posted 26 days ago on techdirt
The idea that there's so-called "regulatory capture" of the Federal Reserve by the very Wall Street bankers they're supposed to regulate isn't one that's particularly surprising to anyone. It's been obvious for quite some time, but everyone in power has generally looked the other way about it. ProPublica and This American Life teamed up this week to reveal the the secret recordings of Carmen Segarra, a bank examiner of the Fed, who was supposed to be watching over Goldman Sachs. When she realized what was truly going on (basically, her bosses keep suggesting she tone down her criticism and concerns of Goldman), she bought a hidden recorder and started recording. The resulting story is astounding and incredibly revealing -- even if you already assumed much of it was true. Michael Lewis -- who's been reporting on Wall Street for decades -- describes the recordings as the "Ray Rice video for the financial sector", which may be a slight exaggeration, but the story is still quite telling. The report starts off by detailing how the Fed conducted a (for internal use only) study on how it totally missed the financial meltdown of 2008. And the answer won't surprise you, even if those close to the system claim they were surprised: The most daunting obstacle the New York Fed faced in overseeing the nation's biggest financial institutions was its own culture. The New York Fed had become too risk-averse and deferential to the banks it supervised. Its examiners feared contradicting bosses, who too often forced their findings into an institutional consensus that watered down much of what they did. From there, the story moves on to Segarra, who had been hired to be a senior examiner watching over Goldman Sachs. She actually tried to do her job, and for that was fired after just seven months on the job. She had discovered serious conflict of interest problems on certain deals, and then (on top of that) discovered that Goldman Sachs had no official "conflict of interest policy" that conformed with what was required by the Fed. When she wrote up a report on this, her boss insisted that she take out the claim that there was no policy, despite it being true. She was soon fired -- and then sued the Fed (and lost). However, this desire to whitewash embarrassment seems endemic at the Fed. It happened to the guy who wrote that report detailing the Fed's cultural problems: One New York Fed employee, a supervisor, described his experience in terms of "regulatory capture," the phrase commonly used to describe a situation where banks co-opt regulators. Beim included the remark in a footnote. "Within three weeks on the job, I saw the capture set in," the manager stated. Confronted with the quotation, senior officers at the Fed asked the professor to remove it from the report, according to Beim. "They didn't give an argument," Beim said in an interview. "They were embarrassed." He refused to change it. The report goes on to detail how quickly the Fed seemed to take orders from Goldman Sachs. There was a situation in which a Fed examiner, Michael Silva, expressed concerns about a probably-legal, but still ethically-questionable, deal that Goldman was involved in -- effectively moving around some shares in a Spanish bank to make the bank look fiscally more sound than it really was. But, expressing concern about the deal apparently wasn't allowed: Shortly after the Santander transaction closed, Segarra notified her own risk-specialist bosses that Silva was concerned. They told her to look into the deal. She met with Silva to tell him the news, but he had some of his own. The general counsel of the New York Fed had "reined me in," he told Segarra. Silva did not refer by name to Tom Baxter, the New York Fed's general counsel, but said: "I was all fired up, and he doesn't want me getting the Fed to assert powers it doesn't have." This conversation occurred the day before the New York Fed team met with Goldman officials to learn about the inner workings of the deal. In the audio version on This American Life, you can hear the incredible sequence in which Silva "fires up" his team to go confront Goldman about a specific problem with the deal (the other bank had required to get the Fed to sign off and say there were "no objections" and Goldman hadn't done so). However, then there's the recording of the meeting that happens right after Silva talks about going in and asking this important question -- and Silva doesn't get around to asking it until an hour into the meeting, and does so incredibly meekly, basically backing off the question before he's even finished answering it, handing Goldman an out. There's also audio of other Fed employees talking about how they should almost apologize to Goldman for all their questions, out of fear that Goldman (1) will think they're being "critical" of the bank and (2) won't share information on future deals (even though they're legally required to do so). It's classic regulatory capture. The Fed guys -- who literally work in the building with Goldman -- want the Goldman guys to like them. There's a lot more in the report, leading to a point in which Segarra is basically told to not be so good at doing her examiner job, but to instead build more relationships. The Fed employee doing the scolding, Segarra's supervisor who used to have her job, points out that she's upset some people with her brusque language, her "sharper elbows" and the fact that she was "breaking eggs." Segarra points out that she's doing her job and, furthermore, doing a "good job" as well: "I'm here to change the definition of what a good job is," Kim said. "There are two parts it: Actually producing the results, which I think you're very capable of producing the results. But also be mindful of enfolding people and defusing situations, making sure that people feel like they're heard and respected." In other words, don't do your job quite so well, because you're pissing off people at Goldman Sachs. That eventually led to the fight over the conflict of interest policy. After investigating it for a while, having Goldman officials and Michael Silva directly admit that there was no real policy, suddenly Silva tells her she can't actually say that in the report she's writing up. This is because folks at Goldman got upset about it, pointing to a generally vague policy statement on conflicts of interests (which doesn't come close to actually being a policy), and insisted that they had a policy. "You have to come off the view that Goldman doesn't have any kind of conflict-of- interest policy," are the first words Silva says to her. Fed officials didn't believe her conclusion — that Goldman lacked a policy — was "credible." Segarra tells him she has been writing bank compliance policies for a living since she graduated from law school in 1998. She has asked Goldman for the bank's policies, and what they provided did not comply with Fed guidance. "I'm going to lose this entire case," Silva says, "because of your fixation on whether they do or don't have a policy. Why can't we just say they have basic pieces of a policy but they have to dramatically improve it?" Later in the conversation, Silva says that he "didn't get taken seriously" when he challenged higher-ups in the past over that shady banking deal, and thus Segarra should just give in to the higher-ups demands. A week later, she was fired. There's also this story, which Lewis summarizes: In meetings, Fed employees would defer to the Goldman people; if one of the Goldman people said something revealing or even alarming, the other Fed employees in the meeting would either ignore or downplay it. For instance, in one meeting a Goldman employee expressed the view that "once clients are wealthy enough certain consumer laws don't apply to them." After that meeting, Segarra turned to a fellow Fed regulator and said how surprised she was by that statement -- to which the regulator replied, "You didn't hear that." In the actual This American Life episode, the story is even more damning. There were other regulators (not from the Fed) there as well, who all heard it too. And they were all talking about (something that was confirmed by others there) and the other Fed employee insisted that Goldman must have been joking and no one should pay attention to it. The end result of all this: the banks run the show. I actually didn't find the full report to be quite as damning as Lewis does. Some of the issues raised by Segarra do appear to be slightly overstated, and there do seem to be reasonable explanations for some of the things she found questionable. But it doesn't change the overall issue, which is that the banks effectively control the regulator, not through direct intimidation (or at least not in ways that are directly evident in this report), but because the Fed itself seems unwilling to ever actually rock the boat and make sure that Goldman is held to account. Now, I'm among those who are concerned about situations involving over-regulation and government interference where it's not necessary. But we should also be concerned about companies that are simply too powerful, and are able to engage in activities that abuse market power to harm the public -- and to engage regulatory capture to rubber stamp them. This episode shows how that's apparently the norm on Wall Street.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
In what I'm sure is a huge coincidence, a petition at We the People was submitted Sept. 19th asking for the government to label "Copblock.org" (and any variation) members as "domestic terrorists." [h/t Police State USA] This seems to follow news of Austin police officer Justin Berry's designation of these organizations as "domestic extremists" far too closely to be just some sort of random happening -- more or less within five days of the information first being exposed. Here's the stupidity in full: CopBlock.Org and its affiliates on social media are often applauding and encouraging violence towards law enforcement officers and their families. At times, they are even directly causing said violence in their communities, and then supporting each other online or in person for their illegal activities. I believe that many people who are active in this organization are committing terroristic acts by inspiring, inciting, or taking parts in acts that are designed to take human lives in cold blood for political gain. The statements made by this organization and its affiliates should be taken very seriously by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, and proper action should be taken to combat this. I believe the US DHS and FBI should monitor and investigate this Organization. Last things first, the DHS/FBI probably already monitor groups like this to a certain extent. Both work closely with local law enforcement and if local officers are complaining about being filmed or otherwise "harassed" by civilians, chances are certain reports have been kicked up the ladder to agencies with bigger budgets, more manpower and (especially in the case of the DHS) plenty of spare time to collect and collate information on Constitutionally-protected activities. Next, there's the unfounded accusations that these organizations are "directly causing violence." As I've noted earlier, police accountability organizations draw more than their share of people who can't articulate their objections to law enforcement tactics beyond vague threats and misspelled swear words, but those running these organizations (along with a majority of their members) do not encourage violence towards law enforcement members. Holding someone accountable for their actions does not mean acting as judge, jury and executioner. "...take human lives in cold blood for political gain." I can't even. Pushing for accountability through activism isn't a political sport. Law enforcement agencies aren't partisan entities. They don't check voter registrations before ordering people to stop filming or restraining someone into a coma/morgue. That's not how this works. At all. The petition stills needs ~95,000 signatures before it can be officially ignored, but at the rate it's going, it will never get there, despite pushes from law enforcement advocacy groups. About all that can be done with this information is a bit of data mining to determine which state harbors the most resentment towards police accountability. What this does definitely show is that there's a subset of law enforcement (and their supporters) that find the activities of these groups threatening, and are looking for any route at all to shut them down. The percentage of those seeking this is probably no larger than the subset of Copblock members who actively wish injury and death on law enforcement members. Just as Copblock shouldn't be judged by a vocal minority, neither should law enforcement advocates. To most, these groups are just another part of the job. Some handle the extra attention better than others but there's no concerted effort being made to shut them down. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
Jonathan Corbett has been trying for years to get the courts to declare the TSA's pre-flight searches -- specifically body scanners and full-body patdowns -- a violation of the Fourth Amendment. So far, this has gone nowhere, with a lot of the blame falling on Corbett himself. Spending a great deal of time filing in improper venues has cost Corbett his most recent lawsuit at the hands of the 11th Circuit Court. The two-year gap between his filing with the Miami district court and the federal court system had led to his case being thrown out mainly on procedural grounds [pdf link]. Despite being instructed where to file back in 2010, Corbett didn't actually file in federal court until 2012, far surpassing even the most generous readings of filing limitations. Corbett failed to heed that advice, despite admonitions by the Administration, a magistrate judge, the district court, and our Court that we had exclusive jurisdiction over his petition. He instead pursued his Fourth Amendment challenge in the district court for nearly two years. Courts of appeals have excused a petitioner’s delay when the Administration caused a petitioner’s confusion, id. at 960, or when a petitioner unsuccessfully attempted to exhaust administrative remedies, Reder v. Adm’r of Fed. Aviation Admin., 116 F.3d 1261, 1263 (8th Cir. 1997), but Corbett has not alleged anything of the kind. His conduct—the “quixotic pursuit of the wrong remedies”—cannot excuse his delay. A "quixotic pursuit" it was, including a direct petition (which was refused) to the Supreme Court. But it wasn't completely futile. During his lengthy stay with the district court, sealed, unredacted documents filed by the government were accidentally uploaded by a court clerk -- documents that revealed the TSA itself doesn't believe terrorists are focused on bringing down airplanes. But it's the argument following "Alternatively, the Screening Procedure Is a Reasonable Administrative Search" that deals directly with Corbett's complaints. As is indicated in the subtitle, the TSA's pre-flight screening methods are both an "administrative search" (i.e., not requiring individualized suspicion) and "reasonable." But "reasonable" compared to what? The Fourth Amendment does not compel the Administration to employ the least invasive procedure or one fancied by Corbett. Airport screening is a permissible administrative search; security officers search all passengers, abuse is unlikely because of its public nature, and passengers elect to travel by air knowing that they must undergo a search. Hartwell, 436 F.3d at 180. The “jeopardy to hundreds of human lives and millions of dollars of property inherent in the pirating or blowing up of a large airplane” outweighs the slight intrusion of a generic body scan or, as a secondary measure, a pat-down. Corbett argues that the TSA could use less intrusive methods than patdowns and full-body scanners, but the court states that the Fourth Amendment does not demand a "least invasive" effort. It also doesn't demand the system be foolproof -- which the TSA's definitely isn't. It only requires a balance of the public's safety and its rights. An administrative search, especially with current full-body scanners that use a generic body shape when scanning flyers, does that. While the court's decision is more or less reasonable, it does indicate that there will not be a successful civil liberties challenge to the TSA's tactics anytime soon. Much of the discussion only deals with balancing the Fourth Amendment against worst-case scenarios, rather than the mundanity that is the millions of un-hijacked, unmolested flights that occur every year… year after year. “[T]here can be no doubt that preventing terrorist attacks on airplanes is of paramount importance.” Hartwell, 436 F.3d at 179; see United States v. Marquez, 410 F.3d 612, 618 (9th Cir. 2005) (“It is hard to overestimate the need to search air travelers for weapons and explosives before they are allowed to board the aircraft. . . . [T]he potential damage and destruction from air terrorism is horrifically enormous.”); Singleton v. Comm’r of Internal Revenue, 606 F.2d 50, 52 (3d Cir. 1979) (“The government unquestionably has the most compelling reasons[—]the safety of hundreds of lives and millions of dollars worth of private property[—]for subjecting airline passengers to a search for weapons or explosives that could be used to hijack an airplane.”); see also United States v. Yang, 286 F.3d 940, 944 n.1 (7th Cir. 2002). Finally, the federal government's unwavering belief that secret documents are still secret even when the public has already seen them is obliged. Despite being published in full by a clerical mistake, the court instructs Corbett to honor the purely symbolic sealing of previously exposed documents and denies him release from his non-disclosure agreement. The Administration filed under seal the proprietary information—an operations manual for an advanced imaging technology scanner—because the owner of the information marked the manual with the warning that customers “shall not disclose or transfer any of these materials or information to any third party” and that “[n]o part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission” from the company. We also grant the motion to seal the sensitive security information because Corbett has no statutory or regulatory right to access it. Sensitive security information is “information obtained or developed in the conduct of security activities[,]... the disclosure of which TSA has determined would... [b]e detrimental to the security of transportation.” "Detrimental," except that some of this information was already exposed and yet, planes kept flying and no terrorist activity was detected. So, rather than seeing a growing skepticism towards the government's claims that the TSA's screening procedures are the only thing standing between us and certain disaster, the court seems to be embracing them with just as much enthusiasm, 13 years after the 9/11 attacks. It cites various attacks that were thwarted (by passengers, no less) as all the evidence that's needed to support the government's claims, while apparently ignoring the TSA's own assertions that planes are no longer terrorism's favorite target. Corbett did a lot to sabotage his own chances of a win. The court's decision here just ensures it will be much more difficult for whoever follows in his wake. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
We already wrote about how law enforcement was freaking out over the (good) news that Apple and Google were making encryption a default on both iOS and Android. Then we had a followup where a recently retired FBI guy insisted that such encryption would have meant a kidnap victim died... until everyone pointed out that the entire premise of that story was wrong and the Washington Post had to change the entire thing. We had hoped that, maybe, just maybe the misguided whining and complaining wouldn't come from those in charge, but apparently that's not happening. On Thursday, FBI boss James Comey displayed not only a weak understanding of privacy and encryption, but also what the phrase "above the law" means, in slamming Apple and Google for making encryption a default: "I am a huge believer in the rule of law, but I am also a believer that no one in this country is above the law," Comey told reporters at FBI headquarters in Washington. "What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves above the law." [....] "There will come a day -- well it comes every day in this business -- when it will matter a great, great deal to the lives of people of all kinds that we be able to with judicial authorization gain access to a kidnapper's or a terrorist or a criminal's device. I just want to make sure we have a good conversation in this country before that day comes. I'd hate to have people look at me and say, 'Well how come you can't save this kid,' 'how come you can't do this thing.'" First of all, nothing in what either Apple or Google is doing puts anyone "above the law." It just says that those companies are better protecting the privacy of their users. There are lots of things that make law enforcement's job harder that also better protect everyone's privacy. That includes walls. If only there were no walls, it would be much easier to spot crimes being committed. And I'm sure some crimes happen behind walls that makes it difficult for the FBI to track down what happened. But we don't see James Comey claiming that homebuilders are allowing people to be "above the law" by building houses with walls. "I get that the post-Snowden world has started an understandable pendulum swing," he said. "What I'm worried about is, this is an indication to us as a country and as a people that, boy, maybe that pendulum swung too far." Wait, what? The "pendulum" hasn't swung at all. To date, there has been no legal change in the surveillance laws post-Snowden. The pendulum is just as far over towards the extreme surveillance state as it has been since Snowden first came on the scene. This isn't the pendulum "swinging too far." It's not even the pendulum swinging. This is just Apple and Google making a tiny shift to better protect privacy. As Christopher Soghoian points out, why isn't Comey screaming about the manufacturers of paper shredders, which similarly allow their customers to hide papers from "lawful surveillance?" But, of course, the freaking out continues. Over in the Washington Post, there's this bit of insanity: “Apple will become the phone of choice for the pedophile,” said John J. Escalante, chief of detectives for Chicago’s police department. “The average pedophile at this point is probably thinking, I’ve got to get an Apple phone.” Um. No. That's just ridiculous. Frankly, if pedophiles are even thinking about encryption, it's likely that they already are using one of the many encryption products already on the market. And, again, this demonizing of encryption as if it's only a tool of pedophiles and criminals is just ridiculous. Regular everyday people use encryption every single day. You're using it if you visit this very website. And it's increasingly becoming the standard, because that's just good security.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 26 days ago on techdirt
We remain absolutely baffled by the FAA's bizarre rules about drones. As we've noted, the FAA has said that you can use drones for fun, but if it in any way involves profit, it's not allowed. So you can use a drone to take photographs from the sky for personal use, but if you're a real estate agent trying to do a flyover of a house you're trying to sell, that's illegal. And while some people still claim that drone use should be limited so they don't interfere with airplanes, that doesn't seem to (even remotely) be the concern here, otherwise the personal use of drones would be barred too. But it's getting even more bizarre. Now, it seems that anyone who wants to use drones in anything close to an innovative way has to first go beg the FAA for permission. And the permission is sometimes given and sometimes withheld. Compare these two stories. The University of Michigan wanted to use drones to deliver the game ball before kickoff of a football game, but the FAA nixed the request. It's not at all clear why. This was for a sporting event, and it would just be for fun. It's hard to see how the use was "commercial" other than the fact that college football is big business. Meanwhile, compare that to the fact that the FAA is apparently granting permission to Hollywood to use drones to film things: In May, seven aerial photo and video production companies asked for regulatory exemptions (known as a 333 exemption) that would allow the film and television industry to use drones with FAA approval. Those seven companies and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), were asked by the FAA to develop the guidelines and safety procedures under which they planned to operate. The FAA reviewed those procedures and is expected to approve the drone-specific rules and standards that will enable Hollywood to be exempt from existing aviation regulations. Of course, the report from Forbes notes, this actually took four years of back and forth with the FAA to get to this point. We've talked for a while about the concept of permissionless innovation and why it's important to keep the velocity of innovation moving forward at a rapid pace. Adding in this layer of bizarre, arbitrary and ridiculously slow regulation, and you're slowing down that pace. And while some say "does that really matter" for something as silly as flying drones, as we've noted, it's entirely possible that drones can create some amazingly powerful societal shifts. But each bit of "permission" needed along the way slows down that process and limits our ability to innovate and to adapt and adjust and learn.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
If you've been reading Techdirt for a while, you probably know that we're not big fans of this myth: "If you're not paying for the product, you are the product." Regardless of whether or not you pay for something, some companies will still treat their customers horribly. Likewise, there are also some corporations that try to treat customers (or users) with respect without expectation of payment for the favor. That said, it's easy to make mistakes that get mis-interpreted when it comes to analyzing consumer behavior. An unintentional email message to a targeted (or even un-targeted) group of customers can enrage a whole community. Consumer data is available to a lot of companies, but it might be wise for these companies to tread lightly with their data scientists. Here are just a few cases that data miners might want to check out. Facebook participated in some social experiments, but creating an "emotional contagion" resulted in some unwanted public attention. The actual ability for a social network to measure or effect various emotions is far from proven, but the potential to cause widespread distress through a social network is probably something users should be concerned about. [url] Shutterfly made a seemingly small mistake in mass-emailing a bunch of its customers a congratulatory message about an upcoming newborn. The photo printing service wasn't even using data mining techniques (eg Target) to try to figure out who might be pregnant, but in this data-driven world, folks are trained to expect that companies may be trying to pry into their personal lives. [url] Social psychology has had some problems with scientific fraud, and thankfully, there are some investigators who are developing methods to find fake or massaged data. It's hard enough to actually design psych experiments that have conclusive results, but sometimes the data can't lie. [url] OKCupid admits to experimenting on its users, too. The difference with dating sites is that the people using them seem to be tacitly agreeing to be experimented upon. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
We recently sneered at the publicity rights law suit brought against video game maker Activision by dictatorship-maker Manuel Noriega over his portrayal in the Call of Duty game series. The idea of a foreign historical/public figure filing suit against an American company for publicity rights, which tend to be quite localized to individual states, seemed silly on its face. Add to the mix the dastardly acts by the plaintiff and there was a great deal of room for eye-rolling at this fight. Well, now a new combatant has emerged to defend Activision, and there's a small chance you'll recognize his face. Is it...Derek Jeter? No, it's former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has decided to take up the sword for Activision and defend them in court against Noriega. It turns out that America's Mayor has since gone back to practicing law and he's asking for a dismissal of the case for the exact reasons I outlined in the previous post. Giuiliani told The Associated Press he took the case because he doesn't want the imprisoned Noriega to profit from his crimes, which include convictions for murder, drug trafficking and money laundering. Also, Giuiliani said that if the lawsuit is upheld, it could give historical figures and their heirs veto power over their depiction in books, television, movies and video games. The entire point here is that the First Amendment provides protection in fictional depictions of historical figures. That those depictions are so close in describing the criminal actions of Noriega, in this case as a kidnapper and murderer, don't relieve Activision of those protections. Opening the door to more suits by public and historical figures would be absolutely horrific for the areas of historical fiction, whether in games, novels or movies. Noreiga, by the way, is serving prison time for murder and corruption. "Noriega going after 'Call of Duty,' you should think of it as Osama bin Laden's family going after 'Zero Dark Thirty,'" [Giuliani] said. Hopefully the court will dismiss this nonsense quickly. On a related note, it's always nice to see a former politician come to the aid of new entertainment companies, video games in particular. Too often it's the other way around. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
We've been covering the saga of Roca Labs for a few days now. This is the company that claims to make an "alternative" to gastric bypass surgery in the form of some "industrial food thickening agents" that (the company claims) will fill up your stomach and make you not want to eat. These claims are not FDA reviewed and an examination of the claims by a doctor found them to be questionable (to say the least). We became aware of the company because it had sued Consumer Opinion Corp., the company that owns the site PissedConsumer.com. The issue? Roca Labs has a terms of service that offers everyone a "discount" on its product if you agree to never, ever, say anything bad about the product ever (you also have to agree to share success stories with Roca and allow them to publicize those stories). In short, the terms of service are designed to only show positive results, and gag any negative results. Roca claims that it has to do this because results may vary, and negative results could be caused by other factors. Of course, doesn't that also mean that positive results could be caused by other factors as well? Either way, Roca Labs sued PissedConsumer on the hilarious legal theory that by offering a forum for unhappy customers to post their story, it was "tortious interference" because it encouraged people to break the terms under which people bought the product. As we noted, this legal theory is fairly laughable, and PissedConsumer's legal response makes that fairly clear as well. However, Roca Labs and its lawyers are apparently busy. They're not just suing PissedConsumer, but they're actually suing a customer who complained to the Better Business Bureau for "breach of contract" and "defamation per se." While her filing with the BBB included some statements that might reach the level of defamation, amusingly, Roca Labs does not attempt to show that her comments were false in any way. Rather, it relies on yet another ridiculously questionable term in its terms of service, saying that if you post something negative, it will automatically be considered "defamation per se." Here's the term: You agree that any such negative claim will constitute defamation per se I don't think that's how defamation law works. At all. Even if this woman's comments to the BBB are defamatory (and I'm not saying they are), you can't just have someone sign a contract saying that if they do something, they'll be guilty of defamation. Either way, all of this should make you wonder just what sort of company Roca Labs is in that it seems to not just sue its own customers for negative reviews, but to work so hard to stop negative reviews and to threaten and intimidate those who make complaints about their experience with the company.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
Yesterday we told you about just one of the troubling aspects of a proposed "anti-terror" law in Australia, in that under a single warrant, ASIO, the intelligence gathering organization, could effectively monitor the entire internet. During some Parliamentary discussions on this, Senator Scott Ludlam tried to add an amendment limiting the number of computers that could be monitored under a single warrant. Brandis' "contribution" to the debate on this was to accuse Ludlam of being a "liar" for claiming that the law would allow the tapping of the entire internet under a single warrant and then... refusing any further explanation. The exchange is really quite incredible. Ludlam says he'd be happy if, in fact, his understanding of their previous conversation was in error, and thus wished for clarification. Brandis responds: What ASIO would be empowered to do is that which is authorized by the warrant, which is, in turn, governed by the terms of the Act. Holy tautology Batman! Ludlam appears reasonably sarcastically frustrated in return: Thank you for your opaque and utterly unhelpful response. He asks further specific questions about what the law would cover and Brandis repeats: "I don't have anything to add to my previous answer." It's basically a giant "fuck you" to anyone wanting to make sure that the law isn't overly broad and doesn't allow spying on the entire internet. Remember, Brandis claims that was a lie, but refuses to clarify beyond the "utterly unhelpful" statement he made. Unfortunately, despite all of that insanity, the bill still passed, without Ludlam's amendment, meaning that this is likely to be the law in Australia soon. And, of course, there are other troubling aspects to the law beyond just being able to monitor everything on a single warrant. As many people have pointed out, there's a free-speech destroying provision that would allow for 10 years of jail time for whistleblowers and anyone (including journalists) who repeat what the whistleblowers revealed. Anyone — including journalists, whistleblowers, bloggers and others — who "recklessly" discloses "information ... [that] relates to a special intelligence operation" faces up to 10 years' jail. In short, Australia is guaranteeing that not only will they not have their own Edward Snowden but they won't have their own Glenn Greenwald, either. Combine that with the massive new powers to spy on everyone with a single warrant, and Australia just massively expanded the surveillance state, and put a gag order on anyone who wants to expose its abuses.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
There's apparently a new TV show on CBS called Scorpion that has received mixed-to-decent reviews. It supposedly is about some computer security geniuses/outcasts who help "solve complex, global problems." However, Annalee Newitz's description of the stupidest, most batshit insane hacker scene ever from the first episode, suggests that the show is not worth watching. In the past few years, it had been kind of nice to see Hollywood actually seem to have some clue about accurately portraying hacking in some situations, but that's all apparently been tossed out the window with Scorpion. Even if you don't read Newitz's story (or view the video clip), just know it involves an ethernet cable hanging from a flying plane with a car racing beneath it to download some backup software needed by the airport so planes can land. Yeah. A big part of the show's marketing is the claim that the story is partially based on the life of one of the show's executive producers, Walter O'Brien. CBS News has an article talking up these claims of O'Brien's amazing feats, helping out its parent company, CBS, who broadcasts the show. But... for such a "genius," many of O'Brien's claims are coming under scrutiny, and they're not holding up well. Having just gone through the whole Shiva Ayyadurai / inventor of email crap, it's beginning to sound like a similar case of someone pumping up their own past for publicity purposes. The claims about O'Brien are both odd and oddly specific. Here's CBS's reporting: Walter O’Brien has the fourth highest IQ in the world. Elsewhere, he claims that he was "diagnosed as a child prodigy with an IQ of 197." First off, there are significant questions about IQ as a particularly useful measurement of anything. Furthermore, the idea that there's some definitive list of those with the highest IQs seems equally questionable. A quick Google search will show you a whole bunch of "top 10 lists" of IQs -- all of them different, and none of them including anyone named Walter O'Brien. O'Brien's story started unraveling when he made the somewhat unwise decision to do a Reddit AMA. Redditors are pretty good at sniffing out completely bogus claims, and it didn't take them long here. Also, Asher Langton has been doing a bang up job debunking basically every claim that O'Brien makes. Among other things, O'Brien's story claims that he began Scorpion Computer Services in the mid-1980s and that "Scorpion has mitigated risk for 7 years on $1.9 trillion of investments and has invented and applied Artificial Intelligence engines to protect United States war fighters in Afghanistan." It's not even entirely clear what that means. It goes on: Since 1988, Scorpion's team of world class experts partner with clients on a global basis, across industries, to add real measurable value in mission-critical initiatives from planning, to execution, to running the business. Scorpion's senior management has a collective knowledge of more than 413 technologies, 210 years in IT, and 1,360 projects. Scorpion himself has created over 177 unique technology inventions including ScenGen and WinLocX and is one of the world's leading experts in the application of computer science and artificial intelligence to solve complex industry challenges." Again with the odd, and oddly specific claims. They have knowledge of 413 technologies? Do they have a list somewhere? Does it include the coffee machine in the lunch room? Did they send someone out to get the new iPhone 6 to make it 414? Either way, there are... just a few problems with these claims. As Langton points out, the "headquarters" of Scorpion Computer Services Inc. does not appear to be a particularly large or impressive company. Its headquarters is actually... a UPS store address That report notes that it has one employee, and revenue of $66k. It's possible that the report is inaccurate, but for such a big and successful company, you'd expect to see... at least a bit more historical evidence of its existence. But there is none. And then there's this page (and here's the web archive version in case O'Brien figures out how to delete the old page), which apparently used to be the site for Walter's Scorpion computer Services, that, um, looks like it was built on GeoCities -- complete with the animated fire torches next to the dreadfully designed logo. For a big, massively successful company... you'd expect, um, something a bit more professional. Walter's own Linkedin profile notes that he actually worked at Capital Group for a while, with redditors claiming he was just a QA guy there, though his profile says he was a "technology executive." Many other claims on the company's website read like self-promotional gibberish. "We saved $43 billion in opportunity risks over a five-year period." "We invented an efficiency engine that performs 250 human years of work every 1.5 hrs with over 99% improvement over human error." By the way, the "see how" link on that last one doesn't actually show you "how" it just takes you to a page about how the company is a value added reseller "for proven IT products." The entire website looks like gibberish from someone trying to sound like a real tech company. It reminds me of Jukt Micronics. Langton also turned up that O'Brien appears to have another "company" called Strike Force, using the same UPS Store address, and with very, very, very, very similar website design and bullshittery. That site has a really bizarre "what others say" page, listing out random referrals for O'Brien, which are generally just the standard empty "personal reference letters" people without much experience tend to ask some former colleagues for when looking for a new job. The first one is from Steven Messino (with the date conveniently stripped off) which looks like the generic job reference letter: Note that O'Brien claims that Messino is the co-founder of Sun. That's... not true. Anyone who knows anything about the history of Sun knows it was co-founded by Andy Bechtolsheim, Bill Joy, Scott McNealy and Vinod Khosla in 1982. Messino's own LinkedIn page shows he joined Sun in 1988. Six years after it was founded. Also, Sun had its IPO in 1986. So it's not like this was a small company when Messino joined... as a "regional sales manager." Basically, everywhere you look, O'Brien's claims are either massively exaggerated to downright ridiculous. There are also some odd personal claims about "Homeland Security" coming to find him as a 13-year old boy for hacking into NASA. Except, when he was 13, there was no Homeland Security -- an agency established after the September 11, 2001 attacks. O'Brien also claims this: Scorpion was born and raised in Ireland, and at 16, ranked first in national high speed computer problem solving competitions. At 18, he competed in the World Olympics in Informatics and has ranked as high as the sixth fastest programmer in the world. Sixth fastest programmer in the world? Really? Some folks on Reddit noted that it doesn't appear Ireland competed in the "International Olympiad in Informatics" in 1993, though someone else found a report from the University of Sussex, which O'Brien attended, noting that O'Brien had come in 6th in a different contest, but in the Olympiad itself, he came in 90th. I mean that's great for an 18 year old, but it hardly makes him into some programming genius. And we won't even touch the claims that his programming helped catch the Boston Marathon bombers, because... well... really? Frankly, the parallels with Ayyadurai and the email story are there. It certainly appears that, like Ayyadurai, O'Brien was a bright kid who did some impressive programming as a teenager, but then didn't appear to amount to all that much noteworthy beyond that. Try searching for any news references or evidence of O'Brien doing anything other than in the last few months in the publicity leading up to this new TV show. However, he is trying to reinvent himself and rewrite his history as some sort of genius programmer responsible for all sorts of amazing things, very little of which seems directly supportable. Of course, CBS doesn't really care, so long as they have a fun TV show that people watch, but at the very least, they shouldn't continue to spread the exaggerated myths about O'Brien that appear to have little basis in fact.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 27 days ago on techdirt
Of all the things that have never happened, this is one of them. A secret program to monitor students' online activities began quietly in Huntsville schools, following a phone call from the NSA, school officials say. Huntsville schools Superintendent Casey Wardynski says the system began monitoring social media sites 18 months ago, after the National Security Agency tipped the school district to a student making violent threats on Facebook. Huntsville City Schools' head of security was the man who answered the call. Al Lankford, the city's longtime school security officer, told AL.com that he took the NSA phone call. He said security officers went to the high school and eventually searched the boy's car. "We found a very good size knife and the student was expelled," said Wardynski, a former U.S. Army colonel appointed as superintendent in Huntsville in 2011. Normally, I'm not much for NSA boilerplate denials, but the one issued here by the agency rings true. NSA did not acknowledge placing such a call. "The National Security Agency has no record that it passed any information to the Huntsville school district, and the description of what supposedly occurred is inconsistent with NSA's practices," said Vanee Vines, public affairs specialist with the NSA, on Monday. While the NSA may be is gathering data on Americans (on purpose) as well as their communications (supposedly inadvertently), one thing it doesn't do is call up school district security staffers and tell them about threats being made on Facebook. The FBI may do that, as may local law enforcement (remember kids, public posts are public), but the NSA generally doesn't get involved in the policing of the nation's student body. More from the NSA spokesperson, who must have loved delivering this snarky line after months and months of denying more serious allegations. "Moreover, NSA does not make recommendations regarding school safety programs," said Vines via email. What likely happened was some civilian reported the threat and name-dropped the security agency in order to boost credibility. Or a student prank went horribly right. But school district reps aren't backing down from this highly-unlikely narrative. The superintendent thinks it's legit because there was a terrorism nexus. "There was a foreign connection," said Wardynski, explaining why the NSA would contact Huntsville schools. He said the student in Huntsville had made the online threats while chatting online with a group that included an individual in Yemen. Whether you buy the story or not (and if you do, you're probably on the district's security staff), there's still the fact that the school is actively monitoring its students' social media postings. All well and good as far as monitoring goes, but it's also acting on what's being posted off-campus, which isn't as acceptable. Internal documents explaining the program, obtained by AL.com, show examples of four different students posing on Facebook with handguns. None are on school grounds. Three are listed as expelled. One was referred for counseling. Not a good idea. The school district shouldn't be policing the outside world. This is beyond the boundaries of its jurisdiction. Some of these individuals could legally own a gun under state law and there's nothing on the books prohibiting them from posing with them. Going beyond the big, bad stuff like teens with guns, there's the fact that the school is looking at everything being posted and making disciplinary decisions. This super secret (even board members hadn't heard of it before now), NSA-ordained monitoring program has zero documentation available to the public (or parents) outside of a horrendous logo and a few screenshots [embedded below]. There's not much in the way of accountability. Will the program be used to reprimand, suspend or otherwise hassle students who do other things that violate school policies? The superintendent says it's strictly limited to "threats against the school," but with all the information gathered being from public forums, there's no real reason this unwritten, informal guideline will be respected. In fact, the documents obtained show that this statement isn't even true. He said the focus is on gangs, threats of violence and threats of suicide. [Mission creep.] They found six other photos showing the student flashing suspected gang signs. "SAFe recommendation: Consider (student) for expulsion." [Direct threat how?] The superintendent also cites "see something, say something," and says students and parents are "pretty good about that." If so, then the program is redundant. Real threats against the school would be reported. A teenager photographed holding a gun is not a threat against the school, in and of itself, but the school is treating these postings as if they are. The superintendent also claims the program helped break up a "gang," so it's obviously already generated great ROI (eyeroll). Said "gang" was "six or seven people" scattered amongst various schools, all related to each other. The supposed call from the NSA is akin to a "road to Damascus" conversion. The school security team received an (almost literal) "higher calling" to be The Little Surveillance Team That Could and went forward to do "good works." Not by God, but by the power vested in the NSA's phone calls, Huntsville's crack team of teen watchers is weeding out students based on gun ownership and finger arrangement. If you're already inclined to extend your monitoring of students all the way into their homes and mobile devices, all it takes is the smallest step of faith to believe that the National Security Agency wants you to save your school from dangerous students who utter threats in the presence of a Yemeni. [Credit for opening 'shop: Rob Beschizza at Boing Boing.] Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 28 days ago on techdirt
There's a new set of top politicians coming in to form the European Commission, one of the three bodies that run the European Union. Next week, the European Parliament -- another of those three bodies -- gets to grill them on their suitability. It's largely theater, since rejecting a Commissioner-designate is pretty heavy, and rarely happens. Still, if nothing else, it's a chance to put embarrassing questions to people who will soon be powerful and hard to call to account. Sadly, though, it's not something that the public can participate in. The Pirate Party's newly-elected Member of the European Parliament, Julia Reda, wants to change that, and has created a site called "What would you ask?". Here's the explanation: From September 29 to October 7th, the European Parliament gets to vet the designated members of the EU Commission: The people who will be drafting laws for 500 million people for the next five years. I believe: The people of Europe should also be allowed to ask questions! That's why I'm asking YOU: If you had the chance, what would you ask the Commissioners responsible for internet policy? There are two Commissioners involved: Andrus Ansip, Designated Vice President for the Digital Single Market, who oversees the breaking-down of borders between EU member states on the Internet, and Günther Oettinger, Designated Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, responsible for the telecom sector, copyright, start-ups, e-government, security, Internet governance, and the European Commission's own computing services. Rather worryingly, Ansip was an unabashed supporter of ACTA when it was being pushed through a couple of years ago, while questions have been raised about Oettinger's experience and understanding of the digital world. Reda adds: I will forward the top-voted questions to the Commissioners and ask them to reply. But please note: Since as an individual MEP even I have very limited opportunity to ask questions, I cannot promise I will be able to pose these questions in the actual committee hearing. Still, given that previously the public had precisely zero opportunity to pose questions to these people, even a small chance is worth taking. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 28 days ago on techdirt
Over the last few years it's been great to see companies like Newegg and Rackspace decide that they're not going to give in to bogus patent troll lawsuits. As we've discussed, it's almost always easier, faster and cheaper to just settle and pay up whatever the troll is asking for. That's part of why trolling works. Fighting a patent lawsuit -- even a totally bogus one (i.e., not infrigning) -- on a clearly invalid patent will still cost many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. If the troll is offering to settle for tens of thousands of dollars, many, many companies will do the obvious short-term cost-benefit analysis and settle. It's hard to directly fault them for this -- but it only makes the problem worse for everyone else. Not only does it fund the patent trolls to keep suing others, often they'll use some of that money to buy more bogus patents and shakedown companies over that new ones as well. On top of that, settling patent threats just puts a big "sucker" sign on your company, meaning that more trolls will start circling. Making a stand and saying that you will not compromise or deal with trolls actually helps in the long run by scaring off some trolls. Both Newegg and Rackspace have been getting a lot of publicity (and goodwill) for their anti-troll efforts. Rackspace has successfully defeated a patent troll called Rotatable Technologies by having its patent (US Patent 6,326,978) invalidated: Rotatable owned a patent that it claimed covers the screen rotation technology that comes standard in just about every smartphone. You know, when you flip your device sideways and the screen shifts orientation from portrait mode to landscape mode? Like nearly all the apps in the Apple and Android app stores, Rackspace uses standard functionality provided by Apple’s libraries and Android open source software to provide this display feature in our mobile cloud applications. Rotatable sued us and immediately asked for $75,000 to go away. We refused. And we fought. It’s Rackspace policy to not pay off patent trolls, even if it costs us more to fight. Eventually Rotatable offered to just walk away – but we refused again. Just as we promised last year, we challenged the patent and the USPTO invalidated it. As Rackspace says, the company is now "an ex-patent troll." Kudos to Rackspace for fighting and winning, rather than giving in to the troll.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 28 days ago on techdirt
Traveling to Mars is no simple feat, and it's much more difficult than a relatively short trip to the moon. The atmosphere on Mars is thinner than the Earth's, so it poses a significant threat to any vehicle that attempts to land on the planet. Plus, a trip to Mars could take months depending on how much fuel is used (or what kind of propulsion is used). Still, several projects are making the ambitious journey, and here are just a few examples of Martian missions. India's Mangalyaan spacecraft has successfully reached Mars orbit, and this Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) cost just $74 million to accomplish. This wasn't as easy task, as the worldwide record of 30 of the 51 previous attempts to reach Mars have ended in failure and India is the first country to accomplish a successful Mars mission on the first attempt. [url] Over 200,000 people have volunteered to go on a one-way trip to Mars in 2023. These folks will be narrowed down to about a group of 40 people selected to do seven years of intensive training. [url] The Time Capsule to Mars (TC2M) project aims to send some cubesats to Mars in 2017 containing an assortment of digital media. Will anyone be surprised if some unlicensed music or media sneaks on-board? [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 28 days ago on techdirt
Earlier this year, then NY Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson called out the Obama administration for being the most secretive in history, despite the claims of Obama himself that his would be "the most transparent administration in history." Not only has this administration used the Espionage Act to go after whistleblowers more times than every other administration in history combined, it's currently fighting a legal battle to put NYT journalist Jim Risen in jail for refusing to reveal a source. It's also denied more FOIA requests than any other administration in history. The White House has ridiculously tried to defend its "most transparent in history" claims by pointing to the fact that unlike previous administrations, this one releases visitor logs. Whoop. De. Doo. At a big journalism confab in Chicago, apparently anger about the administration's unprecedented level of secrecy boiled over as journalists vehemently criticized the lengths to which this administration will go to block journalists and to create significant chilling effects. "The White House push to limit access and reduce transparency has essentially served as the secrecy road map for all kinds of organizations — from local and state governments to universities and even sporting events," Brian Carovillano, AP managing editor for U.S. news, said during a panel discussion. Reporters noted that sources are now afraid to talk to them, given the crackdown on leaks -- though, again, it only happens on leaks the administration doesn't like. When the leaks make the White House look good, no investigations, hounding or prosecutions happen. However, if you leak something the administration doesn't like -- such as blowing the whistle on corrupt government practices, the administration has an official policy that you are "aiding the enemy." And while some might claim (incorrectly, usually) that there's a legitimate argument there when it comes to leaks involving national security, the crackdown goes way beyond that: The AP's Washington chief of bureau, Sally Buzbee, said the Obama administration's efforts to control information extend even to agencies not directly involved in intelligence gathering. Some sources, she said, have reportedly been warned they could be fired for even talking to a reporter. "Day-to-day intimidation of sources is also extremely chilling," she said. Buzbee said she's frequently asked if the Obama administration, when it comes to transparency, is worse than the administration of President George W. Bush. "Bush was not fantastic," she said. She added, "The (Obama) administration is significantly worse than previous administrations." We tend to agree that the following statement is a ridiculous one in most situations, but since government officials seem to use it all the time, it seems worth asking: if they've done nothing wrong, what do they have to hide?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 28 days ago on techdirt
It probably won't surprise any of you to learn that film studio MGM tends to be on the aggressive side when it comes to enforcing its intellectual property. Still, it sort of takes my breath away watching them shut down a DIY, non-commercial and charity-benefiting "Rocky" run in Philadelphia. It all started last year, when a Philly journalist took the time to map out the infamous training run performed by Rocky Balboa in the second film. In the film, more Philly citizens join Rocky's run as the scene progresses. The map of the run was then put together and published, leading one Philly citizen, Rebecca Schaefer, to start a friendly get-together run that would follow the same path. The 31 mile trek was joined by a little over a hundred people, none of whom paid any kind of money to join the run, but who did manage to collect running sneakers for a charity. Before the run could be joined this year, however, MGM sent the C&D letter. And now MGM has threatened Schaefer with a lawsuit, sending her a cease-and-desist letter over the Rocky 50K Fat Ass Run. “To be honest, I was shocked it hadn’t come sooner,” Schaefer, the run's organizer, says. She’s changing the name of the Rocky 50K for its second edition on December 6th, a run that's become much larger than she ever imagined. The soon-to-be-renamed Rocky 50K has no entry fees or actual sign-up list; Schaefer makes no money on the event. The reason for the C&D this year? Well, MGM is licensing an official Rocky Run put together by a sports corporation that will be taking in money for the event. The end result is that a small, charitable, non-commercial little running group will be forced to give up the name of the event so that an MGM-backed company can come into Philly for the first time to make some money. Lovely. Fans of the original Rocky Run are reportedly unhappy, voicing their displeasure on the corporate-backed run's Facebook page. Those comments, it appears, are being summarily deleted. After becoming aware of the Cerulean-run competing Rocky 5K/10K event, some Rocky 50K fans say they had posted complaints to the new Rocky Run’s Facebook page, but that they no longer appear there. The organizers at first responded with a form letter-like comment that explained their event was officially licensed (and, yes, an actual race with road closures and prizes and an entry fee). The Rocky Run's organizers did not not immediately respond to a request for comment. Look, MGM isn't wrong legally, but surely the company could have worked something out with this tiny, little DIY running group so that it could keep raising charitable donations under their original name. I'm fairly certain that 100 folks running thirty miles isn't a threat to the corporate Rocky Run, so what exactly would the harm be? Fortunately, Schaefer appears to be taking all of this in stride. “I can’t be negative about this,” she says. “My mom was like, ‘How cool is it that you did something that got a cease-and-desist?’” Super cool. Damn the man, save the Rocky Run. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 28 days ago on techdirt
Recently, Techdirt has been following the Australian government's moves to bring in intrusive new surveillance powers. The "justification" for all this is, of course, "terrorism", which has become the lazy politician's excuse for everything, and has already led to episodes of ridiculous over-reaction in Australia. So it hardly comes as a surprise that the worsening situation in the Middle East has brought forth even more of the same, in the form of the "Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014" (pdf). An accompanying Explanatory Memorandum (pdf) gives a good summary of its rationale: 1. Australia faces a serious and ongoing terrorist threat. The escalating terrorist situation in Iraq and Syria poses an increasing threat to the security of all Australians both here and overseas. Existing legislation does not adequately address the domestic security threats posed by the return of Australians who have participated in foreign conflicts or undertaken training with extremist groups overseas ('foreign fighters'). 2. This Bill provides a suite of measures which are specifically designed to strengthen and improve Australia’s counter-terrorism legislative framework to respond to the foreign fighter threat. It will provide additional powers for security agencies to deal with the threat of terrorism within Australia and that posed by Australians who participate in terrorist activities overseas. It will further counter terrorism through improving border security measures and by cancelling welfare payments for persons involved in terrorism. The Bill is a huge collection of amendments to dozens of existing laws, including those that regulate police search powers. Here's CNET's description of a major change in this field: The Bill introduces the concept of a "delayed notification search warrant" -- often referred to in the United States as a 'no-knock warrant' -- which would allow Australian Federal Police to search premises without prior warning and "without having to produce the warrant at the time of entry and search". The Explanatory Memorandum details an important new capability relating to computers: As computers and electronic devices are becoming increasingly interconnected, files physically held on one computer are often accessible from another computer. Accordingly, it is critical that law enforcement officers executing a search warrant are able to search not only material on computers located on the search premises but also material accessible from those computers but located elsewhere. This provision would enable the tracing of a suspect's internet activity and viewing of material accessed by the suspect through the use of that equipment. That seems rather broad; an article in the Sydney Morning Herald reveals just how broad: On Wednesday afternoon, [Australian Attorney-General] Senator Brandis confirmed that under the legislation, ASIO [Australia's spy agency] would be able to use just one warrant to access numerous devices on a network. The warrant would be issued by the director-general of ASIO or his deputy. "There is no arbitrary or artificial limit on the number of devices," Senator Brandis told the senate. This means that the entire Australian internet could be monitored by just one warrant if ASIO wanted to do so, according to experts and digital rights advocates including the Australian Lawyers Alliance, journalist union the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance and Electronic Frontiers Australia. Whether or not new powers are needed to address the problem of "foreign fighters" returning home, clearly that ability to monitor the entire Australian Internet with just one warrant is completely disproportionate, an assault on citizens' privacy, and ripe for abuse by the authorities. It underlines once again that abrogating basic freedoms in order to "fight terrorism" simply means the terrorists have already won. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 28 days ago on techdirt
You'd have to be living in a cave somewhere to miss the fact that gender issues are in the news these days. Between the laughable response from the NFL when it has come to domestic violence, the fervor whipped up by the #gamergate controversy, and the nude-picture dump mostly of high-profile female celebrities in past weeks, the nation is talking about women, their roles in civilized society, and the way they are treated in general. It's a fantastic conversation to have, one which Harry Potter star Emma Watson jumped into at the UN with a fantastic speech focusing on how gender equality is not a women's issue. It's an issue for everyone, male and female alike. One response to her speech were threats on 4chan and elsewhere of a nude picture dump of Emma Watson. Included in these threats was a website threatening the release of the photos and a countdown timer. When this was announced, it made very little sense. There are creeps out there, on 4chan and elsewhere. We know that. Misogyny is a very real thing, as are silly protests that misogyny doesn't exist. Still, the reaction of threats to a call by a young woman that men foster a better environment for their wives and daughters, a call that was simply about equality, made zero sense. It turns out there was a good reason for that: the entire threat and websites built around those threats were bullshit, part of a campaign by a viral media company that is blatantly calling for both 4chan to be shut down and the internet to be censored. But when the clock struck 12, no naked pictures were released. Instead visitors to emmayouarenext.com were pointed to a marketing company's homepage, its black background bearing a crossed-out version of 4chan's four-leaf clover logo, and the hashtag #shutdown4chan written in large white letters. The site was a hoax, designed to draw as many eyes as possible not to actual pictures of Watson but to an apparent campaign set up to attack 4chan. "None of these women deserve this," the page states. "Join us as we shutdown 4chan and prevent more pictures from being leaked." What truly sucks is when a good cause is co-opted by scumbags. The cause of keeping people's personal pictures private is one I'm completely on board with. I would never even think to do the kind of victim-blaming that has gone on elsewhere. "Celebrities shouldn't take naked photos if they don't want them to get out." Screw you, they deserve as much privacy as anyone else. I'm on the side of the victims. And the latest victim in all this, thanks to this horrific campaign, is Emma Watson. She has now been victimized by a viral media company supposedly looking to "help" victims. It makes no sense. All this past week, Watson's name has been associated with nude photos of herself that may or may not exist. Whether they do or don't doesn't matter. Because she's a young, beautiful woman, it got an insane amount of attention and will now be a part of her permanent public record. She did nothing to deserve this, beyond giving an impassioned speech at the UN. The focus was ripped away from her speech and placed instead on her body thanks to a campaign claiming it hopes to achieve the opposite effect. The hypocrisy is astounding. And the stated goals of the campaign are as childish as they are censorious. The site hosts a letter directed to President Obama pockmarked with grammar errors and strange demands. The campaign's organizers say that the internet "NEEDS to be censored," and that every Facebook like or Twitter mention counts as a "social signature" that somehow means we "will be step closer to to shutting down www.4chan.org" (sic). None of that is true, of course, though I think the campaign may want to understand that their actions and victimization of a young woman ought put it squarely in the sights of their own censorious goals. 4chan, like any other internet ecosystem, has some good and some bad. It has misogynists and racists, as well as those who believe in equality. Lumping them all together and calling for censorship is horrific on its own. Dragging Watson into this to further the publicity of their campaign is downright evil. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 28 days ago on techdirt
For many years I've been a huge fan of law professor James Grimmelmann. His legal analysis on various issues is often quite valuable, and I've quoted him more than a few times. However, he's now arguing that the now infamous Facebook happiness experiment and the similarly discussed OkCupid "hook you up with someone you should hate" experiments weren't just unethical, but illegal. Grimmelmann, it should be noted, was one of the loudest voices in arguing (quite vehemently) that these experiments were horrible and dangerous, and that the academic aspect of Facebook's research violated long-standing rules. But his new argument takes it even further, arguing not just that they were unethical, but flat out illegal, based on his reading of the Common Rule and a particular Maryland law that effectively extends the Common Rule. The Common Rule basically says that if you're doing "research involving human subjects" with federal funds, you need "informed consent" and further approval from an institutional review board (IRB), which basically all research universities have in place, who have to approve all research. The idea is to avoid seriously harmful or dangerous experiments. The Maryland law takes the Common Rule and says it applies not just to federally funded research but "all research conducted in Maryland." To Grimmelmann, this is damning for both companies -- and basically all companies doing any research involving people in Maryland. In fact, he almost gleefully posts a letter he got back from Facebook concerning this issue and alerted the company to the Maryland law. Why so gleeful? Because Facebook's Associate General Counsel for Privacy, Edward Palmieri, repeatedly referred to what Facebook did as "research," leading Grimmelmann to play the "gotcha" card, as if that proves that Facebook's efforts were subject to that Maryland law (making it subject to the Common Rule). He further then overreacts to Palmieri, noting (accurately, in our opinion) that the Maryland law does not apply to Facebook's research as Facebook is declaring that the company "is above the law that applies to everyone else." Except... all of that is suspect. Facebook is not claiming it is above the law that applies to everyone else. It claims that the law does not apply to it... or basically any company doing research to improve its services. Grimmelmann insists that his reading of Maryland's House Bill 917 is the only possible reading, but he may be hard pressed to find many who actually agree with that interpretation. The Common Rule's definition of "research" is fairly broad, but I don't think it's nearly as broad as Grimmelmann wants it to be. Here it is: Research means a systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge. I think it's that last bit that may be problematic for Grimmelmann. It focuses on academic research "designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge." That wording, while unfortunately vague, really appears to be focused on those who are doing research for the purpose of more publicly available knowledge. And while perhaps the Facebook effort touches on that, since it eventually became published research, it still seems like a stretch. Facebook wasn't doing its research for the purpose of contributing to generalizable knowledge -- but to improve the Facebook experience. Based on that, the company also shared some of that data publicly. Similarly, OkCupid's research was to improve its own services. But under Grimmelmann's interpretation of the law, you'd have some seriously crazy results. Basic a/b testing of different website designs could be designated as illegal research without IRB approval or informed consent. I was just reading about a service that lets you put as many headlines on a blog post as you want and it automatically rotates them, trying to optimize which one gets the best results. Would that require informed consent and an IRB? Just the fact that companies call it "research" doesn't make it research under the Common Rule definition. How about a film studio taking a survey after showing a movie. The movie manipulates the emotions of the "human subjects" and then does research on their reactions. Does that require "informed consent" and an IRB? How about a basic taste test -- Coke or Pepsi? Which do you prefer? It's research. It's developing knowledge via "human subjects." But does anyone honestly think the law for running a taste test means that any company setting up such a taste test first needs to get an IRB to approve it? The results of Grimmelmann's interpretation of the law here are nonsensical. Grimmelmann is clearly upset about the original research, and certainly there were lots of people who felt it was creepy and potentially inappropriate. But Grimmelmann's focus on actively punishing these companies is reaching obsession levels. For one thing, many academic journals require Common Rule compliance for everything they publish, regardless of funding source. So my colleague Leslie Meltzer Henry and I wrote a letter to the journal that published the Facebook emotional manipulation study, pointing out the obvious noncompliance. For another, nothing in Facebook’s user agreement warned users they were signing up to be test subjects. So we wrote a second letter to the Federal Trade Commission, which tends to get upset when companies’ privacy policies misrepresent things. And for yet another, researchers from universities that do take federal funding can’t just escape their own Common Rule obligations by “IRB laundering” everything through a private company. So we wrote a third letter to the federal research ethics office about the Cornell IRB’s questionable review of two Cornell researchers’ collaborations with Facebook. And that's before the letters to Facebook and OkCupid -- and, of course, to Maryland's attorney general, Doug Gansler. Of course, if Gansler actually tried to enforce such an interpretation of the law (which is not out of the question, given how quick many attorney generals are to jump on grandstanding issues that will get headlines), it would represent a very dangerous result -- one in which very basic forms of experiments and modifications in all sorts of industries (beyond just the internet) would suddenly create a risk of law-breaking. That's a result incompatible with basic common sense. Grimmelmann's response to that seems to be "but the law is the law," but that's based entirely on his stretched interpretation of that law, one that many others would likely challenge.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 28 days ago on techdirt
Yesterday, we wrote about law enforcement freaking out over the announcements from both Apple and Google that they'd start encrypting phones by default, better protecting data on those phones from anyone who wants it -- whether government/law enforcement or hackers. We noted, oddly, that former FBI guy Ronald Hosko had showed up in articles in both the Washington Post and the WSJ spewing a bunch of FUD about it. In the WSJ: The level of privacy described by Apple and Google is "wonderful until it's your kid who is kidnapped and being abused, and because of the technology, we can't get to them,'' said Ronald Hosko, who left the FBI earlier this year as the head of its criminal-investigations division. "Who's going to get lost because of this, and we're not going to crack the case?" In the Washington Post: Ronald T. Hosko, the former head of the FBI’s criminal investigative division, called the move by Apple “problematic,” saying it will contribute to the steady decrease of law enforcement’s ability to collect key evidence — to solve crimes and prevent them. The agency long has publicly worried about the “going dark” problem, in which the rising use of encryption across a range of services has undermined government’s ability to conduct surveillance, even when it is legally authorized. “Our ability to act on data that does exist . . . is critical to our success,” Hosko said. He suggested that it would take a major event, such as a terrorist attack, to cause the pendulum to swing back toward giving authorities access to a broad range of digital information. This is just blatant fear mongering, and not even close to realistic. But the Washington Post doubled down and let Hosko write an entire (and entirely bogus) story about how he helped save a kidnapped man from murder earlier this year and "with Apple's and Google's new encryption rules, he would have died." He accurately writes about a kidnapping in North Carolina, and how law enforcement tracked down the perpetrators, including by requesting and getting "the legal authority to intercept phone calls and text messages." Of course, here's the thing: nothing in this new encryption changes that. Transmitted content is unrelated to the encryption of stored content on the phones. It's the stored content that is being encrypted. It's kind of scary that a supposed "expert" like Hosko doesn't seem to comprehend the difference. Either way, he insists that the encryption would have prevented this (it wouldn't). His story originally said: Last week, Apple and Android announced that their new operating systems will be encrypted by default. That means the companies won’t be able to unlock phones and iPads to reveal the photos, e-mails and recordings stored within. It also means law enforcement officials won’t be able to look at the range of data stored on the device, even with a court-approved warrant. Had this technology been used by the conspirators in our case, our victim would be dead. The perpetrators would likely be freely plotting their next revenge attack. After some people pointed out how very, very, very wrong this is, Hosko or the Washington Post "updated" the story, but still makes the same basic claims: Last week, Apple and Google announced that their new operating systems will be encrypted by default. Encrypting a phone doesn’t make it any harder to tap, or “lawfully intercept” calls. But it does limit law enforcement’s access to a data, contacts, photos and email stored on the phone itself. Had this technology been in place, we wouldn’t have been able to quickly identify which phone lines to tap. That delay would have cost us our victim his life.The perpetrators would likely be freely plotting their next revenge attack. Except, even the update is not true. As the AP's Ted Birdis notes, the affidavit in the case shows that the FBI used phone toll records and wiretaps to figure out the case, and didn't get access to any phones "until after [the] victim [was] safe." In other words, Hosko's story is pure FUD. The new moves by these companies would not have meant the guy died. It wouldn't have impacted the story at all. Meanwhile, as a massive post by Julian Sanchez notes, phone encryption products have been on the market for a while and if it was such a big problem we'd already know about it, but so far it's been pretty limited. In the entire US in 2013, there were nine cases where police claimed that encryption stymied their investigations. Furthermore, in the vast majority of cases where they came up against encryption, they were still able to crack it. So... the impact here is minimal. But that apparently won't stop lies from the likes of Ronald Hosko. Update: And... it appears that the Washington Post edited the story again to now make it accurate, but which also disproves the entire point of the story. Now the basic story is "we saved this guy... and mobile encryption would have done nothing to stop it, but it's a bad bad thing anyway." If Hosko couldn't get the very basics right, how could he be considered a credible person discussing this issue?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 28 days ago on techdirt
The apparent spike in terrorist activity -- a perception mainly due to the ongoing release of beheading videos by ISIS/IL -- has resulted in the Australian government setting its national threat level to the highest it's ever been. This has, of course, "heightened awareness" in other venues normally associated with terrorism (i.e., airlines), leading to the sort of reactions detailed below. A Melbourne interior designer flying to the Gold Coast on Tiger Airlines was removed from the flight and questioned by authorities over some sarcastic doodles he made during the flight. Oliver Buckworth, 28, claims he was removed from a Gold Coast-bound flight after a fellow passenger saw the contents of his notebook over his shoulder and informed Tiger staff. Here's the page in question as photographed by Buckworth: According to Buckworth, it was the passenger sitting next to him who brought it to the airline staff's attention. Mr Buckworth said a neighbouring passenger told a flight attendant: "Look what he's writing." "I turned to him and said, 'Yes, look what I'm writing. Read the whole sentence. I'm just writing some notes.' " Yes. Look what he's writing. Some people see the word "terrorism" or "terrorist" and refuse to look further. Both Buckworth's seatmate and Tiger Airlines couldn't get past those words, even if true terrorists wouldn't sketch out terrorism plans in the open during a flight and very definitely wouldn't refer to themselves as "terrorists" or their planned acts as "terrorism." Here's the context: "The irony is I was writing a sentence about the absurdity of the fearmongering when we live in such a happy country of ice-cream and beaches and fluffy things," he said. A page of Mr Buckworth's notebook seen by Fairfax Media contains the sentence: "In a land of melting ice-creams, sandy feet and fluffy bears, how could anyone be fearful of terrorism." Other doodles include a sketch of a chandelier – Mr Buckworth is an interior designer – and the play on words: "Terrorismadeup." In a cartoon of a child clutching his head, Mr Buckworth wrote in a thought bubble: "Tyrannosaurus Rex. Terodactyl. Tarantula. Terrorist." He may as well have been carrying an [f] bomb. Off the plane he went to be questioned by the Australian Federal Police, who, to their credit, let him go with as minimal hassle as is possible when airplanes and terrorism are the subjects being discussed. An AFP spokesperson confirmed they had "responded to a request for assistance" from an airline at Melbourne Airport. "The AFP briefly spoke to the individual concerned. No further AFP action will be taken." Tiger Airlines hasn't acknowledged whether the incident was prompted by Buckworth's drawings, instead inferring that it was Buckworth himself who was the problem. A spokeswoman for Tiger has defended the airline's conduct, claiming air crew were responding to a "disruptive passenger". "Tigerair has a zero-tolerance policy towards inappropriate and antisocial behaviour. Safety and security of staff and passengers underpins the operation at all times and is never compromised," she said. Yes, this sounds like the sort of "disruptive" behavior that gets kids kicked out of school, even though the only people actually being "disrupted" are the person lodging the ridiculous complaint and the staff members overreacting to it. My guess is that the most disruptive person on the flight was the passenger who wouldn't shut up until the airline did something about the perceived threat seated next to him or her. Stuck with the unsavory prospect of convincing a paying customer alarmist that he/she would make it through the flight alive no matter what Buckworth drew in his notebook, the airline opted to take the easier route: boot the "offending" person. This decision probably irritated Buckworth, who likely expressed his irritation in a verbal fashion, turning him into a "disruptive passenger" -- something the airline has "zero tolerance" for -- and salving the mildly-troubled conscience of airline staff. Tiger Airlines was in a terrible situation and did what it could to mitigate the damage. The real problem was the passenger who -- despite flying at the same altitude -- had the satire sail over his/her head. But if the airline had decided to boot the offended passenger, the story would have been "Airline Boots Passenger For Warning Staff About Potential Terrorist." There's no winning here, only the minimal gratification of erring on the side of safety.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 28 days ago on techdirt
Last year, we wrote about the growing list of lawsuits against Sirius XM concerning the legal rights over pre-1972 recordings. As we've discussed, pre-1972 sound recordings are not under federal copyright law (for historical reasons too convoluted to go into now), but are covered under a hodgepodge of messy state copyright laws. Historically, those state laws have been focused on reproduction and distribution and not public performance. Furthermore, terrestrial radio stations have always been allowed to broadcast music without paying performance royalties (though they do pay songwriters/publishers). Post-1972 recordings can be streamed at statutory rates for non-interactive streaming (interactive streaming is a whole different game). It's a bit of a mess, but based on all of this Sirius XM (and Pandora and others) felt fairly confident that they did not have to separately license public performance rights for pre-1972 recordings. There had been no issue about this at all, until the lawsuits started flooding in last year. And, in a ruling this week, the judge has... ruled against Sirius XM in a manner that may force Sirius and Pandora to eventually have to pay out big. This lawsuit was the first one against Sirius, filed by Flo & Eddie, claiming that their California state copyrights were violated. The court basically found that, because California copyright law says that the copyright holder has "exclusive ownership" of the copyright, that includes public performance rights, despite no further explanation in the law designating that as an exclusive right under California's copyright. In short, the judge takes a very expansive "property rights" view of the situation, and assumes that California's copyright law basically restricts everything. Commonly, to have “exclusive ownership” in something is to possess and control it and to not share that right to possess and control with others. See THE AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE 619, 1260 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 5th ed. 2011) (defining “exclusive” and “ownership”). The California legislature defines “ownership” generally in the Civil Code in a manner consistent with the word’s usual and ordinary meaning—“the right of one or more persons to possess and use [a thing] to the exclusion of others.” Cal. Civ. Code § 654. Thus, at base, Flo & Eddie has the right to possess and use its sound recordings and prevent others from possessing and using them. The plain meaning of having “exclusive ownership” in a sound recording is having the right to use and possess the recording to the exclusion of others. There is nothing in that phrase to suggest that the legislature intended to exclude any right or use of the sound recording from the concept of “exclusive ownership.” The legislature does include a limitation on the ownership right in the statute’s text, “the most reliable indicator of legislative intent.” See Esberg, 28 Cal. 4th at 268. An author has exclusive ownership in his or her sound recording “against all persons except one who independently makes or duplicates another sound recording that does not directly or indirectly recapture the actual sounds fixed in such prior recording, but consists entirely of an independent fixation of other sounds, even though such sounds imitate or simulate the sounds contained in the prior sound recording.” Cal. Civ. Code § 980(a)(2) (emphasis added). In other words, ownership of a sound recording does not include the exclusive right to make “covers” (i.e., recording the song with new instruments) – any person can make a sound recording based on a copyrighted recording, without the permission of the owner, so long as they produce the sounds independently rather than recapture the actual sounds in the copyrighted recording. Construing the meaning of “exclusive ownership” in context with the rest of § 980(a)(2), which lists the above exception to the ownership right, the Court infers that the legislature did not intend to further limit ownership rights, otherwise it would have indicated that intent explicitly. Because the statute lists an exception, the Court should enlist the “familiar rule of construction…[that] where exceptions to a general rule are specified by statute, other exceptions are not to be implied or presumed.” Geertz v. Ausonio, 4 Cal. App. 4th 1363, 1370 (1992) (citing In re Michael G., 44 Cal. 3d 283, 291 (1988). Courts should “presume the Legislature included all the exceptions it intended to create.” Id. (citing Reynolds v. Reynolds, 54 Cal. 2d 669, 681 (1960)). If § 980(a)(2) had granted “exclusive ownership” in sound recordings without a listed exception, the argument that some limitations on property rights were already inherent in the concept of sound recording ownership might have been more persuasive to the Court. See Opp. 6:21-7:4, 8:25-9:2. However, by finding it necessary to specify an excepted right to ownership in a sound recording, the legislature conveyed that limitations on ownership did not live within the concept itself, rather they required elucidation. Accordingly, the Court’s textual reading of § 980(a)(2), giving the words “their usual and ordinary meaning and construing them in context[,]” is that the legislature intended ownership of a sound recording in California to include all rights that can attach to intellectual property, save the singular, expressly-stated exception for making “covers” of a recording. Sirius XM pointed out the legal problems with this, in that California law did not have a public performance right, and thus the court is effectively making up a new right under to bolt onto California's copyright law, but the judge isn't buying it. Sirius further pointed out that California's copyright law was designed to highlight what rights remained under its copyright law after the federalization of copyright for sound recordings, but again the judge isn't buying it. It's inevitable that Sirius will appeal this ruling so it will be a while before we see where this actually ends up. Furthermore, in one of the other cases against Sirius, brought by the RIAA, it appears that the judge is leaning in the exact opposite direction. So, this situation is far from over.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 29 days ago on techdirt
As their name suggests, corporate sovereignty chapters in trade deals are problematic in part because they place corporations on the same level as nations, allowing the former to sue the latter in special tribunals outside national courts. What's particularly troubling is that companies are now claiming that basic democratic functions, like passing laws promoting health, should be considered a form of "expropriation", because future corporate profits are reduced. That effectively turns investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) into a downward regulatory ratchet that makes it very difficult -- or at least very expensive -- to bring in any new regulations that reduce profits for some business sector. Despite this -- or possibly even because of this -- the UK government is currently trying to bring in its own, domestic version of this ratchet. It's found in a new Bill, simply but significantly called "Deregulation Bill". It's a rag-bag of legislative odds and ends, covering things like religious exemption from wearing safety helmets, selling yarn, erection of public statues, repealing the power to block Web sites (brought in by the Digital Economy Act), late night refreshments and -- tucked in near the end -- the following: 83 Exercise of regulatory functions: economic growth (1) A person exercising a regulatory function to which this section applies must, in the exercise of the function, have regard to the desirability of promoting economic growth. (2) In performing the duty under subsection (1), the person must, in particular, consider the importance for the promotion of economic growth of exercising the regulatory function in a way which ensures that-- (a) regulatory action is taken only when it is needed, and (b) any action taken is proportionate. The Bill goes on to clarify what a "regulatory function" might be: (a) a function under or by virtue of an Act or subordinate legislation of imposing requirements, restrictions or conditions, or setting standards or giving guidance, in relation to an activity, or (b) a function which relates to the securing of compliance with, or the enforcement of, requirements, restrictions, conditions, standards or guidance which, under or by virtue of an Act or subordinate legislation, relate to an activity. As that makes clear, the proposed law would apply to pretty much any kind of regulation and its enforcement, and would require the effects on the UK's economic growth to be considered above everything else. Indeed, there's no obligation to consider anything else. Its effects would reach far beyond the obvious areas. For example, this post by the journalist David Hencke explains what the Bill's implications for human rights in the UK would be (pointed out to us by @AnitaBellows12): The Deregulation Bill -- promoted as liberating business from silly bureaucratic rules -- includes what sounds like a rather arcane provision saying that all regulators for the first time must consider the impact on economic growth before they launch criminal or civil proceedings (see clauses 83/84) against a company. In other words if the [UK's Equality and Human Rights Commission -- ECHR] doesn’t do this -- big companies with loads of cash can take them to judicial review and get cases where they break the law on discrimination annulled. It would also make the EHRC -- not the most radical of bodies -- even more careful before it takes up your case. But it's not just limited to the field of human rights: it would also apply to the enforcement of environmental laws, or controls on financial services, say. It's true that the Bill doesn't make it impossible to carry out those functions, but it does open up an important new way for corporates to challenge any government enforcement actions against them: all they have to do is to complain that the implications for the UK's economic growth weren't properly considered. As with ISDS, it doesn't matter whether they win every such case: the mere threat of being able to bring these cases will inevitably have a chilling effect on people working in UK government departments, and result in them being much more cautious in their enforcement of UK laws against companies. If enacted, then, the new Bill would have a large-scale, deregulatory effect that will go far beyond the other, rather minor measures it contains. As Hencke's post points out, this Bill is still in the early stages of its passage through the UK Parliament, so these particular clauses could be modified or even deleted -- although it is likely the UK government will just put them back if they are. Still, their appearance here, hidden away among mostly trivial matters, should act as a wake-up call that corporate sovereignty is not just a matter for international trade agreements, but may start cropping up in national legislation too. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 29 days ago on techdirt
A bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives introduced some new legislation to give the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) some more power. Called the Strengthening Privacy, Oversight and Transparency (SPOT) Act, it would make the jobs of PCLOB members full time, rather than the part-time position it is today, and expand their powers beyond just dealing with privacy and civil liberties issues related to counterterrorism. Most importantly, however, it would give the PCLOB subpoena powers, rather than having it rely on the Justice Department, whose views might conflict with the PCLOB. As you may recall, the PCLOB has been investigating the powers under which the NSA conducts its surveillance, having put out a report that ripped apart the bulk collection under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, but which more or less found Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act to be acceptable. It's currently investigating Executive Order 12333, which many have argued is where the real "power" for surveillance comes from these days. While we disagreed with parts of the board's analysis of Section 702, on the whole, the PCLOB does a pretty good job looking deep into issues that were previously swept entirely under the rug. Having more power to actually delve into what different government agencies are doing and how it impacts the public's civil liberties and privacy rights seems like it would be fairly useful. After years of total neglect (seriously: the board was entirely unstaffed and dormant for five years until recently), just having a PCLOB was a step forward -- but giving it real powers would be an even bigger push towards protecting the public's rights from a government that seems all too eager to diminish those same rights.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...
posted 29 days ago on techdirt
Charging an electric car battery can take hours, so it seems somewhat inconvenient compared to a few minutes at a conventional gas station to fill up a tank. Electric cars also have shorter ranges than conventional vehicles. There are a few solutions to these problems, but many of them aren't quite ready for consumers. Here are a few possible technologies for cars that don't run on gasoline. A battery startup called Sakti3 claims its battery could double the range of a Tesla S to nearly 500 miles. However, this battery isn't commercially available yet, and it's uncertain whether any electric vehicle would accept a battery from a third party manufacturer. [url] Supercapacitors could be made into structural parts of a car, storing energy without taking up unnecessary space. The researchers working on these supercapacitors have done some mechanical testing, but it might not be a great idea to store a lot of energy in a part of a car that might experience extreme structural failure in an impact... [url] One of the problems with using hydrogen as a fuel for vehicles is that it's hard to store and transfer significant volumes of hydrogen safely and easily. Using ammonia instead might solve some of the problems and offer vehicles that are similar to ones powered by liquid natural gas, but ammonia as a fuel also introduces a few more engineering challenges. (Ahem. A corrosive, toxic gas under pressure might not be too safe for the general public to handle.) [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

Read More...