And they didn't just lie -- AT&T was loud about it. Via lobbyist, consultant, think tanker, and anyone else on the payroll, AT&T lied using every manner of lobbying trick in the book, from paying an army of third party groups to parrot merger support, to running an onslaught of constant full page advertisements repeating the same, early-disproven lies ad nauseam. At the end of 2011, Cecilia Kang at the Washington Post penned what was essentially an obituary for the AT&T T-Mobile deal, with an overlooked paragraph that explained precisely why the deal became too much for regulators to swallow:"The letters from third-party groups raised eyebrows at government agencies and on the Hill, where people began wondering why groups with no obvious ties to broadband were writing in. News reports emerged showing that many of the groups had financial ties to AT&T. Then there were the ads that staff members at the FCC said they couldn't avoid when they opened a newspaper, fired up their iPads or watched TV — all touting the merger's ability to put thousands of Americans to work. But who had ever heard of a big company merger creating rather than destroying jobs?"The Post noted that instead of all this noise and fury helping to get approval, it actually caused regulators to take a closer look at claims where otherwise they wouldn't have. The sheer volume of nonsense coming from AT&T actually worked to amplify media and political pressure where it might not have existed otherwise. The end result was regulators actually doing their jobs and digging into the promises more deeply, only to find AT&T's arguments lacking:"AT&T's blitzkrieg of ads, which claimed that the promised expansion of broadband would create 100,000 jobs, wasn't helping either. A deal's impact on jobs is not typically part of an evaluation by antitrust officials, but this time regulators thought AT&T's campaign had forced them to take a closer look. They found holes. For one, the company refused to divulge how many jobs it would eliminate in the merger."Enter Comcast, who is busy trying to get regulators to approve their $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable. Renata Hesse, who was the lead FCC antitrust official during the AT&T T-Mobile deal, will be overseeing the Comcast review at the DOJ. While Comcast is using many of the very same strategies AT&T employed (like paying minority groups to parrot merger support, and throwing money at everyone and everything) they seem to have learned a few lessons from the AT&T T-Mobile deal, and have dialed back the volume on their nonsense just enough so that it vaguely-resembles subtlety:"Industry lobbyists familiar with both deals say they observe Comcast approaching this merger in a much quieter, more subtle way than AT&T did. Many of Comcas's lobbyists are staying silent about the deal altogether, and not just around reporters. Even at social gatherings and business functions where it might seem obvious to mention the deal to lawmakers or administration officials as a way of smoothing the way forward, Comcast's lobbyists have, in many instances, made nary a peep about it, according to sources. "The way Comcast is approaching this is very interesting,” said a veteran telecom lobbyist. "Everybody's writing the easy story about how many lobbyists Comcast has, but the way they're lobbying this, they're being very inside baseball, very surgical."That's not to say Comcast isn't paying a ton of other people to make stupid, loud arguments for them, but they're pretty clearly trying to tone down the rhetoric coming from Comcast itself. Comcast's steering clear of unsubstantiated job claims, and seems intent on keeping any promises they do make vague (like arguing the deal is simply "pro consumer"). Will a tiny bit of subtlety let Comcast fly under the regulatory M&A skepticism meter? Maybe. Comcast has proven pretty good at getting regulators to push for meaningless merger conditions (though AT&T was pretty good at that too). I'm going to bet you see deal approval; not because the deal is necessarily good, but primarily because AT&T taught Comcast an important lesson on the limits of bullshit.
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Many of the advice columns released via Snowden's document dump deal with perfectly ordinary office politics, like complaints about stealing sodas out of refrigerators, stinky co-workers, or bosses who can't be bothered to respond to e-mails. But Maass points out that one of the more entertaining columns involves complaints by an NSA worker who is concerned about their boss spying on them. In a column signed "Silence in SID," an employee writes in: "Here's the scenario: when the boss sees co-workers having a quiet conversation, he wants to know what is being said (it's mostly work related). He has his designated “snitches” and expects them to keep him apprised of all the office gossip – even calling them at home and expecting a run-down! This puts the “designees” in a really awkward position; plus, we're all afraid any offhand comment or anything said in confidence might be either repeated or misrepresented." The tension created by having an overly nosy boss has resulted, the employee claims, in workplace efficiency problems and a growing lack of trust in the establishment: "We used to be able to joke around a little or talk about our favorite “Idol” contestant to break the tension, but now we're getting more and more skittish about even the most mundane general conversations (“Did you have a good weekend?”). This was once a very open, cooperative group who worked well together. Now we're more suspicious of each other and teamwork is becoming harder. Do you think this was the goal? Zelda is quite-amusingly shocked by the boss's behavior inside of an agency of spies:"Wow, that takes “intelligence collection” in a whole new – and inappropriate – direction. …. We work in an Agency of secrets, but this kind of secrecy begets more secrecy and it becomes a downward spiral that destroys teamwork. What if you put an end to all the secrecy by bringing it out in the open?"So spying over-broadly on people you don't think should be spied upon destroys teamwork, fosters distrust and erodes overall efficiency, huh? Gosh, what if you took that concept and applied it to an entire planet? As Maass notes, at no point while giving advice on spying inside the NSA does Zelda seem to have awareness of the possible lessons that could be applied to spying going on outside the NSA (at least that we get to see): "Her response to “Silenced in SID” does not acknowledge the irony – or hypocrisy – of an employee at a spy agency complaining about being spied on. But Zelda directly addresses the long-lasting effects of inappropriate surveillance. “Trust is hard to rebuild once it has been broken,” she observes. “Your work center may take time to heal after this deplorable practice is discontinued." So remember, dear readers: inappropriate surveillance erodes trust, destroys teamwork, damages the overall community, and creates a general downward spiral that's bad for everybody involved. Unless we're doing it to the general public, in which case -- who cares? Now get back to work!
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20 Years Ago 2 Live Crew, A Rude Rap Song And The Supreme Court Helped Clear The Way For The Modern Internet
The case, if you don't recall, involved the rap group 2 Live Crew's song "Pretty Woman," which was a take on Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman." And while a lower court tossed out the fair use question by saying that it was "presumptively unfair" due to being a commercial parody, the Supreme Court noted that commercial use can still be fair use, and that the "more transformative the new work, the less will be the significance of other factors, like commercialism, that may weigh against a finding of fair use." That is, while commercial use is still a factor in determining fair use, if a work is transformative, whether or not it's a commercial use matters much less. That has very important consequences for all sorts of fair use today, including in television, movies, books and news.
Unfortunately, as Matt Schruers notes above, it's also a ruling that is frequently ignored or forgotten by many who think they understand copyright. The number of times we've had commenters here state that something can't be fair use if it's for commercial use is quite incredible, but at least we can assume those people just don't know. Where it gets especially troubling is when people whose job it is to know and understand this stuff seem to ignore it: It is odd but true that the significance of commercial fair use is often lost in the copyright conversation. A recent House Judiciary hearing on fair use underrepresented the significance of fair use to business, and just this week I sat through a policy event where a speaker confidently declared U.S. trade policy need not address fair use because fair use deals only with “non-commercial” use — blissfully unaware, it would seem, that a unanimous Court thought otherwise. The most recent numbers available suggest that about 17% of U.S. GDP was produced by industries benefiting from fair use and other exceptions to copyright, and that the same industries (increasingly, high-value services) now lead export growth. As a result, other jurisdictions have realized that U.S. copyright law’s hospitality to basic, essential Internet functions like search is a national competitive advantage. And this is an issue that is only going to become more important. As more and more things move online, there are ever greater questions about fair use in the context of internet services. The fact that this ruling helped cement the importance of transformative use, and made it clear that commercial use can be fair use, is a key part of why the internet can function today without all sorts of cloud and internet services being sued out of existence.
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The website claims LIVR users get to use a number of features once they've drunkenly stumbled through the virtual door, including getting to play "crowd-sourced truth or dare," maps that will highlight the other drunk nerds in your immediate vicinity, and the ability to randomly drunk dial another LIVR user. The website also promises users a "blackout button" that will erase all of your incoherent and inappropriate tirades at the end of the evening or the next day, giving users what the founders claim is encouragement to just "go nuts" and "be their true self" without worrying that said true self might result in joblessness, divorce, or worse:"What Happens on LIVR Stays on LIVR It's 4 AM. You've posted uncensored selfies. Flirted with Drunk Dial. Racked up Truth or Dare points. But you don't want your boss to see. Just hit the Blackout Button and all record of your night is permanently cleared. Relax. Be yourself. Your secret's safe with LIVR."Right. Except the Internet generally doesn't work that way, and there's really no such thing as privacy online. The potential for abuse seems somewhat high for law enforcement, the NSA, stalkers, and in generally encouraging people to get the highest score when it comes to their BAC. Not that people don't generally do this stuff without the help of an app, but you have to imagine LIVR, if it's even actually real, is going to need some decent lawyers on retainer for the flood of lawsuits headed their way.
"I think some of our best ideas are found at the bottom of a glass," insists Brooklyn-based founders Kyle Addison and Avery Platz in a promotional video for their unlikely-sounding new endeavor: has a strangely-nonexistent digital footprint outside of the LIVR announcement for a Brooklyn developer that likes to drink and talk), but it's still a pretty damn good one.
Update: And, yep.
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This "discussion" about the whole "security vs. privacy" thing the administration claims it has "welcomed" since the Snowden leaks began? Yeah. Still not happening. As Cal Borchers at BetaBoston reports, government reps at an MIT event focused on "big data and privacy" couldn't have appeared less interested in discussing any of the implications of widespread domestic surveillance. The kicker came during an afternoon panel discussion, when John DeLong, the National Security Agency's director of compliance, should have been awarded an honorary degree in tongue biting. DeLong sat right next to Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, yet refused to engage when she made pointed comments, like this one: "Everything's being done in secret. But for Edward Snowden, we wouldn't even be having this conversation."
DeLong would look down and away (perhaps there was an interesting piece of metatada on the floor of Wong Auditorium), waiting silently for another panelist to move the discussion away from his agency. This is nothing new for DeLong. Back in August of last year, he gave the Washington Post permission to quote him "by name and title" after holding a 90-minute interview with the paper, after the White House routed all press queries to him directly. When the paper refused to edit quotes after the government's "internal review" of the interview draft, the administration and the NSA then informed the Washington Post that nothing DeLong said could be used. All of his input was replaced with a bland, prepared statement.
Now, DeLong could have been interested in participating in this discussion, but this previous administration intervention seems to indicate that the NSA and the White House would prefer DeLong keeps his head down and his mouth shut -- at least in cases where it can't push through its own edit of the "discussion."
DeLong wasn't the only government rep uninterested in discussing government surveillance. Before DeLong's group took the floor, US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker made a brief speech in which she barely touched on the subject of privacy, then exited quickly without fielding questions.
Someone seated near me, in one of those fake whispers that's really meant to be heard by a lot of people, summed things up nicely: "No questions? Why have a real discussion, right?"
Snickers rippled a few rows in every direction. As Borchers points out, there was plenty of discussion about private companies and privacy, but when it came to the biggest "company" of all, the US government, no one had much to say. White House counselor John Podesta somehow even managed to "phone in" his phoned-in statement (Borchers describes Podesta's contribution as "bland remarks") to open the event.
This is the US government's idea of "discussion." Canned statements and floor-gazing. The NSA made this bed and now refuses to lie in it. (Although officials will often lie outside of it -- ho, ho! *coughJamesClapper*) The administration plays along, making small gestures but refusing to consider making any substantial statements or changes. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence continues to pass out redacted documents with implied transparency, glossing over the fact that every document release so far has been compelled by an FOIA lawsuit.
This isn't a discussion. This is low murmurs and unintelligible mumbling being passed off as a "discussion" in hopes this new era of faux-openness will soon blow over and allow everyone involved to return to the opacity and darkness they've become accustomed to operating in.
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Within a week, over 5,000 individuals have urged the Senate to pass meaningful patent reform. These individuals represent over 900 inventors, 700 investors, and well over 1300 entrepreneurs who drive the innovation economy—yet are suffering billions of dollars in losses at the hands of patent trolls and rampant litigation.
What is meaningful reform? There must be immediate changes to remove incentives from the patent troll business model: fee shifting to raise trolls' financial stakes, for example; strong end user protections to stop trolls from targeting users of off-the-shelf technologies; transparency provisions preventing bad actors from hiding behind shell companies, striking with misleading demand letters, then stepping back into the shadows.
But reform must go beyond trolls' present tactics; meaningful reform would strike at the root. We must urge the Senate to put an end to destructive patent troll and troll-like behavior by addressing their weapon of choice: overbroad software patents. While fundamental reform may not be in the picture, the Senate has a chance to reintroduce language—for example, expanding the Covered Business Method provision—that would allow individuals and companies to trim down seriously vague patents after they have been issued.
The House recently passed the Innovation Act, which, while quite comprehensive, dropped its patent quality provisions in a last-minute push to gain the favor of older technology companies and their associated Congressional champions. It lies on the Senate to not only quell the current troll-ridden battlefield, but to also start restoring sanity to the patent system as a whole.
Five-thousand people have spoken out in the last week, and the number is still rising. Join us in securing the patent reform we need this year.Related Issues: PatentsLegislative Solutions for Patent ReformPatent Trolls
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Recently, we've covered a series of stories centered around license plate scanners and the way such information is stored. Despite the protests of the ACLU, local law enforcement agencies have widely deployed the technology and there have also been requests from federal agencies to build a central database of information based on plate scans. If the latest reports are to be believed, however, these would simply be attempts to nationalize an endeavor that has already been undertaken by private industry.
According to the Boston Globe, the helpful groups building this database of license plate scans and providing it to banks, creditors, private investigators and law enforcement agencies are the repo industry and data brokers. And it's far worse than you might think. While public debate about the license reading technology has centered on how police should use it, business has eagerly adopted the $10,000 to $17,000 scanners with remarkably few limits. At least 10 repossession companies in Massachusetts say they mount the scanners on spotter cars or tow trucks, and Digital Recognition Network of Fort Worth, Texas, claims to collect plate scans of 40 percent of all US vehicles annually. And that's just one company. The article goes on to note that there are other groups in the data brokerage business that otherwise claim to collect a large majority of US vehicles every year. Those groups freely admit to providing those scan databases to a variety of third parties. The main commercial use of license plate scanners remains the auto finance and auto repossession industries, two professions that work closely together to track down people who default on their loans. Digital Recognition lists Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., HSBC Holdings, and Citibank among its clients, while MVTRAC boasts that it serves 70 percent of the auto finance industry.
Digital Recognition already provides its entire data pool to more than 3,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide, free of charge for most searches. The Massachusetts State Police is a registered subscriber, as are the Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Brookline, and Quincy police departments. Even Boston College and Brandeis police have access to the firm’s entire scan database. Now, in response to the privacy concerns raised by activists, what the data brokers and repo folks will tell you is that these scans typically occur in public places. That's not always true, since the repo trucks often will enter private property, such as the parking lot of an apartment or condo complex, but their point is that there is no expectation of privacy in an area that's in plain sight. They'll also tell you that these are just license plate scans, not detailed personal information about anyone in particular.
But that's bullshit, of course. It ignores the practical application of the scan database, as well as to whom that information is being sold. Banks, PIs, and creditors can all scrub this raw data against available DMV and governmental information, while law enforcement agencies both local and federal can build up a database that tracks the movement of any scanned vehicle and the citizens associated with it. If we could get Thomas Jefferson on the horn and ask him what he thought of all this, I'd argue that he'd be spending too much time picking his own jaw up off the floor to give us a proper response. “Right now, it's the wild West in terms of how companies can collect, process, and sell this kind of data,” says Kade Crockford of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. “The best legal minds, best public policy thinkers, and ordinary people whose lives are affected need to sit down and think of meaningful ways we can regulate it.” Which is exactly what some legislators in Massachusetts are attempting to do with legislation, but it isn't the first time crafting this kind of law has been tried. All previous attempts have been torpedoed by the data broker industry, including one case in Utah, where Digital Recognition sued the state for its ban on plate scanners as a first amendment violation. That seems to stretch the definition a bit too far.
So, if you own a car, a private company that deals for free with law enforcement agencies knows who you are, where you've been, and where you spend most of your time. And, without additional legislation, they do so without the checks and balances that would be insisted upon were the LEOs doing the scanning themselves. This must be what they mean when they say that private industry will always outpace government.
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Officials and politicians have wrestled for several years with the question of net neutrality: should Europe lay down in law a basic principle of non-discrimination of traffic on the internet, or would - as European telecoms operators have argued for years - such measures burden Europe’s telecoms industry with new unwelcome regulation?
This month, the European Parliament’s Industry Committee is set to vote on an important and controversial piece of legislation which will introduce an EU-wide net neutrality rule for the first time ever. The Committee’s vote precedes final adoption by the Parliament in April. Next, EU Member States will review and amend the proposal, meaning that the legislative process has a long way to go.
Net Neutrality in Europe took a big step forward when, in the eleventh hour of the current Commission’s term in office, European Commission Vice President Kroes decided to legislate. In September, she issued a proposal for a regulation, the Connected Continent Regulation, which included a wide range of measures, from spectrum management to authorizations to roaming and international call rates - as well as provisions on net neutrality. Much of what she addressed reflected CDT’s previous calls for an EU-level net neutrality legislation.
CDT applauded the Commission’s initiative, while also calling for specific improvements to the text. And to be sure, the Commission’s proposal was a vast improvement over an earlier draft that had been circulated during the summer. However, the Commission’s proposal came under fire from many sides and for many reasons. Several people argued that to bring forward such a complex and wide-ranging piece of legislation so near the end of the Parliament’s term did not allow proper vetting of the proposal.
On the substance, many net neutrality advocates criticized the Commission’s proposal for specifically allowing network operators to partner with content and applications providers to develop ‘specialized services’ with the possibility of higher, speed and quality characteristics. Some net neutrality advocates have seen this as fundamentally undermining the basic net neutrality principle. This is not CDT’s position. We do not object to the Commission’s decision to permit specialized services. The Commission’s text includes a number of important safeguards to ensure that specialized services are not allowed to interfere with the provision of general internet access services.
However, the Commission’s draft did not clearly establish the principle that services in the Internet access category should carry traffic on a fundamentally nondiscriminatory basis. While the proposal bars blocking, degradation, and discrimination against specific services or content, it arguably leaves Internet access providers free to pick favorites and prioritize certain traffic on the theory that they are discriminating in favor or specific services, rather than against anyone in particular.
The European Parliament Industry Committee is now considering what changes to make to the Commission’s text. One amendment put forward by the Socialist and Democrats group attempts to tackle this problem by introducing language that prohibits discrimination ‘between’ services. The amendment should be supported by the Committee and will, if adopted, constitute a meaningful improvement of the Commission’s draft. However, there is no question that, whichever amendments Parliament chooses to support, further changes to the text will be made by Member States over the coming months. It is also important to underline that no matter what the final text looks like, telecoms regulators across the Union will need to keep monitoring market developments to ensure that operators do not blur the lines between specialized and internet access services, and that traffic management measures are not misused to prioritize certain applications or content for commercial reasons.
Fundamentally, we need this legislation to firmly establish the principle that users decide what applications and content they want to access, and that these choices should not be interfered with by the companies that provide internet access services. The legislation is not the end of the story, but will represent a significant step forward for net neutrality in Europe.
Websites can’t function without them and a user must be allocated one before he or she can begin using the Internet. Without doubt, IP addresses one of the most important elements underpinning today’s online experience.
While website IP addresses are necessarily public information, IP addresses of individual users are by their very nature a lot more sensitive. Rather than identifying a web server designed to attract traffic, IP addresses operated by regular Internet users are often considered personal information.
Of course, it’s fairly common knowledge that the IP addresses of file-sharers become publicly visible when they enter BitTorrent swarms for example, but matching those IP addresses to real-life identities is a complex process wrapped up in privacy laws designed to protect the consumer. During the past week, however, it became evident that users of a Scandinavian ISP could be traced back to their real-life identities simply by using their IP address.
Discovered by Norwegian site Dinside, this privacy disaster stems from the software installed on routers supplied by local ISP NextGenTel. By simply entering the IP address of another NextGenTel user into a standard web browser, users were presented with a webpage containing router status information. The page also revealed the telephone number of the user behind the entered IP address.
Armed with a telephone number and a directory site such as 1881.no, all it took was a few clicks to find out the name and address of the person behind not only the telephone number, but also the original IP address.
After being alerted to the issue NextGenTel took action to fix the security hole by updating the relevant software, but the episode is a shining example of how years of care over personal information can be undone in an instant.
One of Norway’s biggest privacy cases in recent times involved a BitTorrent user who allegedly leaked a hit local movie to The Pirate Bay. Law firm Simonsen had the IP address of the leaker but desperately needed to convert that into a real-life identity in order to pursue legal action. That case went all the way to the Supreme Court when the ISP behind that IP address refused to hand over its customer’s private details.
Needless to say, that lengthy process would have been endlessly easier if that customer had been a NextGenTel customer. Simonsen could’ve accessed the Internet via NextGenTel, entered the IP address into their web browser, and used the telephone number to reach their target there and then – or called round for a visit, whichever was easier.
In a comment to Dinside, NextGenTel CTO Jørn E. Hodne said his company were taking the matter seriously and were attempting to put things right by fixing software and reporting themselves to the country’s Data Inspectorate.
“We’ve started the [software] update and even reported the matter to the Inspectorate,” Hodne said. “The world we live in is very complex, but this is our responsibility.”
[....] "These companies at least have a public relations issue, if not a moral obligation, to really make sure you understand that this is to your benefit," Mr. Inglis said. "As an individual, myself, I continue to be surprised by the kinds of insights companies have about me." Now, first off, he's right. Companies collecting tons of data on their users should absolutely be a hell of a lot more transparent about what they're collecting (and should give more controls allowing people to opt-out of certain collections). However, it seems quite rich to hear that coming from someone at the NSA, perhaps the least transparent organization ever -- and one that worked hard to make sure that the tech industry was completely barred from being transparent about what sorts of data the NSA gets from them.
To try to spin that as an issue for the tech companies is just silly. As plenty of people have pointed out over and over again, your use of a tech company's services is voluntary. You can avoid it if you don't like it. And, yes, while more information and user controls would be helpful, in the few instances where there have been data leaks, or when it has become clear what kinds of info companies collect, most people have actually been totally fine with it. That's quite different from the NSA. With a company, people may be trading information for a service which they value -- and they're making the choice that the tradeoffs are worth it. That's not true with the NSA. It's not by choice and there's no tradeoff.
No matter what, the idea that Chris Inglis is suddenly the spokesperson for transparency is simply ridiculous.
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Case in point: Sony this week finally made HBO Go available on the Playstation 3 (despite HBO Go launching in early 2010), but not the new Playstation 4. The new Playstation 3 version works for most cable operators in the country -- except for users on Comcast. Why not? Comcast doesn't really give an answer other than to say the massive (and soon to get much larger) company only has so many people available to ensure TV Everywhere authentication works on new devices:"With every new website, device or player we authenticate, we need to work through technical integration and customer service which takes time and resources. Moving forward, we will continue to prioritize as we partner with various players."Which might almost sound like a reasonable explanation -- until you realize that HBO Go on Roku hasn't worked for Comcast users since 2011, despite Roku being one of the most prominent Internet streaming devices available. Apparently, it's a matter of priorities? Comcast's argument for being allowed to acquire companies is always that these acquisitions make them bigger and more efficient. So apparently, getting simple TV authentication to work takes Comcast years longer than every other pay TV operator because Comcast is simply too big, efficient and fantastic?
Now, Playstation 3 users have joined the Roku user chorus, asking Comcast in their official forums why they can't use HBO Go, and are being greeted by the same silence Roku owners have enjoyed for years. I'm not sure you can get away with calling this a net neutrality violation (I think the term is mutated to the point of uselessness anyway), given HBO Go on Roku will work if you have Comcast broadband -- but get HBO from another pay TV provider like Dish. Still, it's fairly curious how Comcast's own Internet video and on-demand offerings (which include HBO content) tend to take priority.
The problem illustrates once again how the TV Industry's "TV Everywhere" mindset fails because it winds up taking value away from the user, not delivering it. It's also another shining example of how HBO should shake off its fears, embrace innovation, leapfrog the gatekeepers and release the standalone Internet streaming app everyone has been clamoring for.
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CIA: We Only Spied On Senate Intelligence Committee Because They Took Classified Documents That Prove We're Liars
In response to all of this, it appears that the CIA is attempting, weakly, to spin this as being the Senate staffers' fault, arguing that the real breach was the fact that the Senate staffers somehow broke the rules in obtaining that internal review. CIA boss John Brennan's statement hints at the fact that he thinks the real problem was with the way the staffers acted, suggesting that an investigation would fault "the legislative" branch (the Senate) rather than the executive (the CIA). In his statement on Wednesday Brennan hit back in unusually strong terms. “I am deeply dismayed that some members of the Senate have decided to make spurious allegations about CIA actions that are wholly unsupported by the facts,” Brennan said.
“I am very confident that the appropriate authorities reviewing this matter will determine where wrongdoing, if any, occurred in either the executive branch or legislative branch,” Brennan continued, raising a suggestion that the Senate committee itself might have acted improperly. A further report detailed what he's talking about. Reporters at McClatchy have revealed that the Senate staffers working on this came across the document, printed it out, and simply walked out of the CIA and over to the Senate with it, and the CIA is furious about that. Then, in a moment of pure stupidity, the CIA appears to have confronted the Senate Intelligence Committee about all of this... directly revealing that they were spying on the Committee staffers. Several months after the CIA submitted its official response to the committee report, aides discovered in the database of top-secret documents at CIA headquarters a draft of an internal review ordered by former CIA Director Leon Panetta of the materials released to the panel, said the knowledgeable person.
They determined that it showed that the CIA leadership disputed report findings that they knew were corroborated by the so-called Panetta review, said the knowledgeable person.
The aides printed the material, walked out of CIA headquarters with it and took it to Capitol Hill, said the knowledgeable person.
“All this goes back to what is the technical structure here,” said the U.S. official who confirmed the unauthorized removal. “If I was a Senate staffer and I was given access to documents on the system, I would have a laptop that’s cleared. I would be allowed to look at these documents. But with these sorts of things, there’s generally an agreement that you can’t download or take them.”
The CIA discovered the security breach and brought it to the committee’s attention in January, leading to a determination that the agency recorded the staffers’ use of the computers in the high-security research room, and then confirmed the breach by reviewing the usage data, said the knowledgeable person. There are many more details in the McClatchy report, which I highly recommend reading. And, yes, perhaps there's an argument that Senate staffers weren't supposed to take such documents, but the CIA trying to spin this by saying it was those staffers who were engaged in "wrongdoing" is almost certainly going to fall flat with Congress. After all, the intelligence committee is charged with oversight of the CIA, not the other way around. "You stole the documents we were hiding from you which proved we were lying, so we spied on you to find out how you did that" is not, exactly, the kind of argument that too many people are going to find compelling.
Still, the latest is that the CIA has successfully convinced the DOJ to have the FBI kick off an investigation of the Senate staffers, rather than of the CIA breaking the law and spying on their overseers.
Of course, the CIA may still have one advantage on its side: there are still some in Congress who are so supportive of the intelligence community itself that even they will make excuses for the CIA spying on their own staff. At least that seems to be the response from Senate Intelligence vice chair Senator Saxby Chambliss, one of the most ardent defenders of the intelligence community he's supposed to be watching over. When asked about all of this, he seemed to be a lot more concerned about the staffers supposedly taking "classified" documents than about the CIA spying on those staffers: “I have no comment. You should talk to those folks that are giving away classified information and get their opinion,” Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said when asked about the alleged intrusions.
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Yesterday, an administrative judge ruled in Huerta v. Pirker that the FAA’s “rules” banning commercial drones don’t have the force of law because the agency never followed the procedures required to enact them as an official regulation. The ruling means that any aircraft that qualifies as a “model aircraft” plausibly operates under laissez-faire. Entrepreneurs are free for now to develop real-life TacoCopters, and Amazon can launch its Prime Air same-day delivery service.
Laissez-faire might not last. The FAA could appeal the ruling, try to issue an emergency regulation, or simply wait 18 months or so until its current regulatory proceedings culminate in regulations for commercial drones. If they opt for the last of these, then the drone community has an interesting opportunity to show that regulations for small commercial drones do not pass a cost-benefit test. So start new drone businesses, but as Matt Waite says, “Don’t do anything stupid. Bad actors make bad policy.”
Kudos to Brendan Schulman, the attorney for Pirker, who has been a tireless advocate for the freedom to innovate using drone technology. He is on Twitter at @dronelaws, and if you’re at all interested in this issue, he is a great person to follow.
A few weeks back, we reported that the European Parliament's Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) committee planned to send some questions to Edward Snowden as part of its inquiry on electronic mass surveillance of EU citizens. He's now replied to these, prefacing them with a short statement (pdf -- embedded below.) Although there are no major revelations -- he specifically states that he will not be disclosing anything not already published -- it does contain many important clarifications and interesting comments. For example, he confirms that: The NSA granted me the authority to monitor communications world-wide using its mass surveillance systems, including within the United States. I have personally targeted individuals using these systems under both the President of the United States' Executive Order 12333 and the US Congress' FAA 702. I know the good and the bad of these systems, and what they can and cannot do, and I am telling you that without getting out of my chair, I could have read the private communications of any member of this [LIBE] committee, as well as any ordinary citizen. I swear under penalty of perjury that this is true Before moving on to the parliamentarian's questions, he concludes his opening statement as follows: For the record, I also repeat my willingness to provide testimony to the United States Congress, should they decide to consider the issue of unconstitutional mass surveillance. The first question from the MEPs on the committee concerns the extent of the cooperation between the NSA and EU member states. Snowden's answer includes some new background information on what's been going on here: One of the foremost activities of the NSA's FAD, or Foreign Affairs Division, is to pressure or incentivize EU member states to change their laws to enable mass surveillance. Lawyers from the NSA, as well as the UK's GCHQ, work very hard to search for loopholes in laws and constitutional protections that they can use to justify indiscriminate, dragnet surveillance operations that were at best unwittingly authorized by lawmakers. These efforts to interpret new powers out of vague laws is an intentional strategy to avoid public opposition and lawmakers' insistence that legal limits be respected, effects the GCHQ internally described in its own documents as "damaging public debate." That makes a mockery of the UK government's insistence that GCHQ's actions were always "within the law": that's only true to the extent that the agency happily exploited to the maximum loopholes its lawyers have spotted in the already weak UK legislation covering this area. In terms of the spying programs, Snowden hints that there's much more to come, and underlines that revealing them is now a matter for journalists, not for him: There are many other undisclosed programs that would impact EU citizens' rights, but I will leave the public interest determinations as to which of these may be safely disclosed to responsible journalists in coordination with government stakeholders. Another question probed the options for raising concerns about spying programs, and asked him whether he thought he had exhausted them before deciding to leak the documents himself. He explained that he had reported programs that seemed problematic to "more than ten distinct officials, none of whom took any action to address them." So much for the idea that he didn't try hard enough to use official channels before taking more drastic action. On the question of what the European Parliament could do to help him, Snowden's answer is characteristically self-effacing: If you want to help me, help me by helping everyone: declare that the indiscriminate, bulk collection of private data by governments is a violation of our rights and must end. What happens to me as a person is less important than what happens to our common rights. But he then goes on to say: As for asylum, I do seek EU asylum, but I have yet to receive a positive response to the requests I sent to various EU member states. Parliamentarians in the national governments have told me that the US, and I quote, "will not allow" EU partners to offer political asylum to me, which is why the previous resolution on asylum ran into such mysterious opposition. I would welcome any offer of safe passage or permanent asylum, but I recognize that would require an act of extraordinary political courage. Sadly, it seems unlikely that political courage will be forthcoming given the extremely weak responses from European governments to the spying leaks. Snowden was also asked about economic espionage: global surveillance capabilities are being used on a daily basis for the purpose of economic espionage. That a major goal of the US Intelligence Community is to produce economic intelligence is the worst kept secret in Washington. In this context he makes an astute observation: Recently, governments have shifted their talking points from claiming they only use mass surveillance for "national security" purposes to the more nebulous "valid foreign intelligence purposes." I suggest this committee consider that this rhetorical shift is a tacit acknowledgment by governments that they recognize they have crossed beyond the boundaries of justifiable activities.. He also elaborates on an early comment that encryption, done properly, does offer a measure of protection against the kind of surveillance programs he has revealed: The good news is that there are solutions. The weakness of mass surveillance is that it can very easily be made much more expensive through changes in technical standards: pervasive, end-to-end encryption can quickly make indiscriminate surveillance impossible on a cost-effective basis. The result is that governments are likely to fall back to traditional, targeted surveillance founded upon an individualized suspicion. In other words, encryption brings a double benefit. It helps preserve people's privacy and freedom, and thanks to the high costs of breaking properly-encrypted communications, it encourages governments to move back to the older, more targetted kind of spying that Snowden himself calls "above reproach". Finally, he was asked some more hostile questions from the right-leaning members of the committee, including whether the Russian secret service had approached him: Of course. Even the secret service of Andorra would have approached me, if they had had the chance: that's their job.
But I didn't take any documents with me from Hong Kong, and while I'm sure they were disappointed, it doesn't take long for an intelligence service to realize when they're out of luck. I was also accompanied at all times by an utterly fearless journalist [WikiLeaks' Sarah Harrison] with one of the biggest megaphones in the world, which is the equivalent of Kryptonite for spies. As a consequence, we spent the next 40 days trapped in an airport instead of sleeping on piles of money while waiting for the next parade. But we walked out with heads held high. As that hints, it's an eloquent and important document that is worth reading in its entirety. It not only adds useful details to many of the facts that have been published earlier, but also underlines the consistently rigorous and moral approach that Snowden has taken from the beginning.
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The issue, basically, is that the FAA has historically exempted model airplanes from its rules, and the NTSB finds it impossible to square that with its attempt to now claim that drones are under its purview. As Geraghty notes, accepting that leads to absurd arguments about the FAA's mandate over all flying objects: Complainant has, historically, in their policy notices, modified the term "aircraft" by prefixing the word "model", to distinguish the device/contrivance being considered. By affixing the word "model" to "aircraft" the reasonable inference is that Complainant FAA intended to distinguish and exclude model aircraft from either or both of the aforesaid definitions of "aircraft".
To accept Complainant's interpretive argument would lead to a conclusion that those definitions include as an aircraft all types of devices/contrivances intended for, or used for, flight in the air. The extension of that conclusion would then result in the risible argument that a flight in the air of, e.g., a paper aircraft, or a toy balsa wood glider, could subject the "operator" to the regulatory provisions of FAA Part 91, Section 91.13(a)....
..... The reasonable inference is not that FAA has overlooked the requirements, but, rather that FAA has distinguished model aircraft as a class excluded from the regulatory and statutory definitions. The judge notes that while the FAA had some internal memorandum about these issues, it did not put forth a full rule, and thus it is not an actual policy. As a result, the ruling finds that the current definition of aircraft is not applicable here and thus the FAA has no real mandate over this kind of drone.
This does not preclude the FAA from trying to go through a full rule-making process to try to gain a mandate over commercial drone use, but that will involve a big political fight. It's way easier to block something like that from becoming official than overturning it if it was already deemed the law.
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Representing the major Hollywood studios, the Motion Picture Association (MPA) regularly patrols the Internet for sites that host or link to pirated movies.
In recent months the group has approached several site owners requesting them to take down their sites, or face legal action.
One way to identify the owners of said sites is through domain WHOIS information, which is publicly available. However, this becomes problematic when site owners use so-called domain privacy services, which hide their personal details from the public. At least, that’s what’s assumed.
As it turns out, not all of these services are as private as one might think. The operator of a linking site learned this the hard way when ‘Domains by Proxy‘ shared his personal details with the MPA.
The domain privacy service, which is owned by GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons, handed over his personal details without a subpoena, or any form of due process.
“We have received a possible legal complaint regarding your domain name xxx.com,” Domains By Proxy informed the site owner.
“Since we were provided with proof the complainant owns a potentially applicable copyright, we have disclosed your identity for the limited purpose of this complaint so that the complainant can communicate directly with you to seek resolution.”
The site owner, who prefers to remain anonymous, was shocked when he received the message. He says his website doesn’t host any copyrighted material and assumed that Domains by Proxy would at least notify him before sharing any personal details.
Soon after the email from Domains by Proxy arrived, the Motion Picture Association reached out to the domain owner, using the name and email address provided by the domain privacy service.
“This Notice requires you to immediately take effective measures to end and prevent further copyright infringement. All opportunities provided by the Website to download, stream or otherwise obtain access to the Entertainment Content should be disabled permanently,” the movie industry group wrote.
“If you fail to take the immediately required action to end and prevent further copyright infringements the MPA and the MPA Members expressly reserve the right to pursue all remedies available,” MPA added.
Needless to say, the domain owner does not agree with Domains by Proxy’s action. He says that the MPA obtained his personal details without providing actual proof. In addition, he doesn’t understand why his personal details had to be handed over, as all emails directed to the email listed in the WHOIS are forwarded to him anyway.
“Domain by Proxy automatically adds firstname.lastname@example.org, so any organization can contact the domain owners directly. There is no need to ask personal details from the WHOIS service without any proof of copyright infringements,” the domain owner tells TF.
“Other web services, such as LeaseWeb, don’t give details directly to MPA but force you to disable the service instead. Domains by Proxy should do the same I think,” he adds.
As it turns out, Domains by Proxy is judge and jury here, while due process is completely absent. That’s not really an ideal policy for a company that trades on people’s privacy rights.
One of the key themes to emerge in the debate about surveillance is the oversight of the agencies involved, and to what extent it is effective. In the US, that has been put into stark relief by news that the committee that is supposed to keep an eye on the spies was itself spied upon. And now over in the UK, we learn that things are just as bad when it comes to the equivalent oversight body, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT). Its powers sound impressive: The Tribunal can investigate complaints about any alleged conduct by, or on behalf of, the Intelligence Services - the Security Service (sometimes called MI5), the Secret Intelligence Service (sometimes called MI6) and GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters).
The scope of conduct the IPT can investigate concerning the Intelligence Agencies is much broader than it is with regard to the other public authorities. The IPT is the only Tribunal to whom complaints about the Intelligence Services can be directed Unfortunately, the IPT's credibility as the public's watchdog for the intelligence services has just been seriously undermined by the following information published by The Guardian: A controversial court that claims to be completely independent of the British government is secretly operating from a base within the Home Office, the Guardian has learned.
The Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which investigates complaints about the country's intelligence agencies, is also funded by the Home Office, and its staff includes at least one person believed to be a Home Office official previously engaged in intelligence-related work. It gets worse: the IPT will not say whether GCHQ had disclosed the existence of its bulk surveillance operations, which attempt to capture the digital communications of everybody -- including those people who complain to the tribunal.
Nor will it disclose whether it has issued any secret ruling on the lawfulness of those operations, on the grounds that the rules under which it operates stipulate that it cannot do so without the permission of GCHQ itself. It has not sought that permission on grounds it knows it would not be given. So the body tasked with overseeing GCHQ has to get GCHQ's permission before it can reveal any wrongdoing by GCHQ, which it doesn't bother doing when it knows it would be refused. Isn't oversight a wonderful thing?
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As pointed out in the comments by Matthew S, this story has now been debunked. Turns out that the drapes in the background were different, and not in her house, as the woman claimed. It appears the photo got on her phone because they had mutual friends on Facebook, and the woman got confused. We apologize for posting this story based on the incorrect info. The original story, crossed out, is below.
So, let's say you're a creepy dude, the kind that likes to brazenly break into other people's homes. Now let's say that, in addition to being a creepy criminal, you're also a complete idiot looking to get caught, the kind we've covered in the past. How exactly do you find the perfect combination of self-incrimination while maintaining the high level of creepiness you've spent so many years cultivating?
Here's one Denver creep's attempt to show us the way: The victim told police she had no idea the man had been inside her home while she was there — until she checked her cellphone the next day. According to police, on Jan. 29 at approximately 9:20 p.m. a woman was putting her children to bed when an unknown man entered her home and used the woman’s cellphone to take a picture of himself. Yes, apparently a gentlemen who is working entirely too hard on his Breaking Bad cosplay strategies (see video in the link) also decided to break into a house and take absolutely nothing other than a selfie on his victim's cell phone. Of course, because this is apparently an attempt by the burglar to get himself caught, neighbors recognized him and are working with police to identify the man. “He doesn’t have glasses when you normally see him walking down the street. Maybe they’re a disguise. I don’t know,” said Gardner. When asked about the facial hair, Gardner replied, “Oh, that’s his, that’s him.” As of the time of this writing, the man hasn't yet been caught by police, but one imagines that is simply a matter of time. After all, our dumb criminal went ahead and provided the single thing smarter bad guys work as hard as possible to avoid: a picture of his face. That kind of dedication to getting caught deserves our respect and our applause.
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Illinois Gas Company Facing Class Action Suit Over Service Charges May Be Blocked By Eavesdropping Act From Presenting Recorded Evidence
We've written a lot about the state of Illinois' infamous Eavesdropping Act, a law that has been routinely abused by Illinois law enforcement officers to prevent citizens from recording them while they work. After a long legal battle that nearly made its way to the Supreme Court, the courts found that the use of the law to prosecute citizens who record police officers was unconstitutional and the latest court to hear the state's arguments suggested the law be repealed altogether.
The law is still on the books at the moment (although LEOs can no longer use it against camera-wielding citizens), which may come in handy for the plaintiffs of a class action suit against an Illinois gas company. (h/t to Above the Law)
The lawsuit claims the gas company charged customers unnecessary fees to cover gas line leaks and repairs. According to an investigation that preceded the lawsuit, Nicor Gas collected nearly $26 million in 2009 while paying out only $600,000 in benefits. In a class action lawsuit filed in 2011, the plaintiffs allege that Nicor also charged several customers $19.95/mo. for appliance coverage (while labeling it only as "Nicor Service Charge" on the bill).
So, why is this lawsuit rising to the surface in 2014? Well, it's because Nicor Gas apparently plans to violate the Illinois Eavesdropping Act in order to defend itself against these claims. The utility recorded millions of phone calls over the course of a decade and plans to “divulge them outside of Nicor and to use them in court as they litigate the consumer class action,” according to a statement about the case...
“The Illinois Eavesdropping Act flatly prohibits corporations who collect or make such recordings from divulging any part of them to any third party and prohibits such recordings be used in court proceedings,” said [Adam] Levitt (plaintiffs' attorney).
“Nicor Gas claims that all customers recorded heard a ‘warning’ before being recorded, and ‘consented’ by remaining on the line after the warning was given. But under the law, any consent only gave Nicor Gas a right to record, not to divulge or use the recordings. Any ‘consent’ they got from customers that permitted them to record was for the limited purpose of internal quality assurance – not for divulgence to outside parties, and certainly not for use in public court proceedings,” according to Levitt. Even if this use of the Eavesdropping Act may be somewhat questionable given the circumstances (the most probable defense against the claims is that customers agreed to these charges during phone conversations with Nicor Gas), it's hard to see how the power company will route around the specifics of the law.
From the law itself: No communication or conversation or any part, portion, or aspect of the communication or conversation made, acquired, or obtained, directly or indirectly, under this exemption (j), may be, directly or indirectly, furnished to any law enforcement officer, agency, or official for any purpose or used in any inquiry or investigation, or used, directly or indirectly, in any administrative, judicial, or other proceeding, or divulged to any third party. Exemption (j) covers recorded business-to-consumer "oral telephone solicitation and marketing" recordings. Incoming calls ("What the hell is THIS charge?") are also covered by this exemption. For the purposes of this subsection (j), "telephone solicitation" means a communication through the use of a telephone by live operators:
(i) soliciting the sale of goods or services;
(ii) receiving orders for the sale of goods or services;
(iii) assisting in the use of goods or services; or
(iv) engaging in the solicitation, administration, or collection of bank or retail credit accounts. Even if it does somehow find a way to present its recordings as evidence, the calls themselves may be incriminating. Critics accuse Nicor of using scare tactics to sell ComfortGuard.
According to a ComfortGuard marketing script, Nicor call-center reps are instructed to tell customers "the utility is only legally responsible to make the situation safe or make repairs to its own facilities. What that means is that the property owner (such as yourself) may have to find and hire an independent contractor to come in, do an inspection and then make those repairs. That can be expensive, and it could also mean days without any gas to heat the home, cook and so on."
In fact, ICC [Illinois Commerce Commission] staff argue, Nicor is legally required to inspect leak complaints inside customers' homes and make repairs, at charges typically ranging from $50 to $100. We'll have to see where Nicor goes with this, but the allegations are pretty damning, and it's hard to see how its own sales tactics and vague line item descriptions are going to help its case. Even if it is interesting to see this law being used as a defense mechanism rather than a weapon against citizens, it only helps to highlight how badly written the Illinois Eavesdropping Act is. If nothing else, it presents yet another reason for legislators to seriously consider scrapping the law and starting over.
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- Men who use the pronoun "whom" in an online dating profile receive 31% more responses from women. And you probably don't even need to use it correctly... well, unless another study concludes that women are significantly better at grammar usage than men. [url]
- Can the language you speak influence your behavior? Speakers of languages with weak future tense grammar (eg. German, Finnish and Estonian) seem to correlate with more future-oriented behaviors such as an increased rate of financial saving, lower rates of smoking and higher rates of exercise, and higher condom usage -- compared to speakers of languages with stronger future tense grammar like English and French. [url]
- Four minutes of conversation is about all it takes for a speed dating participant to figure out if there's any real chemistry between a potential couple. Protip: language analysis suggests you might want to sound sympathetic and not ask too many questions. [url]
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