Tech Polis

Raging Anti-Piracy Boss Goes on a Tirade Against BitTorrent

TorrentFreak - Sat, 04/12/2014 - 15:26

steeleFor a few years now, BitTorrent Inc. has done its best to position the company as a neutral and legitimate business.

In a recent interview with “That Was Me”, BitTorrent inventor Bram Cohen explained this challenge, as well as the general benefits BitTorrent has to offer.

The interview got some coverage here and there, including at Upstart, where it drew the attention of Robert Steele, Chief Technology Officer at anti-piracy outfit Rightscorp, a company that has made quite a few headlines this year.

Steele was not happy with the positive press coverage BitTorrent received from the media outlets, to say the least. Through Facebook (which uses BitTorrent) he wrote two responses to the article, which are worth repeating for a variety of reasons.

The comments appear to have been made late at night, possibly under influence, so we have left them intact and unedited for authenticity’s sake. Steele starts off by claiming that BitTorrent was designed for only one reason – to distribute pirated content.

“Absolutely ridiculous. Bram Cohen said in 2012 that ‘my goal is to destroy television’. BitTorrent’s architecture and features are designed for one reason only – to assist people in avoiding legitimate law enforcement efforts when they illgally consume other people’s intellectual property,” Steele begins.

It may not come as a surprise that Steele is quoting Cohen out of context. At the time, BitTorrent’s founder was actually referring to his new streaming technology, that would make it possible for anyone to stream video content to a large audience at virtually no cost.

Also, BitTorrent isn’t in any way helping people to avoid law enforcement, quite the contrary. People who use BitTorrent are easy to track down, which is in fact something that Rightscorp is banking its entire business model on.

In the second comment Steele brings in Accel, the venture capital firm that invested millions of dollars in BitTorrent Inc. According to the Rightscorp CTO Accel is also guilty of encouraging piracy, and he suggests that uTorrent should have been equipped with a blacklist of pirate torrent hashes.

“If Accell Partner’s BitTorrent was actually a legitimate business not directly involved in driving and facilitating piracy, they would have a blacklist of copyrighted hashes that the BT client won’t ‘share’. Dropbox does this. Why does Dropbox do this? Because they actually obey the law and respect content creators,” Steele says.

Steele touches on a sensitive subject here, as BitTorrent could indeed implement a blacklist to prevent some pirated content from being shared. TorrentFreak has raised this issue with BitTorrent Inc in the past, but we have never received a response on the matter.

rageMoving on from this sidetrack, Steele’s tirade in the first comment evolves into something that’s scarily incomprehensible.

“BTTracker software is not needed unless the goal is to enable other people outside of BitTorrent, Inc. to operate the systems that log the ip addresses of infringing computers. Why do they do it that way? Not becuase it is needed to move big files. Dropbox doesnt need trackers. They do it that way because Limewire got sued for hosting those lists.” Steele notes.

From what we understand, Steele doesn’t get why BitTorrent is decentralized, which is the entire basis of the technology. The comment is wrong on so many points that we almost doubt that Steele has any idea how BitTorrent works, or Limewire for that matter.

We surely hope that the investors in Rightscorp, which is a publicly traded company now, aren’t reading along.

Finally, Rightscorp’s CTO suggests that BitTorrent and its backers should be taken to court, to pay back the damage they cause to the entertainment industries.

“Bram Cohen and Accell Partner’s BitTorrent should be held accountable for the wages and income they have helped take from hundreds of thousands of creative workers just like Limewire, Grokster, Aimster, Kazaa and Napster were.”

Right.

From the incoherent reasoning and the many grammar and spelling mistakes we have to assume that Steele wasn’t fully accountable when he wrote the comments. Perhaps the end of a busy week, or the end of an eventful night.

In any case, we’ve saved a copy of the comments below, just in case they are accidentally deleted.

Steele’s comments

steele-comments

Photo: Michael Theis

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

Categories: Tech Polis

A Look Back In Techdirt History

Techdirt - Sat, 04/12/2014 - 15:00

Five years ago I was just a Techdirt reader. Ten years ago, I was starting journalism school and first discovering the site. Fifteen years ago, the main thing I used the internet for was playing Team Fortress Classic and a MUD called AfterShock. With that perspective in mind, let me take you on another of our weekly digs through Techdirt history:

Five Years Ago:

Today, Time Warner Cable and Comcast are working on getting their merger approved — five years ago, TWC was in the process of rolling out its metered/capped broadband services for the first time, while claiming it was what customers wanted. At the time, the response from other service providers offered a prime example of how broadband competition encourages lower prices and unlimited data. Unfortunately, when you get down to it, it's hard to say there's been much progress in improving US broadband since then, at least not from the consumer perspective — and this new merger is certainly not going to help.

Five years ago was also when a second circuit ruling opened Google up to trademark liability in AdWords — something that, we noted just this past November, may finally be coming to an end. The same can't be said for the Associated Press' aggressive interpretation of copyright law, which manifested as them targeting news aggregators for the first time in 2009. Nor can it be said for EA, which was fresh off the Spore DRM failure while Atari was following in its footsteps. Nor still can it be said about GEMA, which we were still identifying first as a "German Collections Society", for the name was in the early days of its notoriety.

These were also the days just after the ProIP bill. We noted at the time that Hollywood was already brainstorming its next round of draconian copyright legislation and, well, we all know how that ended.

Ten Years Ago:

Well this is interesting: five years ago this week Google was beginning to face trademark issues over AdWords — and ten years ago this week they had just decided to allow purchasing trademarked terms in the first place. The company was also just launching localized ads (only weeks after first testing local search). In fact, location-based services in general were only just starting to appear. Gmail was brand new and causing a stir in California with one state senator seeking to ban it, and we were also still musing about the future Google IPO.

Ten years ago this week, we also featured an innocent one-paragraph post about "the rise of patent hoarding houses" — the term "patent troll" hadn't even appeared yet. Little did we know just how bad things would get.

Back in 2004, only one in six US users had gone online via WiFi. AOL was still sending CDs and DVDs by mail. California had just made its first arrest for recording movies under its new anti-camcording law — meanwhile, the state's first anti-violent-videogame bill was shot down. Some analysts were mocking the low resolution of what we still called "camera phones" while others were smartly realizing the potential of a camera that's connected. The still-unsettled question of smartphones on airplanes was just being raised, and the finally-starting-to-settle debate about blogs and journalism was firing up as well. This week in 2004 was also the first time that salespeople started popping up in chat boxes on websites.

Fifteen Years Ago:

Things were very different this week in 1999. Microsoft had just announced that it would enter the instant messaging game. I believe I was still on ICQ at the time (uh-oh!) Some folks were trademarking Y2K. PalmPilots were still a big deal, though some were beginning to talk about the mysterious "web phones" that the future held. Network Solutions was still clinging to its monopoly on domain registration — and there were still some dictionary word dot-coms available to be registered.

Amazon.com was sued by Amazon Bookstore, and since I don't think I've ever heard of that latter one, I can guess how that ended. Folks were insisting that Mozilla was dead at the hands of IE 5.0, but even though Firefox was years away, we weren't ready to bury them yet — though we were less optimistic about web portals. Online bill payment existed in 1999, but it still usually cost money to use, and the first free services were just appearing. Linux also existed, but the first distribution with a graphical installer was still being finalized.

400 Years Ago:

In 1614, John Napier devised logarithms and shared them with the world, paving the way for countless innovations, discoveries and advances in virtually every field of science, engineering and beyond. Techdirt did not cover this — but I like to think we would have.



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Categories: Tech Polis

Awesome Stuff: Functional Fashion

Techdirt - Sat, 04/12/2014 - 12:00

Style and fashion constantly change in capricious, unpredictable and decidedly non-linear ways — but the underlying function of clothing and accessories follows the same path as any other technology: innovation, refinement and improvement. This week's Awesome Stuff takes a look at some practical innovations from the world of wearables.

The ZipSeam


A day comes in most men's lives, usually sometime late in or just after college, when we (a) realize that dress shirts have become the bulk of our wardrobe and (b) look closer and realize that absolutely none of them fit us particularly well. If we're lucky we may have found a few brands with off-the-rack sizes that fit as though tailored, but that's a rare thing indeed. Certain shirt alterations are "easy", but it's all relative (in this case relative to just putting on an ill-fitting shirt, so in other words: hard). But what if trimming baggy sleeves and waists was as simple as snapping an extra piece into place? That's what the ZipSeam aims to make possible:



Innie Shoelace Locks


Shoelaces are among those funny things that have been the same seemingly forever, and yet really feel as though they should have somehow been improved or replaced. The in-many-ways superior option of velcro has been arbitrarily stigmatized; zippers, having all but completely eliminated laces in the realm of shirts and pants, remain a distant second in the shoe game. For whatever reason, people just really like laces on their shoes, while simultaneously realizing that they are often a huge pain. Maybe the solution is the Innie, which does away with bows and excess length while preserving the timeless look of laces:



Vinco Wallets


The constant flood of "revolutionary" new wallets on Kickstarter still shows no sign of slowing down, and these days it's rarer and rarer to see an idea that actually stands out in any meaningful way. But the Vinco wallet is something a little different: instructions and supplies for making your own lifetime supply of temporary paper wallets.




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Categories: Tech Polis

39% of Film Industry Professionals are Movie & TV Show Pirates

TorrentFreak - Sat, 04/12/2014 - 05:34

Reports, research and surveys covering piracy-related issues have been released in their dozens in recent years, with many of them painting a picture of two distinct groups of people – those who illegally download and those who pay for content.

Of course, the reality is that many people who obtain content for free also cheerfully pay for content too. In fact, some studies have found that the entertainment industry’s best customers are also illegal downloaders.

But what if there was evidence to suggest that some of those pirates were actually the very people helping to create movies and TV shows? That’s one of the intriguing findings of a survey carried out by Stephen Follows, a writer and producer with a keen interest in discovering what makes the industry tick.

“Many of the decisions in the film business are based on gut, opinion and gossip so I find it fascinating to research the topics and see what the numbers say,” Follows informs TorrentFreak.

“Piracy seemed like a ready topic to research so I added a few question into a survey I ran of 1,235 film industry professionals. The respondents were all people who had been to one of the three major films markets in the past five years – Cannes, Berlin or the American film Market.”

Follows first set of questions focused on whether the film professionals felt that piracy had affected their business. The responses were then split by industry sector and budgets the professionals work to.

Considering the anti-piracy rhetoric coming out of Hollywood during the past thirty years, it’s perhaps surprising that 53% of all respondents said that piracy had either no effect or a positive effect on their business.

Survey1

Respondents were from all sectors of the industry including development, production, post-production, sales and distribution, exhibition and marketing. When the responses from each sector are broken down, one can see that respondents in sales and distribution – arguably the role that file-sharing fulfills – say they are most worried by piracy.

survey 2

Turning the tables to discover how the industry professionals are themselves affecting piracy rates couldn’t be approached directly for obvious reasons, so Follows tried a different tactic.

“When it came to researching how many of them actually illegally download movies I felt I needed to be a bit sneaky,” he told TF.

“To one randomly assigned set of participants I presented three statements
about the industry (such as ‘I prefer to watch films on DVD than in the cinema’). I then asked the respondent how many of the three statements they agreed with, but only asking for the combined total (i.e. ‘I agree with two of the three statements’).”

“Then, to a different randomly assigned set I offered the same three statements with the additional statement ‘I have illegally downloaded a TV show or feature film’. By subtracting the average number of agreed-with statements from the average of the control group I was able to calculate the percentage of people who agreed with the additional statement.”

survey3

As can be seen from the diagram, 39% of the industry respondents admitted to illegally downloading video content, with 61% claiming never to have done so. Interestingly, respondents working on lower budgets were more likely to have illegally downloaded than those working on big budgets.

“Only 2% of people working on films over $10 million admitted to illegally downloading a film or TV show, compared with 65% of those working on films under $1 million,” Follows explains.

Also of interest is how the percentage of those who admitted illegal downloading fluctuated according to industry sector, with 55% of those in marketing saying they have grabbed movies or TV shows without paying versus zero percent in exhibition (movie theaters).

survey 4

Sales and distribution, the sector that said they’d been most affected by piracy, accounted for the next lowest piracy ‘confession’ rate of 28%.

“These are the middlemen behind the scenes of the industry who negotiate the rights between producers and cinemas/retailers. They are part of the reason why there are so many damned logos at the start of every movie,” Follows explains.

“They have the largest vested interest in stopping piracy as they don¹t have many other reasons for doing what they do (unlike filmmakers who might be wanting to create art/entertainment) and no other source of income, unlike cinemas who make a fortune on Coke/popcorn etc.”

Further reading on Stephen Follows’ research and methodology can be found here and here. A great video he produced for Friends of the Earth can be watched on Vimeo.

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

Categories: Tech Polis

Supreme Court May Take A Shot At Defining The Point At Which Protected Speech Becomes An Unprotectable 'Threat'

Techdirt - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 22:39

The Supreme Court may take up the question of whether or not communicated threats are still threats even if the person making the statement doesn't necessarily have the ability or the intent to carry them out. In short, at what point does it turn from protectable speech into something the First Amendment won't cover? The latest case involving the legal parameters of online speech before the justices concerns a Pennsylvania man sentenced to 50 months in prison after being convicted on four counts of the interstate communication of threats. Defendant Anthony Elonis' 2010 Facebook rant concerned attacks on an elementary school, his estranged wife, and even law enforcement.

"That's it, I've had about enough/ I'm checking out and making a name for myself/ Enough elementary schools in a ten mile radius/ to initiate the most heinous school shooting ever imagined/ and hell hath no fury like a crazy man in a Kindergarten class/ the only question is … which one?" read one of Elonis' posts. This is a subject we've discussed several times previously. People (mainly teens) have made statements and comments via social media that have veered close to being threats, but once investigated, turn out to be nothing more than stupid kids being stupid. Prosecutors and law enforcement have made some questionable decisions in their attempts to portray youthful indiscretions as the words of would-be killers, such as withholding the surrounding context or willfully misreading the words themselves.

Elonis' case is a bit more complicated. For one, Elonis is 30 years old. While growing older doesn't necessarily make you immune from stupidity, the expectations are a bit higher in terms of online discourse. It's a little harder to claim you're running on the same high-octane concoction of hormones and blood displacement that teenage boys are. Not that all youthful indiscretions are excusable, but given that age group's tendency towards disproportionate drama in all things, it does make it more understandable.

In addition, Elonis' statements were directed at a variety of targets, any of which would seem to be a viable recipient for his anger. Not only did Elonis mention shooting up a school (specifically a kindergarten), but he also apparently had dire "plans" for his wife and local law enforcement. Again, the post-Sandy Hook law enforcement/judicial mentality further clouds the issue, raising the question that if Elonis had left out the part about the school shooting, would he still be facing 30 months in prison? (Of course, threatening law enforcement tends to create just as much of a legal mess, usually one far worse than simply threatening your estranged spouse does…)

But the odds are fairly long that the Supreme Court will find the ability to carry out the threat matters as much as the perception of everyone else but the person making the statement. Only one federal appeals court has sided with Elonis' contention that the authorities must prove that the person who made the threat actually meant to carry it out. Eight other circuit courts of appeal, however, have ruled that the standard is whether a "reasonable person" would conclude the threat was real. This long shot is also reliant on another long shot: that the administration will support this appeal. A similar case involving an Iraq War vet was greeted by the White House with a written petition asking the Supreme Court to reject the case. These two obstacles make it unlikely that the judicial system will start treating so-called "threats" any differently than they have in the past. And it's a very long past. David Kravets at Ars Technica points out that the statute being applied to these cases originated in 1932.

There are legitimate threats and these are rightly not treated as free speech. But there are others that are treated as legitimate threats even when there's no evidence the person uttering them has the ability, much less the intention to back up their unfortunate statements. Applying a 1932 statute to the wide open discourse platform that is the internet is doing little more than putting loudmouths and idiots in jail. Those who mean actual harm to others generally don't enlighten their future targets via Twitter, Facebook and forum posts.

By all means, potential threats should be investigated, but the courts need to come to the realization that these statements cannot be entirely robbed of their context (including intent and ability) and presented "as is" to the hypothetical "reasonable person." Reasonable people are completely capable of understanding that not every hurtful word can actually hurt someone, nor do they believe every "threat" is the sign of impending danger. Not only should the statute be reconsidered, but so should the court's "reasonable person" ideal.



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Categories: Tech Polis

That Time A Star Trek Captain And A Physicist Got Tricked Into Doing A Documentary On Geocentrism

Techdirt - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 21:36

What with the democratization of filmmaking technology, we've seen a relative explosion in films, as production has been opened to a whole population that would otherwise be unable to produce their wares. This, by and large, is a good thing. The barriers to entry have been lowered, streaming sites like YouTube provide an avenue for distribution, and we all get as many cute puppy videos as we can possibly handle. The flipside is that there are some jackasses out there who put out terrible crap. The whole Innocence Of Muslims fiasco is but one example, with actors reportedly being duped, controversial producers who remained in the shadows, and a finished product that would be most at home in the nearest dumpster. The technology is a great thing, but that doesn't mean there aren't pitfalls, and those lending their names to films and shows need to be careful about what they're getting into.

Like Kate Mulgrew, for instance. The former Star Trek captain apparently did some voiceover work for a film that pushes the theory of geocentrism (Earth as the center of the universe). Kate Mulgrew—best known as that show’s Captain Janeway—has lent her familiar voice to The Principle, an upcoming documentary about the belief that the Earth is the center of the universe. The film has been in the works for a while, though it’s mostly been as ignored as those who have propagated the theory of Geocentrism past the 17th century. In a post on her Facebook page, the actress addressed that discussion, denying any involvement beyond being a hired gun who maybe should have asked a few more questions:

"I understand there has been some controversy about my participation in a documentary called THE PRINCIPLE. Let me assure everyone that I completely agree with the eminent physicist Lawrence Krauss, who was himself misrepresented in the film, and who has written a succinct rebuttal in SLATE. I am not a geocentrist, nor am I in any way a proponent of geocentrism. More importantly, I do not subscribe to anything Robert Sungenis has written regarding science and history and, had I known of his involvement, would most certainly have avoided this documentary. I was a voice for hire, and a misinformed one, at that. I apologize for any confusion that my voice on this trailer may have caused." Lawrence Krauss, should you not know, is a famous physicist that would push the idea of geocentrism as much as he'd claim the moon was made of cheese (it's not by the way...). He published an article in Slate stating that he's unaware of how he ended up in the film, but it probably resulted from filmmakers pulling clips of him from around the internet and editing them in such a way as to make it sound like he supported the theory. Krauss, being smart, refuses to dignify the film with any legal action.

The man behind the film is Robert Sungenis, who has dedicated his life to arguing for geocentrism, among other crackpot nonsense. Sungenis—who has a Ph.D. in religious studies from “a private distance-learning institution in Republic of Vanuatu”—has used those credentials to establish a career as a leading proponent of Geocentrism, based on an understanding of astrophysics drawn from that most esteemed of scientific manuals, the Bible. In addition to denying anyone can prove the Earth revolves around the sun, he’s also well known for denying anyone can prove 6 million Jews died during the Holocaust. He’s also claimed that Jews are in league with Satan to take over the planet. Delightful. In any case, it would be very easy and understandable for Mulgrew and Krauss to be royally pissed over this and pursue legal action. In fact, in light of the recent ruling in favor of Cindy Garcia, Mulgrew may even have a copyright claim to make, as ridiculous as that is. What a wonderful world of litigation Judge Kozinski has opened for us all, despite his proclamation on how rarely his ruling could be enforced. We're mere weeks away, yet here's another situation in which an actress who should have done her homework can point to Cindy Garcia's victory and claim copyright. Fortunately, Mulgrew seems to understand what Kozinski did not: that she was a "voice for hire" and that a good deal of the responsibility for knowing what she was lending her voice (and thus credibility) to is her own.

I'd argue that a little public refuting without any legal action, which would only serve to put The Principle in the headlines, and a more proactive approach to vetting the material before committing to a project is all that's required. After all, it's not like any substantial number of people will take this film seriously. As long as the public knows some of those involved were duped, that should be the end of it.



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Categories: Tech Polis

404 Day Recap

EFF - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 20:51

Friday, April 4th was 404 Day - a day meant to call attention to Internet censorship in public schools and libraries in the United States. This censorship is the result of a well-meaning but misguided law, the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which ties federal funding for public schools and libraries to requirements to filter child pornography and content that is obscene or "harmful to minors." Unfortunately, bad and secretive filtering technology and over-aggressive filtering implementations result in the filtering of constitutionally-protected speech, among other problems.

The day centered around a digital teach-in for an in-depth discussion of the issues, featuring: Deborah Caldwell-Stone, Director of Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association; Chris Peterson from MIT's Center for Civic Media and the National Coalition Against Censorship; and Sarah Houghton, blogger and Director of the San Rafael Public Library in Northern California.

mytubethumbplayPrivacy info. This embed will serve content from youtube-nocookie.com

They addressed such issues as the cost and efficacy of these filters, the lack of transparency around what is filtered, and how you can ask your librarian to turn them off. The video, above, is a fantastic resource for beginning to understand problems CIPA creates.

Concurrently, a discussion ranged on Twitter around the hashtag #404day, as users, including Senator Ron Wyden, asked questions and shared their own experiences with filtering software in libraries and schools.

My mom was a librarian & #404Day rings loud & clear. Ham-handed Internet censorship in schools is a real problem. https://t.co/QcVv4zejjk

— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) April 4, 2014

Many of those participating in the online discussion discussed the futility of filtering and how they had learned to circumvent filters at early ages, and brought up how the filters disproportionately affect low-income communities or those who rely on public computer access.

When the screen reads “404 Error – Not Found” we need to recognize that one of the things which is not being found is the values of libraries.
-LibrarianShipwreck

Throughout the day, librarians, researchers, teachers, and even a student blogged about how CIPA hinders their work, stifles speech, and runs counter to the ideals of public libraries. From an explainer about the censorship reporting tool Herdict to the experiences of a researcher unable to access material she needed to the manifesto of high school librarian preferring trust and education to blocking, the posts illustrated the personal and social harms of censorship under CIPA.

We're thrilled about the discussion the day engendered and thankful to our partners at the National Coalition Against Censorship and the Center for Civic Media at MIT, the teach-in participants, and all those who joined in blogging or tweeting throughout the day. The next time you get a 404 error at the library, we hope you think about why it's there and ask your librarian whether it's because of filtering and to turn the filtering off if it is.

var mytubes = new Array(1); mytubes[1] = '%3Ciframe src=%22//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/g_9sgZIVCJY%22 allowfullscreen=%22%22 frameborder=%220%22 height=%22315%22 width=%22560%22%3E%3C/iframe%3E';
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Categories: Tech Polis

Los Angeles Cops Found To Be Tampering With Mandated Recording Devices

Techdirt - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 20:31

Who watches the watchers? Well, when you're the Los Angeles Police Department, you watch yourself. And when that kind of watching seems to be inhibiting, you just screw with the "watching" equipment. (via Ars Technica) Los Angeles police officers tampered with voice recording equipment in dozens of patrol cars in an effort to avoid being monitored while on duty, according to records and interviews.

An inspection by Los Angeles Police Department investigators found about half of the estimated 80 cars in one South L.A. patrol division were missing antennas, which help capture what officers say in the field. The antennas in at least 10 more cars in nearby divisions had also been removed. These antennas, linked to both in-car camera systems and officers' body mics, helped increase the recording range. Removing the antennas didn't completely prevent recordings, but it did make it harder to pick up officers' voices once they entered buildings or ventured further away from the receivers located in the vehicles. According to the manufacturer, the antenna boosts the effective range of the body-worn transmitters by roughly a third.

When you're watching yourself (something prompted by a decade-long DOJ investigation of the LAPD), you have this luxury. No cop's going to turn in another cop who removes an antenna or otherwise tampers with the department-imposed oversight measures. A whole lot of time elapsed between when the tampering was discovered and when it was finally brought to the attention of those charged with monitoring the monitoring. Members of the Police Commission, which oversees the department, were not briefed about the problem until months later. In interviews with The Times, some commissioners said they were alarmed by the officers' attempts to conceal what occurred in the field, as well as the failure of department officials to come forward when the problem first came to light.

"On an issue like this, we need to be brought in right away," commission President Steve Soboroff said. "This equipment is for the protection of the public and of the officers. To have people who don't like the rules to take it upon themselves to do something like this is very troubling." This is very troubling, and while it's nice of the Police Commission to admit that fact, this tampering points to the officers' underlying resentment of nearly any method of monitoring or control. Many police officers don't like being recorded in public by citizens, so it stands to reason they don't much care for being recorded by the department itself. Hence, antennas go missing.

Those who are supposed to be making sure the police officers aren't becoming a law unto themselves seem to have little interest in attacking the mindset that leads to this sort of behavior. "We took the situation very seriously. But because the chances of determining who was responsible was so low we elected to … move on," [LAPD Commander Andrew] Smith said, adding that it cost the department about $1,500 to replace all the antennas. Too hard, won't try. That's the standard being applied to the LAPD. Instead of making an effort, band aids are being applied. Officers are now supposed to sign off that the antennas are in place at the beginning and end of their shift. This leaves a gaping hole in coverage (otherwise known as the shift itself) should officers decide they'd rather not be recorded. This hole has received its own band aid. To guard against officers removing the antennas during their shifts, Tingirides said he requires patrol supervisors to make unannounced checks on cars. Great, but considering there are many more officers than supervisors, and considering the fact that it took months before the missing antennas were brought to the attention of the Police Commission, who really believes this is going to stop officers from disabling antennas during work hours?

Oh, Commander Smith believes. Since the new protocols went into place, only one antenna has been found missing, Smith said. Well, that's the sort of result you can expect from self-reporting. Sure, a few cops may get a verbal handslap from a supervisor if they happen to come across a missing antenna, but it's a safe bet these supervisors aren't any happier about their men and women being recorded while on duty. Because if they did care, it never would have gotten to the point where nearly half of the antennas in a single division went missing.

With these cops being charged with keeping department-issued antennas present and accounted for, some have opted to go a different route to avoid being recorded. Last month, the department conducted a follow-up audit and found that dozens of the transmitters worn by officers in Southeast Division were missing or damaged. This time there's actually an investigation being opened, months after the original antenna abuse was uncovered by an internal audit (but hidden from the Police Commission). Judging from what's happened previously, there's very little reason to believe this will lead to the ouster of bad cops who don't like accountability. A few scapegoats may be offered up to calm both the public and department oversight, but if a ten-year investigation by the DOJ failed to bring about the sort of systemic change needed, it's highly unlikely an internal investigation will result in anything better.



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Categories: Tech Polis

DailyDirt: Eating Actual Dirt

Techdirt - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 20:00
People eat a lot of weird things: bugs, fungus, all kinds of fermented stuff. However, the craving for dirt is a real phenomenon, and people do actually eat various kinds of dirt. There's some evidence that our ancient ancestors -- 2 million years ago -- (aka homo habilis) ate dirt. Dirt is even sold for eating in the USA right now. If you'd like to learn more about eating dirt, here you go. 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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Categories: Tech Polis

Australian Attorney General Picks Surveillance Over Fair Use on U.S. Visit

EFF - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 18:46

"Australia is ready for, and needs, a fair use exception now." These were the unambiguous words of the Australian Law Reform Commission's report investigating how to modernize the country's copyright laws. Specifically, the Commission called for a fair use doctrine that resembles that of the U.S., with the same four-factor balancing test.

So then you might expect that when George Brandis, Australia's Attorney General, makes his first official trip to the United States—the one he concluded just days ago—he would take the opportunity to meet with American experts on fair use. They could discuss the areas where the law has proven flexible in accommodating unforeseen uses, how the balance between specificity and flexibility is continuously struck, and what he might hope to bring back to his home country.

You might be disappointed to learn, then, that despite the straightforwardness of the Commission's recommendation, Brandis has pointedly refused to explore the idea of fair use in Australia. Though he received the Commission's report in November, he waited until February to publish it—and even then, only alongside his own misguided proposal: that Australia should establish a three-strikes-style graduated response program.

Along those lines, instead of meeting with copyright scholars and fair use expert on this week's trip to Washington, DC, Brandis met with the executive director of the Center for Copyright Information—the organization behind the U.S. graduated response system known as "Six Strikes," or the Copyright Alert System.

In terms of evidence-based policy making, this is a failure. For one thing, he needn't come all the way to the U.S. to find out how graduated response programs work (or don't). Australian copyright scholar Rebecca Giblin has conducted an exhaustive study on the effect of these programs and found "remarkably little evidence" that they were effective in reducing infringement, increasing legitimate markets, or improving access to knowledge and culture.

But more broadly, the fact that the rest of Brandis's agenda consisted of meetings with senior officials at intelligence agencies like the NSA, FBI, and CIA, raises major red flags for user privacy. And indeed, politicians in Australia have recently re-introduced mandatory data retention proposals for Internet service providers, after similar proposals suffered defeat just last year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these proposals have the backing of Attorney General Brandis, who has repeatedly defended NSA spying during parliamentary question time.

Brandis may consider increased surveillance to be a two-for-one special: take some visible action to look strong on national security and at the same time appease the legacy content industries that want to make Internet companies snoop on their users.

Australians should demand better. Reforms that would empower users, like fair use, merit serious consideration. An obsessive devotion to mass surveillance at home and abroad does not.

Related Issues: Fair Use and Intellectual Property: Defending the BalanceThe "Six Strikes" Copyright Surveillance MachineInternational
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History Repeats Itself: Patent Abusers Successfully Stymie Anti-Patent Troll Bill In The Senate

Techdirt - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 18:32
Back in December, we noted that the House Judiciary Committee had approved an unfortunately watered-down, anti-patent troll bill. It was better than nothing, but we hoped that the Senate would approve a much stronger version. For a while it seemed like that was likely to happen, but... those who abuse patents are pretty damn powerful. Even those who have been hit by patent trolls in the past, like Apple and Microsoft, have decided to join forces in lobbying against meaningful patent reform. They've been pushing to water down the Senate's bill, taking out nearly everything that would make the bill useful -- and it appears that they're succeeding.

Over the past few weeks, we've been hearing time and time again about an expected manager's amendment to the bill in the Senate, along with a markup. There was a brief attempt at a markup, but everything keeps getting pushed off. A few more days, then a few more days, as Senate insiders insist that a "deal" is being made. The latest is that things have been pushed off for a few more weeks, as the patent abusers have been throwing their weight around quite a bit in the Senate. A manager's amendment from Senator Leahy is still expected, but no one is quite sure what will be in it. From talking to a bunch of folks with knowledge of what's going on, the general consensus is that while some are still optimistic, it seems quite likely that most of the useful stuff to stop patent abuse will get tossed out.

Of course, this is just history repeating itself. The America Invents Act, which was a patent reform bill that was fought over for nearly seven years. In its initial form, like the latest attempts at patent reform, there were some good ideas (mixed in with the bad). But as the patent abusers ramped up their lobbying effort, more and more of the good ideas got stripped out of the bill. After seven years of trying, the final America Invents Act was a shell of what it had been, and did basically nothing to stop patent abuse. And that's why we're back to square one with this latest attempt at patent reform.

But, tragically, it looks like a spineless Congress is falling for the lobbying of patent abusers, and there's a decent chance that they'll move forward with an essentially worthless attempt at patent reform, meaning that actual innovators -- the kind who deal with patent abusers every day -- will have to go back to Congress yet again and highlight how badly they mucked things up this time.

Or, you know, Congress could grow a damn spine, do what's right, and stop patent abuse.

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DOJ Issues Scathing Review Of Albuquerque Police Department' Use Of Force, Tempers It By Prioritizing Officer Safety

Techdirt - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 17:33

The Albuquerque, New Mexico police department has been a mess for quite some time now. Recently, it has gained national attention for two seemingly unjustified shootings of New Mexico residents. This is in addition to the 37 people the police force has shot since 2010, with 23 confirmed kills. As Ed Krayewski at Reason points out, the APD has shot more people than the NYPD, despite policing a city sixteen times smaller.

The Department of Justice was already investigating the department before the two latest shootings. The first involved a homeless person "illegally" camping, an infraction apparently punishable by death in New Mexico. The officers claimed the man came at them with knives, but video clearly shows him surrendering and attempting to walk down to them before being hit with a concussion grenade, followed shortly by several bullets. As for the danger poised by the knives he was carrying, the 20-30 feet between him and the officers at the beginning of the video (not to mention the difference in altitude) makes this much less of a threat than the reports indicated.

While the city of Albuquerque was still digesting the news of this apparently unjustified shooting, the APD shot another person. The police claimed he fired at them (and they did recover a gun at the scene) but video shot by an onlooker appears to show the man holding something (gun or cellphone) to his own head before shots ring out and he drops to the ground.


These shootings sparked a series of increasingly confrontational protests against the police, as well as drawing the attention of Anonymous, which took down the APD website.

The release of the DOJ's report is certainly well-timed, if nothing else. Those who have seen the entire thing call it "scathing." The prepared remarks from the DOJ's Jocelyn Samuels are certainly damning enough. Officers use deadly force in an unconstitutional manner. Our investigation looked at officer-involved shootings that resulted in fatalities from 2009 to 2012 and found that a majority of them were unreasonable and violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. We found that officers used deadly force against people who did not pose an immediate threat of death or serious harm to officers or others, and against people who posed a threat only to themselves. In fact, sometimes it was the conduct of the officers themselves that heightened the danger and escalated the need to use force.

We found that officers use other types of less lethal force, especially electronic control weapons, or Tasers, in an unconstitutional manner. Our investigation looked beyond just the use of deadly force and found a significant number of improper uses of force in our review of over 200 force reports generated between 2009 and early 2013. We found that officers routinely fired their Tasers, which discharge 50,000 volts of electricity, against people who were passively resisting and non-threatening or who were unable to comply with orders due to their mental state. Indeed, we found that encounters between police officers and persons with mental illness or in crisis too frequently resulted in a use of force or a higher level of force than necessary. The remarks run on for much longer, noting the steps that will be taken to put the APD back in compliance with the Constitution and temper its officers' tendency to apply as much force as possible in a majority of situations. However, Samuels also takes the time to pat the heads of a police force so out of control the government was forced to step in. To the women and men of the Albuquerque Police Department, we know your work is difficult and that you face dangers, known and unknown, when you hit the streets every day to keep this city safe. We recognize that many of you are dedicated public servants who wear your badge with distinction. We do not intend our findings today to mean that you must needlessly risk your lives or safety. You must come home safely to your family and loved ones. This is what Scott Greenfield refers to as the "First Rule of Policing:" make it home safe. Even the DOJ follows it, apparently. But this should be a goal, not a priority. The "dedicated officers" know they're putting themselves in a dangerous position by taking the job. This doesn't give them permission to do whatever it takes to save their own lives.

Firemen don't just walk away from a fire if it looks life-threatening. Soldiers aren't told they can indiscriminately open fire if things feel a bit sketchy. Airline pilots aren't encouraged to jettison planes full of people (or over populated areas) in order to assure they "come home safely." Any other person taking a job that's potentially life-threatening assumes the risks. Cops somehow don't. And they use this "rule" as a justification for swift, thoughtless reactions that result in teens carrying Wii controllers getting shot and homeless schizophrenics being beaten to death.

By adding this disclaimer, Samuels partially absolves the APD of all of its wrongdoing. "You did what you had to do to survive." That attitude isn't going to fix anything and as long as police officers are encouraged to view their own safety as paramount, excessive force will continue to be applied.



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Innovation in practice

SFLC Blog - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 17:25
Innovation in practice
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Journalists Sue Government After Military Security Seizes Cameras And Deletes Photos Of Publicly-Visible Structures

Techdirt - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 16:29

Photography is the new "driving while black." Not that the original "driving while black" has actually vanished, what with New York City making "walking while black" the equivalent of reasonable suspicion, but now people of all races, even those normally somewhat immune to harassment, can join in on the "fun" of low-level oppression.

Two members of the Toledo (OH) Blade found themselves being screwed with by military security while taking photographs of stuff in plain sight. (via Poynter) Mr. Linkhorn and Ms. Fraser were in Lima covering a Ford Motor Co. news conference at the automaker’s plant there. Afterward, they went to shoot photos of businesses in the area for future use, including the tank plant, which is also known as the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center.

The reporters were at the entry portions of the plant, in an area where no fence or gate restricted access, according to the complaint. They did not pass a guard hut, which is about 30 feet from Buckeye Road. The Lima, OH tank plant is well known and has been photographed before. The company makes no secret about what it manufactures, having placed this right in front of its plant.


But because all things, even photography of visible structures, inevitably lead to terrorism, security at the Lima plant decided to step in and stop the two Blade employees from gathering any more "intel." Blade reporter Tyrel Linkhorn and photographer Jetta Fraser were detained March 28 by military security outside the plant and had cameras confiscated and pictures deleted. This alone would step outside the boundaries set by the Constitution, but the security officers went even further, harassing the photographer by making various comments about her (perceived) lack of femininity, including referring to her using masculine pronouns and offering to "go under her bra."

Now, because those in charge of "protecting" the plant from photography of visible "assets" were unable to restrain themselves, a long list of names linked to the military contractor have been named in a civil rights lawsuit. The lawsuit claims Ms. Fraser and Mr. Linkhorn's First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights were deprived, as were their rights under the First Amendment Privacy Protection Act.

"At all material times, Plaintiffs Fraser and Linkhorn were present in places that were open to the public and in which Plaintiffs had a lawful right to be," the lawsuit states. "At all material times, Plaintiffs Fraser and Linkhorn were engaged in fully lawful and constitutionally protected conduct, observing and photographing subjects that were and are open to public view and that Plaintiffs had full legal and constitutional rights to observe and photograph." As is noted in the lawsuit, everything photographed could be seen from a public road. You can see satellite photography of the plant via Google Maps, not to mention closer looks via Street View. None of this has been redacted by government request. Details on buildings, including interior structures, are listed in a 1984 "Historic American Engineering Record" produced and made public by the contractor itself. Much of what's contained is now outdated, but what's included in this public report was current as of 1980, four years prior to its release.

An image search for "Lima Army Tank Plant" brings up a host of current photos, many of which show the inside of the building, something that would be vastly more sensitive than anything obtained by a photographer located outside the boundaries of the plant itself.

Despite all of this info being readily available, plant security allegedly named the following as the impetus for its seizure of the camera and deletion of photos. Ms. Fraser said that an officer told her that taking pictures of the plant’s power supply that is visible from the street raised the “suspicion of terrorism.” Much like the DHS and its useless Fusion Centers, everyone in the military-industrial complex (along with the intelligence community in general) is buying into the lie that photographing visible structures is "terrorism." If these publicly-viewable buildings pose so much of a threat simply by being observed, maybe security officers should stop harassing photographers and throw a few tarps over the sensitive structures or something.



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EFF Urges Appeals Court to Reconsider Dangerous Copyright Ruling

EFF - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 15:52
Decision About “Innocence of Muslims” Video Could Be Disastrous for Free Speech

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is urging a federal appeals court to reconsider its decision to order Google to take down the controversial "Innocence of Muslims" video while a copyright lawsuit—based on a claim that the Copyright Office itself has rejected—is pending. As EFF explains, the decision sets a dangerous precedent that could have disastrous consequences for free speech.

"Innocence of Muslims" sparked protests worldwide in the fall of 2012. For a time, its anti-Islamic content was even linked to the violent attack on an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, although that was later refuted. An actress named Cindy Lee Garcia, after being tricked into appearing in the film for just five seconds, claimed she held a copyright in that performance. She sued Google for copyright infringement and asked the court to order Google to take the video offline. The district court refused, noting that it could not restrain speech massed on nothing more than a highly debatable copyright claim. On appeal, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed that the copyright claim was not strong, but nonetheless ordered Google to take down all copies of the video. It even issued a gag order, preventing Google from talking about the controversial decision for a full week.

"This video is a matter of extreme public concern–the center of a roiling, global debate," EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry said. "The injunction in place now means we can still talk about the video–but we can't see what we are actually talking about. While the injunction stretched the First Amendment beyond its intent, the gag order snapped it in half. It delayed the public and the press from discovering this unprecedented copyright decision, and prevented others from challenging the ruling."

In an amicus brief filed today, EFF argues that the full appeals court must reconsider the earlier decision in order to protect free speech in the debate over the film and also to safeguard the future of free expression online.

"This decision means that any number of creative contributors–from actors to makeup artists to set designers–could be entitled to royalties and even control over the distribution of works they were paid to contribute to," said EFF Staff Attorney Nate Cardozo. "Such a rule would stifle creative expression for big studios and amateur filmmakers alike. While we can understand Garcia's desire to distance herself from this film, copyright law is not designed to address the harm she suffered by suppressing the global debate on a matter of public concern."

The American Civil Liberties Union, Public Knowledge, the Center for Democracy and Technology, New Media Rights, the American Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries, and the Association of Research Libraries joined EFF in this brief.

For the full amicus brief:

https://www.eff.org/document/garcia-v-google-amicus

For more on Garcia v. Google:

https://www.eff.org/cases/garcia-v-google-inc

Contacts:

Nate Cardozo
   Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   nate@eff.org

Corynne McSherry
   Intellectual Property Director
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   corynne@eff.org


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UPDATED: NSA Denies Claims That It Knew About Heartbleed And Did Nothing

Techdirt - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 15:29

Update: The NSA has denied the Bloomberg report, briefly stating that the agency "was not aware of the recently identified Heartbleed vulnerability until it was made public." We'll continue to update as more information emerges.

The internet is still reeling from the discovery of the Heartbleed bug, and yesterday we wondered if the NSA knew about it and for how long. Today, Bloomberg is reporting that the agency did indeed know about Heartbleed for at least the past two years, and made regular use of it to obtain passwords and data.

While it's not news that the NSA hunts down and utilizes vulnerabilities like this, the extreme nature of Heartbleed is going to draw more scrutiny to the practice than ever before. As others have noted, failing to reveal the bug so it could be fixed is contrary to at least part of the agency's supposed mission:

Ordinary Internet users are ill-served by the arrangement because serious flaws are not fixed, exposing their data to domestic and international spy organizations and criminals, said John Pescatore, director of emerging security trends at the SANS Institute, a Bethesda, Maryland-based cyber-security training organization.

“If you combine the two into one government agency, which mission wins?” asked Pescatore, who formerly worked in security for the NSA and the U.S. Secret Service. “Invariably when this has happened over time, the offensive mission wins.”

There is, in fact, a massive hypocrisy here: the default refrain of NSA apologists is that all these questionable things they do are absolutely necessary to protect Americans from outside threats, yet they leave open a huge security hole that is just as easily exploited by foreign entities. Or consider the cybersecurity bill CISPA, which was designed to allow private companies to share network security information with the intelligence community, and vice versa, supposedly to assist in detecting and fixing security holes and cyber attacks of various kinds. But, especially after this revelation about Heartbleed, can there be any doubt that the intelligence community is far more interested in using backdoors than it is in closing them?



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The NSA Knew About Heartbleed And Did Nothing (Except Heavily Exploit It Themselves)

Techdirt - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 15:29

The internet is still reeling from the discovery of the Heartbleed bug, and yesterday we wondered if the NSA knew about it and for how long. Today, Bloomberg is reporting that the agency did indeed know about Heartbleed for at least the past two years, and made regular use of it to obtain passwords and data.

While it's not news that the NSA hunts down and utilizes vulnerabilities like this, the extreme nature of Heartbleed is going to draw more scrutiny to the practice than ever before. As others have noted, failing to reveal the bug so it could be fixed is contrary to at least part of the agency's supposed mission:

Ordinary Internet users are ill-served by the arrangement because serious flaws are not fixed, exposing their data to domestic and international spy organizations and criminals, said John Pescatore, director of emerging security trends at the SANS Institute, a Bethesda, Maryland-based cyber-security training organization.

“If you combine the two into one government agency, which mission wins?” asked Pescatore, who formerly worked in security for the NSA and the U.S. Secret Service. “Invariably when this has happened over time, the offensive mission wins.”

There is, in fact, a massive hypocrisy here: the default refrain of NSA apologists is that all these questionable things they do are absolutely necessary to protect Americans from outside threats, yet they leave open a huge security hole that is just as easily exploited by foreign entities. Or consider the cybersecurity bill CISPA, which was designed to allow private companies to share network security information with the intelligence community, and vice versa, supposedly to assist in detecting and fixing security holes and cyber attacks of various kinds. But, especially after this revelation about Heartbleed, can there be any doubt that the intelligence community is far more interested in using backdoors than it is in closing them?



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EFF to Present Oral Argument in Copyright 'Troll' Case

EFF - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 15:21
Shake Down of BitTorrent Users Abuses Justice System

Washington, DC - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) will ask a federal appeals court at a hearing on Monday, April 14, to prevent a notorious copyright troll from obtaining the identities of more than 1,000 Internet users.

Speaking on behalf of EFF, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of the Nation's Capital, Public Citizen and Public Knowledge, EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry will urge the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to reverse a district court decision that allowed the plaintiff to seek identifying information for thousands of "John Does" without complying with basic procedural rules.

The coalition of public interest groups filed an amicus brief in May 2013 in support of several Internet service providers that are resisting subpoenas for user records. Representatives for those providers will offer the principal argument. However, the court took the unusual step of allowing amici to appear and argue as well.

AF Holdings, the plaintiff in the case, is seeking the identities of individuals that it claims may have illegally downloaded a copyrighted adult film. The case is one of hundreds being pursued around the country that follow the same pattern, which judges have described as "essentially an extortion scheme." A copyright troll looks for IP addresses that may have been used to download films (usually adult films) via BitTorrent, files a single lawsuit against thousands of "John Doe" defendants based on those IP addresses, then seeks to subpoena the ISPs for the contact information of the account holders associated with those IP addresses. The troll then uses that information to contact the account holders and threatens expensive litigation if they do not settle promptly. Faced with the prospect of hiring an attorney and litigating the issue, often in a distant court, most subscribers—including those who may have done nothing wrong—will choose to settle rather than fight.

AF Holdings is linked to Prenda Law, a firm that is facing allegations that it used stolen identities and fictitious signatures on key legal documents and made other false statements to the courts. AF Holdings will have an opportunity to address the court but has so far not designated a representative for the hearing.

WHAT: Oral Argument in AF Holdings v. Does

WHO: Corynne McSherry, Intellectual Property Director, EFF

Benjamin Fox, Partner, Morrison & Foerster LLP, counsel for ISPs

WHERE: U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

625 Indiana Ave NW, Washington, DC 20004

WHEN: Monday, April 14, 2014 9:30 A.M. EST

For more information on our case, including the amicus brief: https://www.eff.org/cases/af-holdings-v-does

Contacts:

Corynne McSherry
   Intellectual Property Director
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   corynne@eff.org


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Latest Leak From Senate's CIA Torture Report: CIA Tortured Many More People, Hid Details From Everyone

Techdirt - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 15:07
Every few days, more details leak from the Senate's $40 million, 6,300 page report on the CIA's torture program. We'd already heard about how the torture program turned up no useful info and how the CIA lied to Congress about it (pretending information gleaned from other places was obtained via torture, when the truth was it wasn't). We've also heard about how the CIA's torture practices went beyond the (already too high) levels approved by the DOJ and CIA leadership. The folks over at McClatchy have another batch of details, repeating the revelation from last week that the report details how the torture program went beyond its "legal authority" and also detailing how it was used on many more people than the CIA has admitted to in the past: The report also found that the spy agency failed to keep an accurate account of the number of individuals it held, and that it issued erroneous claims about how many it detained and subjected to the controversial interrogation methods. The CIA has said that about 30 detainees underwent the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.

The CIA’s claim “is BS,” said a former U.S. official familiar with evidence underpinning the report, who asked not to be identified because the matter is still classified. “They are trying to minimize the damage. They are trying to say it was a very targeted program, but that’s not the case.”
There are also additional details about how CIA officials tried to mislead practically everyone about all of this. Of particular importance was how the CIA misled the Justice Department, which was in charge of determining if the program was legal. The DOJ did, in fact, approve the use of certain "interrogation methods" (which already seemed way too extreme), but it appears the CIA misled the DOJ about what it was actually doing from the very start: [Defenders of the CIA's torture program] based their defense on a series of top-secret legal opinions issued by the Justice Department beginning in August 2002. At that time, the agency sought advice on whether using the harsh techniques on Zayn al Abidin Muhammad Husayn, a close aide to Osama bin Laden who went by the nom de guerre Abu Zubaydah, would violate U.S. law against torture.

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel found that the methods wouldn’t breach the law because those applying them didn’t have the specific intent of inflicting severe pain or suffering.

The Senate report, however, concluded that the Justice Department’s legal analyses were based on flawed information provided by the CIA, which prevented a proper evaluation of the program’s legality.

“The CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice, impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” the report found.
All of this seems consistent with earlier reports, but it's good to see more details coming out. Of course, we're still only seeing bits and pieces, which is why it would be better if the full report were released.

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Once Again, File Sharing Tools Declared Legal In Spain Because They're Just Tools

Techdirt - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 14:11
For many years, we highlighted how Spain was a country that actually had much more reasonable copyright laws, in that it did not try to blame third-party tool makers for the actions of their users. In the 2009/2010 time frame, there were a series of rulings that rejected concepts like secondary liability for tool makers, on the same basic principle as the US Supreme Court decided the Betamax case years ago: it's inappropriate to blame the tool/service maker for how the tool is used. If users are using a tool to infringe, that's not the fault of the tool maker.

Of course, the entertainment industry flipped out that Spain would have such reasonable copyright policies. They started a scorched earth campaign, insisting they would pull out of Spain entirely. And, of course, they whined to the USTR, which started putting Spain on the "naughty list" of the Special 301 report. US diplomats in Spain then started putting tremendous pressure on the Spanish government to pass draconian copyright laws. In fact, some of the State Department cables leaked via Wikileaks basically showed that the US entertainment industry wrote the law and handed it to the Spanish government, telling them to pass it.

Public opposition to the law was massive, and even the head of the Spanish Film Academy quit to protest the law, noting that the new law was anti-consumer and no way to embrace the future. And yet, in early 2012, under tremendous pressure, the Spanish government adopted the law. And, of course, because ratcheting up copyright laws never actually stops infringement, it was barely a year before the US entertainment industry kept on complaining.

While Spain was temporarily dropped from the Special 301 list, the legacy entertainment industry demanded it be put back on. So, once again, a year ago, the government started pushing even more draconian copyright laws, flat-out admitting that the only reason they were doing so was to try to stay off the USTR's Special 301 naughty list. And, of course, late last year, new more draconian copyright laws were put in place.

Given all that history, it's fascinating to see a new ruling concerning a Spanish file sharing software called Blubster. As TorrentFreak reports, after all those legal shenanigans by the legacy American entertainment industry, the Spanish courts still seem to recognize how ridiculous secondary liability is for the creators of tools. Despite a massive lawsuit from the record labels, a Madrid court of appeals has upheld a lower court decision that Blubster and related programs from MP2P Technologies are neutral and not liable for infringement. This is a huge victory not only for the company's founder, Pablo Soto, but for the Spanish public and basic common sense around copyright law: “[Soto's] activity is not only neutral, and perfectly legal, moreover it is protected by article 38 of our Constitution,” the Court wrote in its ruling. In case you're wondering, Article 38 of the Spanish Constitution protects "free enterprise within the framework of a market economy." The court rejected various theories brought by the labels, including the idea that file sharing software was "looting" or that it was "unfair competition." It noted that since MP2P wasn't in the recording business, it wasn't "unfair competition" and, importantly, that it's simply ridiculous to blame the service provider for the actions of its users.

Of course, given the history we outlined in the first few paragraphs, it doesn't take much of a fortune teller to predict what's likely to happen next. Expect the pressure to ratchet up, yet again, for another change to Spanish copyright law.

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