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Sketchy Bogus Crowdfunding Campaigns To 'Buy' Congress's Private Web Browsing... Only Now Realize That's Impossible

 
Sketchy Bogus Crowdfunding Campaigns To 'Buy' Congress's Private Web Browsing... Only Now Realize That's Impossible

Look, we warned everyone about this. Right after Congress stupidly stripped privacy protections so that ISPs could more actively sell your data (and make it harder for you to realize it or do anything about it), there were a few crowdfunding campaigns that popped up on GoFundMe, claiming that they were raising money to then buy the web browsing data of Congress. We pointed out at the time that this was dumb and dangerous because you can't just go buy someone's web surfing data. That's not how any of this works. But, you know, it was one of those stories that people just really, really wanted to believe, so apparently unaware of it being flat out impossible (more people should read Techdirt...), tons and tons of people donated tons and tons of money, without realizing there was absolutely no way these campaigns could do what they they claimed. The more well-known campaign, by a self-declared "privacy activist" named Adam McElhaney, ended up raising over $200k (despite others claiming that it looked like a pure scam). The slightly lesser well-known one, by actor Misha Collins, took in just under $90k. Between them, they raised about $300k... with promises of obtaining data that anyone with any knowledge of the situation would know they couldn't obtain.

So, uh, take a wild guess what has happened? If you guess they didn't get any data with that money, well give yourself a prize, because that's exactly 100% what happened.

And... some of the folks snookered into handing over the cash for something that was pretty clearly bogus are... not happy. Many have been requesting refunds. McElhaney is now claiming that he was never planning to buy the data from ISPs, but rather get it by FOIA, though he's now admitting in a GoFundMe update that it's not working either:

When I started, I said I wanted to get the internet histories of those who voted for this law.

That has not changed.

What I didn't mention was *WHERE* I planned on getting the data. If I told you that I was going to come after your web habits, your search history, you might - as I imagine many of you did - change what you look up on your home computers. This is what I wanted our legislators to think - their home internet connections where being targeted. When in fact I was coming for their office server data. That data is subject to Freedom of Information Act requests and very obtainable.

Even if they didn't change their habits the data stored in their work proxy servers would still be a trove of information. Maybe even more telling than home.

The reason I am telling this to you now is, I think the cat is out-of-the-bag. After the first forty paper requests went out, a few days later I was contacted by a friend who happens to work in the offices of a senators. She said that word is getting around that "the GoFundMe guy that has raised all that money for privacy is trying to get our work internet history."

Now after about 80 paper requests have gone out, I have received responses back from three. They simply stated they do not have the data I requested. Oddly enough they were all requests for the same person, Marsha Blackburn. But, it makes sense. I am in Tennessee and three of her offices are in Tennessee so the mail would have gotten to her offices faster. After that I have received no other responses.

He then notes that anyone who wants a refund should request it and GoFundMe would return the money -- but for those who didn't request a return, he'd hand the money over to EFF. Hopefully that is true -- EFF obviously does great work. But, still, this whole episode is an unfortunate one. There remain very real issues around the privacy rules being killed and the way in which ISPs handle our private info. But going nuts and exaggerating the situation helped no one (well, perhaps EFF will benefit in the end... but still not the best way to handle this). Keeping things in perspective and accurate is important. Flying off the handle and assuming you can just go buy everyone's internet browsing history without actually understanding the legal change that was happening was dumb -- and it was dumb that many in the press helped make the story go viral without any explanation that it was bullshit. If you want to donate to organizations for doing good work, donate to them directly -- not through some sketchy scheme like these.

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Surprise: NSA Stops Collecting Americans' Emails 'About' Foreign Targets

 
Surprise: NSA Stops Collecting Americans' Emails 'About' Foreign Targets

There aren't many details yet, but Charlie Savage at the NY Times has a major scoop: apparently, the NSA has halted "about" email collections. This is important. As we've discussed in the past, under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, the NSA can collect info on approved "foreign targets." But here's where it got sketchy: they could collect the communications "to" them or "from" them -- which most people would expect -- but also they could collect any communications "about" them. In other words, did you joke about Osama bin Laden in an email? It's possible that under Section 702, the NSA could collect that email without a warrant. That was massively concerning because the "about" emails from Americans could contain lots of other info, and once sucked up into the NSA's system and made available to the FBI for "backdoor" incidental collection searches, could expose people to lots and lots of trouble. There have been pushes over the past few years to limit the collection to no longer include "about" communications, but those had been (as far as we knew!) unsuccessful.

And, for an unclear reason, the NSA has stopped doing that. Trevor Timm speculates that perhaps the FISA court ruled that collection illegal, which is possible (also we just noted that there were no new 702 approvals by the FISA Court last year), so perhaps the FISC is finally taking its job a bit more seriously. We've also pointed out that there have been legal fights over the fact that the DOJ lied to the Supreme Court about the nature of these "about" collections, which may have created more pressure to stop them from happening.

I'm sure that we'll find out more about what happened in the near future, but this will certainly play a large role in the upcoming debate about renewing Section 702.

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Daily Deal: Project Management Professional Training

 
Daily Deal: Project Management Professional Training

Learn how to create, effectively manage and deliver desired results by learning Project Managment skills. For $49.99, the Project Management Professional Training will help you learn the skills needed. It features over 35 hours of training approved by the Project Management Institute. At the end, you will have knocked out the 35 contact hours requirement and be ready to sit for the PMP and CAPM exams (not included in the deal) in order to gain your certification and set yourself apart in the job market.

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Want To Promote Breastfeeding? That's A Trade Barrier, Says US Trade Rep

 
Want To Promote Breastfeeding? That's A Trade Barrier, Says US Trade Rep

As most people know, babies who are breastfed from birth enjoy a wide range of benefits. Here's what the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef), a global organization with nearly $5 billion of funding, has to say on the topic of breastfeeding:
It has profound impact on a child's survival, health, nutrition and development. Breast milk provides all of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals an infant needs for growth for the first six months, and no other liquids or food are needed. In addition, breast milk carries antibodies from the mother that help combat disease.



Breastfeeding also lowers the risk of chronic conditions later in life, such as obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, childhood asthma and childhood leukaemias. Studies have shown that breastfed infants do better on intelligence and behaviour tests into adulthood than formula-fed babies.

Formula milk, by contrast, can actively harm babies:
Formula is not an acceptable substitute for breastmilk because formula, at its best, only replaces most of the nutritional components of breast milk: it is just a food, whereas breast milk is a complex living nutritional fluid containing anti-bodies, enzymes, long chain fatty acids and hormones, many of which simply cannot be included in formula. Furthermore, in the first few months, it is hard for the baby's gut to absorb anything other than breastmilk. Even one feeding of formula or other foods can cause injuries to the gut, taking weeks for the baby to recover.

The case for breastfeeding, and against formula milk, seems pretty clear. But a new publication from the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the "2017 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers" (pdf), begs to differ. As a post on the Public Citizen site explains, the USTR calls out several countries for promoting breastfeeding over formula as a "technical barrier to trade" that might harm the profits of US industries. These are some of the polices that the USTR wants eliminated:
Hong Kong: The Report criticizes a Hong Kong draft code, designed to "protect breastfeeding and contribute to the provision of safe and adequate nutrition for infants and young children." USTR labels the policy as a technical barrier to trade due to its potential to reduce sales of "food products for infants and young children."

Indonesia: USTR labels a draft regulation in Indonesia that would prohibit the "advertising or promotion of milk products for children up to two years of age" as a technical barrier to trade.

Malaysia: USTR questions Malaysia's proposed revisions to "its existing Code of Ethics for the Marketing of Infant Foods and Related Products" that would restrict corporate marketing practices aimed at toddlers and young children.

Thailand: The report critiques Thailand for introducing a new regulation that would impose penalties on corporations that violate domestic laws restricting the "promotional, and marketing activities for modified milk for infants, follow-up formula for infants and young children, and supplemental foods for infants."

Although "technical barriers to trade" sound like a minor issue, they lie at the heart of modern trade deals. Traditional tariffs are now relatively low in many parts of the world, which means that the hard part of trade negotiations is often these "non-tariff barriers" (NTBs). Indeed, it was in large part a failure to agree on the removal of NTBs that caused the TAFTA/TTIP talks to grind to a halt, and then end up in limbo when the Trump administration took them over.

The USTR's attack on policies that promote breastfeeding over formula milk may seem extreme. But they are typical of the way the USTR views the world primarily through the optic of boosting the profits of US companies, with no thought to the harms this may inflict on people in other nations as a result. No wonder that trade deals are viewed so negatively in many parts of the world.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

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ESPN Axes Long-Standing Reporters, But Not The Execs That Failed To See Cord Cutting Coming

 
ESPN Axes Long-Standing Reporters, But Not The Execs That Failed To See Cord Cutting Coming

For years ESPN has been the perfect personification of the cable and broadcast industry's almost-comic denial regarding cord cutting and market evolution. Long propped up by a system that forces consumers to buy massive bundles of largely-unwatched channels, ESPN has struggled with the rise of streaming alternatives and sleeker, "skinny" channel bundles. The sports network, which has lost 10 million viewers in just the last few years, has been trying to argue that these losses (which caused Disney stock to lose $22 billion in value in just two days at one point) are simply part of some kind of overblown, mass hallucination.

Surveys have shown that 56% of consumers would drop ESPN in a heartbeat if it meant a reduction in the $8 per subscriber the channel is believed to cost. But last year, ESPN exec John Skipper suggested that these departing customers weren't worth keeping anyway:

"People trading down to lighter cable packages. That impact hasn't leaked into ad revenue, nor has it leaked into ratings. The people who’ve traded down have tended to not be sports fans, and have tended to be older and less affluent. We still see people coming into pay TV. It remains the widest spread household service in the country after heat and electricity."

All is well! Nothing to see here! This narrative that cord cutters are somehow uneducated, too old, or otherwise not worth keeping (which isn't true) sits at the heart of cable and broadcast executive denial. And while execs like Skipper consistently insisted that everything was under control, former ESPN talent like Bill Simmons have noted that the cord cutting revolution came out of left field and surprised the hell out of the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports, which had spent years spending millions on SportsCenter set updates and licensing deals with nary a care in the world.

Instead of identifying market evolution and quickly adapting, ESPN did, instead, what any other legacy company would do. One, it began suing companies that tried to offer more innovative, disruptive cable TV packages that didn't include ESPN by default. Two, it began yelling at companies like Nielsen simply for showing company executives the truth: ESPN was losing subscribers at an alarming rate. In short, executives doubled down on bad behavior and denial, something fans had noticed for several years:

Pretty amazing sign on ESPN's College Gameday. pic.twitter.com/o2NfeMalSf

— Jason Abbruzzese (@JasonAbbruzzese) December 5, 2015


This week, some ESPN employees began paying the price. Including long-standing workhorse beat reporters like Ed Werder, who was among 100 on-air personalities and writers given pink slips this week.

After 17 years reporting on #NFL, I've been informed that I'm being laid off by ESPN effective immediately. I have no plans to retire

— Ed Werder (@EdwerderFA) April 26, 2017

Poured my heart and soul into ESPN for last 8 years. Moved my wife and 3 kids to CT to go "all in" 5 years ago. Bummed it ended in 3 minutes

— Danny Kanell (@dannykanell) April 26, 2017

Laid off by ESPN today.Although sad cause I loved my job, mostly filled w/gratitude & appreciation for the 9 years #GreatFriendsAndTeammates

— Trent Dilfer (@DilfersDime) April 26, 2017


In a memo posted to the ESPN website, Skipper proclaimed the staff reductions were necessary to "manage change" (something Skipper has shown himself incapable of doing while somehow remaining employed):

"A necessary component of managing change involves constantly evaluating how we best utilize all of our resources, and that sometimes involves difficult decisions...Dynamic change demands an increased focus on versatility and value, and as a result, we have been engaged in the challenging process of determining the talent—anchors, analysts, reporters, writers and those who handle play-by-play—necessary to meet those demands. We will implement changes in our talent lineup this week. A limited number of other positions will also be affected and a handful of new jobs will be posted to fill various needs."

That's great and all, but purging your on-air talent won't magically make executives like Skipper less myopic and more flexible. After losing an estimated 10,000 viewers per day, ESPN recently stated it will finally offer a standalone streaming service. But that won't solve ESPN's woes either. I'm told many of Disney/ESPN's contracts with cable providers contain provisions that prohibit cable providers from offering channel bundles without ESPN -- unless ESPN offers a standalone streaming service. In other words, even if ESPN adapts, it opens the door to new skinny, sport-free bundles without ESPN -- accelerating subscriber declines.

None of this is pretty, and were I a betting man I'd wonder if Disney/ESPN doesn't get swallowed up completely by a company like Verizon sometime in the next year. At that point you'd have to wonder if ESPN execs, like John Skipper (you know, the ones actually responsible for the channel's monumental implosion) might actually face something vaguely-resembling accountability.

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Barrett Brown Re-Arrested For Giving Media Interviews Without Permission

 
Barrett Brown Re-Arrested For Giving Media Interviews Without Permission

The weird, sickening persecution of Barrett Brown continues. Whether or not you like the guy (and every time we post about him, we hear from people who provide reasons why they dislike him), the way he's been treated by our justice system is despicable. If you don't recall, Brown is an award winning journalist, who certainly went deep with Anonymous and other online groups. Eventually that resulted in him being arrested and harassed by prosecutors for sharing a link. When the infamous Stratfor hacks were released, he shared a link to the files to get people to sift through them. Because some of the files included swiped credit card numbers, he was charged with "trafficking" in stolen credit cards. Oddly, right before trial -- realizing how insane it was to charge him over this -- the feds dropped the charges around linking, but pushed forward on other charges because he hid a laptop in a cabinet and (stupidly...) got angry at the FBI when they came to investigate. The odd part is that following a plea deal, the judge sentenced him to an astounding 63 months in jail -- and cited the sharing of the link (again, those charges were dropped, but it sometimes appeared the judge didn't realize that) to explain why.

But the odder part throughout all of this was just how vindictive and petty everyone in the system were towards Brown -- and specifically towards his interactions with the press. The feds sought to stop the media from reporting on Brown's case and got a judge to block Brown or his lawyers from talking to the media. And once he was in prison, the feds cut off his email.

All this weird petty shit, just to stop him from talking to the media.

Late last year, he was released from prison (earlier than expected) and has been complying with all the terms of his release... except, apparently, officials disagreed with that... because he was conducting interview with the media, according to D Magazine, where Brown has been working since his release. The Intercept, which employed Brown as a columnist while he was in prison, has more details, claiming that his check-in officer suddenly claimed that he needed permission before he could conduct media interviews -- something he had not been told at all.

According to his mother, who spoke with Brown by phone after his arrest, Brown believes the reason for his re-arrest was a failure to obtain “permission” to give interviews to media organizations. Several weeks ago, Brown was told by his check-in officer that he needed to fill out permission forms before giving interviews.

Since his release, Brown has given numerous interviews, on camera and by phone. But according to his mother, Brown said that the Bureau of Prisons never informed him about a paperwork requirement. When he followed up with his check-in officer, he was given a different form: a liability form for media entering prisons.

Just last week, Brown was interviewed for two days by VICE, and his PBS interview was set for Friday.

Leiderman said he had not been presented with a formal justification for the arrest but was told that it had “to do with failing to abide by BOP restrictions on interviews.”

That's both astounding and frightening at the same time, and seems like a fairly blatant kick in the face to the First Amendment. There appears to be no other reason for his arrest other than his speech in the form of conducting media interviews (often critical of criminal justice system). Nothing about this makes sense, other than out of pure vindictiveness. And, of course, if the idea was to shut him up about this, it seems quite likely to backfire massively. Not only will Brown continue to be able to talk about on this, but it's drawing much more attention to the issue from many others in the press, wondering what kind of world we live in when you can be arrested for agreeing to do media interviews.

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Indian State Of Kashmir Bans 22 Social Networks For A Month

 
Indian State Of Kashmir Bans 22 Social Networks For A Month

We've seen random attempts by governments to block access to social media sites or even the internet as a whole, but the Indian state of Kashmir has ordered 22 social networks to be blocked for at least a month. Journalist Nazir Masoodi, who is in Kashmir, tweeted out screen shots of the government order, noting "This could be my last tweet."

This could be my last tweet.Govt bans twitter, whataapp, Facebook and all other social networking sites in Kashmir pic.twitter.com/IF6YJiHAf8

— Nazir Masoodi (@nazir_masoodi) April 26, 2017


We've taken those images and turned them into a PDF if you'd prefer to view them that way. But you can see that basically every big name social network is listed: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Skype, Snapchat, Reddit, YouTube (apparently they just want YouTube uploads blocked, but you can visit the site) and more. MySpace is still available.

As the NY Times points out, this pointless and heavy handed approach is apparently a terrible response to protests:

The move illuminated a government increasingly vexed by civilian protests, by a newly budding homegrown militancy in south Kashmir and by a series of video clips, distributed on social media, depicting confrontations between civilians and Indian security forces.

The order, signed by the principal secretary in the state’s Home Department, contended that social media was being used by “anti-national and subversive elements” for “vitiating peace and tranquillity” in the state.

As always, when governments resort to out-and-out censorship, it's difficult to see how this will do any good at all. There are always alternative ways to communicate and share information, and these kinds of actions tend to galvanize those being censored into being even more aggressive in sharing such info. Indeed, the NY Times quotes protesting students pointing out how pointless such a ban really is:

“The government has to understand that there is a sentiment which forces students to come out on the streets: it is not the internet, it is not Facebook or any other social media platform,” said Aqib Shah, a 19-year-old student at Amar Singh College, who has been participating in protests in Srinagar for the last several days. “It is because of the overwhelming presence of forces that are deployed here.”

Instead of trying to shut people up on the internet, maybe it would be a better idea to listen to them.

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Over 800 Startups Tell FCC's Ajit Pai Not To Kill Net Neutrality

 
Over 800 Startups Tell FCC's Ajit Pai Not To Kill Net Neutrality

As we noted yesterday, FCC Chair Ajit Pai has officially kicked off his plan to kill net neutrality -- and unfortunately did so by spouting debunked myths and fantasies about how much damage net neutrality was causing for investment. As we pointed out that, that's complete hogwash. If you actually looked at what telcos and ISPs were spending it showed no impact from the open internet rules. And, really, why should it have changed investment plans? As we've noted, the rules had basically no impact on ISPs unless those ISPs were looking to screw over consumers. And if it harmed those ISPs' investment plans, that doesn't seem like a very big loss. Otherwise, the open internet rules just provided clear "rules of the road" for ISPs to treat internet data fairly and to not screw over end users.

Either way, that's not the only "investment" that Pai should be looking at. Because one of the other key aspects of having an open internet is the massive amount of investment that has resulted for companies that operate on the internet. Pai seems (bizarrely) exclusively focused on investment in the infrastructure (which, again, has not dropped despite his claims) and totally ignores all the investment layers above (which also helps funds the infrastructure). So, just as Pai is (wrongly) whining that net neutrality harmed investment, over 800 startups, from all 50 states, sent him a letter urging him not to get rid of the open internet rules (and, yes, we were among those who signed onto the letter).

This is important. Pai is making all sorts of misleading to nonsensical claims about the impact on the economy of the net neutrality rules, but in doing so he's trying to ignore all of the business that's created because the internet is kept open and free and the giant incumbent access providers are unable to favor their own services or throttle and stifle innovative upstarts. Pai talks a good game about how he wants the "democratization of entrepreneurship" thanks to a fast internet. That's great. But if he kills off net neutrality we lose that. We get a system where each startup has to go begging and pleading to each access provider for a deal they probably can't get or couldn't afford even if they were able to. We've seen that world. It's the world that existed on mobile phones in the early 2000s when the providers got to control (i.e., charge ridiculous sums for) who had access to their customers. That was not a good world to live in and it vastly limited the economic opportunities of the mobile world. It was only when smartphones broke away from the carriers' control that things changed.

We shouldn't move back towards that kind of world, yet that appears to be the clear end result of the plans that Pai is pushing. This is a mistake and over 800 startups are letting him know that. Pai may think he can ignore them all, but he should note that each of those companies has a lot of users, and it's not difficult to ask them to speak up too. Pai is playing with fire if he thinks that the public won't speak out about his attempts to kill off net neutrality and to harm the most innovative companies out there, in favor for the slow, lumbering duopolists who control the pipes.

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Techdirt Podcast Episode 119: Does Pharma Really Need Patents?

 
Techdirt Podcast Episode 119: Does Pharma Really Need Patents?

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It doesn't take many stories of people suffering due to unaffordable medicine to make you question the state of pharmaceutical patents, but the arguments in their defense are loud and frequent. Most are variations on the same theme: without the promise of a monopoly, important drugs would never be researched and developed. But does this argument truly hold up? It's come up as a tangent in previous episodes of the podcast, but this week we're dedicating a full episode to questioning the popular defenses of pharma patents and looking for a better way forward.

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.

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Response To Facebook Video Of Murder Is The Call For An Actual 'Godwin's Law'

 
Response To Facebook Video Of Murder Is The Call For An Actual 'Godwin's Law'

Anyone familiar with internet culture will be familiar with Godwin's law. It goes roughly something like this: the longer a discussion goes on on the internet, the higher the probability that a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis will be made. This axiom enjoys lofty status on the internet -- so often have we seen its claim played out in threads and discussions.

Godwin's Law is, of course, not a real law. But there may soon be a real Godwin's Law on the books, stemming from the murder of Robert Godwin Sr. and the subsequent video upload to Facebook of the murder.
Erie Feinberg, heads a company called GIPEC, specializing in deep Internet searches looking for criminals or terrorists. He is now calling for new federal regulations so what happened in Godwin’s case doesn’t happen again.

“I think it starts in Cleveland, in Ohio right now, where everybody calls their congressman and their senator," Feinberg told the FOX 8 I-Team. He wants new limits on websites posting horrific crimes. "They created this world, and it's not an excuse to say, ‘You can't expect us to police every bit of content post and video.’ Well, you created this. You should secure it."

Feinberg isn't the first person to stamp his or her feet in the wake of Robert Godwin's murder with calls for social media sites to do something, anything, to keep this type of content from ever being shared on the computer screens of the masses. What's frustrating about these types of screeds is how clear it is, at times even to the person screeding, that there is little if anything that can be done by companies like Facebook beyond what they do already to stop any of this. The problem is how tantalizing it is to those grieving, as well as to those of us viewing what happened to Godwin from afar, to try to place blame on a site like Facebook for ever having shown us this type of terrible content. You can hear it in Feinberg's words: "You created this. You should secure it." (And let's not even bother digging into the more cynical take that this kind of "do something!" regulation might benefit Feinberg's own company... )

Facebook already works quite hard to take down violent videos of this kind from its pages. However, there is little it can do to prevent the content from being uploaded initially. The site relies on users to report when images and videos ought to be taken down. The takedowns can only happen after the upload. The fundamental question is: do we want a world where user videos can be uploaded to Facebook? If we do, we need to understand the collateral content that may come with that. No Godwin's Law that would pass constitutional muster is going to solve the problem. And no amount of fist-shaking at this tragedy is going to make Facebook magically able to solve it either.

The calls for something to be done are calls based on emotion. Understandable emotion. You can, again, hear it in Feinberg's words as he pushes for a real-life Godwin's Law.
"There's gotta be some good or some positives out of this heinous act," Feinberg said.

No, there doesn't. This isn't a movie. Bad things happen and there isn't always something that can, or should, be done about it. Certainly, laying blame at the feet of Facebook because a single user uploaded a murder video is wholly inappropriate.

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NSA Makes Pitch For Section 702 Approval While Its 702 Requests Aren't Being Approved By The Court

 
NSA Makes Pitch For Section 702 Approval While Its 702 Requests Aren't Being Approved By The Court

Section 702 -- the statute that allows the NSA to collect internet communications and data in bulk -- is up for renewal at the end of this year. The NSA, thanks to Ed Snowden, faced more of an uphill battle than usual when renewing Section 215 (bulk metadata collections). For the first time in its existence, the NSA ended up with a compromise (the USA Freedom Act), rather than a straight renewal.

The Intelligence Community appears to be trying to get out ahead of straight renewal opponents. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has released a Section 702 Q&A at millennial watering hole Tumblr. By returning its own soft serve questions with canned talking points, the ODNI is hoping to show just how lawful its upstream collection is.

It also hopes to obscure something that's been around since the 2008 FISA Amendments Act: backdoor searches. Other government agencies have had the ability to peruse the NSA's collections, which were ostensibly gathered solely for national security use. The FBI is the most frequent backdoor searcher, seeing as it has rebranded as a counterterrorism unit over the past several years, which has allowed it to expand its surveillance capabilities and increase exploitation of the NSA's data stores.

The ODNI's Q&A document sort of admits this, but tries to downplay the implications of allowing a domestic law enforcement agency free access to national security-focused surveillance intake.
The government’s minimization procedures restrict the ability of analysts to query the databases that hold “raw” Section 702 information (i.e., where information identifying a U.S. person has not yet been minimized for permanent retention) using an identifier, such as a name or telephone number, that is associated with a U.S. person. Generally, queries of raw content are only permitted if they are reasonably designed to identify foreign intelligence information, although the FBI also may conduct such queries to identify evidence of a crime. As part of Section 702’s extensive oversight, DOJ and ODNI review the agencies’ U.S. person queries of content to ensure the query satisfies the legal standard. Any compliance incidents are reported to Congress and the FISC.

It still sort of sounds like a backdoor search, even with supposed strict oversight, but the ODNI adds a footnote claiming it isn't:
Queries of Section 702 data using U.S. person identifiers are sometimes mischaracterized in the public discourse as “backdoor searches.”

Oh, that crazy "public discourse." Won't it get anything right? Here's Emptywheel's Marcy Wheeler to explain what the ODNI won't.
While it’s true that NSA and CIA minimization procedures impose limits on when an analyst can query raw data for content (but not for metadata at CIA), that’s simply not true at FBI, where the primary rule is that if someone is not cleared for FISA themselves, they ask a buddy to access the information. As a result — and because FBI queries FISA data for any national security assessment and “with some frequency” in the course of criminal investigations. In other words, partly because FBI is a domestic agency and partly because it has broader querying authorities, it conduct a “substantial” number of queries as opposed to the thousands done by CIA.

Wheeler goes on to point to the Privacy and Civil Liberty Oversight Board's (RIP) report on Section 702 as evidence of this common FBI practice. While the PCLOB mostly punted on Section 702, finding it to be less blatantly-unconstitutional than the Section 215 program, it still found the FBI perused raw NSA collections quite frequently, both for foreign intelligence information and evidence of criminal activity. The PCLOB was unable to assess how frequently these "none dare call it a backdoor" searches occurred because the FBI has no way of tracking how often it dips into the NSA's collections. With no data and no reporting, it's pretty disingenuous to claim there's effective oversight over the Section 702 program.

Marcy Wheeler also noticed something unusual in the brand new FISC Section 702 report -- newly-required by the USA Freedom Act. According to the numbers released by the FISA Court, zero 702 applications were approved in 2016.

Wheeler points out the process for Section 702 approval runs much like that of Section 215, with applications either being approved by the FISA court or sent back for fixes. Once approved, extensions can be requested, but only for up to 60 days at a time. As she notes, the last 702 submission wouldn't have been able to coast through 2016 without a renewal.

The prior approval before last year was November 6, 2015, so it would only have had to have been extended 2 months to get into this year. So that seems to suggest there was at least a three month (application time plus extension) delay in approving the certifications for this year.

Note, too, that the report shows the only amicus appointed last year was Marc Zwillinger for a known PRTT application, so this hold up wasn’t even related to an amicus complaint.

In any case, this may reflect significant issues with 702.

The Snowden documents -- along with some from other unidentified leakers -- generated far more scrutiny of Section 702 than the NSA has ever experienced. It's not tough to imagine at least a couple of FISA judges being surprised with the scope of what they were approving. The number of submissions is redacted, but the footnote attached makes it clear the government submitted more than one application. This span with zero approvals dates back to the middle of last year, so it's been a bit of a dry run for the NSA.

The NSA has run into issues before with Section 702, the last time being in 2011, when the FISA court found the "upstream collection" of internet data to be "deficient on constitutional and statutory grounds." The NSA obtained extensions and apparently modified the order until it reached the FISA court's standards. This long delay between approvals could suggest the NSA is back in constitutionally-deficient waters, which definitely isn't where it wants to be as the program heads for renewal.

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Daily Deal: Degoo Premium 2TB Backup Plan

 
Daily Deal: Degoo Premium 2TB Backup Plan

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Australia's Copyright Agency Keeps $11 Million Meant For Authors, Uses It To Fight Introduction Of Fair Use

 
Australia's Copyright Agency Keeps $11 Million Meant For Authors, Uses It To Fight Introduction Of Fair Use

Even though stories of copyright collecting societies failing to distribute the monies that they collect to artists abound -- we wrote about one just a few weeks ago -- this doesn't seem to discourage others from continuing to bend the rules somewhat. Here, for example, is a story from Australia, where there is a major battle to switch to a US-style fair use approach to copyright. Naturally, the affected industries there hate the idea of allowing the public a little more leeway in the use of copyright materials. So Australia's copyright collection agency decided to build up a war-chest to lobby against such changes. The Sydney Morning Herald explains where the money for that fighting fund is coming from:

Australia's government-mandated copyright collection agency has been diverting payments intended for journalists and authors to a [$11 million] "future fund" to fight changes to the law.

Specifically, the monies come from payments made by educational establishments in order to use orphan works. That's a major change of the agency's policy that was not disclosed to the Australian government's Productivity Commission that oversees this area:

[The Copyright Agency] has been criticised in a Productivity Commission review that is before the government over the transparency of its accounts and its practice of retaining, rather than returning, millions of dollars collected from schools and universities on behalf of the owners of "orphan works" who can't be traced.

An examination of accounts shows that in a change not disclosed to the commission or to its members in annual reports, since 2013 it has been channelling that income into a fund set up to campaign against changes to the copyright law.

Between 2013 and 2016 the fund amassed [$11 million].

In other words, schools and universities have effectively been paying to lobby against changes to Australian copyright laws that would be very much in the interest of themselves, the public, and writers, who could use copyright materials more freely under a fair use system. According to the Sydney Morning Herald article, the top three executives at Australia's Copyright Agency are all paid around $200,000 a year to come up with these kinds of ideas. It would be interesting to know whether Australian authors consider that $600,000 well spent.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

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AT&T Unveils A Fake 5G Network In The Hopes You'll Ignore T-Mobile Is Kicking Its Ass

 
AT&T Unveils A Fake 5G Network In The Hopes You'll Ignore T-Mobile Is Kicking Its Ass

To be clear: fifth generation (5G) wireless should be really impressive when it actually arrives, providing significantly faster mobile broadband speeds at lower latencies. The catch: the 5G standard hasn't even been created yet, and any real deployment of the ultra-fast technology isn't expected to even seriously begin until 2020. That hasn't stopped wireless carrier and hardware vendor marketing departments, which have been hyping the technology as the second coming for several years now. Sure, these salesmen don't know what 5G really even is yet, but they're pretty sure it's going to fix everything.

As these carriers rush to begin tests on the hardware and software advancements that may someday make up the 5G standard, the real yeoman's work is now being done in marketing. All of the big carriers are tripping over themselves, trying desperately to convince the public that they're going to be the first to offer the amazing new benefits 5G can provide. Verizon has traditionally been at the forefront of this hype, telling anyone who'll listen it hopes to offer gigabit speeds over wireless sometime this year (to a limited number of trial participants).

Not to be outdone, AT&T has upped the ante this week with a proclamation that the company is first to market with "5G Evolution." What is 5G evolution? It's a largely meaningless marketing term concocted by AT&T to describe 4x4 MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) antennas and 256 QAM technologies that can be used to make existing LTE networks faster. It really has nothing whatsoever to do with "5G," but you wouldn't know that from reading AT&T's marketing missives this week:
"AT&T* today announced 5G Evolution plans to pave the way to the next generation of faster speeds for its wireless customers with the latest devices in over 20 major metro areas by the end of this year. We continue to lay the foundation for our evolution to 5G while the 5G standards are being finalized."

"Our 5G Evolution in Austin gives our customers a taste of the future," said David Christopher, chief marketing officer, AT&T Entertainment Group. "With 5G Evolution from AT&T you don’t have to wait to experience endless entertainment possibilities on the next generation network when you have the latest devices."

Except you will wait. For some time. A closer look reveals that the trials are only currently available in a limited part of Austin, and only accessible from those that have one of two mobile devices: the Samsung Galaxy S8 or S8+. And while 4x4 MIMO and 256 QAM advancements are a useful improvement for existing networks, they're not really new, either. T-Mobile has been implementing the upgrades on its own network since last fall.

The features AT&T is calling "5G Evolution" have been live on T-Mobile since 2016. It's not even like this stuff is that new.

— David Ruddock (@RDR0b11) April 25, 2017


And again, this has absolutely nothing to do with "5G." So why are carriers like AT&T and Verizon pushing so hard to hype a technology that doesn't technically exist? For years both carriers justified their higher prices by claiming their networks offered users superior connectivity. But as T-Mobile has ramped up competition, gobbled up their frustrated customers and closed the network coverage and performance gap -- these companies have been forced to find some other way to justify what are fairly consistently some of the highest LTE broadband prices among all developed nations. Their solution for this justification gap? Good, old-fashioned hype.

With "4G" networks, we watched as carrier marketing departments slowly but surely convinced the ITU to let them call pretty much everything short of carrier pigeons 4G. Not to be outdone, you can expect the marketing bastardization of the term "5G" to be dramatically more misleading and annoying.

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European Court Asked To Overturn Ruling Saying Linking To Defamatory Content Is Defamatory

 
European Court Asked To Overturn Ruling Saying Linking To Defamatory Content Is Defamatory

It seems like common sense. The person legally responsible for defamatory statements is the person making the defamatory statements. But since pursuing that person often seems too difficult, legislators, courts, and disingenuous plaintiffs have engaged in mental/litigious gymnastics in hopes of finding third parties responsible for the statements of others.

We've seen a long list of lawsuits filed against service providers in response to defamatory content hosted on their platforms. We've seen courts -- mostly outside of the US -- convert third-party platforms into "publishers" for the sake of delisting/content removal court orders. We've seen numerous attempts to avoid Section 230 defenses by recrafting defamation lawsuits as trademark infringement litigation.

We've even seen some bad lawmaking, attempting to strip away protections for service providers to make it easier to hold them responsible for the actions of others.

The European Court of Human Rights is in the middle of another attempt to hold third parties responsible for the allegedly-defamatory statements of others.
The applicant in the case before the Court, Aleksey Navalnyy, is a prominent Russian political activist and opposition leader who sought to highlight the corruption that Mr Magnitsky had exposed. With this in mind, he posted a link on his LiveJournal blog to a YouTube video reporting on the 5.4 billion RUB tax refund. A Russian court held that the video was defamatory of an individual referred to in the report. The court found Navalnyy liable for statements that were made in the video as if they were his own, and ordered him to pay 100,000 RUB (approximately 1,400 GBP) in damages to the individual.

European courts and politicians have made efforts before to find those posting links to certain content just as liable as those who uploaded it. Previous attempts have mostly been related to copyright infringement, but this case isn't an anomaly in terms of holding one person responsible for someone else's statements.

The briefing [PDF], composed by a number of internet free speech activists, including the EFF, Access Now, and the Media Law Resource Centre, points to a number of precedential decisions from all over the world that make it clear the original defamer is the only one who should be found culpable for defamatory statements. To do otherwise is to threaten the basic operating principles of the internet, and the public discourse it facilitates.
Given the ubiquitous operation of hyperlinking on the Internet, it is an impermissible interference with Article 10 for the use of hyperlinks to be capable of giving rise to liability in defamation;

Given the dynamic nature of the content on the Internet to which hyperlinks may provide access (but over which the poster of the hyperlink is unlikely to have control), attaching liability in defamation to the provision of hyperlinks risks a particularly pronounced chilling effect on freedom of expression in violation of Article 10

It also points out the court shouldn't hold bloggers to a higher standard than journalists by robbing them of the protections afforded to traditional press agencies.
Defences that are available in law to the traditional media should also be made available to bloggers and online news sites – the formal designation of persons should be immaterial for the purposes of Article 10 rights in this context.

If the ruling is upheld, linking to other sources will dry up, both in traditional media and blogging. To link to statements of others would be to assume culpability for those persons' statements. Information would cease to flow as journalists and bloggers erect protective silos of info, generated from single sources. This end result would make those journalists and bloggers appear less trustworthy, as they would be unlikely to link to supporting statements and evidence if there's even a small possibility those sources might become a subject of litigation in the future.

Then there's the very real issue of content control: those linking to others can't prevent alteration of the content they're linking to, which may change drastically in tone and substance without the linker ever being made aware of the alterations. Just ask anyone who's hotlinked an image, only to find it replaced with something embarrassing/hideous/both in response to the inconsiderate usage of someone else's bandwidth.

Linking to other sources allows readers to gather more information and come to their own conclusions. Eliminating this makes information dissemination worse and further solidifies existing echo chambers. It's a bad thing for the internet and would result in less informed users.

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House Votes Overwhelmingly To Make The Copyright Office More Political & To Delay Modernization

 
House Votes Overwhelmingly To Make The Copyright Office More Political & To Delay Modernization

This isn't a huge surprise, but unfortunately, today -- after a mostly ridiculous "debate" on the House floor full of claptrap and bullshit about how important copyright is to "protecting jobs" (despite this bill having nothing to do with any of that) -- the House voted 378 to 48 to approve a bill that makes the head of the Copyright Office, the Copyright Register, a Presidential appointment rather than an appointment by the Library of Congress, as it's been throughout the entire history of the Copyright Office. As we pointed out just yesterday, Congress appears to be rushing this through for no clear reason. It held no hearings on the issue (other than the fact that the current Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, was getting ready to appoint her own Copyright Register).

Again, every reason given by supporters of this bill doesn't hold up to any scrutiny. They claimed, falsely, that copyright creates 5 million jobs (one Rep -- Tony Cardenas -- even claimed that the Copyright Register "oversees" those jobs). But this is not true. They claimed that the Copyright Office needs to be modernized -- which is true. But Carla Hayden has already commenced a massive modernization project, which this bill will stop dead in its tracks. They claimed that this would provide "greater oversight" over how the Copyright Office is run, but that's not even remotely true. The bill actually takes away the oversight from the Librarian of Congress... and gives it to no one other than the President, who isn't likely to be paying much attention to what's happening at the Copyright Office.

This bill serves no purpose other than to take power away from the Librarian of Congress and give it to powerful lobbyists who will have a major say in who runs the Copyright Office. The bill will now move to the Senate where it is also likely to get an easy approval, and no doubt the President will sign the bill (which gives him more power, even if he's shown little sign of actually appointing people to the nearly 500 open positions which this will add to). It's a bad bill, and it's a gift to Hollywood, even as it will harm the actual content creators who will have to wait even longer for the office to actually be modernized.

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For World 'Intellectual Property' Day, A Reading From Thomas Macaulay

 
For World 'Intellectual Property' Day, A Reading From Thomas Macaulay

As we mentioned recently, today is "World Intellectual Property Day," an event put together by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to promote ever greater protectionism and mercantilism in favor of copyright holders and patent holders, while ignoring any impact on the public of those things. It's a fairly disgusting distortion of the claimed intent of intellectual property, which is often promoted for the claimed benefits it brings to the public, but extreme supporters, such as WIPO, are never willing to actually weigh out the pros and cons of copyrights and patents, and how over-protection and over-enforcement can cause serious problems for the public, innovators and creators.

I wasn't sure if I was going to write anything specifically about World IP Day, but Brandon Butler, the Director of Information Policy at the UVA Library put up an excellent suggestion on Twitter, that we should use "World IP Day" to re-read what Lord Thomas Macauley said in the UK Parliament back in 1841 when they were discussing copyright term expansion. We've pointed to it and quoted from it at length many times over the years, but even now, 176 years later, it still remains one of the best statements on how over-monopolizing ideas creates real harms. It's a part of the lesson that supporters of copyright and patents either ignore or wish to hide. So we will post it here in its entirety (after all, it's in the public domain):

Thomas Babington Macaulay
First Speech to the House of Commons on Copyright


February 5, 1841

It is painful to me to take a course which may possibly be misunderstood or misrepresented as unfriendly to the interests of literature and literary men. It is painful to me, I will add, to oppose my honorable and learned friend on a question which he has taken up from the purest motives, and which he regards with a parental interest. These feelings have hitherto kept me silent when the law of copyright has been under discussion. But as I am, on full consideration, satisfied that the measure before us will, if adopted, inflict grievous injury on the public, without conferring any compensating advantage on men of letters, I think it my duty to avow that opinion and to defend it.

The first thing to be done. Sir, is to settle on what principles the question is to be argued. Are we free to legislate for the public good, or are we not? Is this a question of expediency, or is it a question of right? Many of those who have written and petitioned against the existing state of things treat the question as one of right. The law of nature, according to them, gives to every man a sacred and indefeasible property in his own ideas, in the fruits of his own reason and imagination. The legislature has indeed the power to take away this property, just as it has the power to pass an act of attainder for cutting off an innocent man’s head without a trial. But, as such an act of attainder would be legal murder, so would an act invading the right of an author to his copy be, according to these gentlemen, legal robbery.

Now, Sir, if this be so, let justice be done, cost what it may. I am not prepared, like my honorable and learned friend, to agree to a compromise between right and expediency, and to commit an injustice for the public convenience. But I must say, that his theory soars far beyond the reach of my faculties. It is not necessary to go, on the present occasion, into a metaphysical inquiry about the origin of the right of property; and certainly nothing but the strongest necessity would lead me to discuss a subject so likely to be distasteful to the House. I agree, I own, with Paley in thinking that property is the creature of the law, and that the law which creates property can be defended only on this ground, that it is a law beneficial to mankind. But it is unnecessary to debate that point. For, even if I believed in a natural right of property, independent of utility and anterior to legislation, I should still deny that this right could survive the original proprietor. . . . Surely, Sir, even those who hold that there is a natural right of property must admit that rules prescribing the manner in which the effects of deceased persons shall be distributed are purely arbitrary, and originate altogether in the will of the legislature. If so. Sir, there is no controversy between my honorable and learned friend and myself as to the principles on which this question is to be argued. For the existing law gives an author copyright during his natural life; nor do I propose to invade that privilege, which I should, on the contrary, be prepared to defend strenuously against any assailant. The only point in issue between us is, how long after an author’s death the state shall recognize a copyright in his representatives and assigns; and it can, I think, hardly be disputed by any rational man that this is a point which the legislature is free to determine in the way which may appear to be most conducive to the general good.

We may now, therefore, I think, descend from these high regions, where we are in danger of being lost in the clouds, to firm ground and clear light. Let us look at this question like legislators, and after fairly balancing conveniences and inconveniences, pronounce between the existing law of copyright, and the law now proposed to us. The question of copyright. Sir, like most questions of civil prudence, is neither black nor white, but gray. The system of copyright has great advantages and great disadvantages; and it is our business to ascertain what these are, and then to make an arrangement under which the advantages may be as far as possible secured, and the disadvantages as far as possible excluded. The charge which I bring against my honorable and learned friend’s bill is this, that it leaves the advantages nearly what they are at present, and increases the disadvantages at least fourfold.

The advantages arising from a system of copyright are obvious. It is desirable that we should have a supply of good books; we cannot have such a supply unless men of letters are liberally remunerated: and the least objectionable way of remunerating them is by means of copyright. You cannot depend for literary instruction and amusement on the leisure of men occupied in the pursuits of active life. Such men may occasionally produce compositions of great merit. But you must not look to such men for works which require deep meditation and long research. Works of that kind you can expect only from persons who make literature the business of their lives. Of these persons few will be found among the rich and the noble. The rich and the noble are not impelled to intellectual exertion by necessity. They may be impelled to intellectual exertion by the desire of distinguishing themselves, or by the desire of benefiting the community. But it is generally within these walls that they seek to signalize themselves and to serve their fellow-creatures. Both their ambition and their public spirit, in a country like this, naturally take a political turn. It is then on men whose profession is literature, and whose private means are not ample, that you must rely for a supply of valuable books. Such men must be remunerated for their literary labor. And there are only two ways in which they can be remunerated. One of those ways is patronage; the other is copyright.

There have been times in which men of letters looked, not to the public, but to the government, or to a few great men, for the reward of their exertions. It was thus in the time of Maecenas and Pollio at Rome, of the Medici at Florence, of Louis the Fourteenth in France, of Lord Halifax and Lord Oxford in this country. Now, Sir, I well know that there are cases in which it is fit and graceful, nay, in which it is a sacred duty to reward the merits or to relieve the distresses of men of genius by the exercise of this species of liberality. But these cases are exceptions. I can conceive no system more fatal to the integrity and independence of literary men than one under which they should be taught to look for their daily bread to the favor of ministers and nobles. I can conceive no system more certain to turn those minds which are formed by nature to be the blessings and ornaments of our species into public scandals and pests.

We have, then, only one resource left. We must betake ourselves to copyright, be the inconveniences of copyright what they may. Those in­con­ve­ni­ences, in truth, are neither few nor small. Copyright is monopoly, and produces all the effects which the general voice of mankind attributes to monopoly. My honorable and learned friend talks very contemptuously of those who are led away by the theory that monopoly makes things dear. That monopoly makes things dear is certainly a theory, as all the great truths which have been established by the experience of all ages and nations, and which are taken for granted in all reasonings, may be said to be theories. It is a theory in the same sense in which it is a theory that day and night follow each other, that lead is heavier than water, that bread nourishes, that arsenic poisons, that alcohol intoxicates.

If, as my honorable and learned friend seems to think, the whole world is in the wrong on this point, if the real effect of monopoly is to make articles good and cheap, why does he stop short in his career of change? Why does he limit the operation of so salutary a principle to sixty years? Why does he consent to anything short of a perpetuity? He told us that in consenting to anything short of a perpetuity he was making a compromise between extreme right and expediency. But if his opinion about monopoly be correct, extreme right and expediency would coincide. Or rather, why should we not restore the monopoly of the East India trade to the East India Company? Why should we not revive all those old monopolies which, in Elizabeth’s reign, galled our fathers so severely that, maddened by intolerable wrong, they opposed to their sovereign a resistance before which her haughty spirit quailed for the first and for the last time? Was it the cheapness and excellence of commodities that then so violently stirred the indignation of the English people? I believe. Sir, that I may safely take it for granted that the effect of monopoly generally is to make articles scarce, to make them dear, and to make them bad. And I may with equal safety challenge my honorable friend to find out any distinction between copyright and other privileges of the same kind; any reason why a monopoly of books should produce an effect directly the reverse of that which was produced by the East India Company’s monopoly of tea, or by Lord Essex’s monopoly of sweet wines. Thus, then, stands the case. It is good that authors should be remunerated; and the least exceptionable way of remunerating them is by a monopoly. Yet monopoly is an evil. For the sake of the good we must submit to the evil; but the evil ought not to last a day longer than is necessary for the purpose of securing the good.

Now, I will not affirm that the existing law is perfect, that it exactly hits the point at which the monopoly ought to cease; but this I confidently say, that the existing law is very much nearer that point than the law proposed by my honorable and learned friend. For consider this; the evil effects of the monopoly are proportioned to the length of its duration. But the good effects for the sake of which we bear with the evil effects are by no means proportioned to the length of its duration. A monopoly of sixty years produces twice as much evil as a monopoly of thirty years, and thrice as much evil as a monopoly of twenty years. But it is by no means the fact that a posthumous monopoly of sixty years gives to an author thrice as much pleasure and thrice as strong a motive as a posthumous monopoly of twenty years. On the contrary, the difference is so small as to be hardly perceptible. We all know how faintly we are affected by the prospect of very distant advantages, even when they are advantages which we may reasonably hope that we shall ourselves enjoy. But an advantage that is to be enjoyed more than half a century after we are dead, by somebody, we know not by whom, perhaps by somebody unborn, by somebody utterly unconnected with us, is really no motive at all to action. It is very probable that in the course of some generations land in the unexplored and unmapped heart of the Australasian continent will be very valuable. But there is none of us who would lay down five pounds for a whole province in the heart of the Australasian continent. We know, that neither we, nor anybody for whom we care, will ever receive a farthing of rent from such a province. And a man is very little moved by the thought that in the year 2000 or 2100, somebody who claims through him will employ more shepherds than Prince Esterhazy, and will have the finest house and gallery of pictures at Victoria or Sydney. Now, this is the sort of boon which my honorable and learned friend holds out to authors. Considered as a boon to them, it is a mere nullity; but considered as an impost on the public, it is no nullity, but a very serious and pernicious reality.

The principle of copyright is this. It is a tax on readers for the purpose of giving a bounty to writers. The tax is an exceedingly bad one; it is a tax on one of the most innocent and most salutary of human pleasures; and never let us forget, that a tax on innocent pleasures is a premium on vicious pleasures. I admit, however, the necessity of giving a bounty to genius and learning. In order to give such a bounty, I willingly submit even to this severe and burdensome tax. Nay, I am ready to increase the tax, if it can be shown that by so doing I should proportionally increase the bounty. My complaint is, that my honorable and learned friend doubles, triples, quadruples, the tax, and makes scarcely any perceptible addition to the bounty. Why, Sir, what is the additional amount of taxation which would have been levied on the public for Dr. Johnson’s works alone, if my honorable and learned friend’s bill had been the law of the land? I have not data sufficient to form an opinion. But I am confident that the taxation on his dictionary alone would have amounted to many thousands of pounds. In reckoning the whole additional sum which the holders of his copyrights would have taken out of the pockets of the public during the last half century at twenty thousand pounds, I feel satisfied that I very greatly underrate it. Now, I again say that I think it but fair that we should pay twenty thousand pounds in consideration of twenty thousand pounds’ worth of pleasure and encouragement received by Dr. Johnson. But I think it very hard that we should pay twenty thousand pounds for what he would not have valued at five shillings.

But this is not all. I think it right, Sir, to call the attention of the House to an evil, which is perhaps more to be apprehended when an author’s copyright remains in the hands of his family, than when it is transferred to booksellers. I seriously fear that, if such a measure as this should be adopted, many valuable works will be either totally suppressed or grievously mutilated. I can prove that this danger is not chimerical; and I am quite certain that, if the danger be real, the safeguards which my honorable and learned friend has devised are altogether nugatory. That the danger is not chimerical may easily be shown. Most of us, I am sure, have known persons who, very erroneously as I think, but from the best motives, would not choose to reprint Fielding’s novels or Gibbon’s “History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” Some gentlemen may perhaps be of opinion that it would be as well if “Tom Jones” and Gibbon’s “History” were never reprinted. I will not, then, dwell on these or similar cases. I will take cases respecting which it is not likely that there will be any difference of opinion here; cases, too, in which the danger of which I now speak is not matter of supposition, but matter of fact.

Take Richardson’s novels. Whatever I may, on the present occasion, think of my honorable and learned friend’s judgment as a legislator, I must always respect his judgment as a critic. He will, I am sure, say that Richardson’s novels are among the most valuable, among the most original, works in our language. No writings have done more to raise the fame of English genius in foreign countries. No writings are more deeply pathetic. No writings, those of Shakespeare excepted, show more profound knowledge of the human heart. . . . Sir, it is my firm belief, that if the law had been what my honorable and learned friend proposes to make it, they would have been suppressed.

I remember Richardson’s grandson well; he was a clergyman in the city of London; he was a most upright and excellent man; but he had conceived a strong prejudice against works of fiction. He thought all novel-reading not only frivolous but sinful. He said,—this I state on the authority of one of his clerical brethren who is now a bishop,—he said that he had never thought it right to read one of his grandfather’s books. Suppose, Sir, that the law had been what my honorable and learned friend would make it. Suppose that the copyright of Richardson’s novels had descended, as might well have been the case, to this gentleman. I firmly believe that he would have thought it sinful to give them a wide circulation. I firmly believe that he would not for a hundred thousand pounds have deliberately done what he thought sinful. He would not have reprinted them.

And what protection does my honorable and learned friend give to the public in such a case? Why, Sir, what he proposes is this: if a book is not reprinted during five years, any person who wishes to reprint it may give notice in the London Gazette: the advertisement must be repeated three times: a year must elapse; and then, if the proprietor of the copyright does not put forth a new edition, he loses his exclusive privilege. Now, what protection is this to the public? What is a new edition? Does the law define the number of copies that make an edition? Does it limit the price of a copy? Are twelve copies on large paper, charged at thirty guineas each, an edition? It has been usual, when monopolies have been granted, to prescribe numbers and to limit prices. But I do not find that my honorable and learned friend proposes to do so in the present case. And, without some such provision, the security which he offers is manifestly illusory. It is my conviction that, under such a system as that which he recommends to us, a copy of “Clarissa” would have been as rare as an Aldus or a Caxton.

I will give another instance. One of the most instructive, interesting, and delightful books in our language is Boswell’s “Life of Johnson.’’ Now it is well known that Boswell’s eldest son considered this book, considered the whole relation of Boswell to Johnson, as a blot in the escutcheon of the family. He thought, not perhaps altogether without reason, that his father had exhibited himself in a ludicrous and degrading light. And thus he became so sore and irritable that at last he could not bear to hear the “Life of Johnson’’ mentioned. Suppose that the law had been what my honorable and learned friend wishes to make it. Suppose that the copyright of Boswells “Life of Johnson” had belonged, as it well might, during sixty years, to Boswell’s eldest son. What would have been the consequence? An unadulterated copy of the finest biographical work in the world would have been as scarce as the first edition of Camden’s “Britannia.”

... Sir, of the kindness with which the House has listened to me, that I will not detain you longer. I will only say this, that if the measure before us should pass, and should produce one tenth part of the evil which it is calculated to produce, and which I fully expect it to produce, there will soon be a remedy, though of a very objectionable kind. Just as the absurd Acts which prohibited the sale of game were virtually repealed by the poacher, just as many absurd revenue Acts have been virtually repealed by the smuggler, so will this law be virtually repealed by piratical booksellers.

At present the holder of copyright has the public feeling on his side. Those who invade copyright are regarded as knaves who take the bread out of the mouths of deserving men. Everybody is well pleased to see them restrained by the law, and compelled to refund their ill-gotten gains. No tradesman of good repute will have anything to do with such disgraceful transactions. Pass this law: and that feeling is at an end. Men very different from the present race of piratical booksellers will soon infringe this intolerable monopoly. Great masses of capital will be constantly employed in the violation of the law. Every art will be employed to evade legal pursuit; and the whole nation will be in the plot. On which side indeed should the public sympathy be when the question is whether some book as popular as “Robinson Crusoe” or the “Pilgrim’s Progress” shall be in every cottage, or whether it shall be confined to the libraries of the rich for the advantage of the great-grandson of a bookseller who, a hundred years before, drove a hard bargain for the copyright with the author when in great distress? Remember too that, when once it ceases to be considered as wrong and discreditable to invade literary property, no person can say where the invasion will stop. The public seldom makes nice distinctions. The wholesome copyright which now exists will share in the disgrace and danger of the new copyright which you are about to create. And you will find that, in attempting to impose unreasonable restraints on the reprinting of the works of the dead, you have, to a great extent, annulled those restraints which now prevent men from pillaging and defrauding the living.


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FCC Boss Unveils Ingenious Plan To Replace Net Neutrality Rules With Fluff & Nonsense

 
FCC Boss Unveils Ingenious Plan To Replace Net Neutrality Rules With Fluff & Nonsense

FCC boss Ajit Pai has made no secret of his disdain for net neutrality. Or, for that matter, his general disregard for the consumer-protection authority granted the agency he's supposed to be in charge of. Pai had already stated his "solution" -- to his perceived injustice that is net neutrality -- is to replace the government's existing, hard net neutrality rules -- with "voluntary commitments" by the likes of AT&T, Comcast and Verizon. From there, he hopes to leave any remaining regulatory enforcement to the under-funded and over-extended FTC (we've explained why this is a notably bad idea here).

Pai clarified his plans a little during a speech today in Washington, DC at an event hosted by FreedomWorks (which, not coincidentally, takes funding from the giant ISPs Pai is clearly eager to help). According to Pai, the FCC will issue a Notice of Proposed Rule Making tomorrow to begin the process of rolling back Title II and killing net neutrality. The FCC will then vote on the proposal on May 18, according to the agency head. That means a full public comment period (that's where you come in) ahead of a broader vote to kill the rules later this year.

Pai's full speech (pdf) was packed with conflations, half-truths, and statements that have been repeatedly, painstakingly debunked over the course of the last decade. Among them being the ongoing claim that net neutrality rules weren't necessary -- because incumbent ISPs had done nothing wrong:

"Nothing about the Internet was broken in 2015. Nothing about the law had changed. And there wasn’t a rash of Internet service providers blocking customers from accessing the content, applications, or services of their choice.

Pai apparently "forgot" the time that AT&T intentionally blocked iPhone users from using Facetime unless they signed up for significantly more expensive mobile data plans. Or that time MetroPCS blocked all access to video on its introductory plans to drive users to costlier plans if they wanted the "full internet experience." Or that time a small ISP named Madison River decided to block a competing VoIP provider. Or that time AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile blocked their users from using Google Wallet to help prop up their own mobile payment services. Or the longstanding allegations that Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and others intentionally let their peering points get congested to kill settlement-free peering and force content and transit providers to pay an additional toll.

The idea that net neutrality rules are arbitrary and unnecessary is a joke, and if you still don't believe consumers and startups need some kind of regulatory protection from giant (and ever-growing) broadband duopolists like Comcast, the joke's on you. And it's notably unfunny.

Pai, like most of the ISP allies in favor of gutting the rules, simply refuse to be proven wrong -- no matter what the actual data shows. For years now Pai has cited broadband industry-funded studies that try to claim that net neutrality rules severely hampered broadband investment, despite zero objective evidence that's actually the case. But this being the post-truth era, Pai was quick to trot out the "Title II and neutrality killed investment" canard to the immense joy of the crowd of attending lobbyists, think tankers and other loyal ISP allies:

"So what happened after the Commission adopted Title II? Sure enough, infrastructure investment declined. Among our nation’s 12 largest Internet service providers, domestic broadband capital expenditures decreased by 5.6% percent, or $3.6 billion, between 2014 and 2016, the first two years of the Title II era. This decline is extremely unusual. It is the first time that such investment has declined outside of a recession in the Internet era."

It never happened. What did happen: some telecom industry-funded think tanks cherry picked data to make it appear that investment had foundered, then repeated the fabrication they'd created, apparently believing that repetition forges truth. But if you spoke privately to most ISPs, they'd be tell you they saw no investment reduction under Title II. ISPs don't oppose net neutrality and Title II because it makes investing harder; they oppose Title II and net neutrality because it prevents them from abusing the uncompetitive shitshow that is the broadband last mile.

What's abundantly clear here is that net neutrality opponents have zero problem with lying to achieve one, singular goal: maximizing the income of large broadband providers to the detriment of consumers, competition, startups and the health of the internet. And Pai poured it on exceptionally thick during his speech at Freedomworks, claiming that gutting oversight of some of the most anti-competitive and least liked companies in America will somehow magically improve broadband competition, create jobs, expand internet access, and more:

"Without the overhang of heavy-handed regulation, companies will spend more building next-generation networks. As those networks expand, many more Americans, especially low-income rural and urban Americans, will get high-speed Internet access for the first time. And more Americans generally will benefit from faster and better broadband.

Second, it will create jobs. More Americans will go to work building these networks. These are good-paying jobs, laying fiber, digging trenches, and connecting equipment to utility poles. And established businesses and startup entrepreneurs alike will take advantage of the networks that they build to create even more jobs.

Doesn't that sound lovely? Except it's not happening. If the claim that Title II and net neutrality stifled investment was bullshit, the narrative that removing these regulations magically creates jobs and competition is just as fantastical. If anything, turning a blind eye to duopolists like Comcast and Verizon as they abuse the lack of broadband competition to make life harder on streaming competitors (something they're already doing) will have the opposite impact on existing and emerging internet markets to come. And if protecting ISP revenues is the top priority (and let's not fool ourselves that it isn't), actually fixing the industry's competitive shortcomings will never be on Pai's radar.

The problem Pai faces now is two-fold. One, net neutrality has broad, incredible bi-partisan support, and those consumers are certain to give him an ear-full during the public comment period that will begin after the May 18 vote. If Pai isn't familiar with the concept of backlash and over-reach, he may want to bone up on some history. Pai will also need to show to the courts that the market has changed dramatically enough since the FCC's June 2016 win over ISPs to justify a massive reversal of the rules. If he can't, his entire effort will be struck down.

That's why I personally still think Pai's playing a game of good cop, bad cop. Under this plan, Pai saber rattles for a few months about his intent to kill net neutrality, at which point the GOP shows up with some "compromise" legislation (likely this summer) that claims to codify net neutrality into law, but is worded in such a way (by the ISP lawyers that will inevitably write said legislation) so the "solution" is worse than no rules at all. If I were to guess, the legislation will come from Senator John Thune, who attempted to derail the 2015 net neutrality rules using a similar strategy.

It seems likely that neutrality opponent hubris could easily backfire. After all, every time ISPs have tried to kill net neutrality, the end result has been more stringent protections (as we saw when Verizon sued to overturn the FCC's flimsy 2010 rules, only to get...tougher rules). That said, this fight still may be harder than previous battles. With Google and Netflix likely to be less active (they're large enough now they apparently think they no longer need to worry,) the onus is going to be on grass root activists, debate-fatigued consumers and startups to carry the brunt of the load this time around.

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Bose Lawsuit For Collecting Headphone Data Is Flimsy, But Highlights Continued Lack Of Real Transparency

 
Bose Lawsuit For Collecting Headphone Data Is Flimsy, But Highlights Continued Lack Of Real Transparency

Being transparent about what private consumer data is being collected and sold appears to be a hard lesson for hardware vendors to learn. Earlier this month, Bose was hit with a new lawsuit (pdf) accusing it of collecting and selling personal subscriber usage data of the company's $350 QC 35 noise-canceling headphones. More specifically, the lawsuit claims that the Bose Connect smartphone companion app is collecting user preferences when it comes to "music, radio broadcast, Podcast, and lecture choices" -- and then monetizing that data without making it clear to the end user:

Unbeknownst to its customers, however, Defendant designed Bose Connect to (i) collect and record the titles of the music and audio files its customers choose to play through their Bose wireless products and (ii) transmit such data along with other personal identifiers to third-parties—including a data miner—without its customers’ knowledge or consent...Though the data collected from its customers’ smartphones is undoubtedly valuable to the company, Defendant’s conduct demonstrates a wholesale disregard for consumer privacy rights and violates numerous state and federal laws.

To be clear, the complaint, filed last week by Bose customer Kyle Zak in federal court in Chicago, seems more than a little thin. The suit appears to piggyback on growing concern about the wave of internet of things devices (from televisions to smart dildos) that increasingly use internet connectivity to hoover up as much as possible about consumers. Often, this data is collected and transferred unencrypted to the cloud, then disseminated to any number of partner companies without adequate disclosure.

That said, while Bose marketing insists users need the app to "get the most out of your headphones" and get the "latest features" for their headphones, in this instance, users can avoid data collection by simply not using the Bose companion app. And while Bose only appears to be collecting metadata, the suit tries to somehow claim that collecting this type of metadata -- which any and every music service also happily collects -- somehow violates the Wiretap Act:

... customers must download and install Bose Connect to take advantage of the Bose Wireless Products’ features and functions. Yet, Bose fails to notify or warn customers that Bose Connect monitors and collects—in real time—the music and audio tracks played through their Bose Wireless Products. Nor does Bose disclose that it transmits the collected listening data to third parties.

Were Bose, say, using the headphone jack on a headset to monitor actual user communications, the case might have legs. That said, while the suit's central Wiretap Act claims may be weak, the suit once again highlights that consumer data collection policies, if disclosed at all, are often buried in overlong privacy policies few if any consumers actually read -- using language carefully crafted to obfuscate what precisely is happening. Bose doesn't really help its case all that much in a statement on its website that declares the lawsuit "inflammatory" and "misleading," before being a little misleading itself:

We understand the nature of Class Action lawsuits. And we’ll fight the inflammatory, misleading allegations made against us through the legal system. For now, we want to talk directly to you. Nothing is more important to us than your trust. We work tirelessly to earn and keep it, and have for over 50 years. That’s never changed, and never will. In the Bose Connect App, we don’t wiretap your communications, we don’t sell your information, and we don’t use anything we collect to identify you – or anyone else – by name.

While Bose insists it doesn't "sell your information" -- its app privacy policy does note that it "may partner with certain third parties" to "engage in analysis, auditing, research, and reporting" (hey, it's not selling if we call it something else). And while Bose may not personally identify you "by name," we've long noted that "anonymized" data is far from anonymous. Study after study has made it clear that it only takes a shred of additional contextual data to make "anonymous" data easily and personally identifiable. If "trust" were truly Bose's top priority, they'd actually explain precisely what the app is doing, who data is sent to, and why.

Again, many may not care that Bose is collecting this data. Especially in an age where everybody carries around a miniature computer in their pocket, happily oblivious that their every step and click are being monetized by cellular carriers, app vendors, OS makers, advertising networks, and everybody else in the food chain. The problem is that companies continue to believe there's nothing wrong with hoovering up every shred of data they can, then hiding this collection in overlong, carefully-worded privacy policies -- and the false sense of security "anonymization" is supposed to provide.

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Another NSL Gag Order Successfully Challenged In Court

 
Another NSL Gag Order Successfully Challenged In Court

Another National Security Letter is on its way to being published. There's no way of telling when it will arrive, but it will be sooner than the government's clear preference: never.

Adobe is the unlikely recipient of the NSL and accompanying gag order. The decision in a recently unsealed case says indefinite gag orders aren't Constitutional, which is good news for the recipients of the thousands of NSLs the FBI issues every year.
Thankfully, the court in Adobe’s case recognized the serious harm to free speech these gags represent. It held that orders barring companies from notifying their users about government data requests are both prior restraints and content-based restrictions on speech subject to strict scrutiny. That’s a very high bar. The court found that the indefinite gag order imposed on Adobe fails strict scrutiny because the government could make “no showing[] that Adobe’s speech will threaten the investigation in perpetuity.”

The decision [PDF] raises the government's hopes before dashing them quite expertly. It opens by agreeing with one of the government's assertions:
Adobe first contends that 18 U.S. § 2750(b) (“Section 2705(b)”) requires that the Court provide a date certain for the NPO’s [Notice Preclusion Order] expiration. The government contends that Section 2705(b) allows for NPOs of indefinite duration. The Court agrees with the government.

But it's this assertion -- the one the court agrees with -- that allows Adobe's free speech arguments to prevail.
Adobe next contends that the NPO is a content-based prior restraint that is not narrowly-tailored to achieve a compelling government interest. As such, Adobe argues, the NPO violates the First Amendment. (Appl. at 4-5.) The government argues that (1) Adobe does not have a right under the First Amendment to notify the Subscriber of the Warrant’s existence; and (2) even if Adobe did have such a right, the government’s compelling interests justify the NPO as currently tailored. The Court finds that a narrower tailoring of the NPO is warranted.

[...]

As written, the NPO at issue herein effectively bars Adobe’s speech in perpetuity. The government does not contend, and has made no showing, that Adobe’s speech will threaten the investigation in perpetuity. Therefore, as written, the NPO manifestly goes further than necessary to protect the government’s interest.

The court also isn't interested in helping the government shift the burden to Adobe as to why this NPO shouldn't be in place indefinitely. In fact, it finds the government's attempt to do so undermines its "this doesn't implicate the First Amendment" arguments.
The government further argues that the NPO is already limited by the Court’s discretion to set an end at some later date. As this “judicial[] limit[]” allows “both Adobe and the government to apply for the order to be lifted after its raison d’etre fades, the NPO is as narrowly-tailored as required.” (Oppo. at 17.) This argument ignores the fact that Adobe is not privy to the government’s investigation. Thus Adobe will not know when the NPO’s “raison d’etre fades.” Moreover, virtually every statute, regulation, order, or other government-imposed restriction on speech can be attacked in a judicial proceeding. Therefore, the government’s argument – in essence, “The order is narrowly-tailored because Adobe has the option of challenging it in court” – demonstrates nothing of relevance.

In any event, putting the onus on the speaker to lift a no-longer-justified content-based restriction is hardly narrow tailoring. Adding the fact that the speaker cannot know when the restriction’s “raison d’etre fades” effectively equates to no tailoring at all. An RCS provider might decide to forego speaking rather than incur the trouble and expense of potentially futile court trips. That the government could in theory, apply to have the NPO lifted is no answer. As the NPO does not apply to the government, the government would have little incentive to do so. Accordingly, on the record before the Court, the government’s argument does little more than illustrate the NPO’s potential for burdening or chilling Adobe’s speech.

Other NSL litigation is still ongoing and this decision bears little precedential value, especially in other circuits. But every judicial citation attacking indefinite gag orders helps, especially as these challenges are becoming more common as a result of the USA Freedom Act's creation of new redress options for NSL recipients.

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