of the law, they're pretty much free to pull someone over and engage in some light questioning. (The Ninth Circuit Appeals Court recently declared it's even OK for police officers to lie about the reason they've pulled you over.) Once pulled over, the fun begins. And by "fun," I mean three consecutive unconstitutional searches. While the "automobile exception" gives law enforcement more leeway to perform warrantless searches, it does not free them entirely from the constraints of the Fourth Amendment. But these South Carolina officers tossed caution, the Constitution and the two subjects' dignity to the wind in a matter of minutes. The officers demand Pontoon show them his ID, even though as a passenger in the vehicle, he was under no obligation to do so. He complies. A few minutes later, an officer tells the driver (Hicks) that everything (bill of sale, driver's license) checked out. At this point, she and Pontoon should have been free to go. But, of course, they weren't. Instead, [Officer Chris] Medlin orders Pontoon out of the vehicle and handcuffs him. He also orders Hicks out of the car. Pontoon then asks Medlin what’s happening. Medlin ignores him. Pontoon asks again. Medlin responds that he’ll “explain it all in a minute.” Several minutes later, a female officer appears. Medlin then tells Pontoon, “Because of your history, I’ve got a dog coming in here. Gonna walk a dog around the car.” About 30 seconds later, he adds, “You gonna pay for this one, boy.” The dog arrived, sniffed the car, somehow failed to alert. Officer Chris Medlin -- performing an illegal search of Hicks' vehicle -- alerted, however. Early into the search, Medlin exclaims, “Uh-huh!” as if he has found something incriminating. But nothing comes of it. The car's a dead end, so Medlin figured whatever it is he's looking for must be hidden on/inside the driver and passenger. He told a female officer to search Hicks "real good." "Real good" is apparently law enforcement technology for "lifting the female subject's shirt and exposing her breasts on the side of a heavily-trafficked road." But there's nothing incriminating there, either. Medlin then turned his attention to Pontoon, who he claimed, post-search, to have recognized from a previous drug arrest. The search of Hicks was humiliating but it's nothing compared to what Pontoon went through. The anal probe happens out of direct view of the camera, but the audio leaves little doubt about what’s happening. Pontoon at one point says that one of the officers is grabbing his hemorrhoids. Medlin appears to reply, “I’ve had hemorrhoids, and they ain’t that hard.” At about 12:47:15 in the video, the audio actually suggests that two officers may have inserted fingers into Pontoon’s rectum, as one asks, “What are you talking about, right here?” The other replies, “Right straight up in there.” Pontoon then again tells the officers that they’re pushing on a hemorrhoid. One officer responds, “If that’s a hemorrhoid, that’s a hemorrhoid, all right? But that don’t feel like no hemorrhoid to me.” Because cops are naturally experts on rectal ailments. The civil rights lawsuit these officers are now facing -- while occasionally written more like an editorial than a court filing -- does contain this entertaining, low-key mockery of the expertise officers often claim they have ("upon information and belief, etc…"). At no time during this illegal traffic stop and including up to the time of the filing of this Complaint, was the Plaintiff ever aware of any formal medical training of these two Defendants in the field of gastroenterology or proctology so as to be able to form a legitimate opinion as to what would constitute being "too hard to be a hemorrhoid". I guess when all you have is a glove and the desire to extract some sort of revenge for a drug bust failing to materialize, you're allowed to declare what is or isn't a hemorrhoid while you're still deep inside a citizen's anus. It's probably right there in the local Law Enforcement Bill of Rights. But this isn't the only stupid thing Officer Medlin or his co-defendants had to say during this debacle. The lawsuit quotes Medlin several times. The words coming out of his mouth seem more motivated by frustration and vindictiveness than any actual law enforcement purpose. After more than eleven minutes of exhaustive searching of the vehicle and with the Defendants clearly frustrated and upset that they have not found any incriminating evidence, Defendant Medlin proclaims at 12:43:40, "If he is hiding, he is hiding good." Then at 12:43:49, Defendant Medlin proclaims, "We are gonna search somebody" to which Defendant Clark (or possibly one of the Defendant Does) affirms, "Yeah". [...] At 12:45:36 during the middle of this humiliating and illegal search of her private areas, Lakeya rightly objects to this horrific and demeaning treatment. In response to Lakeya's lawful objections, Defendant Medlin retorts and attempts to justify this illegal search with "It's a female officer." [...] At 12:50:27 and after the conclusion of the seemingly unending illegal cavity search of Elijah, Defendant Medlin explains "Now I know you from before .... when I worked dope, I seen ya, and that's why I put a dog on ya car." Balko asked John Wesley Hall, the former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (and purveyor of the essential FourthAmendment.com website) his opinion of the searches these officers performed. This is quite appalling, to say the least. I’ve encountered on the street strip searches of men in my own practice, but never of a woman on the street, and then this case has the added anal probing. Worse yet: There is no legal justification for anything, including the stop because criminal history alone isn’t reasonable suspicion. Everything starting with the stop was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment, and it just got progressively worse. No reasonable suspicion, much less probable cause. The stop was unconstitutionally extended (US Supreme Court's Rodriguez decision) to bring in a drug dog and perform two additional searches. The city's probably going to need to reach into its taxpayers' pockets and pay out a settlement in the near future if it wishes to prevent a closer examination of its police department and the day-to-day actions of its officers. And the statement made by its police chief -- when talking proudly about its 6-year-run as a federally-accredited law enforcement agency -- won't help much in fighting off indirect culpability for these officers' actions. They are trained a certain way and indoctrinated into a system of policies and procedures that just become part of their everyday work. I am extremely proud of how they interact with citizens and provide services to our community, while maintaining excellence and professionalism, even during some very trying circumstances. There's your "deliberate indifference," inadvertently confirmed. From the lawsuit: The unconstitutional actions and/or omissions of all Defendants employed by or acting on behalf of these Defendants, upon information and belief, were pursuant to the following customs, policies, practices, and/or procedures of the ADPS, The City and Director Barranco, or stated in the alternative, were directed, encouraged, allowed, and/or ratified by policy makers for ADPS and the City.. From everything captured by the dashcam and relayed in the filing, it appears Officer Medlin was so sure he had a drug bust that he did everything but raid the evidence locker and plant drugs at the scene. What happened here should cost him his job, but it likely won't. The department says it's already investigated the incident and cleared him. Now, because it's facing litigation, it has refused to discuss anything else. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 16 days ago on techdirt
Last fall, the 2nd Circuit appeals court gave a clear and convincing win to Google in the long-running Authors Guild case against Google's book scanning program. And, really, the decision was a massive win for the public, in that it was a strong defense of fair use (even in commercial settings). But, of course, the still clueless Authors Guild -- which doesn't seem to actually represent the interests of most authors (many of whom have found Google Books to be a profoundly useful tool) -- decided to ask the Supreme Court to overturn the case. That request has now been rejected. As is standard with the Supreme Court, no reason is given: If you can't read that, it just says that the petition for cert is denied and that Justice Kagan "took no part in the consideration." I'm not exactly sure why Kagan abstained -- I thought perhaps she had weighed in on earlier rounds of the case as Solicitor General, but can't find anything. Either way, this is a very good thing. The excellent 2nd Circuit ruling stands. And while it technically only applies to cases in that circuit, it will most likely influence cases elsewhere. Also, the Supreme Court has a long, and unfortunate, history of coming up with nutty decisions in big copyright cases.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 16 days ago on techdirt
We've been quite concerned about new internet regulations on the way from the EU, with a focus on how internet platforms must act. As we've noted, the effort is officially part of the (reasonable and good!) idea of making a "Digital Single Market," but where the process is being used by some who think it's an opportunity to attack the big internet companies (mainly Google and Facebook). There are two EU Commissioners heading up the effort, and one, Gunther Oettinger, has been fairly explicit that he'd like to burden American internet firms with regulations to "replace" them with European equivalents. Of course, as we've noted, when you have giant companies like Google and Facebook, they can pretty much handle whatever regulatory burden you throw at them. It's the innovators and the startups that will be shut out because they won't be able to manage it. So, ironically, in trying to hold back Google and Facebook with regulations, the EU would really only entrench them as the only players able to handle those regulations. The other EU Commissioner deeply involved with this process is Andrus Ansip, who is generally seen as more reasonable on internet and technology issues. He actually seems to understand many of the trade offs at play. So it was mostly good to see him make some comments recognizing that across-the-board regulations may have negative consequences: European Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip, who is overseeing a wide-ranging inquiry into how web platforms conduct their business, said on Friday the EU executive would not take a horizontal approach to regulating online services. "We will take a problem-driven approach," Ansip said. "It's practically impossible to regulate all the platforms with one really good single solution." That's mostly a good sign, but you do worry about what kinds of "problems" they're looking at. Because, at the same time Ansip seemed to indicate that he was upset about how much YouTube paid artists: Andrus Ansip, who is overseeing an overhaul of the bloc’s copyright rules, said the YouTube’s comparatively small payments to artists gave it an unfair advantage over rivals such as Spotify, the Swedish streaming service. “This is not only about rights owners and creators and their remuneration — it is also about a level playing field between different service providers,” said the former prime minister of Estonia. “Platforms based on subscriptions are remunerating those authors; others service providers do not. How can they compete?” Different services have different business models and offer different features and benefits. That's how competition and innovation work. What if it's Spotify's model that is the problematic and unsustainable one? Why is the EU choosing one particular business model over another and suggesting that all business models should work the same way? Now, I know that there have been lots of complaints about how much YouTube pays -- just as there have been lots of complaints about how much Spotify pays. And I'm not sure how telling these companies how they have to run their business fixes any of that. Because, at the same time, I know of artists who say that they've only become successful because of YouTube or because of Spotify. They're pretty happy with how those systems work. Why should the EU government suddenly come in and say "this model is okay -- this model is not"? Mandating business models and worrying that one business decision makes it more difficult to compete -- and thinking that's a regulatory issue -- doesn't seem like a good way to encourage startups and innovation in Europe. It sounds like a massive headache for any platform -- especially smaller ones -- operating in Europe.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 16 days ago on techdirt
C# is a powerful, versatile and cross-platform language. Take the 11 course C# Coding Bootcamp and begin to master the basics. With 89+ hours of instruction, you'll learn the basics of C#, how to create clean and efficient code, how to build apps in Microsoft Visual Studio, and so much more. Head over to the Techdirt Deals store and pick up this bundle for $69. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 16 days ago on techdirt
The Guardian had a weird story over the weekend claiming that artist Illma Gore is being threatened with a lawsuit if she sells a painting she created of a naked Donald Trump with, well, a less than average sized schlong (and I use that term, only because Trump apparently likes that word). I won't post an image of the painting. The Guardian has the whole thing if you really feel like seeing it. But almost nothing in the story makes any sense at all. The piece by Illma Gore, titled Make America Great Again, depicts Trump with a small penis. It went viral in February after the artist published it on her Facebook page and has since been censored on social media sites and delisted from eBay after the anonymous filing of a Digital Millennium Copyright Act notice threatening to sue Gore. Except, you can't file an anonymous DMCA notice. A key part of the DMCA notice process is that you need to identify the copyrighted work that was infringed, and the notice itself needs to be signed by someone acting on behalf of the copyright owner. In other words, there's no such thing as an anonymous DMCA notice -- not a valid one anyway. Second, there's no copyright issue here at all, most likely. Lots of people jumped to the conclusion that it was Trump or his lawyers who sent the notice. That may well be, as he has a history of being ridiculously litigious over the slightest of insults, but he has no copyright interest in what he looks like. The only way there's a copyright claim here is if another artist painted the same thing first or, perhaps, if the painting was based on a photograph of Trump and the photographer was suing. But if it was just a regular clothed picture of Trump, I'd think that this would pretty obviously be transformative fair use from that photograph. If it was Trump, he'd have no copyright interest at all. Potentially, his lawyers could, I guess, argue a publicity rights claims, which vary based on different state laws, but that would almost certainly fail as well. And the DMCA has nothing to do with publicity rights. It's possible that it was just a Trump supporter sending a bogus DMCA to get eBay to take down the image. After all, the article also notes: ... galleries in the US refused to host the piece due to security concerns following threats of violence from Trump’s supporters.... [....] The LA-based artist has received thousands of death threats and travelled to the UK to escape the frenzy.... But if that's the case, eBay (which has lawyers who should know this stuff) should have easily rejected the DMCA notice as invalid. Perhaps eBay pulled the image for other reasons, and it's just being reported as an "anonymous DMCA notice" because people (and reporters) don't even recognize that the DMCA refers to a specific thing with specific rules. But, in the end, very little about the story makes any sense at all.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 16 days ago on techdirt
Ahead of a keynote address at Kenyon College, FBI director James Comey made himself available for an interview with Eric Geller of the Daily Dot, in which he assured readers that he is still making use of some very dusty talking points. For the dozenth time, Comey once again asserted his belief that unicorns are not only real, but that smart people at tech companies can provide him with one. “I think it’s a bit of a false premise to say that the only answer to the challenge we face is to introduce vulnerabilities into code,” Comey told the Daily Dot, before adding, “I’ll leave that to experts.” This is Comey's backdoor: a backdoor for all intents and purposes, except that he refuses to call it a backdoor. It's a secret entrance, only known to law enforcement, intelligence agencies and any other government entity that might like access to encrypted devices. It's a bell that can't be unrung, but Comey thinks the FBI can ring it quietly enough, provided the smart tech people come up with a foolproof way to suppress the ringing noise. Experts -- hundreds of them -- have already offered their opinion. What Comey wants is impossible without introducing abusable vulnerabilities. And while the FBI was seeking access to the infamous San Bernardino iPhone, dozens of experts offered their help, but the FBI wasn't interested. And yet, Comey soldiers on, secure in his delusion that the "experts" will fix his problem, on his terms, even after he and his agency have done all they can to alienate them. No one has made more out of their own ignorance than Comey, who seems to be willfully avoiding any actual discussions with experts -- experts who will very definitely disabuse him of his stupid, dangerous notions. But that's not the dumbest statement made by Comey in this interview. He tops himself later while addressing the possible repercussions of forcing tech companies to glue horns on horses to sastify his unicorn requests. Asked about the danger of pushing people to foreign platforms by limiting U.S. encryption, Comey seemed to suggest that the answer was to regulate encryption worldwide. “Every country that cares about the rule of law cares about this,” he said. “I think whatever we come up with—we as a people that care about these issues, in and out of government—it has to have some international component to it.” Let me get this straight: the guy who couldn't even persuade Congress that it was a good idea to force one company to help unlock one phone believes he can talk the rest of the world into getting on board with his anti-encryption plans. If insanity is doing saying the same thing over and over and expecting different results responses, then his planned "we are the backdoored world" singalong is basically Comey assuring the general public that he is mentally unfit -- without having to urinate on himself or submit 244 pages of truther theories as Exhibit A to an unamused judge. The audacity of that shrug ("no prob, we'll just get the rest of the world to bend to my will") is breathtaking. The best thing the FBI could do to protect its iPhone-cracking interests is chain Comey to a desk in a basement and go back to delivering a steady stream of "no comments" through DOJ lawyers. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...