Tech Polis

FCC's New Rules Could Threaten Net Neutrality

EFF - 1 hour 32 sec ago

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Wheeler is circulating a proposal for new FCC rules on the issue of network neutrality, the idea that Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data that travels over their networks equally. Unfortunately, early reports suggest those rules may do more harm than good.

The new rules were prompted by last January’s federal court ruling rejecting the bulk of the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Order on the grounds that they exceeded the FCC’s authority, and sending the FCC back to the drawing board.

According to reports, Chairman Wheeler’s new proposal embraces a “commercially reasonable” standard for network management.  That standard could allow ISPs to charge companies for preferential treatment, such as charging web-based companies like Netflix or Amazon to reach consumers at faster speeds.

This kind of “pay to play” model would be profoundly dangerous for competition.  New innovators often cannot afford to pay to reach consumers at the same speeds as well-established web companies. That means ISPs could effectively become gatekeepers to their subscribers.

The FCC issued a statement this morning that claims that the new network neutrality proposal will not allow ISPs to, “act in a commercially unreasonable manner to harm the Internet, including favoring the traffic from an affiliated entity.”  But we have no idea as to how “commercially reasonable” will actually be interpreted.

The devil will be in the details. While all we have now is a statement that a proposal for what the proposed rules might look like is being circulated in private within the FCC, the public should be poised to act. In an FCC rulemaking process, the commission issues what’s called a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). After the NPRM is issued, the public is invited to comment to the FCC about how their proposal will affect the interest of the public.

The FCC is required by law to respond to public comments, so it’s extremely important that we let the FCC know that rules that let ISPs pick and choose how certain companies reach consumers will not be tolerated. 

The problem is that most people don’t know about this extremely opaque process, and so they don’t participate.  Let’s change that. Stay tuned. We’ll let you know when it’s time to raise your voice and add your testimony during the FCC’s public comment window when the new proposed rules are announced.

 

Related Issues: Net Neutrality
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Categories: Tech Polis

DOJ Whines That A Warrant To Search A Mobile Phone Makes It More Difficult To Catch Criminals

Techdirt - 2 hours 47 min ago

The US government has entered its reply brief in the US vs. Wurie case and its argument in favor of warrantless searches of arrestees' cell phones contains some truly terrible suppositions. Here's a brief recap of the situation in this case: In 2007, the police arrested a Massachusetts man who appeared to be selling crack cocaine from his car. The cops seized his cellphone and noticed that it was receiving calls from "My House." They opened the phone to determine the number for "My House." That led them to the man's home, where the police found drugs, cash and guns.

The defendant was convicted, but on appeal he argued that accessing the information on his cellphone without a warrant violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Earlier this year, the First Circuit Court of Appeals accepted the man's argument, ruling that the police should have gotten a warrant before accessing any information on the man's phone. As was noted by Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy, a lot has changed since 2007. The phone the police searched seven years ago was a grey flip phone with limited capabilities. Unfortunately, the Court is using this case to set precedent for a nation full of smartphones, which contain considerably more data and are roughly the equivalent of a person's home computer, rather than the address book the government refers to in its arguments.

The government agrees that times are changing but counterintuitively argues that only law enforcement is being negatively affected by this. Every argument in favor of warrantless searches contains some sort of lamentation about how tech-savvy criminals will be able to cover up or destroy evidence contained on their phones before the police can crack open these new-fangled address books and copy everything down. [T]he Founding officers have conducted full evidentiary searches of individuals lawfully arrested on probable cause to find evidence of the crime of arrest, including the examination of objects, containers, and written material; (ii) that in an unbroken series of decisions from 1914 to 2013, this Court has recognized that this historical search authority applies categorically; and (iii) that if an officer does not search an unlocked cell phone as soon as she finds it, a significant risk exists that the police will never be able to recover evidence contained on the phone. This speedy dismantling of the Fourth Amendment pursuant to law enforcement's desire to secure is only the preamble. As the reply brief rolls on, the government makes even more questionable assertions that view smartphones and technological advances as little more than escape vehicles for alleged felons. (h/t to Hanni Fakoury for pointing this part out.) [S]earching an arrestee's cell phone immediately upon arrest is often critical to protecting evidence against concealment in a locked or encrypted phone or remote destruction.The numerous party and amicus briefs in these cases have not seriously undermined that fundamental practical point. Although the briefs identify various techniques to prevent the remote-wiping problem (none of which is close to perfect), they barely address the principal problem that the government identified: automatic passcode-locking and encryption. The government argues that impartial technological advancements somehow favor criminals. As it sees it, the path to the recovery of evidence should not be slowed by encryption or wiping or even the minimal effort needed to obtain a warrant. The police are presented as forever behind the curve, despite evidence otherwise. Without a doubt, there's an ongoing arms race between deletion technology and recovery technology, but the gap between the two isn't nearly as large as the government portrays it.

But what really deserves attention here is the government's antipathy towards encryption and other protective technology. Together with the paragraph above, the government argues that any smartphone with the potential to be encrypted/wiped should automatically be relieved of warrant requirements. Encryption and wiping technology are inherently evil in the government's eyes. But even if amici were correct in their premise that threats from third parties cannot justify the search of a cell phone incident to arrest, they ignore the principal justification in the government's opening brief—the threat of passcode-locking and encryption—as well as newer "geofencing” technologies that will enable individuals to preset their phones to automatically wipe in certain circumstances. Those tactics are not the actions of third parties, but rather automatic functions that an arrestee—potentially with police investigation in mind—can program into his phone. Criminals might use these methods. That's a given. But what about anyone worried about their phone being stolen, especially considering the wealth of information stored on it? Does the government plan to take a stance against law enforcement's push for cell phone "kill switches?" This, too, could result in law enforcement being deprived of the opportunity to browse a person's smartphone while they sit in a holding cell awaiting booking or arraignment.

But it's the underlying assertion that such technology would be deployed mostly by criminals that's the most troubling. It's no secret government investigative and security agencies don't care for encryption. The NSA holds onto encrypted data "just in case," under the guise of counterterrorism. This argument puts non-criminal citizens in a unwelcome position: the presumption of hidden criminal activity whenever a police officer encounters an encrypted phone.

What's equally as worrying is the government's suggested remedies. The government brushes aside civil liberties concerns and points out that wronged citizens have plenty of recourse... provided they're willing to be arrested, charged, jailed until their court date and successfully argue their rights were violated in front of a judge.

The government first sets up the "remedies" by suggesting law enforcement will have to develop steps to ensure they're not getting more than they're looking for and that they're not intercepting communications while in possession of the phone. It suggests moving the phone to "airplane mode" before searching and encouraging officials to craft guidelines to address privacy issues. The nudge towards belatedly addressing constitutional issues is backhanded and backwards, especially considering law enforcement's usual attitude towards these considerations: protocols are only developed if and when public outcry reaches unacceptable levels.

The latter suggestion -- suppression of evidence -- places a delusional amount of faith in the justice system. Even worse, it places the burden on the arrested to ensure law enforcement follows its own rules. Ultimately, law enforcement agencies will need to develop protocols to address that issue, and defendants will be able to enforce the limitation through suppression motions. No information indicates that agencies are not up to that task. "No information," eh? There's plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Police the police at your own expense while under the threat of imprisonment. Yeah, that should go just fine.

The government wants a warrant-free ride for its law enforcement officers, who are apparently forever behind the tech curve. The argument against warrants doesn't get much more ridiculous than the following. Respondent and his amici have even less to say about a scope-limited approach, in which officers would be permitted to search cell phones incident to arrest only to the extent reasonably necessary to serve the legitimate law-enforcement interests of finding evidence of the offense of arrest, identifying the arrestee, and ensuring officer safety. Under that approach, courts would remain vigilant against uninhibited "exploratory" searches that do not serve those interests. Once again, your civil liberties can be argued... after the fact... in court. Under a scope-limited approach, an officer could not peruse every area of a phone on the off chance that evidence of some crime might be found there. Rather, the officer would be required to articulate a specific reason to believe that evidence relevant to the offense of arrest, officer safety, or arrestee identity would be found in each area of the phone she searched. Specific reasons that evidence might be relevant sounds a whole lot like the sort of things that would be present on a warrant request. Except in this case, the officer would have the luxury of arguing that after searching the phone. It's like asking for warrant after tossing the house. But the government's not done. It goes farther and attempts to portray warrants as the actual enemy of the Fourth Amendment. If respondent's rule is adopted, at the time a magistrate issues a warrant, neither officers nor the magistrate will know what files or applications the phone contains. A typical warrant would identify information sought in the search (e.g., drug ledgers, customer lists, financial records, and evidence of a suspect's use or ownership). Officers would then necessarily need to conduct at least cursory searches of relevant areas of the phone to determine whether they might contain the object of the search—a process indistinguishable from the scope-limited approach the United States has suggested. A warrant-based approach would thus not limit the scope of any ultimate search, as compared to the scope-limited approach described above. In the government's comparison, both are equally intrusive, but only one keeps cops from doing their job. Rather, the primary function of a warrant requirement would be to preclude officers from searching a phone when they have reason to believe that it contains evidence of crime, but cannot establish the higher standard of probable cause—or cannot obtain a warrant before a phone locks and becomes inaccessible. That's odd infuriating. I could have sworn warrant requirements were in place to protect citizens' Fourth Amendment rights, not to somehow screw cops out of diving into someone's cell phone just because they happened to be carrying it on their person. The Fourth Amendment protections are there for a reason -- for this exact reason: to prevent unreasonable searches.

Replace anything in that sentence and see if it still looks like the sort of thing the government of a free nation should be arguing. Rather, the primary function of a warrant requirement would be to preclude officers from searching a RESIDENCE when they have reason to believe it contains evidence of a crime, but cannot establish a higher standard of probable cause -- or cannot obtain a warrant before the DOOR CLOSES. The government views the Fourth Amendment as little more than a criminal's best friend. This is the entity that is supposed to protect civil liberties, not argue them away as pesky impediments to the pursuit of bad guys.



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Categories: Tech Polis

Criminal Conviction In South Africa For Posting A Movie To The Pirate Bay

Techdirt - 3 hours 49 min ago
A few years ago, we wrote about an insanely aggressive anti-piracy campaign in South Africa, in which the local version of the RIAA (RISA) suggested people "shoot the pirate." That hyperbolic and ultra-aggressive campaign resulted in some actual violence, when RISA sent a group of artists (armed with that slogan) onto the streets to "confront" counterfeit CD sellers. So, perhaps it shouldn't come as a huge surprise to find out that a man in South Africa has been criminally convicted for posting a torrent for a local movie to the Pirate Bay, and given a suspended prison sentence.

There's a reason why most copyright infringement should be handled under civil litigation, rather than criminal. But, apparently authorities down in South Africa are trying a more aggressive path. While the guy had his sentence suspended because he apologized and helped to remove the work from being accessed via the Pirate Bay, it's hard to see how this is even close to a proportionate or reasonable response to someone sharing your movie. Meanwhile, it seems worth noting that up in Nigeria, a massively successful film industry has been built over the past few decades, in part because piracy helped solve the distribution problems the industry faced. Perhaps South Africa might want to think again before throwing fans behind bars for sharing a local film they liked.

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Categories: Tech Polis

US Copyright Law Doesn’t Apply Worldwide,”DVD Ripper” Tells Court

TorrentFreak - 4 hours 25 min ago

dvdfablogoAACS, the decryption licensing outfit founded by a group of movie studios and technology partners including Warner Bros, Disney, Microsoft and Intel, launched a crackdown on DRM-circumvention software earlier this year.

In the most prominent action AACS sued the makers of popular DVD ripping software DVDFab. Last month it won a preliminary injunction based on the argument that the “DVDFab Group” violates the DMCA’s anti-circumvention clause, since their software that can bypass DVD encryption.

The injunction barred the Chinese-based DVDFab from distributing its software in public, by allowing AACS to order the seizure of its domain names. In addition, the company’s social media accounts were blocked and bank funds frozen.

DVDFab initially did not respond to the court, so the order was entered by default. However, after the injunction was issued the company responded in the name of Feng Tao, with a request for the court to revise its earlier judgment.

The company informed the court that the injunction is too broad, as it basically shuts down the entire operation based on U.S. law. The anti-circumvention provisions the injunction is based on don’t apply worldwide, they argue.

“It is well-established that the Copyright Act doesn’t apply extra-territorially,” the company notes.

dvdfab

Since DVDFab’s domain names and bank accounts were seized the injunction also blocks DVDFab’s business in other countries, which goes too far according to the lawyers.

“For example, shutting down the DVDFab domain names and enjoining the payment processors prevents defendant Feng Tao from using such domain names and payment processors for sales of unrelated products, and for sales of DVDFab products outside the United States,” they note.

For this reason DVDFab asks the court to amend the injunction so it only applies to the United States. This would require the return of seized domain names and social media accounts, plus the lifting of payment processing restrictions.

In a response, AACS points out that DVDFab has violated the preliminary injunction from the start. The company immediately registered several new domain names that are not under U.S. control, and continued business as usual. DVDFab also allegedly launched a new “BluFab” brand under which it sells copies of its DVD ripping software.

dvdfabchange

Even more controversially, AACS claims that a DVDFab representative threatened them in an attempt to settle the issue. A person named “Frank” contacted an AACS lawyer and offered an “exclusivity delay” with all major circumvention software makers, if AACS agreed to lift the domain name seizures. If AACS declined this offer, DVDFab would give away its software for free, the company allegedly said.

“Frank said that DVDFab was the largest circumvention software maker and it could align all other major circumvention software makers to allow AACS LA a one to three weeks exclusivity delay on introducing circumvention software in exchange for AACS LA restoring the DVDFab Websites and business.”

“Frank stated that if AACS LA refused the deal, DVDFab Defendants would distribute the software for free, thereby rendering AACS LA irrelevant,” AACS lawyers adds.

AACS further points out that the scope of the injunction isn’t too broad at all. According to the company, the Copyright Act allows for such measures in cases where the actions of a foreign business are “felt within the United States.”

It’s now up to the court to decide who’s right in this case.

For the time being, all U.S.-controlled DVDFab domain names, social media accounts and payment processing services remain unavailable. However, the software maker is still operational through several new domains, which can be easily found through Google and other search engines.

Source: TorrentFreak, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing and anonymous VPN services.

Categories: Tech Polis

Former DHS Watchdog, A Tyrant, Failure And Alleged Felon, 'Punished' With Transfer To Another Government Agency

Techdirt - 4 hours 49 min ago

Good news, Americans! The former "top watchdog" for the Department of Homeland Security, Charles K. Edwards, was an incredibly perverse blend of crooked and spineless and yet we still managed to avoid being terrorized to death during his run as Inspector General (2011-2013). That's the resilience of the American public. Even while the agency was being bumblefucked into (even greater) uselessness, those who hate us for our way of life (which now includes drone strikes, neverending military 'interventions' and the constant watching of damn near everybody) were unable to find a way to maneuver around the "security" "provided" by the DHS.

How can you tell when an investigative report is especially damning? When you can't even make it through the table of contents without gasping out loud a few times. Get a load of this: III. LACK OF INDEPENDENCE
A. Lack of Familiarity with OIG Work
B. Frequent Communications and Personal Relationships with Senior DHS Officials
C. Lack of Independent Legal Advice
D. Improper Alteration or Delay of Reports
1. “Secure Communities” Audit Report
2. “Advance Imaging Technology” Audit Report
3. “Acquisition Management” Audit Report
4. “Secret Service” Investigation and Inspection
5. “Ports of Entry” Audit Report
E. Tainted Audit Reports
F. Apparent Desire for a Permanent IG Position

IV. ABUSE OF AGENCY RESOURCES
A. Assistance with Pursuit of a Ph.D
B. Assistance with Employment at Capitol College
C. Assistance with Pursuit of a Permanent IG Position
D. Travel to Florida
E. Misuse of a Government Vehicle
F. Benefits for Ms. Edwards
1. Nepotism in Hiring
2. Telework from India
3. International Phone Calls
4. Staff Assistance for Ms. Edwards

V. OTHER ALLEGATIONS
A. Notice of Administrative Leave
B. Destruction of E-mails
C. Deletion or Closing of Hotline Complaints
D. Destruction of Phone Records
E. Retaliation
1. Administrative Leave
2. Poor Performance Review
F. Office Environment
Where do you even start? It's all terrible. Edwards apparently wined and dined with DHS leaders, giving them heads up on the findings of investigations. So, there's that, which undermines the oversight. From there, Edwards went to various administration higher-ups and allowed them to control the timing and wording of investigative reports, further subverting the oversight process he was tasked with.

Beyond the major subversion, there's tons of minor issues. Nepotism, misuse of department resources, Edwards using the department to pursue a doctorate and a permanent position as an IG… about the only thing not noted in here is supply closet raids.

Furthermore, it appears Edwards wasn't even qualified to do the job he absolutely failed to do over a three-year period. Unlike most IGs, Mr. Edwards does not have experience conducting audits, investigations, or inspections, the three main types of work conducted in an Office of Inspector General.

For example, when interviewed by Subcommittee staff, Edwards was unable to articulate guidelines that govern briefing details of an ongoing investigation to DHS. Edwards stated, “I don’t know that offhand here. You will have to talk to the office – to the Assistant IG for Investigations.” Not only was he a lousy employee, he was a terrible boss. When not setting up his wife with travel, phones, laptops and a position within the department, he mistreated the rest of his staff -- the same staffers he tasked with working on his Ph.D dissertation and documents related to his pursuit of both a position with Capitol College and a permanent IG nomination. During the Subcommittee’s investigation, current and former OIG employees repeatedly reported that Mr. Edwards had created a hostile work environment. One official characterized the office as a “toxic, totally dysfunctional and oppressive” work environment characterized by low morale, paranoia, and fear. Another official described the atmosphere of the OIG as one of “[c]omplete terror,” such that “there were times that [they] couldn’t even get up out of bed, [they were] so emotionally scared, drained.”

Many employees told the Subcommittee they wanted a change in leadership. According to one official, the OIG staff “want to have a legitimate Inspector General in place to get us back on track.” Another called the office “the worst agency” and said that it has been “run into the ground” under Mr. Edwards’ leadership. Reasons include Mr. Edwards’ reluctance to “seek out advice or guidance from anybody with experience” and that the “people … he surrounds himself with … do not have the background or the experience to be useful to him.” When faced with low morale, Edwards apparently did what other wholly ineffective leaders do when faced with friction: he retaliated. Staffers claim Edwards routinely placed dissenters on administrative leave or used periodic employee reviews to "get back" at them for their failure to kowtow.

Allegations (some unsubstantiated) that Edwards broke federal law by destroying emails and documents are also included in the report. There are also allegations that Edwards spied on interoffice communications. A former senior OIG official noted that "nearly all" the communications he received about Edwards' actions originated from personal email accounts or phones.

So, what's to become of Edwards, who completely undercut any sort of independent oversight of the nation's foremost security agency, along with possibly breaking a handful of federal laws? A whole lot of nothing. Edwards, a 20-year federal career employee with expertise in computer engineering, resigned his office in December, three days before he was scheduled to appear at a Senate hearing to answer questions. DHS granted his request to be transferred into its office of science and technology, and the hearing was canceled. Wonderful. Way to send a message, Chief. That will let the government's Inspector Generals know they'd better be right on that oversight thing OR ELSE [they'll be transferred to another government agency, no questions asked].

The DHS is a joke with no punchline. I'd say DHS head Jeh Johnson has his hands full whipping this disgrace back into some semblance of a respectable government body, but let's face it, it has never been credible during its decade-plus existence. Johnson's not going to turn this around. The department's focus is almost entirely on maintaining a credible terrorist threat in order to justify its $39 billion budget and 225,000 employees. That leaves precious little time or resources to clean house.

People like Edwards who can fill the position while minimizing embarrassing investigative reports are welcomed at the DHS. No one wants to be the guy (or girl) who truly outs the agency as a bloated wreck that does little to nothing in the way of keeping the Homeland secure. Pursuing truly independent oversight just means working your way out of a job.



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Categories: Tech Polis

Weasel Language In Proposal For FCC's New 'Open Internet' Rules Actually Opens The Door To An End To Net Neutrality

Techdirt - 5 hours 48 min ago
Yesterday reports started leaking about how FCC boss Tom Wheeler was getting ready to release his proposal for "new" net neutrality rules, to be voted on in a few weeks. They've now been introduced -- and Wheeler insists that all the whining and hand-wringing from yesterday was wrong. Except that's not true.

These new proposed rules are a response to a court tossing out the FCC's 2010 rules for not actually falling under the FCC's mandate. We pointed out that if the FCC were serious (and it's not), it should be focusing on increasing competition (which it's not). Congress certainly isn't going to do anything. Like previous FCC bosses, Commissioner Tom Wheeler has made it pretty clear that he's too timid to do anything serious, and instead will seek to find some sort of weak middle ground. Because there seems to be a rule that, if you're to become FCC Commissioner, you can't take a solid stand, but instead have to take a weak middle ground position and pretend it's a strong stand.

But what's currently being suggested may actually be worse. Because this opens the door to killing off net neutrality while pretending it's supporting net neutrality. As Stacey Higginbotham points out, even if Tom Wheeler believes this proposal makes sense, it's pretty ridiculous to claim it's net neutrality or about protecting an open internet. Wheeler should step up and admit what he's doing: killing off net neutrality to create a system that lets the big broadband providers double charge -- and then explain why he thinks that's necessary. Pretending this is net neutrality is a joke. Here's the basic proposals:
  1. That all ISPs must transparently disclose to their subscribers and users all relevant information as to the policies that govern their network;
  2. That no legal content may be blocked; and
  3. That ISPs may not act in a commercially unreasonable manner to harm the Internet, including favoring the traffic from an affiliated entity.
The key issue is that last one, in which the FCC claims it will still have the ability to stop "commercially unreasonable" activities by broadband providers, while refusing any attempt to explain what commercially unreasonable means. At the same time, it makes it pretty clear that "commercially reasonable" (again, undefined) rules will be allowed -- and it's likely this means allowing ISPs to create "fast lanes" by which they can charge more, so long as anyone with a lot of cash can also pay more.

This is not net neutrality. Yes, the 2nd rule means that no ISP will get away with the outright banning of access to websites, but no ISP was seriously considering that anyway. This bans a practice no one was going to do, meaning it doesn't ban anything. But by opening up "commercially reasonable" discrimination, it's allowing ISPs to create privileged "fast lanes" by which large internet players can "pay" to have preferred access to users. If you have a fast lane, by definition you also need a slow lane. So the (reasonable) fear here is that smaller entities, who can't pay for the fast lane, basically start out with degraded service compared to the big guys who can (and will) pay.

That means that services that don't pay up are throttled. By definition.

It's exactly what the big ISPs have wanted all along, which is a system to double charge big companies, who will now have to pay for both their own bandwidth and a portion of your bandwidth. If you think "hey, I already pay for my bandwidth," you're right. And now you'll likely have to pay much more, because the big companies who pay are going to pass the costs on to you. And, you'll have fewer interesting new services because the barriers to entry will be higher. So, the end result is the immensely profitable duopoly of internet service providers get more profitable and you pay more. Big internet companies pay off the broadband providers to stay fast, while startups and innovation are basically more difficult to create, because they're going to have to set aside a huge chunk of money to pay for some of the bandwidth that you're already paying for (and probably not getting anyway).

The Comcasts and AT&T's and Verizons of the world are going to parade up and down about how this will let them invest in better networks and provide better services, but there is absolutely no incentive here for them to actually do so. In fact, they have every incentive in the world to degrade service in the "slow lane" to make it less useful, driving more companies to need to pay for the fast lane.

These aren't rules for an open internet or for net neutrality. These are rules to kill that off.

"Commercially reasonable" are the weasel words here that effectively sell out the internet. The old rules were dreadful, and these rules are still just in proposal stages, but Wheeler's first foray into net neutrality is a joke. He's doing the same thing as his predecessor in refusing to stand up and say what he actually means, because he knows that what he's proposing is bad news.

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Categories: Tech Polis

Russia Orders Bloggers To 'Register'; Outlaws Anonymous Blogging, Continues Clampdown On Social Media

Techdirt - 6 hours 42 min ago

As we've reported, Russia has been steadily trying to bring the Internet under control with ever-more stringent measures. After tackling general Web sites through powers that allow them to be blocked more easily, it now seems to be the turn of the bloggers, as this report from the ITAR-TASS News Agency on a recently-approved law explains: The law introduces a new term: "Internet user called blogger." Bloggers will be obliged to declare their family name and initials and e-mail address. Those authors whose personal website or page in social networks has 3,000 visitors or more a day must have themselves registered on a special list and abide by restrictions applicable to the mass media. In other words, registration requires the blogger should check the authenticity of published information and also mention age restrictions for users. Also, bloggers will have to follow mass media laws concerning electioneering, resistance to extremism and the publication of information about people’s private lives. An abuse of these requirements will be punishable with a fine of 10,000 to 30,000 rubles (roughly $300 to $1,000) for individuals and 300,000 rubles ($10,000) for legal entities. A second violation will be punishable with the website's suspension for one month. Clearly those onerous conditions are designed to make any blogger think twice or three times before publishing anything at all controversial or embarrassing for the authorities. The article notes that the new law may be challenged before Russia's Constitutional Court, and that there's a huge loophole in the form of blogs located overseas, which are not covered by the legislation. The fear has to be that the Russian government will now move on to blocking them too. Moreover, not content with intimidating independent blogs, the Russian authorities also seem to be tightening their grip on VKontakte, the Russian Facebook. As Ars Technica reports: Pavel Durov, the founder of Vkontakte (VK) -- the largest social network in Russia -- said on Tuesday that he fled the country one day after being forced out of the company, claiming that he felt threatened by Kremlin officials.

In a post on his profile page on Monday, Durov explained that he was fired from his position as CEO of VK and that the so-called "Russian Facebook" is now "under the complete control" of two oligarchs close to President Vladimir Putin.
His removal is probably connected with his longstanding refusal to censor content on VKontakte: Durov explained that after seven years of relative social media freedom in Russia, his refusal to share user data with Russian law enforcement has set him at odds with the Kremlin, which has recently been trying to tighten its grip on the Internet, according to The Moscow Times.

VK's former CEO says that despite his multiple refusals of Kremlin requests to censor his site in a similar fashion to how it filters print and TV news, the site -- which boasts 143 million registered users globally, 88 million of whom are based in Russia -- is now effectively under state control.
What's sad here is that, as we've noted ruefully before, in the wake of revelations about NSA and GCHQ spying, the West is no longer in a position to criticize this kind of censorship and surveillance. As the latest moves indicate, the Russian authorities seem intent on taking full advantage of that fact.

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



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Categories: Tech Polis

Mayor Ardis Defends Police Raid, Complains That Parody Twitter Account Used Up All The Free Speech

Techdirt - 7 hours 58 min ago

As we recently covered, Jim Ardis, the absurdly thin-skinned mayor of Peoria, IL, got the boys in blue to raid a house over a parody Twitter account that portrayed him as a.) a possible drug user, b.) a possible patron of the world's oldest profession and c.) "trill as fuck." Peoria's Finest have never been finer, deploying seven plainclothes officers to nail a dangerous tweeter whose Ardis-mocking account had been shut down by Twitter weeks before. Bonus: drugs were discovered during the raid, which meant the cops could at least declare victory over marijuana use, if not the internet itself.

Now, the fact that the account was already suspended suggests Ardis had previously contacted Twitter about the unflattering parody. So, this next move was overkill. Why would a mayor do such a thing? Because Mayor Jim Ardis believes the First Amendment is zero sum. "I still maintain my right to protect my identity is my right," Ardis said in an interview with the Journal Star before the council meeting.

"Are there no boundaries on what you can say, when you can say it, who you can say it to?" Ardis said. "You can’t say (those tweets) on behalf of me. That’s my problem. This guy took away my freedom of speech." Presumably prior to this awesome show of force, the mayor had been forced to sit quietly with his hands folded on his desk. But now that he's stomped on someone else's First Amendment rights, he can finally freely speak.

But those official bootprints across the back of five Peoria residents aren't going to leave lasting marks. The Peoria Journal Star reports that no charges will be brought against the Twitter account holder. A review of state law indicates the account holders of now-shutdown Twitter account, @peoriamayor, didn’t break the law because the actual crime alleged, “false personation of a public official,” has to be done in person, not over the Internet or other electronic media, said State’s Attorney Jerry Brady.

"At this time, no, because subsection (b) doesn’t include the use of electronic media," he said. There are also questions as to whether the unrelated drug charge will stick because, well, it's completely unrelated. The warrant used to raid the house appears to be on legally shaky ground already, and its supposed purpose was to effect arrests and seize evidence related to a Twitter account, not root around until something better presented itself. But it could be weeks before that part is sorted out. The States Attorney says it's not uncommon for search warrants and affidavits to take "several days to weeks" to arrive at his office. (Must send these via trans-Atlantic steamer, I guess...) One imagines documents related to this case will take longer than usual.

Meanwhile, the population of Peoria, along with the city council, is extremely angry that Ardis abused his position. A long, heated discussion of this incident included members decrying Ardis receiving preferential treatment from the Peoria PD, as well as generally lamenting how his actions have turned Peoria into a national laughingstock.

Ardis, however, seems unfazed. He still firmly believes he did nothing wrong. The problem here is everyone else, starting with the media. "You’re the ones responsible for getting full information, but not to spin it in the way you want to spin it," Ardis said to a Journal Star reporter. "To make us look stupid."

"It’s your responsibility to put actual information out there and cover both sides. Not to opine. And that didn’t happen. Clearly, that didn’t happen." Hey, Ardis. Only one person can make you look stupid, and he's that person up there claiming the First Amendment can't be evenly divided among several people. The actual information is out there. And it all adds up to Ardis not being able to take a joke, ordering cops to arrest people he doesn't find funny, and complaining about "suddenly" being universally reviled.




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The Stupidity Of Installing Bloatware That No One Uses... And Everyone Hates

Techdirt - 10 hours 2 min ago
A new study from Strategy Analytics highlights what you almost certainly already know, that no one actually uses the crappy bloatware apps that Samsung puts on its phones. This shouldn't be a surprise at all. But I actually wanted to highlight a different issue I'd noticed recently: which is that not only do people not use the bloatware apps, by making them both default and unintstallable, Samsung pretty guarantees that everyone hates those apps.

Now, I can imagine the execs at various app developers who got all excited when they had a chance to become a default app on a Samsung flagship phone like the S3, S4 or S5. After all, Samsung sells a ton of these phones. So if Samsung approaches you and offers to make you a default, it's got to be hard to say no. Because what they're offering is to put your app in front of many millions of potential users. And given the big hurdle of getting people to even download free apps, that must seem like a huge victory.

Until you realize that everyone hates unnecessary and unwanted bloatware. Beyond the study above showing that no one uses those apps, I recently looked at the Google Play Store reviews of many of the Samsung choices for bloatware. And pretty consistently, the large majority or reviews are about how they don't know why the app is on their phone and they're pissed that they can't delete it. Take, for example, Blurb Checkout, part of Samsung's near-totally-useless "book-making app." People absolutely loathe it almost entirely because it's a bloatware default app. Out of over 22,000 reviews, it has over 16,000 one star reviews. And nearly all of the reviews look like the "highlighted" ones on the page: Or how about the Lumen Toolbar? Frankly, I have no idea what it does, but it's there. The aggregate reviews on this aren't quite as bad as Blurb above, and there do appear to be some people who really do like this toolbar. But the reviews are still filled with angry rants: I'm sure HP thought it was a great way to jumpstart its mobile printing efforts by having its HP Print Service Plugin installed as default bloatware on Samsung (and, apparently, on Nexus) devices. Until everyone started yelling about how they want that crap off their phone. And, of course, none of this even touches on Samsung's own apps, in which it has weak copies of much better apps out there, such as S Health, S Memo and S Voice -- all of which are stuck on your phone, even though there are much better and much more functional alternatives available in the Play Store and elsewhere. The thing is, all of these apps could be the greatest possible apps in the world, but by making them part of preinstalled bloatware and making it so you can't uninstall them, it's pretty much guaranteeing that people will hate on these apps, making it even worse than just not using them -- they're actively harming the reputations of those apps for folks who might actually like them.

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Telecom Musical Chairs: Regulators And Lobbyists Swap Roles, Everyone Wins! (Except The Public)

Techdirt - 12 hours 2 min ago
We've talked plenty about the big revolving door between government and big business lately, but there are still some moments that are purely insane that show just how broken the system is. On Wednesday, news broke that former FCC commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker has been named the new CEO of CTIA, the main lobbying organization for mobile phone operators. Baker is no stranger to questionable revolving door moves, seeing as just months after she voted to approve Comcast's merger with NBC Universal, she took a top lobbying job with Comcast. Funny how that works.

But, in this case, it's even more ridiculous because, as Jon Brodkin points out, the current head of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, previously was CEO of CTIA as well. And prior to that he was CEO of NCTA (the cable industry's main lobbying group). And, to top it off, the current head of CTIA is none other than former FCC chair Michael Powell.

If you're keeping score at home, it looks like this:
  • Michael Powell: FCC Chair -> NCTA boss
  • Meredith Atwell Baker: FCC Commissioner -> Comcast -> CTIA boss
  • Tom Wheeler: NCTA boss -> CTIA boss -> FCC Chair
They're playing a game of musical chairs where no chair is ever removed... and they all get fabulously wealthy scratching each others' backs. Even if everyone is being completely sincere in their positions (a big if, but let's assume it for now), the real problem here, again, is that the perception of rampant corruption is encouraged by this sort of thing, leading the public to seriously distrust the government. When the top two lobbying organizations on these issues are manned by former top officials and the current top FCC official used to run both those organizations, there's a pretty clear implication that it's the public interest that's going to get shafted.

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Internet Blocking Protests Force Mexico Government Retreat

TorrentFreak - 12 hours 12 min ago

dataAn attempt to introduce laws that would have given the Mexican government the power to block the Internet and other telecommunications appears to have failed.

The government earlier said it wanted to introduce legislation to combat illegal activities on the Internet, including child pornography. But after drilling down into the details of the text, activists say that the draft law being debated by the Senate would allow the government to censor the Internet whenever it liked.

One of the articles, which states that the government could force Internet service providers to “temporarily block, inhibit or annul telecommunications signals at events and places deemed critical for the public safety” sparked protests both on and offline, with hundreds taking to the streets on Tuesday.

While the government insists that the measures are only intended for dealing with serious crime, activists are concerned that the proposals go too far, threatening both privacy and economic development.

But by yesterday the tone of the government had changed, with Sen. Emilio Gamboa, leader of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party in the Senate, announcing that the proposals would be scaled back.

“Any other additional power, like the blocking of signals for national or public safety will be excluded from the reform,” Gamboa said.

In attempt to calm the situation further, Gamboa added that new measures to force ISPs to hand over information on their subscribers would not be expanded.

Source: TorrentFreak, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing and anonymous VPN services.

Categories: Tech Polis

106,000 Signatures in Support of Pirate Bay Founder Delivered to Danish Govt.

TorrentFreak - 13 hours 16 min ago

Last year following a failed appeal to the Supreme Court in Sweden, Gottfrid Svartholm was extradited to Denmark. There he stands accused of hacking into computers belonging to IT company CSC.

The nature of the Pirate Bay founder’s detention has been highly controversial. His reputation as a master hacker led authorities to treat him with fear, placing him in solitary confinement, severely restricting his interaction with other inmates and limiting his access to books. Magazines sent in from outside were also off-limits, since prison authorities feared they may contain encrypted messages.

These extraordinary conditions prompted the creation of a petition by the Free Anakata Campaign. After a gentle start the protest gathered momentum hitting 50,000 and then 100,000 signatures. Speaking with TorrentFreak, Gottfrid’s mother Kristina said that the petition had put tremendous pressure on the authorities, leading them to ease her son’s book restrictions and interactions with other inmates.

After exceeding 106,000 signatures the petition was delivered to the Danish government yesterday. The Danish Pirate Party had the honor of handing it over to Minister of Justice Karen Hækkerup.

The Internet petition, which reached 106,538 signatures, was printed out onto 2,600 sheets of paper and presented to the minister in a box covered in pirate wrapping paper.

PetitionG

“In my eyes he is in solitary confinement for no reason. I mean, he is being treated worse than a serial killer,” said Rolf Bjerre from the Pirate Party after the handover.

DR.DK legal correspondent Claus Buhr said that Svartholm’s adverse conditions are a product of the authorities’ lack of experience of dealing with someone with the Swede’s capabilities.

“If he was a killer or suspected of drug crime, they are accustomed to those kind of suspects and know what they’re capable of. However, a possible super-hacker is someone the Danish police very rarely have to deal with,” Buhr said.

“This is probably the reason why he is being held under the strictest lock and key, simply because it’s not fully understood what he can do, and whether he’s able to get information in and out of jail.”

Even though Gottfrid has been held in Denmark for more than five months, the investigation against him is still underway with no immediate end in sight. In the meantime he’s being allowed just one hour a day outside and a single controlled visit with his mother, who travels from Sweden to Denmark each week to see him.

The case is expected to go to trial in the early days of September 2014 and it’s hoped the petition will ease his conditions before then.

Source: TorrentFreak, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing and anonymous VPN services.

Categories: Tech Polis

Google Apparently Trying To Make Encrypted Email Easier

Techdirt - 15 hours 38 min ago
About six months before Ed Snowden leaked his documents, we had written a post about why Google should encrypt our email, based on a bit of back-and-forth between Julian Sanchez, arguing why Google should encrypt all email, and Ed Felten, who noted it's not as easy as it sounds (though Julian highlighted how none of the problems Felten raises are insurmountable). There are, of course, already ways that you can add PGP encryption to Gmail, with tools like Mailvelope, but it can be a little kludgy, and not exactly foolproof. Still, many have insisted that Google would never go this route, since it would limit the company's ability to target ads based on the contents of email.

However, VentureBeat is reporting that, partly inspired by all of the Snowden revelations, researchers at Google are looking at ways to make encryption much easier within Gmail. While the report suggests that Gmail won't go site-wide end-to-end encryption, anything it does to bring real encryption more into the mainstream would be a good thing -- though it might make the NSA and DOJ freak out. But, as we've seen, well-done crypto does work. The problem is that so much crypto is not particularly well implemented, leading to all sorts of leaks. Still, it's encouraging to hear that Google is working on something, and hopefully it releases something that is both user-friendly and open to some sort of audit to ensure that it's safe.

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Megaupload Asks Hong Kong Court To Drop Restraining Order On Megaupload Assets, Claiming Legal Violations

Techdirt - Wed, 04/23/2014 - 22:53
In the continuing global legal fight over Megaupload, the company apparently is asking the Hong Kong high court to set aside the restraining order on the company's assets that was put in place over two years ago, following a request from the US Justice Department. Megaupload was always legally based in Hong Kong, even if the company itself was based in New Zealand. Megaupload appears to be claiming that the Hong Kong Justice Department did not properly follow the law in going along with the US DOJ's request. The main issue, which has been debated back in the US, is that, technically, the DOJ cannot serve Megaupload (the company) since it has no US employees or presence. The DOJ can go after foreign individuals, but when it comes to foreign companies, the law is pretty explicit that they can't. While the DOJ is actively seeking to change that law, it doesn't change the basic problem with the original request.

Megaupload is pointing out that the US DOJ's request to the HK DOJ depended on Megaupload being served the criminal summons. But since that hasn't been satisfied, it argues the HK DOJ has no basis for restraining Megaupload's assets: The order was granted on the basis of an ex parte application by the HK DOJ made at the request of the US DOJ. The grounds for discharge of the order is the failure by the HK DOJ—acting on the basis of information provided by the US DOJ—to fully and frankly disclose in that ex parte application serious legal issues relating to the US DOJ’s inability to serve Megaupload with a criminal summons in accordance with United States federal law. Among other things, the US DOJ failed to explain how it intended to comply with the service of process requirements imposed by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which, as argued in Megaupload’s application, are an essential prerequisite to initiating any criminal proceedings against Megaupload and cannot be satisfied for a corporation that has no physical presence or subsidiaries in the United States. Megaupload has submitted those filings with its application to the High Court. Megaupload claims it's seeking to free the assets in order to attempt to regain control over the leased servers from Carpathia, which the DOJ has been hoping would be destroyed (leading to the destruction of evidence in a criminal case, at the DOJ's urging). While the issue of serving Megaupload is something of a technical snafu, it's one in a rather long line of sloppy lawyering by the DOJ throughout this case.

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DailyDirt: The Growing Pains Of Biofuels

Techdirt - Wed, 04/23/2014 - 20:00
So far, grabbing fossil fuels out of the ground has been an unbeatable way to get cheap energy. Since fossil fuels (presumably) come from decaying dinosaurs (and their contemporaries), it makes some sense that growing biofuels might be a way to generate a more renewable source of energy. Unfortunately, biofuel projects haven't quite demonstrated an obviously better way to replace fossil fuels. Here are just a few links to some biofuel info that could lead to more environmentally friendly fuels. If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.

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IP Sanity: Boston Strong Trademark Applications Denied

Techdirt - Wed, 04/23/2014 - 18:42

With all of the trademark insanity we see here at Techdirt, it can occasionally seem like the USPTO doesn't ever render a good decision on whether or not to approve a mark. With that in mind, I occasionally like to highlight when trademark law -- one of the few IP laws that seems to get as much right as wrong -- is done correctly. Take, for instance, the case of the apparently zillions of organizations that attempted to trademark "Boston Strong" in the wake of the bombing of the marathon last year.

The Boston Beer Company, makers of Samuel Adams, was among many that had applied for the "Boston Strong" trademark. The USPTO, in a moment of uncommon clarity, denied it on the grounds that the phrase was both a poor representation of a brand and also had moved into the common lexicon surrounding the tragedy. “It has resulted in a Facebook website; is used by the Boston Red Sox baseball club; appears on shoelace medallions; was the name of a concert in support of the marathon bombing victims; is the title of a planned movie about the marathon bombing; and appears emblazoned across the front of t-shirts provided by numerous different entities,” the decision said. “The use of the slogan is so widespread with respect to the marathon bombing as well as other uses, that its use has become ‘ubiquitous.' The applied-for mark merely conveys an informational social, political, religious, or similar kind of message; it does not function as a trademark or service mark to indicate the source of applicant’s goods and/or services and to identify and distinguish them from others.” While many of the companies in question were looking to apply the attempted trademark to some wonderful endeavors (Boston Beer Company, for instance, donated proceeds to support victims and their families), denying the mark doesn't stop any of that, it simply stops anyone from locking up what has become a common term of support for the city and victims of the bombing. It actually would have been interesting, had the mark been approved, to see how the charitable organization LiveStrong, famous for its affiliation with horrible-person Lance Armstrong, would have responded. That, however, didn't occur.

The larger point is that while we live in a world of permission culture and language-lock-ups via IP laws, we still see moments of clarity. There's simply no way a "Boston Strong" trademark would have served any public interest, and to lock that phrase up, even for charitable purposes, would have been a poor decision. The USPTO got this one right.



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How Iran's Gadget Bloggers Became Victims of the Revolutionary Guard

EFF - Wed, 04/23/2014 - 18:25

Narenji ("Orange") was Iran's top website for gadget news, edited daily by a team of tech bloggers who worked from a cramped office in the country's city of Kerman. The site was targeted at Iran's growing audience of technology enthusiasts. Like Gizmodo or Engadget in the United States, it had a simple but popular formula: mixed reviews of the latest Android and iPhones, summaries of new Persian-language apps and downloads, as well as the latest Internet memes (such as the ever-popular "An Incredible Painted Portrait of Morgan Freeman Drawn with a Finger on the iPad").

But now it’s gone. Narenji's front page is stuck in time as it was on December 3, when the entire Narenji team was rounded up by Iran's Revolutionary Guard and thrown into jail. Frozen, too, are Narenji's sister sites—Nardebaan and Negahbaan—that the start-up was beginning to build from Narenji's earlier success.

Narenji's founder, Aliasghar Honarmand, and senior editor Abbas Vahedi, had some reason to be excited for the future.  The current President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, has made encouraging tech entrepreneurism as part of his government's platform, with a $1 billion innovation fund for developing the "knowledge economy." His government has also worked hard to negotiate to lift Western sanctions against the country, boosting the economy and allowing more gadgets to reach Iran's middle class.

Here's the video, broadcast on Iranian state television, of the Narenji team being detained:

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The report stated that the bloggers had been funded and trained by "espionage networks…aiming for a 'soft overthrow' of the Iranian regime."

It seems that the Iranian prosecutors believed that one or more of the team had received journalistic training from the BBC while in London, and this was enough to trigger the crackdown. While other bloggers in the same round-up have been released, the majority of Narenji's team are still behind bars, including:

* Aliasghar Honarmand (Founder of Narenji & Owner of Paat Shargh Govashir, the company which owns Narenji)
* Abbas Vahedi (Editor of Narenji)
* Hossein Nozari (Director of Paat Shargh Govashir)
* Reza Nozari (Tech blogger of Nardebaan, sister website of Narenji)
* Ehsan Paknejad (Tech blogger on Narenji)

(The Guardian reported a slightly different list of names: Aliasghar Honarmand, Abbas Vahedi, Alireza Vaziri, Nasim Nikmehr, Malihe Nakhaie, Mohammadhossein Mousavizadeh and Sara Sadjadpour.)

Of these, only Vahedi and Nozari were recently released on bail, with the expectation that they and the others will face a court hearing next month.

The Narenji team's treatment is another example of how technologists are targeted by governments worldwide as a result of their work. It doesn't matter if you're writing a blog about Android development or distributing anti-censorship proxies: to many governments, simply being well-known online or having a latent power to influence or change society through your technical knowledge can quickly turn you into an unacceptable threat to the social order.

Popular but apolitical bloggers like Narenji’s also risk being caught in internecine battles over which they have no control. Iranian political experts we've spoken to consider that Narenji's arrest by the local Kermani Revolutionary Guard may be a deliberate response by local radicals against the Rouhani administration's encouragement of tech entrepreneurs: a signal that makes clear that Tehran should not go too far in its moderation. Narenji's high visibility may not have given them protection against the Revolutionary Guard; rather, it may have made them more of a target.

Predations on the technical community have a long, sad, history. EFF's own birth began with an ignorant and fearful crackdown marshalled against hackers in the United States; politically-motivated prosecutions of techno-activists like Aaron Swartz continue to this day. If we're to stop them from taking place anywhere, whether in the United States, Iran, or Russia, we need to unite to protect and publicize the unjust detention and intimidation of technologists everywhere.

You can help by signing this petition to the Iranian government to release the Narenji team, or raise awareness of their case on social media, using the hashtags #Narenji and #نارنجی.  More importantly, spread the word of their case among your own community. The more publicity Narenji gains from ordinary people, the greater the likelihood they will be kept safe in jail, and treated quickly.

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Categories: Tech Polis

Designing a Prize for Usable Cryptography

EFF - Wed, 04/23/2014 - 18:21

In an era when email and messaging services are being regularly subject to attacks, surveillance, and compelled disclosure of user data, we know that many people around the world need secure end-to-end encrypted communications tools so that service providers and governments cannot read their messages. Unfortunately, the software that has traditionally been used for these purposes, such as PGP and OTR, suffers from numerous usability problems that make it impractical for many of the journalists, activists and others around the world whose lives and liberty depend on their ability to communicate confidentially.

Particularly in the post-Snowden era, there has been an wave of interest in solving the usability problems inherent in end-to-end encryption: the need to verify the identities and public keys of the people one communicates with; the need to support conversation from multiple laptops, phones and other devices; the need to offer users both a way of keeping logs and reading history – but also performing secure deletion of those logs – from multiple devices; the need to negotiate keys and sessions with other parties even if they are offline.

We are optimistic that, with a carefully thought-out modern design, it should be possible to produce a next-generation secure messaging tool that lets most humans communicate securely without dedicated IT support. But we don't yet know which of the many designs is the best route forward.

To that end, EFF is evaluating the feasibility of offering a prize for the first usable, secure, and private end-to-end encrypted communication tool. We believe a prize based on objective usability metrics (such as the percentage of users who were able to install and start using the tool within a few minutes, and the percentage who survived simulated impersonation or man-in-the-middle attacks) might be an effective way to determine which project or projects are best delivering communication security to vulnerable user communities; to promote and energize those tools; and to encourage interaction between developers, interaction designers and academics interested in this space.

Before moving forward with a prize, we are co-organizing a workshop at the Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security (SOUPS) this July in Silicon Valley. The aim of the workshop will be to share knowledge amongst the projects that are trying to build usable encrypted communications tools, and determine what a metrics-based prize for progress in that field might look like. We encourage interested software developers, usability researchers and UX designers to submit proposals to the workshop. We may be able to provide a limited number of travel stipends for meritorious submissions. You can find further details about the workshop and how to send a proposal here.

Related Issues: EFF Software ProjectsPrivacySecurity
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Categories: Tech Polis

Police Chief: Not Wanting To Talk To Police Officers Is 'Odd'

Techdirt - Wed, 04/23/2014 - 17:34

This insight into how police think the public should interact with them is certainly enlightening. (via this tweet and Amy Alkon's Advice Goddess blog)

The backstory is this: a woman was walking down the street when a motorcycle cop approached her, asked her if she lived in the area and if she would talk to him. She says his approach made her feel uncomfortable, so she refused and continued on her way. "I thought that maybe he was flirting," she said. "I just thought it was odd, I thought it was odd. I wasn't really sure but I felt uncomfortable because there wasn't anyone around."

She says she was worried he might not even a real cop, so she refused to stop and began jogging away from him.

"He just crept along beside me on his motorcycle and he started saying, 'Hey ma'am! I want to talk to you. Hey stop, ma'am! I want to talk to you.' Then my anxiety rose even higher," she said. This was followed shortly thereafter by the cop dismounting, chasing her down, tackling her and placing her under arrest. The police chief claims this arrest was for "walking on the wrong side of the road," (as well as "evading arrest" and "resisting arrest") despite the fact that the woman wasn't ultimately charged with anything.

Even if the preceding events could possibly be dismissed as hearsay, or something tainted by false impressions and emotions, there's the police chief's responses to questions about this interaction.

Whitehouse Police Chief Craig Shelton says this: Shelton says by law you're not required to stop and talk to an officer if there's not a lawful reason for them to be stopping you. But then he says this: "Normally if a police officer pulls up, in my opinion, it's awful odd for somebody just to take off and not want to speak to the police officer," Shelton said. Yes, this may seem "odd" to a police officer, but it's not all that odd for citizens, even those committing no real crime (Shelton justifies the stop with the "walking on the wrong side of the street" crap) to have no desire to talk to police officers. A huge imbalance of power makes conversation uncomfortable. Anyone who's attempted small talk with their boss understands this. If someone doesn't want to talk to a cop, it's not odd, it's normal.

Only a cop -- someone who doesn't understand the strain caused by the imbalance of power -- would consider this response "odd." And when law enforcement officials use the word "odd," they actually mean "suspicious." (Hence this woman being chased, tackled and arrested -- all for "walking on the wrong side of the street.") Holding a conversation with a cop without somehow appearing nervous, fidgety or otherwise strained (all natural body responses that will be read by most cops as signs of guilt) isn't something many people can do. Knowing that these common reactions will only serve to "alert" cops to theoretical criminal behavior further exacerbates the situation.

Beyond that, there's the other assertions Shelton makes in defense of his officer's actions. First, he claims the cop's motorcycle and uniform clearly indicated he was a cop and not some bad guy seeking to do harm. "The motorcycle has a patch on both sides of the gas tank. It's black and white and says 'Whitehouse Police,' and has red and blue lights on it," Whitehouse Police Chief Craig Shelton said. "So you have to take it for what it is. Do you think he's a Whitehouse police officer? Why would you think he's someone impersonating a police officer?" Why would you assume he isn't? Shelton is completely divorced from reality. For one, most people can't determine the difference between a cop and an impostor, especially if they're making active efforts to disengage from the interaction.

For another, plenty of cops -- real cops -- have been charged with rape and sexual assault. So, being a legitimate cop doesn't really eliminate the danger for a woman walking on her own with no one else around. Sure, this cop may not be a rapist, but I would imagine those who have been raped by a cop probably thought the officer who violated them wasn't a rapist right up to the point they were being raped.

The fact is that the woman probably would have extricated herself from the situation no matter what. A strange man -- in uniform or out -- persistently trying to get a woman to talk to him in an area with few other pedestrians is almost always going to be treated as a possible threat. It's the persistence that sets off the alarms. If you're rebuffed and go away, the threat subsides. But if you persist, whether you're just some stranger or a guy in full uniform on a police motorcycle, it will continue to push the needle toward "threat."

But that's the problem. Despite all of this, Chief Shelton just thinks it's "odd" the woman wouldn't stop. Shelton makes things even worse by making this contradictory claim. Bonnette hasn't been charged with anything, but the entire incident was caught on dashcam video and Shelton says it will be investigated further. He also says Johnson acted appropriately and won't be reprimanded. There go the odds of ever seeing the video. Shelton has already cleared the officer ahead of his promise to investigate further. How does that even add up in his head? He's already made his decision. Unless, of course, he means he's going to investigate to see if any further charges can be brought against the "odd" woman who refused to talk to his officer until he had her pinned on the ground and handcuffed. But that would just be vindictive and surely the Whitehouse PD is above that. If that's not what Shelton meant, then the investigation he's performing will be open-and-shut, caged in by air quotes and quite possibly doing away altogether with the bothersome "open" half of open-and-shut.



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NYPD Failed At Social Media This Time, But They Reacted Like Adults To That Failure

Techdirt - Wed, 04/23/2014 - 16:16

If you were alive yesterday and opened up a web browser, you likely saw the story of how the NYPD attempted to build some social media buzz and found that attempt turned around on its ass. The police force that has previously done a decent job at connecting with people on Twitter decided to run a campaign asking the public to share photos of themselves with police officers. They probably thought most of the pictures would be of smiling and appreciative citizens and local beat cops. Let's just say their expectations were slightly off the mark. Almost immediately after the call went out from the department's official Twitter account, storms of users took the opportunity to instead attach some of the most unfavorable images of New York City officers that could be found on the Internet. And judging by the output on Tuesday, there are quite a few. Officers holding down a photographer on the pavement and a white-shirted supervisor twisting an arm, among scores taken during Occupy Wall Street protests. An officer knocking a bicyclist to the ground during a Critical Mass protest ride, and another dancing provocatively with a barely clad paradegoer. A dog being shot. Officers on trial, or sleeping in uniform on a subway train. Oops. But this probably should have been expected in response to a police force that has had some very serious public relations problems revolving around some serious policy decisions. Stop and frisk, waste and fraud, and an apparent distaste for citizen journalists were on everyone's mind and the backlash was as severe as described above. Having found their campaign being turned into a PR nightmare, you might think the NYPD would react angrily to yesterday's mishap. It turns out they were prepared to be adults. A spokeswoman for the department, Deputy Chief Kim Y. Royster, said in a two-sentence statement Tuesday evening that the department was “creating new ways to communicate effectively with the community” and that Twitter provided “an open forum for an uncensored exchange” that is “good for our city.”

The experience will not stop the department from pushing forward with social media endeavors, its top spokesman, Stephen Davis, said. “You take the good with the bad,” he said. Look, I realize that praising Royster's statement in light of the larger problems the NYPD has in interacting with their own citizenry may seem strange, but the fact is that both spokespeople are absolutely correct. The entire point of social media is about engagement. If that engagement doesn't go exactly as they expected, and it certainly didn't, that doesn't mean there isn't value in it. Choosing to respond in an adult way means the trolling doesn't get any worse and may actually provide an avenue for dialog that results in real change. It may be a small thing, but it's still a good thing.



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