posted 19 days ago on techdirt
We already wrote this morning about the ridiculous claims by The Sunday Times that Snowden's documents had been either given to the Russians and Chinese or that they had cracked the encryption to get them -- and that, because of this, the UK had to move intelligence "agents" out of Moscow for their safety. We pointed to numerous problems with the article, including many direct factual mistakes. One of the links we pointed to was Glenn Greenwald himself challenging many of the claims in the Sunday Times. This included highlighting the flat out lie that David Miranda was detained in Heathrow after visiting Snowden in Moscow (a claim the Sunday Times later simply deleted, with no correction or retraction). Many people have been asking if the Sunday Times will say anything about the myriad problems with the article, and we now finally have a response. And it's... to send a DMCA takedown notice to Greenwald's publisher, First Look Media, claiming that, because he posted an image of the Sunday Times' front page layout, he is violating their copyright. Here's the section of Greenwald's article the Times (really, Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary of News UK, which is a subsidiary of News Corp) is complaining about: The idea that this is somehow infringing is ridiculous. But here's what the lawyers at News Corp are claiming: We write on behalf of Times Newspapers Limited (TNL) the publishers of The Times and The Sunday Times. TNL owns the copyright in the typographical arrangement of the front page of The Sunday Times published on 14 June 2015 (Material). The Material is an original work created by employees of TNL. A copy of the Material is enclosed. A copy of the Material appears [on First Look's website] under the headline "THE SUNDAY TIMES' SNOWDEN STORY IS JOURNALISM AT ITS WORST -- AND FILLED WITH FALSEHOODS" (Infringing Content). The Infringing Content has been reproduced, communicated to the public and published onto the Website without TNL's permission and as such infringes the intellectual property rights of TNL.... Later, it notes: ... we have a good-faith belief that the use is not authorized by the copyright or other intellectual property rights owner, by its agent, or by law... To put it mildly: this is ridiculous. Of course it's authorized by law, and that law is fair use. The UK may not have fair use, but the US does, and First Look is a US publication. The use above clearly and easily is fair use -- so much so that the lawyer for News Corp pretending otherwise is either the worst lawyer ever, or is being deliberately disingenuous with this threat letter. Even more to the point: how could anyone at News Corp not realize how this would end up? There was no way that such a letter would have the intended purpose of taking down the content and the only thing it could do would be to draw extra attention to the fact that News Corp is trying to censor one of the people forcefully criticizing its ridiculous article, and highlighting what it got wrong. And, thus, the end result is further ridicule for News Corp, and further reasons to question the credibility of the Sunday Times.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 19 days ago on techdirt
Whether you're trying to get fit, stay fit or just live healthily, simply obsessing over "the lbs" is going to do more harm than good. The Vitasigns Smart Bluetooth Body Analyzer monitors your body weight, body fat, and BMI, tracks changes in your fat loss and muscle gain, and sends all the data straight to the free Vitasigns mobile app where you can chart and monitor your progress. You shouldn't try to boil fitness down to a single number, but you don't need constant doctor visits and nutritional sessions just to stay accountable — monitor all the essential body metrics right from your bathroom floor. Note: We earn a portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 19 days ago on techdirt
Who could have possibly thought that something of interest would actually come out of something called BroBible? As it turns out, the site that calls itself the best place for all the world's bros to gather on the internet -- which sounds horrible -- has created a bit of interest after BroBible editor David Covucci filed an FOIA request with the CIA for a listing of the pornography the government has long claimed it found in the Pakistani compound where the Osama bin Laden raid occurred. We at the men's general interest publication BroBible dot com (one of the nation's largest websites for men), would like to know what pornographic materials Osama Bin Laden had in his possession at the time of his death. We are adults. We can handle it. We would like to know what kind of porn the world's most wanted man jerked it to. Does being under the constant threat of capture require extra stimulation? I imagine it would be hard for him to focus on his dick, so I figure he had to watch some really nasty shit. Well-filed, bro, well-filed. Not well enough, however, as the CIA responded to his bro-ness, denying his request and claiming that any information about any pornography the CIA might have from the bin Laden compound fell under the designation of an "operational file" and was therefore exempt from release upon an FOIA request. As Vice News explains, operational files are very specific things that cover very specific kinds of information. Essentially, information falls under an operational file designation if it deals with how America is conducting foreign intelligence gathering, who we might be working with in that regard, any specifics about the technology we're using to conduct our spycraft, or any information that would reveal who we are looking at overseas. None of that really applies to a terrorist king's spank bank. "It seems like a stretch to call these [pornographic] materials operational files," said Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy. "Although they may have been obtained in the course of an operation, they do not have anything to do with the planning or conduct of the operation. So they don't really fit the definition of an operational file in the CIA Information Act." But the CIA had another excuse for not releasing the information, and it's a classic. Yes, the CIA said that United States law forbade the CIA from mailing out "obscene or crime-inciting matter." Now, I realize through, ahem, research for this post that the names of skin-flicks can sometimes take on the use of colorful language, but does the CIA's genteel sensibility really trump the public's rights under the Freedom of Information Act? Or is the concern centered more on some strange notion that the government embarrassing bin Laden by revealing his wank-files will inspire acts of violence? Either way, this silly request from BroBible doesn't deserve such a silly response from the CIA. Covucci told VICE News in an email that he's determined to get his hands on bin Laden's porn. He plans to appeal the CIA's decision and file a separate request with ODNI. "It's fucking Kafka-esque obfuscation bullshit they are hiding behind," he said. Yeah, bro. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 20 days ago on techdirt
Let's start with this. Soon after Daniel Ellsberg was revealed as the source behind the Pentagon Papers, White House officials started spreading rumors that Ellsberg was actually a Soviet spy and that he'd passed on important secrets to the Russians: None of it was true, but it was part of a concerted effort by administration officials to smear Ellsberg as a "Soviet spy" and a "traitor" when all he really did was blow the whistle on things by sharing documents with reporters. Does that sound familiar? Over the weekend, a big story supposedly broke in the UK's the Sunday Times, citing anonymous UK officials arguing that the Russians and Chinese got access to all the Snowden documents and it had created all sorts of issues, including forcing the UK to remove undercover "agents" from Russia. That story is behind a paywall, but plenty of people have made the text available if you'd like to read the whole thing. There are all sorts of problems with the report that make it not just difficult to take seriously, but which actually raise a lot more questions about what kind of "reporting" the Sunday Times actually does. It's also worth noting that this particular story comes out just about a week or so after Jason Leopold revealed some of the details of the secret plan to discredit Snowden that was hatched in DC. Even so, the journalism here is beyond shoddy, getting key facts flat out incorrect, allowing key sources to remain anonymous for no reason, and not appearing to raise any questions about the significant holes in the story. Snowden has made it clear for well over a year that once he gave the documents to the original journalists, he got rid of them and no longer had them -- so he wouldn't even be able to give them to anyone else, even if they wanted them. Yet, the article insists that the Russians got them, and originally included a claim that supposedly ties the documents to Snowden in Moscow: It is not clear whether Russia and China stole Snowden’s data, or whether he voluntarily handed over his secret documents in order to remain at liberty in Hong Kong and Moscow. David Miranda, the boyfriend of the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, was seized at Heathrow in 2013 in possession of 58,000 “highly classified” intelligence documents after visiting Snowden in Moscow. During the ensuing court hearing Oliver Robbins, then deputy national security adviser in the Cabinet Office, said that the release of the information “would do serious damage to UK national security, and ultimately put lives at risk”. Except, that middle paragraph is simply factually incorrect -- as basically any report on the original detention would have made clear. Miranda had been in Berlin with Laura Poitras, and not in Moscow with Snowden. After this rather important factual error was pointed out repeatedly... the Sunday Times simply deleted it with no retraction or correction. Down the memory hole. Well, except if you have the paper copy: Considering that that point is sort of a key string in the narrative of putting the documents in Russia -- the fact that it is flat out false (despite the easy fact checking) should call into question the rest of the story. But there are even more problems with it the deeper you dig. Craig Murray, a former ambassador and diplomat for the UK has written the best explanation saying that the story "is a lie." He highlight five very serious problems with the story, starting with the fact that the terminology is wrong. In the article, the anonymous government official is quoted as follows: A senior Downing Street source said: “It is the case that Russians and Chinese have information. It has meant agents have had to be moved and that knowledge of how we operate has stopped us getting vital information." Except, as Murray notes, no actual government source who was familiar with these things would mistake an "agent" for an "officer." Yet the schoolboy mistake is made of confusing officers and agents. MI6 is staffed by officers. Their informants are agents. In real life, James Bond would not be a secret agent. He would be an MI6 officer. Those whose knowledge comes from fiction frequently confuse the two. Nobody really working with the intelligence services would do so, as the Sunday Times source does. The story is a lie. He also dismisses the "blood on his hands" money quote given in the article. That line was directed at Snowden -- though, almost immediately undercut within the same exact article by someone noting "there is no evidence of anyone being harmed." It's almost as if no one actually bothered to think through the propaganda message. Murray points out that the idea that any officers would be in danger is hogwash. Beyond the fact that the Russian and Chinese don't kill western spies (they just kick them out of the country), there's the simple fact that such info would never be in the documents Snowden had: Rule No.1 in both the CIA and MI6 is that agents’ identities are never, ever written down, neither their names nor a description that would allow them to be identified. This same point is further confirmed by Ryan Gallagher, one of the journalists who does have access to the Snowden files and says that there is no such information in them. This was a surprise to me because I've reviewed the Snowden documents and I've never seen anything in there naming active MI6 agents. Were the agents pulled out as a precautionary measure? Keeping in mind that the UK government does not actually know exactly what Snowden leaked, how do these officials know there were documents in there that implicated MI6 operatives and live operations in the first place? Murray further notes that the Russians are already pretty sure they know who the UK's spies are (and vice versa) and even if they were revealed in the documents, which he doesn't think is true, there'd be no reason to remove anyone anyway. The Sunday Times piece further repeats the long repudiated claim that Snowden's cache included 1.7 million documents -- a number that even the NSA now admits was bunk and based solely on the number of documents he "touched" not those Snowden actually took. Then there's this point, raised by security professor Matthew Green, if the intelligence agencies really believed that Snowden was carrying such damaging documents on his person why would they strand him in Moscow by pulling his passport. Another potential problem: at one point, the article implies that Snowden may have handed the documents over as part of a "deal" with the Russian or Chinese, but in another part of the article, it discusses how the Russians and Chinese cracked the encryption on the stash. So which is it? Did he hand them over, or were they encrypted? The whole thing is such a shoddy piece of propaganda that it seems almost hilarious... and would be if actual serious news sites weren't repeating the claims, often with little question. The BBC was quick to put up a piece repeating the claims -- though it has since added a few dissenting viewpoints. Many other UK tabloids have more or less repeated the claims. The only paper that seems to strongly be pushing back is The Guardian (who published the first Snowden revelation and many later ones as well). It has been raising lots of questions about the original reporting, demanding answers from the UK government about the claims and actually willing to call out the report as "low on facts, high on assertions." Is it possible that others have access to these documents? Sure. Of course, the world itself has seen many of them, thanks to reporters revealing them publicly (something Snowden himself never did). Still, even back when Snowden was in Hong Kong, intelligence community defenders insisted it meant that China had the documents. And the second he was in Moscow, they insisted that Russia had them too. In this case, it honestly sounds like the naive reporters at the Sunday Times took that "speculation" and wrote an entire story about it, searching for quotes that would confirm the thesis, but not doing any actual journalistic activity. So they got their story, and it's now quite easy to poke full of very large holes. Of course the timing on this is even more suspect. It comes out just as a report was published in the UK that slammed some aspects of government surveillance, and it seems noteworthy that right before this, there was a sudden upsurge in ridiculous and slightly unhinged fear mongering about Snowden himself -- none of which comes with any actual evidence, but all angry speculation. It's almost as if governments pushing for greater surveillance powers might mount a coordinated propaganda campaign to smear the one guy who has been exposing their bullshit.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 20 days ago on techdirt
After the first wave of Snowden revelations two years ago, one of the most dramatic later claims was that the NSA had been monitoring the calls of Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel. As Techdirt reported at the time, the US government made things worse by emphasizing that it was not presently monitoring her calls, and promised not to monitor them in the future, while leaving the obvious question about past activity glaringly unanswered. Matters were not improved when President Obama then claimed that he had known nothing about the spying. No wonder, then, that a formal investigation into the allegations was launched by Germany in June 2014. Since then, things went rather quiet, which makes news that Germany’s chief federal prosecutor is dropping the case because of lack of evidence, rather surprising. As Reuters reports: "The accusations made would not stand up in court with the means available for criminal proceedings," the federal prosecutors office in Karlsruhe said in a statement. "The vague remarks from U.S. officials about U.S. intelligence surveillance of the chancellor's cell phone -- i.e. 'not any more' -- are insufficient evidence". However, the official statement from the chief federal prosecutor's office (original in German) did not rule out resuming the investigation if new evidence emerged at a later date. It is likely that Merkel and her advisers have decided that it is better to mend bridges with Obama in this face-saving way rather than to continue demanding answers from an unresponsive US government. That may be a politically reasonable move, but it is unlikely to satisfy many Germans who saw the allegations as evidence that no one was safe from US (and British) spying. Moreover, as Techdirt noted back in 2013, the refusal by the US authorities to address these and other allegations of surveillance is contributing to the German public's jaundiced view of the TAFTA/TTIP negotiations, increasingly in trouble. That skepticism is reflected by the fact that among the 2 million signatures gathered so far by the pan-European Stop TTIP online petition, fully one half come from Germany. The decision to drop the investigation into claims that the NSA listened in on Merkel's phone calls is unlikely to make things better. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 20 days ago on techdirt
Recently, Bell seems to have woken up to the fact that lots of people use VPNs to access Netflix in other markets — and has decided that's a terrible thing. This week, they urged the public to shame such users, prompting both our first and second place comments for insightful this week. First, it's an anonymous commenter pointing out just how absurd this whole thing has gotten: You know we're in crazy land when even paying for content is theft Next, it's DB underlining the double standard when it comes to regional restrictions: Businesses want to choose in a global labor market, but they don't want 'their' customers to have unmediated access to the global services marketplace. For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start with a comment from John Fenderson, responding simply and elegantly to the idea that Edward Snowden gave up his right to due process: If it's possible to give up due process, then "due process" means nothing at all. Next, we head to our post about how police and the media make efforts to disparage those who have died as a result of bad police behavior, where one anonymous commenter highlighted how the system inherently favors bad cops over good ones: That's why I automatically assume the police and press are lying when they say anything negative about the person they just shot. Although I did once meet a former officer who had quit after almost shooting an unarmed man, and I do believe his story. The problem is, he quit because he was a good cop and couldn't stand the thought of shooting someone who was unarmed, even though the officer thought the person he was chasing had a gun and was about to shoot him. So the problem is, people who should be cops quit when they come close to shooting an unarmed person, and those who shouldn't be cops don't quit. So you see how police forces quickly become full of people who shouldn't be cops. On the funny side, we start out on our post about a UK official claiming that torrents are a gateway to more serious crime, and expounding the need to prevent kids from going down that path. That One Guy won first place by noting a certain unintended wisdom in his words, and adding an additional statement to his list: "There are many of our young people, and not only young people, who are becoming highly skilled and capable in a digital environment," he said. "It's important that they put those skills to good use and are not tempted to become involved, unwittingly in cyber criminality. "They are members of forums and are exchanging ideas in a marketplace that criminals are looking (at). "They are looking for people with technical skills who can compliment their criminal business. "They are looking to recruit those people. "They try to induce and manipulate them." "And that is why it's so important to sit down and talk to your sons and/or daughters, because if you don't, they might end up working for the government." Next, we head to our post about a scrap over copyright and Javascript, kicked off by a threat letter from Airtel to a guy who exposed their practice of secret Javascript injection. DannyB won second place for funny by noting the similarity in tone between the threat letter and some more well-known bullshit correspondence: From threat letter: Your act also amounts to a criminal offence under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the Information Technology Act, 2000. This act of you have caused great damage to our client's business, as well as to its name and reputation, and although such looss cannot be compensated in terms of money, our client will be entitled to claim and recover from you substantial amount by way of compensation/damages. I was expecting to see an additional paragraph: We will forego any damage if you will help our wealthy client to move a large sum money out of the country in exchange for half the proceedes. Please to be sending us your bank account informations so we can be depositing the large sum into your account. For editor's choice on the funny side, we remain on that post for a moment, where we also examined the whole idea of copyright and code and just how such things should work. Is simply viewing source code copyright infringement? One anonymous commenter adapted an old defence to this new purpose: i looked at the words, but i didn't inhale. Finally, we head to our post about the ongoing fears (and fights) related to cellphone radiation. One commenter pointed out the deja vu feeling of this issue for those who were told to fear radiation from good ol' television sets, leading to a conversation about the days before remote controls, and finally this gem from commenter RightShark: My dad had a voice-activated remote control back then. He would say "Son, go change the channel." That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Five Years Ago There was a whole lot of copyright news this week in 2010. The organizers of a Bulgarian chess tournament were suing over a copyright on chess moves, copyright was holding back research, and a top public school was seeking to copyright and sell its curriculum. Armenia decided it needed incredibly strict copyright laws while the IFPI was complaining that Canada's new copyright laws weren't strict enough, and a Spanish court (not the first) found file-sharing to be legal. One US court smacked down a lawyer for bad faith pursuit of copyright infringement, while another was expressing skepticism over US Copyright Group's lumping together of cases (while many of the targets claimed innocence). We considered a key question about whether the RIAA's lawsuits had been a "success" while some took a closer look at the association's rise and fall (debunking the idea that it was all about Napster), and Thom Yorke was pinning the lifespan of record labels in the months, not years. Also in need of debunking was the claim that unauthorized handheld games cost the economy tens of billions, not to mention Authors Guild president Scott Turow's freakout about book piracy. Amidst all this, we asked a simple question: is intellectual property immoral? Ten Years Ago Five years earlier, press in the UK was happily parroting the recording industry's spin on everything while the country's new creative minister was trying to increase the copyright term for pop songs lest Elvis hit the public domain. Apple's iTunes store was taking on the file-sharing networks (though it wasn't clear to what extent) and people were beginning to notice the curious copyright questions surrounding wedding photography. The Apple-Intel rumours finally graduated to an official announcement (and some wondered if Apple might sue CNET over the early leak). Journalists at the WSJ got a taste of working without email when their system went down, and AOL finally dipped its toes into the web with a free email service and portal. Firefox was gaining ground in the browser wars, United became the first domestic airline to offer in-flight Wi-Fi, and the FCC bumped up the deadline for TV broadcasts to go digital. Also this week in 2005, Congress was moving forward with a patent reform bill that was mostly bad with a little good thrown in, while we highlighted an economic analysis of why patents are inefficient in emerging markets. Fifteen Years Ago All eyes were on the dot-com world this week in 2000. With a sudden emphasis on actually making money ruining a lot of people's fun, startups were furiously racing to profitability while still advertising on every surface they could find (the latest: shopping bags). But not everything works out — sometimes acquisitions fail, and sometimes dot-coms collapse and are tough to liquidate. A judge handed down the first ruling that Microsoft must be broken up this week in 2000, while IBM was trying to revive its PC business. CBS, meanwhile, laid off a quarter of its internet staff.The UK government was losing track of its laptops and struggling to understand what meta-tags were. The first major mobile phone worm appeared in the wild, leading antivirus companies to immediately start peddling protection (not that they ever blow anything out of proportion or anything like that). More and more men were seeking wives online, while at least one internet dater found himself victim of a carjacking scheme. Thirty-Eight Years Ago I know many Techdirt readers have fond memories of the Apple II, one of the first truly successful personal computers. Well, it was on June 10th, 1977 that the very first Apple II computers went on sale. The machine's number one hook was its color graphics, which were practically unheard of at its price-point and attracted a lot of consumer attention. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 21 days ago on techdirt
A couple weeks ago, I discussed how some bad implementation choices raised serious questions about an otherwise-cool digital crossfader for DJs. This week, we're looking at OWOW, a set of digital music controllers that are far more robust and actually make a lot of smart, musician-friendly choices in their design. The Good The OWOW devices all look pretty cool, even if they aren't all revolutionary. One essentially serves as a theremin, one as a tiny drum pad, two as neat handheld motion controllers, and the most innovative of the lot: a scanner that converts lines you draw freehand on paper into music. All of them are extremely compact, and the scanner is (to my knowledge) entirely unique. None are standalone instruments, though — they serve as controllers for digital music software. But unlike the aforementioned crossfader, these devices are designed for maximum compatibility with everything in that world (they appear to use MIDI-over-USB) rather than being tied down to a proprietary, platform-specific app. When combined with studio software like Reason or Ableton, these might be very powerful and would at least be a lot of fun. But perhaps the most interesting thing about OWOW is the choice to offer two versions of the devices: one full formed with a sleek aluminum casing, and one at a lower price that is just the raw circuit board on its own. The open circuit will work just fine by itself (and many aficionados of synthesizers and other gear are happy to work with some exposed boards around), and the designers are also supplying free schematics for 3D printing your own casing. The OWOW instruments, like all such devices, aren't cheap — and the DIY offering is a great way to help out musicians operating on a budget and support the maker-musician community. The Bad Funky-looking little high-tech MIDI controllers actually come along quite often, and only a handful turn out to be truly useful. Based on the video and the norm for such controllers, there's a good chance there will be some responsiveness issues, but whether these will be "occasionally annoying" or "crippling" is uncertain. With a new digital music device like this, you can never be entirely sure whether it's a tool or a toy until you've tried it out yourself. It remains to be seen whether some or all of the OWOW instruments are really worth the price — but, so far, they are ticking all the boxes and then some. The Clever There's one other thing worth noting about the OWOW: a creative approach to Kickstarter fundraising that I've never seen before. While most projects for higher-price devices like this fill out their lower backer tiers with stickers and T-shirts and other secondary gear for people who want to support but not buy, OWOW is offering up a five-euro mobile game for iOS and Android. The hook? The player with the top score in the mobile game at the end of the campaign will get a complete set of all five instruments for free. That strikes me as a fantastic way to engage backers and offer low-budget supporters a good reason to buy, and I won't be surprised if that tactic starts to catch on in the world of crowdfunding. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 22 days ago on techdirt
Although it would be naive to think that the tide is turning, it's heartening to see a few wins against government attempts to formalise and extend surveillance of their populations. The passage of the USA Freedom Act, however flawed and limited it may be, is one example. The various rulings against the UK government are another. While rightly celebrating these, it's easy to overlook other battles being fought elsewhere, perhaps not so high profile, but just as important. Here's one that has been fought for over a year in Paraguay, and which recently concluded in a victory, as the EFF reports: On Thursday morning, the Paraguayan Senate defeated a mandatory data retention bill that would have compelled local ISPs to retain communications and location details of every user for a period of 12 months. Paraguayan Internet users called the bill "Pyrawebs," alluding to the digital version of pyragües, informers who monitored the civilian population's movements, meetings, political preferences, religious beliefs, and more on behalf of dictator Alfredo Stroessner, who ruled between 1954 and 1989. The EFF post links to a fascinating interview with Maricarmen Sequera, the director and founder of TEDIC (Technology, Education, Development, Investigation and Communications), which describes itself as: an NGO that develops open technology and defends digital rights for free culture on the Internet. Along with Amnesty Paraguay, TEDIC played a pivotal role in defeating the data retention bill. In the interview, Sequera was asked what advice she had for other groups facing similar battles: With these kinds of campaigns against mass surveillance, it is difficult to generate resonance on the issue without causing fear that paralyzes people and discourages them from getting involved. Drawing on the Paraguayan notion of 'pyrague' and giving it a modern (even comical) touch by adding "webs" helped give new life to a difficult subject, and also simplified it and made it intelligible to "non-techies". Another piece of advice could be to place the same amount of importance on community media as on the national press and radio. In the end, the community is who will promote grassroots action -- and this kind of action is always one of a campaign's goals. Additionally, getting international coverage will help to demonstrate the importance of the issue. As well as community media, social media played its part too: One of the most successful initiatives was the Twitter handle #Pyrawebs, which allowed us to send Twitter messages to every deputy in the Chamber, and call for them to reject the bill. That hashtag served as a handy rallying-cry during the crucial last phase of the campaign: #Pyrawebs trended for four days in Paraguay. On the day of the vote, seven million Twitter users worldwide were talking about it (more than the population of Paraguay). Although it's often said that Twitter in general, and hashtags in particular, never change anything, it's seems likely that seven million people tweeting about #Pyrawebs made an important contribution to the final result. Another great thing about creating a memorable hashtag is that it can be wheeled out again, at a moment's notice. Unfortunately, that might well be necessary. As the EFF post points out: the supporters of the bill may try to sneak it in again in the future. We will all need to stay tuned and help to fight any such move. The supporters of mass surveillance will try again, but if we stay united our fundamental rights will remain intact. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 22 days ago on techdirt
Oh great. So after we learned late yesterday that the hack of all sorts of data from the federal government's Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was likely much worse than originally believed -- including leaking all Social Security numbers unencrypted -- and that the so-called cybersecurity "experts" within the government weren't even the ones who discovered the hack, things are looking even worse. That's because, late today, it was revealed that there was likely a separate hack, also by Chinese state actors, accessing even more sensitive information: The forms authorities believed may have been stolen en masse, known as Standard Form 86, require applicants to fill out deeply personal information about mental illnesses, drug and alcohol use, past arrests and bankruptcies. They also require the listing of contacts and relatives, potentially exposing any foreign relatives of U.S. intelligence employees to coercion. Both the applicant's Social Security number and that of his or her cohabitant is required. In a statement, the White House said that on June 8, investigators concluded there was "a high degree of confidence that ... systems containing information related to the background investigations of current, former and prospective federal government employees, and those for whom a federal background investigation was conducted, may have been exfiltrated." "This tells the Chinese the identities of almost everybody who has got a United States security clearance," said Joel Brenner, a former top U.S. counterintelligence official. "That makes it very hard for any of those people to function as an intelligence officer. The database also tells the Chinese an enormous amount of information about almost everyone with a security clearance. That's a gold mine. It helps you approach and recruit spies." And yet... this is the same federal government telling us that it wants more access to everyone else's data to "protect" us from "cybersecurity threats" -- and that encryption is bad? Yikes.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 22 days ago on techdirt
Genetically engineered organisms already produce some highly valuable products for us. Insulin used to be harvested from the pancreases of pigs, but now stockpiles of human insulin can be made using a fermentation process with bio-engineered bacteria. Various kinds of yeast can produce different kinds of breads and beers, but if we can modify these tiny organisms at will, yeast could produce an incredibly wide variety of products. Just check out these links on the versatility of yeast. The next version of Breaking Bad won't need a desperate chemistry teacher, but maybe a biology undergrad and some genetically modified yeast. Brewing all kinds of pharmaceutical drugs with bioengineered yeast could make drug synthesis remarkably inexpensive... and hard to police. [url] Researchers have created a yeast that is sensitive to magnetic fields, and this work could lead to other kinds of organisms engineered to have magnetic sensing abilities. Magnetic yeast cells can grow into arbitrary patterns shaped by external magnetic fields, and this ability could be employed in advanced bio-engineering processes. [url] Under current FDA rules, if a flavor chemical comes from a plant, animal, or edible yeast, then it can be labeled "natural" on food packaging. How natural would flavors really be if they were produced by genetically engineered yeast? Designer yeasts can produce flavors such as vanilla, saffron, and grapefruit -- and more flavors and fragrances are being developed. [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 22 days ago on techdirt
It seems like only days ago that we had written about Valve's Steam platform finally adopting a method for customer returns. Oh, wait, it was only a few days ago. I was confused because given the way that some game developers are reacting to Steam allowing refunds, I'd have thought that there would be some massive sample size against which to judge how it all was working. The developers of Revenge of the Titans—a well-like strategy tower defense game that’s been out since 2011—saw an unexpectedly large uptick in refunds. “55% refund rate on RoTT alone. Versus five refunds in 10 years direct,” they tweeted. Ah, so the concern is that in the first week or so of Steam allowing refunds, customers are asking for refunds? That seems strange. In particular, it seems somewhat strange not to expect a larger uptick in refund requests within the first few weeks than you'd expect to see after the refund program had been in place for a while, as customers who might have games in their libraries that they never thought they could get a refund on were suddenly allowed to get one. You see these kinds of initial metrics in other business areas all the time, and they're nothing to get your hair up about. When you give customers an outlet they haven't had previously, the most traffic for that outlet is always at the outset. Anyone else? Meanwhile, Qwiboo, developer of a procedurally generated space platformer called Beyond Gravity, chimed in with an even higher stat. “Out of 18 sales 13 refunded in just last 3 days. That’s 72% of purchases. Rate of refunds before was minimal,” they tweeted. Keep in mind that games can't be refunded after more than 14 days after purchase and can't have been played for more than 2 hours (beyond rare circumstances). If you're getting a 72% return rate on your game under those conditions, it sounds like nobody liked the first 2 hours of your game. I guess you can blame the refund policy for that, if you want, or you can simply make better games. Other developers had what I think are helpful requests to go along with complaints about returns. Matt Gambell of RPG Tycoon paired his stat—”In these first 7 days of June out of the 60 average units sold, over 20 of those have claimed a refund”—with an observation about what he’d like to see out of Valve’s system: a better explanation as to why people asked for a refund of his game. That way, he could try to learn and improve—or at least patch any holes users find in his ship. Specifically, Gambell would like more information on why customers chose to return the game, as well as information on how many people had bought games to gift to other people and then returned those copies for any number of reasons (the giftee already had the game, etc.). Unfortunately, Gambell then went on to claim, along with several other developers, that this refund policy is likely going to result in a wider adoption of DRM, since there is some concern that gamers are "returning" the games after making copies of them. This, mind you, is an assertion made in a vacuum of evidence. And all of this is due, mind you, to customers actually using the refund option that Steam made available. It's there to be used. I'm not sure exactly what kind of metrics these developers were expecting, but I doubt any of this early panic or calls for more DRM are warranted or particularly helpful. The whole experiment has been going on for a couple of weeks, after all. Let's all take a breath and see how the numbers shake out a couple of months down the road before we pull a Chicken Little. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 22 days ago on techdirt
Screwing backers of crowdfunded projects may no longer be as free from consequence as it used to. The Federal Trade Commission has (finally, some might say) decided to tackle a failed Kickstarter and hold the person behind it responsible (sort of) for walking away from a dead project with over $100,000 in backers' cash. Erik Chevalier, d/b/a The Forking Path, hit Kickstarter with a plan for a boardgame featuring "Lovecraftian urban destruction" and a goal of $35,000. By the time the clock wound down, Chevalier was sitting on $123,000 of what would turn out to be mostly donations. That was June of 2012. By July of 2013, after numerous delays and long silences, Chevalier announced the project's demise. He also promised to start refunding backers. Apparently, only the first assertion was true. In fact, a lot of what was said to backers proved to be untrue. From the FTC complaint: In an update issued on July 23, 2013, Defendant stated that the project was being cancelled because “the intention was to start a board game company with the Kickstarter funds” and that “[a]fter paying to form the company, for the miniature statues, moving back to Portland, getting software licenses and hiring artists to do things like rule book design and art conforming[,] the money was approaching a point of no return.” In reality, Defendant never hired artists for the board game and instead used the consumers’ funds for miscellaneous personal equipment, rent for a personal residence, and licenses for a separate project. More recently, Defendant promised consumers that he would provide an accounting of his expenses, but he has not done so. Consumers continue to file complaints regarding Defendant’s failure to provide the promised products and rewards, or refunds. Eventually, after numerous complaints from the backers and the artistic creators of the game, another game developer stepped in and published the game and gave all backers a copy of the board game but not the other, highly-prized deliverables, such as the promised pewter figurines. To date, Defendant has neither provided the promised reward deliverables nor refunded most of the consumers. Chevalier's settlement agreement with the FTC is mostly toothless. It concedes he doesn't have the funds to pay back the $112,000 he still owes backers, thus suspending this route of recourse. The other wording in the agreement simply orders him to not being a lying swindler while utilizing crowdfunding services. In other words, behave like a normal, decent human being. Why it takes a government agency to deliver this message is beyond me, especially when it could have ordered him to steer clear of these services entirely. IT IS ORDERED that Defendant, Defendant's officers, agents, employees, and attorneys, and all others in active concert or participation with any of them who receive actual notice of this Order, whether acting directly or indirectly, in connection with any crowdfunding campaign, are permanently restrained and enjoined from misrepresenting or assisting others in misrepresenting, expressly or by implication: A. the purposes for which funds raised from consumers will be used; B. that by making a contribution, consumers will receive a specific good, service, or other reward deliverable; C. the performance, efficacy, nature, or central characteristics of such good, service, or other reward deliverable; or D. the qualifications or expertise of any person associated with the crowdfunding campaign. IT IS ORDERED that Defendant, Defendant's officers, agents, employees, and attorneys, and all others in active concert or participation with any of them who receive actual notice ofthis Order, whether acting directly or indirectly, in connection with any crowdfunding campaign, are permanently restrained and enjoined from failing to honor any stated refund, cancellation, exchange, or repurchase policy. Coupled with this are some more stringent stipulations, including the FTC's monitoring of Chevalier's crowdfunding-related activity for the next 18 years, as well as giving the agency permission to pounce on any assets it deems "hidden" for the purposes of repaying Kickstarter backers. An additional layer of scrutiny for crowdfunding ventures is probably a good idea, but not every funded project that dies is necessarily the result of the formative entity taking the money and running. It will be tempting to believe this is true in every case, especially if leaning on the FTC proves more effective than relying on self-policing and crowdfunding platforms Terms of Service agreements. As it stands now, there aren't many effective legal routes to demanding refunds for undelivered projects, and that has proven to be a bit of a problem, albeit far less frequently than cautionary notes to potential backers would have you believe. If the FTC is going to regulate this like any other "trade," the deterrents will have to be a bit stronger than the terms of this settlement. The agreement with Chevalier may ward off future fraudulent attempts by him and his company, but it doesn't seem likely to scare off others who see crowdfunding as a path to quick personal enrichment. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 22 days ago on techdirt
We already described how the recent hack into the US federal government's Office of Personnel Management (OPM) appears to be much more serious than was initially reported. The hack, likely by Chinese state hackers, appear to have obtained basically detailed personal info on all current and many former federal government employees. And here's the amazing thing: the federal government wasn't the one who figured out they'd been hacked. Instead, it's now coming out that it was discovered during a product demo from a cybersecurity company (guess their product works, huh?). According to the Wall Street Journal: But four people familiar with the investigation said the breach was actually discovered during a mid-April sales demonstration at OPM by a Virginia company called CyTech Services, which has a networks forensics platform called CyFIR. CyTech, trying to show OPM how its cybersecurity product worked, ran a diagnostics study on OPM’s network and discovered malware was embedded on the network. Investigators believe the hackers had been in the network for a year or more. That may go down as one of the most effective product demos ever. But, what's really sickening about all of this is that the federal government is already using this hack -- which it failed to discover -- as an excuse to pass new cybersecurity legislation, whose sole purpose is to give the feds more information, in the (faulty) belief that they'll "help" prevent future attacks. Within days of the initial report of the hack, Senator Mitch McConnell pointed to it as the reason to push cybersecurity legislation: “It might or might not deal with every aspect of what apparently happened a few days ago. But Congress is going to act on cybersecurity on this bill in the very near future.” Thankfully, cooler heads -- including Senator Patrick Leahy -- prevailed in pointing out that the OPM hack is no reason to rush into cybersecurity legislation -- but it's even more ridiculous than that. The entire premise of these cybersecurity bills is that we need this kind of information sharing so that government folks can "help" to better protect "critical infrastructure." But these same guys are so clueless they can't even protect their own staff files -- and then need outside help to even discover that they were hacked a year ago? Perhaps it's time to move in the other direction and take away the government's mandate over "cybersecurity" because it's shown little indication that it can handle the problem.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 22 days ago on techdirt
Here on Techdirt, we have been following with a certain bemusement attempts by a number of European governments to bring in laws that would grant newspaper and magazine owners a special "ancillary" copyright over snippets -- actually a thinly-disguised attempt to tax Google. Despite the miserable failure of this ploy, Austria has decided it wants to join the club, as reported here by the Initiative Against Ancillary Copyright site: The Austrian proposal is very similar to the German law. Producers of "newspapers and magazines" shall be granted an exclusive right only against commercial providers of search engines and news aggregators. As in Germany, this right is also supposed to only last for one year. But there remains one big difference: The draft does not include an exception for "single words and shortest text-snippets" which expands the scope of the right tremendously! That's something of an understatement. Assuming Austria goes ahead and brings in this change (it's currently a draft amendment to the country's copyright law), it will surely learn the hard way that it doesn't help publishers. What's more worrying is that there is an amendment (number 204 - pdf) to the proposed revision of the EU copyright directive, that seeks to bring in this crazy idea across all 28 member states: Notes that the current legal framework provides for neighbouring rights for performers, phonogram producers, film producers and broadcasting companies, but not for press publishers; calls on the Commission, therefore, to analyse whether neighbouring rights for press publishers can provide appropriate protection and remuneration for their work in a digital media world; There's an important vote on Tuesday that will determine whether that amendment is adopted, along with some of the hundreds of others that have been proposed. Let's hope that the European politicians bear in mind how badly the idea has turned out every time it has been tried before. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 22 days ago on techdirt
Without getting too down in the procedural weeds, just a little while ago, the House of Representatives effectively blocked "fast track authority" for the White House on trade deals -- for now. There was a lot of political maneuvering, and apparently the President started pushing hard on Congressional Democrats to support the trade deals. Many thought the last minute push would make it happen, but with Nancy Pelosi saying that Congress needed to "slow down" fast track, fast track basically came off the table. Again, how this was done involved a lot of gamesmanship and technically a later vote on fast track actually passed very narrowly (219 to 211), but it doesn't matter, because an earlier vote on a different, related measure, needed to pass as well, as the two issues were bundled together. After a bunch of confusing procedural moves, it appears that the House of Representatives will take another shot at this next week, but considering that the key provision went down by a 302 to 126 vote, a lot of arms need to be twisted in the next week and that may not be possible. If the vote next week fails, then things are extremely bleak for the future of "fast track" and the various trade agreements the USTR is pushing. The whole setup was somewhat confusing, because that official 302 to 126 vote was against Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a program for helping workers whose jobs are displaced by trade. Such a program is usually supported by Democrats, but was rejected here in order to block Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which was bundled with TAA on the Senate side. The later "show vote" for TPA is meaningless, because it would now need to go back to the Senate for a new vote, and the Senate won't approve TPA without TAA. And, of course, all of this is needed for the USTR and Obama to get the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) approved. And, if you're confused by the fact that TAA, TPA and TPP all sound sorta similar, don't worry: that's all on purpose to confuse the hell out of you and most of the rest of the public. Rest assured, however, that what happened today was the House of Representatives pumping the brakes on trade agreements like the TPP, after months of really heavy pressure from the White House, which had really ramped up in the past few weeks and days. This is a big blow to the USTR's program. It doesn't mean the House won't eventually get there, but it's not going to be an easy path, and this certainly could put agreements like the TPP (and TTIP and TISA) at risk.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 22 days ago on techdirt
Headphones are a popular, must-have item for many folks. The over the ear models are usually more comfortable than in the ear buds for long listening sessions. For 65% off of the list price, we have the stylish Brooklyn Headphone Company BK9 Headset available in the store. These headphones feature 40mm drivers for crisp sound and the over the ear design is made to reduce outside noise intrusion and come with a carrying case to help keep them looking sharp. The 48" cable has a built in microphone and an answer/end button for taking calls while you're listening to your tunes. The BK9s are available in blue or black and the deal includes free shipping to the continental US. Note: We earn a portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 23 days ago on techdirt
Almost exactly a year ago we wrote about a troubling lawsuit in British Colubmia, where a court ruled that Google needed to block access to a website globally. The case involved one company accusing another of selling counterfeit or copied equipment, and despite Google not even being a party to the case, said that Google needed to make sure no one could find the site in question via Google anywhere in the world. As we noted, this had tremendously problematic consequences. For example, China doesn't think anyone should be able to learn about the protests in Tiananmen Square. Can it now order Google to remove all links to such references globally? That result seems crazy. And, of course, there was a separate issue of how the court even had jurisdiction over Google, seeing as it does not have any operations, staff or servers in British Columbia. Google stepped in to protest the injunction at the appeals court. Unfortunately, the court has now ruled against Google, using the same sort of logic the lower court did -- basically arguing that because Google is available in British Columbia, the court has jurisdiction, and because it's trying to stop what it deems to be illegal actions from reaching Canada's shores, it has every right to order Google to block things worldwide, lest someone from British Columbia decide to type "google.com" into their browser to avoid the "google.ca." On the question of "doing business" in BC, the appeals court basically accepts the lower court's confused understanding of things: While Google does not have servers or offices in the Province and does not have resident staff here, I agree with the chambers judge’s conclusion that key parts of Google’s business are carried on here. The judge concentrated on the advertising aspects of Google’s business in making her findings. In my view, it can also be said that the gathering of information through proprietary web crawler software (“Googlebot”) takes place in British Columbia. This active process of obtaining data that resides in the Province or is the property of individuals in British Columbia is a key part of Google’s business. Google says that even if it is concluded that it carries on business in British Columbia, the injunction was not properly granted, because it did not relate to the specific business activities that Google carries on in the Province. In my view, the business carried on in British Columbia is an integral part of Google’s overall operations. Its success as a search engine depends on collecting data from websites throughout the world (including British Columbia) and providing search results (accompanied by targeted advertising) throughout the world (including British Columbia). The business conducted in British Columbia, in short, is the same business as is targeted by the injunction. In other words, if you don't want to be subject to the laws of BC (with control over your entire global operations) don't index websites based in BC? That's crazy. While I doubt it will happen, it's got to be tempting for some at Google to just say "okay, no more Google for BC or any website in BC." Now as for the nutty idea that a court in BC has jurisdiction over all of Google's global operations, again, the court doesn't seem even remotely concerned about that. It's response is basically "yeah, so?" Google raises the specter of it being subjected to restrictive orders from courts in all parts of the world, each concerned with its own domestic law. I agree with the chambers judge that it is the world-wide nature of Google’s business and not any defect in the law that gives rise to that possibility. As well, however, the threat of multi-jurisdictional control over Google’s operations is, in my opinion, overstated. Courts must, in exercising their powers, consider many factors other than territorial competence and the existence of in personam jurisdiction over the parties. Courts must exercise considerable restraint in granting remedies that have international ramifications. And it notes that previous cases have said that, sure, BC courts have "worldwide jurisdiction." At one time the courts of this Province refrained from granting injunctions that enjoined activities outside of British Columbia.... In 1988, however, the English Court of Appeal held that it had jurisdiction to issue a worldwide Mareva injunction.... It is now over 25 years since the Supreme Court of British Columbia first issued a worldwide injunction.... The jurisdiction to do so was re-confirmed .... and is, today, well-established. Google, quite reasonably, points out that while injunctions make sense against parties that actually break the law, it makes no sense to issue an injunction against a third party that has nothing to do with the party that actually broke the law. The court goes on a long and winding road saying "sure, but... in this case, it's okay." Finally, the court addresses another concern raised by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, noting that banning access to a website worldwide has serious free speech consequences. Once again, the court says "sure, but, we don't care in this case." For that reason, courts should be very cautious in making orders that might place limits on expression in another country. Where there is a realistic possibility that an order with extraterritorial effect may offend another state’s core values, the order should not be made. In the case before us, there is no realistic assertion that the judge’s order will offend the sensibilities of any other nation. It has not been suggested that the order prohibiting the defendants from advertising wares that violate the intellectual property rights of the plaintiffs offends the core values of any nation. The order made against Google is a very limited ancillary order designed to ensure that the plaintiffs’ core rights are respected. I note, as well, that the order in this case is an interlocutory one, and one that can be varied by the court. In the unlikely event that any jurisdiction finds the order offensive to its core values, an application could be made to the court to modify the order so as to avoid the problem. In short, sure, banning speech around the globe from one court in British Columbia, Canada could have serious global free speech concerns, but... we really don't like this website, so we're not going to change the ruling. In fact, later in the ruling, the court basically says "hey, the idea that there may be some 'legitimate' speech on this website we're ordering blocked globally is totally speculative": There has, in the course of argument, been some reference to the possibility that the defendants (or others) might wish to use their websites for legitimate free speech, rather than for unlawfully marketing the GW1000. That possibility, it seems to me, is entirely speculative. There is no evidence that the websites in question have ever been used for lawful purposes, nor is there any reason to believe that the domain names are in any way uniquely suitable for any sort of expression other than the marketing of the illegal product. Of course, if the character of the websites changes, it is always open to the defendants or others to seek a variation of the injunction. And, thus, British Columbia believes it can order global blocking of any website its courts deem problematic in BC. One wonders if we'll start to see "censorship tourism" migrating to BC courts now that its doors are open for global censorship orders.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 23 days ago on techdirt
After a rather quiet period, WikiLeaks seems to be back on form. After the big TISA leak last week, it's released the Healthcare Annex to the Transparency Chapter of TPP. The document itself is short (pdf), and fairly opaque, so WikiLeaks has helpfully provided some expert commentary from Deborah Gleeson (pdf) and Jane Kelsey (pdf), both well-known academics in this field. Here's a key part of Gleeson's summary: The inclusion of the Healthcare Transparency Annex in the TPP serves no useful public interest purpose. It sets a terrible precedent for using regional trade deals to tamper with other countries' health systems and could circumscribe the options available to developing countries seeking to introduce pharmaceutical coverage programs in future. The Annex is clearly intended to target New Zealand’s Pharmaceutical Management Agency (PHARMAC) and some of its provisions will result in new obligations for PHARMAC that will involve transaction costs and could impinge on its flexibility and autonomy. This is particularly worrying given that PHARMAC provides a model pharmaceutical coverage program that is suitable for adoption by developing countries. Pharmac is New Zealand's system for buying medicines in bulk, which results in substantial savings for the country -- around $3.5 billion since 2000. US drug companies hate it for two reasons: it is able to negotiate lower prices in New Zealand by consolidating purchases for the whole country; and it represents a dangerously successful model that other countries might adopt. The latest leak is important because it confirms that Big Pharma is using TPP not only to strengthen drug patents, but also to attack Pharmac directly. It has long been a fear that TPP would seek to undermine it, something that the New Zealand government has strenuously denied. The latest clear evidence that Pharmac is indeed under threat has forced the country's prime minister, John Key, to respond, reported here by the New Zealand Herald: Prime Minister John Key has promised that New Zealanders will continue to pay no more than $5 [US$3] for subsidised prescriptions, whatever happens to Pharmac under the Trans Pacific Partnership. Jane Kelsey is quoted in the new story as noting that there were only four possibilities: the Government could increase the health budget overall; the health budget could remain the same but more funding go from non-Pharmac costs to Pharmac; the price the public paid for prescriptions could rise -- which Mr Key ruled out today; and the fourth was that fewer medicines were bought by Pharmac. Any of the other options means higher taxes in New Zealand or cuts somewhere else to pay for the more expensive drugs TPP is almost certain to bring. That fact has led to a spate of articles in the New Zealand press, and a wider awareness about the negative consequences of the hitherto obscure TPP, albeit rather late in the day. As a side note, it's worth noting one other interesting aspect, pointed out by Kelsey in her detailed analysis of the latest leak: The Annex applies very specifically to a 'national health care program' that makes recommendations/decisions about listing pharmaceutical products or medical devices for reimbursement, or the sum of that reimbursement, where these programmes are run by a 'national health care authority'. The Annex does not apply to direct government procurement of pharmaceuticals and medical devices. 'National' is presumably chosen to preclude such programmes that are run by states and provinces, which are politically sensitive in the US and Canada. In effect, the US has excluded almost all its own programmes, while targeting New Zealand Clever, no? Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 23 days ago on techdirt
Sentencing revenge porn extortionists seems to be all over the place. Craig Brittain, who basically originated the extortionate process of not just running a revenge porn website, but combining it with a (pretending to be) separate "pay us and we'll get your naked photos taken down" service, had his wrists duly slapped by the FTC earlier this year. Shortly after that, Kevin Bollaert, who more or less copied Brittain's plan, got sentenced to 18 years in jail (which he's currently in the process of appealing). Hunter Moore, who is often credited with being the first one to set up a big revenge porn site (without the corresponding extortionate takedowns, but apparently with hiring people to hack into computers to get copies of naked photos to post), took a plea deal with somewhere between two and seven years in jail. And, now, Casey Meyering, who also copied Brittain's plan -- almost exactly -- and who also took a plea deal a few weeks ago, has been sentenced to three years in jail (which he can't appeal, due to the plea deal). Adam Steinbaugh, who spends his spare time hunting down revenge porn operators, provides a bit of background: In June of 2013, I documented how Meyering had ripped off an extortion scheme pioneered by another revenge porn site operator, Craig Brittain.  Meyering created Takedownhammer.info, copying Brittain’s Takedownhammer.com (word for word), and solicited payments to this “independent” service using a Google Wallet account clearly linked to Meyering’s drum-lessons business. When Meyering was arrested in February of 2014, he was found in a Tulsa hotel room, drunk.  He subsequently told the court he was homeless, bankrupt, and had nobody to ask for financial assistance to hire an attorney. It seems like the sentencing is all over the place with these guys. However, at the very least, it seems to have scared most revenge porn sites away from the US.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 23 days ago on techdirt
The idea of space-based telecommunications seemed so promising in the 1980s, but the delivered services didn't quite live up to the dream of ubiquitous global communications. Al Franken's one-man satellite reporting didn't really address the latency issues associated with geosynchronous satellite orbits, but the future of satellite communications was still a bad joke. Perhaps after a few decades, we're ready for another try? Elon Musk's SpaceX intends to create a constellation of 4,000 small/cheap satellites to provide high speed internet all over the world. Billionaires have tried this concept before, but maybe this time, the economics of cheaper satellites and rocket systems will make it a more feasible venture. [url] Iridium is the usual example of a global satellite network that was supposed to provide an always-on telecom network anywhere in the world. Iridium Next is actually set to replace the original aging Iridium satellites -- launched from SpaceX rockets in the largest commercial launch contract ever signed in 2010. The original business wasn't exactly a success, and given some of the lackluster specs of the planned replacement satellites, the next revision might not be much better. [url] OneWeb is looking to build around 900 satellites to deliver internet connections all over the world. If all these plans actually pan out, it'll be a bit strange to see more competition in the satellite internet industry than in the terrestrial wireline internet business. [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 23 days ago on techdirt
Earlier this week, we noted that Senator Mitch McConnell, hot off of his huge flop in trying to preserve the NSA's surveillance powers, had promised to insert the dangerous "cybersecurity" bill CISA directly into the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act). As we discussed, while many have long suspected that CISA (and CISPA before it) were surveillance bills draped in "cybersecurity" clothing, the recent Snowden revelations that the NSA is using Section 702 "upstream" collection for "cybersecurity" issues revealed how CISA would massively expand the NSA's ability to warrantlessly wiretap Americans' communications. Thankfully, like his PATRIOT Act games from a few weeks ago, this latest McConnell move has fallen flat. The Senate rejected the attempt by a 40 to 56 vote. So, for now, it looks like the Senate isn't going to be able to ram CISA through either which is good news. Still, expect Congress to keep trying. But, each time, it's important to ask some basic questions: what attacks would this bill actually stop (answer: none). And what laws are currently preventing the supposedly necessary "information sharing" from happening today? And, more importantly, why is the NSA getting access to this information and allowed to run backdoor searches on its upstream collections of all internet traffic exiting or entering the US? These all seem like relevant questions and they're all questions that the powers that be are ignoring.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 23 days ago on techdirt
Last night, we noted that an amendment from Reps. Thomas Massie and Zoe Lofgren was on the docket that had two provisions to stop two different kinds of surveillance: the first, taking away funding from "backdoor searches" which are a hugely problematic "loophole" that the NSA uses to do warrantless surveillance of Americans. In many ways, this is much worse than the bulk collection programs that were just hindered by the USA Freedom Act. The second part of the amendment was barring funds from being used to mandate "backdoors" into technology products -- another hugely important move. Thankfully, the amendment passed by a wide margin earlier today: 255 - to 174. While this is great news, I'm somewhat surprised and disappointed that the margin of victory here was lower than a nearly identical amendment last year (which was approved 293 to 123. It's possible that some of last year's votes were in protest to the falling apart of the USA Freedom Act a year ago -- whereas since it passed this year, some felt it was okay to shift their vote here. Still, in many ways, this has the potential to be a much bigger deal and much more important than the USA Freedom Act, because those backdoor searches are a huge problem. Of course, it's still a long way from making it into law. As we saw last year, this amendment was quietly dropped later in the year, as part of the giant "CRomnibus bill" that the government needed to pass. Still, we can hope that Congress finally recognizes how important this is.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 23 days ago on techdirt
The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has denied the broadband industry's requested stay of the FCC's reclassification of ISPs as common carriers under Title II, meaning the agency's shiny new net neutrality rules will go live tomorrow as scheduled, much to the chagrin of the nation's broadband duopoly. Incumbent ISPs requested the stay last month, claiming the FCC's rules were "arbitrary and capricious," "vague and onerous," and act to create "significant uncertainty about the introduction of new services" while "exposing providers to costly litigation." According to the court order (pdf), broadband providers failed to provide "the stringent requirements for a stay pending court review," meaning that the FCC's new net neutrality rules will remain in place for the duration of the ISPs assault on the FCC. While the courts have promised to expedite it, a resolution to the case could still take more than a year. FCC boss Tom Wheeler was quick to take to the FCC website to applaud the ruling:"This is a huge victory for Internet consumers and innovators! Starting Friday, there will be a referee on the field to keep the Internet fast, fair and open," said the Commission boss. "Blocking, throttling, pay-for-priority fast lanes and other efforts to come between consumers and the Internet are now things of the past. The rules also give broadband providers the certainty and economic incentive to build fast and competitive broadband networks."While net neutrality opponents in the House have been trying all manner of poison pills and other efforts to kill the rules, hamstring the FCC, or curtail the agency's budget, short of a court win -- the only viable way to kill the rules moving forward is a 2016 party shift, FCC leadership change, and subsequent gutting of the agency's order. Annoyed by recent blocked mergers and an uncharacteristically consumer friendly FCC boss bullish on broadband competition, you can be fairly certain that AT&T, Verizon and Comcast lobbyists are already very busy trying to ensure that a more incumbent-friendly scenario comes to fruition.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 23 days ago on techdirt
Cops kill a lot of people. Depending on who's counting, they've already killed between 385 and 470 people this year. This isn't to say that some of these killings weren't justified, but when details begin leaking out about the those killed, the amount of force in relation to the threat posed is often questionable. Because no PD wants to look like the home of trigger-happy thugs, the media spin begins almost before the "suspect" has expired. Usaamah Abdullah Rahim, shot by Boston cops, was instantly memorialized by law enforcement and a compliant press with the following: "allegedly radicalized by ISIS social media" "may have been planning to attack police" "preparing to launch an ISIS-inspired attack" "wielding a machete" "under 24-hour surveillance by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force" The "machete" turned out to be just a knife, albeit a "military-style black knife," because black knives are inherently more evil and dangerous than those in any other color. #blackknivesmatter What appeared to be a mishandling of a potentially-dangerous situation is now a fully-justified kill of a terrorist. Everyone is just supposed to take these claims at face value, despite the assertions raising more questions than they actually answer. If Rahim was so dangerous, why didn’t the constant surveillance result in any charges? If — as the media spent all day claiming — he was on the verge of executing a horrific terror attack, why didn’t law enforcement agents have an arrest warrant or even search warrant? What was their intention in approaching him this way? Were they wearing uniforms, and — supposedly believing he was an ISIS operative eager to kill police — did they do anything to make him feel threatened? Notably, none of the media outlets regurgitating police assertions bothered to probe the issues raised by these statements. This, unfortunately, is all too common. Disparaging the dead is the national pastime, in terms of police-press relations. A suicidal man wielding a knife is shot in his bed by police officers responding to a call to a non-emergency line at a local hospital -- in which his girlfriend stated he was threatening to hurt himself. Completely unprompted, this is what police had to say to the victim's mother: Denise said [Detective Mike] Smith then told her about “this new trend in law enforcement now—it’s called suicide by cop.” She said Smith explained “suicide by cop” is when suicidal people provoke the police in an effort to end their own lives. She said Smith wouldn’t tell her family where or how many times their son was shot. Just like that, the dead man was posthumously awarded the department's "He Was Asking For It" award. Further details on the shooting were withheld, because a bloodstained bed with bulletholes in it hardly portrays the shooting victim as a "threat." Akai Gurley, shot in the stairwell of a New York City apartment complex, was committing no crime when he was shot. Rather, the officer who shot him was patrolling the stairwells with his gun out and needed little more than a startling noise to justify opening fire. What did the media lead with? Gurley has 24 prior arrests on his record, police said. As if that mattered. The officer didn't recognize Gurley and assume he was looking for number 25. The officer couldn't even see who he was shooting at, because the stairwell was unlit. The unprompted rap sheet delivery by police sources was CYA in the form of presumed guilt. When a Ferguson police officer shot an unarmed Michael Brown, the press led with what it had been fed: Brown had participated in a "strong arm robbery" (which was actually just shoplifting combined with an altercation with the owner). When an NYPD officer choked Eric Garner to death, the airwaves filled with mentions of his previous arrest record (for minor things like selling untaxed cigarettes) and even extended so far as to implicate the person who recorded the incident, who had "previous arrests" and the coincidental misfortune of a post-recording arrest for possession of a handgun. Feast your eyes on this aggressive spin attempt: But the (lack of a) devil is in the details. The sentence under the headline implying the takedown of a dangerous, police-targeting thug shows the "history" wouldn't even fill the unused space on a detective's business card. The man killed by Pasco Police Tuesday evening had a past run-in with officers that resulted in an assault conviction. A past run-in. Singular. Hardly a "history." Can you possibly smear a 12-year-old who was shot to death within seconds of a patrol car arriving on the "scene?" You can certainly try. Tamir Rice's father has a history of violence against women. Relevant how? People from across the region have been asking whether Rice grew up around violence. The Northeast Ohio Media Group investigated the backgrounds of the parents and found the mother and father both have violent pasts. [Police and police supporters] from across the region have been [trying to spin this shooting of a 12-year-old]. The Northeast Ohio Media Group [has obliged them]. We're already skeptical of FBI claims that someone is "involved" in terrorist activities or has been "radicalized." The FBI has no one to blame for this perception but itself. The recent shooting that quickly turned an armed male into a terrorist on the prowl, operating at the behest of ISIS, is another in a long line of post-shooting justification attempts. In most cases, the officers involved know little to nothing about the person they've just killed. But that changes swiftly when an incident turns deadly. Suddenly, there's a killing to defend and every public record and every law enforcement database must be scoured to find that "justification." Somehow, a past conviction becomes current guilt, even if the victim was doing nothing illegal at the time and did little to justify the use of deadly force. Sometimes -- very, very rarely -- there are exceptions. A Madison, Wisconsin cop shot an unarmed man during an "altercation." The police chief refused to play the "smear the victim" game. The police chief refused to comment on Robinson’s criminal history or run-ins with police. “I could but I choose not to,” he said at a press conference Saturday. “I frankly think it is, for our purposes today, wholly inappropriate and I am not going to blemish anyone’s character, particularly someone's as young as his.” This was backed up by the mayor of Madison. Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, who said he met with Robinson’s family the night of the shooting, said officials aren’t going to put the teen on trial. “That’s not what this is about. What this is about is finding out exactly what happened that night and to determine, then, responsibility,” he told CNN’s “AC360.” “We know that he was not armed, and as far as the police chief and I are concerned … the fact that Tony was involved in any kind of transgression in the past has nothing to do with this present tragedy.” Unfortunately, the media refused to join the police chief and mayor on the high ground. As much as Koval and Soglin conducted themselves admirably, the media is so bound to the gutter that it couldn’t bear the idea of not throwing dirt on the body. "Wisconsin Circuit Court documents indicate Robinson pleaded guilty in December to an armed robbery that occurred last April." Because the cops refused to smear Robinson, the media had to do its own dirty work and dig up whatever nastiness “court documents” might offer. And if CNN’s smear isn’t bad enough, try ABC’s: "Inside, Kenny found Tony Robinson, a 19-year-old who had previously pleaded guilty to armed robbery charges in 2014." They could have described Tony Robinson as “a 19-year-old who was loved by his family, who saved kittens from a tree, who had a lovely smile and joy for life, who appeared to have had an unforeseeable psychotic breakdown,” but no. Instead, they described him as a guy who was guilty of armed robbery charges. Even if law enforcement officials bite their tongues when faced with the opportunity to clear themselves and disparage victims, media outlets can't seem to help themselves. Too many media outlets ingratiate themselves with local law enforcement -- not only by rebroadcasting questionable assertions, but by digging up any potentially damning that law enforcement left untouched. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...