posted 19 days ago on techdirt
Well, that was quick. As we noted, just yesterday, USA Today published a detailed takedown of the DEA's massive phone records mass surveillance program that was actually started more than two decades ago. And this morning, the EFF, representing Human Rights Watch, filed a lawsuit over the program. Of course, the program had actually been revealed years ago, and back in January, the US government revealed some details itself about the program, which is what prompted the new lawsuit. As the EFF notes in its press release about the lawsuit: “The DEA’s program of untargeted and suspicionless surveillance of Americans’ international telephone call records—information about the numbers people call, and the time, date, and duration of those calls—affects millions of innocent people, yet the DEA operated the program in secret for years,’’ said EFF Staff Attorney Nate Cardozo. “Both the First and Fourth Amendment protect Americans from this kind of overreaching surveillance. This lawsuit aims to vindicate HRW’s rights, and the rights of all Americans, to make calls overseas without being subject to government surveillance.” I recommend reading the full complaint which has more details. It details why the program violates both the First and Fourth Amendments. The basic First Amendment argument: By their acts alleged herein, Defendants have violated and are violating the First Amendment free speech and free association rights of Plaintiff and its staff, including the right to communicate anonymously, the right to associate privately, and the right to engage in protected advocacy free from government interference. And the Fourth Amendment argument: By the acts alleged herein, Defendants have violated Plaintiff’s reasonable expectation of privacy and denied Plaintiff its right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. It seems likely that the government will pull out all the usual stops to try to end this lawsuit, arguing "national security" and "state secrets" and all that jazz. However, as the USA Today report noted, Eric Holder agreed to kill off this program after realizing that it was nearly impossible to defend in the same manner as the feds were trying to defend the NSA's bulk phone records collection...Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Phone and tablet batteries always seem to die when you're nowhere near an outlet. Grab today's Daily Deal and you may not have to worry about that again. $39.99 nabs you the powerful and sleek Innori 22400mAh Portable Battery Pack with 3 USB ports. Two of the ports are optimized for phones, with the other ready to charge a tablet or other USB-powered device. Take advantage of the 42% off deal (with free shipping to the US and UK) to get this lightweight power bank. If you're not aware, 22400mAh is huge for a portable battery -- and it's enough to charge smartphones many times over (most smartphone batteries range between 1500 and 3000mAh, so this can charge multiple phones many times over on a single charge). Also, usually when you get batteries with that much power, the price is ridiculously high -- generally much closer to $100. Note: We earn a portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We already covered the fact that the DEA had a phone tracking program similar to the NSA's that we've been debating. As we noted in our post, that DEA phone tracking program was actually revealed years ago in a NY Times report, though it didn't get that much attention at the time. Yesterday, USA Today's Brad Heath did a much more detailed report on the details of the program -- including how massive it was, how little oversight there was (basically none) and how widely it was used (all the time). But there was one element that seemed important enough to call out separately: this program has been ended and it's entirely because of Ed Snowden. While there's still a fight going on over whether or not the NSA program will continue after June 1st (when Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act expires), Heath's reporting notes that the DOJ realized the DEA program could not continue -- once it realized how similar it was to the NSA program: Holder pulled the plug on the phone data collection in September 2013. That summer, Snowden leaked a remarkable series of classified documents detailing some of the government's most prized surveillance secrets, including the NSA's logging of domestic phone calls and Internet traffic. Reuters and The New York Times raised questions about the drug agency's own access to phone records. Officials said the Justice Department told the DEA that it had determined it could not continue both surveillance programs, particularly because part of its justification for sweeping NSA surveillance was that it served national security interests, not ordinary policing. Eight months after USTO was halted, for example, department lawyers defended the spy agency's phone dragnet in court partly on the grounds that it "serves special governmental needs above and beyond normal law enforcement." Three months after USTO was shut down, a review panel commissioned by President Obama urged Congress to bar the NSA from gathering telephone data on Americans in bulk. Not long after that, Obama instructed the NSA to get permission from the surveillance court before querying its phone data collection, a step the drug agency never was required to take. The DEA stopped searching USTO in September 2013. Not long after that, it purged the database. "It was made abundantly clear that they couldn't defend both programs," a former Justice Department official said. Others said Holder's message was more direct. "He said he didn't think we should have that information," a former DEA official said. Think about this, though: the program lasted for more than two decades before anyone bothered to even consider this idea. And it was only once the other database (which actually had a lot more strict access controls) started getting negative press that Justice Department officials realized they had no real legal basis for the DEA program. Who, again, is watching the watchers? While some have argued that Snowden's revelations have not (yet) resulted in the NSA's surveillance programs being stopped, it seems pretty clear that he was directly responsible for this DEA program being shut down completely and the data purged.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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You have a First Amendment right to film police officers and other public figures during their performance of public duties… except when you don't. Police officers are given the most deference in these matters, despite a handful of circuit courts upholding this right and the DOJ itself stepping in to inform police departments around the nation that, yes, citizens have a right to record police officers in public. But the "right" is loaded with exceptions, and it's not backed up by circuit court decisions in several states. To date, most courts have given law enforcement officers plenty of leeway to shut down recordings as they see fit and stay one step ahead of accountability. In February of last year, Pedro Rivera overheard a police scanner call for respondents to a serious traffic accident in Hartford, Connecticut. Rivera, a cameraman for a local news station, headed to the crash site and attempted to gather footage using his personal drone. This drew the attention of responding officers, who forced Rivera to remove himself and his drone from the scene. (They also suggested his employer could stay in their "good graces" by punishing Rivera for hovering by proxy 150 feet above the scene of the accident.) Rivera sued, claiming the police violated several of his rights, including his First Amendment right to film police officers performing their public duties. Connecticut's federal court has sided with the police officers, in effect declaring that those within the Second Circuit's coverage area don't have a right to film police -- at least not with a drone. As for his First Amendment claims, the court found that there was no recognized right to record police activity. While other circuits have split on the issue -- there is such a right in the First, Seventh, Ninth and Eleventh circuits -- the Second has never addressed the question, meaning that there could be no clearly established right as needed for the officers to waive their qualified immunity. The district court also went out of its way to note that, had Rivera even been in a jurisdiction which protected the right to film police activity, he may have fallen outside the scope of those protections. He wasn't standing by with a camcorder, after all, but sending "a flying object into a police-restricted area ... effectively trespassing onto an active crime scene." Similarly, because there was no constitutional violation, the court dismissed Rivera's retaliation complaint, as you cannot retaliate against the exercise of a right that doesn't exist. Specifically, the court seems to have an issue with the type of camera used, rather than the act itself. Moreover, the Court notes that in cases where the right to record police activity has been recognized by our sister circuits, it appears that the protected conduct has typically involved using a handheld device to photograph or videotape at a certain distance from, and without interfering with, the police activity at issue. [...] By contrast, here Plaintiff directed a flying object into a police-restricted area, where it proceeded to hover over the site of a major motor vehicle accident and the responding officers within it, effectively trespassing onto an active crime scene. See, e.g., U.S. v. Causby, 328 U.S. 256, 266 (1946) (holding that invasions to airspace situated within ―the immediate reaches of land—including airspace so close to the land that invasions of it affect the use and enjoyment of the surface of the land—are in the same category as invasions to the land itself). Even if recording police activity were a clearly established right in the Second Circuit, Plaintiff‘s conduct is beyond the scope of that right as it has been articulated by other circuits. The case cited quotes Congress as defining "public domain" airspace as somewhere between 500-1000 feet above the ground, depending on location, time of day, weather, etc. In the 1946 case, military planes were buzzing Causby's farm at less than 100 feet above the ground. The Supreme Court found in Causby's favor. This raises the question: would Rivera's photography have been protected if it had occurred above 500 feet? The district court has basically declared that an altitude of 150 feet is an "invasion" of the ground below it. Would going higher restore rights? Or would deference to law enforcement make an accident scene off-limits to aerial photography? This is where older rulings clash with new technology. The court plainly states that it would have viewed Rivera's photography more charitably had he been using a handheld camera, placing him closer to the accident scene than his drone ever was. Somehow, the fact that it was overhead seems to be what's holding the district court back from upholding Rivera's First Amendment rights. A height of 150 feet likely interfered with nothing more than the officers' sense of control. Because the police couldn't "rope off" the sky, they had to do the next best thing: order the flying camera and its operator away from the scene. The court says the camera "trespassed" into an active crime scene. But cameras do that all the time. The yellow tape may keep observers further away horizontally from crime scenes, but it does not prevent them from observing or filming any visible part of it. This decision gives police control over the skies, even when the circumstances don't demand it. They certainly have every right to ground a citizen's drone if it's interfering with police or medical aircraft, but otherwise it's just another camera -- in this case a camera 150 feet away from the nearest police officer. There's no interference happening here, and yet, the "right" to film police has been limited to only certain earthbound photography equipment -- and even then, still subject to any number of restrictions imposed arbitrarily by police officers. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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While the FCC's decision to raise the base broadband definition to 25 Mbps, its ruling on municipal broadband and the agency's new net neutrality rules have seen the lion's share of media attention, there's another potentially important FCC plan underway that has largely managed to fly under the radar. The FCC has recently been fielding comments on whether the agency should reclassify linear over-the-top (OTT) Internet video providers as multi-channel video programming distributors (MVPDs), giving these companies FCC-enforced access to vertically integrated programming. The full order can be found here (pdf). The idea is that by giving Internet video providers formal protections and the right to negotiate content deals like cable companies, we'll see a surge in Internet video service competition and a reduction in the logjam surrounding content licensing. Note that this would only really impact subscription-based, prescheduled content (live TV), and as a result wouldn't really apply to on-demand catalogs like Netflix or YouTube. Not too surprisingly, the cable industry, still sore from the FCC's Title II ruling and wary of new competitors, doesn't think modernizing cable regulations to include Internet video is a great idea:"[H]aving recently adopted what was once understood to be the 'nuclear option' of Title II regulation of broadband Internet access service to address a hypothetical threat to the openness of the Internet," NCTA told the commission, "the Commission in this proceeding is proposing to apply an arsenal of regulations from the Cable Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992, purportedly to promote competition in the already competitive and well-functioning online video marketplace."Some of the new wave of Internet video giants similarly aren't happy with the idea. Even though the rule change likely wouldn't impact the company's on-demand services specifically, an Amazon filing with the FCC argues it doesn't really want the FCC's help, either:"In light of the excellent results achieved over the last several years, Amazon does not see why the commission would risk interfering with the OTT marketplace, which is still growing and changing, at this stage in its development," the company said. Amazon argued that services offered by Amazon, Netflix and Apple represent a whole new ballgame, not another team in the MVPD league. It said that planned services from Dish and HBO are an effort to be players in this new space, a space it and others have been building for years."Amazon's likely wary for two reasons: the company's already seeing success and is justly nervous about regulatory good intentions, and the FCC's proposal could actually go both ways -- as in it might help cable operators looking to deploy an out-of-footprint streaming service (giving them mandated access to regional sports networks, for example), generating additional competition for Amazon. Meanwhile, broadcasters like ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC support the measure, pleased that it would force OTT upstarts into gaining consent out of the gate for retransmitting their broadcasts (read: they think it will help thwart piracy or force the next Aereo to the negotiations table). Consumer advocates like Public Knowledge quite like the rule change, suggesting it could ramp up competition and bring down prices "without subjecting most kinds of online video services to additional regulation." The updating of the definition of an MPVD could provide Internet video companies with protections they didn't have previously:"That interpretation meant that none of the protections that MVPDs have against other MVPDs, and that programmers have against MVPDs, applied to online video. That means that programmers could be prevented through contracts or incentives from selling video to online services, and that programmers affiliated with cable companies could discriminate against online services. Actions like this can add up to starve online video services of content--which is why most of the most popular services offer video that is complementary to traditional MVPD service (back catalog programming, and original and user-generated content) instead of the same lineup of things like first-run shows and live sports."For an agency that spent decades paying empty lip service to competition, the FCC's focus in this case really does appear to actually be on modernizing regulations to help foster competition and protect the smaller Internet video providers of tomorrow. Reclassifying ISPs as common carriers under Title II protects upstart companies from discrimination by broadband and cable companies, and reclassifying Internet video providers as cable companies would provide them additional protections and programming negotiations rights they don't currently have. In short, for the first time in fifteen years or so the FCC actually appears to be focusing on competition as a real policy goal. That's in stark contrast to the expectations most people had (myself included) when we learned that a former wireless and cable industry lobbyist would be the latest to run the FCC.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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One of the big arguments trotted out repeatedly by surveillance state defenders concerning the NSA's Section 215 program to collect records on all phone calls is that such a thing "would have prevented 9/11" if it had been in place at the time. Here's former FBI boss Robert Mueller making just that argument right after the initial Snowden leaks. Here's Dianne Feinstein making the argument that if we had that phone tracking program before September 11th, we could have stopped the attacks. And here's former NSA top lawyer and still top NSA supporter Stewart Baker arguing that the program is necessary because the lack of such a program failed to stop 9/11. Except, it turns out, the feds did have just such a program prior to 9/11 -- run by the DEA. As you may recall, back in January it was revealed that the DEA had its own database of phone call metadata of nearly all calls from inside the US to foreign countries. Brad Heath at USA Today came out with a report yesterday that goes into much more detail on the program, showing that it dates back to at least 1992 -- meaning that the feds almost certainly had the calls that Feinstein and Mueller pretended the government didn't have prior to 9/11. The now-discontinued operation, carried out by the DEA's intelligence arm, was the government's first known effort to gather data on Americans in bulk, sweeping up records of telephone calls made by millions of U.S. citizens regardless of whether they were suspected of a crime. It was a model for the massive phone surveillance system the NSA launched to identify terrorists after the Sept. 11 attacks. That dragnet drew sharp criticism that the government had intruded too deeply into Americans' privacy after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked it to the news media two years ago. But, you might say, perhaps the DEA didn't share that info with the NSA. Well... if we go back to some of the NY Times award-winning reporting on the NSA's surveillance programs from 2007, we see that it actually mentions this DEA program... and notes that the NSA worked with the DEA on it: In the drug-trafficking operation, the N.S.A. has been helping the Drug Enforcement Administration in collecting the phone records showing patterns of calls between the United States, Latin America and other drug-producing regions. The program dates to the 1990s, according to several government officials, but it appears to have expanded in recent years. Officials say the government has not listened to the communications, but has instead used phone numbers and e-mail addresses to analyze links between people in the United States and overseas. Senior Justice Department officials in the Bush and Clinton administrations signed off on the operation, which uses broad administrative subpoenas but does not require court approval to demand the records. That's from 2007 reporting by James Risen, Eric Liechtblau and Scott Shane. Heath's reporting fills in some additional gaps: The data collection began in 1992 during the administration of President George H.W. Bush, nine years before his son, President George W. Bush, authorized the NSA to gather its own logs of Americans' phone calls in 2001. It was approved by top Justice Department officials in four presidential administrations and detailed in occasional briefings to members of Congress but otherwise had little independent oversight, according to officials involved with running it. The DEA used its data collection extensively and in ways that the NSA is now prohibited from doing. Agents gathered the records without court approval, searched them more often in a day than the spy agency does in a year and automatically linked the numbers the agency gathered to large electronic collections of investigative reports, domestic call records accumulated by its agents and intelligence data from overseas. The result was "a treasure trove of very important information on trafficking," former DEA administrator Thomas Constantine said in an interview. The report also shows how the DEA got this info from telcos using the simple process of an administrative subpoena, so there was no court review. Telcos could have protested and gone to court, but the DOJ urged them not to do so: The DEA obtained those records using administrative subpoenas that allow the agency to collect records "relevant or material to" federal drug investigations. Officials acknowledged it was an expansive interpretation of that authority but one that was not likely to be challenged because unlike search warrants, DEA subpoenas do not require a judge's approval. "We knew we were stretching the definition," a former official involved in the process said. Officials said a few telephone companies were reluctant to provide so much information, but none challenged the subpoenas in court. Those that hesitated received letters from the Justice Department urging them to comply. After Sprint executives expressed reservations in 1998, for example, Warren, the head of the department's drug section, responded with a letter telling the company that "the initiative has been determined to be legally appropriate" and that turning over the call data was "appropriate and required by law." The letter said the data would be used by authorities "to focus scarce investigative resources by means of sophisticated pattern and link analysis." And, of course, the DEA kept this whole database of metadata a secret by... using parallel construction: To keep the program secret, the DEA sought not to use the information as evidence in criminal prosecutions or in its justification for warrants or other searches. Instead, its Special Operations Division passed the data to field agents as tips to help them find new targets or focus existing investigations, a process approved by Justice Department lawyers. Many of those tips were classified because the DEA phone searches drew on other intelligence data. That practice sparked a furor when the Reuters news agency reported in 2013 that the DEA trained agents to conceal the sources of those tips from judges and defense lawyers. Reuters said the tips were based on wiretaps, foreign intelligence and a DEA database of telephone calls gathered through routine subpoenas and search warrants. As a result, "the government short-circuited any debate about the legality and wisdom of putting the call records of millions of innocent people in the hands of the DEA," American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Patrick Toomey said. Heath's report also notes that the NSA metadata collection under Section 215 was very much modeled on the DEA's collection that began a decade earlier. If there are any differences between the two it seems that the NSA was actually much more restrained in how it used all the phone call metadata. For one thing, DEA analysts queried their data collection far more often. The NSA said analysts searched its telephone database only about 300 times in 2012; DEA analysts routinely performed that many searches in a day, former officials said. Again, this DEA program isn't really a new revelation, but Heath's reporting sheds a lot more light on how widespread it was and how it was used over the years. And, also, as we are less than two months away from the big fight over renewing Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, you can be sure that some surveillance state defender is going to cite 9/11 as a reason why we need to keep the program. Hopefully, people can remind them that it appears we had just such a program (which was even more widely used) at the time, and it did not stop 9/11. Furthermore, Heath's reporting shows that once the program disappeared, while the DEA claims it missed the program, it was quickly able to build a more reasonable followup by just targeting specific numbers: The DEA asked the Justice Department to restart the surveillance program in December 2013. It withdrew that request when agents came up with a new solution. Every day, the agency assembles a list of the telephone numbers its agents suspect may be tied to drug trafficking. Each day, it sends electronic subpoenas — sometimes listing more than a thousand numbers — to telephone companies seeking logs of international telephone calls linked to those numbers, two official familiar with the program said. In other words, targeted surveillance, rather than mass surveillance. As many have been arguing for years, there's no reason why the NSA can't adopt a similar program. So don't believe the intelligence community and its apologists when they wrongly insist that such a mass surveillance program is necessary.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Academic publishing is going through a turbulent time, not least because of the rise of open access, which disrupts the traditional model in key ways. But in one respect, open access is just like the old-style academic publishing it is replacing: it generally employs peer review to decide whether papers should be accepted, although there are some moves to open up peer review too. As this story from Science makes clear, commercial publishers are innovating here as well, although not always in ways that academics like: An editor of Scientific Reports, one of Nature Publishing Group's (NPG's) open-access journals, has resigned in a very public protest of NPG's recent decision to allow authors to pay money to expedite peer review of their submitted papers. According to the Science article, there are now several companies making millions of dollars from this kind of privatized, expedited peer review. Here's more about Research Square, the one employed by NPG: "We have about 100 employees with Ph.D.s,” says Research Square’s CEO, Shashi Mudunuri. That small army of editors recruits scientists around the world as reviewers, guiding the papers through the review process. The reviewers get paid $100 for each completed review. The review process itself is also streamlined, using an online "scorecard" instead of the traditional approach of comments, questions, and suggestions. Authors pay $750 to NPG, and are guaranteed a review within three weeks or they get their money back. Research Square seems to be flourishing: So far, Mudunuri says, the company has about 1400 active reviewers who have scored 920 papers. The company pulled in $20 million in revenue last year. Still, the question has to be whether this leads to key benefits of the peer review process being lost. After all, the system is not just about accepting or rejecting papers. The NPG editor who resigned, Professor Mark Maslin, is quoted as saying: "Deep consideration and a well thought out review is much more important than its speed. I have had brilliant reviews which have considerably improved my papers and I really appreciated all the time taken." The other issue is that the expedited, paid-for route is discriminatory: "My objections are that it sets up a two-tiered system and instead of the best science being published in a timely fashion it will further shift the balance to well-funded labs and groups," Mark Maslin, a biogeographer at University College London, tells ScienceInsider. "Academic Publishing is going through a revolution and we should expect some bumps along the way. This was just one that I felt I could not accept." Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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About a year ago, the DHS -- seemingly completely oblivious to the fact that domestic surveillance programs were being collectively frowned upon in the wake of the Snowden leaks -- began soliciting quotes on a nationwide license plate reader database. Within a week, DHS head Jeh Johnson had shut down the plan, claiming the rogue solicitation had somehow escaped into the wild without a proper official approval and had nothing to do with the backlash it had generated upon discovery. Not that the disappearance of this solicitation changed anything. The DHS (and ICE) already have access to the many ALPR databases maintained by a variety of private companies. All this would have done was provide the DHS with estimates on subscription fees and perhaps some help on developing a DHS/ICE-specific front end for access. Nearly a year past the mini-debacle and the DHS is back in the license plate database business. This solicitation, however, is far more specific than last year's botched attempt. (via The Hill) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) intends to issue a solicitation to obtain query-based access to a commercially available License Plate Reader (LPR) database. ICE seems far more interested than usual in alleviating any concerns that this will be yet another domestic surveillance program. ICE is neither seeking to build nor contribute to a national public or private LPR database. ICE will use LPR information obtained in response to queries of the commercial database to further its immigration enforcement missions. ICE law enforcement personnel will query the LPR database using known license plate numbers associated with the aliens who are immigration enforcement priorities, based on investigative leads, to determine where and when the vehicle has travelled within a specified period of time. The results of the queries can assist in identifying the location of aliens who are immigration enforcement priorities, to include aliens with certain criminal convictions, absconders, illegal re-entrants and those that pose a public safety or national security risk. Rather than build new databases and grant open access to ICE agents, the agency is only looking to search known plate numbers. While this end will remain targeted, it doesn't do anything limit the collection efforts. Vigilant -- the largest ALPR provider -- claims to be adding more nearly 100 million plate/location records every month. The only thing "limited" about this plan is DHS's access. And even that may not be as limited as the previous paragraph implies. ICE will also use LPR information obtained from the commercial database to further its criminal law enforcement mission, which includes investigations related to national security, illegal arms exports, financial crimes, commercial fraud, human trafficking, narcotics smuggling, child pornography, and immigration fraud. So, it's not just immigration and customs enforcement. It's pretty much everything the ICE thinks it should have an active part in. To its credit, it has at least compiled a Privacy Impact Assessment ahead of its ALPR database plans, rather than allow this to trail implementation by months or years. But within this assessment are hints that ICE's access won't be quite as limited as its earlier statement implies. For one, ICE already operates its own LPR cameras, so it won't solely be making use of preexisting data. It also has no controls in place to limit access when working with outside law enforcement agencies and using their access to LPR databases. There are indications that the DHS and ICE are attempting to keep this access from being exploited or abused. The assessment notes that agents will be informed (and reminded) that a license plate "hit' cannot be the "sole basis" for law enforcement action. But the limits it's imposing on itself are still a bit too flexible. Plate info will only be allowed to be accessed for a "limited" amount of time, but that "limited" time frame is partly tied to the statute of limitations for the underlying crime. In most cases, the assessment notes, ICE agents will be able to access five years of historical plate/location data -- which it notes is approximately the average amount of time a person owns a particular vehicle. The assessment also notes that the "Alert List" must be frequently updated to remove plates tied to closed investigations or when a person [but a license plate isn't a person?] is no longer a suspect. While some agents will be more proactive than others, the assessment only suggests an update be performed "at least annually." The better news is that the DHS and ICE are making moves towards greater transparency, as well as demanding the winning vendor provide "robust audit trails" on any agency database use. Of course, a "robust audit trail" is only as good as the consequences for misuse, and the government in general has never been big on meaningful enforcement of its internal policies. Unfortunately, that's really the only thing preventing this targeted access from becoming the "unwarranted surveillance" the agency's Privacy Impact Assessment claims it's trying to avoid. That being said, getting out ahead of the program with an impact assessment is almost unheard of in the law enforcement/intelligence field, so the DHS deserves some credit for realizing its past effort in this area was badly mishandled. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Artificial intelligence research has made quite a few advances, but the goalposts are always moving back. Not too long ago, people thought that games like chess and poker were far too difficult for software to play as well as humans. There are still a few games that computers can't quite play as well as humans, but that list is getting smaller all the time. Software with "general intelligence" is still a bit beyond our reach, but the Singularity could happen any moment now. The Turing Test has made it into the mainstream media, but to the annoyance of artificial intelligence researchers, the interpretation of what this test actually demonstrates has been grossly misunderstood. There are several proposals for Turing Test alternatives that are more resistant to sneaky chat bots, but maybe we should try to figure out what human intelligence is before we devise a test for non-humans. [url] The Winograd Schema challenge is slightly improved kind of test for linguistic comprehension. Nuance, the speech recognition firm, is sponsoring a $25,000 grand prize for solutions that perform comparably to human responses. The first question is NOT: "You're in a desert walking along in the sand when all of the sudden you look down, and you see a tortoise, it's crawling toward you. You reach down, you flip the tortoise over on it's back. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can’t, not without your help. But you're not helping. Why is that?" [url] Eugene Goostman is the name of a simulated 13yo Ukrainian boy that fooled some people into thinking it was a real human. Artificial intelligence isn't supposed to just fool people. This chat bot might have fooled some humans in a 5 minute long conversation, but it's not actually revolutionary. Someday we might have software that can converse naturally for indefinite periods of time, but we're not there yet. [url] After you've finished checking out those links, if you have some spare change (or more) and would like to support Techdirt, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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This seems to happen every political season. When he was a Presidential candidate, John McCain got annoyed at YouTube taking down political videos based on copyright claims. During the last Presidential election, a Mitt Romney TV ad featuring President Obama singing an Al Green song was taken down via a copyright claim. And now, 2016 Presidential candidate Rand Paul has discovered that his announcement speech from Tuesday morning has been taken down. This wasn't a DMCA takedown, but yet another case of YouTube's over-eager ContentID doing the job: Apparently the announcement kicked off with an anti-Wall Street country song, "Shuttin' Detroit Down" by John Rich, whose copyright is held by Warner Music Group. Of course, Rand Paul has been sort of a mixed bag on copyright. He was one of the first Senators to speak out against SOPA/PIPA in 2011. But, not long after that, he and his father Ron put out a weird internet freedom "manifesto" that appeared to argue for much stronger copyright laws, and which argued that the public domain was an evil "collectivist" threat that was against basic property rights. Of course, it would be nice if this little incident led candidate Rand Paul to support fixes to copyright law and the DMCA, but as some are pointing out, assuming this really was a ContentID takedown, changes to the DMCA wouldn't much matter -- since ContentID is a private solution, outside of copyright law. That said, it was put in place, in part, to help keep YouTube from getting sued over copyright claims, so a fixed DMCA might lead to a better ContentID offering. Unfortunately, despite a history of copyright and ContentID being abused against political candidates, it still hasn't really resulted in them taking a real platform stand on the problems of copyright law today and how it impacts free expression. It's unlikely that Rand Paul is going to really take a stand on this, especially given that weird manifesto from a few years ago.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Nintendo's never-ending desire to control how YouTubers review its games or do "let's plays" has been laughable from the start. From the trust-destroying agreement YouTubers had to enter into in order to get access to visual content to the beauracratic nightmare individuals had to wade through just to get a video approved for monetization, the whole thing started off on messy footing. And the biggest issue in all of this: Nintendo still can't seem to grasp that these YouTubers are giving the company free advertising. Gamers love the kinds of videos these YouTubers produce. They use them to make purchasing decisions, to become interested in new games, and to fuel word-of-mouth advertising that no trumped up ad campaign could ever possibly hope to achieve. Why make any of that more complicated by creating an approval system for the videos? And, more importantly, why take away the incentive for fans to promote your games by demanding a share of their YouTube revenue? Well, the program that's a mere few months old has already resulted in the first major YouTuber proclaiming that Nintendo games will no longer be covered. Angry Joe (Joe Vargas) has one hell of an online following in the gaming YouTuber community and, following a spat over his Mario Party 10 video, Nintendo is dead to him. Joe “Angry Joe” Vargas, who commands nearly two million subscribers on YouTube, has decided to stop covering Nintendo games, following a dispute over a Mario Party 10 video. Angry Joe’s Mario Party 10 video was flagged by YouTube, and while it’s possible for him to keep the video online, he can’t make money off it. It’s easy to imagine why he’s upset. He tweeted about the decision a few days ago: I hope @NintendoAmerica enjoyed the free ad revenue & coverage I generated for em. It will be my last Nintendo video. pic.twitter.com/07797eA7W4 — Joe Vargas (@AngryJoeShow) April 4, 2015 That sort of says it all, doesn't it? Millions of gamers who went to Angry Joe for help in where to spend their gaming dollar will no longer be directed by Joe to Nintendo games via reviews and gameplay footage. For Angry Joe followers, Nintendo might as well not exist. What's particularly insane about this is that the YouTuber Nintendo affiliate program described above wouldn't even have applied to this particular video, since some Nintendo games, Mario Party 10 among them, don't even qualify for coverage under the program. Why Nintendo would seek to piss off a popular YouTuber over a video for a game that wouldn't have been granted the okay under the affiliate program is beyond me. Here's a case where Nintendo has locked up 100% of the ad revenue on Angry Joe's video, despite the fact that it's not Nintendo's copyright-covered content viewers are coming to watch. That's not only unfair, it's biting the very hand feeding Nintendo's coffers and sending the company new customers. This is the first major YouTuber to jump off the Nintendo ship, but it almost certainly won't be the last. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Last week, Gabriella Coleman joined us to discuss her new book Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous and share her insider view of the nebulous group. Gabriella is back this week to continue the discussion with a broader look the astonishing and still-recent shift in the digital world towards real, widespread political engagement on issues like privacy and surveillance. 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

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Today's Deal features 46% off of an Izon View Security Camera. Use this simple and sleek camera to keep tabs on your pets, your home or wherever you need an extra set of eyes. It has a free app (compatible with iOS and most Android devices) that allows you to control the camera and live stream the camera's feed. Of course, as with any internet-connected video camera, be aware that you're (at the very least) opening up some potential for others to access the stream. So this isn't a product that we recommend if you're the next Ed Snowden trying to figure out what documents to pass along to Glenn Greenwald and don't want anyone else to see what you're doing. However, as a convenient, inexpensive and practical way to set up an internet-connected security camera to check on your house, the Izon View may be worth a look. Also, today is the last day to use the TECHDIRT10 code to get an additional 10% off of your first purchase. Note: We earn a portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Late last year, we noted that Australian ISP iiNet -- well-known for pushing back against anti-consumer practices in both surveillance and copyright enforcement -- had decided to go to court to fight a copyright trolling attempt by Voltage Pictures, the Hollywood studio behind Dallas Buyers Club. Voltage Pictures has also made a name for itself as a major copyright troll, shaking down people around the globe and loudly insulting anyone who questions the strategy. As iiNet explained at the time, it had no problem with going after copyright infringers, but it wasn't comfortable with the copyright trolling practice of "speculative invoicing" -- which is the nice term for shaking people down by sending them an invoice and telling them the only way to avoid a lawsuit is to pay up. iiNet basically said that it would turn over user information only if ordered by a court, which is the proper response. Even though, during the course of the court case iiNet raised serious concerns about Voltage Pictures' "expert" Daniel Macek (a name you may recognize as also being a key figure in Malibu Media's copyright trolling game via a variety of shell companies), the court has now said that iiNet has to turn over the info. However, the court appears to recognize at least some of how copyright trolling works, and says that the shakedown letters sent to iiNet subscribers must "first be submitted [to the court] for approval." It remains to be seen what the court will approve concerning such letters, but at the very least, hopefully this will prevent the aggressive shakedown actions seen concerning Dallas Buyers Club/Voltage Pictures in other countries. Also, it's worth noting that last month, another Australian ISP, TPG, announced plans to acquire iiNet (subject to regulatory review), leading many to (reasonably) wonder if iiNet was going to continue its pro-subscriber advocacy in the future. Given the strong efforts made by iiNet over the years to stand up for the rights of its customers, it would be a shame to see the new company turn into yet another ISP with little concern for its subscribers.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Is the process of copyright trolling protected by the First Amendment? That appears to be the claim that both Rightscorp and Warner Bros. are making in response to a class action lawsuit filed against them. Back in November, we wrote about a class action lawsuit filed against Rightscorp, by lawyer Morgan Pietz. Rightscorp, of course, is a company trying (and mostly failing) to make copyright trolling slightly more respectable by shaking down accused infringers (based on a questionable methodology) for somewhat lower amounts than traditional copyright trolls. Morgan Pietz, if you don't know, is one of the key lawyers who helped take down infamous copyright troll Prenda Law -- so his involvement was noteworthy. Since November, when the lawsuit was initially filed, there's been some back and forth in the lawsuit (and even the main named plaintiff has changed). In the first amended complaint [pdf] that was filed last month with new lead plaintiff, John Blaha, the claims about violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act have been removed, to focus mainly on violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and abuse of process. The TCPA bans autodialing telemarketers, and Pietz is trying to argue that Rightscorp's autodialers fall under this law. The abuse of process claims focus on how Rightscorp got access to various people to shakedown, using DMCA 512(h) subpoenas. This is the process -- which courts have clearly rejected -- by which copyright trolls think they can issue subpoenas to ISPs about potential infringers, without first filing a lawsuit. Every few years, copyright trolls think they've newly discovered this loophole even though the courts have rejected it. The lawsuit has also added key Rightscorp clients, Warner Bros. and BMG, as defendants as well. Last week, Rightscorp responded [pdf] by arguing that the case should be dismissed under California's anti-SLAPP law. Now, we've been huge supporters of California's anti-SLAPP law and believe that we need a similar federal anti-SLAPP law. Anti-SLAPP laws allow defendants to quickly get lawsuits dismissed when it's clear those lawsuits are nothing more than attempts to silence their public speech (SLAPP standing for "Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.") However, I'm hard pressed to see how robocalling someone demanding they pay up or get sued is "public participation" in any way. Here's how Rightscorp makes its argument however: The abuse of process claim should be dismissed under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, as Plaintiff’s attempt to recover damages from Defendants and enjoin them from making further subpoena applications impermissibly impairs Defendants’ free speech and petitioning rights. The imposition of the remedies Plaintiff seeks is prohibited as it would unduly burden Defendants’ efforts to invoke legal process to identify copyright violators who illegally distribute Rightscorp’s clients’ protected works. As the California courts have consistently held, claims attacking a defendant’s efforts to invoke the legal system are subject to being automatically stricken under anti-SLAPP. But that's not true at all. It's hard to see how anyone can argue that merely filing a subpoena for information is protected free speech. There are plenty of situations where courts have ruled that such subpoenas are inappropriate -- including (as mentioned above) in nearly identical cases. It's not a free speech issue at all. But having gone down this path, Warner Bros. (Rightscorp's main client) has decided to chime in as well [pdf]. Specifically, Plaintiff’s claim impermissibly challenges Defendant’s petitioning conduct, which is protected under California’s anti-SLAPP statute. While I'm not convinced that Pietz's class action will survive (for a variety of reasons), the idea that the lawsuit itself should be barred under California's anti-SLAPP law seems ridiculous. The lawsuit is not seeking to block Rightscorp's First Amendment rights. It's seeking to stop robocalls and illegal subpoenas that are used to allow Rightscorp to shakedown people for settlement money by bombarding them with demands to pay up to avoid being sued.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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April 1st is generally acknowledged to be the shittiest day on the internet. Suddenly, everyone who isn't The Onion thinks they are, and trusted sources of information become sketchy entities in need of copious amounts of side eye. That's the worst of it. Then there are others that celebrate the most worthless of quasi-holidays by going completely overboard. The Record, Buffalo State College's newspaper, turned itself into the The Wreckard on April 1st, publishing several satirical stories. And, in doing so, found out its student government not only couldn't take a joke (like "President Conway-Turner authorizes drone strike on top UB leaders, killing 12"), but was also capable of being offended on behalf of everyone in the community. Some on campus weren’t wild about The Wreckard, including student government president Emily Leminger. She emailed the newspaper staff and told them their April 1 edition was “a very serious matter.” She wrote: It has come to our attention from many students and faculty members that some of the topics discussed in the ‘Wreckard’ satire addition [sic] were offensive to members of Buffalo State and the surrounding community.” Please note that your budget has been frozen, all publications of ‘The Wreckard’ must be removed from campus tomorrow by 5PM and relocated to your office. The offended students and community members failed to materialize in defense of Lemminger's decision. But Record adviser and journalism professor Annemarie Franczyk showed up to criticize the student government's demands. “The April Fools edition of The Record clearly was satire from the obviously altered name and typeface to the topics,” Franczyk said, “which no one should believe to be true. The edition was witty, smart and sharply written and was meant for nothing more but the entertainment of the student body.” Realizing the decision to play the Unspoken (and Unbidden) Feelings of the Unspecified Masses was gaining it zero traction anywhere but in the student government's collective imagination, it swiftly reversed its decision. This announcement followed shortly after its budget-yanking statement. Fortunately, the student government only controls the purse strings, rather than writes the articles. Hello Community & The Record, After much consideration; we have reconsidered our actions about freezing your newspaper budget. Our initial actions were made based on the concerns we received from several students. As United Students Government, students come first. The removal of the "April Fools" edition of the paper was called in order to protect our students from feeling uncomfortable. However, The Record you're our students as well! & the freedom of speech and press proves that us limiting your distribution, is not right. After considering both sides of concerns, we will continue on reaching out to The Record for a meeting where a medium can be reached. We appreciate all of the efforts from alumni, media, and students pertaining the issue. Communication is the most important tool of all, and we would like for The Record to be a wonderful platform for communication to our community, as well as making sure students feel comfortable and protected by USG. Once again, we look forward to talking to The Record at their earliest convenience. Thank you to all. -USG Team As an ode to free speech, it's anything but. It possibly works better as a paean to the flaws in our higher education system -- from its inexplicable desire to protect young adults from any sort of unpleasantness to the unavoidable feeling it's cranking out a generation of graduates who can't communicate fluently in their native language, much less be convinced that punctuation isn't the "salt" of written communication: something to be scattered liberally and randomly across bland and badly-composed prose in hopes of "taking it to the next level." Lessons were learned… and quickly. But will they stick? The announcement suggests the student government prizes "comfort" and "protection" over free speech. This isn't exactly comforting, considering it holds the financial means to sacrifice the latter for the former. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Should a government body attempt to block websites for its own financial gain? [To anyone that answered "Yes," I say, "Really?"] This question doesn't seem to be troubling Quebec's government, which submitted a budget that contained the following -- all without uttering a single word like "conflict" or "interest." In its budget released Thursday, the province said it plans to propose new legislation that would compel Internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to a list of gambling websites drawn up by Loto-Québec. Loto-Québec, of course, is the province's own revenue stream, which allows citizens to contribute extra funds to their government via games of skill. Great stuff for those who enjoy this more voluntary form of taxation, but the internet is full of other options. And that fact makes Loto-Québec very sad. But the government is always willing to cheer itself up! The government states its aim is to direct revenues to its own gambling website, Espacejeux, noting Loto-Québec’s revenues have fallen in recent years and stating, “it is only the online gaming market that has growth prospects.” So, it's hoping to double its money by doubling down on blocking "illegal gambling websites." It cheerfully estimates that -- if it can just get hesitant ISPs on board -- its gambling revenues will generate $13.5 million in 2016-17 and $27 million a year after that, apparently in perpetuity. Now, there are a lot of fallacies in play here, not the least of which is that budgeted income will always meet planned figures forever -- a conclusion made while operating in a vacuum devoid of external circumstances, perverted incentives or the foibles of the public. But it has to get ISPs to agree to enforce Loto-Quebéc's blacklist first, and so far, ISPs aren't expressing any desire to force their customers into a government-created gambling funnel. Bram Abramson, chief legal and regulatory officer for independent ISP TekSavvy Solutions Inc., said the proposed legislation raises concerns about the neutral role of Internet providers. “ISPs are intermediaries and we do what we do best when we act a little bit like utilities: We provide access to the Internet. We should not be put in a position of picking and choosing what people have access to,” he said in an interview Friday. This is all customers want internet providers to be… all over the world: dumb terminals that provide them access to the Web. They don't want government filtering/blockades, throttling, ISP portals, data caps or anything else governments/ISPs have in mind for them. They want an open pipe and access to the tap. That's it. But like all of these listed efforts, this too is being done in the [what a crock] "best interests" of Quebec's internet users. Quebec said the website blocking measure is also aimed at improving public health because “illegal websites do not apply the same responsible gaming rules as Espacejeux. They thus pose a risk to the population, especially young people.” Ah, yes. The "young people." Who hasn't heard numerous stories about the lasting damages inflicted on unwary youths by rogue gambling sites? Why, it's practically Grand Theft Auto meets the Adult Video Awards in there! The only thing troubling Quebec's government is the fact that these sites are horning in on its racket. Michael Geist calls it what it is: …[A] “remarkable and possibly illegal plan as the government seeks to censor the Internet for its own commercial gain.” And those behind the plan to possibly illegally censor the internet to prop up the province's flagging cash cow just keep doubling down. In an interview Friday, Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao said the measures are not in place yet but he believes implementing them is “perfectly feasible.” “This applies to gambling sites, unlicensed gambling sites,” the minister said. “So I don’t think there’s an issue of censorship.” And again, I must say, "Really?" How does a government-ordered blacklist of sites not veer into "censorship" territory, especially when the list of targeted sites was written by a government entity with both eyes on its own bottom line? Beyond that, blocking doesn't work and it always causes collateral damage. Blocking illegalgamblinghotspot.tu might (MIGHT!) be acceptable (if a really questionable use of government power and resources), but doing so solely to hit budget figures dreamed up by imaginative government reps isn't -- especially considering the province has no direct control over telecoms, which would mean dragging Canada's federal government into this sloppy, ill-conceived turf war. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Comcast has consistently crowed about the volume of individuals and organizations that support the company's $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable. Of course the company has just as consistently failed to mention how much of this "support" is from people paid to regurgitate pretty much any Comcast dreck-filled missive that comes stumbling down the road. Want funding for a new events center or a "closing the digital divide" photo op? Just leave independent thought at the door and send lawmakers a pre-written form letter with your name or organization's logo on it. It doesn't take much sleuthing to uncover the money trail, because Comcast (and the politicians and groups beholden to it) usually (with some think tank exceptions) don't bother hiding it. They just outright deny that the money impacts policy positions whatsoever. For example, take reports this week that clearly highlight how Comcast can effectively buy a media sound wall of merger support, then pretend there's nothing untoward about an army of "consultants," minority groups, and fauxcademics all paid to effectively be glorified parrots:"Increased Concentration Does Not Equal Anticompetitive Effect,” Mr. Manne wrote last August, summarizing his submission. He separately wrote pieces in Wired magazine, extolling the virtues of the deal, and through a separate advocacy organization he helps run, called TechFreedom, wrote a blog post that appeared the same day that the deal was announced early last year. Each time, he praised the transaction. But nowhere in these statements does Mr. Manne directly disclose that Comcast is among a small group of donors that finances his nonprofit group, a fact that Mr. Manne confirmed in response to a question late last week. "We are no value to our donors or ourselves unless we maintain our independence and academic rigor,” he said, before adding that “maybe there is some subconscious thing there."Yes, surely Comcast's cash comes associated not with an expectation that you'll give automated and artificial justification to what's frequently very anti-consumer and anti-competitive policies, but that you'll exercise your "independence and academic rigor" and tell Comcast to piss off when you're approached to help "correct perceptions" about the latest Comcast PR campaign. You see there's nothing untoward going on here -- because we say there's nothing untoward going on here. We're all just healthy American patriots busy expressing our First Amendment rights, after all. That logic was mirrored by Comcast's top lobbyist David Cohen -- who calls himself the company's "Chief Diversity Officer" to help skirt lobbying rules (I bring that up every time I write about Cohen because to me it just never gets old). Cohen says he's "offended" by the very idea that Comcast has to pay for its policy support:"He did not dispute that many of the voices supporting the deal received donations from Comcast. But he said he was offended by the suggestion that their endorsements had been made in return for the financial help. "We have never provided financial support to an organization in exchange for support in a transaction,” he said. “Our support is based on the quality of the work they do in the community."Now I'm sure that somewhere there exists a person that actually believes that, but I'd recommend not putting them in charge of your finances (or even lawn care). In Mr. Cohen's head, this is just another conspiracy contributing to the unfair overall "atmospherics" of anti-Comcast sentiment:"The atmospherics around our customer service clearly stir some antipathy among some consumers," Mr. Cohen said. "And it does provide a basis for opponents of the transaction to gin up three-sentence, nonsubstantive communications to the F.C.C. saying that they don’t like Comcast or they don’t like Time Warner Cable."That's a company with arguably the worst customer satisfaction ratings in any industry -- one that manufactures support for bad policies out of thin air -- trying to claim its horrible reputation is somehow manufactured. It's still not clear if regulators plan to deny the merger (or approve it with something vaguely-resembling meaningful conditions), but whatever happens it will spell the end of some fantastic entertainment that easily tops anything in Comcast's channel lineup.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The UK's attempts to filter the Internet of all of its naughty bits are nothing if not amusing, whether it's the nation's porn filter architect getting arrested for child porn, or the complete and total obliviousness when it comes to the slippery slope of expanding those filters to include a growing roster of ambiguously objectionable material. The idea of forcing some kind of overarching structure upon porn consumption in the UK is another idea that never seems to go away, whether it's requiring a "porn license" (requiring users to clearly opt in if they want to view porn) or the latest push -- mandatory age checks. Seemingly unaware of the way the internet (or law, or the world itself) works, some UK lawmakers are now demanding that porn websites around the world include age verification systems, or face fines or closure. How exactly the UK government plans to enforce these restrictions upon a global pornography industry isn't explained. The only thing the UK is sure of is that these restrictions are absolutely necessary for the welfare of the country's tots:"Providers who did not co-operate could also be fined. Mr Javid said: "If you want to buy a hardcore pornography DVD in a store you need to prove your age to the retailers. "With the shift to online, children can access adult content on websites without restriction, intentionally or otherwise. "That is why we need effective controls online that apply to UK and overseas. This is about giving children the best start in life." Well intentioned, perhaps, but it's yet another example of people not realizing how the internet genie has left the bottle, and no amount of thrashing or cajoling is going to re-imprison the agitated djinn. The UK's latest push is being propped up by a flood of recent scary headlines across the UK proclaiming that the country has a porn addiction problem among around a tenth of the nation's 12- and 13-year-olds. In fairly typical media fashion, the stories proclaiming this fact don't really bother to dissect the claims or hunt down the survey's origins. If they had, they might discover that the survey in question was probably about as far from science as you can get without involving clowns and sacrificial altars:"It turns out the study was conducted by a "creative market research" group called OnePoll. "Generate content and news angles with a OnePoll PR survey, and secure exposure for your brand," reads the company's blurb. "Our PR survey team can help draft questions, find news angles, design infographics, write and distribute your story." The company is super popular on MoneySavingExpert.com, where users are encouraged to sign up and make a few quid. Here's what that website says: "Mega-popular for its speedy surveys, OnePoll runs polls for the press, meaning fun questions about celebs and your love life." So the company behind these stats about porn addiction are known for their quick and easy surveys and promise to generate headline-grabbing stats. An unusual choice, perhaps, for such a sensitive subject." While the group behind the effort (Childline) appears well intentioned, there are surely better ways to protect children than by scaring politicians into a global charade of internet booby whac-a-mole. Like, with actual parenting perhaps. Paying attention to what your kids do online, and intelligently explaining sexuality to them before they run into age-inappropriate content would be worlds more effective than demanding the globe's pornography industry capitulate to the whims of the UK's ludditical legislators.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The population of Iceland is unusual in a number of ways. Icelanders are descendants from a relatively small group of early settlers that remained isolated for hundreds of years. They have unmatched genealogical records that allow the family tree of many Icelanders to be traced back a thousand years, and thus for familial interrelationships on the island to be established with unprecedented completeness. Put those together, and you have a population that offers unique advantages for studying human genetics. That fact led to the founding of the Icelandic company Decode, which was set up in the hope that it would be possible to use Iceland's population to pinpoint genes associated with medical conditions, and then come up with new ways of diagnosing, treating and preventing them. That didn't work out, and in 2012, Decode was bought by Amgen. But technology has advanced hugely since Decode's founding in 1996. The cost of sequencing the human genome has fallen dramatically, allowing the DNA of thousands of people to be compared -- something prohibitively expensive 20 years ago. The New York Times reports on research by Decode that has resulted in the sequencing of the genomes of 2,636 Icelanders, the largest collection ever analyzed in a single human population. Because of the completeness of Iceland's genealogical records, Decode's scientists were able to do something rather remarkable: work out the full genomes of another 100,000 Icelanders, a third of the entire country, without collecting any of their DNA. With a technique called imputation, the researchers say they are able to ascertain the full genomes of people they have not even examined. Dr. Stefansson said that means that his firm could generate a report for genetic disease on every person in Iceland. Once those "imputed" genomes have been constructed using computers, they can be interrogated in novel ways: With the push of a button, for instance, the firm can identify every person with the well-known BRCA2 mutation, which dramatically raises the risk of breast and ovarian cancer -- even if they have not submitted to genetic testing themselves. Currently, that information is withheld from Icelanders, but Dr. Stefansson hopes that the government will change its policy. “It’s a crime not to approach these people,” he said. That raises an interesting ethical question. Should people who have never had their genome sequenced be told the results of this kind of computer-based analysis? Although the Icelandic case might seem unique, it is only a matter of time before sequencing costs fall so far that millions, rather than thousands of individuals can be sequenced within a population. And the more genomes that are available, the more imputed genomes that can be calculated, making the ethical dilemmas faced in Iceland something that people in other countries will soon have to confront too. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Undercover cop (and former member of the FBI-NYPD Joint Terrorism Task Force) Patrick Cherry couldn't handle a civilian being uppity. So, he ranted and raved at an Uber driver, who had the temerity to suggest Detective Cherry signal his intention to park his vehicle (via a nonoffensive hand gesture), peppering his unrehearsed speech with obscenities and racial slurs. Patrick Cherry may have been an elite detective (Commissioner Bill Bratton stripped him of his badge, gun and task force position after the incident), but he failed to arrive at one very obvious conclusion before he started slinging slurs and swear words: almost everyone carries a cellphone and almost every cellphone contains a camera. The entire incident was recorded by a passenger. With this undeniable evidence that Detective Cherry is willing to abuse his position to threaten other drivers for questioning his driving skills/actions, the NYPD (and Cherry himself) had no option but to address it. As mentioned above, Commissioner Bratton kicked Cherry of the joint task force. Of course, the detective's union boss felt compelled to blast Bratton for this "unprecedented punishment" in response to a "verbal discourtesy," perhaps inadvertently signalling that any punishment of NYPD detectives is "unprecedented." For reasons that only make sense to Detectives Endowment Association head Michael Palladino, he chose to compare this incident favorably to recent, high-profile officer-involved deaths. "This is neither Ferguson nor Staten Island, but it is receiving equal attention." Again, perhaps inadvertently signalling that any negative attention paid to his union's members is too much attention. Commissioner Bratton fired back by stating the obvious. "No good cop can watch that [video] without a wince," Bratton said when he announced Cherry's punishment. “That officer’s behavior reflected poorly on everyone who wears that uniform.” The supposed state-of-emergency level of attention also forced Patrick Cherry to offer an apology for his behavior. But his "apology" deserves every scare quote appended to it. "I apologize. I sincerely apologize," he said. "People shouldn't be treated that way. I let my emotions get the better of me and I was angry. My intention was to be courteous and then we got into an argument. There was no intention to berate or hurt deeply the driver." It may not have been Cherry's "intention" to "berate or hurt deeply" the person on the other end of his rant, but that's what actually happened. Cherry may not always be angry and unhinged, but the video shows how little it takes to set him off. And if the video hadn't existed, Cherry would still be a badge-carrying member of an elite task force -- free to berate and hurt other citizens until outed on YouTube. But then Cherry went on to blame his victim -- and for the lousiest reason: contempt of special FBI joint terrorism task force detective. Cherry told the network he pulled over the Uber driver to "clarify the problem” and that the driver “got smart” when Cherry asked for his license and registration. "When I walked up, I was uptight. I wanted to know what the problem was. What did I do that was so wrong that I had to get chastised?" Cherry said. "I felt his driving actions were discourteous and impolite and when he stopped he said, 'I'm not going to give you anything."' All the driver asked was what he was being pulled over for. And Cherry refused to answer, choosing instead to berate the driver for not being a purebred American, among other things. If someone refuses to provide identification to an officer, it's well within their rights, unless the officer can give them a better reason than "because I said so." And if they are required to turn over identification, there are remedies for that, none of which involve banging on a vehicle and yelling at its driver. Not only that, but being "discourteous and impolite" isn't a crime. If it was, New York City's jails would be even more well-stocked than they already are. It's just that some law enforcement officers believe it is, and will throw out a barrage of BS charges in hopes that one sticks. This "apology" shows Cherry either isn't used to people questioning his authority or isn't capable of handling these situations with any amount of professionalism. His non-apology "apology" simply provides more evidence that Bratton's "unprecedented" decision to strip him of his badge and power was the correct thing to do. The right way to apologize for an incident like this is to stop after you've admitted your actions were wrong and reflect badly on yourself and your position. Adding "but you have to understand, the guy was being a jerk" just makes you look like one of those people who routinely blame others for their own failings. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Genomic sequencing is becoming more readily available and cheaper by the minute. It's not quite as easy as it looks on TV (ie. we don't have a Star Trek tricorder just yet), but minuscule amounts of DNA are revealing a vast amount of information about our health and our ancestors. This treasure trove of data is literally lying around everywhere just waiting to be collected. The genetic information of 2,636 Icelanders has helped researchers more accurately pin down when the father of all humanity lived -- some time between 174,000 and 321,000 years ago. Our mitochondrial Eve is estimated to have lived about 200,000 years ago. However, our most recent common ancestor (MRCA) likely lived just 2,000-4,000 years ago. [url] A routine blood test can determine the sex of a baby just 7 weeks into a pregnancy. Can we expect people to use the results of these tests responsibly? How accurate do these tests really need to be? [url] A diagnostic test for cancer based on a simple blood test could save a lot of time, money and stress. The Lymphocyte Genome Sensitivity (LGS) test is still in clinical trials, but early results suggest it might be possible to detect cancer or pre-cancerous conditions without requiring biopsies. [url] After you've finished checking out those links, if you have some spare change (or more) and would like to support Techdirt, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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DC District Court judge James E. Boasberg has ruled the CIA can continue to withhold the "Panetta Review" documents in full, thanks to widely-abused FOIA exemption b(5). (via Unredacted) District Court Judge James Boasberg ruled against a journalist on Tuesday who had tried to uncover the classified documents — known as the Panetta Review, because they was completed under orders from former agency Director Leon Panetta — under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The CIA had used “sound” reasoning in keeping the documents secret, Boasberg decided in a 19-page judgment, preventing it from making its way to the public. The journalist in question is every secretive agency's side-thorn, Jason Leopold, who sued the CIA one day after it passed the response deadline. And now this attempt to pry more torture-related documents out of the CIA's hands has hit a dead end. Judge Boasberg agreed that the overbroad exemptions cited are (unsurprisingly) broad enough to cover the CIA's assertion that the 40 memos comprising the Panetta Review must be withheld in full. In the end, requiring disclosure of the Reviews would cause the sort of harm that the deliberative-process privilege was designed to prevent – i.e., inhibiting frank and open communications among agency personnel… Had the SRT known that the Reviews could become public, its members would likely have been tempted to highlight only the information that would paint the agency’s prior actions in a positive light and to avoid calling attention to information that could have embarrassed the agency or its officials. Protecting the agency’s withholdings in this case is thus consistent with the purposes of this exemption… The Court, in sum, concludes that the Reviews are properly withheld under Exemption 5’s deliberative-process privilege. It further agrees that they may be withheld in full. While FOIA requires agencies to release “[a]ny reasonably segregable portion of a record,” 5 U.S.C. § 552(b), it is clear that there are no such portions here. As the agency attests, and as the preceding discussion makes clear, “[t]he entire documents are pre-decisional, deliberative drafts . . . .” Lutz Decl., ¶ 26. Because “the selection of which facts to include [wa]s part and parcel of the deliberative assessment,” no portions can be severed without exposing the deliberative process itself. Two interesting things to note about the Panetta Review and this particular case. First, the CIA seems to be bolstering its FOIA exemption b(5) claims by designating documents as "draft" or "deliberative," no matter what their actual purpose is. In its supporting declaration filed in this lawsuit, it deployed circular reasoning declaring drafts and deliberative documents are drafts and deliberative documents because they are clearly marked as such by the CIA. In a court filing last month as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, a C.I.A. officer said that the review had been stopped abruptly in 2010, had not covered all of the documents the agency had given to the committee and “had not been formally reviewed or relied upon by the C.I.A.’s senior leadership.” “Each document is stamped ‘DELIBERATIVE PROCESS PRIVILEGED DOCUMENT’ at the top of every page, and most of the documents are marked ‘DRAFT’ on every page as well,” wrote the C.I.A. officer, Martha M. Lutz. The CIA's internal document designations seem to bear some resemblance to the NYPD's use of its "SECRET" stamp -- which is deployed arbitrarily and without oversight to declare certain documents out of the reach of Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests. If the CIA feels exemption b(5) gives it the best chance to keep documents out of the hands of journalists like Jason Leopold. it can slap these designations on as many papers as possible and mention its predetermination in FOIA lawsuit declarations. Second, Boasberg's refusal to challenge even a single exemption assertion by the CIA isn't particularly good news, considering his recent appointment to the FISA court. While he has pushed back on government secrecy in the past, he's also been just as likely to grant its wishes. Considering he's replacing FISA Judge Reggie Walton -- one of the few FISA judges to openly question surveillance tactics and hold the NSA accountable for its abuses -- this latest decision seems to indicate his appointment is a downgrade in terms of government accountability. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Back in 2008, Verizon proclaimed that we didn't need additional consumer privacy protections (or opt in requirements, or net neutrality rules) because consumers would keep the company honest. "The extensive oversight provided by literally hundreds of thousands of sophisticated online users would help ensure effective enforcement of good practices and protect consumers," Verizon said at the time. Six years later and Verizon found itself at the heart of a massive privacy scandal after it began covertly injecting unique user-tracking headers into wireless data packets. The headers not only allow Verizon to ignore browser privacy settings to track online behavior, it allows third parties to do so as well (something Verizon initially denied). Worse, perhaps, while users could opt out of the personalized ads delivered by the system, they couldn't actually opt out of having their online behavior tracked. Initially, Verizon responded to the controversy by repeatedly downplaying it, but as it became clear regulators and lawyers were contemplating action, Verizon stated in February that it would finally let users opt out. As of last week, Verizon's mobile advertising FAQ now states that users can choose whether they want to let Verizon manipulate their traffic and spy on them:"Verizon Wireless has updated its systems so that we will stop inserting the UIDH after a customer opts out of the Relevant Mobile Advertising program or activates a line that is ineligible for the advertising program. Government and enterprise lines are examples of ineligible lines. The UIDH will still appear for a short period of time after a customer opts out of the Relevant Mobile Advertising program or activates an ineligible line. If a customer chooses to participate in Verizon Selects, the UIDH will be present even if the customer has also opted out of the RMA program."Users can either opt out of the company's snoopvertising via the privacy settings at the Verizon website, or by calling 866-211-0874. So was Verizon right in that the public would keep the company honest? While that did ultimately happen here, it's worth noting that it took the nation's best security researchers two years to even notice that Verizon was embedding the headers. It took Verizon another six months (and a pretty merciless and sustained beating from the media and privacy advocates) before it finally allowed users to opt out of the traffic manipulation. And, while groups like the EFF would prefer the system be opt in, this is likely where Verizon's latest privacy scandal gets put to bed. It makes you wonder just how long it will take the public to discover Verizon's next great innovation in snoopvertising?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
In the last few months, the small group of slimeballs who ran revenge porn websites have mostly been taken down by the legal system. The FTC went after Craig Brittain (though, weakly). Kevin Bollaert was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in jail. And Hunter Moore took a plea deal that will send him to jail for a while. Another revenge porn purveyor, Casey Meyering is about to face a trial. Not everyone will agree with whether or not the punishments are reasonable or fair (and you can definitely argue that the difference in punishment between Brittain and Bollaert is insane -- given that Brittain appears to have done the same thing as Bollaert, and actually did it first). On top of that, platforms like Twitter and Reddit have both changed their terms of service to make it much more difficult to use either to promote revenge porn. However, the good thing is that all of this legal activity and platform policy changes have worked in terms of making it clear that revenge porn is not a worthwhile pursuit. According to Adam Steinbaugh, who is famous for tracking down and exposing the people who run revenge porn sites, all of this activity means that almost all revenge porn sites in the US have shut down. He believes there's still one left (which we won't name here), but we'll see how long that lasts. And... even though various states have rushed to pass anti-revenge porn laws, none of the cases above relied on such laws. Rather they used existing laws around unauthorized computer hacking and extortion to bring those individuals and sites down. And yet, we still hear from politicians who insist that we need new laws -- laws that will put important safe harbors like Section 230 at risk. Laws that may, also, run up against the First Amendment. Apparently, even as existing laws and voluntary efforts have thankfully pushed revenge porn far away, people still want to grandstand over it. The latest is Senator Al Franken. Franken is often good on tech policy issues (though he was on the wrong side of SOPA). For reasons unknown, he's suddenly decided that revenge porn is a big issue that he needs to take on. In a letter to FBI Director James Comey on Friday, the Minnesota Democrat said he hoped the government would ramp up its recent steps to address the problem. You can read the letter [pdf] yourself and see. The letter notes the conviction of Hunter Moore (but not the others) and the moves by Twitter and Reddit, but somehow fails to note that these efforts have been rather successful in reducing the easy access to revenge porn. Instead, he demands more action. In light of this, I request that you provide information on all legal authorities available to the FBI to investigate cases involving the nonconsensual disclosure of sexually explicit images and any statistics on how your authorities, including federal hacking and identity theft laws, have been used to combat conduct of this nature. Furthermore, I ask that you provide information on any limitations in current law that you have identified that may have prevented the FBI from conducting investigations and making arrests in cases of nonsconsensual disclosure of sexually explicit images. Of course, it doesn't take that much looking to recognize that the Justice Department has, in fact, spent a lot of time going after malicious hackers who have been breaking in to phones and computers to leak nude photos. But Franken seems to ignore all of that. Instead, the language used in the letter suggests that Franken is going to release a federal anti-revenge porn law to give the feds even more power to go after people. There have been a few such attempts in the past to put forth federal anti-revenge porn laws and they've all been very, very problematic. This is not saying that revenge porn isn't a problem -- but the "solution" in the form of legislation will have massive and dangerous consequences for free speech and innovation online -- all to deal with a problem that has already mostly been eliminated, and where further steps can easily be taken without passing dangerous new laws that undermine Section 230 of the CDA or the First Amendment. Or which would create new penalties in dangerous ways that could be abused like the CFAA. For Senator Franken -- who often presents himself as being one of the more internet savvy politicians -- to be moving in a direction that could undermine key rules that helped make the internet what it is today is a big problem. Over the last few months we've seen how existing laws and a few small changes to existing platforms can be used to make most of these bad sites go away. Do we really need to pass sweeping new laws that will undoubtedly have serious additional consequences?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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