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Employees of the federal government swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution. Assistant US Attorney Rizwan Qureshi must have done that as well. And, among the parts of the Constitution he's supposed to defend is the First Amendment. But, as a lawyer for the DOJ he has a job to do -- and apparently sometimes that job includes making batshit insane arguments to try to throw protesters and a reporter in jail against their basic First Amendment rights to assemble and to report. This is the case against six people who were singled out and prosecuted, among hundreds of people arrested during protests around Donald Trump's inauguration. We wrote about it last month, mainly focusing on one defendant Alexi Wood, a journalist who was filming/live-streaming the protests, but still got arrested and prosecuted. Pretty much everyone should agree that protesting is legal and protected under the First Amendment. Obviously, vandalism and property destruction are not. But, the incredible thing about this case and the arguments that Qureshi made is that he didn't even bother to claim that the six defendants participated in violence or property destruction. He just argued a form of aiding and abetting the violence and damage, just by being present, and complained that they were "hiding" behind the First Amendment. Here's a snippet from the Washington Examiner's report on the closing arguments: A federal prosecutor said Thursday that jurors must convict six people arrested during President Trump’s inauguration because they “agreed to destroy your city and now they are hiding behind the First Amendment.” [....] During closing arguments Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rizwan Qureshi offered no evidence that the six committed acts of violence or vandalism, or attended planning meetings for an anti-capitalism march that ended in the arrest of about 240 people in downtown Washington. Instead, Qureshi likened the defendants to robbery get-away drivers, guilty because they helped anonymize others in a crowd. “That’s exactly what this sea of black was, it was the getaway car,” he said. Think about that for a second. He's claiming they are GUILTY BECAUSE THEY HELPED ANONYMIZE OTHERS IN A CROWD.. This is pure insanity on multiple levels. First, anonymity is, by itself, protected by the First Amendment. Second, your own First Amendment rights don't get thrown out just because prosecutors can't find the actual perpetrators of violence in a crowd and decide to nab you instead. That's not how it works. The specific argument against some of the defendants was equally crazy. Two of the defendants say that they were acting as medics for the protesters. Indeed one of them, Brittne Lawson, rather than fading into the anonymous crowd in black, was wearing a white helmet with a red cross. But check out how Qureshi spun someone being there to help people who might get injured: “Ms. Lawson was prepared for war and she was going to make it succeed,” Qureshi said, saying she planned “to mend them and get them up on their way.” “What do you need a medic with gauze for? I thought this was a protest,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with being a medic, but she was aware there was a riot going on.” WHAT?!? Being aware that a protest might turn violent, and being interested in helping anyone who might get injured in no way makes you guilty of any of the violence. And claiming that she "was prepared for war and she was going to make it succeed"? What the hell? Does Qureshi think that Doctors Without Borders is equally responsible for war crimes for mending those injured during wars? As for Wood, the journalist who was livestreaming, Quereshi went after him for saying "whoohoo" during the livestream: Prosecutors condensed Wood’s footage to show his utterances of “woohoo” during acts of vandalism and when police fired flash-bang grenades at protesters. “That’s not journalism,” Qureshi said. “He’s egging them on. ... I know a lot of journalists who would take issue with his coverage.” It's true that many journalists would take issue with that kind of coverage, but one of the great things about the whole First Amendment is that doesn't fucking matter. Just because other journalists approve or disapprove of someone's style or coverage or opinions doesn't shed them of their First Amendment rights. Thankfully, Wood's lawyer pointed out that the government doesn't get to decide what's good journalism vs. bad journalism. That's the very crux of the First Amendment. And, again, it gets worse. Qureshi claims that because he, himself, was ignorant of a common term of how police round up protesters, while Wood was aware of it, it somehow proves he's not a journalist. I only wish I was kidding. Qureshi questioned why he would know certain terms, such as “kettling,” which refers to a police tactic of surrounding activists. The term kettling often is used by protest-rights advocates who view it as an illegal strategy. “How’s he a journalist and he’s talking about a ‘kettle’? I didn’t know what a kettle was before this case, did you?” Qureshi said. Qureshi apparently said the same thing about the fact that Wood knew the term "black bloc." This is a really cynical ploy, basically trying to tell the jury that because a journalist is actually knowledgeable about protests and police, it somehow no longer makes him a journalist. Shouldn't this actually be more evidence that he's a journalist? That he actually researched information on the protests and protesters and knew common slang and situations? There were many more crazy things said -- you can read many more quotes at the Unicorn Riot Twitter feed -- but this seems like a really, really weak case, with a really, really crazy prosecution position by the DOJ. But, take a step back and think about what Qureshi's arguments would mean if accepted. It would mean that merely being outside near a protest would put you at risk of serious criminal liability -- just because you might incidentally help make others anonymous or hidden. That is not and cannot be the law. And you know who knows that? Assistant US Attorney Rizwan Qureshi. In an interview he gave two years ago, he talked about the importance of being "engaged in your community, no matter where it is" in order to do things like "eradicate hate" and "fight hate." And yet, here he is, just a couple years later, trying to throw people in jail for publicly engaging with their community to try to fight hate. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Emma Best of MuckRock has unearthed some disturbing details in an FBI response to an FOIA request: apparently the agency considered -- however briefly -- the investigation and prosecution of people filing requests. The nature of the requests may shed some light on the FBI's thought process because the heavily-redacted email included in the response certainly doesn't. Each year, the FBI updates its Dead List -- the names of people the FBI has files on who have passed away. Death increases the chances of released files because this major life event tends to terminate investigations. The FBI claims it can't find its updated Dead List. This seems odd, if not downright unbelievable, but the DOJ has backed the FBI's claim and FOIA requests for the latest copy are being rejected. No problem, said MuckRock. It went to work with an older version of the list which included 7,000 names. To accomplish this, the names of the subjects were extracted from the Dead List and a simple script written to submit FOIA requests for them. The requests were submitted on February 29th 2016, with the script and data made available online so that others could make their own requests and trigger the DOJ’s “rule of three” for frequently requested records, which would see the files posted online by the FBI. Rather than follow its own rule for publication of frequently-requested files, the FBI decided to stop responding altogether. The FBI acknowledged a large number of them before they began ignoring them. Over a month later (after the Bureau had exceeded legal time limit), the FBI sent a letter stating that they had “received an exceedingly high volume of submissions” which they would not accept. Which led to this amazing bit of government agency shitposting: According to the Bureau, fulfilling the FOIA requests would have prevented the FBI from fulfilling FOIA requests. Their letter stated that the “manner of submission interfered with the FBI’s ability to perform its FOIA and PA statutory responsibilities as an agency. Accordingly, the FBI did not accept these submissions on February 29th, 2016.” A new FOIA request was sent requesting communications discussing the voluminous requests for files on Dead List subjects. That's when things went from slightly obstructionist to downright ominous. One of the emails contained in this document dump arrived with all but one word redacted. The FOIA exemption cited for the redaction of the entire body of the email was b(7)e: "techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions." All that remained of the email is the word "Options." Everything underneath it was apparently a discussion about investigating/prosecuting FOIA requesters who participated in MuckRock's automated FOIA requests. CCed on the email are officials from the Criminal Justice Information Services, which handles the FBI's multiple criminal/investigation target databases. No one knows for sure what basis the FBI thought it had for prosecuting FOIA requesters, but it's pretty easy to imagine it had something to with the CFAA. It's almost impossible to abuse the FOIA process in a fashion that would result in criminal charges, but give the government some automated computer activity it doesn't like, and the CFAA can be read imaginatively enough to support at least an investigation. Another email in the batch received by the requester contains a heading that appears to show the mass requests had been passed on to the government's ESOC (Enterprise Security Operations Center) as "suspicious." But this isn't the end of the FBI's bad faith FOIA response "efforts." It took plenty of care to protect the people involved in this prosecution discussion but showed far less interest in protecting FOIA requesters when releasing this batch of documents. Despite redacting the names and email addresses of the public servants handling the case, the FBI released not only the author’s name and address in the file (technically improper since there was no waiver, albeit understandable) but the name, email address and home address of another requester who also used the script to file requests. Their name along with their email and physical addresses were left unredacted not once, not twice, not thrice - but seven times, not including the email headers, several of which also showed their name and email address. Given the nature of the FBI's response to the mass request for Dead List files, this careless redaction effort appears to be no accident. It’s hard to imagine that the Bureau, which once hung a sign in their FOIA office instructing people that “when in doubt - cross it out” would fail to redact this information so many times by accident. In context, it’s hard to see it as anything but retaliatory. On top of that, the FBI appears to have deliberately ignored the requester's supporting info for his fee waiver request, charged the requester duplication fees for documents it had previously compiled and released to other requesters, and stated -- with the DOJ's support -- there was no "public interest" in Dead List documents, despite the massive number of requests (the ones the FBI chose to ignore en masse) clearly showing otherwise. This is nasty, petty stuff and it's coming from one of the most powerful law enforcement agencies in the world. People with access to vast databases of information on American citizens are seeking to leverage this access to chill First Amendment-protected activity. The government as a whole barely fulfills it obligations (and almost never in a timely fashion) when it comes to the Freedom of Information Act. Agencies like the FBI are taking it several steps further, shirking obligations while engaging in small-scale vindictive acts. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Remember Suburban Express? It's been a few years since we've had the pleasure of writing about the company that buses students between the University of Illinois and Chicago, or its lawsuit happy owner, Dennis Toeppen. Toeppen and his company have engaged in some fairly anti-consumer behaviors, most of which have to do with hefty three-figure fines unilaterally assessed to passengers for the most minor of infractions, like showing up for the wrong bus or on the wrong day. But some of the online critics also brought up issues with drivers for the company who treated foreign exchange students like trash in front of other passengers. Now, one of Toeppen's excuses for filing lawsuits against those specific critics is that this foreign exchange student was apologized to, though the company has never said from who or at what time that apology was issued. One would think such an apology was an indication of regret over those racist comments, had such an apology ever actually been issued. Judging by a recent advertisement Suburban Express sent out for its Christmas bus schedule, it seems like the drivers take their cues from the company at large. /div> Companies generally don't advertise that students will ride buses with: "passengers like you. You won't feel like you're in China when you're on our buses." Why? Well, because catering to any asshole that can't stand being on a bus with someone who looks a bit different from them isn't the MO for most people with a soul. One does wonder whether any lawsuits over the reviews accusing the company of racism would have survived all this being entered into evidence. But, as per usual, Suburban Express was quick with an apology. And it's just dripping with remorse. When called out for a racist advertisement, companies don't generally apologize for that by insisting that a major public university is terribly run because it admits a large number of foreign students, nor does it call that "selling out." For the record, the actual percentage of Chinese-born students at U of I is much lower, not to mention that the claim that higher-paying foreign exchange students somehow are a burden on Illinois residents seems like a self-defeating argument. Regardless, the Illinois Attorney General has decided to get involved, opening an investigation into the company to determine if Suburban Express violated the Illinois Human Rights Act. And, whaddya know, shortly after Lisa Madigan got involved, the company apologized again. No need to read the entire apology. It's actually apologetic, both for the initial advertisement and the first apology. Apologizing for an apology isn't generally a good look, but the reputation Suburban Express has built for itself practically begs you to read this supposedly sincere apology in a tone of sarcasm, because nothing in the history of the company suggests that we should take this as anything other than the shivering, whimpering attempt to avoid the scrutiny of a state attorney general known as a bulldog. Best of luck to Suburban Express in getting itself out of this one, and even more luck to any foreign student finding herself in need of a ride to Champaign-Urbana. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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One of the tensions in the digital world that I find fascinating is what a content or platform creator must feel when deciding just how much freedom it wants to give to its fans. The benefits of giving fans the freedom to tinker is especially noticeable in the video game space, where long traditions exist for modding and making custom user-created content. Most game publishers' embrace of this sort of thing ranges from a wink and a nod to actively fostering the modding community. The NBA2K series, on the other hand, has actually incorporated custom made content into the game's platform, allowing players to create and share custom clothing and accessory designs. The latest iteration of the game is no different, although this version of the game is notably allowing this custom content to be sold for the same "virtual currency" (VC) used everywhere else in the game. VC can be earned through play, or bought with real world money. All of this was going along swimmingly until 2K discovered, shockingly, that its custom content store was full of designs that pretty clearly infringed on all kinds of trademarks and other intellectual property. In NBA 2K18, players can create custom shirts in myCareer mode, which can then be voted on by other players. These are purely cosmetic items that will show up on a player character in the myPark portion of the game, where players play 3 on 3 street basketball. If the shirt reaches 100 votes, the player who created it can sell it for the game’s virtual currency, VC. Shirts initially went for 3,500 VC, but last month 2K made all custom shirts free. You can buy 15,000 VC for five dollars. The problem is a lot of players are making shirts with copyrighted logos or mimicking real brands. Players on Reddit and YouTube are saying that both shirts they’ve created and shirts they have purchased are being removed from their inventories. One player who reached out to Kotaku was able to get a shirt refunded for his shirts, but said that he only got 10,000 VC, the price of about three shirts, when he says he paid for 10 shirts total at 3,500 VC each. That person's account appears to be shared by others on Twitter and elsewhere. So, 2K created a platform for custom made content, allowed its customers to buy that content, and then nixed the content without offering a full refund? That's not a good look from a publisher. What's also missing from the accounts on Reddit of those that made this infringing custom content is any sort of notice from 2K about their work being taken down, or the reason behind the takedowns. It appears that instead, the publisher just disappeared the content, sending it into the void. To be clear, the company can police its game in this manner, but it could have given custom content creators notice of a copyright claim at the very least. So, by playing copyright cops, 2K has managed to piss off both the buyers and sellers of user-made game content. Much of that content is indeed plainly infringing, but refusing to make good with the customers that bought the content on 2K's platform, using 2K's currency, to be played in 2K's game, is a horrible look. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Some surprising news out of Florida: actual public officials being held accountable for public records law violations. We're used to hearing about officials finding new and creative ways to dodge public records requests. We're also used to hearing about officials using tried-and-true methods to avoid turning over records, like demanding astronomical fees or abusing exemptions. In this case, several years of blowing off requests for emails has ended in indictments for two Florida officials. In a move that should send a chill down the spines of thousands of elected officials in Florida, former Martin County Commissioner Anne Scott, a retired judge originally from Chicago, and current Commissioner Ed Fielding were booked Tuesday night into the county jail after being indicted in a public records scandal that already cost taxpayers upward of $25 million. The charges aren't much -- a misdemeanor count worth up to a year in jail -- but they're a start. (Another involved government employee -- sitting commissioner Amber Heard -- faces a civil charge and a fine of $500.) Unfortunately, the charges look minuscule compared to the amount taxpayers will have to come up with to settle lawsuits stemming from the actions of these politicians. Scott, Fielding and Heard, who is in her fourth term on the County Commission, are accused of failing to surrender emails to developers investigating why the commission suddenly started voting against them. The emails were requested by Lake Point, a mining company on the banks of Lake Okeechobee. The company was out to prove that commissioners were illegally communicating and discussing public business in private and conspiring with members of the public against the company’s interests. It took several years for the trio to produce their emails. When she was asked to show emails from her private Yahoo account, Heard claimed it had been hacked. In a civil lawsuit, several witnesses testified Heard was lying. So far, the county has lost one civil lawsuit over the public records and was ordered to pay $500,000 of Lake Point’s legal bill. That's only the start of the taxpayer pain. Several years of legal costs have already been footed by residents as these government officials argued on behalf of themselves and against the public's interest. The Miami Herald reports a massive payout may be on the horizon. A second lawsuit filed by the mining company alleging breach of contract is about to be settled, with the estimated payout being $25 million. In the end, it's not a win for the public in terms of dollar amount, but it is at least a sign the government will do something about its own misbehaving employees… provided the collateral damage becomes too big to ignore. It would be nice to see something more proactive but given the number of things governments routinely let slide, we'll chalk this up as a small-w win. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The fact that the FCC comments for Ajit Pai's net neutrality repeal were stuffed with fake comments is nothing new at all. We first reported on it back in May, and reports of comments from totally fake people or long dead people continue to pop up. Even worse are multiple stories of people having their own identities used to file comments, often opposed to their own views. The FCC has consistently responded that it doesn't care. New York's Attorney General has been investigating this as fraud, and asked the FCC to delay its net neutrality repeal until after the investigation was complete -- a request the FCC completely ignored. And, as we just noted a little while ago, Schneiderman recently announced that he's found over 2 million fake comments. But it's easy to say "well, all these fake comments mean all the comments can be ignored." But it's important to look at the source of these fake comments and on which side they ended up. And just this week two new studies have come out, both taking a really deep dive into the fake comments. The Wall Street Journal did an investigation and reached out to 2,757 people who had supposedly commented. 72% of them said they had not posted the comments. But even more thorough and more interesting is a new report that just came out this morning, from Startup Policy Lab's "Truth in Public Comments" project. Its methodology was even more thorough than the Wall Street Journal's. It took a random sample of 450,000 public commenters, and asked them "did you submit the comment quoted below to the FCC, yes or no?" The results are astounding: 88% of survey respondents whose emails were used to submit pro-repeal comments replied, “no,” that they did not submit the comment . Conversely, only 4% of pro-net neutrality respondents said that they did not submit the comment attributed to them. Let's unpack that again to make it clear. Out of a fairly massive sample of FCC commenters nearly all of the ones supporting Pai's plan were fake. And nearly all of the ones supporting the existing rules were real. Here, see it in graphical form: And this happened across multiple samples that the TiPC project ran. Each time, it showed that nearly all of the support for Pai's plan was fake. And nearly all the support for existing rules was real. Also, quite telling: in sending out these emails asking people whether or not they filed, most of the responses they got came from people who supported net neutrality. The response rate among those who supported Pai? Tiny. Because most of them appear to be fake. This is not to say that there weren't fake comments in support of the old rules. They did exist. But as the TiPC report notes, the "fakes" in support of the old rule were fairly obvious -- using obviously fake emails and names. The comments in support of Pai, while fake, used real emails and names that tried to appear real: The FCC received spam comments that supported both the pro-net neutrality and pro-repeal. The difference, however, is that the majority of spam comments associated with email addresses supporting pro-net neutrality were ignored by the FCC because they were obviously fake. Conversely, we must conclude that the spam comments associated with email addresses that supported pro-repeal email addresses were a deliberate campaign to evade the eyes of regulators and influence the rulemaking process. The discrepancy rests in the nature of the bounceback of emails. The survey resulted in a high bounce rate for emails associated with pro-net neutrality using unsophisticated approaches. Examples of an unsophisticated spam comment are those the FCC acknowledged are, “[o] bviously, fake comments [...] by the Flash, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Superman are not going to dramatically impact our deliberations on this issue. ” By contrast, it appears that the spam comments for emails associated with pro-repeal comments reflect deliberate action to use stolen identities. In these instances, millions of Americans may have had their identity harvested for the political objectives of supporting the repeal of net neutrality laws, regardless of whether that individual agreed with the position or even had a position on the proposal. Accordingly, unlike the submission from Batman, which the FCC was correct to ignore, millions of Americans had their voice taken and repurposed without their consent. No matter where you stand on the question of net neutrality, this should be a major concern. Public commenting is important, but when the system is totally hijacked in a way that appears designed to deliberately skew or merely taint the results, it does no one any good at all. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As Ajit Pai's attack on net neutrality rolls along, it's worth a steady reminder that the FCC's open commenting period for the public was marred by spam-bots inserting comments from some list somewhere, all in support of Pai's actions. In other words, the period during which the FCC is supposed to listen to the general public for feedback never actually existed, masked as it was by these fraudulent comments. Eric Schneiderman, the New York Attorney General, about whom we've not always written kindly, set up a searchable site through which you can find if you or anyone you know has their names in these FCC comments and, if their comment is in support of the government, you can verify whether you or they actually made that comment or not. You might be surprised by the answer you get, however, as Schneiderman announced this week that they have found -- so far -- that at least two million fake comments used real people's names to support Pai and the FCC. "Millions of fake comments have corrupted the FCC public process—including two million that stole the identities of real people, a crime under New York law," Schneiderman said in an announcement today. "Yet the FCC is moving full steam ahead with a vote based on this corrupted process, while refusing to cooperate with an investigation." Some comments were submitted under the names of dead people. "My LATE husband's name was fraudulently used after a valiant battle with cancer," one person told the AG's office. "This unlawful act adds to my pain that someone would violate his good name." I actually have a family member who's name was used in this way as well, so this touches somewhat close to home. Now, it's worth noting that these two million fake comments are just those that use other's very real names. It is not a sum total of all fake comments that might be included in the 23 million or so that the FCC collected. But if we're already starting from a place where we know for sure that 8 or 9 percent of those comments are fraudulent right off the bat, you'd assume Pai and the FCC would be some kind of interested in figuring out how this all happened. But Pai has gone the other direction on all of this. He, or his spokespeople, have made odd noises about "erring on the side of inclusion" regarding these astroturf comments, all of which conveniently support him. If bending over backwards to make sure his FCC considers the opinions of the dead and those who have had their names misused just to make sure his ISP clients constituents get to ISP all over the open internet isn't the biggest slap in the face I've ever seen, then I don't know what would be. Meanwhile, Schneiderman is trying to investigate all of this since, you know, an actual crime was committed here, and has been essentially stonewalled by Pai and the FCC. This week he fired off a letter to the FCC, desperately trying to get them to cooperate with his investigation. One might expect a federal agency to harbor a great deal of concern when faced with strong evidence of a massive fraud uncovered by multiple sources—including, most recently, The Wall Street Journal—that appears to have thoroughly infected its most important rulemaking since the establishment of net neutrality more than a decade ago. Yet, over the objections of a growing bipartisan coalition of over thirty members of both houses of Congress, 18 [other] state attorneys general, and FCC Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn, the Commission's leadership appears determined to proceed with its December 14 vote. Moving forward with this vote would make a mockery of the notice and comment process mandated by the Administrative Procedure Act and reward those who perpetrated this fraud in service of their own hidden agenda. The most cynical among us might think that the agenda isn't so hidden, if it was indeed Pai or someone associated with him pulling this all off. That's overly conspiratorial, perhaps, except that Pai's lame excuses of protecting privacy for not turning over commonplace evidence such as IP addresses to the NY AG's office makes this all look really, really dirty. Regardless, it's clear the public record during the comment period was nullified by these fake comments. To date, 19 AGs from across the country have called for a delay in the FCC's vote so that they can investigate all of this. Pai, as has become his custom, isn't listening, despite wanting to err on the side of inclusion. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Last month, I wrote a post detailing Ajit Pai's big lie, concerning his totally false claim that the order the FCC voted on today simply brings the internet back to where it was in 2015. As we explained that's not even remotely close to accurate. That same post also mentioned a second, but still important, lie that Pai and Pai's supporters have been telling repeatedly: that the 2015 rules harmed broadband investment. There are two very important things to discuss regarding this claim. First, it is simply not true. Second, whether or not it is true, broadband investment is an incredibly meaningless proxy for whether or not the rules are good. Let's start with the first point. There is no credible evidence that Title II harmed investment. While the big broadband companies have made claims about this, and telco-funded thinktanks have pushed out studies claiming this, on financial reports (where the consequences can mean jail time if they're lying), they all admit that classifying broadband under Title II has not harmed investment. Here's Neil Smit, Comcast Cable's President and CEO telling Wall Street that nothing about Title II changes anything (on page 16): On Title II, it really hasn't affected the way we have been doing our business or will do our business. We believe on Open Internet and while we don't necessarily agree with the Title II implementation, we conduct our business the same we always have... He immediately follows that up by stating: We have invested significantly in our capacity and will continue to do so and that includes both the -- we launched a 2 gigabit speed, 2 gigabit symmetrical speed recently. We are rolling that out across 18 million homes by the end of the year... That doesn't sound like the disaster for broadband investment that Pai and his supporters are claiming. How about AT&T? AT&T's Randall Stephenson was asked by a UBS analyst "are these net neutrality or Title II rules an impediment..." and Stephenson responded: No, we don’t think so. How about Charter (formerly Time Warner Cable)? Well, just last year at a UBS conference, he said: I mean, Title II, it didn't really hurt us; it hasn't hurt us. And, that wasn't the first time he said that. A year earlier he made it clear the company changed nothing about its investment plans: "the commission’s decision to reclassify broadband Internet access under Title II has not altered Charter’s approach of investing significantly in its network to deliver cutting edge services." Verizon is basically the only big broadband provider that didn't directly contradict its claims with a statement specifically about Title II... but, it did increase its investment spending quite a bit. Verizon's only comments have basically been the company saying that it continues to invest exactly as planned prior to the 2015 rules change. None of this should be surprising. As we've explained there is nothing in the 2015 order that increases compliance costs -- so long as you're not screwing over customers. The only way that the 2015 Open Internet Order should be a burden is if the broadband providers were doing something that broke the rules. And, of course, just yesterday we noted that contrary to Pai's claims of five smaller ISPs decreasing investment, the actual data showed the opposite -- that they had all expanded. And that says nothing of the over 40 small ISPs which spoke out in favor of keeping the 2015 rules, in part because it allows them to invest more, knowing that the giant incumbents mentioned above can't use certain unfair, anti-competitive practices to keep them out of a market. Without a legal foundation to address the anticompetitive practices of the largest players in the market, the FCC’s current course threatens the viability of competitive entry and competitive viability. As direct competitors to the biggest cable and telephone companies, we have reservations about any plan at the FCC that seeks to enhance their market power without any meaningful restraints on their ability to monopolize large swaths of the Internet. It certainly looks like Pai's rules may actually cause some of those ISPs to decrease their investment as they'll have trouble competing with the large incumbents. That's why it's so ridiculous not just to see Pai make these false claims about investment, but to also see Pai's handpicked "chief economist" ridiculously claim that this FCC "is no longer an 'economics free zone.' This line was parroted a lot leading up to the 2015 rules (which, we must remind you, have been approved by the courts). People claimed that there was no economic basis for the changes in 2015, which ignores the fact that the 2015 rules pretty clearly lay out the economic rationale for reclassifying broadband under Title II. You can see it starting on Page 150 of the order. And yet, in Pai's new order he insists that it's conclusively proven that the 2015 order hurt investment. He does name multiple studies -- though every single one comes from a group or organization connected to the big broadband players. It's hard to see how that's a neutral, careful analysis. And, of course, some commenters on the proposal pointed to the studies that debunked all those studies -- and rather than actually address those points, Pai's rules hand-wave all of them away as just not credible. But, of course, if you start to dig into the studies that Pai does rely on... they're terrible. Basically all of them make questionable assumptions -- assumptions that if you start to question them, the entire "economics" claims fall apart. Take, for example, the "study" by the Free State Foundation, which the FCC points to as saying its results are "consistent with other evidence in the record that indicates that Title II adversely affected broadband investment." But read the analysis. It is hardly a rigorous economic look at broadband investment. It's an extrapolation, with a bunch of assumptions. Here is how I calculated that figure. USTelecom publishes data on broadband capital expenditures (capex) for each year dating back to 1996. Using this historical data, I collected figures on the previous twelve years before the Open Internet Order was adopted in February 2015. I picked 2003 as the first year because the market had just collapsed from the dot-com bubble and total broadband capex was at its lowest point since 1996. I established a trend line from 2003 to 2016, which created a linear pattern over the first 12 years before the Open Internet Order and estimated what we could have expected broadband capex to be in 2015 and 2016 without Title II public utility regulation. I also collected broadband capex data on sixteen of the largest ISPs for years 2014, 2015, and 2016. My sample found a 2.46% decline from 2014 to 2015 and a 4.69% decline from 2015 to 2016, totaling an overall decline of 7.04% from 2014 to 2016. Count the assumptions. The date range is an assumption (at least that one's explained). The "trend line" is a total extrapolation, without any research into whether or not there's a reason for such a trend line or even if the timeline is a large enough sample size for a reasonable trend line. As for the capex data -- why on "sixteen of the largest ISPs." Sixteen is a fairly strange number. What happens if you just look at the top 3? Or the top 10? Or all of them? This is not a rigorous analysis. And, of course, if it's really true that all of these think tanks funded by the telcos magically have more insight into what's happening with broadband investment, then... does that mean all those quotes we mentioned above are examples of these CEOs lying on investor calls? Because, if so, that seems like a pretty big deal. But, I'm generally going to assume that the execs are telling the truth to Wall St. and relying on others to put forth the misleading arguments -- which Pai then parrots, and his "Chief Economists" gets to play make believe and say that the FCC cares about economics again. But, really, none of this matters. Because my second point is more important: Broadband investment is not a good proxy for whether or not Title II is a good or bad idea. It's a giant broken windows fallacy. I'll use a few extreme examples to prove the point: if "broadband investment" is the sole proxy that we use as economic proof of a good or bad policy, well, then the best policy for the FCC right now is to physically destroy the internet. With all internet infrastructure broken, it will surely boost investment and economic activity around rebuilding the internet, right? Of course, no one would consider that a good policy, but if our metric is purely investment, then that's the kind of crazy result you get. Or, let's say that new technologies are developed that allow people to implement better broadband more cheaply. Indeed, that's what some broadband access providers have been claiming. In that case, investment is likely to drop, even though the speeds/access/value that everyone gets increases. Especially when you're discussing a technology field, any halfway competent economist knows that you have different forces at play than in static markets. With technology, thanks to innovation, stuff gets cheaper as it gets better. Yet, under the new FCC's sole focus on broadband investment as an economic measure, a more efficient, cheaper roll-out to more people would be "bad" because it would decrease investment. That's not to say either of things have actually happened, but just to demonstrate the pure uselessness of aggregate investment data. It's not "economics," its junk science. It's pretending that the numbers are meaningful because they're numbers. But the real "economic" test should be about the value to the end user. And broadband access and speeds is one part of that. But only one part. Indeed, a huge part of this discussion is how the real value on the internet comes from the edge providers, the apps and services that people use on the internet. That's why the network is valuable. And the problem with killing net neutrality is it puts that in danger. It can make it more expensive, or limit competition, or make some of those services go away altogether. And that decreases the value of the internet to every user. And that's because the internet works off of network effects for the services on them. That is, with many services, the more people use them, the more valuable they get. Killing net neutrality will interfere with those network effects in many cases, again decreasing value. So, in short, even ignoring that the FCC's numbers are bogus, so is its entire framing of the net neutrality debate. Perhaps it's not surprising that the framing used here -- broadband investment -- only measures what the giant telco/cable companies do related to the internet. Because, after all, Chairman Pai has made it pretty damn clear that that's all he cares about. But it's economics malpractice to ignore where the actual value is on the network, and what these rules will do to all those service providers and the end users. 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So by now we've pointed out how 200 engineers, internet legends, nearly 1000 startups, countless internet companies, 30 small ISPs, and millions of American consumers have told the FCC its plan to repeal net neutrality is extreme and will harm competition, innovation, and the health of the internet. But we've also pointed out repeatedly how this makes absolutely no difference at Trump's FCC, which appears mindlessly dedicated toward one singular purpose: pleasing entrenched telecom duopolies like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon. You can add the FCC's own CTO to the long list of folks who think the FCC's net neutrality repeal is neither in the public interest, nor good for the health of the internet. In a leaked e-mail this week, FCC CTO Eric Burger (hired by Ajit Pai last October) warned that once the rules are repealed, there's really nothing in place to stop these entrenched duopolies from throttling or hamstringing services or websites they compete with: "In an internal email to all of the FCC commissioner offices, CTO Eric Burger, who was appointed by Pai in October, said the No. 1 issue with the repeal is concern that internet service providers will block or throttle specific websites, according to FCC sources who viewed the message. "Unfortunately, I realize we do not address that at all," Burger said in the email. "If the ISP is transparent about blocking legal content, there is nothing the [Federal Trade Commission] can do about it unless the FTC determines it was done for anti-competitive reasons. Allowing such blocking is not in the public interest." So if you buy the FCC/big ISP argument here, the net neutrality repeal and the gutting of FCC authority over giant ISPs isn't a big deal -- because the FTC will rush in and protect consumers. But we've already noted in great detail how that's simply not going to be happening. The FTC's currently losing a lawsuit against AT&T that could obliterate that ability almost entirely. Even if they win that case, we've explored in detail how the FTC's existing authority is so limited, clever ISPs like Comcast will be able to simply tap dance around enforcement. Another source at the FCC told Politico that Burger's concerns were just part of the everyday back and forth chatter that occurs at the FCC, and that his concerns had somehow been addressed by an update to the NPRM: "An FCC official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the internal deliberations, said Burger's concerns have been addressed since his message Wednesday morning. The discussion, the official said, is part of the normal back-and-forth process of editing an FCC order. The official said that some clarifying language was added to the order and that Burger replied Wednesday afternoon to say his concerns were "fully addressed." The official also noted that the CTO was focused on one section of the order and not the part that dealt with the rules. The problem is that there's no way that this issue was "fully addressed," because it's the entire foundation for Pai's order. Gutting FCC authority, then throwing any piddly remaining oversight of ISPs to an FTC ill-equipped to handle it is the entire plan. The fact that enforcement will fall through the cracks at the FTC is the whole damn point and is precisely why ISPs are lobbying for this. The FTC can't make new rules, can't act until after offenses have occurred, and even then -- only if it can be clearly proven that the ISP was being "unfair" or "deceptive" --something that's easy to dodge just by using TOS mouse print. In the world of net neutrality violations, where ISPs often hide anti-competitive behavior under faux technical nonsense or breathless claims they were only trying to protect the network -- ISP lawyers will run circles around the FTC. And again, this is only if the FTC wins its court case against AT&T. If it loses, there's really nothing stopping giant ISPs from being as large of an anti-competitive ass as they can imagine. And should any states get the funny idea to step in and protect consumers or competitors, Pai's FCC incumbent ISPs want to hamstring those efforts as well. Experts have been pointing out this fatal flaw in Ajit Pai's plan for much of the last year. That includes the two-time former FCC CTO, who has repeatedly pointed out how easy large ISPs will be able to abuse a lack of competition under this new paradigm. And while it's nice to see the FCC's current CTO recognize the problem as well, these concerns will likely only join the now-towering pile of discarded feedback that didn't quite line up with Comcast, Verizon and AT&T's vision of the internet. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Whistleblowing stories have become something of a commonplace, as a stream of Techdirt posts attests. Some leaks offer massive revelations, like the documents released by Chelsea Manning, or Edward Snowden. Others are smaller scale, but expose unsuspected activities that powerful people were trying to keep in the shadows. Here, for example, is a recent leak published in the Guardian about big companies spying on law-abiding organizations that dare to disagree with them: They shine a rare light on a habitually secretive industry in which large firms hire covert operatives to monitor and infiltrate political groups that object to their commercial activities. At a premium is advance information, tipping off the firms about protests that are being organised against them. As the Snowden files proved, leaks about government activities can have particularly important knock-on consequences in terms of improving the balance of power between citizens and their supposed representatives. Perhaps because of that effect, the Australian government plans to bring in new laws that could see whistleblowers jailed for 20 years: Australian government and intelligence whistleblowers -- and potentially even journalists -- may face up to 20 years in jail for disclosing classified information, under the most sweeping changes to the country's secrecy laws since they were introduced. BuzzFeed reports the legislation will be extremely broad: The new laws will apply to anyone, not just government officials. They could easily apply to journalists and organisations like WikiLeaks that "communicate" or "deal" with information, instead of just government officials. They will also close a longstanding gap around contractors working on behalf of government agencies, who will also be subject to the new offences. The good news is: Journalists will have a defence available to them if publication of information is considered to be in the public interest and is "in the person’s capacity as a journalist engaged in fair and accurate reporting". But the bad news is the onus will be on journalists to show that they satisfy those conditions -- likely to be expensive and maybe even impossible. Despite that issue, it seems doubtful that the new law will have much impact on leaking. After all, most whistleblowers know and accept that they are taking a risk when they release sensitive material, but have already decided it is worth it. Manning and Snowden were not deterred by the threat of extremely serious penalties, and there will always be people brave enough to follow in their footsteps, whatever the consequences. As far as news organizations are concerned, while it is true that Australian titles may think twice before publishing leaked government documents, there are plenty of other outlets around the world that won't. Even if other newspapers are reluctant to risk the wrath of the Australian government -- perhaps because they have offices and journalists in the country that would be vulnerable to retaliation -- it is easy to set up a dedicated site for the leaks, and then use social media to spread the word. That's essentially what WikiLeaks does, which is unlikely to take any notice of the new law either. If the Australian government -- or indeed any government -- wants to reduce leaks it should place as much information as possible in the public domain, and seek to protect only the extremely sensitive stuff. Trying to enforce excessive and unnecessary secrecy with manifestly vindictive punishments simply undermines people's respect for the whole system, and probably provokes even more whistleblowers to leak. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Bitcoin has been much in the public eye recently. Most of the attention has been focused on the extraordinary rise in its price as measured against traditional currencies. But another aspect that has been exercising people is its energy usage, as a post on the Digiconimist site explains: The continuous block mining cycle incentivizes people all over the world to mine Bitcoin. As mining can provide a solid stream of revenue, people are very willing to run power-hungry machines to get a piece of it. Over the years this has caused the total energy consumption of the Bitcoin network to grow to epic proportions, as the price of the currency reached new highs. The entire Bitcoin network now consumes more energy than a number of countries, based on a report published by the International Energy Agency. Currently, the country closest to Bitcoin in terms of electricity consumption, expected to be around 32 terawatt-hours this year, is Denmark. Some are predicting that by 2020, the Bitcoin system will use as much electricity as the entire world does today. Others aren't so sure. Here's Ars Technica: When Bitcoin launched in 2009, each block came with a 50-bitcoin reward for the miner who created it. This figure is scheduled to fall by half every four years. It fell to 25 bitcoins in 2012 and 12.5 bitcoins in 2016. The reward will fall again to 6.25 bitcoins in 2020. When the mining industry's revenue falls by half, its energy consumption should fall by the same proportion, since, if it didn't fall, mining would become an unprofitable activity. In any case, a new article in the Guardian reminds us that Bitcoin is just one part of a much larger energy consumption problem that the digital world needs to address: The communications industry could use 20% of all the world's electricity by 2025, hampering attempts to meet climate change targets and straining grids as demand by power-hungry server farms storing digital data from billions of smartphones, tablets and internet-connected devices grows exponentially. It doesn't really matter which of Bitcoin and the server farms will consume the most power in years to come -- clearly both will be large, and both will require efforts to increase the availability of low-cost renewable energy so as to minimize their environmental damage. But there's a fundamental way in which the two sectors differ. Bitcoin is burning up the tera-watts to carry out meaningless calculations in order to win the prize of the next cryptocurrency block. Server farms need power in order to store detailed records of everything we do online, or with our connected devices, alongside masses of Internet of Things data streams. Whatever it is doing, Bitcoin is certainly not threatening our privacy, and arguably is enhancing it. But loss of privacy is exactly the risk arising from the use of massive server farms around the world. The main reason why they are being built is to hold unprecedented quantities of personal data that can be analyzed and the results sold in some way -- whether for advertising, or for other purposes. We constantly see stories about sensitive information being leaked on a massive scale, or legally acquired and then used in troubling ways. Alongside worthy concerns about the way that Bitcoin mining can degrade our physical world, we should worry more about how data mining can degrade our more personal space. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As you will all know, we've been covering the trademark case between San Diego Comic-Con and Salt Lake Comic Con pretty much since this whole dispute began some three years ago. From the outset, this whole thing seemed wholly unreasonable. Whatever trademarks SDCC managed to get past the USPTO, there are roughly a zillion comic cons across the country, few of which have any licensing arrangement with SDCC, meaning the plaintiff in this case hasn't bothered to enforce its trademarks for some time. That generally leads to the mark being abandoned, or considered generic. Either should have kept SLCC in the clear. Add to all that the fact that this is arguably a trademark that should never have been granted on the grounds that it's almost purely descriptive -- a "comic con" is a comic convention -- and many observers thought this was going to be an easy win for SLCC in court, including this writer. Well, the jury has come back, and it managed to rule for San Diego Comic-Con instead. In a case that could potentially complicate the lives of comic convention organizers the country over, a federal jury has ruled in San Diego Comic-Con’s favor in a suit brought against Salt Lake Comic Con for violating copyright law with their use of the term “comic con.” The verdict, which was arrived at on Friday afternoon, found SDCC’s trademark is valid, and that Salt Lake Comic Con used it without permission, according to a report by Fox13 in Salt Lake City. That sound you hear in the distance is a hundred other comic convention organizers slapping their own foreheads. With this ruling, which SLCC may appeal, comic cons all over the place may feel more pressure to give in to any licensing demands from SDCC. Although, perhaps those other cons just need to run out the clock -- more on that in a minute. I said SLCC may appeal this ruling for two reasons. First, the damages the jury awarded are almost laughably small and nowhere near what SDCC was asking for. San Diego Comic-Con initially sought up to $12 million in damages from Dan Farr and Bryan Brandenburg, Salt Lake Comic Con’s organizers, but was rewarded only $20,000. According to the ruling, the violation was not a “willful infringement” of the copyright. “It felt like it was a draw,” Brandenburg told Fox13. He told the news organization that he was currently considering whether or not to appeal. Additionally, Salt Lake Comic Con has proceedings underway with the US trademark office to officially cancel San Diego Comic-Con’s trademark. And that last bit is the other reason it may not appeal and was my reference above to other cons simply running out the clock. The real misstep here might be in San Diego Comic-Con opening up this can of worms by bullying other cons over its abandoned, generic, descriptive trademark, with the potential end result being one of its victims getting that trademark cancelled entirely. Were I any other comic con in some other city in America, I would be trying to help SLCC getting this mark cancelled in any way I could. It would be a poetic end, to be sure, no matter what one jury thought of that actual case of trademark infringement. So, more to come, I am sure. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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By now we've noted countless times how the claim that net neutrality hurt broadband investment is indisputably false. It's not a debate. Public SEC filings, earnings reports, and numerous CEO statements to investors (who, unlike you, they're legally not allowed to lie to) have disproven this canard. Data suggesting otherwise usually originates with ISP-paid economists more than willing to twist, distort, cherry pick and massage the numbers until they comply with whatever message is being shoveled toward the media this week. Despite the "net neutrality-killed investment" claim being decidedly false, it never appears to die. ISPs and FCC boss Ajit Pai continue to desperately cling to this claim as if repetition forges reality itself. The claim has played a starring role in nearly every speech Pai has given on this subject, as well as every press release that has been issued by the FCC. The claim popped up yet again recently, when Ajit Pai issued a press release (pdf) claiming that he had been meeting with five small ISPs, all of which claimed that net neutrality had seriously harmed their ability to expand their broadband footprints. From the release: "I appreciated the opportunity to speak with small providers across the country to hear how the FCC’s 2015 rules are impacting them on a day-to-day basis. One constant theme I heard was how Title II had slowed investment and injected regulatory uncertainty into their business plans--in short, heavy-handed regulation is making it harder for smaller providers to close the digital divide in rural America. By lightening the regulatory burden from Washington, we will unleash providers to do what they do best: serve their communities and provide broadband access to residents across the country." So one, we've already noted how Pai's breathless dedication to "closing the digital divide" are consistently betrayed by his actions, whether it's his choice to make life easier for business broadband monopolies, to kill broadband programs (launched by Reagan and expanded by Bush Junior) that aid the poor, or to fiddle with broadband deployment metrics to try and obfuscate a lack of competition in the sector. Again, that Pai's biggest priority is protecting the revenues of the industry's biggest and most politically-powerful companies isn't really something that's open to debate. His voting record is very clear on this subject. That said, Pai's press release claiming that net neutrality hurt small ISPs was completely unaccompanied by any hard data. Worse, when consumer advocates went and looked at the ISPs cited by the FCC release, four out of five of them significantly expanded their broadband deployments in the wake of the FCC's 2015 net neutrality rules. AirLink Internet Services in Oklahoma, one of the five ISPs cited by Pai, "more than doubled the number of rural Census blocks in which it offered service after the adoption of the [February] 2015 decision it criticizes," according to a recent FCC filing by consumer advocacy firm Free Press. Again, the story was the same with four of the five ISPs cited by the FCC. The one ISP that didn't see significant deployment gains (Amplex Internet in Ohio), still managed to deploy gigabit fiber to an additional 18 census blocks during the time net neutrality rules were in place. Again, that's entirely according to the FCC's own data. Data the FCC refused to cite because it proved the exact opposite of the message they wanted to send: "The data AirLink submitted to the FCC shows that it went from serving 1,482 rural Census blocks at the end of 2014 to more than 3,000 rural blocks by mid-year 2016, he wrote. The company expanded in urban Census blocks as well, going "from 4,251 such blocks to 7,108—an increase of more than 67 percent." The population served by AirLink increased by 64 percent in rural areas and 59 percent in urban areas, Wood wrote. The ISPs' presentations were "rife with such vague statements and outright errors" but did not include any "dollar signs, deployment data, [or] any other quantifiable metric demonstrating the supposed impact of Title II," Wood wrote. "Perhaps this is because there is no quantifiable harm from Title II, only the anecdotes that these carriers provide when called upon by the Chairman," he wrote." That's a clever way to state that the FCC's entire justification for repealing net neutrality has been based on fluff and nonsense, not hard data. When the FCC does cite data, it's usually data that originates directly from telecom lobbyists pushing for net neutrality repeal. Much like the FCC's blatant disregard for public and expert input on this proceeding, all of this will make for interesting fodder in the lawsuits coming the agency's way in the new year. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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If you had evidence an opposing witness in a criminal trial was untrustworthy, you'd want to use it, right? Too bad says the local law enforcement union. And too bad says a California court. The issue at hand is the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department's "Brady" list. "Brady" is shorthand for exculpatory evidence and untrustworthy law enforcement officers called to provide testimony certainly falls under that heading. After Sheriff Lee Baca resigned in disgrace following his department's implication in widespread jailhouse corruption and its tendency to hire some of the worst people possible to staff its jail, new sheriff Jim McDonnell wanted to make this list of questionable officers public. He wanted to hand it to prosecutors so they'd know which deputies to avoid if they wanted honest, untainted testimony. He didn't go so far as to offer the same list to defense attorneys, but it was one step further than any sheriff before him had taken. The sheriff's union sued, claiming handing the Brady list to prosecutors violated state confidentiality laws. In July, the LA County Appeals Court agreed with the union. The case has been taken up by the California Supreme Court, but it won't be discussed or decided until next year. Meanwhile, the ~300 deputies whose names are on the Brady list may have been witnesses in a combined 62,000 cases since 2000. And still, nobody is allowed to access their disciplinary files. The Los Angeles Times has obtained copies of the 2014 version of the list. (It does not say how it obtained these, so its presumably a leak.) In it are details of hundreds of acts of misconduct, all relating to "moral" issues which could conceivably be used to cast doubt on these deputies' credibility. The documents contain many more details, but this quick rundown by the Times scratches the surface of the secret Brady list. [h/t CJ Ciaramella] One deputy on the list endangered the lives of fellow officers and an undercover informant when he warned a suspected drug dealer’s girlfriend that the dealer was being watched by police. Another pepper-sprayed an elderly man in the face and then wrote a false report to justify arresting him. A third pulled over a stranger and received oral sex from her in his patrol car. The list also includes several deputies still with the department who were convicted of crimes — one for filing a false arrest report and another who was charged with domestic battery but pleaded no contest to a lesser offense. In other cases, prosecutors sharply criticized the deputies’ actions but declined to pursue criminal charges against them. Also included: multiple allegations (some sustained) of domestic violence, forging judges' signatures, falsified reports, and sexual misconduct. Accusations of dishonesty lead the way, composing 69% of all misconduct allegations. Dishonesty is exactly what you don't want from your prosecution witnesses, and a track record of dishonest behavior should be enough to make any testimony given suspect. Unfortunately, the documents are still officially secret, shielded from public access by California law and an appeals court decision. But the misdeeds detailed in the document make you wonder why the LASD hasn't kicked many of these deputies to the curb. It's not just a problem for testimony in criminal cases. It's also a terrible business practice when you're in the business of serving the public. When your job is literally law enforcement, the lax internal enforcement of actual laws encourages further misconduct and abuse, and destroys your relationship with the communities you serve. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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When we discuss the problems around "the internet of things" and app-controlled everything, we typically have to get into the weeds a bit about privacy, whether you own what you purchased, and the ethical implications of opening up an internet-connected service or product to potential hacking. On the security and hacking side of things, it should be clear by now that far too many companies don't take this stuff seriously enough. Our pages are rife with IoT devices being hacked, including everything from Barbie dolls to sports cars. It's enough to make you long for a company with a mission basic enough to develop a product so geared towards security that it couldn't possibly get this app-controlled thing wrong. Well, how about a handgun safe? Take the Vaultek VT20i handgun safe, for instance. This safe can be opened either by inputting the user's PIN number, up to eight digits, either on the box itself or via a smartphone app. Now, you're probably wondering why someone who needs their hand-cannon would need to open the safe up with an app. It's a great question, but one we probably shouldn't worry about considering that some security researches found that you can just open that damn thing with a laptop instead, no PIN number needed. The remote unlock feature is supposed to work only when someone knows the four- to eight-digit personal identification number used to lock the device. But it turns out that this PIN safeguard can be bypassed using a standard computer and a small amount of programming know-how. As the video demonstration below shows, researchers with security firm Two Six Labs were able to open a VT20i safe in a matter of seconds by using their MacBook Pro to send specially designed Bluetooth data while it was in range. The feat required no knowledge of the unlock PIN or any advanced scanning of the vulnerable safe. The hack works reliably even when the PIN is changed. All that's required to make it work is that the safe have Bluetooth connectivity turned on. Once this video and the code for the hack was released publicly, Vaultek snapped into action by releasing a statement claiming that this hack would take hours to pull off and would "require the ability to observe a correctly paired phone." To Which Two Six Labs said: "Nuh-uh!" "Once you have developed this capability or written a script to do it, you can affect any safe in this product line in a matter of seconds," Austin Fletcher, Two Sixes Labs' lead vulnerability research engineer, told Ars. "Anyone can do this." In a blog post disclosing the vulnerability, the researchers included most of the code required to exploit the vulnerability. A competent developer would need 20 to 60 minutes to supply the missing portion. With that, the developer could build a smartphone app that could silently break into any existing VT20i safe in seconds, as long as Bluetooth was turned on. Now, Dustin Culbreth, VP of Product Development for Vaultek, has issued a second statement from Vaultek, promising a firmware update that will address this exploit. There are a couple of problems with that. First, despite all of the Bluetooth back-and-forth from this gun safe and Bluetooth devices, the safe isn't actually connected to the internet. So, to patch this exploit, gun owners are going to be sent a USB device and install the patch themselves (perhaps through no more effort than plugging it in, but this is unclear) or will have to ship the safe back to Vaultek to be fixed. In a world where user error is the mantra of anyone involved in supporting technology, one shudders to think so much security over a weapon would be effective only at the pleasure of the average end-user's dedication to patching their own gun safe. And that brings me back to the question of why such an app-controlled gun safe is necessary to begin with. I know we have gun owners among our readers, so please chime in below with what I'm missing, but isn't it enough to unlock the PIN from the box instead of your phone? And, if not, is the application controlled unlocking feature worth this kind of risk? Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Storyist is the only do-it-all writing platform designed specifically for fiction writers and optimized to be a powerful word processor on both desktop and mobile platforms. This fully-featured word processor gives you complete control over manuscripts and screenplays, giving you elite annotation power, high-level story viewing, and many more tools to make writing complex projects a breeze. It is on sale for $19. 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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One of those things I thought would have gone out of vogue is apparently still in style in New Hampshire. The number of bullshit wiretap prosecutions brought against people recording cops has dropped precipitously over the past half-decade as courts have found use of wiretap statutes in this fashion unconstitutional, but over in the Live Free or Die state, the statute lives freely and dies even harder. Back in 2015, prosecutors brought wiretapping charges against Alfredo Valentin. Valentin had returned home one day to find a SWAT team in the middle of a no-knock raid. Apparently, Valentin's roommate was also a heroin dealer. Valentin had been called home by a neighbor who noticed his dog wandering the street, apparently set free (and still alive!) by the SWAT team's home-breaching efforts. Valentin chose to record the officers as they proceeded with the raid despite officers telling him (wrongly) that he couldn't. This became a wiretapping charge because the cops couldn't handle a citizen ignoring a direct order. They claimed Valentin "hid" the phone by placing it down by his leg while he kept recording. Apparently, the officers could still see the phone, so claims of it being a "secret" recording were per se moronic. But this was what the flimsy, highly-questionable charges rested on: a supposedly surreptitious recording officers in attendance knew was happening. The charges were tossed and Valentin sued. Now, with the ACLU's help, Valentin has obtained a settlement (but not an admission of wrongdoing) from the government. The settlement, which was reached in late September, was announced Wednesday by the ACLU-New Hampshire. Lehmann said Valentin received about two-thirds of the settlement, and he will use it to get his life back together. He was arrested in March 2015. The previous year, Free State activists from New Hampshire prevailed when the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that any person has a First Amendment right to video or audio-record police officers engaged in official duties in public places. Gilles Bissonnette, the ACLU-NH's legal director and co-counsel, said the settlement recognizes that recordings of police are a critical check on police power. "The police need to understand that individuals who are recording their work without interference have a constitutional right to do so, and it is not cause for their arrest," Bissonnette said. The First Amendment right exists with or without a police officer giving consent to the recording, the ACLU said. The $275,000 settlement will hopefully help Valentin piece back together a life law enforcement officers vindictively destroyed. Following his arrest, Valentin lost his job of eleven years and has spent the past two years trying -- and failing -- to restart his career. Having a felony arrest on his record doesn't help, even if charges were ultimately dropped. New Hampshire's wiretapping statute still stands. The state requires two-party consent for recordings. But, as has been pointed out by courts previously, the state's statute does not apply to recording public servants like police officers performing their duties in public. The state's Attorney General made this explicitly clear in the wake of the First Circuit Appeals Court's Glik decision. A memo [PDF] clarifying the right to record police was sent to law enforcement agencies in 2012, so the officers here -- and the prosecutor who chose to continue pressing charges -- had no excuse for their actions. In the process, they cost an innocent person his job and derailed his life for the better part of two years. And in the end, they'll have the bill covered by New Hampshire taxpayers and a signed agreement saying they did nothing wrong. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Lawsuits have begun to pile up for broadband provider CenturyLink, after a whistleblower revealed earlier this year that the ISP had been routinely over-billing its broadband customers for years. The whistleblower, who claims she was fired after bringing the problem to company management, said the company had a multi-year habit of consistently signing customers up for services they never ordered and didn't want. Of course that's on top of the routinely-misleading billing practices we see at most giant broadband providers, most notably the habit of making up completely bogus fees to jack up the advertised price post sale. The whistleblower account was followed up by lawsuits from several state attorneys general, who say they discovered ample evidence that misleading pricing and overbilling was a consistent occurrance. An investigation by Minnesota AG Lori Swanson, for example, found numerous examples where customers were overbilled -- yet CenturyLink refused to fix the problem -- even when customers had the ISP's original promises in writing. But worry not! CenturyLink last week issued a press release stating it had investigated itself, and found that company executives were completely and utterly innocent of any wrong doing. According to CenturyLink, the company constructed a "special committee" filled with CenturyLink board members, who collectively dug through 9.7 million documents, 4.3 terabytes of billing data consisting of over 32 billion billing records -- and interviewed 200 current and former Company employees. They found, impressively, precisely what CenturyLink CEO Glen Post hoped they would: "The Company accepts the Special Committee's findings and conclusions. The investigation confirmed my long-held belief that there was no fraud or wrongdoing at the Company and that cramming was neither widespread nor condoned. However, we know there have been times when we haven't provided our customers the experience they deserve. We have identified a number of areas where we can improve the customer experience and have already made significant progress in addressing those areas." That's in stark contrast to what whistleblowers and numerous state investigations have so far discovered. So letting actual, independent third-party investigations determine guilt or innocence seems kind of important. What did the investigation find? It found that if there was a problem, it was due to the fact that CenturyLink's billing and pricing was somehow confusing customers: "Some of the Company's products, pricing and promotions were complex and caused confusion, and the resulting bills sometimes failed to meet customer expectations. Additionally, limitations in the Company's ordering and billing software made it difficult to provide customers with estimates of their bills and confirmation of service letters that reflected all discounts, prorated charges, taxes and fees." Of course CenturyLink would have you believe that this confusing pricing just magically materialized by itself accidentally. In reality, large ISPs consistently employ confusing pricing in order to make direct price comparisons between ISP bundles all but impossible. It's standard practice. Centurylink also has a nasty habit of (apparently accidentally) imposing completely misleading fees to jack up the advertised price of service. Take CenturyLink's $4 per month "Internet Cost Recovery Fee," for example, which CenturyLink explains as such on its website: "This fee helps defray costs associated with building and maintaining CenturyLink's High-Speed Internet broadband network, as well as the costs of expanding network capacity to support the continued increase in customers' average broadband consumption." Of course that's bullshit, and tackling the "costs of expanding network capacity" is what your regular bill is for. What the fee does accomplish is it lets CenturyLink advertise one price, then charge something else entirely. It's something broadband providers learned from the airline, banking, and other industries, and with limited competition, the "free market" mysteriously never auto-corrects the problem. And neither the FCC nor FTC have ever deemed this fairly blatant false advertising via bogus fees (which take many forms) worthy of serious inquiry. And that's with the FCC's net neutrality rules in place, which at least required that ISPs clearly document all of this hidden nonsense to consumers at the point of sale. With those requirements about to die, and both federal and state oversight of ISPs about to be obliterated, you can expect an already-bad problem to only get worse. It's another example of how the death of net neutrality is going to have wide-reaching negative effects that go well beyond our traditional understanding of net neutrality violations. Of course if you like being nickel and dimed by your broadband ISP, the future's looking bright for you indeed. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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UK prosecutors are looking at the possibility of having a whole bunch of convictions overturned, thanks to misconduct by a lab service contracted by the government. Malfeasance at Randox Testing Service, which handles toxicology tests for UK law enforcement, first came to light earlier this year when two of its employees were arrested. Hundreds of cases could be reviewed after two men who work at a laboratory used by police to test drug samples were arrested. Randox Testing Services (RTS) is used by forces across the UK to analyse samples used in prosecutions. Police chiefs said it had been told 484 cases handled by the firm since November 2015 may have been affected. The men, 47 and 31, were arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice and bailed, police said. At the time, Randox offered to re-run tests handled by the two employees and provided law enforcement with a list of cases affected. The bogus tests affected far more than run of the mill driving under the influence charges. In a few cases, convictions for vehicular homicide were placed under review. About 50 prosecutions have so far been dropped in what BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw described as "the biggest forensic science scandal in the UK for decades". Matthew Bravender is appealing against his conviction after pleading guilty to causing death by careless driving while over the legal limit for a prescribed drug. [...] Also challenging his conviction is Anderson Ward, 39, who was jailed for causing the death of his girlfriend in a crash while he was high on drugs. Since then, the estimate of affected cases has skyrocketed. The original estimate of 484 cases is now 10,000 and prosecutors have begun dropping prosecutions rather than go toe-to-toe with judges unsympathetic to their requests for extensions. It's now apparent the retests won't be completed until sometime in 2018. To make matters worse, some of the tainted tests can't be retested because the samples have been destroyed or are no longer viable. And it's no longer just about driving under the influence charges. Randox, which has since seen its contracts with UK police forces suspended, also handled rape kits and investigations of suspicious deaths. To make matters worse, another government contractor is being investigated for similar misconduct. Potential data manipulation at a different facility, Trimega Laboratories, is also being investigated by Greater Manchester Police, said the NPCC. In these incidents, child protection and family court cases could be affected. Nick Hurd, the minister for policing, fire and criminal justice, said all tests carried out by Trimega between 2010 and 2014 were currently being treated as "potentially unreliable". He also said due to "poor record-keeping practices", it may not be possible to identify all the customers affected. This is far more than problematic. It's devastating. It mirrors multiple forensic lab issues uncovered here in the United States. Obviously, law enforcement agencies don't have the manpower to handle testing in-house. So, these are turned over to third parties. This wouldn't be an issue if there were any direct oversight. But there doesn't appear to be anything like that in place. When misconduct is finally uncovered, it has taken place for years and tainted thousands of cases. If government agencies are sincere in their expressed concerns for public safety, these failures to head off problems before they affect 10,000-20,000 cases are inexplicable. It undermines legitimate convictions, putting criminals back on the street. It dead-ends investigations because lab results are no longer trustworthy. Worse, it has the potential to land innocent people in jail. Faked results and mishandled tests are used as evidence in criminal trials, "proving" guilt when none exists. This is a problem everywhere, but it seems authorities are more interested in post-debacle damage control than rigorous oversight that could prevent this from happening in the first place. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Just a quick update from Portland, Oregon, folks. After the city engaged in some truly impish behavior by trying to bully aside a local brewery that has a trademark on Portland's iconic jumping-deer sign, there have been no further negotiations on a resolution between the two sides. See, the city of Portland really wants to license the trademark for the image of the sign to national and international macrobrewers, whereas Old Town Brewing just wants to have the same trademark rights it has legally held for that image in the alcohol industries since 2012. You might have thought that a refusal of the mark by the USPTO would have ended this story. You would be wrong. Apparently, the city has filed multiple trademark applications in the hopes that something, anything, will get approved. This is according to a Portland hospitality industry group, which has taken notice of the city's actions and is firing off angry letters to its own mayor as a result. The Old Town Hospitality Group, which counts 25-plus restaurants and taverns, said in a letter to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler that the city is "wasting taxpayer money." The issue relates to a trademark held by Old Town Brewing on the "leaping deer" logo, which adorns the "Portland Oregon" sign above the Burnside Bridge. The Old Town Hospitality Group called on the city "to stop filing trademark application after trademark application for an image that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has repeatedly determined is confusing. Tell the city’s attorneys that it is wrong and an abuse of power to attempt to bury Old Town Pizza & Brewing in legal fees." It's worth repeating that Old Town Brewing is in Portland. Its patrons, and likely its owners, are constituents of the very city actively trying to pretend its trademark doesn't exist while burying the tax-paying business in legal fees for no legitimate reason. Simply wanting really badly to license a trademark it doesn't own doesn't justify the city's actions. And, now that it's not just the brewery pushing back, but an industry group of member companies along with it, it might just be a matter of time before enough of the regular public gets wind of this and City Hall has a very real problem on its hands. Or it could stop harrassing a local business, I suppose, but that seems like an awful lot to ask. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Last week, Mike and I were at a conference celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Reno v. ACLU, a seminal case that declared that the First Amendment applied online. What makes the case so worth a conference celebrating it is not just what it meant as a legal matter – it's a significant step forward in First Amendment jurisprudence – but also what it meant as a practical matter. This decision was hugely important in allowing the internet to develop into what it is today, and that evolution may not be something we adequately appreciate. It's easy to forget and pretend the internet we know today was always a ubiquitous presence, but that wasn't always so, and it wasn't so back then. Indeed, it's quite striking just how much has changed in just two decades. So this seemed like a good occasion to look back at how things were then. The attached paper is a re-publication of the honors thesis I wrote in 1996 as a senior at the University of California at Berkeley. As the title indicates, it was designed to study internet adoption among my fellow students, who had not yet all started using it. Even those who had were largely dependent on the University to provide them their access, and that access had only recently started to be offered on any significant a campus-wide basis. And not all of the people who had started using the internet found it to be something their lives necessarily needed. (For instance, when asked if they would continue to use the internet after the University no longer provided their access, a notable number of people said no.) This study tried to look at what influences or reasons the decision to use, or not use, the internet pivoted upon. I do of course have some pause, now a few decades further into my career, calling attention to work I did as a stressed-out undergraduate. However, I still decided to dig it up and publish it, because there aren't many snapshots documenting internet usage from that time. And that's a problem, because it's important to understand how the internet transitioned from being an esoteric technology used only by some into a much more pervasive one seemingly used by nearly everyone, and why that change happened, especially if we want to understand how it will continue to change, and how we might want to shape that change. All too often it seems tech policy is made with too little serious consideration of the sociology behind how people use the internet – the human decisions internet usage represents – and it really needs to be part of the conversation more. Hopefully studies like this one can help with that. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Gaming is changing the nature of storytelling. Video games of course — but also the modern rise of board games, tabletop RPGs and other forms of analog gaming. A good game does more than just arbitrarily pair play with a veneer of narrative, it marries the mechanics and the theme to enable interesting new ways of conveying and exploring complex ideas. This week, we're joined by game designer Randy Lubin to discuss how games can tell stories in a way nothing else can. Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes or Google Play, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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If you understand anything about the net neutrality fight, it should be this: repealing these popular rules is just one small part of a long-standing ISP plan to reduce meaningful oversight of one of the least-competitive industries in America. So far this year we've already watched as the Trump administration gutted broadband privacy rules, defended price-gouging prison phone monopolies, made life easier on business broadband monopolies, and began weakening the standard definition of broadband to help obfuscate a lack of competition in the sector. And they're only really getting started. The next big push, lobbied for by Comcast, AT&T and Verizon, is to gut meaningful FCC oversight of giant ISPs, then shovel any remaining authority over to the FTC. This week the FCC and FTC released a joint statement declaring that this new "coordination of online protection efforts" would be a massive boon to consumers while protecting a "free and open internet": "The Memorandum of Understanding will be a critical benefit for online consumers because it outlines the robust process by which the FCC and FTC will safeguard the public interest,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “Instead of saddling the Internet with heavy-handed regulations, we will work together to take targeted action against bad actors. This approach protected a free and open Internet for many years prior to the FCC’s 2015 Title II Order and it will once again following the adoption of the Restoring Internet Freedom Order." Again (as if pointing out facts matters with this FCC), there are numerous falsehoods being pushed here. One being that the 2015 net neutrality rules were "heavy handed," since by international standards they're pretty modest. Two being that the internet somehow magically flourished under Title I throughout history, which ignores the fact that ISPs were classified under Title II with no ill effect for years. Cable (2002) and DSL (2005) were only re-classified under Title I because ISPs promised this would result in incredible levels of competition that you may have noticed never actually materialized. But the biggest problem the FCC is ignoring is that the FTC doesn't really have much solid authority over broadband providers, and what authority that exists is at risk of being obliterated by an ongoing AT&T court battle with the FTC. So one, the FTC agency lacks rule-making capabilities, meaning it can only act after bad behavior has already occurred, and only if that behavior can be classified as "unfair or deceptive," which will give companies like Comcast ample wiggle room to pretend bad behavior was necessary for the health of the network. And the FTC is already over-extended and under-funded, so most meaningful ISP oversight will likely fall through the cracks. According to an interview earlier this year with former FCC boss Tom Wheeler, this of course was the ISP lobbyist plan from the beginning: "In the Trump administration, people are talking about stripping regulatory power from the FCC, and essentially taking the agency apart (including moving jurisdiction over internet access to the Federal Trade Commission [FTC]). “Modernizing” the FCC is the lingo being used. What’s your thought about that? It’s a fraud. The FTC doesn’t have rule-making authority. They’ve got enforcement authority and their enforcement authority is whether or not something is unfair or deceptive. And the FTC has to worry about everything from computer chips to bleach labeling. Of course, carriers want [telecom issues] to get lost in that morass. This was the strategy all along. So it doesn’t surprise me that the Trump transition team — who were with the American Enterprise Institute and basically longtime supporters of this concept — comes in and says, “Oh, we oughta do away with this.” It makes no sense to get rid of an expert agency and to throw these issues to an agency with no rule-making power that has to compete with everything else that’s going on in the economy, and can only deal with unfair or deceptive practices. Ironically, this doesn't even cover the biggest problem: that an AT&T legal battle against the FTC could obliterate what little authority the FTC does have over broadband providers. That case, revolving around AT&T's decision to throttle unlimited data customers then lie about it, could result in any company with even a modest common carrier component being able to dodge FTC authority almost entirely. Should AT&T win, the FTC is already on record clearly stating that companies could simply acquire small common carrier oriented businesses to dodge regulatory oversight: "The panel’s ruling creates an enforcement gap that would leave no federal agency able to protect millions of consumers across the country from unfair or deceptive practices or obtain redress on their behalf. Many companies provide both common-carrier and non-common-carrier services—not just telephone companies like AT&T, but also cable companies like Comcast, technology companies like Google, and energy companies like ExxonMobil (which operate common carrier oil pipelines). Companies that are not common carriers today may gain that status by offering new services or through corporate acquisitions. For example, AOL and Yahoo, which are not common carriers, are (or soon will be) owned by Verizon. The panel’s ruling calls into question the FTC’s ability to protect consumers from unlawful practices by such companies in any of their lines of business." Mentioning this massive, looming loophole appears to simply have slipped Ajit Pai and the FCC's mind as they sell the public on this turd of a policy proposal. But it gets worse. According to telecom policy expert Harold Feld, even if the FTC manages to win that case, its authority over broadband ISPs remains so shaky, most of the net neutrality violations we've long been familiar with (from ISPs letting interconnection points congest to drive up costs for Netflix, to AT&T blocking Facetime to force users on to more expensive plans) wouldn't be policeable under this new regime. In short, Feld makes it clear (again) that those stating that FTC authority and existing antitrust will protect us in the wake of net neutrality repeal don't have a solid understanding of how regulatory oversight of the broken telecom market actually works: "...if you think AT&T or any other broadband provider has the right to decide what content and services subscribers should access — then this Order eliminates what you have considered nasty FCC overreach for the last 15 years (more, really, but at least since the 2002 Cable Modem Order). Don’t bother with handwaving about how you think it won’t happen, or how consumer pushback will keep ISPs from doing bad things, etc. On the question of “does the FTC have the power to stop a broadband provider from saying ‘I’m not going to let you use a particular service or access particular content,’ the answer is a flat out straight up “no.” Because for normal everyday businesses, absent a specific enforceable regulation, offering you some limited service is not “unfair” under 15 USC 45(a). Period. Full stop. These are all notable, telling omissions by those claiming that fleeting FTC authority will be enough to police massive, predatory duopolies like AT&T and Comcast. It's simply not the case. And again, the goal here isn't just more reasonable or less heavy handed oversight of these giant companies, the goal is the elimination of nearly all meaningful oversight entirely. And while there's still numerous "free market" folks who believe gutting FCC oversight of natural monopolies like Comcast magically fixes a very broken market, that's simply not supportable by history or factual data. Anybody that believes gutting oversight of some of the least liked and least competitive companies in America magically forges Utopia is either being willfully obtuse for personal financial gain, or they're taking ideological lessons from elsewhere and misapplying them to a broken market they simply don't understand. If allowed to pass, this push to gut oversight of these apathetic duopolies is going to have a profoundly negative impact on the health of the internet, the ability to innovate, and content and service competition for a generation. Pay attention, and don't be part of the problem. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Presumably prestigious law firm 1-800-LAW-FIRM is winning some cases somewhere. But it's not having any luck with its dubious legal theories related to social media companies and "material support for terrorism." The firm hasn't racked up any wins in these cases (as far as I'm aware). The page touting its "anti-terrorism" lawsuits has a lot to say about the filings, but provides no details on the firm's lack of success. And yet, the lawsuits keep flowing. Not content to represent family members of people killed in terrorist attacks, 1-800-LAW-FIRM is also representing law enforcement officers not killed or injured by terrorists, but rather ones who happened to be on the scene of shootings targeting cops. Again, the real villain, according to this law firm (and its plaintiffs), is social media. In January, Dallas Police Sergeant Demetrick Pennie sued [PDF] Twitter, Google, and Facebook, claiming they were directly responsible for "radicalizing" Micah Johnson, who shot and killed five police officers in Dallas, Texas. According to Pennie, the social media companies actively allowed and encouraged terrorist use of their platforms to spread their message and attract participants. Pennie's exploration of the outer limits of culpability has come to an end, netting 1-800-LAW-FIRM (and Excolo Law) a loss in its "sue social media for violent acts committed by individuals" sweepstakes. In dismissing Monday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero found the plaintiffs failed to show a clear link between Hamas’ use of the companies’ social media networks and the Dallas shooting. Many similar cases have been filed, usually unsuccessfully. “Absent plausible allegations that Hamas itself was in some way a substantial factor in the attack, there is no basis to conclude that any support provided by defendants to Hamas was a substantial factor,” Spero wrote. The lawsuit was so lacking in connective arguments, Judge Spero never even had a chance to address the Section 230 immunity that likely would have seen it tossed anyway. The plaintiff posed a novel theory: that payments of ad revenue to alleged terrorists strips immunity, but the court says the plaintiff needs a lot more factual assertions on his side for the judge to even reach that question. From the decision [PDF]: Because Plaintiffs‘ failure to allege a causal connection between Hamas and the Dallas shooting is reason enough to dismiss all claims, the Court declines to resolve the question of if or how the CDA applies where an interactive service provider shares advertising revenue with a content developer that has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization. Unfortunately, a string of losses all predicated on the same lousy legal theory aren't going to head off further wastes of legal resources in the future. Suing terrorists may be almost impossible, but suing social media companies isn't the solution. The person responsible for violent acts is ultimately the person who committed them. I understand the urge to seek some form of closure or redress when loved ones and colleagues are killed by terrorist acts, but trying to find a way to make Twitter, et al pay for violent acts they aren't plausibly connected to will do little more than make the internet worse for everyone. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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