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At heart, a prison is a place where freedom is taken away, and inmates are constrained in what they can do. Does that mean a prison has to consist of a special building with bars and prison guards? How about turning the home of a convicted criminal into a kind of virtual prison, where they are limited in their actions? That's what Dan Hunter, dean of Swinburne University's Law School in Melbourne, suggests, reported here by Australian Broadcast News: Called the Technological Incarceration Project, the idea is to make not so much an internet of things as an internet of incarceration. Professor Hunter's team is researching an advanced form of home detention, using artificial intelligence, machine-learning algorithms and lightweight electronic sensors to monitor convicted offenders on a 24-hour basis. The idea is to go beyond today's electronic tagging systems, which provide a relatively crude and sometimes circumventable form of surveillance, to one that is pervasive, intelligent -- and shockingly painful: Under his team's proposal, offenders would be fitted with an electronic bracelet or anklet capable of delivering an incapacitating shock if an algorithm detects that a new crime or violation is about to be committed. That assessment would be made by a combination of biometric factors, such as voice recognition and facial analysis. Leaving aside the obvious and important issue of how reliable the algorithms would be in judging when a violation was about to take place, there are a couple of other aspects of this approach worth noting. One is that it shifts the costs of incarceration from the state to the offender, who ends up paying for his or her upkeep in the virtual prison. That would obviously appeal to those who are concerned about the mounting cost to taxpayers of running expensive prisons. The virtual prison would also allow offenders to remain with their family, and thus offers the hope that they might be re-integrated into society more easily than when isolated in an unnatural prison setting. Irrespective of any possible financial benefits, that has to be a good reason to explore the option further. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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For many years now, we've talked about Andy Kessler's concept of political entrepreneurs vs. market entrepreneurs. In Kessler's telling, market entrepreneurs are the kind of entrepreneurs that people usually think about -- the ones creating startups and high growth companies and the like. While not everyone appreciates it, those entrepreneurs tend to provide a lot more to the world than they take away. They may get filthy rich in the process, but they tend to make the world a better place by creating lots of value. The "political entrepreneurs," on the other hand, are those who basically look to abuse the system to create monopoly rents and to limit competition. Those entrepreneurs may also get filthy rich, but they tend to do it by limiting value and locking it up so that only they can get it. Obviously, one of those is a lot better for society than the other. Of course, this idea certainly didn't originate with Kessler, either. Just recently, we had James Allworth on our podcast where we talked about this issue in response to an excellent article he'd recently written about how prioritizing profit over democracy was actually damaging American entrepreneurship. In that article, he referred back to the work of William Baumol, who wrote a paper back in 1990, entitled: Entrepreneurship: Productive, Unproductive, and Destructive. As you can see, that one divides entrepreneurship into three categories. Productive loosely maps to "market entrepreneurs" in Kessler's world, while "Unproductive" loosely translates to "political entrepreneurs" as well. Baumol also includes destructive entrepreneurs, who are actively making the world worse -- and getting rich off of people's misery (think drug dealers, and such). But part of the point of Allworth's article is that it feels like too many people are just focusing on "profit" as the end goal, and thus either unwilling or unconcerned with determining if the entrepreneurship that drives the profit is "productive" or "unproductive." And, now the Economist has weighed in on this issue as well, noting that we're seeing more and more unproductive entrepreneurship in America, and that's a problem. The article focuses on the work of two economists, Robert Litan and Ian Hathaway, who are building on Baumol's concepts and are concerned about where things are heading. One interesting thing: they find that the issue can't be neatly put into the category of "too much regulation" or "too little regulation," but rather find that both of those situations can create the same rise in unproductive entrepreneurship: What explains this shift? One factor appears to be the success of various professional groups in convincing the government to tailor regulation to their needs, for instance by lobbying for occupational licensing. Jason Furman, then the chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, observed in 2015 that the share of the American workforce covered by state licensing laws grew from less than 5% in the 1950s to 25% by 2008, arguing that this deterred new competition. The proliferation of occupational licensing might be seen as harmful overregulation. Other sectors are plagued by the opposite. Jeffrey Zhang, an economist at the Federal Reserve, argues that banking deregulation in the 1990s led to rapid bank concentration alongside “sub-optimally higher levels of risk-taking”. As a result, the salaries of senior bank employees grew rapidly. Zhang concludes that the rent-seeking enabled by financial deregulation played a sizeable role in the growth of income inequality: bankers were able to skew the system in their favour, to the detriment of everybody else. Indeed, we see this in areas that we cover as well. Certainly it seems like letting the big cable and telco companies run free for a decade decreased competition, lowered the quality of service (massively) and allowed those companies to create massive monopoly rents for themselves. But in many other industries, we've pointed out the problems with excessive occupational licensing. I know not everyone agrees, but we think the rise of car hailing services and home sharing like Airbnb has been quite revolutionary (even if companies like Uber may have been run by some awful people). Similarly, we've discussed repeatedly how excess regulations in the drone space have really held back what could be a huge area of innovation. The Economist article suggests that the ability of industries to steer regulations in a way they want is a big part of the issue: The success of such lobbying depends on the government’s susceptibility. This does not appear to be in short supply in America. James E. Bessen, an economist at Boston University,links high profits through regulatory advantages to political factors including lobbying and campaign spending. The work of other economists reinforces his observation. Jeffrey R. Brown and Jiekun Huang, two researchers writing for the National Bureau of Economic Research, use data> from White House visitor logs during the Obama administration to show that corporate executives’ meetings with White House staff were associated with a bump in their company stock price, more government contracts and positive regulatory decisions. Firms that had better access to the Obama White House also experienced a large drop in stock prices when the 2016 election result was announced. In the tech world, this is unfortunate. It used to be that tech companies didn't need to have a presence in DC, because they could just innovate, rather than having to deal constantly with policy pressure. But, nowadays that's increasingly difficult -- and not necessarily because everyone else is lobbying -- but rather because the political landscape has become something of a shakedown game. As we've discussed in the past, while many outside of DC view lobbyists as making all of this happen, those involved suggest the roles are reversed here. Politicians -- desperate to raise campaign cash -- are often the ones reaching out to companies and basically threatening them with certain regulations if they don't decide to step up and donate. So what's the end result here? That's... not clear. Unfortunately, it appears that crony capitalism is on the rise, and with it, more and more unproductive entrepreneurship. The real problem, as James and I discussed in our podcast, is that this is unsustainable, and most likely will mean growing productive entrepreneurship happening elsewhere (and we're already seeing some evidence of that today). There certainly doesn't seem to be any real concerted effort to move away from unproductive entrepreneurship in the US -- but perhaps by making more people aware of it, people will start to recognize how big a problem it truly is. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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At some point, it seems clear that if Chris Vickery comes a-callin', you've screwed up when it comes to keeping the private information of customers/voters secure. Vickery works for Upguard, a cyber-security consulting firm that regularly seeks out insecure sites and works with the owners of them to secure them. Vickery's fingerprints have been on discoveries such as Verizon's exposure of the personal information of 6 million of its customers and a firm contracted by the GOP exposing the personal data of roughly every American voter everywhere. And now Vickery and Upguard have found that a contractor managing the city of Chicago's voter rolls appears to have exposed more personal information on an AWS server. The acknowledgment came days after a data security researcher alerted officials to the existence of the unsecured files. The researcher found the files while conducting a search of items uploaded to Amazon Web Services, a cloud system that allows users to rent storage space and share files with certain people or the general public. The files had been uploaded by Election Systems & Software, a contractor that helps maintain Chicago's electronic poll books. Election Systems said in a statement that the files "did not include any ballot information or vote totals and were not in any way connected to Chicago's voting or tabulation systems." The company said it had "promptly secured" the files on Saturday evening and had launched "a full investigation, with the assistance of a third-party firm, to perform thorough forensic analyses of the AWS server." So, a couple of things to note here. First, while it's true nt voting information was exposed, a good deal of personal information certainly was. Names, addresses, last four digits of social security numbers; you know, all of the things one would need to wreak havoc on a person using their identifying information. Second, it appears that "promptly securing" the files mostly had to do with actually having a password needed to access them. There was no hacking required for Vickery to get to these files, because there was no password protecting them. Great. Now, where I will give ES&S credit is that they are working with Upguard, rather than trying to vilify it as we've seen done to so many other security researchers. That's a good thing. Still, Chicago officials are pretty pissed off. "We were deeply troubled to learn of this incident, and very relieved to have it contained quickly," Chicago Election Board Chairwoman Marisel A. Hernandez said in a statement. "We have been in steady contact with ES&S to order and review the steps that must be taken, including the investigation of ES&S' AWS server. We will continue reviewing our contract, policies and practices with ES&S. We are taking steps to make certain this can never happen again." Allen added that the board is considering how to notify and potentially offer remedies to those whose information was exposed. "The expense for that is going to be borne by ES&S," Allen said. "This was a violation of the contract terms that explicitly lay out the requirement to safeguard the voters' data." It's a wonder to this writer that the constant calls for things like e-voting machines continue when those in charge of securing voter data can't even do that right. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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There's no issue of public interest that copyright law cannot make worse. So let me ruin your day by pointing out there's a copyright angle to the monument controversy: the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), a 1990 addition to the copyright statute that allows certain artists to control what happens to their art long after they've created it and no longer own it. Techdirt has written about it a few times, and it was thrust into the spotlight this year during the controversy over the Fearless Girl statue. Now, VARA may not be specifically applicable to the current controversy. For instance, it's possible that at least some of the Confederacy monuments in question are too old to be subject to VARA's reach, or, if not, that all the i's were dotted on the paperwork necessary to avoid it. (It’s also possible that neither is the case — VARA may still apply, and artists behind some of the monuments might try to block their removal.) But it would be naïve to believe that we'll never ever have monument controversies again. The one thing VARA gets right is an acknowledgement of the power of public art to be reflective and provocative. But how things are reflective and provocative to a society can change over time as the society evolves. As we see now, figuring out how to handle these changes can be difficult, but at least people in the community can make the choice, hard though it may sometimes be, about what art they want in their midst. VARA, however, takes away that discretion by giving it to someone else who can trump it (so to speak). Of course, as with any law, the details matter: what art was it, whose art was it, where was it, who paid for it, when was it created, who created it, and is whoever created it dead yet… all these questions matter in any situation dealing with the removal of a public art installation because they affect whether and how VARA actually applies. But to some extent the details don't matter. While in some respects VARA is currently relatively limited, we know from experience that limited monopolies in the copyright space rarely stay so limited. What matters is that we created a law that is expressly designed in its effect to undermine the ability of a community with art in its midst to decide whether it wants to continue to have that art in its midst, and thought that was a good idea. Given the power of art to be a vehicle of expression, even political expression or outright propaganda, allowing any law to etch that expression in stone (as it were) is something we should really rethink. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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For years now, we've pointed out that ICE -- Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- has this weird habit of acting as the private police force of various big sporting leagues, almost always timed to big sporting events. Every year, right before the Super Bowl, for example, ICE seizes a bunch of websites. And ICE also goes way overboard in seizing physical merchandise, even if that's at least slightly closer to its mission. But it's been painfully obvious that ICE more or less sees itself as an arm of these sports leagues, rather than employees of the US government, and thus, the public. Last year, I filed some FOIA requests about ICE seizures leading up to the Super Bowl, but had them rejected on the basis that it was an ongoing investigation. However, law professor Rebecca Tushnet is much more persistent than I am, and has been pursuing documents related to ICE seizures in the courts, and has had the court force ICE to hand over details -- including the not-at-all surprising, but still horrifying discovery that the NFL gives ICE guidance on what to seize, and it includes obvious parodies which are clearly not infringing, as they're protected by fair use. This is from the manual that the NFL provided ICE: And, sure, perhaps it's true that NFL licensed merchandise won't favor one club over or another or make derogatory use of another's marks... but it's easy to argue that this is parody and thus not infringing. Just because it's not licensed, doesn't automatically make it infringing. But the NFL doesn't care. And I guess that's not surprising that the NFL doesn't care -- but it's astounding that ICE just agrees to follow the NFL's marching orders. Because unlike the NFL, ICE should actually follow what the law says, and not what a very wealthy sports league wants to happen. As Tushnet points out in response to this: So, what do we know? (1) Despite ICE's initial claims to me via its spokesperson and a lawyer, ICE relies only on industry guides to identify counterfeits, not on any independent sources. (2) Those industry guides identify what they don't like, not what is within the scope of counterfeit goods. (3) Most of what ICE seizes is truly counterfeit, but when it seizes parody merchandise, it implicates First Amendment interests in free speech. Considering that this is ICE, who has a history of seizing blogs based on big industry claims, it seems quite clear that ICE couldn't care much less about the First Amendment interests of the public. Just the profits of big industry. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Learn how to create, effectively manage and deliver desired results by learning Project Managment skills. For $49.99, the Project Management Professional Training will help you learn the skills needed. It features over 35 hours of training approved by the Project Management Institute. At the end, you will have knocked out the 35 contact hours requirement and be ready to sit for the PMP and CAPM exams (not included in the deal) in order to gain your certification and set yourself apart in the job market. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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How many innocents would you accept being caught up in an action designed to nab criminals? How many good people is it acceptable to throw into jail alongside the truly bad actors? Most people would agree that any action that penalizes the innocent in order to punish the guilty is a bad course, with only truly minimal amounts of collateral damage being acceptable. Now let's port that over to internet sites and ask how many innocent websites is it acceptable to block in order to block sites that are actually engaged in undesirable behavior? Well, for the legal system in India, that question has often been answered in a cavalier manner, with regular court orders to block innocent websites being doled out to battle both terrorism and at the request of copyright holders to stop infringement. It's in the latter cases where things get really silly, with previous orders issued to block sites like GitHub and the Internet Archive. Well, it seems the Internet Archive endured this sort of thing again recently, as a court order at the request of two Bollywood film studios caught archive.org into its ISP blocking web. Earlier this week (and again for no apparent reason), the world renowned Internet Archive was rendered inaccessible to millions of users in India. The platform, which is considered by many to be one of the Internet’s most valued resources, hosts more than 15 petabytes of data, a figure which grows on a daily basis. Yet despite numerous requests for information, none was forthcoming from authorities. Quoted by local news outlet Medianama, Chris Butler, Office Manager at the Internet Archive, said that their attempts to contact the Indian Department of Telecom (DoT) and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity) had proven fruitless. Now, however, the mystery has been solved. The BBC says a local government agency provided a copy of a court order obtained by two Bollywood production companies who are attempting to slow down piracy of their films in India. Issued by a local judge, the sweeping order compels local ISPs to block access to 2,650 mainly file-sharing websites, including The Pirate Bay, RARBG, the revived KickassTorrents, and hundreds of other ‘usual suspects’. However, it also includes the URL for the Internet Archive, hence the problems with accessibility this week. Let's be clear about what this sort of thing represents: the punishment of the innocent in favor of an easy and lazy attempt to block copyright infringement. That's not an overstatement. The continued use of court orders to block entire websites and the routine collateral damage are not exceptions, they are the rule. That they are allowed to continue to do this sort of damage even while the Indian government hand-waves away frantic requests for information from innocent site operators is as good a definition of whatever the opposite of justice is as I can think of. Importantly, neither the court that issued the order or the two film companies requesting it, and ostensibly providing the list of sites to be blocked, are due any recompense for these actions. Perhaps most frustrating, the Internet Archive has clearly stated that not only does it have a method for copyright holders to request content takedowns, but it complied with those requests from these very same film studios. “Is the Court aware of and did it consider the fact that the Internet Archive has a well-established and standard procedure for rights holders to submit take down requests and processes them expeditiously?” the platform said. “We find several instances of take down requests submitted for one of the plaintiffs, Red Chillies Entertainments, throughout the past year, each of which were processed and responded to promptly. After a preliminary review, we find no instance of our having been contacted by anyone at all about these films. Is there a specific claim that someone posted these films to archive.org? If so, we’d be eager to address it directly with the claimant.” Now, archive.org was not the only innocent site blocked by this order. Weebly.com, along with at least one news site and the site for a French ISP also had their sites blocked. Still, this damage appears to be mostly met with indifferent shrugs by the Indian government and the film studios that issued this request. So, for India, we have an answer to the question of how many innocent sites it's willing to harm to combat copyright infringement. That answer, by our litmus test, is "too many." Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Louisiana has a bad law that needs to be taken off the books. (Well, it probably has several but this discussion will only deal with one.) Previous court decisions have ruled the law unconstitutional but somehow it lives on to be a vehicle of harassment by law enforcement, often at the encouragement of government officials. This would be Louisiana's criminal defamation law. This was the law (ab)used by Sheriff Jerry Larpenter of Terrebonne Parish to shut down an online critic by raiding the blogger's home and seizing several electronic devices. The target of the supposed defamation was a board commissioner -- someone who wasn't actually covered by the law, which only provides for charges when the person allegedly defamed is not a public figure. A federal appeals court recently stripped Sheriff Larpenter of his immunity for abusing this law. It stated the outcome bluntly in the first sentence of its opinion. Some qualified immunity cases are hard. This case is not one of them. The court points out both the Supreme Court of the United States and Louisiana's highest court have reached the same conclusion: the law cannot be applied to speech targeting public officials. Concluding that "[i]t is for the [state] Legislature to correct [§§ 14:47-49's] constitutional infirmity"—namely, "its overbroad application" as identified in Garrison—the Louisiana Supreme Court held §§ 14:47-49 "to be unconstitutional insofar as they attempt to punish public expression and publication concerning public officials, public figures, and private individuals engaged in public affairs." Id. at 668; see also State v. Defley, 395 So.2d 759, 761 (La. 1981) (observing that § 14:47 "is unconstitutional insofar as it punishes public expression about public officials"). Since Snyder, the Louisiana legislature has not revisited §§ 14:47-49. The Louisiana Supreme Court's holding as to the reach of § 14:47 therefore remains the law of the land. Not that anyone appears to have noticed. Sheriff Larpenter ignored two high court rulings to bring charges under the law in a way that specifically violated these court findings. But Larpenter isn't the only law enforcement official abusing the law. And far from the only government official in general. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has handled another case springing from the unconstitutional application of the state's criminal defamation law. While the findings aren't nearly as favorable to the appellant, the decision [PDF] does point out the law cannot legally be used the way it has been in this case. Just like the Larpenter case, this one begins with offended public officials. Sometime before April 16, 2012, the Livingston Daily Times published an opinion piece titled “Sue Happy Seven Councilmen,” which discussed complaints about the Livingston Parish Council’s misuse of public funds. A URL link to the piece was posted on a separate Facebook page maintained by the Livingston Daily Times. The Facebook post was open to public comment. Using a pseudonym, someone posted “critical comments” about three Council members—James R. Norred, Jr., Cynthia G. Wale, and Chance McGrew Parent (the “Council Defendants”). McLin alleges that the statements “merely constituted criticism of official conduct of public officials.” Even if the comments were defamatory (something the court doesn't discuss), the correct response would be a civil suit, not criminal charges. But if the state legislature isn't actually going to repeal the shitty law, the following sort of things are going to keep happening. On April 20, 2012, Parent filed a report with the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office (“LPSO”) alleging that the anonymous Facebook user had “posted a comment in regards to numerous elected counsel [sic] members.” In response, LPSO Detective Benjamin Thomas Ballard obtained subpoenas to Facebook and Charter Communications. The subpoena responses linked McLin’s home address to the Facebook account that posted the critical comments. Ballard obtained a search warrant for McLin’s home, and he and LPSO Detective Jack R. Alford, Jr. executed the search warrant on June 11, 2012. Ballard and Alford confiscated electronic devices and equipment, and a forensic analysis purportedly linked one of the confiscated computers to the anonymous Facebook user. Anyone could have put a stop to this. But no one did, not even officers who -- as another federal court put it when dealing with this stupid statute -- are "presumed to know the law." Upon receiving this information, Ballard, Alford, and other officers (together with Sheriff Jason Gerald Ard, the “Officer Defendants”), and the Council Defendants (together with the Officer Defendants, the “Defendants”) met on August 16, 2012, to discuss pursuing criminal charges against McLin. Some of the officers urged that criminal defamation charges under Louisiana’s criminal defamation statute—Louisiana Revised Statute § 14:47—were warranted. The Council Defendants asked to pursue the charges against McLin and “swore out criminal complaints” contending that they were each subjected to criminal defamation as a result of comments McLin allegedly posted to Facebook. Thin skins and stupid laws are great for generating civil rights lawsuits. McLin turned himself in after finding out three arrest warrants had been sworn out. The district attorney dropped all charges four months later. McLin has a good case, one would think. According to the court, the lawsuit should be allowed to continue... The factual allegations in McLin’s complaint sufficiently plead that the Defendants lacked probable cause to prosecute McLin for violating the Louisiana criminal defamation statute. McLin alleges that the anonymous Facebook comments—posted to a news story about Council members and the Council’s misuse of public funds—did not amount to criminal defamation but rather “merely constituted criticism of official conduct of public officials.” Speech criticizing the official conduct of public officials is protected by the First Amendment and does not constitute criminal defamation. McLin further alleges that, upon linking the comments to him, and with knowledge that McLin’s comments were protected by the First Amendment, the Defendants met and conspired to create falsified affidavits for the purpose of obtaining arrest warrants on charges of criminal defamation. See Rykers v. Alford, 832 F.2d 895, 898 (5th Cir. 1987) (“[A]n officer charged with enforcing Louisiana law[] can be presumed to know that law.”). On these facts, which must be taken as true, we conclude that McLin’s complaint adequately alleges an unreasonable seizure because the Defendants could not have believed they had probable cause to arrest him. Unfortunately, all the good news for McLin ends there. The court still grants immunity to the officers on the Fourth Amendment claims basically because McLin turned himself in rather than wait around to be arrested. Here, we cannot say that every reasonable officer would understand that McLin was seized for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. To date, neither the Supreme Court nor the Fifth Circuit has decided that an officer’s acceptance of a voluntary surrender to an arrest warrant constitutes a Fourth Amendment seizure. And there is no a “robust consensus of persuasive authority”: only one circuit—the Eleventh—has found a seizure in these circumstances in a published opinion, and a majority of circuit courts have not yet weighed in. Although we now hold that McLin was seized, reasonable officers might not have understood that accepting McLin’s surrender to the arrest warrants, without imposing further pre-trial restrictions, constituted a seizure. This decision contrasts sharply with the opinion released by Louisiana's district court. Both deal with the same law -- one twice ruled unconstitutional -- and yet no one abusing the law will suffer any ill effects. McLin did the cops a favor by showing up at their place with his hands ready for cuffing. And for that, he can't sue law enforcement officers who sought arrest warrants based on a law they should have known couldn't be used to bring charges against McLin. Louisiana has enough rights violating going on at any given time. There's no reason legislators should allow this law to remain on the books any longer. The only thing it does is encourage people the law doesn't apply to (public figures) to work with compliant law enforcement agencies to shut down criticism. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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So we've talked repeatedly about how the real "smart" choice in the era of "smart" internet of things devices is often -- dumber technology. Whether it's your smart refrigerator or TV leaking your gmail details or viewing data over unencrypted connections, your smart car opening the door to potentially fatal attack, or your smart doorbell creating new attack vectors into your WiFi network, more often than not you're quite frankly better off with the older, less sophisticated versions of these technologies if you want the smart path toward a more secure life. The latest case in point: smart door lock vendor Lockstate managed to completely disable the smart door locks of an estimated 500 customers after a botched firmware update left customers unable to access their own properties: A subset of smart locks made by Lockstate have been bricked after an update. The smart lock vendor is part of Airbnb’s Host Assist program, and integrates with the accommodation rental platform so, for instance, hosts can automatically generate and email one-time codes for their guests to use during check-in....Two models of Lockstate smart lock are apparently affected, one of which currently retails for $469. Airbnb offers property owners a $50 discount code if they use Lockstate products as part of the Host Assist program — where said products are heralded as “revolutionary” and capable of withstanding “high usage”. Because the botched update made it impossible for these locks to subsequently connect to the internet for a new fix, the vendor is informing owners that their only recourse is to wait anywhere from a week to eighteen days for a physical replacement, inundating them with neither smart nor revolutionary added costs: <>In the mass mailer email, which begins “Dear Lockstate customer” and summarizes its contents as an “update” pertaining to LockState 6i/6000i, affected customers are asked to wait as long as 18 days for a full replacement. Or up to a week if they choose to remove and send the back portion of the lock to the company for repair. Feel smarter yet? Of course this isn't the first problem of this type. Internet of things brand darling Nest has, at several different points, botched their own firmware updates for supposedly smart thermostats, resulting in users either being cooked or chilled until they were able to remedy the problem. This is the kind of stuff internet of things evangelists still don't spend much time talking about when they're busy hyping and pitching the latest and greatest internet-connected widgets, built by a rotating crop of companies with a fleeting interest in actual security, functionality and privacy. Granted bungled firmware updates are only one risk. A recent report took a look at sixteen different brands of Bluetooth-enabled smart locks, and found that at least twelve of the brands were notably susceptible to remote attacks. The flaws are fairly standard at this point, ranging from user data and passwords being transmitted in plain text, or a bungled use of encryption to transmit user data when encryption was used at all. Short version of the lesson: if you're trying to build a smart home either do your homework and consult a hacker to find the best quality devices available, or save both time and money and revert to the best available dumb alternative. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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I love HBO's Game Of Thrones. I hate everything we have to write about it, however, because the stories are typically dumb in the usual ways that stories are dumb here at Techdirt. From HBO happily playing the evil villain in protecting the show's IP in the most overly-protectionist manner possible, to HBO screaming about the show being heavily pirated while everyone else comments about how good a thing that actually is, all the way up to the occasional overt hacking that occurs, where episodes from the show leak early, everybody freaks out, and then HBO and GoT go on to rake in tons of eyeballs and money anyway. One of these hacks just occurred, as you may know, resulting in a ransom not being paid to the hackers, who were then eventually arrested. While episode four of the current season did indeed get leaked, it wasn't the hackers who leaked it, but someone at an HBO distribution partner. So HBO screams about hacks while someone with in its own house is leaking episodes. And now it just appears to have happened again. Episode six has now leaked out and fingers are being pointed at the Spanish division of HBO itself for the leak. Trouble continues for HBO as another episode of the popular Game of Thrones series has just leaked online, days ahead of the official premiere. Copies of the sixth episode of the current season, titled ‘Death is the Enemy,’ are currently circulating on various streaming portals, direct download, and torrent sites. At the moment it’s not confirmed how the leak came about but some suggest that it was leaked by HBO itself in Spain. Several people have posted screenshots and videos that suggest it was made public by HBO unintentionally. With no counter-narrative yet from HBO, which you'll recall loves to scream about hacks and piracy, the accidental leak from HBO is the only explanation on offer as of the time of this writing. And, look, mistakes like this happen. The point of this post isn't to point the finger and laugh at HBO for accidentally leaking an episode itself. No, the point is that these leaks just don't matter. The show continues to rack up the same astounding viewership numbers, leaks and all. It's wildly successful. It has been spun off into board games and all manner of merchandise. It's to the point that nobody batted an eye when HBO refused to pay the hackers' ransom to not release the episodes early. There would be no point. Hell, when the first four episodes of season five of the show were leaked early, that season broke the show's viewership records. So chill, HBO. Leaks from hackers, leaks from distributors, and leaks from your own offices aren't going to bring the piracy dragons to your doors to destroy your keep. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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So here's a bit of nice news. Yesterday EFF announced this year's Pioneer Award winners, and they included Chelsea Manning, Annie Game... and me. I'm humbled to win the award -- but especially to be included with Chelsea and Annie, both of whom have gone to amazing lengths, and often sacrificed tremendous amounts, to do what they believe in to help make the world a better place. I just write about stuff. If you read Techdirt, you probably know about Chelsea Manning already -- we've certainly written about her, what she's done for this country, and the travesty of the charges and punishment she faced. Frankly, it's a joke to put me in a list with Chelsea Manning. We don't belong in the same conversation, let alone getting the same award. As for Annie Game -- you might not know the name, but she's a force to be reckoned with as well. She runs IFEX, which is on the front lines around the globe -- especially in repressive authoritarian-led countries -- fighting to protect a press that has few legal protections and standing up for free expression and access to information in very real and tangible ways (and sometimes in dangerous environments). I aspire to do work that will someday put me on a level with the things both Chelsea and Annie have done -- but in the meantime, I'm happy to share this award with them. If you have not been, the Pioneer Awards event is always a blast, so if you're in the area on September 14th, please consider coming out to the ceremony. Tickets help support EFF, and I think we all know just how much amazing work EFF has done over the years. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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At the time, the documents leaked by NSA contractor Reality Winner -- showing Russian interference in the recent election -- didn't seem to be of much importance. They showed something that had long been suspected, but also showed the NSA performing the sort of surveillance no one really disapproves of. The documents were in the public's interest, but weren't necessarily of the "whistleblower" variety. That aspect of the documents hasn't changed, but public interest in the unauthorized disclosure certainly has. In a post for Emptywheel, Marcy Wheeler takes on an NPR story about actions taken by electoral agencies as a result of the leak. The company that provided the software for the poll books is VR Systems — the company that the document Reality Winner leaked showed had been probed by Russian hackers. [S]usan Greenhalgh, who’s part of an election security group called Verified Voting, worried that authorities underreacted. She was monitoring developments in Durham County when she saw a news report that the problem pollbooks were supplied by a Florida company named VR Systems. “My stomach just dropped,” says Greenhalgh. She knew that in September, the FBI had warned Florida election officials that Russians had tried to hack one of their vendor’s computers. VR Systems was rumored to be that company. Now, there's an investigation underway in North Carolina, linked directly to the documents leaked by Reality Winner. Josh Lawson, general counsel for the state's board of elections, said it first learned about the hacking from the Intercept's article. Which makes you wonder when the federal government was going to get around to notifying affected state agencies. When local agencies are learning about Russian hacking from leaked documents rather than straight from the source, the downward flow of pertinent information seems to be more than a little broken. Not that this news will do Winner any good as she heads to court. As noted by Ed Snowden earlier, and reaffirmed here by Marcy Wheeler, any positive outcomes resulting from leaked documents can't be raised by the defendant. Last week, Magistrate Judge Brian Epps imposed a protection order in her case that prohibits her or her team from raising any information from a document the government deems to be classified, even if that document has been in the public record. That includes the document she leaked. The protective order is typical for leak cases. Except in this case, it covers information akin to information that appeared in other outlets without eliciting a criminal prosecution. And more importantly, Winner could now point to an important benefit of her leak, if only she could point to the tie between her leak and this investigation in North Carolina. With the protection order, she can’t. This is generally how things go in espionage cases. This is what Snowden detractors ignore when they argue he should just return home and face a "fair trial." There are no fair trials in espionage cases. In Winner's case, the order is so broad it forbids her legal reps from discussing any classified document or any document they believe might be classified (or derived from classified documents), even if those documents have been leaked and published by journalistic entities. The info in the leaked documents led to an investigation. This may excuse the leak in the minds of those whose first encounter with evidence of Russian hacking came from a site known for publishing leaks, rather than the federal government performing the surveillance that uncovered it. But this is of no use to Reality Winner, or any leaker in her position. No matter how much good may result from unauthorized disclosures, the government only cares about the authorization. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Palantir has made government surveillance big business. It's a multi-billion dollar company built mainly on government contracts. Its tech prowess and computing power have made it the go-to company for data harvesting and many of its most loyal customers are local law enforcement agencies. Mark Harris of Wired has put together a fascinating expose of the company's work with US law enforcement based on documents obtained via FOIA requests. What's uncovered does little to alter Palantir's reputation as an enemy of personal privacy. What's added to this rep isn't any more flattering: the documents show Palantir handles data carelessly, ties customers into overpriced support/upgrades, and otherwise acts as though it has to answer to no one. In one case, files marked as sensitive by a Long Beach drug squad detective were still accessible by other officers who shouldn't have had access. Multiple emails to Palantir failed to resolve the issue. Making it worse was the fact the problem couldn't be contained in-house. When agencies sign up for Palantir services, they're given heavily-discounted rates if they allow their data to be shared with other law enforcement agencies. Detectives hoping to protect sensitive sources and undercover cops from outside access were finding out their employers had signed that option away in exchange for cheaper initial pricing. That's just the beginning of Palantir problems uncovered by these public document requests: In the documents our requests produced, police departments have also accused the company, backed by tech investor and Trump supporter Peter Thiel, of spiraling prices, hard-to-use software, opaque terms of service, and “failure to deliver products” (in the words of one email from the Long Beach police). Palantir might streamline some criminal investigations—but there’s a possibility that it comes at a high cost, for both the police forces themselves and the communities they serve. These documents show how Palantir applies Silicon Valley’s playbook to domestic law enforcement. New users are welcomed with discounted hardware and federal grants, sharing their own data in return for access to others’. When enough jurisdictions join Palantir’s interconnected web of police departments, government agencies, and databases, the resulting data trove resembles a pay-to-access social network—a Facebook of crime that’s both invisible and largely unaccountable to the citizens whose behavior it tracks. Palantir encourages the use of predictive policing. By analyzing data from past incidents and arrests, agencies are supposed to be able to identify "hot spots" where criminal activity is likely to occur and step up patrols in those areas. There are several problems with this approach, not the least of which is the latent encouragement of profiling by officers patrolling these areas, who are likely to view everyone they approach as a criminal suspect, rather than someone who just lives or works in a software-generated "hot spot." But the problems go deeper than that with Palantir involved. Predictive policing is data-driven. But it is also a victim of circular logic. If predictive policing doesn't appear to be having much effect, the usual solution is to feed it more data. Palantir's predictive algorithms are particularly data-hungry. Officers patrolling hot spots are required to fill out heavily-detailed encounter reports, detailing everything they can about the person spoken to, as well as anything else observed in that area. This is all fed into Palantir's predictive policing software. At this point, the gathering of data became so streamlined, law enforcement agencies have begun allowing Palantir to swallow up other law enforcement databases -- namely CLETS (California Law Enforcement Telecommunications Systems) -- and allow it to crunch idata into something actionable. Sure enough, Palantir's software has coughed up… something. But tips as bad as these should come from unvetted informants and questionable eyewitnesses, not multimillion dollar programs. In February 2013, JRIC was tasked with tracking down Christopher Dorner, an ex-LAPD officer who had embarked on a series of shootings targeting law enforcement officers. The effort involved dozens of agencies across the state. “We used Palantir extensively to address that [and] were active 24/7 until he was caught or killed,” remembers Jackson. “We found that processing clues was a big challenge.” In fact, on two separate occasions, police shot at trucks misidentified as belonging to Dorner, injuring three civilians. A larger problem, at least in terms of personal privacy, is the potential for abuse. Smaller data silos meant unauthorized use/access of law enforcement databases could at least be somewhat mitigated by the limitations of the database itself. Now, with multiple agencies tied together through Palantir's data sharing (along with its swallowing of existing law enforcement databases), those wishing to abuse their access have a much larger dataset to dig through. In the end, someone has to pay for all this data. And, man, will they ever. Obtained documents and interviews with officials show Palantir seduces law enforcement with low introductory prices before ratcheting up the fees once they have nowhere else to go. According to LA County contracts, when JRIC committed to the full Palantir system in October 2011, the LASD paid around $122,000 each for 20 Palantir “cores”: packages of already-configured computer servers bundled with preinstalled software. That price was approximately $19,000 less per core than Palantir charged the federal government. According to paperwork for the pilot program, LASD received a “special discount because it [would] be the first in the LA basin to use this software.” [...] Palantir’s customers must rely on software that only the company itself can secure, upgrade, and maintain. Although the letter noted Palantir had not provided JRIC with any of its requested (but unspecified) metrics by spring 2016, the company is set to receive annual maintenance payments of nearly $2.5 million from the fusion center through the spring of 2019. That's taxpayer money being fed to a single-source contractor whose end goal is to tie everyone to everyone else using steep discounts predicated on data sharing. And it appears to be drowning in data, with no customer able to point to positive, real-world changes that can be conclusively linked to Palantir's law enforcement software. But it's too late to do anything about it. In California, law enforcement agencies bought cheap and surrendered control. It's likely happening elsewhere in the nation, but the paper trail has yet to be exposed. Citizens, of course, are the ones paying for all of this, not only with their tax dollars but with their individuality, having been reduced to data points in a stream of alleged criminal activity held by a private party that's probably already imagining secondary markets for its law enforcement data stores. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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When last we checked in with former FCC Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth, he was rather grotesquely using the Manchester bombing to try and launch a completely bizarre attack on net neutrality over at the Forbes op-ed pages. Furchtgott-Roth, who served as an FCC Commissioner from 1997 through 2001, now works at the Hudson Institute, which not-coincidentally takes money from large incumbent broadband providers. The Hill, Forbes and other similar outlets then publish not-so-objective "analysis" from such individuals without really disclosing the money or motives driving the rhetoric. In his missive for hire last May just days after the Manchester attack, Furchtgott-Roth tried to argue that protecting net neutrality somehow aids and abets terrorism and murder: "A sensible question is why civilized governments do not seek to deprive terrorists of unfettered access to the Internet...Sadly, here in America, limiting access to the Internet would be illegal under the euphemistic term “network neutrality,” the two-year-old experiment in federal regulation of the Internet...To its supporters, network neutrality is a bulwark of civilization. But network neutrality is also a shield for terrorists who seek to destroy civilization." As we noted then, Furchtgott-Roth doesn't appear to have even the remotest understanding of how the internet or net neutrality works, and conflated the issue of net neutrality with his own deep-rooted desire to see greater government censorship of the internet. That lust for censorship runs so deep, Furchtgott-Roth envisioned a future where ISPs could compete with one another (as if that's a thing) by how heavily they censor internet content: "Under network neutrality, broadband companies--such as AT&T, Charter, Comcast, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon—are prohibited from discriminating against any lawful websites or content. There is no clear distinction between lawful and unlawful websites and content. The net result is a broadband company could and likely would be sued for blocking websites housing information about recruitment and organization for ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Ku Klux Klan, or other terrorist groups. It is also illegal to block content that instructs viewers on how to manufacture explosives such as nail bombs." Again, that has nothing to do with net neutrality. Net neutrality encourages the internet as a level playing field free of the anti-competitive or editorial meddling of giant telecom conglomerates comfortable in uncompetitive markets. And while ISPs are banned from blocking legal websites under the rules, few ISPs have interest in outright blocking of content in the first place due to political and PR backlash. In other words, eliminating net neutrality would do nothing to expedite Furchtgott-Roth's vision of a filtered internet anyway. ISPs simply aren't interested, and individuals have every right to avoid or filter websites as they see fit. The former FCC Commissioner turned think tank "expert" simply conflated two completely unrelated issues (either intentionally for effect or unintentionally out of confusion) to try to demonize popular net neutrality protections. Apparently undaunted by his previous run in with extreme myopia and insensitivity, Furchtgott-Roth has since published a second, horribly ill-timed screed against net neutrality over at Forbes, this time blaming net neutrality for the resurgence of neo-nazis and white supremacy: "In many countries around the world, national governments block much content and decide which websites its citizens can access. In the United States, we should allow individuals, not the government, to make those decisions. Broadband companies, including those currently regulated by network neutrality rules, should be allowed to offer various filtered services and filtering technologies to allow individuals to avoid content that they would rather not see, or have their families see. Families that want to block Daily Stormer and its ilk from the Internet should be allowed to purchase such a service directly from any business, and not have the FCC tell them that such a service is unlawful in the name of network neutrality." That's an even deeper layer of bullshit than Furchtgott-Roth's original treatise. There's absolutely nothing in the net neutrality rules preventing individuals from using any filtering technology they'd like at any time under something known as personal responsibility. At no point has the FCC ever indicated that families can't purchase any filtering or parental control service they want. This is a completely made up and bizarre claim, made with total insensitivity to the recent attacks in Charlottesville, all to try to demonize some basic, popular consumer protections for the open internet. At this point it feels like Furchtgott-Roth is just sitting around waiting for tragedies so he can blame them on the pure evil that is net neutrality. It would be lovely if he would fucking stop that. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Raspberry Pi offers nearly endless programming and computing possibilities. The $34 Raspberry Pi Mastery Bundle offers 8 courses (Raspberry Pi not included) to help you learn the basics of how to program and build using the Raspberry Pi. You'll learn how to program the small LCD screen and display dynamic data, how to create a fully functional computer running on the Raspbian operating system, how to to build a basic robot and control it, how to use Raspberry Pi to mine Bitcoin, and much more. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Earlier this year you might recall that lawmakers voted along party lines to kill consumer broadband privacy protections. The rules, which large ISPs whined incessantly about, were relatively basic; simply ensuring that ISPs couldn't collect or sell your personal data without being transparent about it and providing working opt out tools. The rules were only proposed after ISPs repeatedly showed they weren't able to self regulate on this front in the face of limited competition, from AT&T's plan to charge more for privacy, to Verizon getting busted for covertly modifying wireless packets to track users without consent. After a massive lobbying push, the usual loyal ISP allies like Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn rushed to help free these incumbent duopolists from the terror of accountability. In response, many of these lawmakers faced a naming and shaming campaign by consumer advocacy group Fight for the Future, which crowdsourced the funding of billboards erected in their home districts clearly highlighting how they took ISP campaign contributions in exchange for selling consumer privacy down river: Of course many of those same lawmakers have, as instructed, now shifted their gaze toward supporting the FCC's plan to ignore the public and dismantle net neutrality protections. As a plan B, most of them are being prodded by ISPs to help craft a new net neutrality law. One that pretends to solve the problem, but will be written by industry lawyers to intentionally include so many loopholes as to be arguably useless. This cacophony of self-serving dysfunction again highlights how AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Charter campaign contributions trump the public interest on a routinely grotesque scale. Hoping to piggyback on its privacy campaign, Fight for the Future has now similarly-crowdfunded new billboards shaming lawmakers that have breathlessly supported killing popular net neutrality protections. Which politicians are shamed is being determined by a congressional scorecard, which tracks just how cozy politicians are with incumbent telecom duopolies. Needless to say, Marsha Blackburn again took top honors and is being featured again in the group's latest effort: The group is hoping that this naming and shaming campaign will help shake these lawmakers' constituents out of their apparent slumber: "Politicians need to learn that they can’t attack free speech on the Internet and expect to get away with it,” said Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future (pronouns: she/hers), “Voters from across the political spectrum all agree that they don’t want companies like Comcast and Verizon dictating what they can see and do online. No one is fooled by corrupt lawmakers’ attempts to push for bad legislation while they strip Internet users of protections at the FCC. Hundreds of people donated to make these billboards possible. When you come for the Internet, the Internet comes for you.” The problem, as always, is that folks like Marsha Blackburn have been selling out their constituents for years and are consistently re-elected anyway. Blackburn was a major supporter of SOPA, and is the cornerstone of an AT&T stranglehold over Tennessee's state legislature that's so severe, AT&T lawyers are quite literally allowed to write protectionist state laws protecting the company from anything that even smells like competition. Tennessee is, not at all coincidentally, one of the least connected states in the union for just this reason. Of course there's any number of reasons for why folks like Blackburn are immune to accountability efforts. Gerrymandering and voter suppression certainly plays a role. But so too does concerted disinformation campaigns that frame kissing Comcast's ass as a heroic quest for freedom, and important technology issues of interest to all (like oh, the internet fucking working) as somehow partisan. Still, you'd like to think that with enough elbow grease and repetition, even folks like Blackburn can't be permanently immune from something at least vaguely resembling accountability. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Eugene Volokh (along with Public Citizen's Paul Levy) has made a cottage industry of sniffing out bogus/fraudulently-obtained court orders demanding the delisting of unflattering content. Much of this seemed to be the work of desperate reputation management "gurus," who had over-promised and under-delivered in the past. Abusing the DMCA process only goes so far. Sometimes you need to lie to judges to get things done. Sometimes you just need to pretend you're the judge. Convicted sex offender Abraham Motamedi forged a court order awarding himself legal fees and the delisting of content indicating he was a convicted sex offender. When called on it, Motamedi claimed he had nothing to do with it while also claiming the order was legit. These two viewpoints cannot be resolved logically. If it was legit, Motamedi would have had to appear in court to obtain them. If it wasn't legit, then assertions otherwise won't suddenly make a nonexistent case appear on a Michigan court's docket. Forgeries continue, as Eugene Volokh reports. A man who attempted to use a forged court order to vanish content from the internet appears to have doubled down. In April, I mentioned two prosecutions for such forgeries, including a prosecution of one Garner Ted Aukerman, who was convicted of contempt of court based on a judge’s finding that he was responsible for “a fraudulent court order [that] has never been entered by [the] court”: "Apparently Mr. Aukerman has taken [an] order setting the matter for hearing and deleted the middle section of that order in which he generated [in context, I think this means “inserted" -EV] the detail concerning the court’s findings and orders. A hearing was never held, those findings were never made and the order is completely fraudulent." Then, Monday, I saw that someone had submitted a takedown request to Google, asking that it remove (among other things) my April post, a copy of the forged court order, and a court order from a different Ohio court that declared Aukerman to be a vexatious litigant and thus requiring him to get leave of court before filing lawsuits. Perhaps no layperson understands the flow of legal documents quite like a vexatious pro se litigant. By "understand," I mean, has at least a passing familiarity with their general appearance and what they should contain. Still, even the most vexatious of litigants isn't going to be able to produce a fake court order targeting actual legal experts and get away with it. Garner Aukerman apparently tried to muddle his judicial interlopment by trying to make the fake court order look like it was part of Aukerman's criminal prosecution. Aukerman's case has a sealed docket which makes it a little tougher to determine which of the several documents accompanying his takedown request doesn't belong. Unfortunately for Aukerman, his supposed delisting order confuses two legal issues in a way no real judge would. The first part of the order provides for the sealing of criminal records after a certain amount of time has passed. This is legitimate. But the order goes on to demand the "sealing" of Volokh posts and posted documents about Aukerman's past bogus legal work, calling them "defamatory." Well, there are defamation cases and post-release criminal record expungement, but they aren't interchangeable and no judge is going to randomly declare some internet content to be defamatory for the hell of it while reminding a convict of his expungement rights. Even if that part were struck, post-release expungement would only remove the government's official records pertaining to Aukerman's conviction. It has no power to demand the rest of internet participate in the expungement. There's no right to be forgotten law in the United States and, for better or worse, the internet tends to remember things long past the point the government itself has officially forgotten about them. Volokh contacted the issuing court and discovered (to no one's surprise) the court hadn't actually issued this order. He also spoke to Aukerman, who claimed what he sent to Google was nothing more than a proposed order. Even if true, there's no point submitting a proposed order because no one's under any legal obligation to do anything until a judge approves it... unless the real point is to try to push one past Google's takedown review team and hope it doesn't notice the obvious fakery. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Benjamin Wittes of the Lawfare blog has filed a FOIA lawsuit against the DOJ, hoping to force the government to put its documents where the president's mouth is. [h/t Pwn All The Things] Back in February, President Trump made the following assertion before a joint Congressional session: “According to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.” But what data? That's what Wittes is seeking. As he pointed out in April, it appears the president generated this assertion completely out of firing synapses and airborne vibrations. I'm going to be very blunt here: I not only believe that the White House made up "alternative facts" about the substance of this matter in a Presidential address to a Joint Session of Congress, I don't believe that the National Security Division of the Justice Department provided any data or analysis to the White House that could reasonably be read to support the President's claim. In other words, I believe the President was lying not merely about the underlying facts but about his own Justice Department. Or, in the alternative, I believe it's possible that the Office of the Attorney General may have supported the White House's claim. But I think it extraordinarily unlikely that the folks at NSD actually provided data in support of this presidential statement. Other authors at Lawfare examined the claim in detail, finding that when people extradited to America to face charges were excluded from the count, the ratio of foreign-born terrorism convicts dropped to 18-21% of the total -- not anywhere near a "vast majority." Beyond that, there's likely zero data available to support Trump's claim. Wittes notes the DOJ doesn't actually track where convicts are born, and certainly doesn't do so when foreigners are booted from the country by immigration enforcement, only to be dragged back to face criminal charges. Wittes filed a FOIA request for the numbers the DOJ supposedly "provided" to the president. So far, he's heard nothing back. His requests have been acknowledged but no further processing has been done, not even a determination as to whether he'd qualify for a fee waiver. Now, he's suing [PDF]. Wittes refers to this as the "friendliest lawsuit ever," given that it's not being fired off in hopes of liberating documents the DOJ would rather not part with, but instead to give the DOJ an opportunity to state -- on the record -- that it has none of the information Trump claimed was handed over to him. It would give the DOJ a way to contradict the president's claims without looking like it's intentionally undermining the president's assertions. Considered from this angle, it might be the sort of lawsuit the DOJ might welcome -- although if it was truly interested in disputing the president's statement, it might have chosen to provide Wittes with a more substantive response, rather than wait until it became a problem for the judiciary. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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So for years we've examined how executives at ESPN completely whiffed at seeing the cord cutting revolution coming, and personified the industry's denial that a massive market (r)evolution was taking place. As viewers were beginning to drift away from traditional cable and erode revenues, ESPN executives were busy doubling down on bloated sports contracts and expensive Sportscenter set redesigns. Only once ESPN lost 10 million viewers in just a few years did executives finally acknowledge that cord cutting was a problem, though they subsequently have tried to downplay the threat at every opportunity. The question now is how to fix that problem. ESPN's first step was to try and save costs by firing oodles of on-air talent, but not the executives that failed to navigate this sea change. That has since been followed by ESPN-owner Disney recently proclaiming it would be offering two direct to consumer streaming platforms -- one stocked with Disney and Pixar fare, and the other being a direct to consumer ESPN product. During a recent earnings call, Disney CEO Bob Iger verbalized the company's slow epiphany in the face of cord cutting: "We’ve got this unbelievably passionate base of Disney consumers worldwide that we’ve never had the opportunity to connect with directly other than through the parks,” Iger said. “It’s high time we got into the business to accomplish that.” Iger acknowledged that the decision to act was spurred by the disruption in the traditional TV eco-system that has been rocking ESPN for the past few years. But Disney’s blue-chip brands give them a leg up in taking a radical new approach to reaching consumers. “It’s not just a defensive movie, it’s an offensive move,” Iger said. Granted it's not really playing offense when you only react after worries about cord cutting and ratings slides causes a $22 billion valuation hit in just a few days, something Disney experienced last year. Still, it's good to see Disney pull its head out of the sand and embrace the idea of giving consumers what they want, even if the move is painfully belated and under-cooked. The problem for ESPN specifically, as many have been quick to point out, is that the company is still stuck between a rock and a hard place in terms of navigating the transition to streaming -- even if it does everything right (which it won't). There's plenty of reasons for that, the biggest being that streaming simply can't be as profitable as the long-standing practice of forcing cable TV customers on to bloated bundles filled with channels (like ESPN) that they may not want. ESPN currently makes $7.21 for each cable TV subscriber, many of which pay for ESPN begrudgingly. One survey found that 56% of ESPN viewers would ditch the channel if it meant saving that money off of their monthly bill. Fear of losing those customers was one of the reason ESPN sued Verizon when the company tried to take ESPN out of its core TV bundle. And while ESPN may now be technically doing the right thing in finally offering a direct-to-consumer streaming product, such an offering will only aid to expedite viewer defections, while ESPN's sports licensing costs remain the same: "A streaming service, while it might attract sports fans who have cut the cord, won’t solve ESPN’s profit problems. Instead it will exacerbate them. Why? Because ESPN will continue to lose the millions upon millions of cable subscribers who pay for it but never watch it. Losing $7.21 from each non-watcher is going to be a revenue killer. There is no possible way the universe of sports fans who want ESPN can make up that revenue, even if they’re charged more for a streaming service." Traditionally, many cable and broadcast companies have tried to give the impression of adaptation by launching a streaming service, then saddling it with all manner of caveats to prevent existing, traditional cable TV customers from downgrading to the cheaper, more flexible streaming option. This really never works, but it looks like the path Iger and Disney are going to follow when it comes to ESPN's latest streaming venture: "To make matters worse, Disney appears to be planning a streaming service that even the most rabid sports fan will be reluctant to pay for. All the good stuff — big-time college football, professional basketball, the Monday night National Football League game — will remain exclusively on ESPN’s cable channels. The streaming service will get, well, other things. It’s pretty clear that Iger is still trying to protect Disney’s legacy cable business, and that his move to the internet is not exactly a wholehearted embrace." In other words, ESPN's epiphany and transition isn't quite as profound as many are suggesting, and ESPN still somehow believes it can control the rate of evolution; a fool's errand. Many industry insiders also have told me over the years that ESPN's contracts with many cable providers state that should ESPN offer its own streaming services, cable providers will no longer be bound by restrictions forcing them to include ESPN in their core lineups, which will only accelerate the number of skinny bundle options without ESPN. It's a damned if you do and damned if you don't scenario for ESPN, and even if ESPN does all the right things here and offers a truly compelling streaming platform customers really enjoy -- there's simply no getting around the fact that this transition is still going to really hurt. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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It really was just last week that we were discussing the problems of telling platforms like YouTube to remove videos concerning "violent extremism" because it's often tough to tell the difference between videos that many people think are okay and ones that those same people think are not. But in that post, we also linked back to a story from 2013 in which -- after getting pressure from then Senator Joe Lieberman -- YouTube started removing "terrorist" videos, and in the process deleted a channel of people documenting atrocities in Syria. It appears that history is now repeating itself, because YouTube is getting some grief because (you guessed it), it's effort to keep extremist content off its platform has resulted in deleting a channel that was documenting evidence of war crimes in Syria. YouTube is facing criticism after a new artificial intelligence program monitoring "extremist" content began flagging and removing masses of videos and blocking channels that document war crimes in the Middle East. Middle East Eye, the monitoring organisation Airwars and the open-source investigations site Bellingcat are among a number of sites that have had videos removed for breaching YouTube's Community Guidelines. This comes just days after YouTube announced it was expanding its program to remove "terror content" from its platform -- including better "accuracy." Oops. Again, there are no easy answers here. You can certainly understand why no platform wants to host actual terrorism propaganda. And platforms should have the right to host or decline to host whatever content they want. The real issue is that we have more and more people -- including politicians -- demanding that these platforms must regulate, filter and moderate the content on their platform to remove "bad" speech. But in the over 4 years I've been asking this question since that last time we wrote about the shut down of the channel documenting atrocities, no one's explained to me how these platforms can distinguish videos celebrating atrocities from those documenting atrocities. And this gets even more complicated when you realize: sometimes those are the same videos. And sometimes, letting terrorists or others post the evidence of what they're doing, people are better able to stop that activity. There is plenty of "bad" content out there, but the kneejerk reaction that we need to censor it and take it down ignores how frequently that is likely to backfire -- as it clearly did in this case. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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For years, years, the MPAA's public fight against piracy has chiefly consisted of a moral argument against it. Proclamations of the end of movies, the downtrodden future of filmmakers, and claims about piracy being equatable to outright theft were the tools of a Hollywood lobbier that itself exhibited the most underhanded sort of tactics in its attempts to get the internet to stop being the internet. It seems facile to state that this moral argument failed to find any purchase with the public, as filesharing went mainstream anyway. The reasons for this should be rather obvious: the arguments the MPAA made and the dooms it foresaw for itself and its industry were provably false. File sharing and piracy are a thing, yet movies still make gobs of money, allowing the MPAA to pay its executives the sort of handsome sums reserved for successful agencies. Still, Hollywood kept to its talking points. Piracy is wrong. Morally wrong. But it seems that even the MPAA is ready to concede that it has fully lost this argument with the public. The latest from those that worked for the MPAA appears to be that it now wants to switch narratives from a moral argument to one of public danger. The MPAA's former VP of Worldwide Internet Enforcement says that the industry narrative on piracy is no longer based on trying to get people to act ethically. Hemanshu Nigam says the discussion today is based around the dangers that pirate sites can pose to those who visit them. Few listened before, will they listen now? Hemanshu Nigam is a former federal prosecutor, ex-Chief Security Officer for News Corp and Fox Interactive Media, and former VP Worldwide Internet Enforcement at the MPAA. In an interview with Deadline this week, he spoke about alleged links between pirate sites and malware distributors. He also indicated that warning people about the dangers of pirate sites has become Hollywood’s latest anti-piracy strategy. “The industry narrative has changed. When I was at the MPAA, we would tell people that stealing content is wrong and young people would say, yeah, whatever, you guys make a lot of money, too bad,” he told the publication. “It has gone from an ethical discussion to a dangerous one. Now, your parents’ bank account can be raided, your teenage daughter can be spied on in her bedroom and extorted with the footage, or your computer can be locked up along with everything in it and held for ransom.” Now, while Nigam works for the DCA (Digital Citizens Alliance), and the DCA is in part funded by the MPAA, it's worth carefully examining his and the MPAA's stance here to see whether this tactic will be any more effective than the previous moral argument. I think it's likely to fail, for several reasons. The first, as the TorrentFreak post points out, is that those that pirate content are consumers in the business sense. They are a form of customer for the sites that offer this sort of pirated content and they have all the same whims and wills of any paying customer. In other words, a site that lures the public in with pirated content for the purpose of deploying malware to them isn't going to keep its traffic for long. In the Deadline piece, however, Nigam alleges that hackers have previously reached out to pirate websites offering $200 to $5000 per day “depending on the size of the pirate website” to have the site infect users with malware. If true, that’s a serious situation and people who would ordinarily use ‘pirate’ sites would definitely appreciate the details. For example, to which sites did hackers make this offer and, crucially, which sites turned down the offer and which ones accepted? It's important to remember that pirates are just another type of consumer and they would boycott sites in a heartbeat if they discovered they'd been paid to infect them with malware. But, as usual, the claims are extremely light in detail. Instead, there's simply a blanket warning to stay away from all unauthorized sites, which isn't particularly helpful. These sorts of blanket statements to stamp out piracy generally have the ring of a scare tactic for these reasons. Still, scare tactics can certainly work. Will this one? Again, I think not, due to a point we made earlier: file sharing is now mainstream. How many readers of Nigam's interview will be able to easily say that the doom he's warning them of hasn't happened to them as they've engaged in file sharing? The number is going to be quite large, it stands to reason. Rather than the scare tactic working, then, this will come off more like a Reefer Madness for piracy, an analogy everyone from TorrentFreak to the author of the Deadline interview seems to be making. If that happens, the DCA and MPAA take yet another hit to their credibility. There is even evidence that the public generally isn't listening to this latest argument of danger and those that are, are not particularly impressed. Earlier this year the DCA launched a video campaign, enrolling 15 attorney generals to publish their own anti-piracy PSAs on YouTube. Thus far, interest has been minimal, to say the least. At the time of writing the 15 PSAs have 3,986 views in total, with 2,441 of those contributed by a single video contributed by Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel. Despite the relative success, even that got slammed with 2 upvotes and 127 downvotes. A few of the other videos have a couple of hundred views each but more than half have less than 70. Perhaps most worryingly for the DCA, apart from the Schimel PSA, none have any upvotes at all, only down. It’s unclear who the viewers were but it seems reasonable to conclude they weren’t entertained. Not a great start for this narrative shift, to be sure. The public is steadily becoming more educated on the dangers of malware and viruses, as well as the proper security strategies for their electronic devices. Because of that, vague doomsayers warning of the digital apocalypse stemming from file sharing sites that have only become more popular aren't likely to find a great deal of fertile ground for their efforts. On a related note, is all of this really easier and more effective than simply coming up with better ways to make money in the digital economy? Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Many consumers are still reeling from a Charter, Bright House Networks and Time Warner Cable merger that left users with slower speeds, worse service, and higher prices. Other broadband consumers are still struggling with a bungled Frontier acquisition of Verizon assets that left users with prolonged outages and even worse customer service than the shitshow they already enjoyed. As we've seen for decades, this kind of mindless consolidation traditionally only benefits the companies involved, particularly in a market where real competition is in short supply. This growth for growth's sake is one of the major reasons Comcast -- and its horrible customer service (which didn't scale with the company's expansion because that would have cost money) -- exists. And Wall Street's relentless thirst for growth at all costs is a major reason these companies can't simply focus on being the best "dumb pipes" possible, instead focusing their attentions on expanding into markets they have little expertise in (see Verizon's ingenious plan to hoover up failed 90s brands and pander to Millennials). When they can't succeed because they're out of their depth, they try to tilt the playing field (killing net neutrality). There's oodles of history lessons here, and there's every indication we intend to learn nothing from them. With the ink barely dry on Charter's troubled deal, and the Trump administration signaling that no merger is too big or too absurd, Wall Street analysts have been positively giddy this year pondering megamergers in telecom that had previously been unthinkable on anti-competitive or antitrust grounds. That has included heavy pushes for a Sprint acquisition of T-Mobile or a Verizon bid to buy Comcast -- the massive, obvious anti-competitive impact of both deals be damned. This week, the merger mania du jour apparently involves a plan that would involve Comcast and French-owned Altice working in concert to buy Charter Communications, whose $180 billion asking price has proven too steep for any one company to contemplate alone (Verizon made a $100 billion offer and was rejected). Citigroup has floated the idea that after acquisition, Comcast could integrate the Time Warner Cable customers they were blocked by regulators from acquiring for anti-competitive reasons, leaving us with one giant cable company to rule us all: "Charter is pretty much an equal rival in size and scope to Comcast at this point, at least with regards to subscriber numbers. Each company has somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 million customers. For the two to merge outright would leave one dominant cable company in the country, with about half of the entire nation’s subscribers — from coast to coast, and in many of the states in between — under a single umbrella." Granted there's no guarantee such a deal will happen. Wall Street stock jocks often like to float rumors then profit off of the herk and jerk of stock prices caused by the half-truths they themselves create. But should Comcast be able to swing such a deal, we could be looking at a supernova of anti-competitive dysfunction, the likes of which made Comcast's well documented issues seem charming. Consider that cable's monopoly was already blossoming thanks to the countless telcos which have effectively stopped trying to compete -- in large part because Wall Street thinks spending money to upgrade your networks is a fool's errand. Then ponder the fact that the current FCC is busy gutting any and all meaningful oversight of these companies, allowing them to inevitably engage in all manner of anti-competitive shenanigans, from arbitrary and punitive usage caps, to net neutrality and privacy violations. This all may sound like hyperbole, but it's a future that's very much under construction. And the folks giddily contemplating the "looming synergies" of such monumental coagulation are building it with absolutely zero concern for the impact on consumers, startups, small businesses or the health of the internet. Telecom sector executives and the folks paid to cheer their every decision have every intention of taking the already dismal Comcast experience, injecting it with steroids, and setting it loose on a market with no organic competitive or regulatory checks and balances. And by the time most notice the negative repercussions, these same folks will already be hyping the next wave of mindless consolidation. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a long series of questionable DMCA notices I thought had been issued by online onanism portal Chaturbate. The takedown requests appeared to have been generated by a faulty algorithm with no human vetting involved. Many of those I examined appeared to target names of Chaturbate broadcasters, but without any of the precision one normally associates with the word "target." Sites named for delisting included geographical research, an Amazon page for a book about the Hadron Collider, track meet records collections, and even Chaturbate itself. After some discussion with Chaturbate, it was determined someone is filing notices in Chaturbate's name, but without Chaturbate's official blessing. The scattershot, extremely prolific approach was now harming Chaturbate's reputation, tying it to bogus DMCA notices targeting all sort of non-infringing content. (I have since updated the original post to reflect the my conversations with Chaturbate and offer my apologies for naming the wrong party in the original post.) Whoever's performing these bogus takedowns hasn't stopped. Chaturbate's legal rep has been asking Google for more details on the impostor requests. Google is looking into it, but so far has only provided an incredibly long list of likely auto-generated Gmail addresses as the source of these bogus notices, which now number into the thousands. While we continue to work towards discovering who's behind these bogus notices, there have been some interesting developments. First, the impostor is now including Techdirt URLs, including the original post and my user page, in their takedown requests. Second, whoever's doing this appears to have read my post. The issuing party has changed from Chaturbate LLC to Multi Media LLC. This is the name Chaturbate uses when it issues takedown requests. I never used the name in the updates to the post but did link to an example of a genuine Chaturbate takedown notice, as supplied to me by Chaturbate's representatives. This would seem to indicate whoever's behind the bogus takedowns is aware multiple parties are trying to expose them. The DMCA notices containing Techdirt URLs contain almost nothing but adult-themed URLs, suggesting the TD pages may have been added in an attempt to bury the story. It still could be a faulty algorithm is flagging anything containing words like "Chaturbate," but the relative lack of unrelated sites suggests a slightly more targeted approach is being taken, even though there's still an emphasis on quantity over quality. The other theory is the post hasn't been read, but the impostor has received challenges from Google when submitting notices under the Chaturbate LLC name. A little research may have uncovered the fact Chaturbate's legitimate takedown service only issues takedowns under the Multi Media LLC name. If the impostor is reading these posts, they might want to remember the perjury side of it doesn't cover the URLs targeted for takedown, but rather the assertion they represent the rightsholders listed in the notices. According to Chaturbate, this impostor doesn't. All rights are retained by each individual Chaturbate broadcaster and Multi Media LLC makes no claims otherwise when issuing takedown notices on behalf of its clients. The impostor, however, makes these claims for several performers in each takedown request and does so under the names of companies they don't work for or represent. We're still trying to find out who's behind this and will keep you posted as this investigation proceeds. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Dive into the world of self-driving cars, speech recognition technology and more with the $39 Complete Machine Learning Bundle. Over 10 courses, you will learn about pattern recognition and prediction and how to harness the power of machine learning to take your programming to the next level. Discover quant trading, how to use Hadoop and MapReduce to tackle large data sets, how to create a sentiment analyzer with Twitter and Python, and much more. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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While we wait for the Mueller investigation to clearly illustrate if and how Russia meddled in the last election, there's no shortage of opinions regarding how deep this particular rabbit hole goes. While it's pretty obvious that Putin used social media and media propaganda to pour some napalm on our existing bonfires of dysfunction, just how much of an impact these efforts had on the election won't be clear until a full postmortem is done. Similarly, while Russian hackers certainly had fun probing our voting systems and may have hacked both political parties, clearly proving state involvement is something else entirely. Quite fairly, many folks have pushed for caution in terms of waiting for hard evidence to emerge, highlighting the danger in trusting leaks from an intelligence sector with a dismal track record of integrity and honesty. There's also the obvious concern of ramping up tension escalation between two nuclear powers. But last week, many of those same individuals were quick to highlight several new stories that claimed to "completely debunk" Russia's involvement in hacking the DNC ahead of last year's election. The problem? These reports were about as flimsy -- if not flimsier -- than the Russian hacking theories they supposedly supplanted. In fact, these reports took things one step further by claiming that the hack of the DNC was something committed solely by someone within the DNC itself. This particularly overlong, meandering piece by The Nation, for example, claimed to cite numerous anonymous intelligence sources who have supposedly grown increasingly skeptical over the "Russian hacking narrative." Quite correctly, the report starts out by noting that while there's oodles and oodles of smoke regarding Putin's involvement in the election hacks, the fire (hard evidence) has been hard to come by so far: "Lost in a year that often appeared to veer into our peculiarly American kind of hysteria is the absence of any credible evidence of what happened last year and who was responsible for it. It is tiresome to note, but none has been made available. Instead, we are urged to accept the word of institutions and senior officials with long records of deception. These officials profess “high confidence” in their “assessment” as to what happened in the spring and summer of last year—this standing as their authoritative judgment. But it's then that's where things get a little weird. The report repeatedly proclaims that a laundry list of anonymous "forensic investigators, intelligence analysts, system designers, program architects, and computer scientists of long experience and strongly credentialed" have been hard at work "producing evidence disproving the official version of key events last year." But one of the key conclusions by these experts -- and a key cornerstone for of all of these stories -- makes absolutely no sense. The reports lean heavily on anonymous cybersecurity experts calling themselves "Forensicator" and "Adam Carter," who purportedly took a closer look at the metadata attached to the stolen files. Said metadata, we're breathlessly informed, indisputably proves that the data had to have been transferred from inside of the DNC network and not over the internet, since the internet isn't supposedly capable of such transfer speeds: "Forensicator’s first decisive findings, made public in the paper dated July 9, concerned the volume of the supposedly hacked material and what is called the transfer rate—the time a remote hack would require. The metadata established several facts in this regard with granular precision: On the evening of July 5, 2016, 1,976 megabytes of data were downloaded from the DNC’s server. The operation took 87 seconds. This yields a transfer rate of 22.7 megabytes per second. These statistics are matters of record and essential to disproving the hack theory. No Internet service provider, such as a hacker would have had to use in mid-2016, was capable of downloading data at this speed. Compounding this contradiction, Guccifer claimed to have run his hack from Romania, which, for numerous reasons technically called delivery overheads, would slow down the speed of a hack even further from maximum achievable speeds." That reads like a semi-cogent paragraph, but it's largely nonsense. 22.7 megabytes per second (MB/s) sounds impossibly fast if you don't know any better. But if you do the simple conversion from megabytes per second to megabits per second necessary to determine the actual speed of the connection used, you get a fairly reasonable 180 megabits per second (Mbps). While the report proclaims that "no internet service provider" can provide such speeds, ISPs around the world routinely offer speeds far, far faster -- from 500 Mbps to even 1 Gbps. And despite the report oddly pooh pooh'ing Romanian broadband's "delivery overheads," many Romanian cities actually have faster internet connectivity than either Russia or in the States (check out Akamai's global broadband rankings). Bernie Sanders learned this last year when he unintentionally pissed off many Romanians when trying to highlight the dismal state of U.S. connectivity. Even then, the hacker in question could have used any number of tricks to hide his or her location and real identity from a high-bandwidth vantage point, so the claim that the hacker couldn't achieve 180 Mbps through a VPN is simply nonsense. Obviously this raises some questions about what kind of cyber-sleuths we're talking about when they can't do basic conversions or look at some fairly obvious broadband speed availability charts. And it also raises some questions about why reporters thought flimsy anonymous experts were the perfect remedy to the other flimsy anonymous leaks they hoped to debunk. While The Nation couldn't even be bothered to do the simple calculation to determine the speed of the connection used by the hacker was relatively ordinary, in a story titled "Why Some U.S. Ex-Spies Don't Buy the Russia Story," Bloomberg actually did the conversion to get the 180 Mbps speed, and still somehow told readers that such speeds were impossible: "The VIPS theory relies on forensic findings by independent researchers who go by the pseudonyms "Forensicator" and "Adam Carter." The former found that 1,976 MB of Guccifer's files were copied from a DNC server on July 5 in just 87 seconds, implying a transfer rate of 22.6 megabytes per second -- or, converted to a measure most people use, about 180 megabits per second, a speed not commonly available from U.S. internet providers. Downloading such files this quickly over the internet, especially over a VPN (most hackers would use one), would have been all but impossible because the network infrastructure through which the traffic would have to pass would further slow the traffic." Yes, all but impossible! Provided you ignore that DOCSIS 3.1 cable upgrades and fiber connections deliver speeds consistently faster than that all around the world every day -- including Romania. False claims and sloppy math aside, after the Bloomberg column ran, several actual, identifiable intelligence experts also came forward doubting the legitimacy of the supposed intelligence sources for these stories altogether: Where else besides twitter can you find two former CIA officers with experience in Russia knocking down a dodgy Bloomberg column? pic.twitter.com/t9zPk7tGG9 — southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) August 12, 2017 Surrounded by raised eyebrows, The Nation is now apparently reviewing its story for accuracy after numerous people highlighted that a major cornerstone of the report was little more than fluff and nonsense. So again, there's certainly every reason to not escalate hostility between the United States and Russia with many details still obfuscated and investigations incomplete. And there's also every reason to view reports leaning heavily on anonymous intelligence insiders skeptically after generations of distortions and falsehoods from those same agencies. That said, if you want to debunk the anonymous claims of a growing number of intelligence insiders who claim Russia played pinball with our electoral process, perhaps running into the arms of even more unreliable, anonymous intelligence sources -- without checking your math -- isn't your best path toward the truth. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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