posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Law enforcement agencies really want to see your phone's contents. I mean, they really want to. Martin Kaste at NPR has a story on law enforcement and smartphones which contains the following quote from a Rolf Norton, a Seattle homicide detective. "I'm thinking there's probably a wealth of information that just got tucked into your pocket," Norton says. "Something that we'd like to get our hands on." Easy for law enforcement officers to say, but today's phones have more in common with a personal computer than they do with, say, the contents of someone's pants pockets, as the state of Texas memorably argued. The courts have offered mixed opinions as to whether a warrant is needed to view the contents of someone's phone. This lack of a "bright line" is increasingly problematic as smartphones have become a convenient, pocket-sized data center that can reveal plenty of information that wouldn't normally be accessible without a warrant. The NPR story deals only with access granted by warrants, but it does lead off with another Detective Norton quote which points out how officers will attempt to separate the ignorant from their (possibly incriminating) evidence. Once he's seized a phone, Norton says, he often has to return to the owner to ask for help. "Maybe you've established a rapport and you're getting along with this person," Norton says. "We'll reach out to that person and say, 'Hey, your phone's locked. We'd like to inspect it. We'll probably be getting a warrant. Would you give us your password?' " Refusing to hand over a password shouldn't seem to be a problem, but like the issue listed above, the courts have been unclear as to whether the Fifth Amendment's protections against self-incrimination extends to passwords. This could lead to obstruction charges or contempt of court for the phone's owner. Just getting a warrant doesn't necessarily make everything OK, either. There's a ton of non-relevant data on any given smartphone, all of which can easily be accessed once the phone is unlocked. Narrowly-written warrants that set limits on what officers can and can't look at are a partial solution, but one that few law enforcement agencies are likely to follow. Blindly diving into the contents of someone's smartphone exposes a whole lot of information, and if officers aren't exactly sure where this incriminating data is located, they'll probe around until they can find it. Armed with just enough "belief and information" to be dangerous, they'll easily be able to make the case that all contents are "relevant" until proven otherwise. This obviously raises privacy concerns, but again, there's no specific protection in place for these contents, which some courts have argued contain no "expectation of privacy" thanks to constant "checkins" with third party providers and services. Not that the lack of a warrant or permission will necessarily prevent the phone from being searched. (That "problem" can always be dealt with later in the courtroom…) Companies such as Guidance Software and Cellebrite sell products to law enforcement that "image" smartphones. The products can pull data off in bulk for use as evidence. BrickHouse Security in New York sells products like this for iPhone and Android. CEO Todd Morris says the handset manufacturers don't support this, so it's a constant effort to keep the forensic software up to date. As Morris notes, cellphone companies aren't cooperating in providing back doors for law enforcement to access phones without warrants. So, like our very own NSA, these companies use exploits to crack phones for curious cops. These phone-copying systems rely heavily on what hackers call "exploits," or vulnerabilities in the phones' operating systems that can be used to get around the password or encryption. All in all, Apple's phones are more secure than Android handsets. But either way, having to go through the warrant process can mean weeks to months of waiting (if the handset needs to be returned to the manufacturer) for the release of "rescued" data. (Courts have been more reluctant to force defendants to turn over passwords, seeing this as more of a clear Fifth Amendment violation.) Not surprisingly, this turnaround time is considered unacceptable, hence the arms race of private company vs. private company to gain (and maintain) control of a smartphone's contents. Even considering the oft-abused Third Party Doctrine, it would seem that a warrantless search of a smartphone would be a Fourth Amendment violation. There's just too much information stored on the average smartphone to be compared to anything found on a person during a normal search. And, as a New York law student recently asked Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, isn't searching someone's computer roughly equivalent to their "effects," Fourth Amendment-wise? For all intents and purposes, a smartphone is a portable computer, loaded with a person's "effects" and creating a time/date/location "event" every time it pings a cell tower. Considering how much info can be gathered from a single smartphone, It's little wonder law enforcement wants to peek at arrestees' smartphones, but the courts need to do a bit of catching up to today's cellphone realities. And there needs to be more attention paid to the fact that law enforcement agencies are partnering with private companies to crack phones, apparently without asking for a warrant first. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
While we've seen plenty of stories of movie/video companies (often porn companies) filing mass copyright infringement lawsuits against a large group of "John Does," generally more established companies have stayed away from the whole mass Doe copyright trolling game. It appears that Siemens is looking to change that. As noticed by the CopyrightClerk website, Siemens Product Lifecycle Management Software Inc. filed a mass infringement lawsuit against 100 John Does. It's not clear how Siemens found these individuals, but it only has IP addresses (which more and more courts have been ruling is simply not enough to identify alleged infringers). Furthermore, a growing number of courts have been rejecting mass Doe lawsuits, noting that it's improper to lump them all together into a single lawsuit, as the defendants are not connected. In fact, what's really odd is that by joining them all together, Siemens may significantly limit any damages it might get. That's because it's effectively suggesting a single act of infringement across all defendants. And while the lawsuit seeks statutory damages "for each infringement of each Copyrighted Software," some lawyers have pointed out that 17 USC 504 (the part of copyright law dealing with statutory damages) limits the statutory damage award to "all infringements involved in the action, with respect to any one work." In other words, the total statutory damages for each work that is listed in the action has to be $30,000 (or $150,000 if willful). Thus, by lumping them all together, even if the court allows the joinder, it would be at most $150,000 per software infringed (the lawsuit lists 3 potential products), meaning that the defendants would be "jointly and severally liable" for the total amount -- but it's not like they'd get $150,000 from each of the 100 Does.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
Live a clean life and the cops should leave you alone, right? RIGHT?!? Harvey Silverglate wasn't being facetious when he wrote "Three Felonies A Day." There are all sorts of laws waiting to be broken, laws that boggle the mind in their insipidity. As we covered recently, the FBI arrested one of its own handcrafted "terrorists" for "conspiring" to materially aid a terrorist organization. This "conspiring" apparently took the form of the suspect talking about possibly joining a terrorist group and, with undercover agents' urging, traveling to Canada to fill out some sort of terrorist job application. He was arrested at the border, having really done nothing more than talk big and wear the "rube" label really well. More recently, Techdirt covered Judge Otis Wright's beration of the ATF for setting up stooges to pull off a fake crime -- a conspiracy to rob a "stash house." Of course, the stash house didn't exist, but this didn't stop the government from bringing criminal charges against the "criminals" and seeking sentences based on the entirely fictional contents of the fictional house. The ATF told its stooges that the house contained 20-25 kilos of coke in the house. Judge Wright asked why not just say 10, or 100 or 1,000, as long as the government's just making up numbers? No crime here because said "stash house" simply didn't exist and yet, people were arrested and put on trial. Here's another case of no criminal activity somehow turning into a crime in the hands of zealous law enforcement officers who apparently couldn't handle not getting the drug bust they were obviously seeking. (via Reason) Deputies said they stopped Delbert Dewayne Galbreath at NW 10th Street and Interstate 44 for a broken brake light. The deputy said Galbreath admitted he did not have a license to drive. Two deputies asked to search his car and he agreed. A deputy found a cigarette pouch that had 16 pieces of a rock-like form, which authorities generally associate as crack cocaine. The deputies said they also found a digital scale. Authorities tested the rocks and said they did not contain cocaine. When they asked Galbreath what the rocks were, he said they were Scentsy. Galbreath was arrested on suspicion of possession with intent to distribute imitation controlled dangerous substance (CDS), possession of drug paraphernalia, driving under a revoked license and defective equipment. Read that again: a man was arrested for not possessing drugs. Note the oddly specific denial. The man said they were "Scentsy." This doesn't sound like someone just blurting out the first thing that came to mind when deputies searched his vehicle. If you're not familiar with Scentsy, it's a direct marketing company that specializes in "wickless candles," which are scented wax cubes that are warmed on its proprietary warmers. (All images taken from Scentsy's catalog unless otherwise noted) Here's how the process works. Here's a shot of a couple of Scentsy cubes sitting in a warmer with a vaguely scale-like shape. Here's some more scale-esque warmers Scentsy offers. And here's another scale-like warmer that's included in every Scentsy starter kit. And here's some vaguely crack-colored wax sitting in a Scentsy warmer. And for comparison's sake, here's a DEA file photo of crack cocaine. So, this seems like an entirely plausible explanation. The plausibility factor shoots way up when you factor in the negative test results. But rather than investigate whether Galbreath's claims were accurate after the "NOT COCAINE" determination, the deputies ran with their original plan: nail Galbreath for drug dealing. Instead of dealing drugs, Galbreath was trying to sell fake drugs, which is completely indistinguishable from actual criminal activity when you're sitting in a jail cell. Maybe the Sheriff's Dept. is hoping to sweat out some more info from the jailed "dealer," like who his pissed off customers are or who's further up the chain supplying him with fake drugs and taking a percentage of each sale he makes. (My hunch? A regional director in Oklahoma as well as any number of intermediaries along the direct marketing food chain.) "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time," they say. But they somehow fail to add, "Don't NOT do the crime if you can't do the time," because everyday citizens like you and me might find that statement baffling, horrifying and complete bullshit. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
More and more of our activities take place in the digital rather than analog realm. But what exactly is the legal status of that digital stuff as it flows around the Internet, or sits inside databases? A recent judgment in the UK provides important guidance: Information stored electronically does not constitute property which someone can exercise possession of, judges in the UK have ruled. The Court of Appeal rejected arguments to the contrary and refused to interpret existing laws in a manner which would, it admitted, "have the beneficial effect of extending the protection of property rights in a way that would take account of recent technological developments". The judges said that whilst it is possible to exert control over electronic information it is not possible to gain possession of it. The distinction was drawn in a case concerning a dispute between a publisher and an IT supplier. The details of that case can be read in the useful post on Out-law.com quoted above. The basic facts are as follows. The publisher Datateam Business Media Limited wanted to outsource the management of its subscriber database. The company Your Response Ltd took on the job, but the publisher became dissatisfied with its services, and sought to terminate the contract. In the following dispute over the payment of fees, Your Response Ltd claimed possession of the database -- hence the court case. The analysis of one of the judges is interesting: "An electronic database consists of structured information," Lord Justice Floyd said. "Although information may give rise to intellectual property rights, such as database right and copyright, the law has been reluctant to treat information itself as property. When information is created and recorded there are sharp distinctions between the information itself, the physical medium on which the information is recorded and the rights to which the information gives rise. Whilst the physical medium and the rights are treated as property, the information itself has never been." That's an important statement that touches on many aspects of the online world, not least digital copyright. It confirms that the property of "intellectual property" is of monopoly rights, not of the information in the creative work. And since that information cannot be possessed, it therefore cannot be stolen, despite what copyright maximalists would have us believe. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 21 days ago on techdirt
KlearGear is getting back into the pay-to-complain business. Despite being forced into hiding after news surfaced that it had (fraudulently) attempted to extract $3,500 from a negative reviewer using a bogus non-disparagement clause hidden in its "Terms of Sale and Use," the company continues to limp along, avoiding taking responsibility for its actions. As KUTV.com notes, the impossible-to-locate representatives of KlearGear were no-shows in court. (h/t to Techdirt reader Howard Robinson) The court clerk declared kleargear.com to be in default on March 11, 2014. Eight days later, Michelman proposed a default judgment which reads, "kleargear.com is liable to [jen and her husband] for violating the fair credit reporting act, for defamation, for intentional interference with prospective contractual relations, and for intentional infliction of emotional distress." Michelman told Get Gephardt Thursday that he expects the judge will sign the motion and order kleargear.com to pay restitution to John and Jen. The proposed default judgment does not say how much kleargear.com will be asked to pay. Rather, Michelman has asked for a future hearing where the judge would determine the penalty. A letter sent to kleargear.com by Michelman before the lawsuit was filed said John and Jen would ask a court to award $70,000. So, for the want of $3,500 (via a BS clause hidden in the terms of sale and not even active when the suing couple purchased [but did not receive] an item from KlearGear), the company is now potentially out $70,000 (thanks to Public Citizen's efforts on the Palmers' behalf). That's if anyone can get ahold of the company's owners. So far, these principals have managed to avoid being smoked out by the internet heat. But there's even more to this story. The original non-disparagement clause, which was pulled down shortly after KUTV's Matt Gephardt started asking questions, has now resurfaced. The gotcha clause has been placed back in its original spot in the "Terms of Sale and Use" (albeit under a slightly different url -- "termsofuse1," rather than "termsofuse"). Also making a return is KlearGear's horrible "chargeback" policy, which similarly disappeared briefly along with the non-disparagement clause. [S]hould Klear Gear receive a chargeback (a sale reversal that occurs when a customer contacts his or her credit card-issuing bank or credit card company to request a refund for any part of a purchase that they or someone else made on their credit card) or other reversed charge from a third party (e.g., PayPal), credit card company or bank on your behalf before Klear Gear has been given a chance to resolve the issue as provided in this section, Klear Gear has the right to collect on the shipped products or rendered services and any fees associated with those disputes. Klear Gear charges a $50.00 Dispute Fee per above-described Dispute should KlearGear.com not be given an opportunity to resolve any dispute as provided in this section, and the offending customer's personal information (with the exception of sensitive payment method details) will be provided to BadCustomer.com to limit the customer's ability to purchase from other retailers and service providers. The Dispute Fee is not refundable, even if Klear Gear wins your dispute or if you later cancel your dispute. By making a purchase through KlearGear.com you expressly authorize KlearGear.com to charge to the credit card you have provided to purchase the goods or services in dispute. If Klear Gear is unable to charge the Chargeback against this credit card, Klear Gear shall have the right to otherwise collect the Dispute Fee from you. If Klear Gear is unable to collect the aforementioned Dispute Fee within 30 days of first attempting to charge you under this agreement, Klear Gear will forward your account to our external collections agency and assess an additional $500.00 Collection Fee. The original Dispute Fee and Collection Fee are subject to 2% monthly interest until the balance is paid in full including associated collection fees, legal fees, and costs of court as assessed separately by our collection firm. As a customer of KlearGear.com, you hereby expressly agree to these Terms. Not only is this a lousy way to treat customers, it's an absolutely abhorrent way to "provide" customer service. Not only will KlearGear hit you with an immediate $50 charge, it will forward this charge to a collection agency within 30 days and tack $500 on top of it. As if the pocketbook hit weren't excessive enough, the company will also spitefully drag your name through the mud via Badcustomer.com should you have the gall to dispute a charge. The use of Badcustomer.com points to more disreputable actions on Kleargear's part. The whole clause has been reinstated, apparently blissfully (or evilly) unaware that the website was shuttered by the FTC in 2011, after being found guilty of participating in a "cyberbullying billing scam" that "siphoned $275 million" from credit card users' accounts over a period of 4 years. I guess if you're a bullying company, you partner with other, equally-bullying "colleagues." There's a bit of history to this policy as well. For the first few years of business, neither of these godawful clauses existed. KlearGear ran like a normal, reputable business. The $50 fee/chargeback policy didn't show up until May 2007. In July 2007, the policy remained the same, but the wording now referred to a company called "Havaco Direct" which had the "right" to hit customers with a $50 chargeback fee. By October, "Havaco Direct" had vanished from the policy's wording. It wasn't until December of 2009 that KlearGear threatened to notify Badcustomer.com about customers who dared to exercise a chargeback. It wasn't until June 2010 that it added the $500 "collection fee." Syncing this timeline up with KlearGear's BBB troubles is enlightening. By May of 2010, KlearGear was sporting a gaudy "F" at the Better Business Bureau, the same entity that has given a terrorist organization an "A" simply because it followed all the rules. This suggests that KlearGear's customer service has been abysmal for quite some time. (The BBB site notes that 95 of 123 complaints over the previous three years had gone unanswered by the company.) As the chargebacks and complaints mounted, the company apparently decided to address the issue by making it financially unwise to dispute charges and, after being outed in 2012 by the BBB for fraudulently awarding itself an "A" on its website, it added the non-disparagement clause (in June of 2012) as further disincentive for unhappy customers to make their complaints public. KlearGear was stripped of its BBB accreditation in November of 2012. Now, with its failing to show up in court and having reverted to its customer-punishing ways, KlearGear appears to be more than happy to take money from unwitting chumps and have every incentive not to take care of these blissfully ignorant customers. Why fulfill an order when you can collect anywhere from $50 to $3,500 for treating them poorly? With its nonexistent staff, numerous address changes and unwillingness to confront any of these issues, its bizarre, abusive "terms of sale" seem to indicate the owners (whoever they are) are willing to run this business into the ground and walk away from the wreckage. Trying to apply logic to its business practices leads one to speculate that it's actually not an ignorant man's ThinkGeek, but rather an elaborate front for something shadier, like money laundering. KlearGear very likely isn't a front, but rather, a business run by combative people with lousy business acumen and even lousier customer service skills. It's one thing to take someone's money while burdening them with bogus (and supposedly binding) clickwrap Terms of Sale. It's quite another to actually fulfill your end of the bargain and provide them with their purchased items. Until someone actually outs those responsible for this debacle d/b/a KlearGear, about all anyone can do is spread the word about its abhorrent policies and hope that no one they know is putting their money into clearly undeserving pockets. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
The UK government continues to claim that its spying activities are lawful, without specifying exactly why. However, it's pretty clear that the main law it is depending on is the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). As Techdirt reported in January, there are serious doubts about whether GCHQ's surveillance activities are indeed covered by RIPA, but that's not the only problem here: the following story from The Guardian shows how RIPA is being abused -- not to find terrorists trying to bring down the state, but to winkle out whistleblowers selflessly trying to help it: MPs have criticised Britain's leading tax official after HM Revenue & Customs [HMRC -- the UK tax authority] used powers meant to catch terrorists to hunt down an employee who exposed a secret multimillion-pound "sweetheart" deal with Goldman Sachs. Lin Homer, the chief executive of HMRC, had told the public accounts committee that phone records had been obtained using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) to unearth information about Osita Mba, an in-house lawyer. In 2011, Mba had written in confidence to various government bodies, saying that the then head of UK tax, Dave Hartnett, had "let off" Goldman Sachs from paying at least £10m in interest. But instead of being grateful for this information, the tax authorities seemed more interested in hounding him: When HMRC discovered Mba's intervention, his belongings, emails, internet search records and phone calls and the phone records of his then wife, Claudia, were examined by investigators. At the committee meeting, Hodge also asked whether it was appropriate to pass Mba's wife's address, mobile number and office number to HMRC staff to investigate. HMRC's abuse of RIPA extended to investigating Mba's communications with a Guardian journalist: Margaret Hodge, the chair of the [Parliamentary] committee, said that HMRC's use of the powers, ostensibly to track down whether Mba had been talking to the Guardian's then investigations editor, David Leigh, had "shocked her to her bones". Hodge went on to ask for assurances that HMRC would never again use RIPA powers on a whistleblower: [Tax chief] Homer declined to offer Hodge the desired reassurance, responding: "You know that we cannot offer carte blanche assurances for evermore that we won't use these -- I have other duties of care to parliament and other individuals." That refusal underlines why the UK's RIPA needs serious revision -- both to stop this kind of abuse, and to bring some much-needed scrutiny to the legal basis for GCHQ's massive surveillance activities. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
A couple of weeks ago, we noted that Germany just threw a big spanner in the TTIP works by calling for corporate sovereignty provisions to be excluded. Although perhaps the most dramatic repudiation of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), it's by no means the only one. Indeed, the tide really seems turning, as country after country calls into question the need to put corporations on the same level as entire nations. For example, according to this report from the Yonhap News Agency, South Korea wants to re-visit the corporate sovereignty chapter in its trade agreement with the US: South Korea plans to hold talks with the United States to rework the investor-state dispute (ISD) clause in their two-year-old free trade pact that has long been cited by critics as being unfair, a government source said Sunday. That's possible because of the following prescient move by South Korea at the time of the trade agreement's signing: To receive parliamentary approval, Seoul forwarded a proposal to lawmakers that promised a "reevaluation" of the ISD clause down the line. One country that has already "re-evaluated" ISDS, and found it wanting, is South Africa, as Techdirt explained at the end of last year. But the Lexology site reports that it could soon be joined by another major economy: According to the Netherlands Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia has informed the Netherlands that it has decided to terminate the Bilateral Investment Treaty between the two nations from 1 July 2015. The Embassy also states that "the Indonesian Government has mentioned it intends to terminate all of its 67 bilateral investment treaties". Once more, it seems that painful experiences of corporate sovereignty played their part in the decision: it would not be surprising if the Churchill Mining Plc v Indonesia cases (ICSID Cases ARB/12/14 and 12/40) have prompted more sweeping action by the Indonesian Government. Churchill and Planet Mining Pty began arbitration against the Indonesian government in May 2012 at ICSID in Washington. On 24 February 2014 the ICSID Tribunal rejected Indonesia's jurisdictional challenges leaving Churchill free to proceed with a claim for damages of not less than US$1.05bn, excluding interest. This decision has caused outrage in Indonesia. That outrage is understandable, since it will be the Indonesian public that will have to foot the billion-dollar bill if the ISDS tribunal rules against Indonesia. In a way, the almost unfettered power of corporate sovereignty has become its own worst enemy. The possibility of making claims for billions of dollars has naturally caught the attention of both the public and politicians in the nations affected, prompting many to re-consider the wisdom of agreeing to this kind of one-sided bargain. If Indonesia does indeed start terminating its 67 bilateral investment treaties, we can expect other countries to take note and consider following suit. One knock-on effect will be that US insistence on putting corporate sovereignty provisions in TPP will begin to look distinctly out of place in a world where prudent nations are starting to move away from them. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
We've talked about ransomware in the past, the process by which criminals pose as either rights holders or law enforcement to convince people that they must pay large sums of money for transgressions in order to avoid serious jail time. Copyright infringers have frequently been targets of these kinds of lies and, more recently, NSA-themed ransomware has begun to appear. While the more savvy internet user may realize that these threats are great big steaming piles of crap that can be cleansed with an antivirus program, more naive folks can understandably have the hell scared out of them and find themselves devulging credit card information. But we've reached a new level of tragedy when it comes to this kind of criminal endeavor, with one Romanian man reacting to ransomware in the extreme, killing himself and his young son as a result of his machine's infection. The report of the tragic incident comes from the small Romanian commune of Movila Miresii which is made up of three small villages and located in Brăila County in the east of the country. Local paper Braila24 reports that Marcel Datcu, 36, hanged himself in the living room of his home along with his four-year-old son Nicusor. The report claims a suicide note left to his wife explained that the reason for taking his own life was: "I received a warning [on my computer] that said I have to pay 70.000 lei [£13,000] or go to prison for 11 years." Just so we're clear, there is obviously something else going on with this man other than his simply receiving a ransomware infection. To kill yourself is horrific enough, but to take the life of a young child over any amount of money or years in jail is tragic on a level that defies scale. I imagine there is likely a serious mental health issue at hand here, otherwise I'm completely at a loss. With that said, nobody should pretend for a moment that the acts of malware distributors should be completely absolved in this case. The impersonation of law enforcement and threats of jail time deserve reprecussions on their own, but to have contributed to the mental breakdown of this man, which tangentially contributed to a suicide and a murder, must not go unnoticed. Many of us wave these kinds of attacks off as the cost of doing business when it comes to internet browsing. That isn't enough. Instead, serious educational efforts should be taken on to inform the public of these kinds of threats. The silence from those that "legitimately" engage in these threats (law enforcement, copyright trolls, etc.) is deafening. Were they smart, they'd be out in front of this story, letting everyone know that they would never engage in such malware infection as a threat tactic. Unfortunately for them, so many stories of their underhanded actions have come out that I'm not entirely sure how many people would trust them. Still, people need to know the farce that this kind of malware is, lest we let similar tragedies like this one continue to occur. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
Maybe the music industry isn't really worried about evil robots killing off music anymore, but as more and more technology gets into the field of music, there could be a new wave of neo-Luddite musicians. Software can compose music, and robots can play some musical instruments. What's left for humans to do? Check out some of these robot musicians, and you'll see why human musicians aren't that worried about losing their jobs to robots any time soon. Jason Barnes is a cyborg drummer with a robotic drumming prosthesis that lets Barnes play with three drumsticks. The third drumstick is actually autonomous and improvises based on what it senses Barnes is doing with his manually-controlled sticks. [url] Japanese roboticists have created a band of machines, including a guitarist with 78 fingers and a drummer with 22 arms. The Z-Machines band will release 5 songs written specifically for these robots, playing music that would be somewhat difficult for a human band to copy. [url] Compressorhead is another robot band. It's best known for performing a cover of Ace of Spades. [url] An improvising robotic marimba player named Shimon can jam with human musicians. This four-armed robot looks like it would fit right into a Star Wars cantina. [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    

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
Companies suing critics is nothing new, even if it's generally a bad idea. Even if completely justified (which it rarely is), the move does little to improve the company's reputation, especially if there's any amount of media coverage. The attempt to silence the criticism usually only solidifies the aggrieved company's link with negative phrases both in the minds of the public and search engine algorithms. Techdirt reader ABJ sends in another story of a defamation lawsuit aimed at an online critic. A Columbus man faces a lawsuit with potential damages of more than $1 million because of comments he made online about his experience renting at a Northwest Side apartment complex. James Raney, an information-technology developer who now lives in Harrison West, commented on several forums about his time at the Meridian off W. 5th Avenue. He used a comic tone to contrast the complex’s purported “luxury apartments” and his view of their reality. At least this time, the suing company has specified exactly which of Raney's statements it has found actionable. Its filing lists several statements made by the blogger/former tenant, including these. • Connor is “gaming the system” by paying people to write positive reviews on apartment ratings websites. • The company does not spend enough money for needed repairs at its properties. • Connor “financially raped” residents with high fees. With the truth being the most absolute defense against defamation allegations, the company will have to provide some information which refutes Raney's claims. The company claims it isn't trying to shut up critics, but rather attempting to address comments it feels are "untrue, malicious and defamatory." The company is asking for "more than $25,000" per allegedly defamatory statement, of which it has named 30. According to Raney, the grand total asked for exceeds $1.5 million. Raney's blog details several complaints by other tenants of Connor properties, many of which allege negligent behavior by the company in response to maintenance concerns. Tenants have complained of flooding that has gone unaddressed for days on end, or hastily patched with paint or cardboard. One former tenant has filed a personal injury lawsuit against the company after a waterlogged ceiling collapsed onto him in his bedroom. One complaint details an electrical outage in her apartment, which the maintenance crew apparently addressed by flipping the circuit breaker switch a few times and handing her a space heater to keep her powerless apartment warm (which did nothing for the food in her fridge that rotted while the maintenance crew periodically flipped switches). The company currently holds an "A" rating at the Better Business Bureau but it's a highly suspect "A." (And, it must be noted, most BBB ratings can be considered suspect...) The company has fielded 312 complaints in the last 3 years, 216 of them listed as "problems with product/service." A class action lawsuit alleging the company's failure to maintain a livable property at one apartment complex in Georgia alleges that Connor's business strategy (according to its own documents) is to "flip" underperforming properties -- buying and selling them within a couple of years -- which gives it no incentive to maintain the property once it reaches its desired occupancy level. This lawsuit is still ongoing, 19 months and 120 docket entries down the road. All of this does not necessarily add up to a clear picture of malfeasance on The Connor Group's part, but filing a million-dollar lawsuit against one blogger doesn't necessarily make it look blameless, either. It has been racking up about one complaint every three days for the last three years, but that's mitigated by the fact that it's spread across the 15,000 units it manages. The question remains as to why a company would further risk its reputation by expanding a blogger's limited scope and reach by making his claims public by filing a lawsuit. Paul Levy of Public Citizen offers this theory. The personal nature of the criticism probably contributed to the lawsuit, said Paul Levy, an attorney at Public Citizen… “It tends to be small to midsize companies” that sue for defamation, he said. “It tends not to be the General Motors of the world. It tends to be a company where there is an individual who built the company, and he doesn’t like it when the online world criticizes it.” This seems to be true in a majority of company vs. critic lawsuits. The plaintiff is usually someone big enough to draw dedicated detractors but not confident enough to shrug off the attacks. This doesn't mean entities should just ignore vocal critics, but they should take into consideration that addressing the critic (rather than the criticisms) tends to play out very badly in the court of public opinion. Even if the legal system agrees with its claims, that will ultimately have little effect on the group that really matters -- potential customers. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
When it comes to insane bans on recording police and public officials, the granddaddy of them all has always been Illinois' eavesdropping law, which made it a federal crime to surreptitiously record any public official, even if they were amongst the public while performing their duties. The law was abused with such disregard for the Bill of Rights that court after court ruled the law unconstitutional. Those cases primarily dealt with the recording of law enforcement while performing their duties, something which ought to be a national right, given the ubiquity of cameras that are recording public citizens. But now the Illinois Supreme Court has gone further, extending the overturning of the law such that it's no longer just law enforcement that is free to be recorded. Today's decision(PDF) extends that analysis to other public officials as well as private citizens when they do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The justices note that the eavesdropping ban "criminalizes a wide range of innocent conduct," including "the recording of conversations that cannot be deemed private: a loud argument on the street, a political debate on a college quad, yelling fans at an athletic event, or any conversation loud enough that the speakers should expect to be heard by others. None of these examples implicate privacy interests, yet the statute makes it a felony to audio record each one. Judged in terms of the legislative purpose of protecting conversational privacy, the statute's scope is simply too broad." It's an immensely satisfying decision that turns the country's most draconian anti-recording law on its head. Illinois politics being what they are, there may be no place in the country that needs recordings of public officials more than this state I call home. Attempts to criminalize such recordings in a way that went so far beyond privacy concerns were clearly an attempt to keep the local population at bay while corruption and illegality raged on. More impressively, the court specifically weighed the public's free speech rights against any concerns by public officials and found for the common citizen. Because the eavesdropping ban "burdens substantially more speech than is necessary to serve a legitimate state interest in protecting conversational privacy," the court concludes, "it does not survive intermediate scrutiny. We hold that the recording provision is unconstitutional on its face because a substantial number of its applications violate the first amendment." And so you can now record interactions with the folks whose salary you pay via taxes in the Land of Lincoln. Frankly, for a state known for corrupt public "servants", this has been a long time coming. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
So, over the weekend, the NSA's chief external propagandist, Rep. Mike Rogers, made the ridiculous claim that Ed Snowden was somehow to blame for Russia's aggressive actions against Ukraine. It would appear that the usual crew of Snowden haters (who never seem to have any evidence beyond "hunches") have gleefully jumped onto that bandwagon, insisting that Snowden must be helping the Russians evade NSA surveillance. Based simply on (unproven) claims that the US intelligence community was somewhat taken by surprise by Russian moves in Crimea and Ukraine, folks like Joshua Foust and John Schindler -- both of whom have been leading the anti-Snowden conspiracy theories since about 3 seconds after Snowden was revealed -- are claiming that it's somehow obvious that Snowden must be working with the Russians to reveal the NSA's surveillance capabilities and how to get around them. Because apparently, Russian intelligence is so incompetent that they couldn't figure things out without the help of an American. At best, these two seem guilty of quite an extreme form of confirmation bias. At worst, they seem to be pushing ridiculous conspiracy theories, based on absolutely nothing. The idea that Vladimir Putin and the FSB had to wait until Ed Snowden was effectively handed to them by the Americans pulling his passport (seems like Foust and Schindler conveniently forget that part...) in order to hide their plans to annex Crimea and get aggressive towards Ukraine seems positively unbelievable. However, it does show the extreme lengths some are willing to go to in order to smear Snowden based on no proof at all.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
If you're looking for proof that new cultural works speak to and are embedded within a vast array of pre-existing works and ideas, you can't do much better than "The Office Time Machine," a new art project by video remix artist Joe Sabia. Over the course of the last 18 months, Sabia has isolated every pop culture and real world reference from the US television show "The Office," and arranged them by the date of the events, people, and media they reference. It's much more fun to look at than to read about, so feel free to check it out before reading on. All the cultural references from 1988 in The Office It's an impressive piece of technical work, and it will certainly be interesting for fans of the Office to see the incredible range of allusions embedded in the show—Sabia clipped out and identified over 1,300 from 9 seasons of the program. But it also makes an important point about copyright and culture, and is itself a perfect demonstration of how certain assumptions baked into our current law are out of line with reality. This isn't Sabia's first time pushing the boundaries of those assumptions. He's got an impressive portfolio of video work, much of which relies heavily on the fair use doctrine, like this supercut of every cigarette smoked in the series Mad Men. But "The Office Time Machine" makes the point even more explicitly: the show is better for its ability to refer to and incorporate a common culture. As Sabia puts it on the project page: Culture enriches everything. The Office is relatable (and hilarious) because it borrows so much from culture, and people get the references. Culture is society’s collected knowledge, art, and customs. It’s what surrounds us and unites us, and it allows us to collectively laugh at a joke in The Office about Ben Franklin or M. Night Shyamalan. Culture, simply put, is the seasoning in a meal. That's a great point, and it's a valuable message for art to deliver. But here's another message: to make this work, Sabia had to run a legal gauntlet—one that would discourage many artists. For one, to get the source videos in high quality, Sabia rented and ripped every episode of "The Office" on DVD. DVDs come with digital restrictions management software installed. Even if the intended use is a fair one, as in this case, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) prohibits circumventing that DRM. There's a bit of a safety valve, fortunately: the Librarian of Congress is authorized to grant exemptions for appropriate purposes. EFF has been fighting to expand that safety valve for years, and one of the exemptions EFF successfully fought for in the last round was for ripping DVDs and online streams for non-commercial remixes, giving artists like Sabia some breathing room to engage in his work. We quoted Sabia in our testimony for the exemption, and cited his work with ACLU documenting the media narratives surrounding the War on Drugs. The exemption puts Sabia in the clear, but highlights an issue with the rule making process: if the exemptions must be reviewed from scratch every three years, it can be dangerous to take on a long project like "The Office Time Machine," which took 18 months to create. Then, once the artist has gotten the materials together, they can face lots of fear, uncertainty, and doubt about whether their use can be considered fair. There are plenty of examples where fair use is abundantly clear, and courts can find fair use even when the new work is commercial, or copies the entire original, or enables people to make their own copies. Taking portions of a work and rearranging them for a totally transformative purpose is a classic fair use, but courts have sometimes imposed additional limits. In one such example, a court in the Harry Potter Lexicon case sided mostly with author J. K. Rowling against a publisher selling a fan encyclopedia incorporating text from the book. Finally, while "The Office Time Machine" will hopefully stay up and available for a long time to come, there's the risk that an algorithmic copyright cop like YouTube's ContentID will remove or flag the videos that make it up. Even if the law is on Sabia's side, an automated match could force him to go through the site's appeal process just to keep the video up. Video artist Jonathan McIntosh faced that situation last year when a fair use remix of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Twilight movie series was flagged by Lionsgate Pictures. EFF is working on making it easier and safer for people like Sabia to make and share works like "The Office Time Machine." As lawmakers and the public continue to review copyright law, we should aspire to a policy that would foster works like this—not inhibit them. Reposted from EFF's Deep Links blog. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
Cass Sunstein, who recently got some attention for being a member of the task force President Obama asked to review the NSA's surveillance practices, is probably more well known as both a former Obama official and the co-author of the highly influential (if somewhat problematic) book Nudge (which has even inspired an entire organization within the UK government). Sunstein has written a column for Bloomberg, which reads more like a #slatepitch -- taking something rather basic, and arguing a contrarian view solely for the sake of being contrarian. In this case, Sunstein is trying to argue that the key First Amendment ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan, which just turned 50 years old, has a "dark side." As you hopefully are aware, NYT v. Sullivan established a key standard in defamation cases involving public figures, noting that for there to be defamation, there needs to be "actual malice." It was the first case that really recognized how defamation law and the First Amendment can clash -- and the Supreme Court set a much higher bar for defamation in order to defer to the power of the First Amendment. The ruling was both sound and quite important. It noted the chilling effects on free speech (and, specifically, a free press) that would result if anyone could be sued for a false statement made in the course of a political debate. Recognizing that it is entirely possible for someone to say something that is not technically correct, but without meaning to distort the situation, the court made it clear that for defamation to apply to a public official (who often had the means to respond to any false claims directly), there needs to be "actual malice" where the intent is to defame them, rather than just an incidental misstatement of the facts. This ruling has been a key free speech ruling that has been helpful way beyond just the ability of the press to report freely without fearing a minor error will lead to a massive lawsuit and liability. But Sunstein, apparently, thinks we might be better off if there was a great chill in speech. Better, he seems to suggest, that millions be silenced out of fear of liability, than that a few people make minor non-malicious errors in the course of political debate: But amid the justified celebration, we should pay close attention to the dark side of New York Times v. Sullivan. While it is has granted indispensable breathing space for speakers, it has also created a continuing problem for public civility and for democratic self-government. How is free speech a risk to self-government? Apparently it has something to do with mean talk show hosts and (gasp!) bloggers: When it comes to public figures, all sorts of false allegations are permissible, whether they involve birth certificates, drug abuse, sexual misconduct or income tax fraud. One result is that those who seek public office put their reputation at immediate risk. One of the goals of the court’s ruling was to protect self-government, but the effects on self-government are not all good. Talk show hosts, bloggers and users of social media can spread ugly falsehoods in an instant -- exposing citizens to lies that may well cause them to look on their leaders with unjustified suspicion. After all of this, he basically says "ignore everything I just said" by then admitting that "the court got the balance right in New York Times v. Sullivan." It makes you wonder why he even brought this up in the first place. He insists it's because he wants people to recognize that NYT v. Sullivan, rightly or wrongly, "can claim at least some responsibility for adding to a climate of distrust and political polarization in the U.S." Frankly, that's ridiculous. People always like to assume that political discourse has somehow reached a "new low" in their own lifetimes, often ignoring that political discourse in the US has been ridiculous from the very beginning. To blame the level of partisan rancor today on an important free speech ruling is based on nothing other than general contrarianism, rather than any sort of proof.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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Last month, we wrote about the rate court fight between ASCAP and Pandora as ASCAP attempted to massively increase Pandora's rates through moves that were quite clearly collusive. ASCAP had already lost an earlier ruling showing that it had violated its consent decree by letting publishers selectively remove certain works in order to force Pandora into paying much, much higher rates. However, the details of ASCAP and the publishers' deception became much clearer during the rate court battle. Last week, the judge handed ASCAP a huge loss, keeping the rate where it had been, at 1.85%, rather than jacking it up to ASCAP's requested 3%. The ruling clearly highlights just how obnoxious the publishers and ASCAP acted throughout this process, and how their actions not only were intended to harm Pandora, but also the very songwriters that ASCAP pretends to represent. ASCAP has done an amazing propaganda job of pretending that it's always looking out for songwriters -- when the simple fact is that it focuses on benefiting its giant publishers, often at the expense of songwriters. The key issue in this whole action was how ASCAP allowed publishers to selectively "withdraw" their rights from ASCAP and then effectively hold a gun to Pandora's head, saying that if Pandora didn't accept a new license directly with those publishers, it would be infringing (to make this work, the publishers also refused to even let Pandora know which songs had been withdrawn). ASCAP effectively encouraged this to happen, knowing that it could use this to jack up its own rates, even though, on its face, publishers withdrawing rights from ASCAP should be seen as bad for ASCAP. But withdrawing from ASCAP (even though ASCAP effectively encouraged it) is also bad for songwriters because the publishers aren't exactly good at paying songwriters (shocking), whereas at least ASCAP has some level of transparency. Even the judge highlighted the songwriters and publishers' interests here were not aligned, but ASCAP was still siding with the publishers. But the really damning stuff comes from the things we highlighted earlier during the trial -- and the judge found those points quite damning. There was clear collusive behavior between the publishers and ASCAP, meaning that ASCAP's claims that those "independently" negotiated deals were not done in a true marketplace. It started with ASCAP boss, Paul Williams, trying to calm down angry songwriters, but flat out admitting that these "withdrawals" were all really about getting higher rates for everyone: The large publishers were well aware of the discomfort that at least some writers felt with the new media withdrawals and made the following argument to convince them to come on board: if the major publishers could get higher license rates by direct negotiations with new media companies outside of ASCAP then those rates could be used in rate court litigation to raise the ASCAP license fees. The publishers found an ally on this issue in writer and ASCAP chairman Williams, who agreed with the new media rights withdrawal strategy. His email illustrates the strategy he pursued to get writers to support the publishers’ partial withdrawal of rights from ASCAP: My job is to make this transition as smoothly as possible in the board room . . . to assuage the fears of the writers who may see this as an ASCAP death knoll . . . . [W]e are in fact giving [the major publishers] the right to negotiate. The end result being that they will set a higher market price which will give us bargaining power in rate court. In other words, far from real competition and a market rate, Williams was flat out admitting that he was encouraging publishers to leave his own organization, making life more difficult for the songwriters he claims to represent, just so they could set up these sham agreements (negotiated with a gun to Pandora's head) and then pretend there was a higher "market rate" to use at the rate court. This kind of behavior went to extreme levels, with Universal Music more or less threatening Pandora's lawyers with mafioso like claims, and then immediately emailing ASCAP folks, to talk about how the strategy of jacking up the rates was working, and how ASCAP should be strong, since Pandora was supposedly running scared and would settle quickly. This, you'll note, is not the behavior you'd see in a competitive market. It's the behavior of organizations colluding against Pandora. The day after the rate court filing, UMPG’s Horowitz called one of Pandora’s attorneys at Greenberg Traurig. As Horowitz promptly memorialized in an email to ASCAP’s LoFrumento, Horowitz told [Pandora’s outside counsel], as a “friend” of the firm, that I thought both the firm and Pandora are completely tone deaf. That whether his firm has the legal right to rep Pandora in litigation, the firm has lost huge goodwill with writers and artists by doing so. And that filing now for a rate court proceeding against ASCAP . . . had the effect of unifying artists, writers, and PROs against Pandora. Horowitz also gave some advice to LoFrumento regarding ASCAP’s negotiating stance with Pandora. His advice boiled down to two words: be strong. Horowitz wrote: My take: [Pandora’s outside counsel] and Pandora are scared. They just want to settle with ASCAP and settle fast. Be strong. Time is on your side. Pandora is now under intense pressure to settle with ASCAP. They have to put this behind them. You can really push Pandora and get a much better settlement as a result. They are reeling. They will pay more, a lot more than they originally intended, to do that. Horowitz forwarded this same email to other ASCAP board members, including Sony’s Martin Bandier, and BMG Music Publishing’s Laurent Hubert. Besides these ASCAP Board members, Horowitz sent the email to David Israelite of the National Music Publishers Association (“NMPA”), which is a music industry trade group based in Washington, D.C. LoFrumento assured Horowitz that he was approaching Pandora with the mindset Horowitz advocated. In other words, this was all a coordinated effort, rather than actual market competition. The ruling further confirms the fact, as Pandora had publicly stated, that ASCAP and Pandora had actually agreed to terms on a rate, and then ASCAP backed out of the deal, suddenly demanding much, much higher rates, leaving Pandora in a difficult spot at the last minute on some negotiations. Either way, the judge makes it quite clear that he views ASCAP's activities as "coordinated" with the major publishers, rather than any sort of independent competitive market, as ASCAP had tried to tell the judge. Furthermore, the judge notes that the publishers, along with ASCAP, put Pandora in an impossible "gun to the head" kind of situation to agree to massive increases to the publishers, by withholding the list of songs that would soon be "infringing" if Pandora didn't agree to a much higher deal. With only a few business days remaining in the year 2012, ASCAP refused to provide Pandora with the list of Sony works without Sony’s consent, which Sony refused to give. Without that list, Pandora’s options were stark. It could shut down its service, infringe Sony’s rights, or execute an agreement with Sony on Sony’s terms. Then, despite executing a confidentiality agreement with Pandora, Sony made sure that UMPG learned of all of the critical terms of the Sony-Pandora license. And LoFrumento admitted at trial that ASCAP expected to learn the terms of any direct license that any music publisher negotiated with Pandora in much the same way. [....] What is important is that ASCAP, Sony, and UMPG did not act as if they were competitors with each other in their negotiations with Pandora. Because their interests were aligned against Pandora, and they coordinated their activities with respect to Pandora, the very considerable market power that each of them holds individually was magnified. The judge certainly finds Sony and ASCAP's behavior in withholding the list of songs it was withdrawing from Pandora incredibly suspect, and further that the testimony from Sony's representative was simply "not credible" on this issue. Brodsky received this request for a list of the Sony works, but never responded. In their telephone conversations during the month of November, Rosenbloum reiterated the request for a list of works on several occasions but never got any response. Rosenbloum repeated the request once more at a breakfast meeting that he and Pandora’s Kennedy had with Sony’s Brodsky and Bandier on November 30. Again, Sony did not respond. The list of Sony works was potentially important for several purposes, and Pandora referred to those several purposes in its discussions with Sony. In addition to wanting to be able to remove the Sony works from its service if Pandora and Sony could not come to terms, Pandora needed the list so that it could understand how to apportion any payments between the EMI and Sony catalogues since the payments would apparently be made at two different rates. Pandora also wanted the list so it could evaluate whether the substantial, non-refundable advance that Sony was demanding would likely be recouped. Sony had a list readily at hand, since the Compendium required that a publisher and ASCAP work together during the 90 day period before the effective withdrawal date to confirm precisely which works were being withdrawn. Sony understood that it would lose an advantage in its negotiations with Pandora if it provided the list of works and deliberately chose not to do so. Brodsky’s explanation at trial that he did not provide the list because he believed that negotiations were proceeding smoothly and did not want to impose an unnecessary “burden” on Sony’s staff is not credible. The negotiations were not going smoothly; the list had already been prepared and its production imposed no burden. As Brodsky recognized in his testimony, the list was “necessary” to Pandora in the event the parties did not reach a deal. Sony decided quite deliberately to withhold from Pandora the information Pandora needed to strengthen its hand in its negotiations with Sony. The judge recounts how Pandora also tried to get the list from ASCAP directly, and ASCAP after conferring with Sony similarly refused to give Pandora the list. The ruling also details how when ASCAP broke the handshake agreement it had with Pandora, it basically left Pandora less than a week to come to terms with Sony or be at risk for huge liability for playing Sony songs that it couldn't remove since no one would give it a list. In other words, Pandora was given effectively less than 5 days to negotiate a deal with Sony, without even knowing the basic information it needed to know. When Pandora further asked for the list just so it could figure out how much of its music database would be covered by Sony's license, Sony again refused to give the list, but just said that about 30% of the music consisted of Sony and EMI combined. Then there's the fact that Sony officials then leaked information about the deal terms all over the place, despite a confidentiality agreement. By mid-January 2013, and despite the existence of a confidentiality agreement, Sony leaked the key terms of the Pandora license to the press. The headlines in three articles said it all: “Sony/ATV ‘Now Has the Power to Shut Pandora Down…’”; “Sony/ATV gets 25 percent increase in Pandora royalties”; and “Sony/ATV’s Martin Bandier on new ‘quite reasonable’ Pandora deal.” A New York Post article featured a photograph of Sony’s Bandier in shirt sleeves with a large cigar in his mouth, as it reported that Sony had “wrangled a 25 percent increase in royalties” for a one year license. The judge also notes that it's quite clear that, despite denials, Sony broke the confidentiality agreement and leaked these deal terms: Although Brodsky denied knowing that anyone at Sony had leaked the terms of the license to the press, the evidence is that Sony did just that. Despite reporting dutifully that Sony had “declined” to comment on the terms of the deal, the articles referred to anonymous industry insiders as their source and quoted Bandier’s analysis of the deal. While Pandora had absolutely no interest in seeing the 25% hike in its rates known to other licensors, Sony hoped that its rate would be a jumping off point for the next publisher’s negotiations with Pandora, and it was. Pandora had its attorneys call Sony to complain of the breach of their confidentiality agreement. The whole ruling is quite a read. It shows over and over again how ASCAP and the big publishers basically did everything possible to collude and screw over Pandora, potentially harming songwriters in the process, by giving those songwriters less clarity and less information about licensing rates and how much they were owed. The claim from Universal that Pandora would regret going to rate court doesn't seem to have come about, as it's the publishers and ASCAP itself that have come out of this whole process with a massive black eye.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
Former NSA and CIA boss Michael Hayden seems to be doing what Michael Hayden does best: spewing ridiculous fear-mongering statements in support of the intelligence community that assumes that anyone hearing/reading the quotes has a brain the size of a newt and is unable to put two and two together. The latest comes from an an interview he did with Der Spiegel, which kicks off with a bang, in which he talks up how the internet is all about freedom and love and how Snowden may have destroyed all that: SPIEGEL: General Hayden, let's speak about the future of the Internet. Are you concerned? Hayden: I am very concerned. This may be the single greatest, most destructive effect from the last 10 months of what Mr. Snowden has revealed. The Internet was begun in the United States and it is based on American technology, but it's a global activity. We in the United States feel it reflects free people, free ideas and free trade. There are countries that do not want the Internet as we know it. Russia, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia. The Snowden revelations will now allow them to argue that we Americans want to keep a single, unitary Internet, because it just helps us spy. My fear is that the disclosures may have set a motion in progress that ends up really threatening the Internet as we know it. Of course, that is the purest form of "blaming the messenger" as you might find. The whole line about how the internet "reflects free people, free ideas and free trade" would be a lot stronger of a point if the NSA hadn't undermined basically all of that with its spying activity. The problem isn't that Snowden revealed all that. It's that the NSA was doing everything it was doing in the first place. If doing these things undermine the idea that the internet is about "free people, free ideas and free trade," perhaps it shouldn't have been doing them. To blame Snowden for that seems... ridiculous. SPIEGEL: It is not only the Russians and Chinese who use this argument, but also Americans like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. He recently described the US government as a threat to the Internet. Hayden: The more people like him say that, the more it indirectly strengthens these other arguments. The Russians and the Chinese aren't saying this to protect themselves against alleged American espionage. They are saying this because they don't like the Internet's freedom of speech. Their goal is to divide the Internet up into national domains and create barriers in cyberspace. That's the last thing Zuckerberg would want to have happen. Hayden is pretending that it's the Russians and the Chinese who kicked this off and made such statements. It is not. It was American technologists and entrepreneurs who recognize that when the NSA undermines their own products and purposely weakens key encryption standards that, yes, the NSA itself is a threat. Sure, the Russians and the Chinese have their own motives for slamming the US, but that's just Hayden trying to misdirect attention. The idea that Americans shouldn't accurately state that the NSA is a threat to the internet is bullshit. For someone who -- just seconds earlier -- was talking about our "freedoms" to then try to stifle Americans speaking out against the NSA by arguing that to do so "helps the enemy" is a level of depressing irony that only someone as tone deaf as Hayden can pull off. SPIEGEL: On the one hand, the United States promotes the Internet as a tool of freedom. On the other hand, it now appears to many people to be a tool of surveillance. Hayden: I am quite willing to have a discussion about what my country has or has not done, but it has to be based on facts. Let me first point out that the NSA doesn't monitor what every American is doing on the Internet. The NSA doesn't check who goes to what websites. But you've got these beliefs out there now. Ha! Right after telling Zuckerberg and other good Americans to shut the hell up or it's helping our the Chinese and the Russians, he now says that he's willing to have a discussion about what the US has done? Really? Then there's the nice strawman, in which he pretends that what people are upset about is spying on what websites Americans visit (ignoring that he's talking to a German publication). He conveniently says nothing about tracking what non-Americans visit, nor the fact that it's not the website tracking that has people concerned, but rather hacking into various websites, tracking all kinds of confidential information. SPIEGEL: It has been almost a year since Snowden left Hawaii. What has he changed? Hayden: There are three or four effects. We do this, like other countries, for legitimate reasons, and it's harder to do this now with what has been made public, legitimate intelligence targets. It has become harder for American services to cooperate with friendly services with common goals. What foreign service would want to cooperate with us, given our absolute seeming inability to keep anything secret? And then it really harmed American industry, and that's why you have the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world and the Eric Schmidts of the world expressing great outrage. They aren't doing anything for the American government that other companies do not do for their host governments when they receive a lawful request, but they've been singled out, and they have been unfairly harmed by this. And finally, it has poisoned relationships between people who really are friends. More bogus misdirection from Hayden. Schmidt and Zuckerberg are not upset about the situations in which they complied with lawful requests. They're upset about hacking into datacenters without permission. They're upset about doing "QUANTUM" inserts via bogus Facebook attacks. They're upset about weakening basic encryption. None of that has to do with lawful requests. And, where they are upset about lawful requests, it's because of the NSA's bogus secrecy in which it refuses to let these tech companies show how many users are impacted. Once again, the problem there is the over-secrecy on the part of the NSA. Finally, the idea that others are upset with the US because it "can't keep stuff secret" is equally bogus. No one has complained about that one bit. The Snowden leaks happened. No one seems to think that makes the next leak any more or less likely. Hayden is just, once again, trying to pin the blame of the NSA's own overreach back on Snowden. SPIEGEL: The Germans are more sensitive when it comes to the issue of surveillance. Hayden: I confess that we Americans underappreciated the impact of that not just on the chancellor but on the German population, and I mean this sincerely. Perhaps we underestimated the depth of feelings that the German people -- and again, not just the chancellor, but the German people, felt about this question of privacy, given their historical circumstances compared to our historical circumstances. At the Munich Security Conference it was clear to me that Germans regard privacy the way we Americans might regard freedom of speech or religion. Perhaps we did not appreciate that enough. In which Hayden more or less admits that he thinks the First Amendment is important, but the Fourth? Not so much. SPIEGEL: Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA is conducting similar operations against China. They monitor the head of state of China. They monitored a couple of universities. NSA is breaking into some Chinese companies. Isn't it hypocritical to complain and yet do similar things? Hayden: It's only hypocritical if you had a peculiar and inaccurate way of looking at it at the beginning, and I have been quite public. I'd say, "Look, we spy. We're really good at it." There are two differences between us and the Chinese. We're actually more sophisticated, and we're self-limited. We don't do industrial espionage. I never claimed the moral high ground, you seem to be suggesting that we didn't spy. Let me play a joke on myself. I say, you know, if I had to talk to the Chinese about it, I'd go to Beijing, and I'd sit across the table, which I have done, and I would begin the conversation, "Look, you spy, we spy, but you steal the wrong stuff." Note that he never explains why "industrial espionage" is so bad, while plain old espionage is fine. And, the evidence from the Huawei effort certainly suggested that the US was, in effect, doing industrial espionage anyway. SPIEGEL: Give us a prediction about Snowden's future. Hayden: I don't know. I think he asked for an extension of his visa. I think they will just kind of toss the ball up and keep juggling it for another year to see what happens. SPIEGEL: Wouldn't it be better to bring him home... Hayden: ... absolutely ... SPIEGEL: ... and grant him clemency? Hayden: No. God, no. No. No. This is the single greatest hemorrhaging of legitimate American secrets in the history of this country. It is incredibly damaging, and if we give him some sort of clemency or amnesty, all we're doing is teaching the next Edward Snowden that if you do this, make sure you steal a whole bunch of stuff.Edward Snowden has given this data to all these other folks. Glenn Greenwald has got it. Laura Poitras has got it. Bart Gellman has got it. DER SPIEGEL apparently has it. I mean, this stuff is coming out beyond the control of Edward Snowden. Hayden still doesn't get it (or is purposely misleading). No one thinks Snowden should get clemency because he took "a whole bunch of stuff," but because he helped reveal a ton of very questionable activities by the US government, much of which may be unconstitutional and illegal. And that's the kind of thing that we should be encouraging, because as government employees, people take an oath to uphold the Constitution. That means when they see the government doing unconstitutional things, they should blow the whistle. Michael Hayden may not like that -- especially as some of the revelations appear to implicate him and the decisions he made personally. But his answers here are flat out ridiculous, and they don't make Hayden look good. They make him look petty and vindictive, attacking a whistleblower who has exposed a bunch of things that Hayden helped set in motion. There's a lot more in the interview (including a lot of talk about spying on Germans), but these snippets here give you a sense of how Hayden approached this particular interview.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 22 days ago on techdirt
Want to know what the current FCC thinks of an open internet? The FCC used to run a website at OpenInternet.gov, in which it talked up the importance of an open internet. Here's what the page used to look like: In that blank blue spot, I believe there was this video of former FCC chair Julius Genachowski highlighting the importance of an open internet. Of course, as pointed out by Ryan Singel, if you visit OpenInternet.gov right now, it looks like this: Yes, that's right: the FCC is sorry, but OpenInternet.gov cannot be found. To be fair, it's not as if Genachowski ever really did that much to preserve an open internet, preferring to work out a bogus "deal" on open internet principles with Verizon and AT&T, with loopholes large enough to drive much of the internet through -- and which were put together so poorly that Verizon (yes, the same Verzion that helped create them in the first place) successfully sued to get the rules thrown out as the FCC going too far. Similarly, new FCC boss Tom Wheeler has a blog post insisting that he too is really committed to an open internet, but we've heard that song and dance before. In the end, it's more symbolic than anything else. The fact that the FCC has basically shuttered OpenInternet.gov with no forwarding address just kind of highlights how seriously the FCC really seems to take these issues.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
With two of his own review panels saying that the bulk collection of phone records under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act had failed to produce anything of value, and one of them clearly stating that it was also illegal and unconstitutional, the NY Times is reporting that President Obama is finally ready to call for the true end of the NSA's bulk collection of phone records. Surprisingly, according to that report, President Obama is willing to do this without adding data retention requirements for the telcos to hold onto that data themselves. If true, that really is a pretty big deal -- though it only covers the issue of the bulk phone records collection. That leaves other forms of bulk collection under Section 215 in place. So, in effect, it seems like an agreement to kill off the one high profile problematic program that hasn't been remotely useful, rather than a full policy shift. It's a start, however. Unfortunately, at the same time that's happening, it appears that the House Intelligence Committee, run by Rep. Mike Rogers is pushing a new bill that would take a step towards limiting some aspects of the NSA's data collection powers, but also lowering the standard by which the government could collect specific information: The bill, titled the End Bulk Collection Act of 2014 and currently circulating on Capitol Hill, would prevent the government from acquiring "records of any electronic communication without the use of specific identifiers or selection terms," some 10 months after the Guardian first exposed the bulk collection based on leaks by the whistleblower Edward Snowden. But the bill would allow the government to collect electronic communications records based on "reasonable articulable suspicion", rather than probable cause or relevance to a terrorism investigation, from someone deemed to be an agent of a foreign power, associated with an agent of a foreign power, or "in contact with, or known to, a suspected agent of a foreign power." While a separate report says that this House bill would actually ban the mass collection of other types of data (including internet activity) as well as phone records (i.e., going further than the Obama proposal), it would leave out the requirement that a court approve specific requests for information before it's submitted to a company. But unlike other pending legislation, it does not call for judicial approval of a specific phone number before a request for data is submitted to a company. The Rogers-Ruppersberger legislation would have the court make that determination “promptly” after the FBI submits a number to a phone company. If the court did not approve the number as being linked to an agent of a foreign power, including terrorist groups, the data collected would be expunged. The details of these proposals are going to matter a lot. The full House bill is expected to be introduced in a few hours, and it will take some time to go through the details to see if there are any dangerous easter eggs hidden in there. Still, for all the arguments from Rep. Rogers and the Obama administration about how "necessary" these programs have been and how horrible it's been that Ed Snowden revealed the details to the press, these moves show just how much of an impact the Snowden leaks have had on the public debate concerning surveillance. It will take some time to sort through the details of these proposals, but it's safe to say without Snowden's actions, none of this would be happening.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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The US Supreme Court has yet to take a case that directly challenges the NSA's domestic surveillance programs, having turned down EPIC's turnstile-jumping attempt to bring the bulk collection to the court's attention back in November. More recently, it also declined to grant standing to a case pursued by the Center for Constitutional Rights challenging the legality of Bush-era surveillance programs. But in a talk given at Brooklyn Law School last Friday, visiting Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dropped hints that the telephone metadata program's constitutionality may be put in the hands of the Supreme Court. Mr. Napolitano then asked if mass surveillance of cellphones and emails would be prohibited by the Fourth Amendment, which states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” Many of the National Security Agency’s controversial surveillance programs were prominently exposed last year by Edward Snowden, a former security contracted who leaked sensitive documents revealing the U.S. government’s wide collection of digital data. “You’re getting into the NSA stuff, right?” Mr. Scalia remarked–one of many snarky, laughter-drawing lines he issued throughout the evening. “This may come before the court. And I don’t want to get myself recused.” But Mr. Scalia nevertheless directly said he didn’t feel “conversations” were part of the “persons, houses, papers and effects” covered by the Fourth Amendment. If this program does end up in front of the Court, it appears Scalia will be casting his lot with the government and its expansive reading of the Third Party Doctrine. He also suggested the Supreme Court wasn't up to the task, albeit based on severely backwards logic. "The Supreme Court doesn't know diddly about the nature and extent of the threat," Scalia said. Later on, he added, "It's truly stupid that my court is going to be the last word on it." Why Scalia feels the "nature and extent of the threat" has any bearing on the program's adherence to the Constitution is beyond me, and his apparent willingness to defer to the government's justifications for domestic spying is troubling. This argument is on par with the City of New York arguing for the stop-and-frisk program because it was useful in fighting crime, an argument the presiding judge dismissed as irrelevant to the issue at hand: the constitutionality of the program itself. No doubt the Supreme Court will get plenty of chances to hear the government discuss the nature and extent of the terrorist threat. But it needs to keep in mind that it's ruling on the constitutionality, not whether the ends justify the means. This peculiar statement is also troubling in light of Scalia's earlier comments that same night, where he pointed out the dangers of originalism, and reinterpreting the Constitution in light of technological advances. “It’s the freedom of speech. It doesn’t matter whether you’re speaking in semaphore or a cellphone or any type of modern technology. You apply the same First Amendment principals to the new technology that you applied to the old. And the same for reasonable searches and seizures.” If Scalia's going to argue that the times may change but the Constitution doesn't, then he needs to be consistent. Just because a threat that was minimal before September 2001 is now viewed as all-encompassing by the government should have no bearing on whether the Supreme Court is capable of issuing an opinion on the constitutionality of the NSA's domestic surveillance. On the plus side, a person in the audience raised a question that may cause Scalia to reconsider his strict definition of what the Fourth Amendment covers. When Mr. Scalia later took questions from audience members, a law student surprised the self-confident justice by pressing him on whether personal computer data–not conversations–should be protected. “Do you believe that data within a computer would be too broad of a construction of the word ‘effects’ under the Fourth Amendment?” the student inquired. “Mmm! Mmm!” Mr. Scalia exclaimed to himself, clearly impressed with the line of argument but cautious about weighing in on a topic he expects to come up before the U.S. Supreme Court. “I better not answer that,” he added whimsically. “That’s something that may well come up. It’s a really good question.” So, that's a bit more promising. And Scalia is just one of nine justices. With two judges having issued contrary opinions on the Section 215 program, it may be the Court's responsibility to sort this out. Of course, this is just one of the NSA's programs with constitutional implications, and it's one that looks to be severely scaled back if not sacrificed completely to keep other, more intrusive programs free from additional scrutiny. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
We've seen dumb criminals do a lot of dumb things with the technology on their fingertips, always resulting in their prompt arrest, because that's how things turn out for dumb criminals. Whether it's sharing the police Facebook post seeking their arrest or college kids celebrating their illegal behavior online, the idea is that for the nefarious criminal, over-sharing can get you into lots of trouble. But for the idiot criminal who wants to set the record for being the biggest assbag, I'll simply point to Dakkari Dijon McAunuff, who was angry enough at apparently being named after a condiment that he sent out the following tweet: I'll give you three guesses what happened next, but you'll only need one. Dakkari Dijon McAnuff, of Los Angeles, was booked Wednesday on suspicion of making criminal threats, police said. He remained in jail in lieu of $50,000 bail. The investigation began Wednesday morning when LAPD officers were notified about a photo on Twitter. The photo shows a rifle pointed at a Los Angeles street with the caption "100 [retweets] and I'll shoot someone walking." I have to say, even though you'll often find me wandering the halls of my workplace muttering under my breath about the ridiculous over-prosecution and punishment in our legal system, $50k bail seems a bit light to me. Perhaps McAnuff was joking, except that his joke wasn't funny, it was a promise to harm people. Perhaps he thought people would realize it was an air rifle (as police later determined) and not a hunting rifle, except that really doesn't make and damned difference. And, to my mind, the kind of person who would send this out for any reason whatsoever isn't the kind of person I trust getting back out on the street without a severely taught lesson applied to him. Here's to you spending some time in jail, Mr. McAnuff. I want you to think real hard about what you've done, now. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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There had been a time when we thought that a "media shield" law was a good idea. Such a law would make it explicit that journalists don't have to give up their sources. However, over the many, many years of the debate concerning such a law, we noticed a troubling pattern, in that politicians kept wanting to narrowly limit who was a "journalist," often saying amateur journalists don't count. Senator Lindsey Graham even explicitly stated that he wasn't sure if bloggers deserved First Amendment protections. A completely out of touch Senator Dianne Feinstein insisted that "real journalists" draw salaries from big media companies. When Wikileaks first became a big deal, those working on the legislation actually worked hard to make sure that Wikileaks would not be covered. There are all sorts of problems with all of that, starting with the most obvious: when the government gets to define who is and who is not a "journalist," you're raising serious First Amendment questions about how Congress can make no law interfering with a free press. By defining who is and who is not a journalist, it would appear that Congress is violating that basic concept. Driving home this point last week, the main author of the Senate's shield law, Senator Chuck Schumer, himself has admitted that he's not sure if his own law would protect Glenn Greenwald: Schumer discussed the bill's provisions and how, if it became law, it might affect journalist Glenn Greenwald, who reported on National Security Agency's secret surveillance based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden. "It's probably not enough protections to (cover) him, but it's better than current law," Schumer said. And that demonstrates how the law actually may be worse than current law. If it's carving out exceptions for the people doing real investigative reporting, breaking big stories that are having a very serious global impact on a variety of issues, then it's making the situation worse, not better. Any law that attempts to define "journalist" is going to be a massive problem and likely unconstitutional. There is some view that we already have a journalism shield law in the First Amendment itself. Alternatively, if the government really wants to make an explicit safe harbor to protect journalist sources, it seems that a better approach would be to not define "journalists," but just make it clear that it protects anyone "engaged in journalism," whether professional or not. The whole reason why the Senate is so fearful of having the law too broad is that they're worried that, say, someone engaged in criminal activity will be able to get immunity from revealing accomplices by claiming to be a journalist. But, instead you could just look at whether the activities they were engaged in was gathering information for the sake of disclosing it, and see that it was a form of journalism. But, instead, it looks like Congress wants to push forward with a bad law that is almost certainly unconstitutional.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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Malaysian flight MH370 remains a mystery (for now?), but technology that could have answered a lot of questions actually exists -- it just wasn't aboard MH370. There are black boxes that can eject with parachutes and be more easily recovered. Various aircraft monitoring systems and engine monitoring systems can send maintenance signals to satellites, providing significant help to investigators if problems during a flight occur. Despite all these technological advances, it's still pretty easy to get lost in the oceans. Here are just a few links on finding things on the open sea. In 1992, a cargo ship lost 28,800 rubber ducks (among other items) in the North Pacific, and these bath toys have turned up in unexpected locations years later. It wouldn't be so surprising to find these rubber duckies just in Alaska, but some found their way to Maine and (possibly) to even more distant shores of the Atlantic. [url] The perfect non-denial denial phrase "can neither confirm nor deny" originates from the "Glomar Response" concerning a CIA operation to recover a sunken Soviet submarine from the ocean floor in the 1970s. Glomar is an abbreviation of Global Marine, the name of the company that built the salvage vessel that "may or may not have" tried to go after the sunken sub. [url] An empty Russian cruise ship (the MV Lyubov Orlova) has been lost in the North Atlantic for over a year, and it's possible that it's still afloat. There have been other crew-less ships that have sailed far from their home shores, like the Ryou-Un Maru -- a Japanese fishing ship that made its way across the Pacific to the Gulf of Alaska. [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    

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posted 23 days ago on techdirt
Orin Kerr has a post about a bizarre decision by DC Magistrate Judge John Facciola, who decided to reject a warrant application not because he thought there wasn't probable cause, but rather because he didn't think that the government needed a warrant at all, and could do the search it wanted without such a warrant. This is problematic on a variety of different levels, and Kerr covers them all. The story involves a police chase of a suspect with a gun. During the chase, he threw away the gun. The police found the gun, and while they were at it, the guy's mobile phone. The warrant was to do a thorough search of the phone. Facciola said they didn't need a warrant since the phone had been "abandoned." Whether or not the phone was actually abandoned, the ruling is problematic (in part because Facciola has no way of knowing if the phone was actually abandoned). But, just in general, it seems that he doesn't have the discretion to make this kind of ruling anyway: Judge Facciola seems to be assuming that warrants only should be obtained when the Fourth Amendment would be violated without them, and that he, as a magistrate judge, has the power to say ex ante when that will be. But I think that’s pretty clearly wrong. Magistrate judges do not have the discretion to deny applications if they don’t think one would be necessary. The language in Fed. R. Crim. Pro. 41(d)(1) is mandatory: “After receiving an affidavit or other information, a magistrate judge. . . must issue the warrant if there is probable cause to search for and seize a person or property” (emphasis added). As Kerr points out, the law is structured to encourage police to get warrants (for the obvious reason of making sure such searches are constitutional). If a magistrate judge is taking it upon himself to decide that no warrant is needed, then it seems to be going against the Supreme Court's belief that police should be encouraged to get a warrant. The second problem is that Facciola seems to be making a constitutional determination (i.e., there's no 4th Amendment issue here) based on seriously incomplete facts. He only has the request for the warrant, which just seeks to present enough evidence for probable cause for the warrant. He doesn't know anything beyond that, and he doesn't know the other side of the story. It's entirely possible that the search doesn't need a warrant, but that's not the kind of thing a magistrate judge should be determining at this stage, especially when the police themselves have asked for a warrant. And, as Kerr notes, this actually puts the police in quite a bind about whether or not to do the search: Further, Judge Facciola’s decision puts the government in a bind. Under his ruling, the police cannot get a warrant. But if they search the phone without a warrant, they run a serious risk that a future court will rule that Magistrate Judge Facciola’s prediction was wrong and that they should have obtained one. If so, it’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t.... The way out is for magistrates to issue warrants based on whether the government has satisfied the facial requirements of probable cause and particularity, as Rule 41 requires, not to hinge the issuance of the warrant on whether the magistrate expects such a warrant to be a legal necessity. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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There must be something about Yelp reviews that make people act all crazy-like. Maybe it's the personal nature behind someone reviewing your goods or services, or perhaps there's something about seeing a review online in text that drives people off the deep end, but the number of legal threats and lawsuits connected to simple Yelp reviews always surprises me. Specifically, I'd have thought we've had enough of these stories by now that competent businesses would realize that issuing threats over reviews is a great way to get the Streisand reputation multiplier going. But, apparently not. This latest example is of a watch repair shop issuing a legal threat over what I have to say is a relatively innocuous review of their business. The most scathing section appears to me to be this. This is where Ron really lost points. I took both watches to a place called Precision Watch Repair, right around the corner, which had good ratings here on Yelp. I met with Eric, who told me first that he definitely could fix the vintage one, and also that he could repair the Ebel without sending it out - all for a good price. The Ebel was repaired in a day. I went from hopeless to happy within a span of 15 minutes. In addition, Eric called me THAT DAY with the estimate, and followed up the next day. So Ron Gordon loses in terms of creativity, and just overall slowness....which seems appropriate for a review of a watch repair shop. No big deal, right? The review is on point, relevant to the business, and omits any real inflammatory language. Even if it turned out the claims in the review were exaggerated, we're not exactly talking about a vilification here. Well, the watch repair shop isn't taking all this mild complaining lying down, damn it. Well, okay then. Call me crazy, but it seems to me that the claim that this one mild review was detrimental to Ron Gordon's business is probably more melodramatic than a high school freshman that just got stood up to the spring formal. This story going viral on the other hand? Yeah, that Streisand Effect is probably doing some actual harm to the business and its reputation for treating their customers well. Actually moving forward with any defamation lawsuit would be particularly tricky as well, given they'd have to prove the falsehood of the claim. Meanwhile, a whole lot more people know the name Ron Gordon Watch Repair than they did yesterday, and for all the wrong reasons. As the original article notes, however, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised if Ron is getting bad legal advice, judging by the Yelp reviews for his lawyer. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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Some people forget this, but the day before the very first of the Ed Snowden revelations, there were plenty of headlines about how President Obama was about to meet with China's President Xi Jinping, with a major focus of the talk being about how Obama wanted to the Chinese to stop their "cyberattacks" on US companies. An anonymous "senior White House official" was quoted at the time saying: "We expect this to become a standing issue in the US/China relationship. We believe that all nations need to abide by international norms and follow the rules of the road and that means dealing with actions emanating from your territory." Right. So, the very next day was the beginning of the post-Snowden era, and over the weekend we get the not-all-that-surprising news that the NSA hacked into Chinese firm Huawei. And, of course, today comes the inevitable angry demands from Chinese officials that the US "explain" itself over these allegations, and that it stop hacking Chinese companies. While much of this is just expected diplomatic posturing, and there's little doubt that both countries regularly hack into each other, the US's holier-than-thou attitude over this whole thing is looking more and more ridiculous over time. As we discussed a few months ago, it's certainly not a surprise that the US is hypocritical, but much of its diplomatic success has been because it could get away with being hypocritical and pretending that it actually had the moral high ground. That's less and less possible now that the US's activities are more obvious than before -- and that limits the ability of government officials to actually pressure other countries into changing. Of course, the obvious answer to this would be to stop being hypocritical and to actually live up to the ideals and concepts that we preach towards other countries. However, so far the US government has shown little evidence that it's moving in that direction -- and the end result are days like today, when the US government gets scolded by the Chinese, and has no moral leg to stand on whatsoever.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story    

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