As the Federal Communications Commission nears a fateful decision on network neutrality, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Y2K all over again.
You may remember Dec. 31, 1999. That’s the last time the Internet was expected to die, because millions of computers were going to crash when their internal clocks failed to turn over to the year 2000. I sat in the Globe’s newsroom, waiting for the end. Nothing happened. It was quite a letdown.
Now here comes another “apocalypse.” On Dec 14, the FCC is expected to abandon the Obama administration’s policy on so-called Net neutrality, in which the government forces Internet providers to treat all data equally. Activists say it’s the end of the Internet as we know it, with giant Internet providers like Comcast and AT&T free to block or slow down access to key online services unless they’re paid extra to let the data flow.
But I’m betting hardly anything will change. Not the day after Dec. 14, the month after, or the year after.
I’m as subject to panic as the next guy, but I can’t see much reason to freak out over the supposed death of Net neutrality.
I’m on board with the principle that Internet carriers should not be allowed to block certain Internet services or deliberately slow them down to make them less accessible. Many activists go further and reject “paid prioritization,” or giving superior “fast lane” service to consumers willing to pay extra.
Serious breaches of Net neutrality are pretty hard to find. An activist group called Free Press published a “greatest hits” list of alleged violations. They found 12. Oops . . . make that 10. In two decades of widespread Internet use in America, they couldn’t find even a dozen significant violations, so Free Press padded the list with two cases from outside the United States. Even the remaining 10 are questionable cases that may have been driven by network security or traffic management disputes, rather than by efforts to stamp out rivals.
Still, the Net neutrality lobby, which includes massive users of Internet services such as Google and Netflix, wanted tougher regulatory protection. They got it in 2015, when the FCC decided to regulate the Internet under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.
Some called it a life preserver for Internet freedom; I call it regulatory overkill on a massive scale. Even the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a staunch supporter of the Title II approach, warned in 2015 that a portion of the plan “sounds like a recipe for overreach and confusion.” Read the rest of this entry »
A mass brawl in South Africa’s Parliament halted the State of the Nation address by President Jacob Zuma on Thursday.
Nick Penzenstadler reports: More Americans had their backgrounds checked purchasing guns on Black Friday than any day in the on record, according to data released by the FBI this week.
The National Instant Criminal Background Check System processed 185,345 requests on Nov. 27, one of the largest retail sales days in the country.
“This was an approximate 5% increase over the 175,754 received on Black Friday 2014,” wrote Stephen Fischer, the FBI’s chief of multimedia productions. “The previous high for receipts were the 177,170 received on 12/21/2012.”
Previous spikes for background checks, conducted before a gun buyer can obtain a firearm, occurred after prominent mass shootings, like in December 2012 in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Read the rest of this entry »
Gun Sales Set Record for Sixth Month in a Row
Stephen Gutowski reports: The Federal Bureau of Investigation processed a record number of background checks in the month of October, indicating that gun sales were at an all time high for the sixth month in a row.
“Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton are the best gun salespeople on the planet. The more they scream for new gun control laws the more guns walk off the shelves at gun stores. To quote the lyrics of Peter, Paul and Mary, ‘When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn.’”
The FBI’s National Instant Background Check System processed 1,976,759 firearms related checks in October. That is a 373,290 increase in checks over last year and a new record for the month. It also makes October the sixth consecutive month to see a record number of checks….(read more)
Source: Washington Free Beacon
L. Gordon Crovitz writes: “I’m still clinging to my BlackBerry, ” President-elect Obama said in early 2009. “They’re trying to pry it out of my hands.” The National Security Agency was so anxious about foreign intelligence agents gaining access to classified information that it assigned dozens of technologists to work for months before the inauguration to modify a BlackBerry Mr. Obama could use. The new president was told his device could safely communicate with fewer than a dozen other people, after their devices were loaded with special encryption.
“From what has been released so far, that includes the name of a CIA source on Libya that Mrs. Clinton divulged in unprotected email to confidant Sidney Blumenthal.”
His secretary of state took a different approach.
“Other emails identified as containing classified information include those dealing with discussions of Iran’s nuclear program, spy satellites and drone strikes.”
Hillary Clinton set up her own private email server. By avoiding use of government servers, she succeeded in keeping emails off-limits to information requests from congressional overseers and journalists—but American counterintelligence agents must now assume that Chinese, Russian and possibly other agents had full access. A Pentagon counterintelligence official told the Daily Beast that if he were in charge of a foreign intelligence agency, “I’d fire my staff if they weren’t getting all this.”
“The AP reported attempted hacks on Mrs. Clinton servers from China and Russia. It identified a hacker using a computer in Serbia who scanned the server in the basement of her Chappaqua, N.Y., home multiple times in 2012.”
Mr. Obama jumped the gun on the FBI inquiry into Mrs. Clinton’s handling of classified material by saying earlier this month that “this is not a situation in which America’s national security was endangered.”
The New York Times reported that Mr. Obama’s comments “raised the ire of officials who saw an instance of the president trying to influence the outcome of a continuing investigation.”
“There’s good reason to assume that foreign intelligence agencies were able to read the Clinton emails. Government servers are not hackproof, but they offer basic defenses and alerts. An Associated Press investigation found that the Clinton setup didn’t use a virtual private network, a common corporate safeguard. This meant her email server could be accessed over an open Internet connection.”
Meddling with the FBI investigation is only part of the problem. Mrs. Clinton’s conduct in office is forcing U.S. counterintelligence agencies to review her emails to identify what sources and methods of U.S. intelligence they have to assume were burned. Read the rest of this entry »
Federal documents revealed that an FBI agent had pretended to be an AP reporter in order to target a teenager suspected of making bomb threats to a local high school in 2007. The agent fabricated a draft of an AP story and placed it on a website made to look like The Seattle Times in order to plant malicious software on the suspect’s computer.
Julian Hattem reports: The Associated Press is bringing a lawsuit against the Department of Justice seeking information about the government’s use of a fake news story to catch a teenager suspected of calling in bomb threats.
“We cannot overstate how damaging it is for federal agents to pose as journalists. This practice undermines the credibility of the independent news media, and should not be tolerated.”
Along with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the AP asked a district court on Thursday to force the department to turn over records regarding the FBI’s impersonation of a journalist and creation of a fake story in 2007.
“Yet while the public clearly has a strong, compelling interest in knowing more about the FBI’s use of this tactic, the FBI seems determined to withhold that information. We have been left with no choice but to look to the court for relief.”
— Katie Townsend, the litigation director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Reporters from the two organizations submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests soon after news of the sting came to light in October but have not received any records in response, they said.
“We cannot overstate how damaging it is for federal agents to pose as journalists,” Katie Townsend, the litigation director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said in a statement. “This practice undermines the credibility of the independent news media, and should not be tolerated. Read the rest of this entry »
In 20 years, the Web might complete its shift from liberator to oppressor. It’s up to us to prevent that.
“What does it mean for companies to know everything about us, and for computer algorithms to make life and death decisions? Should we worry more about another terrorist attack in New York, or the ability of journalists and human rights workers around the world to keep working? How much free speech does a free society really need?”
For better or for worse, we’ve prioritized things like security, online civility, user interface, and intellectual property interests above freedom and openness. The Internet is less open and more centralized. It’s more regulated. And increasingly it’s less global, and more divided. These trends: centralization, regulation, and globalization are accelerating. And they will define the future of our communications network, unless something dramatic changes.
Twenty years from now,
• You won’t necessarily know anything about the decisions that affect your rights, like whether you get a loan, a job, or if a car runs over you. Things will get decided by data-crunching computer algorithms and no human will really be able to understand why.
• The Internet will become a lot more like TV and a lot less like the global conversation we envisioned 20 years ago.
• Rather than being overturned, existing power structures will be reinforced and replicated, and this will be particularly true for security.
•Internet technology design increasingly facilitates rather than defeats censorship and control.
It doesn’t have to be this way. But to change course, we need to ask some hard questions and make some difficult decisions.
What does it mean for companies to know everything about us, and for computer algorithms to make life and death decisions? Should we worry more about another terrorist attack in New York, or the ability of journalists and human rights workers around the world to keep working? How much free speech does a free society really need?
How can we stop being afraid and start being sensible about risk? Technology has evolved into a Golden Age for Surveillance. Can technology now establish a balance of power between governments and the governed that would guard against social and political oppression? Given that decisions by private companies define individual rights and security, how can we act on that understanding in a way that protects the public interest and doesn’t squelch innovation? Whose responsibility is digital security? What is the future of the Dream of Internet Freedom?
For me, the Dream of Internet Freedom started in 1984 with Steven Levy’s book “Hackers, Heroes of the Computer Revolution.” Levy told the story of old school coders and engineers who believed that all information should be freely accessible. They imagined that computers would empower people to make our own decisions about what was right and wrong. Empowering people depended on the design principle of decentralization. Decentralization was built into the very DNA of the early Internet, smart endpoints, but dumb pipes, that would carry whatever brilliant glories the human mind and heart could create to whomever wanted to listen. Read the rest of this entry »
Popcorn Time’s BitTorrent-for-dummies approach has become the virtually undisputed future of video piracy
Netflix, but with far more content and none of those pesky monthly payments. Hollywood quickly intervened, pressuring Popcorn Time’s Argentinian developers to walk away from their creation. But anonymous coders soon relaunched the copyright-flouting software. Today, Popcorn Time is growing at a rate that has likely surpassed the original, and the people behind it say they’re working on changes designed to make the service virtually impervious to law enforcement.Popcorn Time was an instant hit when it launched just over a year ago: The video streaming service made BitTorrent piracy as easy as
“We’re like Google. scraping for new content all over the internet.”
— Popcorn Time’s anonymous developer, known here by the popcorn-box mascot name “Pochoclin”
As Popcorn Time celebrated the first anniversary of its rebirth, WIRED chatted via email and instant message with a software developer from Popcorn-Time.se, one of the most popular of several reincarnations of Popcorn Time. (The anonymous developer asked us to use Popcorn Time’s smiling popcorn-box mascot “Pochoclin” as his or her pseudonym.) Popcorn Time’s masked spokesperson says the streaming movie and TV app is flourishing—in defiance of many of the world’s most powerful copyright holders and EURid, the domain registrar that seized the original site’s web domain last year.
“After everything we went through, this will be our sweetest revenge.”
— Anonymous Popcorn Time spokesperson
Popcorn-Time.se, Pochoclin says, has millions of users and is growing at the mind-bending rate of 100,000 downloads per day. He or she also hinted that a forthcoming switch to a peer-to-peer architecture will make the service far harder for copyright cops to attack. “We’re at the threshold of one of the most exciting times since we started this project,” Pochoclin writes. “Making all our data available via p2p will mean that Popcorn Time will no longer rely on domains and centralized servers but only on its user base.”
“After everything we went through,” Pochoclin said, “this will be our sweetest revenge and our biggest victory.”
When Popcorn-Time.se started responding to WIRED’s questions in November, Pochoclin said the reborn project already had 4 million users. But it had taken a serious hit a few months earlier, when Brussels-based domain registrar EURid revoked its website domain, Time4Popcorn.eu. At its new Swedish domain, it’s only recently returned to that earlier adoption rate. (Pochoclin wouldn’t reveal the size of its current user base for fear of drawing more attention from law enforcement or copyright holders.) “[EURid’s domain seizure] was just a small setback … a small but painful kick to the balls,” the spokesperson says. “We’ve grown this project tremendously since we picked it up … The numbers just keep rising.”
For any other year-old startup, those numbers would seem ludicrous. But Popcorn Time is giving away Hollywood’s most valuable content for free, and making that piracy easier than ever. Download Popcorn Time’s app and in seconds you’re offered a slick menu of streaming TV shows and movies at least as easy to navigate as Netflix or Hulu—but with higher-quality video and hundreds of recent movies and TV shows paid services don’t offer. Read the rest of this entry »
For The Washington Post, Andrea Peterson reports: The Obama administration is secretly negotiating a treaty that could have significant effects on domestic law. Officially, it’s a “free trade” treaty among Pacific rim countries, but a section of the draft agreement leaked in 2011 suggested that it will require signers, including the United States, to make significant changes to copyright law and enforcement measures.
“…it seems strange for the Times to be opining on a treaty the public hasn’t gotten to see yet. If the Times has gotten a leaked copy of the report, it should publish it so the public can make up its own mind.”
Strangely, the administration seems to be encouraging the public to have a debate on the treaty before they know what’s in it. The Office of the United States Trade Representative has solicited comments about the treaty on its Web site, but there is no particularly detailed information about the content of the agreement, or a draft of the current version of the proposal. Read the rest of this entry »
The Facebook generation isn’t bothered about the data e-readers are collecting – just another victory for market forces
So some big companies are using technology to improve their services – big deal. Or at least that seems to be the balance of opinion around these parts on the news that while you’re reading your favourite ebook, your favourite ebook is reading you. Of course it’s not strictly speaking news to those of you who follow the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or indeed the Wall Street Journal, but for those of us who don’t spend our lives cogitating on the details of every End User License Agreement we sign up to, it still comes of something of a shock to realise that – sotto voce – your electronic device is keeping up running commentary on your reading habits.
Maybe you’ve already followed dickcheeseman’s advice and sprung your Kindle out of Amazon’s embrace or maybe, as R042 suggests, you’ve cut your e-reader off from its natural habitat and foresworn WiFi, but even if like Commontata you “couldn’t care less” what any business has on you, the default collection of user data is another signal that electronic devices shift reading into something a little more commercial. Read the rest of this entry »
For Techdirt, Tim Cushing writes: The US government has entered its reply brief in the US vs. Wurie case and its argument in favor of warrantless searches of arrestees’ cell phones contains some truly terrible suppositions. Here’s a brief recap of the situation in this case:
In 2007, the police arrested a Massachusetts man who appeared to be selling crack cocaine from his car. The cops seized his cellphone and noticed that it was receiving calls from “My House.” They opened the phone to determine the number for “My House.” That led them to the man’s home, where the police found drugs, cash and guns.
The defendant was convicted, but on appeal he argued that accessing the information on his cellphone without a warrant violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Earlier this year, the First Circuit Court of Appeals accepted the man’s argument, ruling that the police should have gotten a warrant before accessing any information on the man’s phone.
As was noted by Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy, a lot has changed since 2007. The phone the police searched seven years ago was a grey flip phone with limited capabilities. Unfortunately, the Court is using this case to set precedent for a nation full of smartphones, which contain considerably more data and are roughly the equivalent of a person’s home computer, rather than the address book the government refers to in its arguments. Read the rest of this entry »
The Center for Democracy & Technology is a champion of global online civil liberties and human rights, dedicated to driving policy outcomes that keep the Internet open, innovative and free.
To the government, Santa may look suspicious. He travels all over the world. He has multiple aliases. And he has a long history of breaking and entering.
But Santa isn’t the only one the government can snoop on. Did you know an absurdly outdated law says that police, the IRS, and hundreds of other agencies can read your email and other electronic communications without a warrant?
If you think it’s time for an update, check out this petition calling on the White House to support privacy reform. We have one day left to reach our goal of 100k signatures, and we’re getting close! Help us get there by signing and sharing this petition today:
What happens when a secret U.S. court allows the National Security Agency access to a massive pipeline of U.S. phone call metadata, along with strict rules on how the spy agency can use the information?
The NSA promptly violated those rules — “since the earliest days” of the program’s 2006 inception — carrying out thousands of inquiries on phone numbers without any of the court-ordered screening designed to protect Americans from illegal government surveillance. Read the rest of this entry »
The Obama administration on Wednesday revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) improperly collected emails from people in the United States with no connection to terrorism beginning in 2008.
The NSA collected as many as many as 56,000 emails from Americans before the mistake was identified.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court concluded that the surveillance was unconstitutional after it was notified of it in 2011. In an 86-page opinion that was declassified on Wednesday, the court ordered the NSA to take steps to limit the information it collects and how long it keeps it.
In the opinion, Judge John D. Bates admonished the NSA for a ” substantial misrepresentation” of the scope of its surveillance.
Officials said the surveillance was inadvertent, and insisted that the agency ended it in 2011.
In the face of government spying, “Oh, well” is not the correct response
‘Until August 1914,” A. J. P. Taylor wrote, heartbreakingly, at the beginning of English History, 1914–45,
a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission. . . . All this was changed by the impact of the Great War.
Thus did Liberal England begin to suffer its quick and “strange death.”
Here in America, eyebrows are being raised. In the middle of Queens this weekend, I heard a moderate-seeming father of three tell his friend that he generally had “no time for the conspiracy people.” “But,” he continued, shrugging his shoulders, “you look now and think, ‘Well, yeah.’ Those guys were always going on about this or that. Maybe I should have listened more closely?” What strange bedfellows the last two months of scandal and revelation have made. And what a disgrace that it has taken so long.
Nonetheless, who really needs “the conspiracy people” when so many of our institutions are tasked with spying on us in plain sight? “No one likes to see a government folder with his name on it,” wrote Stephen King in Firestarter. If this is true, we tolerate it manfully. Every year, as a condition of my being alive, I furnish the IRS with a huge range of personal information. As of next year, I will be required to alert them of my health-care arrangements, too. Who among us was honestly surprised when the IRS used the vast powers with which it has been endowed against the people who object to its existence? Nowadays, the government openly keeps files on each and every one of us. Lord knows what happens in secret.In the country that I left behind, it is worse. The streets of England are paved with cameras that film day and night without rest or interruption. On the roads, “average speed check” equipment tracks drivers along their way, recording where they have been and averaging out the time it took for them to get to each checkpoint in order to ensure that they are not traveling too fast. Number-plate-recognition systems are commonplace, and intended to become ubiquitous. At 3.4 million strong already, the National DNA Database grows like Topsy. No distinction is made between innocent and guilty; everyone falls into the net.
Because the British government owns and runs almost all the hospitals and employs the vast majority of the medical staff, if you wish to access the care for which you are forced at gunpoint to pay, you must hand your most sensitive information over to a bureaucrat. This process is not only accepted in the country of Locke, Mill, and Orwell; it is wholeheartedly celebrated, as if it were the national religion.
So complete has been the destruction of liberty’s cradle that, a few years back, the ruling Labour party felt comfortable suggesting that all British automobiles be mandated to carry state-owned GPS equipment that would track each car’s movements and automatically calculate one’s road taxes. With a few admirable exceptions, the ensuing debate was over whether this was practically feasible. One hundred years ago, the very suggestion would have been treated as downright treasonous. Now, it is blithely ignored. If this can happen there, it can happen here.
According to a breaking report from the UK Guardian, Barack Obama’s National Security Agency has been collecting phone records of millions of domestic customers of Verizon under a court order obtained in April. The order requires Verizon to turn over phone records on an “ongoing, daily basis” to the NSA, both within the US and between the US and international sources.
Update: The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has long accused the government of this type of surveillance, says this action is being undertaken under a section of the Patriot Act, but is a clear overstep of the law’s requirement that it be targeted at individuals under some sort of suspicion in specific investigations:
“This confirms what we had long suspected,” says Cindy Cohn, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a civil liberties organization that has long accused the government of operating a secret dragnet surveillance program. “We’ve been suing over this since 2006.”
The order is based on Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows law enforcement to obtain a wide variety of “business records,” including calling records. EFF has long criticized Section 215, which sets a threshold for obtaining records much lower than the “probable cause” standard required to get a search warrant.
But Cohn argues that the kind of dragnet surveillance suggested by the Verizon order exceeds even the authority granted by the Patriot Act. “Section 215 is written as if they’re going after individual people based on individual investigations,” she says. In contrast, the order leaked to the Guardian affects “millions and millions of innocent people. There’s no way all of our calling records are relevant to a terrorism investigation.”
“I don’t think Congress thought it was authorizing dragnet surveillance” when it passed the Patriot Act, Cohn says. “I don’t think Americans think that’s OK. I would be shocked if the majority of congressmen thought it’s okay.”
Update: Obligatory flashback with soaring, beautifully worded hypocrisy.
Update: The other obligatory flashback to USA Today‘s reporting on what was presumably the same program, under the Bush administration, in 2006. This is separate from the warrantless wiretapping story, which got much more press. Greenwald’s court order is the first documentation of the practice continuing under Obama, despite the fact he was elected on promises to do pretty much the opposite:
The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.
The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren’t suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.
“It’s the largest database ever assembled in the world,” said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA’s activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency’s goal is “to create a database of every call ever made” within the nation’s borders, this person added.
For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made — across town or across the country — to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.