posted 22 days ago on techdirt
Learn how to master Arduino with the 2017 Arduino Starter Kit and Course Bundle. You get the ARDX Arduino Starter Kit, which pairs a detailed, illustrated guide with all the parts you need to build your own circuits. Perfect for beginners, this kit requires no experience and teaches you to use Arduino to control lights, buzzers, and more. The $75 bundle also includes access to 9 ebooks and 15+ hours of instruction designed to help you master working with Ardunio. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
What's up, FBI? Back in early 2015, when the FBI and (specifically) Director James Comey ramped up their silly "going dark" moral panic about how strong encryption was making us less safe, I sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the FBI for all of the FBI's internal talking points about "going dark" or other views on encryption. My main reason for this was really to see if I might uncover some of the reasoning for why the FBI had quietly deleted a page on its website that encouraged people to encrypt their phones. It took until May of last year, but the FBI finally delivered me a stack of talking points, mostly focused on talking point lists and speeches given by Comey. I never wrote about it because the talking points alone weren't even that interesting. In fact, I'd almost totally forgotten about that entire request. But then, a few weeks ago, right here on this site, Tim Cushing wrote about the latest escapades of Jason Leopold, the reporter whose use of FOIA requests is so prolific that he's been dubbed a "FOIA terrorist" by the DOJ. It turns out that Leopold had made a similar request to the FBI... and was told that while they had found 487 responsive records, they were giving him a grand total of 0 of them, because they were all subject to restrictions on release. In that article, Cushing, rightly explains why this is ridiculous. The whole point of "talking points" is to share them with the public. There is simply no FOIA exemption that allows for blocking them. But this was even more bizarre to me for the simple fact that the FBI had already sent me many of those documents. I didn't add up all the pages sent to me, but I can tell it's probably closer to about 100 pages than 487, so clearly the FBI is likely lying to me as well in terms of how many "responsive" documents there really were, but I'm confused as to why the FBI couldn't release these kinds of documents to Leopold. I mean, just imagine the chaos that would have occurred if the FBI had obeyed the law and given Leopold such talking points as: Thank goodness that didn't happen. Either way, I'm embedding all the files the FBI released to me below, just in case Leopold finds them more useful than I did -- such as using them as potentially useful evidence in the lawsuit he should file against the FBI for not releasing these same documents to him. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
AT&T is pretty damn excited about former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai, Trump's new industry-cozy pick to head the FCC. That's in large part because Pai has made it clear his goal isn't just to gut net neutrality, new broadband privacy rules and most of the other consumer protections pushed by former FCC boss and and former dingo Tom Wheeler -- but to help dismantle the agency's role as consumer watchdog entirely. Of course, AT&T put things a little differently in a blog post applauding the selection: "Today, on his first official day in office, President Trump designated Ajit Pai as the new FCC Chairman. No one is more prepared to reframe the agency to address the needs of this rapidly changing marketplace. Chairman Pai will work with his fellow Commissioners to quickly and decisively put back in place the commonsense regulatory framework necessary to support the President’s agenda for job creation, innovation and investment." Anybody who actually believes this has simply not been paying attention to Pai's tenure at the agency, during which he consistently refused to stand up to large ISPs in absolutely any capacity. That includes downvotes on numerous attempts to hold AT&T accountable for outright fraud, whether it was the time AT&T was caught actively making its bills more confusing to help make it easier for crammers and scammers, the time AT&T was caught ripping off a program designed to help low income families, or that time AT&T was busted for turning a blind eye to drug dealers running directory assistance scams on AT&T customers. So sure. AT&T's pretty excited about the fact it's potentially facing little to no accountability for what's a well-documented history of anti-competitive behavior and fraudulent activity. But it's also just thrilled by the idea that net neutrality rules could soon be sent to the digital dustbin of history, allowing AT&T to, in its own words, "go hard" on this whole zero rating thing: "With a new operator-friendly FCC chairman in place, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said to expect the operator to “go hard” with its controversial “zero rating” strategy for its virtual MVPD service, DirecTV Now. “Our customers are loving this value proposition,” Stephenson said during AT&T’s fourth quarter earnings call Wednesday. “We have more than 200,000 DirecTV Now customers on it, the service is not counting against their data cap, and that’s a big deal." Except the "value proposition" AT&T's presenting isn't much of a value at all. Sure, some consumers labor under the illusion they're getting "free stuff" because AT&T's graciously letting them stream AT&T's content without running afoul of its arbitrary usage caps. But in reality, AT&T's preferential treatment of its own content simply repositions the cost burden to competing services while distorting the overall competitive market. You know, like the outgoing FCC told AT&T when it sheepishly and belatedly told the company it was violating net neutrality and acting anticompetitively just a few weeks and a universe ago. Moving forward, the name of the game for AT&T will be to play kissy face with the new administration in the hopes of blind, blanket deregulation, some lovely tax cuts, additional unaccountable subsidies (these telcos have received billions over the years for networks either barely or half-deployed), and approval for the company's $100 billion acquisition of Time Warner: "I got to tell you, I was impressed,” Stephenson said (after meeting Donald Trump). “It was obvious I was meeting with a CEO. He has a very clear agenda—tax reform and regulatory reform. I can tell you that he’s focused on these things. And I left with a degree of optimism that this could be pulled off this year." Describing himself as a “supply-side guy,” Stephenson added that “If you saw tax rates move to 20-25%, we know what we would do. We would step up our investment rate." In regards to deregulation, he added, “Nobody thinks that regulations should go away. We all believe the customer needs protection. But the problem is that we’ve had regulation that’s unpredictable, and it’s interfering with how we’re designing products, how we enter markets." AT&T's a master in promising broadband deployment it never actually delivers in exchange for regulatory favors and government handouts, and has been doing it for decades without much fact-checking from the media. AT&T's also incredibly good at bullshitting the press and public into falsely believing that massive telecom megamergers actually create jobs, despite thirty years of documentable history proving the exact opposite. So despite Trump's campaign-trail promise to block AT&T's latest megamerger (largely believed to be little more than pouting over negative CNN coverage), there's an incredible opportunity here to field a merger sales pitch bullshit supernova -- the scope and scale of which we've never seen before. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
Ransomware is everywhere. And it's affecting everything, including critical systems. Sure, it's kind of humiliating to be locked out of your smart TV, but hospitals are being locked out of patient records and --in a new twist -- hotel guests are being locked out of their rooms. Then there's something like this, where the chain of evidence is disrupted by ransomware purveyors. The Cockrell Hill Police Department lost video evidence and a cache of digital documents after hackers invaded the department’s computer system last month. Stephen Barlag, Cockrell Hill's police chief, said the incident was not the work of hackers, but acknowledged that the incident included a computer-generated ransom demand. "This was not a hacking incident," Barlag said in a news release Wednesday evening. "No files or confidential information was breached or obtained by any outside parties." [Rather entertaining to note WFAA's opening sentence is immediately contradicted by the Police Chief's statements. #journalism] While it's reassuring no evidence was obtained by outside parties, it's not that much more reassuring to hear the owner of the data couldn't access it either. The PD consulted with the FBI before coming to conclusion that the files might still be inaccessible even if it did pay the $4,000 ransom. The department, however, is not being all that upfront about the possible negative effect this might have on criminal defendants, who might want to challenge the evidence against them or look through it for anything exculpatory. The department -- despite admitting its backup was similarly infected -- claims this is no big deal. Barlag said of the lost files, “none of this was critical information.” Define "critical." "Well, that depends on what side of the jail cell you're sitting," said J. Collin Beggs, a Dallas criminal defense lawyer who has a client charged in a Cockrell Hill felony evading case involving some of the lost video evidence. This would be video evidence Beggs has been asking for since last summer -- well before the PD's files were wiped out by ransomware. It could be very critical information, despite Police Chief Barlag's assertion to the contrary. What's useful to a defendant is seldom viewed as useful by law enforcement. Hence the difference of opinion. But even while stating nothing of (subjective) value was lost, Chief Barlag did admit there was a possibility that defense lawyers might be interested in finding out what evidence might no longer be available. And the department may not have made this loss public if it hadn't needed to speak to defendants about its inability to secure relevant evidence. Barlag said he didn’t know how much of of the digital material lost was evidence in pending criminal cases, but acknowledged that some of it was. He said no cases have been dismissed that he knows of because of the losses. Well… yet. The infection wasn't discovered until December 12th and the department didn't go public until more than a month after that. So, news that evidence needed in prosecutions may not be available has spread very slowly. And the details of what's recoverable makes it clear that the department values narrative over less-biased documentation. The police reports are retained in hard copy. Any recordings of incidents detailed in these reports are apparently backed up in a more haphazard fashion. Some of the videos were backed up on CDs, but those that were not are lost. No police reports, nor any criminal history information, was lost, Barlag said. Comforting… for the police department. Not so much for criminal defendants, who are going to have an even harder time arguing against "our word vs. yours" assertions -- which cops can back up with police reports while giving defendants nothing at all to push back with. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
I'm not sure there is a more annoying group of stories about trademark protectionism than that of the "12th Man." What most likely assume is a common term at football games, popularly denoting the impact a raucous crowd can have on the opposing team, is actually a closely guarded trademarked term of Texas A&M. So closely guarded, in fact, that the school has not only policed use of the term by other football organizations, but it has also seen fit to threaten breweries and double-amputees over their use of the term. So concerned is Texas A&M by the moral position on intellectual property, in other words, that there are no limits on how it will act to protect its trademark. That includes violating someone else's intellectual property, it seems. It appears the university is being sued for copyright infringement after having posted on its website a large swath of an unpublished book by an author on the history of Texas A&M, all in order to bolster its own claims on the trademark for the "12th Man." Alabama resident and author Michael J. Bynum sued the Texas A&M University Athletic Department, the Texas A&M University 12th Man Foundation and three school employees on Thursday in the Southern District of Texas, claiming the athletic department posted the “heart” of his unpublished book “12th Man: The Life and Legend of Texas A&M’s E. King Gill” on its website “nearly word-for-word” in January 2014 without his permission... He made several trips from Alabama to Texas, visiting Gill’s high school in Dallas and Texas A&M University where he met with Brad Marquardt and Alan Cannon, media-relations employees in the school’s athletic department. Cannon and Marquardt are now defendants in the lawsuit. Shortly after a follow-up email exchange to Marquardt about the book, the infringing post made up of a draft Bynum had sent to the defendants suddenly appeared on the school's website. Gone from the post was the copyright notice Bynum had included on his draft, along with apparently any attribution to Bynum himself as the author of the work. That post was then used to bolster the ownership claim to the "12th Man" by the school against the Seattle Seahawks, with whom the school eventually worked out a licensing deal for the term. In other words, Texas A&M committed copyright infringement in order to try and protect a fairly generic trademark. Now, in fairness to Marquardt and the school, the post was taken down when Bynum called the next day to complain. Marquardt even offered the following explanation for how this all happened in an email to Bynum. “It was an incredibly coincidental mix-up on my part,” the email said. “I was cleaning my office, which you may recall is generally a cluttered mess. While going through files, I found a story of the 12th Man on some slightly yellowed 8.5×11 paper. I had no recollection of it [sic] origin. Look, for the everyday man, this kind of incidental copyright infringement might seem like a reasonable mistake to have made. But, of course, this is Texas A&M we're talking about, and the school is super into intellectual property protection. Certainly its officials ought to know better than to simply post anything they might find on yellowing printer paper that happens to be lying around the office from who-knows-where? And the taking down of the post might have been fine if the school's post hadn't managed to go viral almost immediately after it had been posted. It's sort of fun how you can pretty much set your watch to how those who are the most vociferous in protecting intellectual property will be caught violating it. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
It certainly looks for all the world like Denuvo is unraveling as a valid option for DRM in video games. The software, once described as the final solution to piracy, has had its defenses cracked in time intervals following an exponentially shorter curve. For how long it would take to crack a Denuvo-protected video game, reality went from "never", to "months", to "less months" in the case of the latest Doom game. After Doom was cracked, and after the developer removed Denuvo from the software via a patch, the makers of Denuvo spun it as a victory, stating that developers were protecting their games during the early release window and then removing it later. But then Resident Evil 7, protected by Denuvo, was cracked in under a week's time. With its spin halted by this new reality, Denuvo's response has changed slightly to: hey, it could be worse! Now, Denuvo is defending its "Anti-Tamper" technology, saying it's still the best copy protection currently available. "It's correct that the title in question was cracked some days after release," Denuvo Marketing Director Thomas Goebl told Eurogamer. That said, "Given the fact that every unprotected title is cracked on the day of release—as well as every update of games—our solution made a difference for this title." It's a response as bold as it is simple: five is a number greater than zero. And, hey, that's true. Every positive number is greater than zero. Like, oh I don't know, the cost of Denuvo licensing being greater than the zero it costs to not implement it at all. If we're going to boil this all down to simple math equations, it seems to me the most important equation should be is X greater than or equal to Y, with X being the amount of money a few days of DRM protection provides and Y being the cost of using Denuvo DRM. With a cracking window short enough that I can count the number of days it takes on one hand, it strains the mind to understand how X could possibly be greater than Y. And keep in mind that Denuvo prefaced this by stating that its DRM was the best on the market. And that's true! But that doesn't say anything positive for the value of Denuvo, while at the same time telling game companies all they should need to know about the value of DRM in general: it doesn't work. And not only does it not work, but you don't get your money back after it fails to do its job. Goebl did deny earlier reports that publishers were being issued refunds after their Denuvo-protected games had been cracked. "We do not have any deals in place that offer refunds if a game is cracked within a specific time frame," the company told Eurogamer. Hey, at least they're being upfront about it. Game developers can buy a thing that doesn't work and doesn't come with a refund, or they could notice that Resident Evil 7 continues to sell very, very well, piracy and all. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
For some time now, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has been taking broadband companies to task for advertising broadband speeds they consistently fail to deliver. Last year, Schneiderman's office brought in Tim Wu, Columbia professor and the man who coined the term net neutrality, to help dig into the data. With Wu as the AG's "senior lawyer and special adviser," Schneiderman sent letters to NYC area broadband incumbents Verizon, Cablevision and Time Warner Cable -- questioning whether they actually deliver the speeds they advertise. This morning, Schneiderman made his findings clear via a lawsuit against Charter Communications, which accuses the cable giant of "defrauding" millions of customers by advertising broadband speeds it's incapable of delivering. According to the AG's compiled data and full complaint (pdf), Charter routinely and consistently advertised "fast, reliable connections" that were anything but: "The suit alleges that subscribers’ wired internet speeds for the premium plan (100, 200, and 300 Mbps) were up to 70 percent slower than promised; WiFi speeds were even slower, with some subscribers getting speeds that were more than 80 percent slower than what they had paid for. As alleged in the complaint, Spectrum-TWC charged New Yorkers as much as $109.99 per month for premium plans could not achieve speeds promised in their slower plans. The complaint also alleges that Charter (now branded as Spectrum) and Time Warner Cable (recently acquired in Charter's recent $79 billion megamerger) knew full well they were shortchanging customers and lagging in necessary upgrades, and they just didn't give much of a damn: "The AG’s investigation also found that Spectrum-TWC executives knew that the company’s hardware and network were incapable of achieving the speeds promised to subscribers, but nevertheless continued to make false representations about speed and reliability. The investigation further revealed that while Spectrum-TWC earned billions of dollars in profits from selling its high-margin Internet service to millions of New York subscribers, it repeatedly declined to make capital investments necessary to improve its network or provide subscribers with the necessary hardware." It's worth noting that government data fairly consistently shows that ISPs usually deliver advertised speeds. Back in 2011, the FCC began recruiting volunteers who use custom-firmware embedded routers to provide real-world broadband connection performance data. Initially, the FCC found that many ISPs didn't deliver advertised speeds. But as the agency increasingly named and shamed the worst offenders, many ISPs began over-provisioning their broadband tiers -- effectively giving users more bandwidth than was advertised. The program was a relative success, but it's not likely to be continued under the new, more industry cozy FCC. That said, the volume of traffic generated by New York City residents requires a little extra effort; effort that tends to not materialize when companies face limited competition. In New York, Charter acquired Time Warner Cable, whose biggest competitor was Verizon -- a company that has little to no interest in even being in the fixed-line broadband market, and has taken repeated heat from New York City officials for failing to uniformly upgrade the company's fiber network (taking subsidies and tax breaks then failing to do much with them has been Verizon's MO for a generation). To be clear, Schneiderman drawing attention to Charter's failure is generally a good thing. That said, failures to track how subsidies are spent, failures to hold ISPs accountable for failed promises, the relentless thirst for consolidation, and the negative repercussions of blindly approving telecom megamergers -- are all ignored by most regulators (and Schneiderman) pretty much on a weekly basis. So when someone like this comes sweeping in late in the game to protect consumers, you should probably ask why they aren't doing more, more consistently, to protect telecom customers before the bill arrives. With the priority in the telecom sector being megamergers, buying protectionist state laws and extracting ever-more money for the same relatively dismal service, it's not particularly surprising that the companies offer poor service at high prices, with some of the worst customer service in any industry in America. And with a Trump-era FCC preparing to let these companies dictate telecom policy for the forseeable future, and Wall Street gushing over the idea of a possible Verizon-Charter supermerger, you'd have to use some pretty creative mathematics to suggest this scenario gets better anytime soon, belated NY AG lawsuit or not. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
I realize that there are much bigger issues at hand right now, but those of us who follow copyright, patent and trademark policy have been somewhat perplexed about what a Trump administration might do on that front. The issue was basically entirely ignored by Trump and his campaign during election season. And because of that, you now have lots of organizations on all sides of the debate pressing Trump to simply buy into their views of intellectual property, no matter how inane. However, I recently came across a piece at Business Insider, entitled "Why intellectual property theft is one of the biggest crimes threatening the US economy," that was so clueless of the actual issues related to intellectual property, that I went to see who wrote it -- only to discover that the author, Diana Furchtgott-Roth, was on Trump's transition team (something that is not disclosed by Business Insider for unknown reasons). This does not bode well. The whole article is problematic and confused, so let's dive in. Many assert that President-elect Donald Trump is against free trade. Well, that's mainly because Trump himself has argued that free trade is harmful to American interests and has repeatedly argued for protectionist tariffs and other anti-free trade policies. But standing against the theft of intellectual property and old-fashioned mercantilism, as Trump has promised to do, is an appropriate role for the chief executive. Allowing other countries to cheat us is not free trade. So, already, we're left with a big giant "huh?" Copyright policy, in particular, is itself a leftover remnant of mercantilism. Patents and copyrights are protectionist anti-free trade policies by their very nature. Historically, patents were a key part of anti-free trade protectionist programs by governments, in which they'd give the sole right to produce certain goods to certain "friends" and block out all others. And that's what copyright and patent law today continue to do, in a slightly modernized form. They still involve central government bureaucracies handing out monopolies and the blocking of free trade. It's kind of bizarre to argue that actual competition is "old fashioned mercantilism" when copyright and patents themselves are directly old-fashioned mercantilism in action. And, sure, allowing countries to "cheat" may not be free trade, but what do we mean by "cheating" here, because it mostly sounds like copying. And copying is actually a key part of free market capitalism, because it's a part of competition and a driver of innovation. How do you compete when someone copies you? You innovate and keep making your product or service better. That shouldn't be seen as cheating -- it should be seen as competing in a free market world. Copyright and patent laws that are too strict directly impede on that free market. From there, the article gets even more inane. People throughout the world identify with American art, music, software, and clothing designs, and benefit from American pharmaceuticals and patents. Weird to include clothing designs in that list, since clothing designs are, somewhat famously, not protected by copyright, which has helped it thrive (thanks to competition and rapid innovation). But, more importantly, Furchtgott-Roth seems to make the totally amateur mistake here of assuming that the product output here is the same thing as "intellectual property laws." This is common among people who either don't understand the space, or who are misrepresenting the role of copyright or patent laws to push an agenda. The argument relies on the simple fallacy that because some of these things (again, notably not clothing designs) are protected by intellectual property laws, they only exist because of those intellectual property laws, and therefore, we have those laws to thank for them existing. But, of course, nearly all of the evidence contradicts this -- especially in areas of art, music and software. Those are all areas where we've seen much more creative output over the past couple of decades, even as "piracy" and infringement have increased. The reason we've seen so much output has little to nothing to do with the state of intellectual property laws, but much more to do with innovations, such as the internet and computer technology, that have made it easier than ever to create, produce, edit, distribute, promote and monetize works... without having to rely on gatekeepers. Yet American intellectual property is routinely stolen. You mean infringed. It's kind of an important distinction. Each year, the United States Trade Representative publishes a report entitled “Special 301 Report” on intellectual property theft—yet does nothing about it. Oh goodness. Where to start. First of all, the Special 301 Report is widely considered a total joke by basically everyone with any knowledge of it outside of the USTR. As I've said before, I've even seen the copyright maximalists at the Copyright Office mock the report. Canada has an official stance that it does not recognize the Special 301 report, because the methodology is a complete and utter joke. More recently, Chile announced a similar position. And that's because it is a total joke. There is no methodology. Basically, the USTR allows anyone to submit their "complaints" about certain countries, and it becomes a Festivus-style "airing of the grievances" for special interests. It's mainly the MPAA, RIAA and similar maximalist organizations that go around whining about any country that won't pass their preferred laws, even in situations where those laws go way, way, way beyond what we require in the US. One of the reasons, for example, that Canada ignores the Special 301 report was that for years the MPAA got the USTR to put it on the really bad list because Canada wouldn't criminalize people filming movies in movie theaters. From there, the USTR basically just picks and chooses whose complaints it likes the most, and rewrites the complaints into the Special 301 report. There is no data. There is no analysis. There is just the whining of the MPAA/RIAA, the USTR and what countries they decide need to be smacked down. Amusingly, if you submit a report to the USTR about how some country is abusing user rights -- such as trampling on fair use, well, the USTR will completely ignore that. Also the "do nothing about it" part is incredibly ignorant of what happens once a country is put on one of the "naughty" lists of the Special 301. At that point, US diplomats start putting ridiculous levels of pressure on those countries to change their laws. The Special 301 report was used to absolutely bully Sweden and Spain into ratcheting up their copyright laws, despite the fact that the public was totally against it in both cases. A few years ago, the US used the Special 301 to bully Ukraine in a way that likely violated the WTO. In short, the total joke of a policy is (unfortunately) regularly used to apply strong diplomatic pressure on countries to change laws. But that's apparently not enough for Furchgott-Roth, who acts as if she just discovered the Special 301 before writing up this piece. She wants more: America should take a tough line with countries on the USTR’s Section 301 Priority Watch List. Here are five suggestions. We could limit their commercial activities in the United States. Alternatively, we could limit imports of those products with their intellectual property—or ours. When an American company is being harassed in a foreign country, we could haul the ambassador in and ask what is going on. If China holds up our imports, we could hold up their imports. If the country is on the special watch list, the Commerce Department could request the International Trade Administration do audits of intellectual property protection in those countries. We could limit, and not expand, the commercial activities of countries on that watch list. If a country appears for a second year on the list, the Commerce Secretary could be required to prepare a special report to the President on remedial actions. Yikes. Again, the list itself is a joke based on no methodology and we already use it to apply a disproportionate level of diplomatic pressure on the countries on that list. And yet, this suggestion is to make it worse. That's not "free trade" that's good old fashioned protectionism of American goods. It's the opposite of free trade. So the crux of this plan is basically letting the MPAA/RIAA decide who the US should block all trade with. What could possibly go wrong? And, as a kicker, Furchtgott-Roth, suggests that the fact that China has literally been kidnapping book publishers and sellers it doesn't like as a good example of how it can crack down on copying. Really. Countries may tell us that it is impossible for them to prevent their citizens from copying our goods. But when China, for example, can make book publishers in Hong Kong disappear because it disagrees with the content of the books, it can certainly close down the fake Apple stores. For once, I'm at a loss for words. Supporting making political dissidents disappear as a good example of how an authoritarian regime might deal with basic competition is downright frightening. But, unfortunately, this may be what we have to look forward to under a Trump administration. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
Record your car trips day or night with the $31 Gypsy Wireless Night Vision Dash Cam. This little camera records in 1080p and has night-vision to help you record what happens in the dark. The dash cam comes with a built-in screen so passengers can see what's being recorded in real time. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
The Intercept has obtained another secret document -- this one pertaining to the FBI's confidential informant program. The sprawling web of so-called Confidential Human Sources (CHS) is examined in multiple posts at the site. (The document, unfortunately, consists of multiple photos of the source pages, so it won't be embedded below.) In addition to things already known about the FBI's aggressive pursuit of informants -- including using the CBP to push incoming foreigners to act as informants by threatening to withhold travel privileges or approval of visa applications -- there's much, much more contained in the FBI's guidelines. One of the interesting aspects is the government's payment of informants. Considering the FBI has more than 15,000 informants in its network, there's always the possibility evidence produced by CHSs could be challenged if it appears the FBI is using private individuals to bypass warrant requirements (with "private" searches) or otherwise routing around legal restrictions pertaining to its investigations. From the information obtained, it appears the FBI's inelegant workaround is to obscure the money flow in order to head off questions of propriety. The picture that emerges is of an approach that borrows some of the sophistication of modern banking. The bureau has devised a variety of ways to pay informants, including directly, before or after trial; via reimbursements; and through a cut of asset forfeitures. The guide provides some options that are clearly preferable when trying to sway a jury at trial, even as it explicitly disclaims selecting them for such reasons. That doesn't stop informants from making big money. There are some additional levels of approval needed when hitting $100k/$500k per year in payments, but for the most part, money flowing to informants isn't watched that closely by the agency. As is stated above, the FBI apparently uses bogus expense reimbursements to pay informants, giving it the outward appearance of someone working for the agency out of the goodness of their heart, rather than for the thousands of dollars they eventually receive. Putting money on the table -- even implicitly -- tends to skew priorities. Additional income is hard to give up, even when there's not much criminal activity to report. As we've seen in other law enforcement agencies heavily-reliant on confidential informants, promise of continuing payments results in bogus reports that exaggerate the amount of criminal activity witnessed and portray non-suspicious activities as worthy of deeper investigation. Possibly the most perverse incentive is the FBI's asset forfeiture program. The ability to directly profit from seized property gives the agency all the nudge that's needed to worry about seizures first and convictions later, if at all. The documents show the FBI cuts informants in on this government-ordained scam, giving even more people -- none of them trained law enforcement agents -- reason to seek cash, cars, and property, rather than the criminals they're supposed to keeping any eye on. In addition to compensation, an informant may be eligible for 25 percent of the net value of any property forfeited as a result of the investigation, up to $500,000 per asset, according to the guide. This can be a particularly lucrative benefit for drug informants, whose cases sometimes result in the forfeiture of planes, boats, cars, and real estate. While the guidelines specifically state the FBI is not allowed to structure its payments to hide their true nature from judges, juries, and criminal defendants, the agency apparently treats this as nothing more than empty words written in service of maintaining plausible deniability. Craig Monteilh, a bodybuilder who worked undercover as an informant for the FBI by spying on mosques in Southern California, said he received $177,000 from the FBI over a one-year period. Monteilh said that his compensation was disguised as expense reimbursements. He said he provided receipts for everything — rent, car payments, gasoline, medical bills, food, even for the steroids he was taking — to justify an $8,200 monthly expense bill. “Most informants are criminals. So the FBI gets that,” Monteilh said. “They know that I’m going to get the bill for lunch, even if someone else pays for it, and I’m going to say I paid for it. That includes the movies, the theater, going to an Angels game — everything. I’m paying for everything, even though I’m really not.” That's only a small part of how the informant game is played by the FBI. Informants are cited as reasons for engaging in dubious investigations and as escape valves for unconstitutional searches. Considering the multiple benefits informants provide -- especially when the true nature of the relationship is obscured and obfuscated -- it's no wonder the FBI wants as many agencies as possible engaged in the business of turning our nation's foreign visitors into junior G-men. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
As we've noted a few times, the Trump administration and new FCC boss Ajit Pai have made it abundantly clear net neutrality protections will be going the way of the dodo under their watch. Given the threat of activist backlash and the logistical complications of rolling back the rules via the FCC, neutrality opponents' (like Pai) first step toward eliminating net neutrality will likely be to simply refuse to enforce them. From there, ISPs have been lobbying Congress to pass new laws that either hamstring regulatory authority, or pretend to protect net neutrality while actually doing the exact opposite. For example, the House last week quickly passed a trio of new bills that would not only allow Congress to roll back Obama-era regulations (including net neutrality) en masse, but would give Congress effective veto power over future regulations from a number of regulatory agencies (including the FDA, EPA, and FCC). But there's also indications the GOP is cooking up a Communications Act rewrite with an eye toward weakening the FCC's authority over industry giants like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T even further. Over at Vox, readers were recently informed that "A Republican bill could be our best chance to save net neutrality." According to author Timothy Lee, we need Congress to write a quality set of net neutrality protections to establish permanent protections, avoiding the partisan patty cake that occurs each time FCC oversight shifts: "Donald Trump’s FCC looks poised to repeal the net neutrality regulations Obama’s FCC passed in 2015. If a Democrat is elected president in 2020, it’s a near certainty that the FCC will reinstate a version of Obama’s rules. Then if a Republican is elected in 2024 or 2028, the FCC is likely to tear those rules down. Having the rules switch back and forth unpredictably is a disaster for both sides in the net neutrality debate. A legislative compromise can solve this problem. Because passing legislation is a lot harder than changing an FCC rule, a rule passed by Congress with buy-in from both parties would have a much better chance of being permanent." And while it's true that a Congressional net neutrality law would certainly be the preferred and more permanent solution, some of you might have noticed that Congress is so campaign-cash compromised that achieving this end has proven to be virtually impossible over the last decade. Case in point is the "compromise" net neutrality legislation Senators Thune and Upton tabled last year as a last-ditch effort to deter the FCC from tougher rules. The proposal was so stuffed with loopholes as to be arguably useless, but was lauded by industry as a "sensible compromise" to the endless debate over net neutrality. The problem is that passing ultra-weak rules just to stop the endless game of partisan fisticuffs isn't much of an actual solution to the problem. Thune and the GOP are preparing to table new legislation that would once again profess to put this issue to bed, but is very likely to fail to address the areas where the net neutrality fight is actually occurring right now, including interconnection, usage caps, and zero rating. Still, Lee tries repeatedly to insist that this sort of flimsy legislation would be better than no legislation at all: "Still, if the alternative is four or even eight years of no network neutrality protections at all, some net neutrality fans might take a deal. More importantly, big telecommunications companies give generously on both sides of the aisle. So there may be some centrist Democrats who are willing to take a deal despite pressure from liberal activists to reject it." But it's simply not clear that's really true. It might feel good to pass new net neutrality rules professing to put the issue to bed, but if the rules don't actually address any of the actual issues of the day, it's at best just theater, and -- depending on how it's written -- could actually act to make many of the more controversial net neutrality violations legal permanently. And if attempts to defund and defang the FCC are embedded in this or other bills in sync, actually enforcing consumer telecom protections (net neutrality, privacy, or otherwise) could prove harder than ever. Of course there's another utterly crazy solution: for Congress to finally realize that net neutrality has broad, bipartisan support, and that a healthy and open internet is good for everyone. It's certainly a wild idea, but Congress could put the issue to bed and prove it actually cares about startups, innovators and consumers -- by leaving the existing rules alone, and moving on to other more pressing issues of the day. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Last May, Techdirt wrote about a draft version of a study of how China deploys its vast "50 Cent Party" propagandists -- named for the amount of money they are supposedly paid for every post -- to control discourse online. The final version of the paper, entitled "How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, not Engaged Argument," has now appeared, and it includes a fascinating appendix: We describe here a rare tacit confirmation of the existence of the 50c party, as well as an apparent admission to the accuracy of our leaked archive and the veracity of our empirical results, all unexpectedly offered by the Chinese government in response to our work. As the Appendix explains, the draft version of the paper received a huge amount of international attention when it was released last year. Most significantly, Global Times, a newspaper published by the People's Daily, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s primary mouthpiece, wrote an editorial on the study. Although this isn't an official statement from the Chinese authorities, the Appendix points out that it is reasonable to interpret it as a close approximation to their views. Along the way, it provides some invaluable insights into the online world in China. For example, by comparing public comments on the editorial with those found elsewhere on Chinese social media, the researchers were able to judge how the Chinese people viewed the use of "strategic distraction" to control online discussions: Our estimates indicate that 82% of the comments on the paper's website which expressed an opinion supported China's system of public opinion guidance (with 15% critical). Yet, among the likely broader audience found on Weibo [China's home-grown version of Twitter], only 30% were supportive (with 63% critical) That contradicts a central claim of the editorial, which is that "Chinese society is generally in agreement regarding the necessity of ‘public opinion guidance'." The researchers also note that indirectly the editorial confirms four important claims they made in their original paper. First, although the Global Times has English and Chinese editions, with many articles published in both languages, the editorial about our paper was published only in Chinese. That is, even though it objected to how the story was covered in the international press, the CCP was primarily addressing its own people. This seems to be a regular strategy of the regime and is consistent with our interpretation of their main perceived threats being their own people rather than Western powers. Moreover, not only did the editorial not deny that the 50 Cent Army operated on a massive scale -- probably impossible, since Chinese citizens know full well it exists -- it took no issue with any of the conclusions drawn by the researchers. As the latter wrote: We (inadvertently) asked the Chinese government whether they agreed with our results, and they effectively concurred. Although social scientists often conduct interviews of individual public officials, we are grateful for the unusual, if not unprecedented, chance to pose questions to an organ of the Chinese government and have it respond, for all practical purposes, as a government, or at least in a way that represents it. However, arguably the most important point is the following: In the editorial, the government also acknowledges that the purpose of public opinion guidance is to constrain or stop the spread of “hot button issues” that go viral on-line or "grassroots social issues" that have collective action potential. This also confirms a central point of our work. When Techdirt first wrote about this work last year, it was undoubtedly interesting, and added to our knowledge of how governments flood the Internet with false information. But in the wake of the events of the last few days, during which the White House has disseminated what it calls "alternative facts," and "collective action" has emerged as a key political response, it has acquired a heightened relevance. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The Denuvo saga has been impressive on a couple of levels. The DRM software's public cycle was notable first in that game-cracking groups, notorious for their confidence in their own abilities, initially sounded the alarm over Denuvo's status as an anti-piracy unicorn that would never be broken and would lead to the end of software piracy. That happened in January of 2016. By August, Denuvo was being broken by other cracking groups. By the time winter rolled around, game developers, including developers of AAA titles, were pushing out quiet updates to games to remove Denuvo from their software entirely. Denuvo's makers, meanwhile, spun this as a success story, suggesting that developers were chiefly using Denuvo to protect games during the initial release cycle and then removing it afterwards. But that thin thread of relevancy appears to have snapped, relegating Denuvo to the same scrap pile as every other form of DRM ever tried, now that a cracking group has successfully cracked a Denuvo-protected game in five days' time. Yesterday, just five days after its January 24th retail date, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard was cracked by CPY. The self-proclaimed Italian group placed RE7 on a so-called top site, with the ‘piracy pyramid‘ doing the rest of the work by cascading it to torrent sites in a matter of minutes. Currently, tens of thousands of pirates are grabbing the 23GB download. So, that protected release window has shrunk to just under a week. Whatever the cost to implement Denuvo in a game, those five days can't make it worth the price of admission. Now, some will point out, as does the TorrentFreak post, that there are still un-cracked Denuvo-protected games on the market. And that's absolutely true. But also true is that the trend for the efficacy of Denuvo DRM only travels in one direction and not a good one for those looking to the software as a way to end the scourge of video game piracy. When we begin measuring the effectiveness of DRM in days, or even when we do so in weeks, it's clear the only logical action for developers that used it is to rage-quit the DRM entirely and move on. Particularly when that same DRM, so ineffective at stopping piracy, proves to be impressively effective at pissing off real customers. Some fans have complained that Denuvo is unwieldy and annoying. It forces games to be dependent on third-party activation servers and makes certain types of modding impossible. Publishers use the program regardless, in hopes of boosting game sales by rendering piracy more difficult. And now that it's no longer serving that purpose, it's time it was dropped from use. The good news for those of us who want to see a thriving games market is that Resident Evil 7, because the reviews have been quite positive, is selling quite well. Even with it having been cracked in five days' time. Because piracy isn't a barrier to success, nevermind one worth annoying legitimate customers over. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Law enforcement keeps bumping into Tor, as Techdirt has reported many times over the years. So it's understandable that the authorities are always looking for ways to subvert and circumvent the extra protection that Tor can offer its users when used properly. For obvious reasons, we don't often get to hear exactly how they are doing that, but a fascinating post on the Dutch site Buro Jansen & Janssen purports to give some details of what happened when the country's secret service tried to recruit a Tor admin. First, a caveat. The site says: We received this story from a person who wants to remain anonymous. We conducted an investigation to the existence of this person and confirmed their existence. However, that still raises the question of whether the site itself is reliable. It describes itself as follows: A land-rights collective which has been publishing for 30 years on the expansion of repressive legislation, public-private partnerships, authorities, governmental actions and other state affairs. Some might argue that means it has an axe to grind against the authorities and secret services, making its report less credible. That said, the site seems to contain a wide variety of solid information, and the post itself is plausible enough. It recounts how the Dutch secret service in the form of an older man and younger woman contacted the unnamed Tor admin: They approached me and identified themselves with a badge of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and said they were working for the AIVD (Dutch secret service). They asked me to hear them out. I was in a state of shock and thought I had committed a crime but they immediately started to talk about on my studies. They made it clear they've read my thesis on IT security and showered me with compliments before they were firing a round of job offers at me. Here's what they offered and what they wanted: They asked me if I was interested in traveling for a couple of years and for example work in Germany at a technology company while visiting the Chaos Computer Club's hacker spaces to see what's going on and report back to them. All my expenditures would be covered. ... They also mentioned that occasionally there are hacker parties in Italy, Austria, Spain, and other countries, and they said I could see that as paid holidays. They were very honest about the fact that they were looking for foreign talent but mostly interested in keeping tabs on Dutch IT-professionals and hackers abroad. They emphasized on monitoring Dutch people abroad at least 3 times. That's pretty conventional stuff. But you obviously don't try to recruit a Tor admin unless you are also interested in keeping an eye on Tor itself: The old man who showered me with compliments suddenly said: "look, we know about your Tor-exit nodes, if you run them with us you will be able to make a living out of it, but if you don't and something illegal happens, we can't help you if the police visits your home and seizes your equipment." That threat was accompanied with a further warning not to speak to anybody about the conversation that had just taken place. Let's hope that nothing has happened, or will happen, to the person involved for disobeying that instruction. Assuming, of course, that the post is genuine -- something that Techdirt readers will doubtless have their own views about. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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For obvious reasons, politics and government are on just about everyone's mind at the moment, prompting a vast range of reactions and opinions. A lot of people who share a desire for change are divided not only by what form they think that change should take, but by what methods they think should be employed to achieve it. Former Senate staffer and long-time Techdirt friend Jennifer Hoelzer recently wrote a column entitled Your Government Won't Change... Unless You Do and this week she joins us on the podcast to delve further into this idea and what it means for optimists, cynics, pragmatists and everyone else. Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes or Google Play, 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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The new boss is not the same as the old boss. While Obama was routinely terrible at keeping his promise to run the Most Transparent Administration, positive changes still resulted in the aftermath of the Snowden leaks. The intelligence community is more open than ever -- but then we're comparing a barely-cracked door to one that has been shut, locked, and bricked over for years. Now that Trump's in charge, it looks as though transparency and accountability aren't ideals closely held by his administration. While Trump has portrayed himself as a populist, there's very little being done currently that suggests the public -- including members employed by the government -- is welcome to participate in the process. The public has outlived its usefulness. Post-election, it just doesn't have much to offer someone who appears to believe he was elected "Boss," rather than "Top Public Servant." Executive orders and presidential directives are being issued without legal guidance or consultation with the agencies affected. And the national security framework is being heavily altered by a man best known for running a highly-partisan website. Steve Bannon, Trump's chief advisor and former head of Breitbart, is being given a seat at the "Adults" table for National Security Council meetings. This isn't totally unusual. Obama often invited his advisors to these meetings. What Obama didn't do was guarantee them a spot at the head table, much less do so at the expense of actual national security officials. This is what National Security Council meetings look like now, under the new president. Bannon's spot is guaranteed. (This, despite reports that Bannon must be approved by Congress. Nothing in the law says Council members need to be confirmed.) But the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are only invited if Trump feels they should be there. This is an incredibly odd -- and possibly dangerous -- situation. Two officials considered essential to national security decisions aren't guaranteed a chance to offer their insight in national security meetings. Worse, Bannon's apparently permanent position in the NSC has resulted in him obtaining far more power than presidential advisors normally have. His efforts are further burying national security efforts under thick, black layers of opacity. The council meetings will continue. But it appears any record-keeping will not. Even before he was given a formal seat on the National Security Council’s “principals committee” this weekend by President Donald Trump, Bannon was calling the shots and doing so with little to no input from the National Security Council staff, according to an intelligence official who asked not to be named out of fear of retribution. “He is running a cabal, almost like a shadow NSC,” the official said. He described a work environment where there is little appetite for dissenting opinions, shockingly no paper trail of what’s being discussed and agreed upon at meetings, and no guidance or encouragement so far from above about how the National Security Council staff should be organized. Bannon's paperless national security "office" appears to be the result of NSC officials doing what they've always done: share drafts and briefing notes with affected agencies and their employees. Bannon has put an end to that. More stringent guidelines for handling and routing were then instituted, and the National Security Council staff was largely cut out of the process. By the end of the week, they weren’t the only ones left in the dark. Retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, the secretary of homeland security, was being briefed on the executive order, which called for immediately shutting the borders to nationals from seven largely Muslim countries and all refugees, while Trump was in the midst of signing the measure, the New York Times reported. Cutting down on sharing is only part of the paper trail elimination. The second part ensures there's less paper than ever to share. As Kate Brannen of Just Security reports, NSC meetings have been memorialized for years with a "summary of conclusions (SOC)" -- basically minutes of the meetings, along with guidance resulting from it. Officials could refer back to these notes if they ran into issues directly addressed in those meetings. They were also given an opportunity to correct the record if they felt something has been misconstrued or misquoted. These SOCs are now just relics of the past. During the first week of the Trump administration, there were no SOCs, the intelligence official said. In fact, according to him, there is surprisingly very little paper being generated, and whatever paper there is, the NSC staff is not privy to it. He sees this as a deterioration of transparency and accountability. “It would worry me if written records of these meeting were eliminated, because they contribute to good governance,” Waxman said. What appears to be happening (although there's been no confirmation yet) is that Steve Bannon is being given the job of putting together Trump-approved SOCs of NSC meetings. These will be the only official records of the meetings and they're in the hands of a person who has plenty of motivation to only memorialize what adheres to administration talking points or furthers its goals. With the administration in full control of NSC meetings and any resulting narratives, whatever paper trail survives this bizarre reshuffling of power will be mostly useless. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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No one likes it when a new boss takes over the office and starts acting like the entire operation can be turned around in a matter of days, if not hours. A "can do" spirit is overrated, especially when it's possessed by someone who knows almost nothing about the day-to-day business or, indeed, anything about this sort of business in general. But that's what we have going on here. Within days of taking over the job, the new President has unleashed multiple orders and directives to FIX EVERYTHING… with details to follow sometime between "shortly" and "never." The plan to "make America great again" involves: Telling Americans you're going to "fix" all of these things. Telling government agencies and officials that they're going to fix all these things Right now ???? Ars Technica reports: Today, the Washington Post published what appears to be a draft of an executive order to be signed by President Donald Trump. The order, entitled “Strengthening US Cyber Security and Capabilities,” puts flesh on the bones of the “cyber review” promised by Trump during the campaign. It spells out who will conduct the review and what its specific goals are. The order also sets a brisk pace for the review, calling for initial recommendations for the security of “national security systems” and critical infrastructure within 60 days. The review also has a 60-day deadline to provide the president with a list of “principal cyber adversaries.” While fire in the belly proclamations aren't unique to the new president, the expectation that multiple officials and agencies will be able to come up with what's required in the next 60 days borders on ridiculous. There's also a 100-day window for recommendations on how to draft the private sector into the government's cyberwar. At this point, multiple agencies are still fighting over who gets to be the top cyberwarrior, as well as whose particular data silo gets to be the biggest. Expecting something coherent in the next couple of months is delusional. This administration-ordered time crunch -- as unrealistic as it is -- isn't limited to President Trump. As Ars Technica's Sean Gallagher points out, President Obama did the same thing. His 2015 cybersecurity "sprint" order was just as misguided. In the end, all Obama got out of it was some agency head resignations. Government systems are still, for the most part, as insecure as they've been since before the "sprint," when the Government Accountability Office reported that 23 out of 24 agencies surveyed failed to meet information security standards. But this sort of speedy order is swiftly (no pun intended) becoming a Trump trademark. America's problems can apparently be solved with presidential "to do" lists fired off to a variety of agencies. He appears to believe that if he orders it, it will be done. How do you win the War on Terror, currently in year 16 of ∞? Easy. Come up with a plan to win and then win. (ii)   Within 30 days, a preliminary draft of the Plan to defeat ISIS shall be submitted to the President by the Secretary of Defense. (iii) The Plan shall include: (A) a comprehensive strategy and plans for the defeat of ISIS; It's breathtaking in its simplicity. It's a shame no previous presidents had the forethought to demand a plan to defeat ISIS. And it's doubly-shameful no one involved in the War on Terror could be bothered to formulate a plan for beating terrorists until the president demanded one. Trillions of taxpayer dollars could have been saved if only George W. Bush had demanded a "comprehensive strategy for the defeat of [current top terrorist organization]" to be delivered to him by the end of 2001, AT THE LATEST. And here's what's going into these orders and directives. Not much. Not even a legal review by White House lawyers. NBC is reporting that the document [immigration/visa order] was not reviewed by DHS, the Justice Department, the State Department, or the Department of Defense, and that National Security Council lawyers were prevented from evaluating it. Moreover, the New York Times writes that Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, the agencies tasked with carrying out the policy, were only given a briefing call while Trump was actually signing the order itself. Yesterday, the Department of Justice gave a “no comment” when asked whether the Office of Legal Counsel had reviewed Trump’s executive orders—including the order at hand. (OLC normally reviews every executive order.) This process is a reflection of Trump's personality, and it's not a good look for someone in the most powerful office in the world. The federal government often has trouble accomplishing the mundane. Now, its new boss wants it to deliver miracles and is only willing to wait a couple of months for them to be delivered. At some point, realism has to set in, but we're still at the point where the new president believes mountains can not only be moved, but have always been able to be moved at the slightest notice. All that's been missing is someone willing to order the mountain's relocation. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Enter to win an NES Classic in this giveaway. Plus you'll get an 8Bitdo NES30 Bluetooth controller and Retro Receiver to play anywhere. All you need to do is sign up for a Deals store account either with your email or Facebook login. Enjoy games like Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Mike covered Twitter's release of two FBI NSLs it had received in the last few years -- more evidence that the USA Freedom Act, if nothing else, has made review of NSL gag orders more timely and the orders themselves more easily challenged. Not that there hasn't been significant pushback from Twitter along the way. The social media platform sued the government in 2014, claiming that the de facto government-imposed secrecy was a violation of the company's First Amendment rights. It can discuss two of the NSLs it received now, and it's revealing that the FBI is still asking for far more than it should when issuing these. Each of the two new orders, known as national security letters (NSLs), specifically request a type of data known as electronic communication transaction records, which can include some email header data and browsing history, among other information. In doing so, the orders bolster the belief among privacy advocates that the FBI has routinely used NSLs to seek internet records beyond the limitations set down in a 2008 Justice Department legal memo, which concluded such orders should be constrained to phone billing records. Twitter's counsel says it only hands out what the DOJ's legal guidance says it's supposed to hand out. The FBI, on the other hand, says nothing, which is pretty much how it handles all requests for comments on NSLs/ignoring DOJ legal guidance. What the agency has said -- not directly but via its oversight -- is that it doesn't believe the DOJ can interpret NSL statutes for it. An FBI inspector general report from 2014 indicated that it disagreed with the memo's guidance. The DOJ's interpretation was issued nine years ago. To this day, the FBI continues to ask for more than the DOJ says it can. And the DOJ doesn't appear to be stepping in to iron out the disagreement, much less reiterate its "phone billing only" policy. We've seen overbroad requests before, starting with the first NSL ever released publicly. One of the NSLs sent to Yahoo asked for all of the following: Subscriber name and related subscriber information Account number(s) Date the account opened or closed Physical and or postal addresses associated with the account Subscriber day/evening telephone numbers Screen names or other on-line names associated with the account All billing and method of payment related to the account including alternative billed numbers or calling cards All e-mail addresses associated with the account to include any and all of the above information for any secondary or additional e-mail addresses and/or user names identified by you as belonging to the targeted account in this letter Internet Protocol (IP) addresses assigned to this account and related e-mail accounts Uniform Resource Locator (URL) assigned to the account Plain old telephone(s) (POTS), ISDN circuit(s), Voice over internet protocol (VOIP), Cable modem service, Internet cable service, Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) asymmetrical/symmetrical relating to this account The names of any and all upstream and providers facilitating this account's communications If the DOJ isn't going to do anything about this, the FBI will continue to issue thousands of letters a year asking for more than it should and hoping recipients aren't aware they don't have to hand all of this information over. It's also hoping recipients don't know they're allowed to challenge the accompanying gag orders -- or at least it was until the Internet Archive (which isn't the proper target for NSLs to begin with) publicly pointed out the FBI was still using outdated boilerplate in its demand letters. This is, unfortunately, how law enforcement agencies tend to handle things: blow past legal guidance and civil liberties until forced to do otherwise -- whether by a court or a policy change. And when forced to do so, engage in foot-dragging and inconsistent internal communications so as to lessen the "damage" of playing by the rules. The FBI may be at the top of the law enforcement food chain, but it often operates as though it's heading up Hazzard County. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Paul Alan Levy is once again reporting on stupid legal threats made by a stupid company with a stupid non-disparagement clause hidden deep in its clickwrap. In addition, there's an apparently stupid lawyer involved. I do not use the word "stupid" lightly. First off, any company that thinks it's a good idea to hide a non-disparagement clause in its contractual agreements deserves to be called "stupid." There's no better way to set your reputation on fire than to demand that customers never criticize you, no matter how terrible your goods or services are. Well, there is one "better" way: enforcing it. That's what iGeniuses, an Apple device repair company, did. iGeniuses is a Houston company that repairs Apple products; it especially touts its ability to repair computers suffering from liquid damage on a fast turnaround schedule. A number of former customers have expressed concerns about the success of the repairs, about longer-than-advertised repair times, and especially about their believe that the company is very slow to respond to questions from customers concerned about not getting their computers back in the expected time. Geniuses, they are not. Here's the wording from its "Customer Satisfaction Policy," which also doubles as the "Terms and Conditions" you must agree to before sending iGeniuses your Mac for repair. (emphasis added) Customers agree not to attack/criticize/disparage/defame i-Geniuses.com or any of its employees, associates or partners publicly (on public forums, blogs, social networks etc)... Similarly you agree not to seek any SEO advice on SEO forums, blogs, community groups or any social media in a way which brings bad name to i-Geniuses.com or any of its employees, associates or partners. In case of breach of this clause, you agree to pay a flat fee of $2500.00 per instance to cover the cost associated with the restoration of i-Geniuses.com’s reputation and any and all business losses as directly related to your actions or actions of those directly or indirectly influenced by your prohibited action. As Levy points out, this has been added to a new page on the iGeniuses website, most likely in reaction to him questioning whether or not customers were even aware of the non-disparagement clause. Previously, customers only saw it if they chose to read the "Terms and Conditions" they had to agree to before iGeniuses would accept their money. Customers have been invoiced for $2500, with some receiving additional billing ($250), supposedly to cover the cost of having a lawyer write up (badly) legal threats on its behalf. Chris Cammack, the lawyer behind the letters, has also issued followups containing threats of litigation over breach of contract. Levy spoke to Cammack, but was only able to gather more information confirming the dubious legality of the clause and its corresponding legal threats. I reached out to both the company and the lawyer to ask questions about these claims. iGeniuses never responded, but Cammack called me back and we had a thoroughly civil conversation, even if what he had to say was largely uninformative. I wanted to know, for example, which specific facts in each of the reviews iGeniuses claimed to be false. Generally speaking when lawyers send demand letters that throw around the word “false” but give no examples, that tends to suggest that they have no sound claims of falsity. And besides, having been in touch with three recipients of the letters, and having looked at some of the consumers’ documentation, it appeared to me that there is some justification for a complaint common to many of the Yelp reviews, that the company does not respond promptly to inquiries from customers. Cammack told me that he “d[id] not choose to tell [me]” what specific statements were claimed to be false. I could not help wondering whether he had any specifics in mind. Multiple forms of stupidity present themselves. First, the legal threats are vague and attack reviews that are protected statements of opinion. The more egregious stupidity is that iGeniuses waited until after the passage of a federal law forbidding non-disparagement clauses to start enforcing its clause. Add to that the fact that one threatening letter targets a 2013 review, which would put it well past the expiration date of Texas's statute of limitations. The letters state the company has "proof" the dissatisfied customers agreed to the non-disparagement clause, but in the 2013 case, that's almost impossible to believe. Unless the company did business under another name at another URL, the i-geniuses.com domain wasn't registered until 2014. (It now redirects to igeniuses.com, which was registered in November of last year.) > More stupidly, iGeniuses' lawyer doesn't know for a fact whether or not the customers he told had agreed to this contractual language actually agreed to this contractual language. I asked Cammack whether the web site worked the same way when two of the consumers had completed their transactions in 2015, and indeed whether the contract was the same when one of the consumers had sent his computer to iGeniuses in 2013. Cammack said he didn’t know the answers to these questions and that I would thus have to speak to his client. But if he didn’t know this basic information, how could he state as a fact that each of consumers had agreed to the contract he was telling them that had breached? When Levy pressed Cammack on the legality of pursuing this after the passage of a federal law strictly forbidding this exact contractual language, the lawyer ended the conversation. Finally, perhaps the stupidest thing about this whole fiasco: Cammack plaintively said that he was just an outside contractor who had been hired to send three letters. This is the worst: a lawyer willing to put his own reputation on the line to send letters of severely-dubious legality to unhappy customers of a company that would rather charge customers for negative reviews than attempt to make them happier. Cammack throws the weight of his profession behind letters designed to make recipients feel they have no choice but to pay up. With this "I was just following orders" pleading, he throws himself under the bus, saving iGeniuses the trouble. This is good news for the company, which will probably have its hands full dealing with unhappy customers and non-customers alike. Unhappy customers forbidden from screwing with iGeniuses' pagerank by its idiotic contract will now have the satisfaction of watching the company speedily negate its own SEO efforts without their assistance. 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posted 24 days ago on techdirt
Here it comes -- the exact sort of response Trump was looking for when he issued his "Standing Up for Our Law Enforcement Community" edict during his first couple of days in office. One of the fundamental rights of every American is to live in a safe community. A Trump Administration will empower our law enforcement officers to do their jobs and keep our streets free of crime and violence. The Trump Administration will be a law and order administration. President Trump will honor our men and women in uniform and will support their mission of protecting the public. The dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong. The Trump Administration will end it. This is Trump's invitation to law enforcement agencies to come to him with their grievances. A promise that they will be heard, ABOVE the voices of the people they're supposed to be serving. And here they come, right on cue. Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association, had a blunt message for Donald Trump during a meeting in September: court-ordered reforms aimed at curbing police abuses in the midwestern city are not working. Loomis and two other attendees said Trump seemed receptive to Loomis's concerns that federally monitored police reforms introduced during the Obama administration in some cities in response to complaints of police bias and abuse are ineffective and impose an onerous burden on police forces. Police unions want DOJ consent decrees rolled back, heavily-altered, or done away with altogether. A review of DOJ consent decrees shows law enforcement agencies hit with them have participated in years of unconstitutional policing, engaging in everything from discrimination to routine deployment of excessive force. The decrees -- while seldom completely effective -- target pervasive mass violations of citizens' civil liberties. They address the symptoms and attempt to apply a cure. But the problems are deep-seated, based on years of us v. them policing and a culture that actively protects its worst members. Unions are part of the problem. They are definitely not part of the solution. In Philadelphia, the police union managed to derail an officer-involved-shooting investigation board recommended by the DOJ, removing all independent outside investigators and replacing them with police officers and police officials. The DOJ's long, thoroughly-damning report on what may be America's worst police force -- the Chicago PD -- notes that police unions have long stood in the way of improving the department. Here’s a list of other CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) provisions that the feds said hamper investigations of police misconduct and should be change:. The contracts allow officers accused of misconduct or involved in shootings to delay interviews. The agreements mandate disclosure of a complainant’s identity to an accused officer before questioning, which is problematic because many complainants fear police retaliation. The agreements limit investigations into misconduct complaints filed more than five years after an incident, and requires the destruction of most disciplinary records older than five years. “The City fails to conduct any investigation of nearly half of police misconduct complaints,” the report said. “In order to address these ignored cases, the City must modify its own policies, and work with the unions to address certain CBA provisions, and in the meantime, it must aggressively investigate all complaints to the extent authorized under these contracts.” The last thing most police unions want is more accountability. This is why union heads are in DC, talking to Trump. Consent decrees attempt to force law enforcement agencies to act constitutionally, which is apparently something officers (or at least their reps) are unwilling to do. The police groups want to discuss the decrees with Jeff Sessions, Trump's designee for attorney general who has voiced criticism of them, although any renegotiation would be legally complicated because all parties as well as a federal judge must approve any changes. "There are certainly decrees that are inartfully applied that we'd like to see revisited," said Jim Pasco, the head of the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation's largest police union with 330,000 members. It endorsed Trump in September and has worked with Sessions, a Republican senator from Alabama, for years while lobbying Congress for pro-police policies. "We've always found him a man who's willing to listen to alternatives to a previously charted course," Pasco said of Sessions. "Inartfully applied" just means "applied." The DOJ has "inartfully" attempted to get officers in numerous police departments to stop beating and tasing individuals simply because they weren't immediately compliant or responded disrespectfully. It has attempted to set a reasonable suspicion standard for police stops and searches. It has attempted to prevent officers from acting in a retaliatory manner against people exercising their First Amendment rights. It has attempted to scale back excessive removals of citizens' life and liberty by law enforcement officers. It has largely failed to do so because it encounters massive amounts of resistance, much of it led by police unions. And here come the unions to undo what little good has been done. The union reps say things like "inartfully applied decrees" and "wastes of money" but what they're really saying is they would rather not have to be limited by the rights of others. And, according to Trump's own statement, the President himself has little respect for the rights of non-badge-wearing individuals. The only good news is that -- despite Trump's "law and order" pitch and AG Sessions' general contempt for Americans and their rights -- it will take much more than some union sales pitches to undo consent decrees already in force. The Attorney General may be able to prevent the DOJ's Civil Rights division from pursuing nearly as many agreements in the future, but it's likely any attempt to scale back in-place agreements would face an uphill battle in federal court. But this very likely means the DOJ isn't going to be nearly as interested in investigating law enforcement agencies for the next four years. The DOJ handed out 24 consent decrees during the eight years Obama was in office. It issued less than half as many while Bush was president. A president who believes not liking the police is "wrong" isn't going to be too interested in having a government agency find even more reasons for people not to like police officers. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 24 days ago on techdirt
One of the slogans used by those in favor of the UK leaving the European Union -- aka Brexit -- was that it would allow Brits to "take back control." In particular, it was claimed, Brexit would stop the European Union and its top court from "imposing" their decisions that took precedence over national laws. It was an appealing slogan for many -- a bit like "Make America great again" -- but as with other appealing slogans, with time it proved rather hollow. In the wake of the UK referendum in favor of Brexit, the British government is faced with the task of coming up with large numbers of trade deals that will somehow compensate for the almost-certain loss of preferential access to the EU. Naturally, the most important of these "new" trade deals is with the US. Unfortunately, the British negotiating position is fatally undermined by the fact that the UK is desperate for a deal, whereas the US doesn't need it at all. Inevitably, then, the US will get to dictate its terms, and UK government will be forced to accept them, however bad they are, because it has no alternative. So much for "taking back control." Rather belatedly, people are beginning to wake up to what that is likely to mean in practice. Here, for example, is an analysis on BuzzFeed of a key problem with the UK government's plan to sign lots of new trade deals to plug the gap left by exiting the EU: Trade experts have warned that signing such deals without the EU judicial system will almost inevitably mean signing up to systems known as "ISDS" (Investor State Dispute Settlement) -- secretive, binding arbitration systems that can force countries to overturn their laws when it hurts corporate interests. These formed the core of international opposition to trade deals such as TTIP (between the EU and US) and CETA (between the EU and Canada). It might be argued that ISDS -- corporate sovereignty -- isn't a new issue for the UK. The country already has many trade deals that include corporate sovereignty chapters: UK corporations have been some of the most active users of ISDS to enforce their rights overseas, analysis of the 700 or so known disputes shows. Sixty-four of the 700 were made by UK companies against overseas governments, while only one ISDS dispute has ever been filed against the UK -- and didn’t go anywhere. The UK has been able to use ISDS as an offensive weapon without being hit by many claims itself because most of its existing trade deals are with countries that have relatively small economies. They have few companies or individuals who are in a position to make major investments in the UK, which means few are able to use corporate sovereignty clauses against the UK. The UK, by contrast, has plenty of rich investors who can and do take advantage of secret ISDS tribunals. That situation will change dramatically if and when the UK signs a trade deal with the US -- the British government has made clear that doing so will be a priority post-Brexit. The US has huge investments in the UK, and these are likely to be covered retrospectively by ISDS in any trade deal. That was the intention in TAFTA/TTIP, which now seems likely to suffer the same fate as TPP. After all, why wouldn't Trump demand this strong protection for investments made by US companies -- and by himself? As the BuzzFeed article points out, requiring a corporate sovereignty chapter in a US-UK trade deal would lead to a rather ironic situation. The Brexit vote, which many insisted would allow the UK to throw off the yoke of supposedly "anti-democratic" supranational EU judgments, is almost certain to see a post-Brexit UK subject to large numbers of supranational ISDS judgments that are even less democratic. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 25 days ago on techdirt
The (still) new Librarian of Congress created a bit of a fuss last year in effectively forcing the existing Register of Copyrights, Maria Pallante, (the head of the US Copyright Office) out of a job. Pallante has since (of course) found a new gig heading up an industry trade group, the Association of American Publishers, with a fairly long history of being against the public, against the internet, against the blind and against fair use. The removing of Pallante kciked off a bunch of ridiculous conspiracy theories that made little sense and had almost no basis in reality. It's pretty clear that Pallante was removed from her job because she had actively, and publicly, reached out to Congress to ask that she no longer have to report to Hayden. That seems like fairly basic insubordination and a fairly standard reason why a boss might fire you. Either way, the fuss over Pallante losing her job resulted in Hayden promising to listen to all stakeholders about who should replace Pallante. To that end, she launched an online survey asking people what they'd like to see in a new Copyright Office boss. Frankly, this... feels kind of gimmicky and silly. Hayden got the job she got because she actually understands a lot of these issues. Yes, she should absolutely be listening to the public and weighing lots of thoughts, but an online survey... just feels like the wrong mechanism. And, of course, such things are prone to ballot stuffing (from all sides). If you look around, it's not hard to find some fairly crazy and "not-quite-in-touch-with-reality" groups and individuals who are telling people just how to stuff the ballot box, including some nonsense that completely misrepresents the role. So I'm not going to tell anyone how they should fill out the survey, but I would suggest that people think carefully about what role the head of the Copyright Office should play. Should it be a job where the focus is on protecting the interests of a few gatekeepers who have spent years sucking up the copyrights of actual creators while claiming to represent artists? Or should it be someone who is focused on the actual job of the Copyright Office, such as modernizing the role of the copyright office, making it easier to research who holds copyrights on what works, and who is actually focused on the core principles of copyright law -- that it promote the progress of science -- as laid out in the Constitution? The online survey closes tomorrow, Tuedsay January 31st (possibly today by the time you're reading this), so please get your thoughts in sooner rather than later. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 25 days ago on techdirt
Techdirt stories about China have been relentlessly grim in recent years, offering a depressing vision of an online world under ever-greater surveillance, with correspondingly more systems for censoring every digital thought. But it's important not to get too apocalyptic, and to remember that life goes on. Just like their counterparts in the West, people in China are using the Internet for more and more of their daily lives. Arguably a greater problem than government surveillance for most people is the lack of privacy protections under Chinese law, which has led to highly-personal online information routinely being gathered and sold by third parties. In this context, the Caixin site has details of what it calls a "landmark privacy case" that may help to rein in some of that widespread abuse. The original complaint was brought by Weibo, China's version of Twitter, against an erstwhile partner, Maimai, which offers an enterprise chat app of the same name. An intellectual property court in Beijing has just made one of China's first precedent-setting rulings on the issue by upholding a lower court’s ruling against Maimai. The original case was brought nearly two years ago by Weibo, which said its millions of users had their publicly available personal data improperly mined by Maimai. Even more important than the ruling against Maimai are the guidelines laid down by the court that will apply more generally to the handling of personal data on the Chinese Net: the court issued an article on its official microblog on Wednesday laying out guidance for similar cases involving user privacy when data is publicly available on sites like Weibo. That guidance gave six instances of what constitutes "improper" use of such data, including the potential to harm a user's welfare and disturbing order on the internet. Those policies were part of the court's broader opinion that third parties who gather such publicly available user information from services like Weibo should not violate individual privacy without making a concerted effort to get authorization from both platform operators and actual users. This latest development is an important reminder that alongside other, more worrying trends, the online world in China is also seeing real progress. That offers hope that one day the heightened Internet surveillance being carried out could be rolled back too -- both in China and in the West, where it has also increased dramatically in recent years, let us not forget. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 25 days ago on techdirt
Some Playstation Network users tried to use Sony's messaging system to transfer child porn back and forth. The ad hoc Playstation Playpen was reported by users, and Sony went digging into their messages and discovered illegal images, which it then -- as it is statutorily required to do -- turned this information over to law enforcement and reported it to NCMEC (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children). Unsurprisingly, this led to the arrest of one of those trading illegal images. So far, there's nothing surprising about this chain of events, much less the court's denial of the defendant's motion to suppress. What is surprising is the court's claim that the Fourth Amendment doesn't protect PSN users' data and communications. If you have any legally incriminating information sitting in your PSN account, don't count on the Fourth Amendment to protect it from "unreasonable search and seizure" by Sony without a warrant. A district court judge in Kansas has ruled in a recent case that information Sony finds has been downloaded to a PlayStation 3 or a PSN account is not subject to the "reasonable expectation of privacy" that usually protects evidence obtained without a warrant. While this summation is mostly correct, the fact is that child porn is something actively policed by every service provider and whose terms of service specifically warn users against trafficking in illegal content. Even more specifically -- as is pointed out in the decision [PDF] -- users are told Sony will monitor communications and uploaded content if it feels the need to do so. there is no requirement or expectation that [Sony] will monitor or record any online activity on PSN, including communications. However [Sony] reserves the right to monitor and record any online activity and communication throughout PSN and you give [Sony] your express consent to monitor and record your activities . . . Any data collected in this way, including the content of your communications, the time and location of your activities, your Online ID and IP address and other related information may be used by us to enforce this Agreement or protect the interests of [Sony], its users, or licensors. Such information may be disclosed to the appropriate authorities or agencies. In this case, PSN moderators were tipped off by PSN users. This is one form of "private search," in which users spotted something violating the Terms of Service and passed it on. Sony has a legal obligation to report suspected child porn to law enforcement, so it accessed the reported accounts. This is another "private search" -- one that's completely lawful, provided for by terms agreed to by the PSN users, and, honestly, something that's so far from unexpected as to provoke wonder about the arrested user's overall experience with the internet in general. What it isn't, however, is any sort of indication that certain user communications or data are not protected by the Fourth Amendment. There's a certain amount of data that falls under the Third Party Doctrine, which isn't subject to the Fourth Amendment. But to obtain the content of communications, or access files stored by users, the government would most likely still have to seek a warrant. This differs from the Best Buy Geek Squad cases in that there's no evidence of an ongoing relationship between law enforcement and Sony where moderators are paid (or prompted) to seek out evidence of illegal activity, acting as a warrantless proxy for the government that violates the spirit -- if not the letter -- of the "private search" exception. The defendant tried arguing that NMCEC's search of the files sent to it by Sony was not a private search and violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The court takes a look at the case cited (one we covered here previously) and finds NMCEC's search did not exceed the scope of the private search. Whether or not it acted as a government agent, it did not perform an unconstitutional search. In Ackerman, AOL’s filter identified one of four images attached to the defendant’s email as child pornography. Id. As soon as AOL identified the hash value match, it forwarded the email in a report submitted to NCMEC. Id. The NCMEC analyst viewed the email and the four image attachments and determined that all four of the attached images—not just the one that AOL’s filter had identified—qualified as child pornography. Id. So, Ackerman’s undisputed facts established that NCMEC opened and viewed information other than the image that was the target of AOL’s hash value match and “that AOL had not previously examined.” Id. at 1306–07. NCMEC had exceeded, and did not merely repeat, AOL’s private search and the Circuit thus held that NCMEC had violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights. Id. But here, the facts differ. No evidence even suggests that NCMEC exceeded the scope of Sony’s private search. Indeed, the logical inference the court draws from the undisputed facts is that NCMEC’s review did not exceed Sony’s private investigation. Mr. Meininger testified that Sony does not use a hash value matching system. It follows that all of the information Sony sent NCMEC was first reviewed by a Sony employee. Mr. Meininger testified that the Sony Moderation Team “use[s] human eyes” to review every grief report it receives. So, when the Sony Moderators received the initial grief report about Susan_14 on June 6, 2012, a Sony Moderator opened the report and viewed the message and attached image. The court finds that NCMEC did not exceed the scope of Sony’s private search when it reviewed Ms. Kawaguchi’s August 8, 2012 report and found that it did not include child pornography. Now, the court does make the case that the user's agreement to Sony's Terms of Service somehow strips away privacy protections for PSN account holders. It can be argued, as the court does here, that agreeing to these terms means knowingly giving up your expectation of privacy. But there's still a lot of ground to be covered between Sony's statutorily-required reporting of suspected child porn and the government calling up Sony and making warrantless demands for users' communications and data. That really isn't explored in this opinion as it's not part of the underlying case. The government did obtain a warrant to search the contents of the PS3 owned by the suspect -- something the court says has a "reduced" expectation of privacy thanks to the user's agreement with Sony's terms of service. Nowhere does the court say the expectation of privacy is eliminated entirely by the terms of service. It only says the following, and what it does say isn't written as a clear-cut determination. The agreement also warns users that they must not use the PSN to violate any local, state, or federal laws, and that any information Sony acquires while monitoring the users’ activities may be turned over to appropriate law enforcement authorities. This agreement seemingly prevented defendant from having a reasonable expectation of privacy in information he stored on his PS3 device. What did fall under the Third Party exception -- and the private search exception -- were the files reported to Sony, which then reported them to NMCEC and law enforcement. At no point does this chain of events suggest Sony views users' expectation of privacy in the same light the court ("seemingly") does. (The FBI doesn't view it this way either, as it obtained a warrant to search the contents of the suspect's PS3, and law enforcement tends not to get a warrant unless it absolutely has to.) The court's reading of the Fourth Amendment is limited to this case and some roughly-analogous precedent. But while it leans towards an interpretation of the Third Party Doctrine that would cover almost anything that touches Sony's Playstation Network (including files downloaded via the network), it doesn't go so far as to suggest all of it can be had without a warrant. It also goes off on a tangent suggesting there's no expectation of privacy in communications because the contents are disclosed to the recipient... but that's clearly a completely wrong interpretation of the expectation of privacy and warrant requirements in general. Warrants still need to be sought to obtain the content of emails, etc. in most cases, no matter what sort of monitoring users agreed to when they opened their accounts. It's kind of a sloppy decision that builds on some sloppy defense arguments and reaches critical muddle at this point. At any rate, the decision will be appealed, which will hopefully clean up the district court's questionable Third Party reasoning, but is unlikely to find Sony's private search a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Monitoring networks for child porn has been around for decades. Anyone asking for or distributing child porn using a third-party messaging service is basically begging for a visit from the FBI. It plays right into the most well-known and widespread "private search" there is: the statutory requirement for platform owners to report suspected child porn to the government. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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