posted 21 days ago on techdirt
We've got another double winner this week! This time, it's That Anonymous Coward who responded to MTV's claim that it will start focusing more on music with a small prediction that scored first place for both funny and insightful: MTV Exec walks back statement about going back to playing music after being presented with first 14 bills for rights demands bankrupt channel. In second place on the insightful side, we've got a response to Hillary Clinton's "that's not what I've heard" comment about the tech industry's response to her ongoing demand for compromised encryption. JonC wondered where she's getting her insider info from: Clinton said, “That is not what I've heard. Let me leave it at that.” Hmm... Clinton shouldn't have heard anything other than what the public heard. She doesn't currently hold a public office that would give her a reason to have heard anything you or I can't. Sounds like someone may be leaking information. Obama should force her to give up her source so he can persecute, I mean prosecute, the leaker. For editor's choice on the insightful side, we've got a double hit from frequent commenter That One Guy, who had two comments that racked up insightful votes but not quite enough to make one of the top spots. First, it's his thoughts on the entertainment industry's demands for a notice-and-staydown system: Live by the DMCA notice, get de-listed by the DMCA notice Much like calls for censorship should result in the ones calling for such having their speech censored first for the sake of fairness, I think if the *AA's are going to argue for notice and staydown, every single one of their links that gets accidentally tagged should be permanently removed, with stiff penalties in place to ensure that online services have plenty of incentive to never let them be re-listed. Fair's fair after all, they're the ones calling for such draconian measures, and insisting that there's no problem with them because mistakes are just so very rare and inconsequential, I think it only right that they get to see what it's like being on the receiving end of such treatment. Next, it's his quite reasonably pessimistic thoughts on the European Court of Human Rights apparently outlawing mass surveillance: Good first step Now for the even more important(and difficult) second step: Getting those running and supporting the surveillance programs to care about what is and is not legal. Over on the funny side, we've already had our first place winner above, so we move straight on to second place with an anonymous comment that requires some context. First, after it was revealed that ISIS favors open source encrypted messaging tools, one commenter suggested that politicians would soon start calling for bans on open source software, ending his comment with half of an old adage — "when all you have is a hammer..." — and prompting another anonymous commenter to finish the sentence: whack the politician in the face? For editor's choice on the funny side, we start with a response to the really bad idea from Google about kicking ISIS off the open web. Pixelation suggested that perhaps this project should be handed off to those with heaps of relevant experience: Get the RIAA involved Tell them ISIS is infringing their copyrights. Finally, we've got an anonymous response to the news that the Interactive Advertising Bureau has banned AdBlock from attending a major advertising conference: "To protect our world views we have shot the messenger! Rejoice!" That's all for this week, folks! Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
Five Years Ago There was lots of grappling over censorship this week in 2011. While the European Commission was planning draconian new "anti-piracy" laws, the head of the ICE was defending the recent domain seizures and getting some distressing support from a wide variety of companies (Senator Ron Wyden, at least, called these companies out for supporting censorship). We also learned more worrisome details about the settlement over the unauthorized Catcher In The Rye sequel, saw Zynga start turning into a trademark bully, and watched as Righthaven started suing message board posters in its ongoing crusade. Also of note this week in 2011: the world was learning the fascinating details of the Stuxnet worm, and the FCC gave the okay to the Comcast/NBC Universal merger. Ten Years Ago Five years earlier in 2006, similar censorship battles were still unfolding. One big question (that has never been entirely solved) was simply that of jurisdictions online. Major League Baseball was fighting to claim ownership of facts, and the organizers of the 2012 London Olympics were getting an extreme head start — which is what you need when your plan is to rewrite the host country's laws to give you special censorship powers. And speaking of bold legislative changes, Hollywood made an amusing and telling attempt to explicitly preserve the past by protecting "customary historic use of broadcast content by consumers". That's what happens when an industry fears innovation — that, and theaters boycotting a film because it will be released on DVD at the same time. Fifteen Years Ago Last week, we talked about the hype over what would eventually turn out to be the Segway — and by this week in 2001, the inventor was already struggling to manage expectations. Other hypes, such as that around online dating and the wireless web, were also disappointing people. Affiliate programs were losing some steam too, with both Google and the Wall Street Journal ditching theirs. The FBI was decidedly not immune to the hype of some script kiddies in a chat room, and the people behind famous the almost (and might-as-well-have-been) vaporware Duke Nukem game were so eager to exercise control over their hype that they went intellectual property crazy. Thirty-Five Years Ago Since we're venturing back through time, how about a nod to one of the most famous vessels for that very task? It was on January 21st, 1981 that the first iconic DeLorean DMC-12 rolled off the line in Belfast. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
This week, we're taking a look at a trio of interesting crowdfunded offerings that each take a lot of craftsmanship of entirely different sorts. JS Shoes This project comes from a designer with a pretty hefty portfolio, and claims to be a world's first: not 3D-printed but rather 3D-knitted shoes, made on demand using the latest automated knitting machines. The result of this process is an extremely lightweight shoe that is manufactured with zero wasted material, and it unlocks some interesting design options: not only can a pair of shoes be customized, each shoe can be designed separately. Will people want to experiment with asymmetrical footwear? Nixie Tube Clocks This project comes from another experienced designer with a specific vision, but this time it's one of retro-futurism and handcrafted art. Two Nixie Tube Clocks have already been funded on Kickstarter, and now there's a third design in the works alongside reissues of the others. Though they aren't cheap, they certainly are works of art, and they aren't assembled from cheap parts or even inauthentic ones: the clocks use genuine Soviet-era vacuum tubes sourced from Russia and Ukraine, and are hand-built from a selection of premium hardwoods then finished with custom etch-work in brass and steel. The Boy And The Computer Finally, we've got a veteran programmer offering up something a little different: an educational graphic novel based around real-world coding, hacking and hardware. The pages shown so far look great, seamlessly bringing actual information about technology (and refreshingly accurate depictions of it) into the comic book format. Born of the challenges the artist faced trying to teach his own kids about computer science, it looks like a labor of love that should be worth checking out. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
A common lament these days is that people have no real political power. Yes, elections take place, but after that, politicians just seem to do what they want, with little concern for what the public really thinks about the laws that they push through, as many stories here on Techdirt indicate. In particular, there is generally no mechanism to cancel a new law except by waiting for the next elections, and voting for a party that might repeal it. Often that's not an option, which means the public has no way to stop harmful legislation from going into effect. Most assume that's just the way things are, but the example of Switzerland shows that's not the case. Citizens there have a number of options if they want to influence politicians directly. For example, when new laws are passed, they can collect signatures in support of a formal referendum on the measure: if 50,000 signatures are collected from Swiss voters or eight cantons [Swiss states] demand a referendum within 100 days, then a popular vote is held. That's precisely what has been done in reaction to a new surveillance law that was passed last September, as this post from the Swiss email company, ProtonMail, explains: the Swiss parliament passed a new surveillance law known as the Nachrichtendienstgesetzt (NDG) or la Loi sur le renseignement (Lrens). The law would have severely curtained privacy rights in Switzerland. Due to our use of end-to-end encryption, the ProtonMail secure email service would not be negatively impacted by the new law. However, we strongly believe in protecting privacy rights, so together with other opposition groups, we decided to mount a challenge against the new law. Due to Switzerland's unique system of direct democracy, any law can be challenged by collecting 50,000 signatures within a period of 3 months after the passage of the law. Today, we are happy to announce that this effort has succeeded and this afternoon at 13:30h, the referendum will be officially presented to the Swiss government in Bern. This means at the next election, the Swiss surveillance law will be put to a public vote by the entire country, and for once, the people and not politicians will decide the future of privacy in Switzerland. That's a pretty amazing result, not least because signatures had to be physical ones on pieces of paper, which then had to be verified before they could be counted towards the threshold figure of 50,000. In the end, over 70,000 signatures were sent in, 64,500 were processed, and 55,000 were certified. The success of this exercise in direct democracy contrasts painfully with how things are proceeding elsewhere around the world. In too many countries, new surveillance laws are being rushed through with little scrutiny from politicians, and no input from the public. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
Ron Wyden, Martin Heinrich and Mazie Hirono -- all members of Senate Intelligence Committee -- have sent a letter to the President demanding an official apology from CIA head John Brennan for the agency's surveillance of Senate staffers working on the Torture Report. "In January 2014, CIA personnel conducted an unauthorized, unprecedented search of Senate committee files, including the emails and other files of Senate staff investigating the CIA's use of torture," says the letter... "The CIA Inspector General stated in a July 2014 report that this search involved 'improper agency access to [Senate Intelligence Committee] files.' A review board selected by CIA Director Brennan concluded in December 2014 that this CIA search 'resulted in inappropriate access to [Senate Intelligence Committee] work product'." [...] "We believe that it is necessary for you to ensure that senior officials in your administration recognize the importance of adhering to the rule of law," the lawmakers wrote to Obama. "We ask that you instruct Director Brennan to acknowledge that the CIA's unauthorized search of Senate files was improper and will not be repeated." The White House and CIA have yet to comment on the letter and there's nothing in the history of the incident that suggests either will move forward on this. Obama's on short time and the CIA already cleared itself of all wrongdoing with an in-house "investigation" and further showed its disdain for independent oversight by throwing its Inspector General and his report on the spying efforts under the bus. Jason Leopold and Vice obtained hundreds of documents through FOIA requests that appeared to show the opposite of what the CIA's internal investigation claimed. But it was the CIA that had the last word, proclaiming itself innocent and simultaneously accusing Senate staffers of improperly accessing restricted documents. But the most damning document -- at least in the context of a demand for an official apology from the CIA -- was the apology the agency unofficially disavowed when it cleared itself of hacking allegations. [T]he documents turned over to VICE News included a July 28, 2014 letter from Brennan that was addressed to Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss, who was then the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, in which he apologized to them and admitted that the CIA's penetration of the computer network used by committee staffers reviewing the agency's torture program was improper. The thing is, Brennan never signed or sent this apology. It just sat in a Torture Report-related file until it was FOIAed. Brennan even offered a closed-door, off-the-record apology to Dianne Feinstein, but to date, the final official word remains the CIA's: we did nothing wrong. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
If you're young enough, you were only taught about the eight planets in our solar system -- and possibly that there was a mysterious 'Planet X' or planet Tyche beyond Neptune. More recently, there's a new ninth planet proposal from the same folks who re-named Pluto as a dwarf planet. Check out these links on Pluto and this new ninth planet that might redefine the outer edge of our solar system. Twisting the knife into Pluto, Michael Brown and his fellow Caltech astronomer Konstantin Batygin have proposed a ninth planet in our solar system -- that's about the same size as Neptune but with an orbit so large that it would take roughly 15,000 earth-years to complete its own journey around the sun. What does Brown have against Pluto? Dwarf planets are still cute, I suppose. [url] Pluto was discovered in 1930, and at the time, it was mistakenly thought to be about the same size as the Earth. Further measurements revealed that Pluto is actually about 0.2% as massive as the Earth -- and that similarly-sized bodies in space called 'trans-Neptunian objects' (TNOs) also existed in our solar system. Since the discovery of TNO Eris in 2005 meant that Pluto was less planet-like than previously thought, these larger TNOs were named dwarf planets -- and Pluto was demoted. (And Pluto still hasn't even finished its 248-year-long orbit around the sun since it was discovered as a 'planet'... before it was re-classified as not a planet.) [url] Despite its dwarf planet status, Pluto has five moons of its own. Seriously. Five. Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra are the names of Pluto's satellites, and Charon is about half the size of Pluto -- which had some astronomers proposing to call Pluto a binary planet or double planet (binary dwarf planet?). [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

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
We had just relayed a story via the BBC about an elementary school kid in the UK earning a visit to his home from the authorities after writing in an English assignment that he lived in a "terrorist house", when he reportedly was trying to say he lived in a "terraced house." The crux of this story was that the UK's Anti-Terrorism law, which requires that school teachers act as surveillance agents for the state in an attempt to weed out future-radicalized will-be-terrorists is a policy built for unintended chaos, given that teachers are neither trained nor properly equipped to fulfill this role. The resulting visit to the boy's home by the authorities from a misspelled word was billed as an example of this overreach by government. But, as some in the comments pointed out, Lancashire police have pushed back on the BBC's story, saying that it wasn't the misspelled words that triggered the visit and ultimately resulted in the authorities determining there was no need for an investigation, but was instead other schoolwork the boy had done that triggered the visit and ultimately resulted in the authorities determining there was no need for an investigation. In a statement, police and the county council said it was "untrue to suggest that this situation was brought about by a simple spelling mistake. The school and the police have acted responsibly and proportionately in looking into a number of potential concerns using a low-key, local approach," it said. "No concerns were identified and no further action was required by any agency." For some reason, there are those that think this vindicates both law enforcement and the UK's law because police say the spelling error had nothing to do with any of this. I can't quite figure out the logic of those people, because this is still a story about a teacher using schoolwork to identify a Muslim boy possibly being dangerous that triggered a visit to the boy's home from the authorities. While the BBC has pulled its original post as a result of the pushback, the fundamentals of the story haven't really changed at all. We still have a scared child and an annoyed family stemming from law enforcement action built on the back of a teacher picking through the child's schoolwork. That isn't a sustainable model for combating terrorism, but it is a sustainable model for alienating an entire subsection of a nation's population. Miqdaad Versi, assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, the UK's largest umbrella group for Islamic associations, said he was aware of dozens of cases similar to that of the schoolboy. "There are huge concerns that individuals going about their daily life are being seen through the lens of security and are being seen as potential terrorists rather than students," he said. "This is a natural consequence of the extension of the 'Prevent Duty' to schools." Regardless of the police pushback, which was extremely light on details, that hasn't changed. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
The NSA has released its first post-USA Freedom Act "Transparency Report," highlighting the changes made to its bulk records collection as a result of the legislation. The NSA is now limited to approaching service providers for records using RAS (Reasonable Articulable Suspicion)-approved selectors, rather than simply gathering everything and sorting through it at its convenience. That being said, it still performs a certain amount of "selecting" in the dark, using collected data held on its own servers. While the number of "hops" it's able to perform from its original RAS-approved selector has been limited, it may be able to perform more expansive contact chaining thanks to its own analytic processes, which are removed from FISA Court oversight. Julian Sanchez, writing for Just Security, notes that the NSA is indeed complying with the new law's limitations on contact chaining. The report’s definition of “one hop” and “two hop” results clarifies that they are interpreting the statute as Congress intended: The “results” generated in response to a specific selector will encompass only particular numbers in direct contact with that selector, as opposed to any numbers that might show up on (say) the same monthly phone bill. However, this doesn't necessarily mean the NSA is limiting itself to contacts once or twice removed from numbers in direct contact with RAS-approved selectors. Sanchez points out that there's no way to tell exactly what the NSA is doing with its collected records before approaching service providers for data on contacts further down the chain. There are two notable consequences to this procedure. On the one hand, at least on its face, it would seem to preclude NSA from requiring the phone carriers to conduct “chaining” between the first and second hop using data (such as, for instance, location information or billing addresses) possessed by the telephone carriers but not produced to NSA, because it falls outside the scope of USA Freedom’s relatively narrow definition of Call Detail Records. On the other hand, it makes the process of generating the list of one-hop selectors to be used by carriers as the basis for production of second-hop Call Detail Records effectively a black box under NSA’s control. The first list of “specific selectors” will consist of phone numbers or other identifiers that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has verified are linked to a foreign power (or agent thereof) engaged in international terrorism. But the second list — the basis for production of those second-hop Call Detail Records — will be generated by NSA itself, using its massive array of internal databases and its own definition of what it means for two numbers (or other identifiers) to be in “direct contact.” So, that's a concern and one that's incredibly hard to track, as the NSA's transparency reporting obscures the number of selectors queried. Not only that, but despite the report continually referring to "call records" and "telecommunications providers," there's nothing in the program that limits the NSA to collecting only telephone call metadata. Marcy Wheeler points out that a "selector" could be almost anything and return -- instead of numbers dialed or received -- information that could be used to track other activity. What this means, in effect, is that NSA and FBI (the latter does the actual application) will get a specific identifier — which could be a phone number, a SIM card number, a handset identifier, or a credit card, among other things — approved at the FISC, then go back to at least NSA’s data (and quite possibly FBI’s), and find all the contacts with something deemed to “be” that identifier that would be meaningful for a “phone company” to query their own records with, up to and including a cookie (which is, by definition, a session identifier). The ambiguity surrounding the term "selector" will not be made any less ambiguous by the NSA's reporting. Given the breathtaking variety of selector types the NSA uses, this could represent a great deal of queries on the provider side, many tracking user activity rather than user communications. And, at least given how the privacy report describes the transparency reporting, neither those interim NSA selectors nor cookies showing user activity but not communication of information would get counted in transparency reports. This is how the NSA will be reporting data on selectors, targets and records returned: The number of targets under each order: Defined as the person using the selector. For example, if a target has a set of four selectors that have been approved, NSA will count one target, not four. Alternatively, if two targets are using one selector that has been approved, NSA will count two targets. The number of unique identifiers used to communicate information collected pursuant to an order: Defined as each unique record sent back from the provider(s). Julian Sanchez similarly notes the NSA will achieve opacity through transparency by reporting on its collection efforts in this manner. [T]he additional directive to report the “number of unique identifiers used to communicate information collected pursuant to an order” employed under this authority has been interpreted in a rather counterintuitive way. The most natural-seeming way to read this would be as requiring a count of the number of “specific selectors” sent to the phone carriers as the basis for production of records — though arguably the fact that the statute doesn’t explicitly use the “specific selector” language could be read to signal that something different may have been intended. Instead, NSA reads this as requiring them to publish a tally of “each unique record sent back from the provider,” meaning that “if NSA receives the same record separately, whether from multiple providers or one provider, NSA will count each response separately. The Agency recognizes that NSA’s metrics, therefore, likely will be over-inclusive.” This will guarantee that the number reported is both extremely large and quite difficult to interpret. By undercounting selectors and overcounting records collected, the NSA can nod towards transparency while producing a jumble of numbers that comes nowhere close to accurately portraying its collection activities. Still, the fact that such a report exists is notable in and of itself, considering the agency has spent decades in total darkness. And there's always a chance more refined reporting will be demanded in the future. For now, though, the NSA appears to be complying with the new law -- at least as far as its relationship with telecommunications providers is concerned. Its method of contact chaining, however, appears to exist in a statutory loophole, free from direct FISA oversight. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
Usually when we talk about the Oscars behaving badly about intellectual property, it has to do with either its combat against film piracy or its rather stunning tradition of facilitating it. What's clear in most of those stories, though, is that when the Motion Picture Academy decides to sink its collective teeth into something, it is bulldog-ish in its unwillingness to let it go. It seems that this is the case on matters of trademark, as well. Unimaginably petty trademark matters. As CNN was covering a boycott by some actors of the Oscars ceremony, it appears someone in PR for the Academy had pestered CNN to the point that the news channel, contrary to how just about everyone else does it, agreed to include a trademark registration symbol when discussing the Oscars on its crawl. To get an idea of how jarring doing this is to the viewer, see the following screen-cap. Now, is this the hugest deal of anything ever? Obviously not, but that's what makes this so annoying: why does the Academy care if CNN's crawl about the Oscars has a trademark registration mark? Television and print news organizations all over the place omit it all the time, because including it both serves no purpose and annoys basically everyone. Why is this the hill on which the Academy chose to fight? While the name “Oscars” is certainly a registered trademark of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (so CNN is correct on that count), most style manuals, including the AP Stylebook, forgo the use of it or the non-registered trademark symbol (™). Not only does the use of it clutter up pages and graphics, but back in the old days when news was literally distributed via wires, such symbols couldn’t be transmitted. It's only useful quality is as an insight into the minds of employees at an organization that has gone IP-crazy. Because they must be the only ones that actually care about this. Still, it's disappointing that CNN's apathy led to capitulation to the silliest of demands. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
The administration is trying to draft tech companies into the War on Terror. Encryption -- despite being given an unofficial "hands-off" by President Obama -- is still being debated, with FBI Director James Comey and a few law enforcement officials leading the charge up the hill they apparently want to die on. One of the aspects discussed was how to deter online communications involving terrorists. Trying to deputize tech companies is a non-starter, considering the potential for collateral damage. But that's not stopping the administration from trying to do exactly that, and it's willing to deploy the most terrible participant in its parade of horrors. “I do have a lot of confidence that those companies that are run by patriotic Americans are not interested in seeing their tools or their technology used by terrorists to harm innocent Americans,” [White House press secretary Josh] Earnest told reporters in Washington before the meeting occurred. “That’s certainly not what they were designed for.” [...] “There is a precedent for us to confront this kind of problem,” Earnest said. “We know that there are some people who try to make money based on the selling and trafficking of child pornography and they are using websites to do that. And we have been able to work effectively with the tech community to counter those efforts.” Earnest makes two implications here, both of them disingenuous. The first is that any reluctance expressed by tech companies should be viewed as evidence these companies just don't love America enough. The second is that an unwillingness to intervene on the US government's behalf is hypocritical, considering the voluntary efforts these companies undertake to identify and remove child pornography. The problem is that alleged terroristic content and child pornography aren't comparable -- at least not to the extent that the administration portrays it. For one, child pornography -- for the most part -- is difficult to mistake for protected speech. One of the few exceptions to the First Amendment deals specifically with this content. In addition, most identified files have unique hashes which can readily be identified when they pop up elsewhere on the web. The other problem is that even if files associated with terrorism or potential acts of terrorism are uniquely identifiable via hashes, that doesn't immediately elevate possession of these files to a criminal act. Jonathan Zittrain at Just Security points out that this makes all the difference in the world. To be sure, child pornography filtering — and reporting — may be a place to draw a clear line. Not only is child pornography near-universally reviled and banned, but the matching algorithm for previously-identified images boasts no false positives, and, perhaps most important, possession of the file is not only clear evidence of the crime, but quite typically the crime itself. A terrorist to-do list is primarily only evidence, not itself a crime. The hypothetical situation proposed in Zittrain's post -- that Google, et al begin to treat terrorist content like child pornography -- is a potential ground zero for all sorts of collateral damage. Google already scans email for child porn (as well as for potential advertising keywords), but adding terrorism to this short list would put dissidents, journalists, researchers and activists in the government's crosshairs. Possession of terrorist-related materials isn't a criminal act, but that wouldn't prevent unwarranted (in the original sense, not the Fourth Amendment sense [although that wouldn't be far behind…]) surveillance of citizens who aren't terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. And once Google has expanded its dragnet to include terrorist material, it wouldn't take long for other aggrieved parties to jump on the proxy surveillance bandwagon. After all, a criminal offense is a criminal offense -- whether it's the circulation of terrorist-related content or anything else certain entities feel needs more policing on the Wild West Web. If a search for contraband documents expands beyond the comparatively well-bounded area of child pornography, there could be little stopping it from progressing incrementally to an Orwellian level of invasiveness. For example, to prevent claimed copyright infringement, we could see services compelled to scan private communications for musical tracks or videos, or links to that content. Facebook has at times done just that for its private messaging service. Whatever one’s views on copyright, the upside of applying the search technique there is surely lower than that of catching murderers, though the logic underlying the search may ultimately prove powerful enough to make it common. Add to that the fact that the government -- once it has persuaded Google, etc. to look for certain content -- will continue to add to the list of things tech companies should look for. Child porn is Patient Zero. Terrorism seems to be the next step. After that, mission creep is inevitable. Zittrain does provide reasons why Google should scan for terrorist material, and they sound exactly like the reasons the government would state when pressuring tech companies to engage in further pro bono web policing: the additional searches would be minimally intrusive and could conceivably save lives. But the problem remains unaddressed by the "positives" of these tactics. Child porn possession is a crime. Possession of a circulated plan for a terrorist attack is not. It may be suspicious but it is not, in and of itself, a criminal act. Finally, even with a tailored search for files with unique hash values, the search itself is still a general search. It would be an automated dragnet encompassing not only users of whatever service deployed it, but also those sending email/messages/etc. to users of that service. That's a "general search" -- the kind the Fourth Amendment is supposed to deter -- no matter how the government spins it. And it will spin it, if it gets a chance. That's why the pressure is being applied towards voluntary actions rather than legislated "fixes." If the government can talk Google and its competitors into performing its general searches for it, it can avoid dealing with the constitutional issues that would certainly arise if it chose to perform this on its own. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
Ad blocking and the software that powers it seems to be in the news lately, and for all the wrong reasons. Recently, several prominent sites have attacked ad blockers in several different ways, ranging from lawsuits on the extreme end down to simply withholding content. These attempts are all misguided in the same way, however, in that they attack the software that readers find useful rather than attacking the core problem that makes users turn to ad blockers in the first place: incredibly crappy and occasionally downright dangerous advertising inventory. One would think that websites and online advertisers would have much to learn from the providers of ad blockers. It seems there is little appetite for education amongst them, however, as we've recently learned that the Interactive Advertising Bureau has flat out barred Adblock Plus from its annual conference. According to a post on the Adblock Plus blog, the company had bought a ticket for the IAB conference, which takes place in Palm Desert, California at the end of January. The ticket was not cheap: they start at about £1,750 for members, scaling up to £2,600 for non-members. Then, last week, Adblock Plus received an e-mail from the IAB stating: "We are returning your registration fee and cancelling your registration for the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting." That was the entire content of the communication; according to Adblock Plus, there was no reason given for the cancellation. Adblock Plus employee Mark Addison e-mailed the IAB and asked if "there must be some confusion" as he hadn't asked for a cancellation or refund. All he got was another inscrutable email from the IAB, confirming that his ticket had indeed been cancelled, but offering up no reason for the cancellation. The reason for the summary refusal to allow Adblock Plus into the conference isn't difficult to surmise, of course. Online advertisers must certainly cast an unfriendly eye towards ad blockers, seeing them as the enemy. And, in online advertising's current iteration, they are. But, as we've stated before, that's because online advertising first made itself an enemy of the public by being annoying, useless, and even a vector for malware. Refusing to let Adblock Plus into the conference equates to online advertisers sticking their fingers in their ears, refusing to listen to what should be a very important voice in the industry. Adding to how silly this is is the fact that ad blocking is regularly discussed at the conference. The IAB has previously acknowledged that adblocking is a huge problem for the industry, and the topic of adblocking was discussed at length at last year's annual conference. If a solution is to be found, it will almost certainly require a dialogue between the advertisers and the advertising blockers. Imagine if, instead of turning a deaf ear towards ad blockers, the IAB instead encouraged a dialogue to find out how to make their advertising more desirable to those using the software. Adblock Plus must have a ton of data that's useful to advertisers, but they won't get it by keeping their little club exclusive. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
Darlene Love, the voice on the Phil Spector-produced hit "He's A Rebel," is suing Google and its ad producer, 72 & Sunny, for violating her publicity rights by using a song she recorded in one of its ads without her permission. The lawsuit seems to revolve around California's much-maligned "right of publicity" law, which allows plaintiffs to sue entities for using pretty much anything about them, rather than just for bog standard copyright infringement. That's going to be key because it seems clear Google cleared the rights to use a song of hers in its Nexus ads. That would just leave the extra "permission" Love feels she's been screwed out of: the "right" to block Google from using a legally-licensed track. A voice does not end up in a commercial advertisement by accident. Rather, a number of people are involved in the creation of commercials. The voice of a famous performer, singing a famous song is selected for the express purpose of trading on the performer’s goodwill. Defendants consciously and deliberately selected Love’s vocal performance of It’s a Marshmallow World for their commercials. However, Defendants refused to take any steps to obtain Love’s consent and had no reason to believe she had or would consent to such use. Instead, Defendants took deliberate measures to evade contacting her or obtaining her permission. Love's voice was used, as it was part of the licensed track. Her goodwill remained where it always was -- loaded like a spring trap, apparently. She accuses Google of deliberately using a non-union ad producer to ensure her union-granted "rights" (whatever they are…) were routed around. An honest company, doing business in good faith, would not attempt to deprive Love of the benefits of the union protection and would have engaged a SAG-AFTRA affiliated advertising agency so that the performer (and the background singers) would receive at minimum, the union-mandated benefits. So… medical coverage? Prevailing wages? This part isn't explicitly spelled out, but Eriq Gardner points out that union members may be eligible for separate payments. But Love's lawsuit never claims Google refused to pay her. She only alleges it did not seek her permission to use her "goodwill." Defendants actions were despicable and in conscious disregard of Love’s rights. They turned her into an involuntary pitchman for products of dubious quality. They created a commercial that falsely implied to the public that Love had endorsed Google’s products. That's a stretch. It's obvious Google chose the song for its lyrics (advertising a new phone containing its "Marshmallow" version of the Android operating system), rather than for Darlene Love's $75,000-worth of "goodwill." Love gets her shots in at the nationally-acclaimed ad agency as well, claiming it colluded with Google to screw her out of something the lawsuit fails to specifically name. (But apparently worth $75,000+) Google engages in anti-labor advertising practices and in an effort to harm Love, hired Sunny, a scab shop that utilizes recordings of artists created under the protection of collective bargaining agreements, without themselves becoming signatories and complying with the union-mandated obligations for the reuse of phonograph records in commercials. [...] Google’s conduct was so loathsome that it intentionally hired a disreputable non-union affiliated advertising company and the two of them deprived Love of her union protections, all to enrich themselves at her expense. As you can see, some parts of the lawsuit read like someone's emotional blog post and -- I can't state this enough -- there are no accusations in the filing that Love did not receive compensation for the licensed use of her work. The agreement she cites as the basis for her beef with Google and its "scab" ad agency says nothing about seeking an artist's permission. It only notes they may be entitled to an additional, separate royalty. Nowhere in the suit does Love claim she did not receive the royalties she was entitled to. Instead, she's trying to use a bad law to extract $75,000 from Google simply because if they'd asked if she would like to be in its ad, she would have said no. Can she win this? Anything's possible. The unauthorized use of someone's likeness -- which includes their voice -- can be considered a violation of the right of publicity under the local law. There's a good reason why she's brought this lawsuit in California, rather than New York, where she lives and Google has an office. In California, her suit isn't pre-empted by federal law, which means she can use the friendlier local law to pursue damages. But she'll have to make a stronger case that Google intentionally traded her goodwill for thousands of dollars -- rather than simply licensed a song with "marshmallow" in the lyrics. It really seems like her beef should be with her union for not ensuring her the chance to reject the use, rather than Google, which apparently paid the licensing fees and handled everything correctly on its end of the deal. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Keep tabs on your home while you're away with the $119 Oco Wireless HD Security Camera. This super simple home monitoring system delivers a live, 720p HD video feed right to your smartphone. It comes with infrared night vision, two-way talk, and sound and motion detection. The Oco Camera also comes with one year free of 1-Day Cloud video archive and a $100 credit to use the next year for the same service. 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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If you're a cable customer you've probably been met with at least one cable retrans blackout. It's what happens when broadcasters and cable operators can't behave like adults and agree on rates for a new programming contract, so instead decide that whining and punishing paying customers is the best course of action. The feuds usually involve months of public bickering, public announcements, ads and on-screen tickers declaring that the other guy is the villain, then blacked out content for paying customers, who almost never see refunds for the inconvenience. These disputes usually end with both sides agreeing to a new confidential contract, with those costs then passed on to the consumer. Rinse, wash, and repeat. Despite 2015 being the year that cord cutting and Internet video finally started to make some real headway (with the launch of Sling TV, HBO Now, and an increasing array of original programming from the likes of Netflix), the legacy pay TV industry continued to bicker like children. In fact, an analysis by the Wall Street Journal showed more retrans blackouts than ever before last year, and 2016 is already looking to likely break that record:"Television viewers around the country endured a record 193 blackouts in 2015, up from 94 the previous year and eight in 2010, due to an intensifying battle between cable companies and the broadcasters who provide a key part of their programming. Already so far in 2016, at least 13 new blackouts have occurred in markets from Tucson, Ariz., and Tulsa, Okla., to Lexington, Ky., and Lafayette, La., according to pay-TV carriers and their allies."The cable and broadcast industry is caught in a death spiral it can't seem to escape. Programmers demand more money for the same content, and the biggest cable operators ultimately agree, passing on those costs to the consumer (though not innocently taking every opportunity to tack on some hikes of their own). Smaller cable operators have started finding that the profit margins are just getting too tight, so they've considered getting out of the TV business entirely. Customers, meanwhile, tired of what's often bi-annual price hikes for huge bundles of unwatched content, increasingly look to other options. Here's what this kind of unsustainability looks like in graphic form:Broadcast TV ratings are collapsing .... @RichBTIG pic.twitter.com/Q4euIwJOwr — Ted Hearn (@TedatACA) January 18, 2016 One of the problems here is that customers (many of them older and frightened by Internet video) are losing access to content they're paying for, and very rarely do they see refunds. Regulators have paid some lip service to this being idiotic, but have so far kept a hands-off attitude to what's treated as run of the mill business disputes. And that hands-off attitude may be the right approach longer term; these feuds are simply a cooperative game of seppuku, and the industry remains collectively oblivious that it's expediting the death of the very cash cow it's bickering over.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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If all goes according to these legislators' plans, Flyover Country will have something the coasts don't: encrypted cell phones. Because there's always room for one more bad idea, California assemblyman Jim Cooper is following up New York assemblyman Matthew Titone's call for a ban on encrypted phones with one of his own. California assembly member Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove) introduced the legislation, bill 1681, that would require any smartphone manufactured "on or after January 1, 2017, and sold in California after that date" to be "capable of being decrypted and unlocked by its manufacturer or its operating system provider." Any smartphone that couldn't be decrypted on demand would subject a seller to a $2,500 fine. Cooper is either fearless or stupid, given that he's dropping this legislation bomb deep in the heart of Tech Country. Odds are on the latter, though, as he's tying his proposal to his crusade against human trafficking -- something that generally means nothing more than increased persecution of sex workers with very little to show in terms of results. Preying on ignorance and fear never lost anyone any votes. At a press conference today, Assemblymember Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), along with the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office, crime victim’s families, and bill supporters, announced the introduction of AB 1681. The bill will allow law enforcement to investigate and prosecute suspected criminals and criminal organizations that are involved in human trafficking and other serious crimes. [...] “Human traffickers are using encrypted cell phones to run and conceal their criminal activities,” said Assemblymember Cooper. “Full-disk encrypted operating systems provide criminals an invaluable tool to prey on women, children, and threaten our freedoms while making the legal process of judicial court orders, useless,” Cooper added. You hear that, citizens? Encryption "threatens our freedoms," which is a really weird way to rephrase limiting cell phone buyers' choices and forcing them to select less secure options. Of course, a prominent member of local law enforcement was on hand to offer support for the encrypted phone ban. “I support an anti-encryption policy that will restore the ability to access cellphone data by a court ordered search warrant. If smartphones are beyond the reach of law enforcement, crimes will go unsolved, criminals will not be held accountable, victims will not receive justice and our ability to protect our children and community will be significantly compromised,” said Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. Yes, this heartwarming concern for "victims receiving justice" and "unsolved crimes" is the same heartwarming concern that led to a backlog of more than 1,500 rape kits in her jurisdiction, some dating back more than a decade -- a backlog that only began to be cleared thanks to activism and legislation. Cooper's proposed legislation is basically a word-for-word copy of Titone's. A smartphone that is manufactured on or after January 1, 2017, and sold or leased in California, shall be capable of being decrypted and unlocked by its manufacturer or its operating system provider. Customers will still be able to implement their own encryption to lock the government out of their phones and, of course, anyone can buy or lease an encrypted phone from an out-of-state retailer and use it in California without fear of reprisal. Unlike Titone, who appears to be slipping this bill into each legislative session with as little noise as possible, Assemblyman Cooper as least has the courage of his convictions to not only craft this terrible legislation, but also announce its arrival with a press conference. Considering his bill is both anti-consumer and anti-constituent, that's a pretty bold move. If you're going to attack your voter base, the least you can do is be transparent about it. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The Supreme Court's Riley decision made it clear: law enforcement cannot search cell phones without a warrant. Seems pretty straightforward. Cell phones aren't mere "containers" -- they contain a great deal of information that has historically been afforded a reasonable expectation of privacy. Get a warrant. Rep. Martin LaLonde of Vermont feels this is just too much privacy, especially when there's distracted driving that needs to be punished. H.527, introduced by Rep. Martin LaLonde, D-South Burlington, would allow law enforcement officers to see a driver's phone or other electronic device, to see if it was being used. By "see," LaLonde means "look at web activity, text messages, recent phone calls or anything else that might indicate the phone was in use." All without a warrant, and based on nothing more than an officer's suspicion that the driver may have been "distracted." LaLonde, another legislator who seems to have little grasp of the particulars of his trade (other laws, the Constitution) says this won't be an excuse for police to go "rummaging" through drivers' phones. In support of this assertion, he states that he has no idea what limits will be in place or how any of this will actually work. [T]he chief sponsor of the bill said he hasn’t “really thought about” what, exactly, would be fair game for a warrantless search under his bill. Here's a stab at narrowing the search. “Essentially, it’s ‘show me your text log,’” he said. Whatever the fuck that is. To figure out whether or not a driver has been texting, the officer will have to look at a few messages. What if the officer comes across a message that sounds like code for a drug deal? Would it be considered "plain sight," what with the law authorizing a quick peek at recent activity? No man is an island, it has been said. LaLonde may be the exception. No other state allows warrantless searches to combat phone use while driving. LaLonde is trying to equate distracted driving with impaired driving. While the tragic outcomes of these two behaviors may be similar, the evidence gathered is worlds apart. LaLonde said he looked at the precedent of breathalyzer tests. Anyone who drives a vehicle on a highway in Vermont is implied to have given consent to take a breath test if an officer suspects him of driving drunk. Refusing to do so can be introduced as evidence in a criminal proceeding. Under LaLonde’s bill, a driver who refuses police access to his phone would get the same penalty he’d get if he was, in fact, texting. The privacy impact of giving police carbon dioxide and giving police access to a cell phone aren't comparable. While the originating actions could both result in criminal charges, only one would allow officers to access a wealth of personal information without a warrant. There's only so much abuse an officer can perform with a breathalyzer. An unlocked phone, though? That's a fishing expedition waiting to happen. It's not just civil liberty advocates and people with common sense that have problems with LaLonde's proposal. Local law enforcement officials don't seem particularly enamored with the legislation either. Orange County Sheriff Bill Bohnyak, president of the Vermont Sheriffs Association, said he would support the bill, though he doesn’t want to infringe on anyone’s rights. Thanks for the 4thA hat tip, Sheriff. That's mighty thoughtful, especially for someone who also heads the local law enforcement union. But why would you support a bill you think might infringe on people's rights? Are you hoping the Supreme Court will reverse its decision in the next few months? Or are you expecting the War on Terrorism to strip away what's left of the Fourth Amendment now that the War on Drugs has had its way with with for four decades? One of Bohnyak's deputies has his own concerns about the bill… but they're strictly logistic. Deputy Bariteau, who spends hours patrolling the roads of Orange County looking for distracted drivers, said he’s concerned about some of the practical aspects of LaLonde’s proposal. For example, he said, there are a lot of different phones out there, and officers might not know how to use all of them. “If you make a law, it’s gotta be enforceable for us,” he said. Warrantless cell phone searches are pretty much illegal, but the only thing bothering the deputy is that some phones might go unsearched because of a lack of officer skillz. Finally, LaLonde defends his proposal by offering up the stupidest, most asinine defense of privacy violations: the "I, for one, welcome our new privacy-violating law enforcement overlords" cliche. “Personally, if I’m in a car and I’ve been text messaging, I should expect narrow privacy,” he said. Here's an idea: if you expect less privacy, then behave accordingly. Hand over your phone along with your license and registration and sign the search consent form. Enjoy your self-imposed lowered expectation of privacy on a one-to-one basis. Don't forget to ask officers to search your trunk, glove compartment and anus, Rep. LaLonde, because those are all places people have been known to hide contraband and you're certainly not carrying any of that, right? Be the hero Vermont neither wants nor deserves. But don't force it on your constituents. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've already talked a couple of times about the intersection with the UK's disastrous Counter-Terrorism and Security Act and its intersection with the country's educational system. As part of its effort to weed out terrorists, the UK tasked teachers with keeping a watchful eye on their students to try to identify those that would be radicalized in the future, a concept that sounds like something out of Airstrip One rather than England. Shortly thereafter it was discovered that a software package that teachers had been given to help with this was exploitable in the typically laughable ways. But the tech isn't the only shortfall here. As one would expect when you take a group of people whose profession has in absolutely no way prepared them to act as counter-terrorism psychologists and ask them to be just that, it turns out that the human intelligence portion of this insane equation is off by several integers as well. Remember a time when someone would harp on you for something you'd written on the internet with spelling or syntax errors? Remember what you called those people? I call them grammar police. It turns out that the UK actually has grammar police. A simple spelling mistake has led to a 10-year-old Muslim boy being interviewed by British police over suspected links to terrorism. The boy, who lives in Accrington in Lancashire, wrote in his primary school English class that he lived in a “terrorist house”. He meant to write “terraced house”. His teachers did not realise it was a spelling error and instead reported the boy to the police, in accordance with the 2015 Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, which states that teachers are obliged to alert the authorities to any suspected terrorist behaviour. As a result, the child was interviewed on 7 December by police and the authorities examined a laptop found at his family home. So, a situation that could have been resolved in thirty seconds with a conversation between the young man and his teacher instead devolved into police activity, with authorities actually traveling to the boy's terraced house to look at a laptop at what they thought might be a terrorist's house. This would be funny if it weren't so frustratingly sad. Keep in mind that this spelling mistake occurred in the child's English class. So, in other words, the very teacher tasked with teaching the boy how to spell properly involved the police in that boy's life because he wasn't spelling properly. One imagines that, assuming this is allowed to continue, the country had better make sure it has only the best and the brightest teaching children how to spell the native language, or else the police can expect to be quite busy. A cousin of the boy, who has not been named to protect his identity, said his relatives initially thought it was a joke, but that the boy had been traumatised by the experience. “You can imagine it happening to a 30-year-old man, but not to a young child,” she told the BBC. “If the teacher had any concerns it should have been about his spelling. They shouldn’t be putting a child through this. He’s now scared of writing, using his imagination.” Let freedom ring, I guess. The freedom from having to think in a common sense manner, at least, as teachers under this law are incentivized into this kind of over-reaction. Putting any class of citizen under this kind of microscope is abhorrent in and of itself, but to do this to children? I had hoped the West was better than this, but now I'm not so sure. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Body cameras are working as intended. Of course, this is a very limited sampling and the fact that anything happened at all to the abusive cop was reliant on him being either too stupid or too arrogant to shut his body-worn camera off. A former Las Vegas police officer was indicted by a federal grand jury Tuesday on felony charges of roughing up a woman he suspected was a prostitute. Richard Scavone, 49, was charged with violating the civil rights of the woman when he used excessive force while arresting her in January 2015 and falsifying his report of the encounter to obstruct an FBI investigation, according to the Justice Department. The woman was identified in the indictment only by her initials, A.O. Scavone, who also faces a local misdemeanor battery charge in the incident, has been summoned to answer the two felony counts in federal court on Jan. 20. He is to appear in Las Vegas Justice Court that day, as well. The Las Vegas Review-Journal's depiction of the events ("roughed up") is far kinder than the DOJ's press release. According to the indictment, on Jan. 6, 2015, while acting as a police officer, Scavone allegedly assaulted “A.O.” resulting in bodily injury. The indictment alleges that Scavone grabbed the victim around the neck with his hand and threw A.O. to the ground; struck A.O. in the forehead with an open palm; twice slammed A.O.’s head onto the hood of his patrol vehicle; and slammed A.O. into the door of his patrol vehicle. And that is far, far kinder than the Las Vegas Sun's description of the incident from early 2015, when Scavone was only facing a misdemeanor battery charge. Scavone said in a statement that the woman turned her back to officers, a statement police said was refuted by the corrections officer. When she asked how she could put her palms together if he had her hands, Scavone threatened to "dump (her) on the floor" and handcuffed her, the report said. He then told her to spread her feet, and when she replied, "My feet are straight," he grabbed the back of her neck and threw her on the ground, according to the report. The woman cursed and told him to take her to jail, and Scavone struck her face with an open hand before grabbing her left shoulder and dragging her several feet away from his vehicle to get her on her stomach, the report said. Scavone asked the woman if she was "finished fighting" him, the report said. The corrections officer and Scavone picked the woman up and walked her back to the vehicle, where Scavone grabbed her elbow and reached for her necklace, police said. When she turned away, he slammed her head twice on the patrol car, police said. He reportedly told her not to pull away from him and reached inside her dress, pulling out a condom and a cellphone, the report said. Scavone said in his statement he retrieved the items, which were in the area near her breast and armpit, at least partially for officer safety because they could have been weapons, police said. The woman, who was not wearing a bra, told Scavone multiple times not to touch her breast, and Scavone pinched her right breast through her dress before removing an undisclosed item from inside the dress, police said. Police did not find any weapons on the woman, the report said. Scavone accused the woman of reaching for something, and he grabbed her ponytail and slammed her head on the patrol vehicle again, police said. He pulled her ponytail as he pushed her head against the vehicle, and she screamed, the report said. He led her to the back seat of the patrol vehicle while holding her ponytail and slammed her into the passenger window, police said. "You resisted and fought me," he told the woman, according to the report. The federal grand jury indictment is just that: a grand jury indictment. It doesn't take much to convince a grand jury to hand down an indictment, but it is rather unusual to see one stick to a law enforcement officer. The video captured by his camera apparently played a significant part in the bringing of charges -- something that will be applauded by accountability advocates and derided by police unions, etc. who still believe body cameras are nothing more than a nefarious conspiracy to punish cops for doing normal cop stuff. The assault charge is one thing. It's the falsification charge that's going to hurt, if it sticks. According to the DOJ, Scavone lied in his use of force report. That's netting him a federal obstruction charge which could add another 10-20 years to his sentence if convicted. The civil rights charges alone come with a potential 10-year sentence and $250,000 fine. Without the footage captured by his own camera, it's very likely Officer Scavone would still have his job and zero indictments. After all, the woman he apparently abused was suspected of being a prostitute. When it comes down to "her word against ours," a woman portrayed as a sex worker has no chance against an officer who had previously received a commendation for meritorious service. And contrary to the assertions of body camera critics, the department Scavone worked for doesn't appear to be poring through its recordings in hopes of finding cops to bust. Las Vegas police Undersheriff Kevin McMahill said it’s the first time his police department brought “criminal charges associated with the review of a body camera on an on-duty use of force incident.” That the DOJ's press release doesn't mention the use of body camera footage in the indictment process is a little strange considering its push to spread this technology to law enforcement agencies around the nation. Of course, the DOJ is also instrumental in defending law enforcement officers against alleged civil rights violations. Sure, it investigates agencies with abusive histories, but it also works hard to ensure agencies remain legally immunized from the consequences of their actions and has mounted several efforts to keep Fourth Amendment protections to a minimum. It's often a house divided against itself, which may explain why this detail has been glossed over, even if the tech that turned a non-event (according to the officer's police report) into a federal indictment is part of its overall plan to improve the nation's policing. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Textbooks are surprisingly expensive items. The classic example is an introductory math textbook: where the math hasn't changed significantly for over a hundred years, but the price of the newest edition seems to suggest that there should be a lot of new material added to the book. Sure, there's a used book market -- and even rental books nowadays -- but the trend of rising textbook prices has some students and faculty questioning some of the publishing industry's practices. The Supreme Court upheld that anyone, particularly Supap Kirtsaeng, can buy textbooks in Asia and re-sell them for a nice profit in the US -- thanks to the first sale doctrine. Kirtsaeng won his case, but he didn't get his copyright-holding opponents to pay for his legal bills. That could change, though, if the Supreme Court decides in his favor again. [url] There are some obvious problems when professors try to use cheaper textbooks as teaching materials -- including pissing off the authors who might be in positions of authority at the school. Should academic freedom allow a professor to chose a different textbook from his/her colleagues? Will the racket of monotonically increasing textbook prices continue? [url] The 'Integral House' in Canada is up for sale -- once owned by math professor James Stewart. The calculus textbooks authored by Stewart have raked in many, many millions from college students over the years, but if you have a few million yourself to spare, you can buy this math-inspired house (which looks like it comes with a library of math books). [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

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A former cop is trying to legislate some First Amendment-violating protection for his blue-clad brothers. Everyone's carrying a camera these days and Arizona Senator John Kavanaugh wants them to be as far away as possible from police officers performing their public duties. Ken White (aka Popehat) summarizes the proposed legislation for FaultLines. The proposed legislation makes it illegal to record cops in action. IF THE PERSON MAKING THE VIDEO RECORDING DOES NOT HAVE THE PERMISSION OF A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER AND IS WITHIN TWENTY FEET OF WHERE THE LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITY IS OCCURRING. If it’s on private property where you have a right to be — say, your house — you can record the cop from the next room, unless of course the cop says you can’t. IF THE LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITY IS OCCURRING IN AN ENCLOSED STRUCTURE THAT IS ON PRIVATE PROPERTY, A PERSON WHO IS AUTHORIZED TO BE ON THE PRIVATE PROPERTY MAY MAKE A VIDEO RECORDING OF THE ACTIVITY FROM AN ADJACENT ROOM OR AREA THAT IS LESS THAN TWENTY FEET AWAY FROM WHERE THE ACTIVITY IS OCCURRING, UNLESS A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER DETERMINES THAT THE PERSON IS INTERFERING IN THE LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITY OR THAT IT IS NOT SAFE TO BE IN THE AREA AND ORDERS THE PERSON TO STOP RECORDING OR TO LEAVE THE AREA. Taking video from 19 feet away is a petty offense, unless the cop tells you to piss off, at which point it becomes a misdemeanor if you don’t. Having learned nothing from Texas legislator Jason Villalba's similar attempt to create a footage-free buffer zone for police work, Kavanaugh is headed down the same path towards ridicule and disappointment. The only difference is that Arizona citizens would be "allowed" five feet closer (20', rather than 25') to their public servants. Kavanaugh, as White points out, is a former police officer. This explains his desire to take the "protection" out of "protected speech" and hand it over to law enforcement. Officers will then be free to guesstimate the appropriate distance for filming and enforce the new law accordingly. Kavanaugh's latest effort follows his apoplectic defense of a bill that would shield officers involved in shootings from any sort of public disclosure for at least 60 days. Last year, he claimed the US was full of "lunatics and zealots" seeking to "assassinate" police officers, thus necessitating the conversion of transparency and accountability into an opaque shield for excessive force and misconduct. The legislator's rationale for his boneheaded, unconstitutional legislation traces all the way back to his days as a cop, when an arrest didn't go exactly as planned. Senator Kavanaugh explained to U.S. News and World Report that this is all Wilson Pickett’s fault. "In the early 1970s, Kavanagh says, he arrested a bandmate of the popular “Mustang Sally” singer at John F. Kennedy International Airport. He had the man against a wall after finding syringes in a clam-shell jewelry case when Pickett approached and politely asked, “Is this gonna take long?” he recalls. The next day, the ex-Port Authority cop says, he was told the arrestee tossed a package of heroin behind a television as he looked away." As I recall Yosemite Sam used to fall for that “hey look over there” routine a fair amount as well. Yet Senator Kavanagh didn’t offer a bill prohibiting musicians, or any other class of people, from approaching an officer in the course of a detention or arrest. He aimed at folks recording cops. The omnipresence of cameras is obviously disconcerting for officers who prefer to do their work either unobserved or witnessed solely by unreliable eyeballs. Existing laws can be used to arrest those who truly interfere with police business, but someone roaming the periphery with an iPhone is only a distraction if the officer allows it to be a distraction. Giving them the power to arrest photographers only ensures cops will be more distracted than ever. And while they're approaching the person standing 15 feet away recording the arrest, the suspect will have even more opportunities to discard evidence than the guy in the Wilson Pickett case ever did. Of course, these "distracted" arrests -- accompanied by descriptions of the evidence that got away -- will be offered up as justification for Kavanaugh's First Amendment-trampling. In both of these cases where law enforcement sympathy has trumped logic during the bill-crafting process, no one seems to have taken into account the other photography equipment everyone seems to have: CCTV. In recent high-profile shootings (Laquan McDonald, Fridoon Nehad), this technology has been the silent, unseen witness that has produced evidence that contradicts police reports. How does the 20-foot rule work in these situations? Arguably, a person does control the camera, even if only to collect footage passively. Would Kavanaugh have these cameras disabled or their footage destroyed if they "intrude" on the crime scene? No matter how it's spun, this is nothing more than a former cop trying to delay the inevitable. Why do legislators like Kavanagh keep trying this nonsense? They do so because their constituency is cops, and people who think that cops should be obeyed without question. And cops are nervous. Disturbing videotapes of police misconduct are no longer a rare exception, as in the Rodney King era. With a smartphone-obsessed populace, they’re an almost daily occurrence. At this point, it can't be stopped. It can't even be contained. A roaming 20-foot "halo" around cops won't keep their misdeeds from being recorded. And it's highly unlikely a judge would be sympathetic to the destruction of recorded footage as the result of misdemeanor arrest. As White points out, it's not as though the punishment of bad cops has risen in correlation to the amount of available footage. It's still the exception for an officer to be severely punished, rather than the rule. But that too will change and that's what cops -- and Kavanaugh -- are afraid of. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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You may recall that Activision's Call of Duty games have already been the subject of a lawsuit by a historical figure. Previously, notorious figure Manuel Noriega brought a publicity rights case against the game company in the United States, claiming that the game depicted him without his permission. Pretty much everyone agreed that Activision was on solid First Amendment grounds in depicting a historical figure, including Rudy Giuliani, who galloped in to represent Activision and quickly got the case summarily dismissed. You may have thought that would be the end of all that silliness, but you'd be wrong. Over in France, the family of an Angolan rebel also depicted in the CoD franchise is filing a defamation suit against Activision. Note that the defamation laws in France allow for a more liberal application than in the States, and that France doesn't have the same strict concept of Free Speech that we have here. The family of Jonas Savimbi, an Angolan rebel fighter, says Call of Duty: Black Ops II portrays him negatively—specifically, as a “barbarian” and “a big halfwit who wants to kill everybody,” according to the family’s lawyer Carole Enfert. They’re seeking one million euro in damages from the French arm of the video game publisher. The Guardian reports that France has very strict anti-defamation laws, even in cases where the allegedly defamed individual is dead—so his family may have a case. Savimbi was killed by the Angolan government in 2002. So there are a couple of wrinkles that make this case different than the Noriega suit. First, as noted, Savimbi is dead. Very dead. And, while he most certainly is a notable historical figure, he doesn't have Noriega's dastardly reputation. Instead, Savimbi is best known for pushing out Portuguese colonialism in Angola and subsequently leading the fight against the MPLA, which is generally considered to be a genocidal group that had aimed at taking power in the country. Included in his reputation, however, is a firm unwillingness to engage in offered peace talks, choosing instead to continue a bloody civil war from which his nation still hasn't recovered. But it's the final difference that makes this case so baffling: Savimbi is portrayed as a "good guy" in the game. The player is actually tasked with fighting alongside him. See the video below for yourself, with Savimbi's appearance coming in around the six minute mark, and judge for yourself whether you think he's portrayed in a negative way (note: this is a violent video game and the footage below includes some of that violence). None of which is to say that any of this should even matter. Savimbi is a long-dead historical figure and artistic endeavors ought to have full freedom to portray him in the context of his place in history. That's what the game attempts to do. That the family's suit misses the mark in characterizing his portrayal as outlandishly negative in the context of the rest of the game is telling as far as their motives are concerned, but should be ultimately besides the point. After all, if free expression is to mean anything at all, certainly it must allow for the discussion and portrayal of historical figures.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Last week, NBC executive Alan Wurtzel boldly claimed that Netflix and YouTube weren't threats to traditional cable. His only evidence? Data purchased from a company named Symphony that guesstimates Netflix's closely guarded viewership numbers. That data actually showed Netflix's viewership numbers for its original series are impressive, but found that viewership wanes a little once users get done binge watching. That's it. The data didn't really support Wurtzel's claim that Netflix doesn't pose a threat to traditional cable, NBC was just boasting that it had figured out Netflix's viewership tallies. Symphony was born out of the well-documented failures by Nielsen to track consumer viewing on new platforms, and not only tracks every viewing habit of some 15,000 Netflix customers, but also uses GPS data to track where these customers are viewing the content. It's a welcome improvement for an industry that spent the last decade paying for data that only told it what it wanted to hear: namely that cord cutting and Internet video weren't a serious threat. And while trying to understand your competitors makes sense, it's hysterical how Netflix's hidden viewership numbers seem to drive traditional broadcasters absolutely crazy. You'll recall that CBS threw a similar hissy fit last year, clearly upset that Netflix doesn't have to adhere to traditional ratings metrics because it's not an ad-supported legacy service. Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos also spoke at the same Television Critics Association meeting, and first highlighted how it's telling that NBC took its allotted time at the meeting to obsess over Netflix:"Given what is really remarkably inaccurate data, I hope they didn't spend any money on it," he said of the numbers. "There's a couple mysteries at play for me. Why would NBC use their lunch slot to talk about our ratings? Maybe because it's more fun than talking about NBC ratings. … The methodology doesn't reflect any sense of reality we keep track of."But then Sarandos went on to make what's probably the biggest point (and one CBS and NBC clearly don't understand): the existing ratings measurement system doesn't matter when you're not reliant on traditional advertising."I can't even tell you how many 18-49 users we have … we don't track them," he said. "Those sample sets don't give you a lot of information when people are watching thousands of shows [on Netflix] around the world. Somewhere in the world, every second of every day, someone is pressing start on a Netflix original. … There is not an apples to apples comparison to Netflix watching and any Nielsen rating." Sarandos noted that the specific numbers — Wurtzel had 4.8 million adults 18-49 watching Jessica Jones, followed by Master of None (3.9 million adults 18-49) and Narcos (3.2 million adults 18-49) — wouldn't even be relevant to his business if they were true. "The ratings themselves have no specific impact on the business," he added. "If we were spending a lot of money on shows people weren't watching, they will quit. People are finding value in how we're spending our content dollars … if they're watching today, tomorrow or seven days from now."As for NBC's claim that binge watchers always return to watching TV in the "way god intended," Netflix noted in its quarterly letter to shareholders (pdf) that "our investors are not as sure of God's intentions for TV, and instead think that Internet TV is a fundamentally better entertainment experience that will gain share for many years." Obviously the histrionics by broadcast executives surrounding Netflix obfuscating its viewership numbers originate in jealousy; jealously that Netflix gets to operate under a new paradigm where traditional ratings are less important, while legacy sector executives have to stare at charts like this one:The collapse of broadcast TV ratings. How close to zero before we stop talking about "broadcast", "TV" & "ratings"? pic.twitter.com/4IWnkNAe1J — Chris Anderson (@chr1sa) January 18, 2016 And while it's great that the traditional cable and broadcast industry is finally cooking up viewer measurement systems that challenge its long-held delusions about cable's infallibility, the petty sniping at Netflix really isn't all that flattering and isn't going to help them compete anytime soon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We're back again with another in our weekly reading list posts of books we think our community will find interesting and thought provoking. Once again, buying the book via the Amazon links in this story also helps support Techdirt. Two weeks ago, our book of choice was a collection of Aaron Swartz's writings. And this week, it's a new book by Justin Peters not only about Swartz, but also about the rise of free culture online, putting Swartz's ideas and actions into context, called The Idealist: Aaron Swartz and the Rise of Free Culture on the Internet. I have to admit that I had no idea this book had even come out until I heard a wonderful interview with Peters over on On the Media (and, for what it's worth, in a separate podcast, OTM's Brooke Gladstone said that the interview was so good that they struggled to figure out how to edit it down -- so I wonder if they'll release an even longer version as a "podcast extra.") After that interview, I picked up a copy of the book and have only just started it, but am impressed already. By not just focusing on Swartz, but the wider context of copyright law and information policy over the years, it makes Swartz's focus much more understandable. I've found that, in talking about Swartz with people who aren't familiar with internet and open information culture, that they don't understand why Swartz would focus on what he did. But when put into the much broader context, it becomes much more understandable. For folks who are already knowledgeable about this world, it's still an interesting overview, potentially capturing parts that you weren't aware of, or putting other aspects into context as well. For folks with little deeper knowledge of the background of the open culture movement, it's a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the details.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Have we mentioned lately that when it comes to the so-called "internet of things," security is an afterthought? Whether it's your automobile, your refrigerator or your tea kettle, so-called "smart" internet of things devices are consistently and alarmingly showing that they're anything but. If these devices aren't busy giving intruders access to your networks and passwords, they're often making life more difficult than so-called dumb devices. Last week, for example, the popular Nest smart thermostat simply stopped working after a software update, resulting in thousands of customers being unable to heat their homes. Now yet another security problem has been revealed in The Ring smart video doorbell, which lets you see who's at your front door via a smartphone app. According to a blog post by Pen Test partners, all an intruder needs to do is to remove two screws, press a big orange reset button, and they're able to access the configuration URL for the entire system, which can be chained with other devices including door locks and home security cameras:"If the URL /gainspan/system/config/network is requested from the web server running on the Gainspan unit, the wireless configuration is returned including the configured SSID and PSK in cleartext. The doorbell is only secured to its back plate by two standard screws. This means that it is possible for an attacker to gain access to the homeowner’s wireless network by unscrewing the Ring, pressing the setup button and accessing the configuration URL. As it is just a simple URL this can be performed quite easily from a mobile device such as a phone and could be performed without any visible form of tampering to the unit."In short, your smart doorbell could potentially make you immeasurably less secure, without any visible signs of tampering to the outside unit. This is, the researchers have warned in a previous post, similar to a vulnerability common in a popular smart bathroom scale, which can be easily tricked into sharing a user's WPA-PSK. Fortunately the company behind the smart doorbell tells the research firm that they quickly issued a firmware patch for the problem, though obviously not all vulnerabilities get fixed this quickly, and it's one more example of "smart" technology being a great advertisement for more traditional, dumb devices. And despite notable experience with security issues, broadband ISPs that have been eager to jump into the smart home arena aren't having much more luck. A flaw was recently exposed in Comcast's Xfinity home security and automation service, allowing a hacker to trick the system into reporting an "all clear" state by jamming the 2.4 GHz radio used by the service. The security service would then report that everything was fine for up to three hours, and once communication was re-established with the service base station, the system never informed the user there was a problem. So smart! And the end of the day, if you're interested in a smarter, more secure home, you may want to consider a dog.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As law enforcement and politicians still keep pushing American companies to backdoor encryption, making the technology less secure and more dangerous for everyone, no one has explained how this will actually help in stopping terrorists from communicating secretly. Back in December, the Open Technology Institute released a paper that detailed how so many encrypted messaging systems were either open source or not controlled by US companies. It even took a WSJ report on the messaging apps that ISIS apparently was "recommending" to people and noted how most of them are not controllable by US laws: And, of course, it should come as little surprise that some security folks are reporting that they've spotted a new secure messaging app that appears to have been created by ISIS itself: ISIS has a new Android app for exchanging secure messages, joining another app that distributes propaganda and recruiting material, according to a counterterrorism network called the Ghost Security Group. While the report notes that the app is "rudimentary" that doesn't mean it won't be improved over time. But, more importantly, it highlights that efforts to backdoor or undermine encryption on American companies certainly won't do a damn thing to stop ISIS from communicating securely. Yes, some will argue that ISIS' homegrown encrypted messaging apps are probably much more vulnerable to NSA cracking, but it still doesn't change the fact that demanding backdoors into US companies messaging systems won't magically lead to uncovering ISIS communications. It will just make Americans less secure.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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