Tech Polis

There Are No Good Guys In A Battle Between (Likely) UFC And Ultimate Gay Fighter

Techdirt - Mon, 04/14/2014 - 19:12

As the times continue to change, the past few years have seen a notable increase in LGBT characters appearing in video games. Not that this is any kind of major victory, of course, but it is probably an imperfect barometer for public tolerance of our fellow human beings. There's obviously still a long way to go, and not everyone is embracing tolerance as much as I would personally prefer, but that's okay. These things take time and it's important that we listen to all sides and engage in the debate with integrity, honesty, and respect.

What can make this difficult and challenging is when the worlds of two different, but important, issues you have collide. Such is the case with an upcoming mobile game called Ultimate Gay Fighter, which is finding itself forced to change that name due to legal pressure, likely over a trademark. According to Handsome Woman Productions, the company in question "believes the UGF brand and related mobile gaming product threatens one of their reality TV series/fighting competition brand." As a result, the developer is unable to defend the game's current name against what founder Michael P. Venker calls a billion-dollar company.

"We have a trademark pending, but the prospect of a potential lawsuit is very intimidating," Venker said. "We don't have the funds to compete with their take-no-prisoners approach. We offered them solutions, but this company remains firm in believing our Ultimate Gay Fighter brand threatens their brand, despite vast differences in our customer base and product." You don't need to be a master at reading between the thinly-veiled lines to understand that Venker is almost certainly referring to the UFC, or Ultimate Fighting Championship, and their reality TV show, The Ultimate Fighter. They're really the only ones that fit the parameters here. And, while UGF is going ahead and caving to the name change, and looking to crowdsource a new name from their fanbase, it seems likely that they'd at least have a case in challenging the threat in court. Trademark, after all, was built to prevent customer confusion, and it's unlikely that any UFC fan is going to think that UGF is affiliated with the fighting company. In addition, the whole concept behind the game appears to be one of parody, which would be protected as fair use.

Where this all gets tricky is that there's a whole lot to hate in Ultimate Gay Fighter. In Ultimate Gay Fighter, a forthcoming brawler for iOS and Android, players take on the role of a variety of iconic gay caricatures, including a drag queen, a butch lesbian, an Asian 'twink', a gym bunny, a golden-chain wearing African-American rapper and a drunken bisexual woman. Each character wields a comedic 'gaytality' move that makes reference to common LGBT jokes. The caricatures are crude at best and, in my opinion, not particularly funny. That said, my opinion means eff-all when it comes to free speech and my sense of allowing speech to rule the day outweighs my offense: UFC shouldn't be bullying this game out of their name. And no, before everyone gets started on my regular attacks on the Washington Redskins organization, this isn't even close to being the same thing. There's nothing inherently offensive in the name Ultimate Gay Fighter, "gay" isn't recognized as having a detrimental definition, and in this case we're talking about taking away speech rights, not opening them up to everyone.

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Even If NSA Didn't Use Heartbleed In The Past, It Still Could Be Making Use Of It

Techdirt - Mon, 04/14/2014 - 18:06
We've already been discussing how President Obama has told the NSA it can continue exploiting computer security flaws, rather than fixing them, and also how the NSA's offensive and defensive roles are incompatible with each other. However, I wanted to highlight a more concerning point raised by Julian Sanchez about the NSA and Heartbleed in the article about the NSA's dual role: and it's that, even granting the fact that the NSA might not have known about Heartbleed until it became public, the NSA could still use it to their advantage, in part because it has so much old encrypted data stored up:

Here, however, is the really crucial point to recognize: NSA doesn't need to have known about Heartbleed all along to take advantage of it.

The agency's recently-disclosed minimization procedures permit "retention of all communications that are enciphered." In other words, when NSA encounters encryption it can't crack, it's allowed to – and apparently does – vacuum up all that scrambled traffic and store it indefinitely, in hopes of finding a way to break into it months or years in the future. As security experts recently confirmed, Heartbleed can be used to steal a site's master encryption keys – keys that would suddenly enable anyone with a huge database of encrypted traffic to unlock it, at least for the vast majority of sites that don't generate new keys as a safeguard against retroactive exposure.

If NSA moved quickly enough – as dedicated spies are supposed to – the agency could have exploited the bug to steal those keys before most sites got around to fixing the bug, gaining access to a vast treasure trove of stored traffic.

As Sanchez notes, this creates a dilemma for those who discover such flaws. Normally, they should want to reveal such things to the NSA to help with protecting networks. But doing so now might expose more risk. And, in fact, it seems likely that the NSA was aware of the bug prior to its revelation to the public. Note that in its denial of the Bloomberg story, it just says it wasn't aware prior to "April 2014," but not on which date in April it found out about it. Thus, it's likely the NSA had a heads up, and could collect a bunch of private keys to use against its encrypted data store for a few days before everyone else was informed to fix the vulnerability.

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Pulitzers Make Rep. Peter King Mad

Techdirt - Mon, 04/14/2014 - 16:59
Rep. Peter King has made it clear that he will stop at nothing to attack anyone who thinks Ed Snowden did something useful. He was one of the first to call for the reporters who revealed the NSA's surveillance to be prosecuted and has no qualms about lying to get his way. He's even gone so far as to argue that anyone who claims the NSA is "spying" or "snooping" is committing slander.

His main beef is his supposed belief that Snowden and anyone reporting on the facts he revealed are somehow "appeasing" terrorists. Of course, that's quite ironic, given King's history as a major terrorist appeaser in supporting the IRA decades ago, even as they were blowing up buildings that resulted in death and injury to many.

However, it's long been clear that King has no self-awareness and no understanding of his own hypocrisy. Within minutes of the Pulitzers announcing that one of its prizes was being given to the publications that reported on the Ed Snowden documents, King angrily tweeted his disgust:

Awarding the Pulitzer to Snowden enablers is a disgrace

— Rep. Pete King (@RepPeteKing) April 14, 2014 Notice that King refers to two respected news publications and countless journalists as "enablers" rather than journalists. There's only one person who's a disgrace in this situation and it's Rep. Peter King. Someone might want to send him a copy of the First Amendment, and its parts about freedom of the press. King seems to have forgotten his oath to uphold that part of the Constitution.

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Prenda On Appeal: Copyright Troll Tactics Challenged in DC Circuit

EFF - Mon, 04/14/2014 - 16:36

The DC Circuit Court of Appeals heard argument today in AF Holdings v. Does 1-1058, one of the few mass copyright cases to reach an appellate court, and the first to specifically raise the fundamental procedural problems that tilt the playing field firmly against the Doe Defendants. The appeal was brought by several internet service providers (Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and affiliates), with amicus support from EFF, the ACLU, the ACLU of the Nation's Capitol, Public Citizen, and Public Knowledge. On the other side: notorious copyright troll Prenda Law.

Copyright trolls like Prenda want to be able to sue thousands of people at once in the same court – even if those defendants have no connection to the venue or each other. The troll asks the court to let it quickly collect hundreds of customer names from ISPs. It then shakes those people down for settlements. These Doe defendants have a strong incentive to pay nuisance settlements rather than travel to a distant forum to defend themselves. The copyright troll business model relies on this unbalanced playing field.

In this case, Prenda sued 1058 Does (anonymous defendants identified only by an IP address) in federal district court in the District of Columbia. It then issued subpoenas demanding that ISPs identify the names of these customers. The ISPs objected to this request arguing that most of the IP addresses were associated with computers located outside of the court's jurisdiction. The ISPs and EFF also showed that Prenda could have used simple geolocation tools to determine the same thing. And we explained that joining together 1000+ subscribers in one lawsuit was fundamentally unfair and improper under the rules governing when defendants can be sued together (known as ‘joinder’).

Unfortunately, the district court did not agree, holding that any consideration of joinder and jurisdiction was "premature." In other words, the court can't consider whether the process is unfair unless and until a Doe comes to the court to raise the issue. By then, of course, it is too late; the subscribers will have already received threatening letters and, in many cases, be reluctant to take on the burden of defending themselves in a far away location.

We believe this ruling was fundamentally wrong. As we've said many times, plaintiffs have every right to go to court to enforce their rights. But they must play by the same litigation rules that everyone else has to follow. To get early discovery, plaintiffs must have a good-faith belief that jurisdiction and joinder are proper. Given the evidence presented to the district court, there is no way Prenda could have formed this good faith belief. So its demand for customer information should have been denied.

The ISPs appealed the district court’s troubling ruling. At the hearing today, the appellate court was particularly interested in the issue of joinder. The court seemed immediately skeptical of the notion of suing 1000 people at once, but wondered if it might be acceptable join together 20 Bittorrent users who had joined the same swarm to acquire the same work. The ISPs and amici said generally no, because the plaintiff can't know whether a given Doe 1 acquired anything from a given Doe 2 – in other words, they aren't necessarily part of the same "transaction or occurrence." We analogized a bittorrent swarm to a casino poker table: over the course of a weekend, a week, or a month, players may come and go, adding and subtracting from the pot, but the players on day one are unlikely to be related to the players on day 4, or day 30.

The ISPs and amici also stressed the issue of burden. While the ISPs were focused on the burden they faced in responding to the subpoenas, EFF directed the court's attention to the fundamental burden on the IP subscribers, noting that the subscribers identified as a result of a subpoena aren't necessarily going to be responsible for any unauthorized activity. An IP address, we explained, only tells you the name on the bill, not who is using the account. In this context, it is crucial that courts attend to the burden on the Does, as well as the ISPs.

The court had a number of question regarding jurisdiction, and directed many of them to counsel for AF Holdings, Paul Duffy. At root, the court seemed to want to know why AF Holdings had not used geolocation tools to help determine where its targets might be located, and why it had not dropped its effort to pursue many of them when the ISPs explained that the Does just weren't in the court's jurisdiction. Finally, the court had some questions about AF Holdings litigation tactics, including the shenanigans that have been widely reported elsewhere.

It is difficult to predict how a court will rule based only on a hearing. But we are encouraged that the judges asked the important and thoughtful questions, and clearly understood both the context and implications of their decision. Many district courts have now concluded that the copyright troll business model is fundamentally unfair, and have taken steps to ensure the judicial process is not abused to foster a shakedown scheme. Let's hope they will soon be joined by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

Related Issues: Fair Use and Intellectual Property: Defending the BalanceCopyright TrollsRelated Cases: AF Holdings v. Does
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Categories: Tech Polis

The Guardian And Washington Post Win Pulitzers For Snowden Coverage

Techdirt - Mon, 04/14/2014 - 15:55
While various arbitrary prizes and awards may not mean much in the grand scheme of things, it's still quite heartening to see that the Guardian and the Washington Post were awarded a Pulitzer for public service for their reporting on the NSA via the Ed Snowden documents. For a distinguished example of meritorious public service by a newspaper or news site through the use of its journalistic resources, including the use of stories, editorials, cartoons, photographs, graphics, videos, databases, multimedia or interactive presentations or other visual material, a gold medal. Awarded to The Washington Post for its revelation of widespread secret surveillance by the National Security Agency, marked by authoritative and insightful reports that helped the public understand how the disclosures fit into the larger framework of national security.


Awarded to The Guardian US for its revelation of widespread secret surveillance by the National Security Agency, helping through aggressive reporting to spark a debate about the relationship between the government and the public over issues of security and privacy.
Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Bart Gellman and Ewan McCaskill (among others at both publications) should be congratulated for the work they put into the original stories and for all of the followup in the face of ridiculous levels of criticism from those who were embarrassed by Snowden's whistleblowing. Separately, with the Pulitzers recognizing that such reporting was a public service, can we finally stop people from claiming that Snowden was a "traitor" and admit that what he did was clearly whistleblowing in the furtherance of the public interest?

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Cinefi Streams Movie and TV-Torrents Straight to Your Browser

TorrentFreak - Mon, 04/14/2014 - 15:15

cinefiA few weeks ago a new piece of software called “Popcorn Time” made headlines around the world.

The key to this success was the app’s sheer simplicity, something that was missing from most of the earlier torrent streaming services. Today, a new torrent streaming service launched, one that’s just as simple, but doesn’t require any extra software.

Using only HTML5 technology, Cinefi can stream video torrents directly to a browser. There is no need to install any software or plugins and it works on every platform. This is not limited to PCs and laptops either, since it also includes mobile devices and game consoles.

TorrentFreak caught up with the main developer Rich, who says that the main motivation to develop the service was to see if it was possible to make a torrent streaming tool without any additions.

“We started the project for the sheer challenge of seeing if we could stream torrents directly to the browser without any other software,” Rick explains to TF.

The result is a web service that looks awfully simple, but works as advertised. Similar to Popcorn Time, it taps into a database of YTS movies, but users can also stream other videos by pasting a magnet link into the search box.

“Right now you can search for movies, which come from YTS, but Cinefi will play any torrent or magnet link, except videos encoded in AVI. Just paste and click,” Rich says.

As can be seen below, a trailer of the fourth Game of Thrones season plays just fine after a few seconds of loading time. As with any torrent streaming service, the playback is the smoothest for files that have relatively many seeders.

Cinefi: Game of Thrones Trailer


Cinefi is closed source and uses a “patent-pending technology” which blends several HTML5 technologies. According to the developer, this makes it the first torrent streaming service of its kind, and since it doesn’t depend on extra software, it can be used by pretty much anyone, anywhere.

Of course, the entertainment industries are not going to cheer on this development, but the technology itself isn’t infringing on any copyrights according to the Cinefi team. In fact, they advise people not to use the service in any way that might break the law.

“As stated on the site, the site is legal to use, but downloading illegal torrents isn’t. We don’t encourage any illegal activity on the site. We do not host or store any torrents,” Rich tells TF.

“We merely provide the technology and it is up to the user’s discretion,” he adds.

Those who are interested can head over to and take the service for a spin, with this torrent for example. It’s free to use, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

Update: Cinefi appears to have some trouble loading every now and then, probably due to the sudden increase in vsitors.

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

Categories: Tech Polis

Bullied Student Records Bullies, Gets Threatened With Felony Charges For Violating Wiretapping Law

Techdirt - Mon, 04/14/2014 - 15:03

Here comes another story highlighting the danger of schools "outsourcing" their disciplinary problems to law enforcement. As we've stated before, this does nothing more than turn routine misconduct into criminal behavior, which is a great way to derail a student's future.

A Pennsylvania teen, who claimed to have been bullied constantly (and ignored by school administration), made an audio recording of his tormentors using a school-supplied iPad. He brought this to the school's attention, which duly responded by calling the cops… to have him arrested for violating Pennsylvania's wiretapping law. (h/t to Techdirt reader btr1701) [The student's mother, Shea] Love says that upon fielding her complaint, Principal Scott Milburn called South Fayette Township police Lieutenant Robert Kurta to the school to interrogate her son in the presence of Associate Principal Aaron Skrbin and Dean of Students Joseph Silhanek. The defendant testified before Judge McGraw-Desmet that he was forced to play the audio for the group and then delete it. Love says by the time she arrived at the school, her son was surrounded by school officials and the police officer and was visibly distraught. She says Milburn defended the teacher's response to the classroom disturbance. The administration, rather than consider targeting the recorded bullies, instead called the cops believing (on advice from district lawyers, no less) that they had a felon in their office. Kurta testified before the magistrate that Milburn requested his presence at the school on February 12 at 8:20 a.m. The officer said, “He believed he had a wiretapping incident.” Upon his arrival, Kurta said Milburn advised him that Silhanek fielded a call that morning from Love notifying him “that she planted a recording device in her son’s backpack to record the activities in one of his classes.” According to Kurta’s testimony, after Milburn consulted with the school district’s attorney, he advised reporting the incident to the police and treating it as a crime. As Scott Greenfield points out, calling a cop in to handle a school disciplinary problem doesn't leave the officer with many choices. At that moment, it was certainly within Lt. Kurta’s ability to pull the principal aside and tell him, “hey, you scared the crap out of the kid, which should do the job. You realize that this isn’t a crime of any sort, and so I’m just going to back away slowly, not embarrass you for bringing me here to waste my time, and you can go back to doing whatever it is you do in this big building. Have a nice day.” That's one option. But as these things go, that's rarely, if ever, the option chosen. The officer, having been summoned, needed to find something to charge the bullied student with. Kurta said, “After I left the school, I wasn’t sure what charge to file so I contacted the district attorney’s office. This would fall under a wiretapping violation, which is a felony.” He later answered as to why he thought the disorderly conduct charge applied to this case by saying, “Because his (the student’s) actions — he engaged in actions which served no legitimate purpose.” He then read the statute as, “Creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by acts which serve no legitimate purpose.” Because capturing evidence of bullying "serves no legitimate purpose," apparently.

As Greenfield puts it, the officer was a hammer. Therefore, the bullied student must be a nail. This brought the student in front of yet another authority who could finally apply some common sense to the situation -- the magistrate judge. But that was not to be. The judge dragged in her own faith in the malfunctioning system as justification for nailing the student for disorderly conduct. In fact, Judge Maureen McGraw made her statement in defense of the school before the student could make his statement. “Normally, if there is — I certainly have a big problem with any kind of bullying at school. But normally, you know, I would expect a parent would let the school know about it, because it’s not tolerated. I know that, and that you guys [school administrators] would handle that, you know [...] Because it’s not tolerated, but you need to go through — let the school handle it. And I know from experience with South Fayette School that, you know, it always is. And if there is a problem and it continues, then it is usually brought in front of me.” Greenfield again, pointing out just how wrong the judge's statement is: While this may not be a unique reaction, whether with school officials or police, it is decidedly flagrant. Where a judge’s function is so fundamentally undermined from the outset, that an accuser is so virtuous that it cannot be wrong, the prejudice can neither be ignored nor excused. The die was cast by dint of the school having “brought [the student] in front of” the judge. The last part of the "unholy trinity" was the final hammer, coming down on the "nail" placed in front of it by school administrators (who can do no wrong) and a police officer (who is beyond fault). Guilty as charged.

The judge's statement is particularly egregious, considering the situation in front of her. First off, the judge's faith in the school's ability to combat bullying is obviously misplaced. She saw no fault in her reasoning and, using that as her platform for the rest of her statement, she went on to act on her own information and beliefs.

But further than appealing to her own authority, the judge stated how these things should be handled, apparently completely unaware (or unwilling to recognize) that following the prescribed steps is what resulted in a bullied child standing in front of her, facing a BS "disorderly conduct" charge.

The judge said that bullying victims should first bring the problem to their parents -- which this student did. Next, she says the parents should let the school administrators know -- which she did. Finally, she says, let the school handle it -- which it did. And now, the student faces her -- having followed all the proper steps -- charged with disorderly conduct. And yet, despite this, she asserts that the system works and, indeed, has always worked in regards to this particular school. Logical fallacy piled on top of logical fallacy until a bullied kid is charged with a crime while his recorded tormentors remain unpunished.

The judge refused to believe that any one of these esteemed administrators could have screwed up, failing to believe that they, too, are human and as prone to failure as anyone else. If they've never screwed up in the past, all future misdeeds are forgiven (and forgotten) in advance. This is the sort of rationale that should never be deployed by a supposedly impartial overseer like a judge, because it's just as wrong as assuming every authority figure involved here is an irredeemable monster. [P]eople are not so one-dimensional that they are horrible in every instance, to every person, under every circumstances. The cop who beats a man one day may have saved a kitten in a tree the day before. Maybe the school has had an admirable track record on curtailing bullying. Maybe Officer Kurta doesn't always seek to find something to charge a person with when put in this position. But everyone here came together to make a string of regrettable decisions that led to a bullied student being punished, rather than the aggressors. Maybe the future holds better outcomes, but for right now, everyone involved had a chance to stop this from reaching this illogical conclusion, but no one -- from the administrators to their legal team to local law enforcement to the presiding judge -- was interested in reining this in. In the end, it looks as though an innate desire to punish someone was satisfied every step of the way.

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Hollywood Has Been Pressuring Australian Attorney General To Pressure ISPs Into Being Copyright Cops

Techdirt - Mon, 04/14/2014 - 14:02
For years, we followed the important iiNet case in Australia. Hollywood studios, which ran a group called AFACT in Australia, wanted to "set an example" of why ISPs should be liable for copyright infringement done on their networks, and deliberately chose iiNet to sue, believing the ISP was too small to mount a serious challenge. Instead, iiNet fought back strongly, making really strong points about how ridiculous it was to pin the blame on an ISP. The result was a complete victory for iiNet. It won at the district court, at the appeals court and finally at Australia's high court.

Of course, Hollywood (AFACT is Australian-in-name-only -- a Wikileaks State Department cable revealed it to be an operation wholly controlled by the MPAA in Hollywood) continued to freak out, leading the Australian government to hold "stakeholder" meetings between the entertainment industry and the ISPs (note: no public representatives, even though they're the real stakeholders), to try to broker an agreement to make ISPs act as copyright cops. Of course, because Hollywood's position is inherently ridiculous, the ISPs noted that it was like negotiating with a brick wall, and talks soon broke down. The ISPs made it clear that it was silly to blame them when Hollywood itself was to blame by not making works available.

But, of course, Hollywood never stops. AFACT rebranded as the Australian Screen Association, and apparently has been very busy pumping new Australian Attorney General George Brandis full of misleading information and pure propaganda. We recently noted that Brandis was supporting website blocking and three strikes like programs, despite them failing elsewhere. And, he's also come out against fair use, because, fuck the public, Hollywood is upset.

Josh Taylor over at ZDnet used the Freedom of Information Act to get emails from between Neil Gane -- the "contractor" who ran AFACT and now the Australian Screen Association -- and Brandis, showing an ongoing campaign in which Gane continued to push Brandis with a series of one-sided misleading emails about how anti-consumer programs in other countries were the way forward: In nine emails from Gane to the Attorney-General's department secretary, Roger Wilkins, and first assistant secretary in the civil law division, Matt Minogue, sent between the election and this year, obtained by ZDNet under Freedom of Information, Gane appears to be providing education notices of his own to the department, offering insights into how copyright infringement is being dealt with in other countries.

In one email pointing out Canada's moves, he notes that the Canadian government was not buying into the notion that ISPs should be compensated for having to warn customers for downloading infringing content.
There are a number of other emails, including a few that regular Techdirt readers may find especially amusing, including one mocking the "vocal minority" who were complaining that draconian copyright enforcement on things like Game of Thrones downloading might have serious unintended consequences. Update: The "vocal minority" has responded.

Meanwhile, Brandis -- who has also been vehemently defending the NSA -- recently took a trip to the US, in part to explore issues around copyright. Did he meet with copyright scholars or other experts on these issues? Nope. Instead, he met with the director of the Center for Copyright Information, who runs the US's "six strikes" program. Brandis seems to have made up his mind, after being pushed on it by the MPAA, and with no respect at all to facts or reality.

All in all, Brandis appears to be only listening to one exceptionally biased party, even as a very long and thorough review process by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) found that fair use was important, and that copyright reform needed to be modernized to pay attention to the important rights and uses of the public. But apparently, that all gets thrown out the window because a Hollywood spokesperson has a direct email line to the Attorney General.

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Heartbleed Suspicion And NSA Denial Show Why NSA's Dual Offense/Defensive Role Must End

Techdirt - Mon, 04/14/2014 - 13:03
We've talked for a while how dangerous and ridiculous it is that the NSA has a dual role as both handling "offensive" attacks and (supposedly) stopping incoming attacks in a "defensive" role. While technically, the NSA is supposed to be handling the "defensive" side while the US Cyber Command handles the offensive, there is no real separation between the two. The US Cyber Command is headquartered within the NSA and is run by the same person. Despite multiple recommendations to split the roles, the White House refuses to do so. Meanwhile, the NSA itself has been doing more and more offensive work anyway.

However, the claim late last week that the NSA knew about and exploited Heartbleed, followed by the quick denial by the NSA, really puts an exclamation point on how untenable this dual role is for the NSA. It's difficult to take the NSA seriously given the competing interests within it. Add to this, President Obama basically giving his broad approval for the NSA to exploit security flaws it finds, and you have a very dangerous setup for your average internet user. The NSA, despite its job, will have little interest in actually protecting internet users.

Julian Sanchez summarizes the issue nicely by pointing out that the two roles are simply incompatible: But the denial itself serves as a reminder that NSA's two fundamental missions – one defensive, one offensive – are fundamentally incompatible, and that they can't both be handled credibly by the same government agency. The NSA's history of being less than forthright in the past, as well as many of the Snowden revelations, combined with its dual role, simply means that most people won't believe the NSA's denial about Heartbleed, even if it was much more strongly worded than earlier denials. If the NSA's role, however, were made much clearer, such that it was only focused on protecting systems, without the offensive elements, then it would be both a lot more believable, and a lot more trustworthy. However, the very fact that the administration (and the NSA) appear to have little interest in moving in this direction says a lot about how much they really prioritize protecting our computer systems.

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FBI Abruptly Walks Out On Senate Briefing After Being Asked How 'Insider Threat' Program Avoids Whistleblowers

Techdirt - Mon, 04/14/2014 - 12:02
While we've been disappointed that Senator Chuck Grassley appears to have a bit of a double standard with his staunch support for whistleblowers when it comes to Ed Snowden, it is true that he has fought for real whistleblower protections for quite some time. Lately, he's been quite concerned that the White House's "Insider Threat Program" (ITP) is really just a cover to crack down on whistleblowers. As we've noted, despite early promises from the Obama administration to support and protect whistleblowers, the administration has led the largest crackdown against whistleblowers, and the ITP suggests that the attack on whistleblowers is a calculated response. The program documentation argues that any leak can be seen as "aiding the enemy" and encourages government employees to snitch on each other if they appear too concerned about government wrong-doing. Despite all his high minded talk of supporting whistleblowers, President Obama has used the Espionage Act against whistleblowers twice as many times as all other Presidents combined. Also, he has never -- not once -- praised someone for blowing the whistle in the federal government.

Given all of that, Senator Grassley expressed some concern about this Insider Threat Program and how it distinguished whistleblowers from actual threats. He asked the FBI for copies of its training manual on the program, which it refused to give him. Instead, it said it could better answer any questions at a hearing. However, as Grassley explains, when questioned about this just 10 minutes into the hearing, the FBI abruptly got up and left: Meanwhile, the FBI fiercely resists any efforts at Congressional oversight, especially on whistleblower matters. For example, four months ago I sent a letter to the FBI requesting its training materials on the Insider Threat Program. This program was announced by the Obama Administration in October 2011. It was intended to train federal employees to watch out for insider threats among their colleagues. Public news reports indicated that this program might not do enough to distinguish between true insider threats and legitimate whistleblowers. I relayed these concerns in my letter. I also asked for copies of the training materials. I said I wanted to examine whether they adequately distinguished between insider threats and whistleblowers.

In response, an FBI legislative affairs official told my staff that a briefing might be the best way to answer my questions. It was scheduled for last week. Staff for both Chairman Leahy and I attended, and the FBI brought the head of their Insider Threat Program. Yet the FBI didn’t bring the Insider Threat training materials as we had requested. However, the head of the Insider Threat Program told the staff that there was no need to worry about whistleblower communications. He said whistleblowers had to register in order to be protected, and the Insider Threat Program would know to just avoid those people.

Now I have never heard of whistleblowers being required to “register” in order to be protected. The idea of such a requirement should be pretty alarming to all Americans. Sometimes confidentiality is the best protection a whistleblower has. Unfortunately, neither my staff nor Chairman Leahy’s staff was able to learn more, because only about ten minutes into the briefing, the FBI abruptly walked out. FBI officials simply refused to discuss any whistleblower implications in its Insider Threat Program and left the room. These are clearly not the actions of an agency that is genuinely open to whistleblowers or whistleblower protection.
And yes, it's equally troubling that the FBI insists that as long as someone "registers" as a whistleblower, the FBI will suddenly, magically agree to stop investigating them as a "threat." We already know that's almost certainly bullshit. The stories of Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou are both clear examples of whistleblowers, who then had the DOJ search through basically everything they'd ever done to try to concoct some sort of Espionage Act case against them. In both cases, the eventual charges were totally ridiculous and unrelated to the whistleblowing they had done, but clearly the only reason they had been investigated was because of their status as whistleblowers. Drake was charged with having a classified document, which was just a meeting agenda and was both improperly classified and then declassified soon after. Kiriakou was charged with revealing the name of a CIA operative to a reporter, where the person in question was already widely known to journalists as working for the CIA.

Meanwhile, while Grassley still hasn't come out in support of Snowden as a whistleblower, he does seem reasonably concerned that James Clapper's plans to stop the next Snowden will have severe consequences for whistleblowers: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper seems to have talked about such procedures when he appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 11, 2014. In his testimony, he said: We are going to proliferate deployment of auditing and monitoring capabilities to enhance our insider threat detection. We’re going to need to change our security clearance process to a system of continuous evaluation. . . . What we need is . . . a system of continuous evaluation, where . . . we have a way of monitoring their behavior, both their electronic behavior on the job as well as off the job, to see if there is a potential clearance issue. . . . Director Clapper’s testimony gives me major pause. It sounds as though this type of monitoring would likely capture the activity of whistleblowers communicating with Congress. As Marcy Wheeler notes in her post (linked above, which called my attention to all this), by declaring war on whistleblowers, the administration is almost guaranteeing that many fewer will use "official channels" to blow the whistle. That just makes them targets with the likelihood of getting no results. Instead, all this does is incentivize people to go the Chelsea Manning/Ed Snowden route of going directly to journalists to make sure the stories get out.

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FBI Plans to Have 52 Million Photos in its NGI Face Recognition Database by Next Year

EFF - Mon, 04/14/2014 - 11:37

FBI NGI Face Recognition IllustrationNew documents released by the FBI show that the Bureau is well on its way toward its goal of a fully operational face recognition database by this summer.

EFF received these records in response to our Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for information on Next Generation Identification (NGI)—the FBI’s massive biometric database that may hold records on as much as one third of the U.S. population. The facial recognition component of this database poses real threats to privacy for all Americans.

What is NGI?

NGI builds on the FBI’s legacy fingerprint database—which already contains well over 100 million individual records—and has been designed to include multiple forms of biometric data, including palm prints and iris scans in addition to fingerprints and face recognition data. NGI combines all these forms of data in each individual’s file, linking them to personal and biographic data like name, home address, ID number, immigration status, age, race, etc. This immense database is shared with other federal agencies and with the approximately 18,000 tribal, state and local law enforcement agencies across the United States.

The records we received show that the face recognition component of NGI may include as many as 52 million face images by 2015. By 2012, NGI already contained 13.6 million images representing between 7 and 8 million individuals, and by the middle of 2013, the size of the database increased to 16 million images. The new records reveal that the database will be capable of processing 55,000 direct photo enrollments daily and of conducting tens of thousands of searches every day.

NGI Will Include Non-Criminal as well as Criminal Photos

One of our biggest concerns about NGI has been the fact that it will include non-criminal as well as criminal face images. We now know that FBI projects that by 2015, the database will include 4.3 million images taken for non-criminal purposes.

Currently, if you apply for any type of job that requires fingerprinting or a background check, your prints are sent to and stored by the FBI in its civil print database. However, the FBI has never before collected a photograph along with those prints. This is changing with NGI. Now an employer could require you to provide a “mug shot” photo along with your fingerprints. If that’s the case, then the FBI will store both your face print and your fingerprints along with your biographic data.

In the past, the FBI has never linked the criminal and non-criminal fingerprint databases. This has meant that any search of the criminal print database (such as to identify a suspect or a latent print at a crime scene) would not touch the non-criminal database.  This will also change with NGI. Now every record—whether criminal or non—will have a “Universal Control Number” (UCN), and every search will be run against all records in the database. This means that even if you have never been arrested for a crime, if your employer requires you to submit a photo as part of your background check, your face image could be searched—and you could be implicated as a criminal suspect—just by virtue of having that image in the non-criminal file.  

Many States Are Already Participating in NGI

The records detail the many states and law enforcement agencies the FBI has already been working with to build out its database of images (see map below). By 2012, nearly half of U.S. states had at least expressed an interest in participating in the NGI pilot program, and several of those states had already shared their entire criminal mug shot database with the FBI. The FBI hopes to bring all states online with NGI by this year.

Map of US States Coordinating with FBI on NGI Face Recognition

The FBI worked particularly closely with Oregon through a special project called “Face Report Card.” The goal of the project was to determine and provide feedback on the quality of the images that states already have in their databases. Through Face Report Card, examiners reviewed 14,408 of Oregon’s face images and found significant problems with image resolution, lighting, background and interference. Examiners also found that the median resolution of images was “well-below” the recommended resolution of .75 megapixels (in comparison, newer iPhone cameras are capable of 8 megapixel resolution).

FBI Disclaims Responsibility for Accuracy

At such a low resolution, it is hard to imagine that identification will be accurate.1 However, the FBI has disclaimed responsibility for accuracy, stating that “[t]he candidate list is an investigative lead not an identification.”

Because the system is designed to provide a ranked list of candidates, the FBI states NGI never actually makes a “positive identification,” and “therefore, there is no false positive rate.” In fact, the FBI only ensures that “the candidate will be returned in the top 50 candidates” 85 percent of the time “when the true candidate exists in the gallery.”

It is unclear what happens when the “true candidate” does not exist in the gallery—does NGI still return possible matches? Could those people then be subject to criminal investigation for no other reason than that a computer thought their face was mathematically similar to a suspect’s? This doesn’t seem to matter much to the FBI—the Bureau notes that because “this is an investigative search and caveats will be prevalent on the return detailing that the [non-FBI] agency is responsible for determining the identity of the subject, there should be NO legal issues.”

Nearly 1 Million Images Will Come from Unexplained Sources

One of the most curious things to come out of these records is the fact that NGI may include up to 1 million face images in two categories that are not explained anywhere in the documents. According to the FBI, by 2015, NGI may include:

  • 46 million criminal images
  • 4.3 million civil images
  • 215,000 images from the Repository for Individuals of Special Concern (RISC)
  • 750,000 images from a "Special Population Cognizant" (SPC) category
  • 215,000 images from "New Repositories"

However, the FBI does not define either the “Special Population Cognizant” database or the "new repositories" category. This is a problem because we do not know what rules govern these categories, where the data comes from, how the images are gathered, who has access to them, and whose privacy is impacted.

A 2007 FBI document available on the web describes SPC as “a service provided to Other Federal Organizations (OFOs), or other agencies with special needs by agreement with the FBI” and notes that “[t]hese SPC Files can be specific to a particular case or subject set (e.g., gang or terrorist related), or can be generic agency files consisting of employee records.” If these SPC files and the images in the "new repositories" category are assigned a Universal Control Number along with the rest of the NGI records, then these likely non-criminal records would also be subject to invasive criminal searches.

Government Contractor Responsible for NGI has built some of the Largest Face Recognition Databases in the World

The company responsible for building NGI’s facial recognition component—MorphoTrust (formerly L-1 Identity Solutions)—is also the company that has built the face recognition systems used by approximately 35 state DMVs and many commercial businesses.2 MorphoTrust built and maintains the face recognition systems for the Department of State, which has the “largest facial recognition system deployed in the world” with more than 244 million records,3 and for the Department of Defense, which shares its records with the FBI.

The FBI failed to release records discussing whether MorphoTrust uses a standard (likely proprietary) algorithm for its face templates. If it does, it is quite possible that the face templates at each of these disparate agencies could be shared across agencies—raising again the issue that the photograph you thought you were taking just to get a passport or driver’s license is then searched every time the government is investigating a crime. The FBI seems to be leaning in this direction: an FBI employee email notes that the “best requirements for sending an image in the FR system” include “obtain[ing] DMV version of photo whenever possible.”

Why Should We Care About NGI?

There are several reasons to be concerned about this massive expansion of governmental face recognition data collection. First, as noted above, NGI will allow law enforcement at all levels to search non-criminal and criminal face records at the same time. This means you could become a suspect in a criminal case merely because you applied for a job that required you to submit a photo with your background check.

Second, the FBI and Congress have thus far failed to enact meaningful restrictions on what types of data can be submitted to the system, who can access the data, and how the data can be used. For example, although the FBI has said in these documents that it will not allow non-mug shot photos such as images from social networking sites to be saved to the system, there are no legal or even written FBI policy restrictions in place to prevent this from occurring. As we have stated before, the Privacy Impact Assessment for NGI’s face recognition component hasn’t been updated since 2008, well before the current database was even in development. It cannot therefore address all the privacy issues impacted by NGI.

Finally, even though FBI claims that its ranked candidate list prevents the problem of false positives (someone being falsely identified), this is not the case. A system that only purports to provide the true candidate in the top 50 candidates 85 percent of the time will return a lot of images of the wrong people. We know from researchers that the risk of false positives increases as the size of the dataset increases—and, at 52 million images, the FBI’s face recognition is a very large dataset. This means that many people will be presented as suspects for crimes they didn’t commit. This is not how our system of justice was designed and should not be a system that Americans tacitly consent to move towards.

For more on our concerns about the increased role of face recognition in criminal and civil contexts, read Jennifer Lynch’s 2012 Senate Testimony. We will continue to monitor the FBI’s expansion of NGI.

Here are the documents:

FBI NGI Description of Face Recognition Program

FBI NGI Report Card on Oregon Face Recognition Program

FBI NGI Sample Memorandum of Understanding with States

FBI NGI Face Recognition Goals & Objectives

FBI NGI Information on Implementation

FBI Emails re. NGI Face Recognition Program

FBI Emails from Contractors re. NGI

FBI NGI 2011 Face Recognition Operational Prototype Plan

FBI NGI Document Discussing Technical Characteristics of Face Recognition Component

FBI NGI 2010 Face Recognition Trade Study Plan

FBI NGI Document on L-1's Commercial Face Recognition Product

  • 1. In fact, another document notes that “since the trend for the quality of data received by the customer is lower and lower quality, specific research and development plans for low quality submission accuracy improvement is highly desirable.”
  • 2. MorphoTrust’s parent company, Safran Morpho, describes itself as “[t]he world leader in biometric systems,” is largely responsible for implementing India’s Aadhaar project, which, ultimately, will collect biometric data from nearly 1.2 billion people.
  • 3. One could argue that Facebook’s is larger. Facebook states that its users have uploaded more than 250 billion photos. However, Facebook never performs face recognition searches on that entire 250 billion photo database.
Related Issues: BiometricsPrivacyTransparencyRelated Cases: FBI's Next Generation Identification Biometrics Database
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Categories: Tech Polis

Obama Tells NSA To Reveal, Not Exploit, Flaws... Except All The Times It Wants To Do The Opposite

Techdirt - Mon, 04/14/2014 - 10:40
Last week there was some confusion as Bloomberg published a story claiming that the NSA was well aware of the Heartbleed bug and had been exploiting it for "at least" two years. That seemed fairly incredible, given that the bug had only been around for slightly over two years. The NSA came out with a pretty strongly worded denial -- which left out much of the usual equivocation and tricky wording that the NSA normally uses in denying things. The general consensus seems to be that it is, in fact, unlikely that the NSA knew about Heartbleed (though that makes some wonder if some team at the NSA is now in trouble for not figuring it out). If anything, it seems likely that the Bloomberg reporters got confused by other programs that the NSA is known to have to break parts of SSL, something it's supposedly been able to do since around 2010.

However, the NY Times had a story this weekend about how this move has forced the administration to clarify its position on zero day exploits. It's already known that the NSA buys lots of zero day exploits and makes the internet weaker as a result of it. Though, in the past, the NSA has indicated that it only makes use of the kinds of exploits that only it can use (i.e., exploits that need such immense computing power that anyone outside of the NSA is unlikely to be able to do anything). However, the NY Times article notes that, following the White House's intelligence review task force recommendation that the NSA stop weakening encryption and other technologies, President Obama put in place an official rule that the NSA should have a "bias" towards revealing the flaws and helping to fix them, but leaves open a massive loophole: But Mr. Obama carved a broad exception for “a clear national security or law enforcement need,” the officials said, a loophole that is likely to allow the N.S.A. to continue to exploit security flaws both to crack encryption on the Internet and to design cyberweapons. Amusingly, the NY Times initially had a title on its story saying that President Obama had decided that the NSA should "reveal, not exploit, internet security flaws," but the title then changed to the much more accurate: "Obama Lets N.S.A. Exploit Some Internet Flaws, Officials Say."

Of course, the cold war analogy used by people in the article seems... wrong: “We don’t eliminate nuclear weapons until the Russians do,” one senior intelligence official said recently. “You are not going to see the Chinese give up on ‘zero days’ just because we do.” Except, it's meaningless that no one expects the Chinese (or the Russians or anyone else) to give up zero days. The simple fact is that if the NSA were helping to stop zero days that would better protect everyone against anyone else using those zero days. In fact, closing zero days is just like disarming both sides, because it takes the vulnerability out of service. It's not about us giving up our "weapons," it's about building a better defense for the world. And yet the NSA isn't willing to do that. Because they're not about protecting anyone -- other than themselves.

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Ryushare File-Host Owner Arrested – Cash, Cars, Motorcycles Seized

TorrentFreak - Mon, 04/14/2014 - 09:31

ryushareThere are many hundreds, probably thousands, of file-hosting sites online, each serving their own area of the market. One only has to watch discussion on so-called warez forums to discover which ones are popular with pirates.

Ryushare was one such site. Whether its operators deliberately influenced that is up for debate, but healthy affiliate and rewards programs certainly made it more attractive than similar sites without them. The site grew steeply in the latter half of 2012, peaking near the Alexa 500 at the turn of 2013.

But while the mere existence of a reward program doesn’t signal a breach of the law, Ryushare clearly had other legal problems. Earlier this month the site completely disappeared alongside reports that its operators had been arrested.

This weekend a more detailed report from the Vietnamese government stated that police had shut down an operation dedicated to the illegal distribution of pornography.

According to the report, Nguyen Duc Nhat, the Vietnamese owner of Ryushare, was arrested along with three others. This led to the shutdown of the site which according to police had been operating 500 overseas servers.

The alleged operators of RyushareRyushare

Authorities say that during its lifetime Ryushare generated profits of 132,000,000,000 Vietnamese dong, or $6.2 million for those who prefer less zeros.

During the course of the arrests, police say they seized two cars, three motorcycles, five laptops and five accounts containing around $355,000.

The Ryushare site remains offline and rumors of a resurrection have yet to come true. Authorities say the investigation continues.

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

Categories: Tech Polis

Would You Pay $50 Per Episode To See Game Of Thrones?

Techdirt - Mon, 04/14/2014 - 08:31
The HBO series Game of Thrones always seems to be at the center of the piracy debate. The show's mass popularity certainly has something to do with that (popular content is almost always at the top of various infringement lists), but a big part of it is that, even for people willing to pay for the show, the fact that the only way to do so is to get an expensive cable subscription is a big part of the problem. In fact, there's some reason to suggest that the vast amount of piracy around Game of Thrones has been a key part of its success -- something that many folks associated with the show will admit in candid moments before being told by corporate bosses to shut up.

And while the legacy entertainment industry continues to take a "zero tolerance" approach to infringement, by pretending that their various (extremely limited) online services are good enough, the simple truth is that it's ridiculously expensive for folks who just want to watch Game of Thrones online. The good folks at TorrentFreak took a look at what it would cost in a bunch of different countries to watch the authorized version of the show if you were a cord cutter who wasn't interested in anything else in a cable subscription. The Australian result may be the most shocking:

When we look at the packages offered on the website the cheapest option appears to be the movie and drama combo, which costs $74 AUD (~ 70 USD) per month. However, the minimum subscription term is six months, which with the added costs adds up to $520 AUD (~ 590 USD). Assuming that someone’s only interested in watching Game of Thrones, an Australian fan will have to pay $52 AUD (~ 49 USD) per episode, which is rather expensive

That's a bit of an understatement. And this is especially interesting, given that the US ambassador and the MPAA have repeatedly pointed to Game of Thrones piracy as a top priority that the Australian government needs to "fix." Perhaps, instead, there should be a focus on making it so that each episode is actually reasonably affordable. The situation, of course, is equally ridiculous in most other countries that TorrentFreak explored. And, yes, as HBO has said over and over again, it has good business reasons for doing this (it makes a ton of money from cable and satellite companies for each subscriber -- likely more than they'd pay individually). But the end result is that it should hardly be surprising that plenty of people choose an alternative route -- and it shouldn't be something that has US ambassadors up in arms.

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UK Prime Minister Asked for Permanent Police Anti-Piracy Unit Funding

TorrentFreak - Mon, 04/14/2014 - 07:08

cityoflondonpoliceLast summer it became evident that police in the UK would be taking a greater interest in the activities of torrent, streaming and other sharing sites. Announcing the creation of the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), last year City of London Police said that sites would be pressured to step into line, close, or face the consequences.

The unit, which has already claimed the scalps of several smaller domains, including the forced shutdown last week of a handful of sports-stream related sites, has been active on various fronts. In addition to putting registrars under pressure to close domains, the unit is also working with advertisers in an attempt to cut off advertising revenue.

PIPCU is good news for rightsholders in several ways, not least since the anti-piracy battles of groups such as the BPI and FACT are now being partly financed by the UK taxpayer. PIPCU is currently funded by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills’ Intellectual Property Office, to the tune of £2.56m over two years.

The funding, which was allocated on a temporary basis, will expire in 2015 if the government doesn’t allocate additional finances. It could fall back into private hands, but that would mean a significant loss of ‘clout’ for the companies relying on PIPCU’s authority. However, if the UK Prime Minister’s Intellectual Property Adviser has anything to do with it, that won’t happen.

In a letter to David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May, Mike Weatherley MP praised the “excellent work” of PIPCU and urged the funding of the unit on a permanent basis.

“I appreciate that funding for this new unit is not permanent. However, I would like to put on record my support for committing future funding to fighting IP crime and boosting the current level of financial support that is available for PIPCU,” Weatherley wrote. “As I am sure that you are aware, the creative industries add over £70 billion to our economy each year and so it really is in our national interest to protect that revenue.”

As previously reported, PIPCU is currently focusing on cutting off ad revenue to ‘pirate’ sites. Speaking to fellow Conservatives, Weatherley said if that could be done the effects would be dramatic.

“If we stop advertisers from shoveling money into illegal sites, we can stop a lot of the content. Possibly as much as 95 per cent according to the newly formed national Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU),” Weatherley said.

“If you value the NHS [National Health Service], you should also value IP and our creative industries, as together they help pay for the services in this country that we all cherish. If we take the wrong approach, national services that we take for granted will have a huge budget shortfall.”

There are currently no formal indications that PIPCU will get the permanent funding it needs to continue its work but considering the backing it has among the music and movie industries (not to mention the Prime Minister’s top IP advisor) it seems unthinkable that a couple of million a year won’t be found from somewhere.

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

Categories: Tech Polis

Government Forces Free Press Advocacy Group To File Its Amicus Brief In NSL Case Under Seal

Techdirt - Mon, 04/14/2014 - 06:33

Throw the words "national security" around frequently enough and you might start to believe it actually means something. The EFF's battle against the government's use of National Security Letters (NSLs) is being fought mostly under seal (the EFF can't even reveal whom its clients are). To be sure, there is sensitive material being discussed, but the government's paranoia has extended so far as to seal documents written by entities with no access to classified or sensitive material. (h/t to Trevor Timm)

The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press (RCFP) recently filed an amicus brief in this case on the EFF's behalf, arguing that the non-disclosure demands of NSLs are a form of prior restraint, something that is clearly unconstitutional. It also notes the chilling effect this has had on journalism. The information at issue is not just important for its own sake, but because, as recent reports have shown, fear of government surveillance has deterred confidential sources from speaking to journalists about a wide range of topics. The brief emphasizes that more knowledge about the NSL program can give sources and reporters confidence that their communications are confidential. The government's desire for secrecy extends even further than the NSLs' gag orders. This secrecy has now spilled over into what would normally be the public's domain. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s challenge involves three cases, all of which are under seal. The Reporters Committee was required to file its briefs under seal, but submitted a motion to the Ninth Circuit asking it to unseal its brief. Whatever the government's stated reasons for requiring the brief to be filed under seal, it's clearly wrong. “The Court cannot constitutionally seal this brief,” the Reporters Committee wrote in the motion. “Amici have had no access to confidential materials in the case; the brief only includes information that is already public; and there are clear public policy reasons for requiring that the materials be open.” The government doesn't know when to quit. It's sealed brief requirement makes about as much sense as government agencies' initial reactions to the first few leaked NSA documents -- instructing their employees to not look at publicly-available information because the documents were supposedly still "classified." As if that designation made any sense under the circumstances.

This is the same sort of reasoning: NSLs are super-secret and therefore, anything related to these should be withheld from the public, even if the brief contains nothing more than publicly-available information.

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Top 10 Most Pirated Movies of The Week – 04/14/14

TorrentFreak - Mon, 04/14/2014 - 04:12

themachineThis week we have four newcomers in our chart.

The Machine is the most downloaded movie this week.

The data for our weekly download chart is estimated by TorrentFreak, and is for informational and educational reference only. All the movies in the list are BD/DVDrips unless stated otherwise.

RSS feed for the weekly movie download chart.

Ranking (last week) Movie IMDb Rating / Trailer 1 (…) The Machine 6.3 / trailer 2 (1) Ride Along 6.4 / trailer 3 (2) The Nut Job 5.7 / trailer 4 (4) 47 Ronin 6.5 / trailer 5 (…) Joe 7.6 / trailer 6 (3) The Secret Life of Walter Mitty 7.5 / trailer 7 (5) The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug 8.2 / trailer 8 (…) Sparks 6.3 / trailer 9 (…) Captain America: The Winter Soldier (CAM) 8.3 / trailer 10 (8) Frozen 8.1 / trailer

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

Categories: Tech Polis

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

Techdirt - Sun, 04/13/2014 - 15:00

It's a sad fact that a lot of big, important questions today are coming down to the government's word versus the word of whistleblowers and anonymous sources. And as silverscarcat points out in our most insightful comment of the week, it's obvious who deserves the benefit of the doubt:

At this point...

Snowden has more credibility than the entire U.S. government put together.

Save for a few individuals, but they're few and far between.

Meanwhile, when it comes to interpreting copyright law, the MPAA seems to think that its word trumps all others, even those found in statute and caselaw. An anonymous commenter won second place this week by reinforcing the point that, whatever you think of Megaupload, you can't just declare war on the whole internet:

If you think Megaupload is bad and evil and infringing and criminals and should fry, try replacing all instances of Megaupload with your favorite cloud service of choice and see if the complaint is still valid.

Of course, in the world of DMCA takedowns, the sad situation is that the rightsholder's word is law, at least as far as taking something offline until it's contested. That's how Sony was able to take a creative commons movie down, and as an anonymous commenter reminds us in our first editor's choice for insightful, the takedowns we hear about are almost certainly just the tip of the iceberg:

When I see stories like this I always wonder how many videos with tiny audiences are taken down by mistake and never put back up because the author does not know how to contest the decision, or are simply scared that they may have infringed someones copyright by accident. Also how many people do not know their fair use rights, and so do not contest take-downs when they have a fair use claim, or cannot risk the cost of it going to court?

For our second editor's choice, we have a thorough comment from Rich Kulawiec about the fact that even beyond the obvious moral issue, not torturing people is in everyone's best interest no matter how you slice it:

Not only is it horrific to contemplate that Americans in positions of authority authorized and/or committed crimes against humanity and tortured helpless human beings to death, but this has serious negative repercussions for American troops in the field.

First, American troops are sporadically engaged in combat with soldiers from other countries -- whether in a declared or undeclared war, or a so-called "police action", or something else. One of the things that has often brought those combat situations to a peaceful end is the surrender of those fighting against the Americans. And one of the reasons those surrenders occured is that Americans could and would promise those surrendering that they would not be killed or otherwise harmed: that they would be treated humanely. That was a promise that American commanders very often worked hard to keep, even over the objections of their own soldiers and their emotions, running high in the heat of battle.

But no American soldier can promise that any more. And no opposing soldier can believe it. There is every possibility that a peacefully-surrendering individual will be "disappeared" into one of the CIA's gulags and repeatedly tortured, perhaps to death.

So why should they surrender? Even if they're surrounded, outnumbered, and in a militarily hopless situation, why should they give up? Why not fight it out and try to take a few more Americans with them?

The CIA's torture program has removed one of the primary reasons for considering surrender as a viable option and thus ensures that more American soldiers will die, fighting protracted battles that need not have been fought by anyone.

Second, American soldiers are occasionally captured by adversaries. And while some of them have been treated brutally, many have been accorded the rights guaranteed to them under international law by countries who observed the Geneva Conventions because the United States did the same. In other words, those countries treated American prisoners of-war humanely because they wished the same for their own, and they had good reason to believe the United States would obey the law.

But the CIA has broken that tenuous trust. They've tortured people to death. And as a result, there is now far less reason for adversaries to treat American prisoners properly: why should they? Which means that captured American soldiers in the field now face substantially higher personal risk than they did previously.

This may not be fixable. I don't know. But if there is any possibility of fixing it, surely it lies along a path that includes the full disclosure of the entire report and every accompanying document. It will be ugly. It will be painful. It will be horrifying. But I think it's the only possible way and I think we, as a nation, owe it to the soldiers we put in harm's way.

Over on the funny side, first place goes to a comment from ChurchHatesTucker, responding to the news that the EU Court of Justice ruled blanket data retention to be a violation of privacy:

So that's where the Fourth Amendment wandered off to.

In second place, we've got a callback comment. After Michael Hayden claimed that various cables and documents were just as good a source of information as the torture tapes that had been destroyed, an anonymous commenter took things a step further with help from a recent, but unrelated, ridiculous ruling:

According to Indiana, Hayden's testimony is better than the tapes.

As noted back at the beginning of this post, there are a lot of battles of "who's lying?" going on right now, and one of the biggest is between Snowden and Rep. Mike Rogers. Our first editor's choice goes to an anonymous commenter for anticipating the latter's response to the former's recent interview:

In before Mike Rogers says that his talking to Vanity Fair is a cover for working with the Russians.

Finally, we've got another anonymous comment that I think deserves to be elevated to Ironic Adage, because it perfectly sums up the mentality of every indiscriminate, overzealous incident of copyright enforcement:

Hey, You can't make an omelet without breaking everybody's eggs

That's all for this week, folks!

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Categories: Tech Polis

Why People Pirate Game of Thrones, a Global Cost Breakdown

TorrentFreak - Sun, 04/13/2014 - 14:21

game of thronesIn a few hours a new episode of Game of Thrones will appear on BitTorrent, and a few days later roughly four million people will have downloaded this unofficial release.

Those who pirate the show have several reasons for doing so. In some countries there is simply no legal option available, however, the price tag that comes with many of the legal services is almost as big of a hurdle.

So what does it cost to access Game of Thrones legally in the countries where the show is most frequently pirated? We decided to take a look based on the list of countries that had the most Game of Thrones file-sharers last week.

Below is a selection of the options people have in Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and the Netherlands.


In Australia, Game of Thrones fans need a Foxtel subscription. When we look at the packages offered on the website the cheapest option appears to be the movie and drama combo, which costs $74 AUD (~ 70 USD) per month.

However, the minimum subscription term is six months, which with the added costs adds up to $520 AUD (~ 490 USD).

Assuming that someone’s only interested in watching Game of Thrones, an Australian fan will have to pay $52 AUD (~ 49 USD) per episode, which is rather expensive.

While it’s not advertised as any of the standard options, there’s also the Foxtel Play subscription. This allows people to watch Game of Thrones on demand on a variety of devices. The regular cost of this plan is $50 AUD (~ 50 USD) per month, and there’s currently an offer to get the first three months for $35 AUD (~ 33 USD). The Foxtel website notes that there is no long contract, which makes this option considerably cheaper.

The United States

In the United States there are several options available, which vary per cable provider. The cost of most HBO subscriptions are between $15 and $25 per month, depending on where you live and what your current plan is.

The downside, in addition to being locked in for several months sometimes, is that the HBO deals require a cable/Internet subscription. This makes the total package considerably more expensive, more than $100 per month in some cases.

But then again, pirates need an Internet subscription anyway.

The United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom Game of Thrones is available via Sky Atlantic. The costs are £21.50 (36 USD) a month, but with a minimum contract period of 12 months. This means that for those who are only interested in Game of Thrones, there’s a price tag of £25.80 per episode.

The good news is that UK viewers can watch the episodes simultaneously with the US broadcast, which 9,000 people did this past Sunday.

Update: Sky also offers an online “Now TV” entertainment pass without a contract. Now TV is currently available at an introductory rate of £4.99 per month.


In Canada, Game of Thrones comes in a package of The Movie Network. The price is roughly $20 CAD (~ 18 USD) per month on both Bell and Rogers. This also requires a digital or satellite TV subscription, which drives the price up to over $60 CAD per month for those who don’t have one.

Again, as with the previous examples, some plans require a several-months-long contract which makes it less interesting for those who only want to watch Game of Thrones.

The Netherlands

In the Netherlands HBO can be ordered as an add-on to most standard cable TV subscriptions. The standard price is roughly 15 euros (~ 21 USD) per month, and several providers allow subscribers to cancel after a month.

The cheapest cable subscriptions in the Netherlands average around 10 euros, which brings the total package to roughly 25 euros (~ 35 USD) per month.

Interestingly, HBO NL offers the first episode of season 4 for free, on YouTube. Of course, this is only available to people from the Netherlands.


The above shows that Game of Thrones certainly doesn’t come cheap, especially not for the true cable-cutters who have no interest in the other content it’s bundled with.

While most people will agree that paying for content is the right thing to do, it’s not always an intuitive choice when a single episode is twice as expensive as a box office ticket for the average Hollywood blockbuster.

So do all these pirates have a point or not?

According to Bruce Meagher, corporate director of “$52 AUD per episode” Foxtel, they do not.

“What we are left with is an argument at the margins about a few dollars. Yet some people still feel that they should be entitled to take this show for free without the consent of its creators rather than pay a reasonable price for an extraordinary product,” he says.

“The Lannisters may not be a pleasant lot, but they, at least, always pay their debts,” he adds.

So what do you think?

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

Categories: Tech Polis

Why Are Porn Perfomers Scared to Talk About Internet Piracy?

TorrentFreak - Sun, 04/13/2014 - 05:57

Internet porn is big – extremely big – and one of the reasons often cited for the rapid growth of the Internet. Every second there is an average of 28,258 Internet users watching porn online, together accounting for an estimated 35% of Internet downloads.

Over the past few years, porn industry claims that its very existence has become threatened by piracy have only increased. In addition to the hundreds of torrent sites offering content for no charge, a new type of site has emerged offering a staggering and immediately accessible range of content, at an entry price of absolutely free.

Due to their similarity with YouTube, these sites are known as ‘tube’ sites. They operate in much the same way as YouTube, with content being uploaded by their users for viewing by others.

The space is dominated by giants including YouPorn and Pornhub, sites which have been heavily criticized due to the endless quantities of unauthorized content they host. But in the ever-evolving adult industry, things are not what they seem.

Tube giant takeover

youpornpornhub‘Mindgeek’ may not sound familiar to everyone, but this is the new name for one of the biggest companies in the adult industry.

Formerly known as Manwin, Mindgeek is a huge company that has scooped up some of the biggest tube sites in the world including YouPorn, Pornhub, Tube8, XTube, RedTube, ExtremeTube and SpankWire to name a few. All in all, Mindgeek is reported to be one of the top three consumers of bandwidth in the world.

While Mindgeek sites act within the law by operating an efficient DMCA process that removes user-uploaded content at the request of copyright holders, many adult producers and performers feel that the sites are hitting their bottom line. But while that might be true for some, for others a much more complex situation is emerging.

A report this week from ABC showed the news outlet attempting to solicit comments from adult industry performers. However, when the topic turned to piracy on tube sites, suddenly they didn’t want to talk.

“I can’t talk about THAT part,” said one actress walking away from the camera. “I really don’t want to say anything because I don’t want them to ban me.”

“Them” in this context is Mindgeek, the operator of the tube sites offering unauthorized copies of porn movies uploaded by their users. So why are these actresses scared to talk about Mindgeek and what possible control could it have over them?

Spending tube money

dollar-moneyAfter making huge quantities of cash via its tube sites, Manwin/Mindgeek bought up several top studios including Brazzers, Digital Playground, Mofos, MyDirtyHobby and Twistys. The company also sucked up the Reality Kings brand and became an online partner of Playboy. This means that some of the performers complaining about piracy on tube sites are actually being paid by the company running them.

“Some people have asked me why i’m being a hypocrite and working for [Mindgeek companies],” one actress told ABC. “As a performer, boycotting these companies is not going to take any time, money or anything away from them because if I say no there are another hundred blondes who are willing to do it.”

Providing yet another twist, the report also shows adult actress and outspoken piracy critic Tasha Reign arranging to have one of her illegally uploaded videos taken down from Mindgeek-owned PornHub.

Reign then admits that she too works for Mindgeek.

“It’s like we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place in a way, because if I want to shoot content then I kinda have to shoot for [Mindgeek] because that’s the company that books me because they own…almost…everything,” Reign says.

In the meantime, it’s reported that a new porn video is made in the United States every 39 minutes. How many will be produced by Mindgeek companies or distributed via their tube sites remains to be seen, but in any event the company could be making money at one end, the other, or intriguingly – both ends at once.

ABC US News | ABC Business News

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

Categories: Tech Polis