posted 16 days ago on techdirt
Last week, we noted that the Senate Intelligence Committee had voted to declassify a small part of its $40 million, 6,300-page report that apparently details how the CIA's torture program exceeded granted authorities, was totally useless in gathering intelligence, and resulted in the CIA lying to Congress. Of course, even with the declassification vote, it's only been agreed to declassify the 480-page executive summary and major findings, leaving the vast majority of the paper in secret. Furthermore, that executive summary is now going to go through months of an intensive "declassification process," which appears to involve letting the CIA itself take giant black markers to redact all the bits it doesn't like. As we mentioned last week, VP Joe Biden himself had argued for releasing the document by highlighting the importance of being open and admitting to the horrific mistakes that were made: “I think the only way you excise the demons is you acknowledge, you acknowledge exactly what happened straightforward,” Biden said. “The single best thing that ever happened to Germany were the war crimes tribunals, because it forced Germany to come to its milk about what in fact has happened.” Except that's not what's happening. We're not going to get true acknowledgement of what happened in a straightforward way. We're not going to have real openness about it. We're going to have a tiny portion of a report that is redacted by the very organization accused of potential crimes against humanity and then covering it up. And that's why folks like Trevor Timm are arguing that if we're ever going to truly confront what our own nation did, someone needs to leak the entire report. Yes, there have been a variety of leaks about what's in the report to the press, but without the full story we can't, as Biden himself has said, "acknowledge exactly what happened straightforward." It's possible the only way the public will ever get to see the entire landmark report is the same way we've learned everything we know about it: if someone leaks it. Leaks have been critical to the public knowledge of Bush-era torture since the first hints of Abu Ghraib, and as longtime torture investigator Katherine Hawkins noted, "The Senate report would likely never have existed ... if it were not for previous investigations by journalists and non-governmental organizations." Of course, leaking such a report would likely then lead to yet another round of President Obama's war on whistleblowers, in which administration officials go around reminding everyone that leaks are akin to terrorism, and leakers get charged under the Espionage Act, which was designed to be used against spies selling us out to foreign governments, not whistleblowers informing the public.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Back in December, we wrote about the effort to push for ECPA reform by noting that one of the main government agencies fighting against it was the SEC, which wanted the ability to snoop through your emails without getting a warrant. If you don't remember, ECPA is an excessively outdated law from 1986, whose definitions make no sense in the internet era (especially one with cloud computing). The key example often given is that emails on a server that are over 180 days old are considered "abandoned" and thus no warrant is needed to access them. That may have kind of made sense in an era when people downloaded all of their email, but now that nearly all email remains on servers somewhere it makes no sense at all. There are other problems with ECPA similar in nature (opened vs. unopened emails are treated differently, for example), but it's clear the law is outdated. Two stories popped up last week that raise serious concerns about the way that the SEC tramples on the Constitution. The first is that in a hearing, SEC boss Mary Jo White was asked why the SEC is so resistant to ECPA reform and what's wrong with getting a warrant, and more or less admitted that it's standard practice for the SEC to not get a warrant, but to rely on loopholes in ECPA to get access to emails. Prior to this, many had assumed that this was just a desire of the SEC, not that they were regularly doing it. But White's answer makes it clear that the SEC views this practice -- which seems like it should be a clear 4th Amendment violations -- as standard operating procedure. While she insists that the privacy issues aren't a huge deal, because the SEC tries to "give notice" to the subscriber whose email is being accessed, that still doesn't explain why paper documents require a warrant, and yet the SEC doesn't bother with the much higher standard (including judicial review) of a warrant for electronic documents. Meanwhile, concerning a separate issue, Mark Cuban and his lawyer published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week, discussing the SEC's totally bogus case against him for insider trading, which got tossed out by a lawyer. The key issue they discussed is how the SEC had exculpatory evidence that proved Cuban had done no wrong from back in 2004 -- and then did everything possible to avoid turning over that evidence, as is normally required in legal proceedings. In a criminal trial, the federal government has long been obliged to promptly turn over to the defense any evidence that could show that the accused did not commit the offense of which he is accused. The Brady rule (announced in the 1963 Supreme Court case, Brady v. Maryland), prevents one-sided prosecutions in which the defendant is kept in the dark about information that might show that he is innocent. The government's job as criminal prosecutor is not to obtain convictions, but "to do justice," according to the traditional legal maxim. It should be required to follow the Brady rule in civil trials as well. But the SEC does not, even when it accuses a citizen of fraud. Had the agency complied with this simple rule in its recent insider-trading case against one of us, Mark Cuban, it is unlikely that a lawsuit would even have been filed, let alone go to trial. At issue were notes the SEC had concerning the details of Cuban's conversation with the CEO of Mamma.com, the search engine Cuban had invested in (and then sold all his shares in), which showed that, contrary to the SEC's claims in the case against him, Cuban had never made certain promises. When Cuban and his lawyer asked for these notes, the SEC resisted. The SEC, however, resisted the disclosure of these notes for the next three years. Even up until the time Mr. Cuban took the stand, the SEC continued to fight to keep the notes from being shown to the jury by asking the judge to exclude them from evidence. Fortunately, the judge disagreed and the jury ultimately cleared Mr. Cuban of a charge of insider trading. So, reading both of these stories, we see that the SEC feels that it is free to ignore both the 4th Amendment (against search and seizure without a warrant) and the 14th Amendment (concerning due process). Don't we think that agencies of the federal government should be required to follow the Constitution -- especially basic concepts like protecting the privacy of individuals and giving them basic due process? And, for those of you who think this is no big deal, because it's the SEC, and the SEC just goes after big bad bankers and the like, recognize that the agency following right behind the SEC in fighting ECPA reform is the IRS. Do you feel it's similarly okay for the IRS to search your emails and electronic records without a warrant while also believing that it need not share any of the exculpatory evidence it finds, proving your innocence, while bringing a case against you for violating the law? Oh, and just for the hell of it, let's take this a step further. Just a few weeks ago, the NY Times reported on an increasingly popular tactic of law enforcement to effectively use the SEC to trick people into effectively implicating themselves in criminal cases. It tells the story of a low-level guy who worked at a law firm, and was asked by the SEC to "help out" with an investigation. Only at the last minute, was it mentioned that someone from the district attorney's office would be present -- and at no time was there any indication that the guy was being investigated for criminal behavior. But thanks to the SEC smokescreen, the guy was indicted, and he's still not sure why. So, now it's an SEC that ignores the Constitution, searches emails without a warrant, hides exculpatory evidence and surreptitiously uses these "investigations" to help build out criminal charges against people on a highly questionable basis. See the problem, yet? The folks over at VanishingRights.com are fighting to reform ECPA, which would at least solve half of the problem above. Right now, the SEC and the IRS remain the main government agencies aligned against such reform. It's time to tell those agencies that they need to obey the Constitution too.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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In news that will come as little surprise to just about anyone, the MPAA has announced that it is piling on and suing Megaupload and Kim Dotcom for copyright infringement, in an action separate from the criminal charges he currently faces. Two years ago, the MPAA had indicated it was likely to do this when it asked for some data to be retained for such a purpose. Also, a few months ago, the DOJ (secretly) got an order from the court (without letting Megaupload know) that allowed it to share information with the MPAA so that the MPAA could file its own civil suit against Megaupload. So you had to know that a lawsuit was coming -- and it had to come soonish, given the three year statute of limitations on infringement claims. The MPAA's press statement simply parrots the DOJ's highly questionable assertions: “When Megaupload.com was shut down in 2012 by U.S. law enforcement, it was by all estimates the largest and most active infringing website targeting creative content in the world,” said MPAA global general counsel Steven Fabrizio. “Infringing content on Megaupload.com and its affiliates was available in at least 20 languages, targeting a broad global audience. According to the government’s indictment, the site reported more than $175 million in criminal proceeds and cost U.S. copyright owners more than half a billion dollars.” The MPAA is using its favorite law firm for these kinds of cases, Jenner & Block. Of course, there's a (pretty strong) argument that if the MPAA was so upset by Megaupload, it should have filed this lawsuit years ago, rather than convincing the DOJ to twist and turn things to pretend that it was a criminal issue. Megaupload has a pretty strong defense to a civil suit in pointing out how the DMCA works and the fact that the company complied with DMCA takedowns. But, now, with Megauploads' assets frozen, Kim Dotcom separately having to fight extradition charges and the criminal charges, it just makes it that much more difficult to also fight the civil case -- which is exactly how the MPAA likes it. Really, this is perfect for the MPAA. There's no reason at all for this lawsuit. Megaupload is about as dead as can be -- and, in fact, much of the data has been deleted already thanks to the DOJ's actions. But at this late stage of the game, the MPAA can pile on, likely get some sort of court victory and will then crow about how it fights copyright infringement hard. And those lawyers at Jenner & Block will certainly be paid nicely. Of course, what none of this will do is help the MPAA or the studios actually deliver more good content in a format people want. That's too much work.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Over a decade ago, when the RIAA first decided to start going after its biggest fans for sharing music online, one of the biggest challenges it faced was -- of all companies -- Verizon. The RIAA started sending "DMCA subpoenas" to Verizon demanding the names of its customers without filing a lawsuit and without any judicial review. Verizon vigorously fought back, claiming that such subpoenas were unconstitutional and violated its customers' anonymity rights. After some back and forth Verizon prevailed in the DC Circuit appeals court, and the Supreme Court refused to take the RIAA's request to hear the case. Since that time, it's been pretty well established and accepted that you can't use DMCA subpoenas to get info out of ISPs like that. That's not what they were ever intended for, and they go against the basic First Amendment protections for anonymity (which allow people to be revealed, but not solely on the basis of a subpoena with no judicial review). That milestone victory by Verizon is what eventually lead the RIAA to actually filing lawsuits against thousands of unnamed fans, as opposed to just getting their info and threatening them. Anyone who's spent even just a little bit of time studying copyright law is familiar with this case. A decade ago, it was one of the key copyright legal battles. But, it seems that every few years, some copyright troll lawyers who really have no understanding of copyright law at all "rediscover" DMCA subpoenas and think that they've found some amazing loophole that lets them get user info without judicial review. Three years ago, copyright troll Evan Stone was all excited that he'd discovered this amazing subpoena provision, gleefully telling reporters that it was going to be the key to keeping his copyright trolling going. Instead, he got hit with sanctions for abusing subpoena powers. So it seems a bit bizarre that another operation, "Rightscorp" thinks that it's discovered some amazing "loophole" to get information on alleged infringers without judicial review (also, odd that Torrentfreak suggests this is a new development, since it also reported on Evan Stone claiming to have found that same "loophole" that doesn't exist). The TorrentFreak article does ask Rightscorp's CEO about the Verizon case, and he insists that it was decided incorrectly. That's a... risky proposition at best. While he's technically correct that the Supreme Court hasn't decided this issue, it has been ruled on in both the DC Circuit (that Verizon case) and the 8th Circuit (similar case, similar ruling) and no one has challenged it for a decade. The interpretation of DMCA subpoenas is pretty widely accepted across the board. If this actually got to court, Rightscorp would find it pretty difficult to prevail and upend rulings that have been considered established law for a decade. But despite the bluster, it seems quite unlikely that Rightscorp really wants to test this in court. Torrentfreak also notes that "Rightscorp is avoiding any of the major Internet providers." That's clearly a conscious choice, knowing that the legal teams for these smaller ISPs probably are unfamiliar with the details of DMCA subpoenas and how they don't apply. Indeed, it appears that Rightscorp's strategy to date has been somewhat successful, as clueless ISPs are handing over info on their customers that they should not be handing over under the law. I'm wondering if those ISPs, who are violating their customers' privacy (potentially in violation of their own terms of service), may come to regret that decision (and the fact that their legal departments seem unaware of how DMCA subpoenas work). Also, hopefully a little publicity will help those ISPs to quickly study up on DMCA subpoenas and why they don't apply here.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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There have been a bunch of stories going around about how 5-year-old Kristoffer Von Hassel figured out a way to hack the Xbox Live password system. Kristoffer's parents noticed that their son was logging into his father's account and playing games he wasn't supposed to be playing. They asked him how he was doing it and he showed them: Just after Christmas, Kristoffer's parents noticed he was logging into his father's Xbox Live account and playing games he wasn't supposed to be. “I got nervous. I thought he was going to find out,” said Kristoffer. In video shot soon after, his father, Robert Davies, is heard asking Kristoffer how he was doing it. A suddenly excited Kristoffer showed Dad that when he typed in a wrong password for his father’s account, it clicked to a password verification screen. By typing in space keys, then hitting enter, Kristoffer was able to get in through a back door. Kristoffer's father, Robert Davies, works in computer security (which, frankly, makes me a little skeptical that Kristoffer really made this discovery), and submitted the bug to Microsoft, who not only quickly fixed it, but also listed Kristoffer on their March "acknowledgements" for security researchers who helped them find bugs and vulnerabilities. Of course, the flip side to this story is how we've seen the CFAA used in the past to go after people discovering similar flaws. Compare the story of Kristoffer to the story of Andrew "weev" Auernheimer. Kristoffer clearly exceeded authorized access to the Xbox Live system in order to obtain something of value (perhaps he gets off because the "something" is not worth more than $5,000, but still...). Of course, weev is an obnoxious internet troll, and Kristoffer is a cute 5-year-old. I guess that's what's meant by "prosecutorial discretion."Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is heading to Beijing to talk with the Chinese government, and the message he's bringing to the Chinese is that (a) Americans don't do irony and (b) we're a bunch of lying hypocrites. I'm sure that will go over well. You may recall the recent revelations that the NSA (which is a part of the defense department) had hacked into Huawei -- a company that the US keeps insisting is likely used by the Chinese government to spy on people... even though it has no evidence at all to support that. In what may be the most unintentionally hilarious article in the NY Times you'll read in a while, it discusses how Hagel and the US government are preaching openness, transparency and candor when it comes to state-level cyberattacks, sharing information on what the US is doing, and hoping that the Chinese will reciprocate. In fact, the Obama administration recently held a briefing for the Chinese government in which they discussed the US's "doctrine" for defending against cyberattacks: The idea was to allay Chinese concerns about plans to more than triple the number of American cyberwarriors to 6,000 by the end of 2016, a force that will include new teams the Pentagon plans to deploy to each military combatant command around the world. But the hope was to prompt the Chinese to give Washington a similar briefing about the many People’s Liberation Army units that are believed to be behind the escalating attacks on American corporations and government networks. So far, the Chinese have not reciprocated — a point Mr. Hagel plans to make in a speech at the P.L.A.’s National Defense University on Tuesday. Note, of course, that they only discussed how the US defends against attacks, not their offensive capabilities, such as hacking into Huawei or introducing destructive malware like Stuxnet. Even so, Hagel's mantra seems to be that "transparency" is suddenly a good thing. In Beijing, the defense secretary “is going to stress to the Chinese that we in the military are going to be as transparent as possible,” said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, “and we want the same openness and transparency and restraint from them.” Of course, that's quite a different message from a year ago. As you may recall, just as the first Snowden documents were being released to the public, President Obama was scolding China for its cyberattacks. But, as the NY Times article notes: “We clearly don’t occupy the moral high ground that we once thought we did,” said one senior administration official. You think? And, yet, it seems that making these hilarious claims of "openness" and "transparency" from an administration famous for its unprecedented secrecy has been drilled into Hagel's head for this trip to Beijing. Discussing a different issue -- an escalating dispute between China and Japan over some uninhabited islands -- Hagel again made a statement that reads like pure hypocrisy: "The more transparent and open governments can be with each other, the better for everyone. That avoids miscalculation, misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and hopefully that lowers the risks of conflict." While that statement is likely true, it seems fairly rich for the US to be out there preaching that message, while being one of the least transparent, least open US administrations ever. Last year, we wrote about how the Snowden and Manning stories basically stripped the US of its ability to hypocritically browbeat other countries, because those other countries had little to pushback on. As we noted, the way out of that was to stop being hypocritical and to actually practice openness and transparency. While, perhaps, you could argue that sharing a few details of our "cyberdefense" capabilities qualifies, that's a pretty hard sell. The US government still seems to hope that its own hypocrisies will be ignored while it preaches principles it comes nowhere close to living up to.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
Last week, we wrote about the Associated Press's Hollywood script-like story of how USAID, who is not supposed to be engaged in intelligence activities, apparently set up a Cuban version of Twitter, called ZunZuneo, designed to give more Cubans a way to communicate with each other -- but also to foment a pro-democracy movement and spy on certain Cubans. While the concept of encouraging democracy and open communications may be good, the fact that it was done via a series of secretive shell companies and that it was used for spying and subversive anti-government efforts is just incredibly stupid. As we noted in our original piece on it, this would likely create huge headaches around the globe for legitimate US humanitarian efforts, because foreign governments will now point to this story as a reason to distrust USAID and pretty much any other US activities. In fact, the impact is being seen already. Remember how we'd just been discussing Turkey's latest attempt to ban Twitter? Zeynep Tufecki explains how this latest news has played right into the hands of Turkey's Prime Minister, noting that the Twitter ban was actually a calculated strategy to appeal to the fears of lower- and middle-class Turks that Twitter was part of an American plot to foment unrest. To have the ZunZuneo story come out days later simply serves to better confirm that plot: Until now, though, in trying to paint their online critics as “foreign agents,” these governments were grasping at straws. For example, lacking a better model, Ankara’s AKP mayor, Melih Gokcek, who became the Turkish government’s most vocal spokesperson during the Gezi protests, kept referring to OTPOR — the small, insignificant and defunct Serbian activist organization that received USAID funding in the 1990s — as supposedly the power behind all global protests, including Gezi. I suspect there will be no more grasping at straws after ZunZeneo. Secretly funded by the U.S. government? Check. Aimed for regime change? Check. Collected information from unsuspecting users for political purposes? Check. Tried clumsily to hide its tracks? Check. The “Cuban Twitter” was a dictator’s fever dream made real. Meanwhile, what seemed like wacky conspiracy theories a month ago concerning USAID's efforts in Ukraine to overthrow the government there, suddenly seem more legitimate. In fact, most of the claims do appear to be nothing more than crazy conspiracy theories, but prior to the ZunZuneo story coming out, most people would have assumed that that, too, was a crazy conspiracy theory. And that's the huge problem here. Even if most of what USAID does is really important and valuable work for truly noble purposes, the ZunZuneo story undermines all of that, by making any conspiracy story seem legit. Last year, people thought Bolivian President Evo Morales was crazy for expelling USAID, claiming that it was seeking to "conspire against" the Bolivian government. Suddenly it's tough to assume that his claims weren't accurate. Similarly, with this story, there are suddenly additional stories coming out of highly questionable activities by USAID, which often look quite a lot like intelligence activities to undermine foreign governments. In fact, Glenn Greenwald is reporting that the ZunZuneo story is just a drop in the bucket of US propaganda efforts around the globe. These ideas–discussions of how to exploit the internet, specifically social media, to surreptitiously disseminate viewpoints friendly to western interests and spread false or damaging information about targets–appear repeatedly throughout the archive of materials provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Documents prepared by NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ–and previously published by The Intercept as well as some by NBC News–detailed several of those programs, including a unit devoted in part to “discrediting” the agency’s enemies with false information spread online. And, once again, even if the actual impact of these programs is limited, the mere perception that the US government is engaged in these kinds of practices helps push along pretty much any conspiracy theory about US government involvement, no matter how wacky or ridiculous. So, in a bumbling effort to spread a pro-US, pro-democracy message, USAID appears to have done the exact opposite, and handed crackpot authoritarian dictators ever more ammunition to crack down on actual American humanitarian aid and tools for communication.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 16 days ago on techdirt
We've written about former NSA and CIA boss Michael Hayden plenty of times around here, and the guy is practically a caricature of what you'd expect him to be. He defends the intelligence community at all costs, and is quick with baseless insults to anyone who disagrees with him, and also (laughably) seems ill-prepared to be a fortune teller. We've also written about California Senator, and head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, many times as well -- often watching her make similarly ridiculous claims in defense of the intelligence committee. However, as we've seen over the last few months, the one place where she seems to draw the line is with the CIA and its torture program. Feinstein, normally a staunch defender of the intelligence community, has been battling the CIA over the release of the $40 million, 6,300 page report that shows that the CIA's torture program (which she still refuses to call "torture") went way beyond what was authorized, produced no useful intelligence and resulted in the CIA lying to Congress about the program. Since the two are normally in lock-step on various issues, it's interesting to see what happens when they differ. On Fox News over the weekend, Chris Wallace asked Hayden about the report, and Hayden pretty explicitly tossed out the ridiculous misogynistic argument that Feinstein was, effectively, too emotional to judge whether the report should be released. While he didn't make that claim exactly, he came about as close as possible to saying it without saying it: WALLACE: But the report says that more prisoners were abused than we had previously known and that the enhanced interrogation produced little intelligence of significance. HAYDEN: Yes. I read an article by David Ignatius earlier this week. And he said -- WALLACE: He's a columnist for The Washington Post. HAYDEN: Right. He said that Senator Feinstein wanted a report so scathing that it would ensure that an un-American brutal program of detention interrogation would never again be considered or permitted. Now, that sentence, that motivation for the report, Chris, may show deep emotional feeling on part of the senator. But I don't think it leads you to an objective report. WALLACE: I mean, forgive me, because you and I both know Senator Feinstein. I have the highest regard for her. You're saying you think she was emotional in these conclusions? HAYDEN: What I'm saying is -- first of all, Chris, you're asking me about a report. I have no idea of its content. No one responsible for that report has spoken a word of this to me, to George Tenet, to Porter Goss, to anyone else that is involved in these events. But it's very hard for me to make a judgment. Of course, as Amy Davidson at the New Yorker notes, while the Ignatius report does suggest this as potential motivation for Feinstein, it's actually taking a Feinstein quote completely out of context. Rather than it being the motivating factor in creating the report, it was actually Feinstein's response to reading the completed report and arguing that its key findings should be made public. That is, rather than being emotionally motivated to create the report (as Hayden falsely claims), Feinstein realized that the report was so damning that it needed to be made public to stop future CIA torture and abuse. And, really, can anyone explain what's wrong with suggesting that preventing an "un-American, brutal" torture program from happening again would be a beneficial result? Is Hayden honestly arguing that the US should continue with un-American torture efforts? Either way, the choice of words by Hayden is deliberate and obnoxious. He's suggesting that a female Senator might be too emotionally driven and fragile to understand the "realities" of war, where people like him -- people who apparently sold out their morals long ago -- make important decisions like when and how to violate the Geneva conventions, torture people and to then lie to Congress about it. Call me crazy, but when it comes to stopping a "brutal" and "un-American" program of torturing people in violation of international law, a little emotion might be a good thing.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Techdirt has run a number of stories about China's increasingly pervasive Net censorship, which operates both domestically and further afield. According to this story in Index on Censorship, China seems to think its system still needs bolstering: The Chinese government has revealed it is expanding their censorship of the internet with a new training programme for the estimated two million "opinion monitors" Beijing organised last year. ... Once trained, monitors will "supervise" the posting of social media messages, deleting those that are deemed harmful. Beijing claims to have deployed "advanced filtering technology" to identify problematic posts, and will need to "rapidly filter out false, harmful, incorrect, or even reactionary information," according to Xinhua. Internet monitoring in China is an intensive process. Censored search terms are often placed on the list and then removed as a situation develops. That fluid situation and the huge numbers of people involved mean that it's hard to monitor the monitors -- generally a problem with censorship. So it was probably inevitable that some Net censors would start taking advantage of their power to earn a little extra money: Beijing police have detained at least 10 people, including employees at Baidu, the leading Chinese-language Internet search provider, over allegations of abusing their positions to delete online posts in return for money, the Beijing News reports. The idea was simple, as the China News post quoted above explains: staff searched for unfavorable posts about enterprises and government departments, then charged hundreds of yuan to delete the posts. ... The posts covered a wide range of issues, including forced demolitions, pollution problems, extramarital affairs and bribery by officials, as well as product quality and companies in financial crises Combined with the millions who will be censoring a changing list of forbidden topics, this will make it even harder for Chinese citizens to find out what's going on from the mainstream Internet sites. That might encourage users to explore less well-known services in an effort to avoid such massive censorship, causing the Chinese authorities to recruit even more "opinion monitors." Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Pretty much everyone has been sending over the bizarre story of YouTube taking down the film Sintel based on a copyright claim from Sony Pictures. While I imagine it will be back up soon (if not already by the time you read this), as I write this the Sintel link shows the following (and between writing this and posting it, the video was put back up, but all weekend it looked like this): If you're unfamiliar with Sintel, we worte about it back in 2010. It's an amazingly well-done short animated film created via the open source software Blender, in part to promote how amazing Blender's 3D content creation suite is. The video was partly crowdfunded and was released under a wonderfully broad Creative Commons license, that even allowed commercial use (it only required attribution). Sony had nothing to do with any of this. The Slashdot post about this explains what probably happened here. Sony recently added Sintel to its official 4k demo pool to show off its 4k "ultra HD" TVs. Who knows if they worked out a specific licensed to use it, but under the Creative Commons license, the company wouldn't need to, so long as Sony properly attributed the clip. But, the thinking appears to be that once in the demo pool, the film was somehow added to Sony's "contentID" list of works that Sony claims copyright on, leading YouTube's automated system to pull down the original as infringement. As others have pointed out this highlights almost every possible thing that pisses off people about copyright and automated takedown systems like ContentID. It's a big company -- one who has fought against the idea that "amateurs" could do powerful work -- taking down a work that it has no copyright claim over. And the work it took down is a well-known example of a freely distributable, Creative Commons-licensed works, created via open source software, and partially crowdfunded. It's hard to think of any other takedown situation that would be more ridiculous or better highlight how broken an automated copyright takedown system is. Over the last few weeks, in various hearings and conferences, the legacy entertainment industry (and its supporting politicians) have made it pretty clear that they're going to push for automated systems like ContentID to be mandatory in the future. The Sintel takedown by Sony should be the perfect case study in why that's a huge problem.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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

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posted 18 days ago on techdirt
Another week, another time to reflect on what we were writing about five, ten and fifteen years ago. Five Years Ago: Turns out this week was the first time we wrote about two of my favorite folks in the music industry, both of whom have been at the forefront of embracing changing technologies, and both of whom I now consider friends. First up was Dave Allen (now at Beats Music) talking about helping bands try out a pay what you want scheme for their merchandise, and finding that fans actually paid more than when they set prices. We also wrote about Amanda Palmer singing a song asking that her label drop her. They eventually did (much, much later), and she's gone on to do many amazing things, including having one of the most successful Kickstarter projects ever (though, that may be one of the least interesting aspects of all she's done to build a community around her music). That week were also surprised but hopeful to see the Appeals Court rule in the Golan Case that pulling works out of the public domain was unconstitutional. Unfortunately, a few years later, the Supreme Court overturned that ruling, in yet another awful Supreme Court ruling on copyright. Five years ago was also when France passed the law that launched its 3-strikes Hadopi regime, which has since been recognized as a complete and total failure, and basically shut down. On that front, one of the main music industry lobbying groups was found infringing on copyrights, because that always seems to happen. Also, Time Warner Cable was in the process of expanding its capped broadband plans. Some things never ever change. Ten Years Ago: As you may have heard, this past week was the launch of Gmail with the immediate question raised of whether or not it was "creepy." While a California State Senator quickly sought a law to ban Gmail, claiming that was "an absolute invasion of privacy," it seems that the vast majority of folks out there were never that concerned about it. 500 million users don't seem to mind -- and as others have noted, Gmail has significantly changed how people use email. 10 years ago we also wrote about Pennsylvania officials seizing computers from an ISP, blaming the ISP for some child porn found on Usenet. That case was CDT v. Pappert, and became a very important case on establishing how Section 230 protecting internet service providers from the actions of their users. It's too bad, this week, we had to write about efforts to undermine Section 230. Also 10 years ago, two of Hollywood's favorite Senators, Orrin Hatch and Patrick Leahy, introduced the PIRATE bill, which would have given millions of dollars to the DOJ to file civil cases against people accused of copyright infringement. While it eventually passed the Senate, it died a welcome death in the House. Fifteen Years Ago: It was actually a fairly quiet week... but we did have stories on the launch of Tivo (and the big funding of its one time competitor, ReplayTV) and the fact that Mark Cuban became a billionaire by selling Broadcast.com to Yahoo. Happy anniversary, Mark. Twenty Years Ago: Okay, we weren't publishing then, but twenty years ago Netscape was founded (originally as Mosaic Communications). I remember reading about it, and had been an NCSA Mosaic user prior to that. I also remember downloading an early copy of Netscape, which was a massive 4 megs in size. I had to set it to download overnight on my 2800 baud modem while I slept. That was about the time I really started to think about upgrading to a superfast 14.4 k modem. Exciting times. Either way, Netscape was a key part in mainstreaming the web, and my entire career has been based on the web, so a big thank you to Marc Andreessen and Jim Clark.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 18 days ago on techdirt
Yeah, so you've heard about how Facebook recently bought Oculus, perhaps the most high profile virtual reality company out there, for about $2 billion. But there are a number of others out there working on virtual and augmented reality projects. For this week's awesome stuff post about interesting crowdfunding projects, we thought we'd look at a few projects that seem more geared towards mainstreaming this technology. First up, we've got the Altergaze -- which might also be described as the poor man's Oculus Rift. It's a 3D printed (and it looks it) contraption for holding your mobile phone, and having an Oculus Rift-like virtual reality experience for a less money. The video clips of people reacting to it are fantastic. The project is based out of the UK, so the pricing is in £s. If you're willing to do some self-assembly, it'll run you just £50, but can run up to £100 or more if you want an assembled version. The project is designed to be open source hardware, so if you've got your own 3D printer (and access to the right lenses) you could conceivably try to build your own. This project is about halfway to its £50,000 goal after just a day or so. With nearly a month left it'll fly past that goal. Next up, we've got the Rescape, which creates an augmented reality/virtual reality game on a mobile phone. It uses a funky "game controller," which is more or less a device to make you feel like you're holding a gun in a first person shooter, and which holds your phone on top, through which you can view the game. Tough to describe in words, easy to understand if you watch the video. Basically, it puts you live inside a first person shooter, using your mobile phone, even clothing other "players" in military outfits or whatever. If you ever wanted to "live" in a first person shooter, rather than just watching one on a TV or computer screen, check it out. This one seems a bit pricey, as you'll have to shell out over $100 for just a single "controller," and that's probably not nearly as fun as having a few in order to play with friends. While this looks like quite a lot of fun, they're having trouble attracting buyers. With just over a week to go, they're only around 20% of their $150,000 goal. Finally, this last one may be my favorite of the bunch, in part because the Matt Hat makes no effort at all to hide the fact that this is not a consumer product, was started entirely as a joke, but since people seemed interested in it, he'd toss it up on Kickstarter. Basically, it's an attempt to create a DIY augmented reality heads up display, a la a Google Glass, but rather than something like Glass, this is just taking an old baseball cap, a visor and a smartphone -- and then patching it all together. It looks terrible, and the guy behind it doesn't hide that at all. Also, assembling it yourself is required (even though he'll include a baseball cap in the package -- though no indication what kind). That involves cutting a hole in the cap, some rubber bands and a variety of other random things. As Matt himself notes, this is functional, not fashionable. The video showing you how to put it together yourself is fantastic. This one will run you about $50 Australian, which is about $46 US. Even so, not too many people are going for it. At the time writing this it has just 5 backers after a few days of being live. That's not going to get Matt anywhere near his $50,000 goal. I haven't decided to support this one yet, but there's something tempting about it. For all the talk of people reacting to "Glassholes," I'm really curious how people walking down the street would respond to this monstrosity. That's it for this week. Go enjoy some real reality.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 18 days ago on techdirt
We recently covered how Comcast's top exec in charge of getting its merger with Time Warner Cable approved has insisted that only ignorant and unreasonable people oppose the merger. And yet... somehow, the public (ignorant and unreasonable as they are...) still don't seem to think too positively of the merger itself. And, for some reason, the terrible, terrible deal that American cable providers (mainly: Comcast and Time Warner Cable) continue to offer Americans as basically their only real broadband possibility still seems to inspire creative derision. Almost exactly a year ago, we posted a hilarious fake commercial of what your cable company (likely: Comcast or Time Warner Cable) would say in a TV commercial if it were honest. The mildly NSFW video includes the important fine print: You'll have the option of choosing from several of our completely unwarranted ripoffs, including internet speeds almost 200 times slower than Korea... at twice the price. TV packages with over 500 channels, 90% of which you can't view and we guarantee a plethora of hidden fees. Then our barely trained technicians will come to install your service somewhere between the hours 8am and 10 pm, knock once while you're in the shower, and promptly leave.... Why you ask? We're part of what is called an "oligopoly." It's like a monopoly... only legal! Watch it again: Soon after that, we posted another video from some guys pretending to be Time Warner Cable customer service employees asking people around NY what they could do to make service even worse. Go ahead, watch that again too: And, now, with the attempted merger underway, we've got a third video to add to the bunch. This one comes from Funny or Die, and directly addresses the issue of the merger, and is titled: Comcast Doesn't Give a F*CK. Like the first video above, it's made to look like a traditional cable company commercial, with the direct message being that, well, you know what the message is. Here, watch it: Key excerpt: We've read your comments and complaints, and know that a lot of you are very nervous about our merger with Time Warner Cable. So I wanted to talk to you today and let you know, that no matter what happens, we don't give a fuck about you. Whether you're calling in for an appointment about your cable box, or wondering why your favorite channel disappeared, we don't give a fuck. That's what makes us an industry leader in terrible customer service. We don't give a fuck because we don't have to. What? Are you going to go to another cable service provider? [Laughs] Chances are we own whatever movie or network you're watching, so that's still money in our pocket. You could watch Netflix or Hulu. In fact, you should. We own Hulu. We also make Netflix pay us extra for streaming content, meaning they'll probably pass those costs on to you. Bottom line: Fuck You. I'm sure all these kinds of videos keep popping up, because the American public doesn't understand how good the service we get from our "local" (and by "local" I mean, Comcast) cable provider is. Or maybe Homer Simpson was on to something. Nah, must just be all those unreasonable and ignorant folks.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 18 days ago on techdirt
While the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to declassify its $40 million, 6,300 page report detailing the CIA's torture regime -- including the facts that it went beyond what was authorized, produced no useful intelligence and then the CIA lied about it all -- three members of the Committee voted against it. Senators James Risch, Dan Coats (though, who knows if he had any idea what he was voting on) and Marco Rubio all voted against declassifying, with Risch and Rubio putting out a statement claiming that the State Department didn't want the report declassified. The Senate Intelligence Committee today voted to send a one-sided, partisan report to the CIA and White House for declassification despite warnings from the State Department and our allies indicating that declassification of this report could endanger the lives of American diplomats and citizens overseas and jeopardize U.S. relations with other countries. Therefore, we could not support declassification of this product at this time. This raised some eyebrows, since the Obama administration has consistently said it supported declassification, even as the CIA was fighting it. Still, it's rare that the State Department would actively contradict the White House. However, the Daily Beast now has more details on the State Department's desire to block the declassification: A senior Senate aide told The Daily Beast that the Rubio-Risch statement referred to a June 2013 classified letter to senators signed by Philip Goldberg, who at the time served as the State Department’s top intelligence official. The warning was in reference to the fact that the report contains information about cooperation with foreign intelligence agencies and the existence of still-undisclosed CIA “black site” prisons in foreign countries where abuses may have occurred. CIA facilities implicated in the report have allegedly been located in Thailand, Poland, Lithuania, and Romania, sparking public debate and resentment against the U.S. government in those countries. But officials and senate aides said the report contains information on several more locations. Diplomats representing those countries, aware of their vulnerability to exposure, have been quietly meeting with administration officials and lawmakers urging them to protect the secrecy of those intelligence relationships. Many foreign governments are still angry about the disclosures of NSA spying by leaker Edward Snowden. To be fair, the article notes that the letter from Goldberg was not cleared nor reviewed by State Department leadership. Thus, it may be seen less as "the State Department" making these comments, and more as the dude who has to deal with foreign spy agencies for the State Department. But, even so, the letter is ridiculous. There is a semi-legitimate point that the eventual disclosure of what countries helped the CIA torture people will certainly create some troubling diplomatic situations for those countries. But that's not the fault of the disclosure process. It's because (1) the CIA tortured people and (2) those other countries went along with it. Don't like that that will be disclosed? Then maybe they shouldn't have done it in the first place. The CIA's torture program was a dark moment in American history and we don't get past it by burying it -- and the story of those who helped -- under the rug. It needs to be out in the open. Even Vice President Joe Biden has said exactly that: “I think the only way you excise the demons is you acknowledge, you acknowledge exactly what happened straightforward,” Biden said. “The single best thing that ever happened to Germany were the war crimes tribunals, because it forced Germany to come to its milk about what in fact has happened.” To argue that the embarrassment of admitting that we partnered up with other countries in conducting illegal torture means we shouldn't reveal the details at all goes against everything that we're supposed to stand for, in being willing and able to admit our mistakes. It's shameful that anyone at the State Department -- with or without approval from leadership -- would send such a letter, giving cowardly Senators extra cover for not approving the declassification of the report.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 18 days ago on techdirt
USTR Michael Froman is trying to push the illusion that the TPP negotiations are transparent. In the past, various USTR spokespeople have made similar assertions, one of which is claiming that Congress, being so-called "representatives" of the public, are a perfectly suitable proxy for actual transparency. This ignores the fact that, while Congress may be able to view the TPP documents, it can't actually make copies or take notes or even pass it along to staffers who may have more expertise to offer -- to say nothing of the public all the way at the end of the food chain. Of course, key special interest groups and key stakeholders have full access through a login to the USTR website, which allows them to view the documents at any time (and presumably take notes, disseminate, etc.), rather than be limited to asking the USTR for permission to view a trade agreement--one that not only affects the US and the US public, but several other countries around the world. Businesses that stand to benefit from the agreement have better access to both the documents and our representatives, and yet, the USTR continues to protest that it's open and transparent. Here's the latest "see how open we are" statement from USTR Froman, the same guy who once touted the transparency of the trade negotiations from the comfort of a Hollywood studio. “As we pursue this agenda, we will continue to consult with Congress and seek input from a wide range of advisors, stakeholders and the public. We have held over 1,200 meetings with Congress about TPP alone – and that doesn’t include the meetings we’ve had on T-TIP, TPA, AGOA or other trade initiatives,” he said. “Our Congressional partners preview our proposals and give us critical feedback every step of the way. We also ensure that any Member of Congress can review the negotiating text and has the opportunity to receive detailed briefings by our negotiators.” Once again, the USTR is claiming secrecy-shrouded "meetings" with Congress to be synonymous with "seeking input from… the public." This isn't even remotely the same thing. Members of Congress aren't free to disseminate the TPP documents or take notes, which ensures nothing substantial will be passed on to the public. Froman's statement takes the public for idiots (something the USTR has done before), expecting them to believe their representatives will hear their voices over the crosstalk of legacy industries and special interest groups. And the public still has no access, outside of leaked documents. Looking beyond the US-centric view, the stakeholders and public in other countries aren't getting the same level of "transparency." Sure, the USTR may be wearing down the local pols with incessant "meetings," but there's little to indicate there's been as many meetings with foreign officials. There's nearly 40% of the world's GDP at stake here (according to the USTR's numbers) and yet, only a very minute percentage of the world itself has any access to the TPP's documents and negotiations. As can be expected, Froman listed IP as the top priority for worldwide trade agreements. “The United States is an innovative economy, and the Obama Administration is committed to protecting intellectual property (IP), which is vital to promoting and encouraging innovation and creativity,” he said. “Millions of American jobs rely on IP, and we will continue to use our trade agenda in 2014 to defend the IP rights of our creators and innovators while supporting the freedom of the Internet, encouraging the free flow of information across the digital world, and ensuring access to medicines, particularly by the poor in less developed economies.” But that's all a lie, especially the last part about "ensuring access to medicines." The TPP is fighting cheap medicine on several fronts. It contains provisions that make it harder for local companies to produce generics by resetting the patent clock when the drug is introduced to foreign markets. The USTR has also directly told other countries that cheap, affordable medical care/products "fail to recognize the value" of overpriced US offerings. The USTR isn't interested in the free flow of information related to the TPP negotiations, so it's highly unlikely it has any interest in "encouraging the free flow of information across the digital world." The phrase "supporting the freedom of the internet" doesn't sound right coming from an entity that was one of ACTA's biggest supporters, and one backed by some of SOPA's biggest supporters. It's a colossal joke, this supposed "transparency" of the USTR and TPP. It smells of old money being carried through revolving doors. When it comes to super-secret negotiations involving legacy players and massive corporations, Congress is hardly a reliable stand-in for the US public. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 18 days ago on techdirt
Maybe you like Caesar salads or the supposed health benefits of drinking raw eggs (a la Rocky Balboa), and you already know about the risks of Salmonella. Well, there's some good news for you: you might be able to get some pasteurized eggs that are virtually indistinguishable from conventional raw eggs. While previous pasteurization methods made eggs a bit thicker in texture, food scientists have been working on fixing that. Here are just a few links on eating raw eggs, if that's your thing. About one out of every 20,000 chicken eggs commercially produced in the US is at risk for spreading Salmonella. Fortunately, a new radio-frequency (RF) heating technique could be used to pasteurize eggs more quickly without affecting the taste or texture. [url] Not surprisingly, the CDC recommends that eggs be kept refrigerated and cooked fully before eating. Erring on the side of caution, no one should eat raw or undercooked eggs -- unless the eggs have been gone through a pasteurization process. [url] If you love raw eggs, you can test your luck and immune system -- and hope that egg industry standards for cleaning eggs have sufficiently improved to reduce the risks of contracting Salmonella. Plenty of people consume raw eggs and are fine, but thousands of Americans are sickened from egg-borne Salmonella each year. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
For a while we had followed the bizarre situation with Megaupload's servers. As you may recall, the Justice Department seized them all, following its criminal indictment against Megaupload and many of its executives. However, soon after seizing all of the company's servers, the DOJ announced that it no longer needed them and told the hosting company that had them that the data on them could be destroyed. We pointed out that this seemed like a clear case of destruction of evidence by the DOJ. First, it seized pretty much all of the assets of a company, prior to any conviction, and then before any actual judicial proceedings, asked for most of those assets -- many of which could include exculpatory evidence -- to be destroyed. It seemed... quite questionable. That resulted in a bit of a legal battle, as the hosting company storing them, Carpathia, asked what it should be doing (since it's suffering from the cost of keeping the servers). Megaupload sought to buy the servers, but the DOJ has blocked that effort. Last we'd heard, the judge had told everyone to work it all out by themselves. Torrentfreak has an update, noting that everyone's in a stalemate and nothing seems to be happening: This effort was stopped because the U.S. didn’t want Kim Dotcom to have access to the files. Hoping to get out of this stalemate the Court then suggested that all affected parties should get together and come up with a solution, thus far without success. “In separate written requests in the past year both Carpathia and Megaupload have asked Magistrate Judge Anderson – who was appointed by Judge O’Grady to mediate the cloud storage server data issue – to preside over follow-up negotiations on data preservation and consumer access,” Rothken tells TF. “The US DOJ has shown little interest in such negotiations and the Judge has not been inclined to set any additional meetings,” he adds. The whole situation is bizarre. Individuals who had legitimate content stored on Megaupload are still asking for access to get back their content, but the DOJ doesn't seem to care at all. In fact, it's coming up with increasingly bizarre excuses to justify shutting down an entire business based on the entertainment industry's say so, and seems to have no qualms about how many people this has created massive problems for. As the Aereo case is about to be heard, and various concerns about its impact on cloud computing are being raised, people should look over at what's happening with Megaupload's servers and be even more concerned. If the broadcasters succeed in redefining what is a "public performance," it's entirely conceivable that the DOJ could choose to do the same to other cloud services you rely on -- and there seems to be no recourse whatsoever.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
Let's all admit something: being in government ain't easy. Between all the lies you have to keep straight, counting all that bribe lobbying money, and constantly looking over your shoulder to see if the CIA is having you followed back to your office, being a representative of the people is one hell of an undertaking. Maybe that's why that revolving door of government and lobbying keeps spitting folks out of our congressional buildings. Take Senator Dan Coats, for instance. Coats is a serious guy with serious thoughts, such as "Hey, why can't the damned public trust us to spy on them?" and "That guy looks like he has no friends, so he's probably a terrorist!" His most recent thoughts, however, appear to be something along the lines of, "Holy crap, where the hell am I?" Here's your senator at work, Indiana. Should you be unable to see the video, that's Senator Coats sitting down and questioning the wrong witness at the wrong hearing that he wasn't even supposed to be attending. He rambles on a bit and you can almost see the hamsters spinning up in that noggin as he looks at the witness: "Wait a minute, something isn't right." But he powers through his mistake like a champion until a helpful aide passes him a note that I imagine read something close to: "The home called and they want you to go back to your room and take your pills." Look, it's a mistake, I get that. Hell, I've shown up at some really awkward places due to a scheduling mishap (big shout out to all my girls from the Saint Benedict's Nunnery bathroom, yo!), but to not only show up in the wrong place at the wrong time, but actually start questioning the wrong damned witness makes me wonder if Coats has anyone around him helping him out. He's not...a loner, is he? Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
While the Senate Intelligence Committee has finally started the process of declassifying at least some of the $40 million, 6,300 page report about the CIA's torture efforts, we're getting more and more leaks about what's in the report. Previous leaks showed that the torture program was completely useless and that the CIA simply lied about its effectiveness (in fact, taking information gleaned by others through normal interrogations, and claiming they got it via torture). The latest leak highlights how, despite claims by the CIA's supporters, that the torture was done in "good faith" and was approved by the DOJ and the CIA, it turns out that (of course), that the CIA's torturers actually went much further than they were approved to go. CIA officers subjected terror suspects it held after the Sept. 11 attacks to methods that were not approved by either the Justice Department or their own headquarters and illegally detained 26 of the 119 in CIA custody, the Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded in its still-secret report, McClatchy has learned. The spy agency program’s reliance on brutal and harsh techniques _ much more abusive than previously known _ and its failure to gather valuable information from the detainees, harmed the U.S.’s credibility internationally, according to the committee’s findings in its scathing 6,300 page report on the CIA’s interrogation and detention program. So, again, we have evidence that the CIA tortured people, did so beyond any actual authority (as sketchy as such an authority might be), got nothing of value from the torture, and then repeatedly lied about the torture and the value of it to Congress and the American public. And... no one is going to jail over this. Well, except for the guy who blew the whistle. In fact, many of those responsible for the torture program are still in positions of power. This is a total disgrace.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
Oh, Comcast. Remember how it was going to try to be a bit more subtle in pushing for approval of its merger with Time Warner Cable? Well, you can only deny your true nature for so long. The main force behind getting the merger approved, Comcast's Executive VP David Cohen -- the company's most powerful lobbyist who isn't registered as a lobbyist because he's realized that as long as he says he's not lobbying, he isn't -- has announced that no one knowledgeable or reasonable has objected to the merger. By implication, of course, this means that everyone objecting to the merger is ignorant and unreasonable: "I have been struck by the absence of rational, knowledgeable voices in this space coming out in opposition or even raising serious questions about the transaction." Cohen added. Meanwhile, the obviously ignorant and unreasonable Writers Guild of America West has spoken out against the merger, noting that Comcast's increasing use of broadband "caps, tiers, metering or other usage-based pricing" could create serious problems in killing off competitive online video distributors. And the eminently knowledgeable and reasonable Comcast retorted that it doesn't have any caps at all. Oh no. It's merely "testing data thresholds." "We don’t have data caps — and haven’t for about two years," said Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast’s vice president of government communications. "We have tested data thresholds where very heavy customers can buy more if they want more — but that only affects a very small percentage of our customers in a few markets." Apparently, spewing complete bullshit is the only thing that counts as "reasonable" and "knowledgeable" in the minds of Comcast's top execs.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
This will hardly come as a surprise, but Cindy Lee Garcia -- the actress who appeared in 5 seconds of the 13-minute "trailer" known as "Innocence of Muslims" and somehow convinced the 9th Circuit Appeals court to say she had a copyright interest in the film, allowing her to demand a widespread and highly questionable order to force Google to take down all copies of the video on its platforms -- doesn't think there's anything wrong with the ruling or with the 9th Circuit's denial of Google's request to stay the order until the case could be reconsidered. As we noted earlier, the court has asked for briefs on whether or not it should reconsider the request for the stay (prior to even deciding if it should reconsider the entire ruling). Garcia's lawyer, Cris Armenta has filed their brief on this issue, and as with many earlier filings, it is problematic on many levels. In short, though, she of course argues that the original ruling was correct, that her "copyright" has been infringed and that any ruling to the contrary leaves her in great danger. Despite plenty of copyright lawyers and experts reacting in horror to the original ruling, she insists it's obvious that every actor in a film gets a copyright in their own performance. As for the fact that the Copyright Office itself rejected her copyright claim saying that "longstanding practices do not allow a copyright claim by an individual actor or actress in his or her performance contained within a motion picture," Garcia says that the court should just ignore all that bluster. I mean, really, who does the Copyright Office think it is, anyway? Actually, she first challenges the "questionable provenance" of the Copyright Office's rejection of her copyright, since she says Google got a copy before she did, and then that it apparently doesn't include a statement from the Copyright Office that it "is a true and correct copy of the record in question." Even then, she begs the court to ignore the Copyright Office. Further, this court should not defer to the letter because it is inconsistent with the Copyright Office's previous interpretation of the Copyright Act.... Previously, the Copyright Office interpreted the Copyright Act much differently than it does now. As recently as 2010, the Office explicitly stated that performances consisting of "the art of imitating or acting out situations, characters, or other events" are copyrightable as pantomime. Of course, that's a totally different issue. Yes, the Copyright Office says that pantomimes are copyrightable (a different issue that has its own problems), but that's unrelated to the question of whether an actor in a motion picture retains the copyright in their performance. Instead, Garcia tries to reverse this question, by saying that nowhere has the Copyright Office ever said that actors do not get a copyright in their performance. Because anything the Copyright Office doesn't say is clearly what they allow. With respect to the issue of motion pictures, nowhere does the Compendium state that actors who are not employees and who have not transferred the rights in their work are not entitled to copyright protection.... Indeed, the Compendium only states that a film's producer is the "author" for purposes of copyright in situations where the participants are employees or have entered into work-for-hire agreements. If the Office's "longstanding practices" truly forbade an actor who never assigned the rights in her performance from asserting copyright, the Office would have mentioned those practices before now. Of course, the other problem with Garcia's filing is that it doesn't actually focus on the issue at hand. The Court specifically asked that the filings focus on the question of whether or not an en banc panel should rehear the question of a stay for the injunction. Garcia's filing focuses on the overall ruling, not the specifics of the stay, and why the initial injunction can't be stayed until further proceedings occur. That said, given the way Kozinski has handled this so far, who knows what will happen.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 19 days ago on techdirt
In our post about the Senate Intelligence Committee agreeing to declassify the executive summary and major findings of the $40 million, 6,300 page "devastating" report on how the CIA tortured people for no good reason and then lied about it, we noted that there was still a battle over who would handle the declassification process. Senator Mark Udall directly noted that the White House had a choice. It could handle the declassification efforts itself, give it to the director of national intelligence... or give it over to the CIA itself. Guess which choice the White House has gone with? Yup, you guessed it: The CIA itself gets to choose which parts of the report remain secret. Considering the CIA has spent many months attacking the report, declaring that it was misleading and full of errors, it seems rather ridiculous that the Agency itself is in charge of determining what can and can't be released from the report.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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