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Gary Edwards

The True Story of How the Patent Bar Captured a Court and Shrank the Intellectual Commons | Cato Unbound - 1 views

  • The change in the law wrought by the Federal Circuit can also be viewed substantively through the controversy over software patents. Throughout the 1960s, the USPTO refused to award patents for software innovations. However, several of the USPTO’s decisions were overruled by the patent-friendly U.S. Court of Customs and Patent Appeals, which ordered that software patents be granted. In Gottschalk v. Benson (1972) and Parker v. Flook (1978), the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals, holding that mathematical algorithms (and therefore software) were not patentable subject matter. In 1981, in Diamond v. Diehr, the Supreme Court upheld a software patent on the grounds that the patent in question involved a physical process—the patent was issued for software used in the molding of rubber. While affirming their prior ruling that mathematical formulas are not patentable in the abstract, the Court held that an otherwise patentable invention did not become unpatentable simply because it utilized a computer.
  • In the hands of the newly established Federal Circuit, however, this small scope for software patents in precedent was sufficient to open the floodgates. In a series of decisions culminating in State Street Bank v. Signature Financial Group (1998), the Federal Circuit broadened the criteria for patentability of software and business methods substantially, allowing protection as long as the innovation “produces a useful, concrete and tangible result.” That broadened criteria led to an explosion of low-quality software patents, from Amazon’s 1-Click checkout system to Twitter’s pull-to-refresh feature on smartphones. The GAO estimates that more than half of all patents granted in recent years are software-related. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court continues to hold, as in Parker v. Flook, that computer software algorithms are not patentable, and has begun to push back against the Federal Circuit. In Bilski v. Kappos (2010), the Supreme Court once again held that abstract ideas are not patentable, and in Alice v. CLS (2014), it ruled that simply applying an abstract idea on a computer does not suffice to make the idea patent-eligible. It still is not clear what portion of existing software patents Alice invalidates, but it could be a significant one.
  • Supreme Court justices also recognize the Federal Circuit’s insubordination. In oral arguments in Carlsbad Technology v. HIF Bio (2009), Chief Justice John Roberts joked openly about it:
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  • The Opportunity of the Commons
  • As a result of the Federal Circuit’s pro-patent jurisprudence, our economy has been flooded with patents that would otherwise not have been granted. If more patents meant more innovation, then we would now be witnessing a spectacular economic boom. Instead, we have been living through what Tyler Cowen has called a Great Stagnation. The fact that patents have increased while growth has not is known in the literature as the “patent puzzle.” As Michele Boldrin and David Levine put it, “there is no empirical evidence that [patents] serve to increase innovation and productivity, unless productivity is identified with the number of patents awarded—which, as evidence shows, has no correlation with measured productivity.”
  • While more patents have not resulted in faster economic growth, they have resulted in more patent lawsuits.
  • Software patents have characteristics that make them particularly susceptible to litigation. Unlike, say, chemical patents, software patents are plagued by a problem of description. How does one describe a software innovation in such a way that anyone searching for it will easily find it? As Christina Mulligan and Tim Lee demonstrate, chemical formulas are indexable, meaning that as the number of chemical patents grow, it will still be easy to determine if a molecule has been patented. Since software innovations are not indexable, they estimate that “patent clearance by all firms would require many times more hours of legal research than all patent lawyers in the United States can bill in a year. The result has been an explosion of patent litigation.” Software and business method patents, estimate James Bessen and Michael Meurer, are 2 and 7 times more likely to be litigated than other patents, respectively (4 and 13 times more likely than chemical patents).
  • Software patents make excellent material for predatory litigation brought by what are often called “patent trolls.”
  • Trolls use asymmetries in the rules of litigation to legally extort millions of dollars from innocent parties. For example, one patent troll, Innovatio IP Ventures, LLP, acquired patents that implicated Wi-Fi. In 2011, it started sending demand letters to coffee shops and hotels that offered wireless Internet access, offering to settle for $2,500 per location. This amount was far in excess of the 9.56 cents per device that Innovatio was entitled to under the “Fair, Reasonable, and Non-Discriminatory” licensing promises attached to their portfolio, but it was also much less than the cost of trial, and therefore it was rational for firms to pay. Cisco stepped in and spent $13 million in legal fees on the case, and settled on behalf of their customers for 3.2 cents per device. Other manufacturers had already licensed Innovatio’s portfolio, but that didn’t stop their customers from being targeted by demand letters.
  • Litigation cost asymmetries are magnified by the fact that most patent trolls are nonpracticing entities. This means that when patent infringement trials get to the discovery phase, they will cost the troll very little—a firm that does not operate a business has very few records to produce.
  • But discovery can cost a medium or large company millions of dollars. Using an event study methodology, James Bessen and coauthors find that infringement lawsuits by nonpracticing entities cost publicly traded companies $83 billion per year in stock market capitalization, while plaintiffs gain less than 10 percent of that amount.
  • Software patents also reduce innovation in virtue of their cumulative nature and the fact that many of them are frequently inputs into a single product. Law professor Michael Heller coined the phrase “tragedy of the anticommons” to refer to a situation that mirrors the well-understood “tragedy of the commons.” Whereas in a commons, multiple parties have the right to use a resource but not to exclude others, in an anticommons, multiple parties have the right to exclude others, and no one is therefore able to make effective use of the resource. The tragedy of the commons results in overuse of the resource; the tragedy of the anticommons results in underuse.
  • In order to cope with the tragedy of the anticommons, we should carefully investigate the opportunity of  the commons. The late Nobelist Elinor Ostrom made a career of studying how communities manage shared resources without property rights. With appropriate self-governance institutions, Ostrom found again and again that a commons does not inevitably lead to tragedy—indeed, open access to shared resources can provide collective benefits that are not available under other forms of property management.
  • This suggests that—litigation costs aside—patent law could be reducing the stock of ideas rather than expanding it at current margins.
  • Advocates of extensive patent protection frequently treat the commons as a kind of wasteland. But considering the problems in our patent system, it is worth looking again at the role of well-tailored limits to property rights in some contexts. Just as we all benefit from real property rights that no longer extend to the highest heavens, we would also benefit if the scope of patent protection were more narrowly drawn.
  • Reforming the Patent System
  • This analysis raises some obvious possibilities for reforming the patent system. Diane Wood, Chief Judge of the 7th Circuit, has proposed ending the Federal Circuit’s exclusive jurisdiction over patent appeals—instead, the Federal Circuit could share jurisdiction with the other circuit courts. While this is a constructive suggestion, it still leaves the door open to the Federal Circuit playing “a leading role in shaping patent law,” which is the reason for its capture by patent interests. It would be better instead simply to abolish the Federal Circuit and return to the pre-1982 system, in which patents received no special treatment in appeals. This leaves open the possibility of circuit splits, which the creation of the Federal Circuit was designed to mitigate, but there are worse problems than circuit splits, and we now have them.
  • Another helpful reform would be for Congress to limit the scope of patentable subject matter via statute. New Zealand has done just that, declaring that software is “not an invention” to get around WTO obligations to respect intellectual property. Congress should do the same with respect to both software and business methods.
  • Finally, even if the above reforms were adopted, there would still be a need to address the asymmetries in patent litigation that result in predatory “troll” lawsuits. While the holding in Alice v. CLS arguably makes a wide swath of patents invalid, those patents could still be used in troll lawsuits because a ruling of invalidity for each individual patent might not occur until late in a trial. Current legislation in Congress addresses this class of problem by mandating disclosures, shifting fees in the case of spurious lawsuits, and enabling a review of the patent’s validity before a trial commences.
  • What matters for prosperity is not just property rights in the abstract, but good property-defining institutions. Without reform, our patent system will continue to favor special interests and forestall economic growth.
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    "Libertarians intuitively understand the case for patents: just as other property rights internalize the social benefits of improvements to land, automobile maintenance, or business investment, patents incentivize the creation of new inventions, which might otherwise be undersupplied. So far, so good. But it is important to recognize that the laws that govern property, intellectual or otherwise, do not arise out of thin air. Rather, our political institutions, with all their virtues and foibles, determine the contours of property-the exact bundle of rights that property holders possess, their extent, and their limitations. Outlining efficient property laws is not a trivial problem. The optimal contours of property are neither immutable nor knowable a priori. For example, in 1946, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the age-old common law doctrine that extended real property rights to the heavens without limit. The advent of air travel made such extensive property rights no longer practicable-airlines would have had to cobble together a patchwork of easements, acre by acre, for every corridor through which they flew, and they would have opened themselves up to lawsuits every time their planes deviated from the expected path. The Court rightly abridged property rights in light of these empirical realities. In defining the limits of patent rights, our political institutions have gotten an analogous question badly wrong. A single, politically captured circuit court with exclusive jurisdiction over patent appeals has consistently expanded the scope of patentable subject matter. This expansion has resulted in an explosion of both patents and patent litigation, with destructive consequences. "
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    I added a comment to the page's article. Patents are antithetical to the precepts of Libertarianism and do not involve Natural Law rights. But I agree with the author that the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit should be abolished. It's a failed experiment.
Paul Merrell

Canada Casts Global Surveillance Dragnet Over File Downloads - The Intercept - 0 views

  • Canada’s leading surveillance agency is monitoring millions of Internet users’ file downloads in a dragnet search to identify extremists, according to top-secret documents. The covert operation, revealed Wednesday by CBC News in collaboration with The Intercept, taps into Internet cables and analyzes records of up to 15 million downloads daily from popular websites commonly used to share videos, photographs, music, and other files. The revelations about the spying initiative, codenamed LEVITATION, are the first from the trove of files provided by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden to show that the Canadian government has launched its own globe-spanning Internet mass surveillance system. According to the documents, the LEVITATION program can monitor downloads in several countries across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and North America. It is led by the Communications Security Establishment, or CSE, Canada’s equivalent of the NSA. (The Canadian agency was formerly known as “CSEC” until a recent name change.)
  • The latest disclosure sheds light on Canada’s broad existing surveillance capabilities at a time when the country’s government is pushing for a further expansion of security powers following attacks in Ottawa and Quebec last year. Ron Deibert, director of University of Toronto-based Internet security think tank Citizen Lab, said LEVITATION illustrates the “giant X-ray machine over all our digital lives.” “Every single thing that you do – in this case uploading/downloading files to these sites – that act is being archived, collected and analyzed,” Deibert said, after reviewing documents about the online spying operation for CBC News. David Christopher, a spokesman for Vancouver-based open Internet advocacy group OpenMedia.ca, said the surveillance showed “robust action” was needed to rein in the Canadian agency’s operations.
  • In a top-secret PowerPoint presentation, dated from mid-2012, an analyst from the agency jokes about how, while hunting for extremists, the LEVITATION system gets clogged with information on innocuous downloads of the musical TV series Glee. CSE finds some 350 “interesting” downloads each month, the presentation notes, a number that amounts to less than 0.0001 per cent of the total collected data. The agency stores details about downloads and uploads to and from 102 different popular file-sharing websites, according to the 2012 document, which describes the collected records as “free file upload,” or FFU, “events.” Only three of the websites are named: RapidShare, SendSpace, and the now defunct MegaUpload.
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  • “The specific uses that they talk about in this [counter-terrorism] context may not be the problem, but it’s what else they can do,” said Tamir Israel, a lawyer with the University of Ottawa’s Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic. Picking which downloads to monitor is essentially “completely at the discretion of CSE,” Israel added. The file-sharing surveillance also raises questions about the number of Canadians whose downloading habits could have been swept up as part of LEVITATION’s dragnet. By law, CSE isn’t allowed to target Canadians. In the LEVITATION presentation, however, two Canadian IP addresses that trace back to a web server in Montreal appear on a list of suspicious downloads found across the world. The same list includes downloads that CSE monitored in closely allied countries, including the United Kingdom, United States, Spain, Brazil, Germany and Portugal. It is unclear from the document whether LEVITATION has ever prevented any terrorist attacks. The agency cites only two successes of the program in the 2012 presentation: the discovery of a hostage video through a previously unknown target, and an uploaded document that contained the hostage strategy of a terrorist organization. The hostage in the discovered video was ultimately killed, according to public reports.
  • LEVITATION does not rely on cooperation from any of the file-sharing sharing. A separate secret CSE operation codenamed ATOMIC BANJO obtains the data directly from internet cables that it has tapped into, and the agency then sifts out the unique IP address of each computer that downloaded files from the targeted websites. The IP addresses are valuable pieces of information to CSE’s analysts, helping to identify people whose downloads have been flagged as suspicious. The analysts use the IP addresses as a kind of search term, entering them into other surveillance databases that they have access to, such as the vast repositories of intercepted Internet data shared with the Canadian agency by the NSA and its British counterpart Government Communications Headquarters. If successful, the searches will return a list of results showing other websites visited by the people downloading the files – in some cases revealing associations with Facebook or Google accounts. In turn, these accounts may reveal the names and the locations of individual downloaders, opening the door for further surveillance of their activities.
  • Canada’s leading surveillance agency is monitoring millions of Internet users’ file downloads in a dragnet search to identify extremists, according to top-secret documents. The covert operation, revealed Wednesday by CBC News in collaboration with The Intercept, taps into Internet cables and analyzes records of up to 15 million downloads daily from popular websites commonly used to share videos, photographs, music, and other files. The revelations about the spying initiative, codenamed LEVITATION, are the first from the trove of files provided by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden to show that the Canadian government has launched its own globe-spanning Internet mass surveillance system. According to the documents, the LEVITATION program can monitor downloads in several countries across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and North America. It is led by the Communications Security Establishment, or CSE, Canada’s equivalent of the NSA. (The Canadian agency was formerly known as “CSEC” until a recent name change.)
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Netgear Shows Customers How to Share Pirate Movies - TorrentFreak - 1 views

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    " Andy on December 26, 2015 C: 86 Opinion Showing users how to send large video files is a task undertaken by dozens of software and hardware manufacturers but for the folks at Netgear the issue is now a controversial one. Want to send a pirate movie to a friend after downloading it from a torrent site? Netgear apparently has an app for that."
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    " Andy on December 26, 2015 C: 86 Opinion Showing users how to send large video files is a task undertaken by dozens of software and hardware manufacturers but for the folks at Netgear the issue is now a controversial one. Want to send a pirate movie to a friend after downloading it from a torrent site? Netgear apparently has an app for that."
Paul Merrell

Time to 'Break Facebook Up,' Sanders Says After Leaked Docs Show Social Media Giant 'Treated User Data as a Bargaining Chip' | Common Dreams News - 0 views

  • After NBC News on Wednesday published a trove of leaked documents that show how Facebook "treated user data as a bargaining chip with external app developers," White House hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders declared that it is time "to break Facebook up."
  • When British investigative journalist Duncan Campbell first shared the trove of documents with a handful of media outlets including NBC News in April, journalists Olivia Solon and Cyrus Farivar reported that "Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg oversaw plans to consolidate the social network's power and control competitors by treating its users' data as a bargaining chip, while publicly proclaiming to be protecting that data." With the publication Wednesday of nearly 7,000 pages of records—which include internal Facebook emails, web chats, notes, presentations, and spreadsheets—journalists and the public can now have a closer look at exactly how the company was using the vast amount of data it collects when it came to bargaining with third parties.
  • The document dump comes as Facebook and Zuckerberg are facing widespread criticism over the company's political advertising policy, which allows candidates for elected office to lie in the ads they pay to circulate on the platform. It also comes as 47 state attorneys general, led by Letitia James of New York, are investigating the social media giant for antitrust violations.
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  • According to Solon and Farivar of NBC: Taken together, they show how Zuckerberg, along with his board and management team, found ways to tap Facebook users' data—including information about friends, relationships, and photos—as leverage over the companies it partnered with. In some cases, Facebook would reward partners by giving them preferential access to certain types of user data while denying the same access to rival companies. For example, Facebook gave Amazon special access to user data because it was spending money on Facebook advertising. In another case the messaging app MessageMe was cut off from access to data because it had grown too popular and could compete with Facebook.
  • The call from Sanders (I-Vt.) Wednesday to break up Facebook follows similar but less definitive statements from the senator. One of Sanders' rivals in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), released her plan to "Break Up Big Tech" in March. Zuckerberg is among the opponents of Warren's proposal, which also targets other major technology companies like Amazon and Google.
Paul Merrell

From Radio to Porn, British Spies Track Web Users' Online Identities - 1 views

  • HERE WAS A SIMPLE AIM at the heart of the top-secret program: Record the website browsing habits of “every visible user on the Internet.” Before long, billions of digital records about ordinary people’s online activities were being stored every day. Among them were details cataloging visits to porn, social media and news websites, search engines, chat forums, and blogs. The mass surveillance operation — code-named KARMA POLICE — was launched by British spies about seven years ago without any public debate or scrutiny. It was just one part of a giant global Internet spying apparatus built by the United Kingdom’s electronic eavesdropping agency, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. The revelations about the scope of the British agency’s surveillance are contained in documents obtained by The Intercept from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. Previous reports based on the leaked files have exposed how GCHQ taps into Internet cables to monitor communications on a vast scale, but many details about what happens to the data after it has been vacuumed up have remained unclear.
  • Amid a renewed push from the U.K. government for more surveillance powers, more than two dozen documents being disclosed today by The Intercept reveal for the first time several major strands of GCHQ’s existing electronic eavesdropping capabilities.
  • The surveillance is underpinned by an opaque legal regime that has authorized GCHQ to sift through huge archives of metadata about the private phone calls, emails and Internet browsing logs of Brits, Americans, and any other citizens — all without a court order or judicial warrant
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  • A huge volume of the Internet data GCHQ collects flows directly into a massive repository named Black Hole, which is at the core of the agency’s online spying operations, storing raw logs of intercepted material before it has been subject to analysis. Black Hole contains data collected by GCHQ as part of bulk “unselected” surveillance, meaning it is not focused on particular “selected” targets and instead includes troves of data indiscriminately swept up about ordinary people’s online activities. Between August 2007 and March 2009, GCHQ documents say that Black Hole was used to store more than 1.1 trillion “events” — a term the agency uses to refer to metadata records — with about 10 billion new entries added every day. As of March 2009, the largest slice of data Black Hole held — 41 percent — was about people’s Internet browsing histories. The rest included a combination of email and instant messenger records, details about search engine queries, information about social media activity, logs related to hacking operations, and data on people’s use of tools to browse the Internet anonymously.
  • Throughout this period, as smartphone sales started to boom, the frequency of people’s Internet use was steadily increasing. In tandem, British spies were working frantically to bolster their spying capabilities, with plans afoot to expand the size of Black Hole and other repositories to handle an avalanche of new data. By 2010, according to the documents, GCHQ was logging 30 billion metadata records per day. By 2012, collection had increased to 50 billion per day, and work was underway to double capacity to 100 billion. The agency was developing “unprecedented” techniques to perform what it called “population-scale” data mining, monitoring all communications across entire countries in an effort to detect patterns or behaviors deemed suspicious. It was creating what it said would be, by 2013, “the world’s biggest” surveillance engine “to run cyber operations and to access better, more valued data for customers to make a real world difference.”
  • A document from the GCHQ target analysis center (GTAC) shows the Black Hole repository’s structure.
  • The data is searched by GCHQ analysts in a hunt for behavior online that could be connected to terrorism or other criminal activity. But it has also served a broader and more controversial purpose — helping the agency hack into European companies’ computer networks. In the lead up to its secret mission targeting Netherlands-based Gemalto, the largest SIM card manufacturer in the world, GCHQ used MUTANT BROTH in an effort to identify the company’s employees so it could hack into their computers. The system helped the agency analyze intercepted Facebook cookies it believed were associated with Gemalto staff located at offices in France and Poland. GCHQ later successfully infiltrated Gemalto’s internal networks, stealing encryption keys produced by the company that protect the privacy of cell phone communications.
  • Similarly, MUTANT BROTH proved integral to GCHQ’s hack of Belgian telecommunications provider Belgacom. The agency entered IP addresses associated with Belgacom into MUTANT BROTH to uncover information about the company’s employees. Cookies associated with the IPs revealed the Google, Yahoo, and LinkedIn accounts of three Belgacom engineers, whose computers were then targeted by the agency and infected with malware. The hacking operation resulted in GCHQ gaining deep access into the most sensitive parts of Belgacom’s internal systems, granting British spies the ability to intercept communications passing through the company’s networks.
  • In March, a U.K. parliamentary committee published the findings of an 18-month review of GCHQ’s operations and called for an overhaul of the laws that regulate the spying. The committee raised concerns about the agency gathering what it described as “bulk personal datasets” being held about “a wide range of people.” However, it censored the section of the report describing what these “datasets” contained, despite acknowledging that they “may be highly intrusive.” The Snowden documents shine light on some of the core GCHQ bulk data-gathering programs that the committee was likely referring to — pulling back the veil of secrecy that has shielded some of the agency’s most controversial surveillance operations from public scrutiny. KARMA POLICE and MUTANT BROTH are among the key bulk collection systems. But they do not operate in isolation — and the scope of GCHQ’s spying extends far beyond them.
  • The agency operates a bewildering array of other eavesdropping systems, each serving its own specific purpose and designated a unique code name, such as: SOCIAL ANTHROPOID, which is used to analyze metadata on emails, instant messenger chats, social media connections and conversations, plus “telephony” metadata about phone calls, cell phone locations, text and multimedia messages; MEMORY HOLE, which logs queries entered into search engines and associates each search with an IP address; MARBLED GECKO, which sifts through details about searches people have entered into Google Maps and Google Earth; and INFINITE MONKEYS, which analyzes data about the usage of online bulletin boards and forums. GCHQ has other programs that it uses to analyze the content of intercepted communications, such as the full written body of emails and the audio of phone calls. One of the most important content collection capabilities is TEMPORA, which mines vast amounts of emails, instant messages, voice calls and other communications and makes them accessible through a Google-style search tool named XKEYSCORE.
  • As of September 2012, TEMPORA was collecting “more than 40 billion pieces of content a day” and it was being used to spy on people across Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, according to a top-secret memo outlining the scope of the program. The existence of TEMPORA was first revealed by The Guardian in June 2013. To analyze all of the communications it intercepts and to build a profile of the individuals it is monitoring, GCHQ uses a variety of different tools that can pull together all of the relevant information and make it accessible through a single interface. SAMUEL PEPYS is one such tool, built by the British spies to analyze both the content and metadata of emails, browsing sessions, and instant messages as they are being intercepted in real time. One screenshot of SAMUEL PEPYS in action shows the agency using it to monitor an individual in Sweden who visited a page about GCHQ on the U.S.-based anti-secrecy website Cryptome.
  • Partly due to the U.K.’s geographic location — situated between the United States and the western edge of continental Europe — a large amount of the world’s Internet traffic passes through its territory across international data cables. In 2010, GCHQ noted that what amounted to “25 percent of all Internet traffic” was transiting the U.K. through some 1,600 different cables. The agency said that it could “survey the majority of the 1,600” and “select the most valuable to switch into our processing systems.”
  • According to Joss Wright, a research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute, tapping into the cables allows GCHQ to monitor a large portion of foreign communications. But the cables also transport masses of wholly domestic British emails and online chats, because when anyone in the U.K. sends an email or visits a website, their computer will routinely send and receive data from servers that are located overseas. “I could send a message from my computer here [in England] to my wife’s computer in the next room and on its way it could go through the U.S., France, and other countries,” Wright says. “That’s just the way the Internet is designed.” In other words, Wright adds, that means “a lot” of British data and communications transit across international cables daily, and are liable to be swept into GCHQ’s databases.
  • A map from a classified GCHQ presentation about intercepting communications from undersea cables. GCHQ is authorized to conduct dragnet surveillance of the international data cables through so-called external warrants that are signed off by a government minister. The external warrants permit the agency to monitor communications in foreign countries as well as British citizens’ international calls and emails — for example, a call from Islamabad to London. They prohibit GCHQ from reading or listening to the content of “internal” U.K. to U.K. emails and phone calls, which are supposed to be filtered out from GCHQ’s systems if they are inadvertently intercepted unless additional authorization is granted to scrutinize them. However, the same rules do not apply to metadata. A little-known loophole in the law allows GCHQ to use external warrants to collect and analyze bulk metadata about the emails, phone calls, and Internet browsing activities of British people, citizens of closely allied countries, and others, regardless of whether the data is derived from domestic U.K. to U.K. communications and browsing sessions or otherwise. In March, the existence of this loophole was quietly acknowledged by the U.K. parliamentary committee’s surveillance review, which stated in a section of its report that “special protection and additional safeguards” did not apply to metadata swept up using external warrants and that domestic British metadata could therefore be lawfully “returned as a result of searches” conducted by GCHQ.
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, GCHQ appears to have readily exploited this obscure legal technicality. Secret policy guidance papers issued to the agency’s analysts instruct them that they can sift through huge troves of indiscriminately collected metadata records to spy on anyone regardless of their nationality. The guidance makes clear that there is no exemption or extra privacy protection for British people or citizens from countries that are members of the Five Eyes, a surveillance alliance that the U.K. is part of alongside the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. “If you are searching a purely Events only database such as MUTANT BROTH, the issue of location does not occur,” states one internal GCHQ policy document, which is marked with a “last modified” date of July 2012. The document adds that analysts are free to search the databases for British metadata “without further authorization” by inputing a U.K. “selector,” meaning a unique identifier such as a person’s email or IP address, username, or phone number. Authorization is “not needed for individuals in the U.K.,” another GCHQ document explains, because metadata has been judged “less intrusive than communications content.” All the spies are required to do to mine the metadata troves is write a short “justification” or “reason” for each search they conduct and then click a button on their computer screen.
  • Intelligence GCHQ collects on British persons of interest is shared with domestic security agency MI5, which usually takes the lead on spying operations within the U.K. MI5 conducts its own extensive domestic surveillance as part of a program called DIGINT (digital intelligence).
  • GCHQ’s documents suggest that it typically retains metadata for periods of between 30 days to six months. It stores the content of communications for a shorter period of time, varying between three to 30 days. The retention periods can be extended if deemed necessary for “cyber defense.” One secret policy paper dated from January 2010 lists the wide range of information the agency classes as metadata — including location data that could be used to track your movements, your email, instant messenger, and social networking “buddy lists,” logs showing who you have communicated with by phone or email, the passwords you use to access “communications services” (such as an email account), and information about websites you have viewed.
  • Records showing the full website addresses you have visited — for instance, www.gchq.gov.uk/what_we_do — are treated as content. But the first part of an address you have visited — for instance, www.gchq.gov.uk — is treated as metadata. In isolation, a single metadata record of a phone call, email, or website visit may not reveal much about a person’s private life, according to Ethan Zuckerman, director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Civic Media. But if accumulated and analyzed over a period of weeks or months, these details would be “extremely personal,” he told The Intercept, because they could reveal a person’s movements, habits, religious beliefs, political views, relationships, and even sexual preferences. For Zuckerman, who has studied the social and political ramifications of surveillance, the most concerning aspect of large-scale government data collection is that it can be “corrosive towards democracy” — leading to a chilling effect on freedom of expression and communication. “Once we know there’s a reasonable chance that we are being watched in one fashion or another it’s hard for that not to have a ‘panopticon effect,’” he said, “where we think and behave differently based on the assumption that people may be watching and paying attention to what we are doing.”
  • When compared to surveillance rules in place in the U.S., GCHQ notes in one document that the U.K. has “a light oversight regime.” The more lax British spying regulations are reflected in secret internal rules that highlight greater restrictions on how NSA databases can be accessed. The NSA’s troves can be searched for data on British citizens, one document states, but they cannot be mined for information about Americans or other citizens from countries in the Five Eyes alliance. No such constraints are placed on GCHQ’s own databases, which can be sifted for records on the phone calls, emails, and Internet usage of Brits, Americans, and citizens from any other country. The scope of GCHQ’s surveillance powers explain in part why Snowden told The Guardian in June 2013 that U.K. surveillance is “worse than the U.S.” In an interview with Der Spiegel in July 2013, Snowden added that British Internet cables were “radioactive” and joked: “Even the Queen’s selfies to the pool boy get logged.”
  • In recent years, the biggest barrier to GCHQ’s mass collection of data does not appear to have come in the form of legal or policy restrictions. Rather, it is the increased use of encryption technology that protects the privacy of communications that has posed the biggest potential hindrance to the agency’s activities. “The spread of encryption … threatens our ability to do effective target discovery/development,” says a top-secret report co-authored by an official from the British agency and an NSA employee in 2011. “Pertinent metadata events will be locked within the encrypted channels and difficult, if not impossible, to prise out,” the report says, adding that the agencies were working on a plan that would “(hopefully) allow our Internet Exploitation strategy to prevail.”
Paul Merrell

WikiLeaks' Julian Assange warns: Google is not what it seems - 0 views

  • Back in 2011, Julian Assange met up with Eric Schmidt for an interview that he considers the best he’s ever given. That doesn’t change, however, the opinion he now has about Schmidt and the company he represents, Google.In fact, the WikiLeaks leader doesn’t believe in the famous “Don’t Be Evil” mantra that Google has been preaching for years.Assange thinks both Schmidt and Google are at the exact opposite spectrum.“Nobody wants to acknowledge that Google has grown big and bad. But it has. Schmidt’s tenure as CEO saw Google integrate with the shadiest of US power structures as it expanded into a geographically invasive megacorporation. But Google has always been comfortable with this proximity,” Assange writes in an opinion piece for Newsweek.
  • “Long before company founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin hired Schmidt in 2001, their initial research upon which Google was based had been partly funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). And even as Schmidt’s Google developed an image as the overly friendly giant of global tech, it was building a close relationship with the intelligence community,” Assange continues.Throughout the lengthy article, Assange goes on to explain how the 2011 meeting came to be and talks about the people the Google executive chairman brought along - Lisa Shields, then vice president of the Council on Foreign Relationship, Jared Cohen, who would later become the director of Google Ideas, and Scott Malcomson, the book’s editor, who would later become the speechwriter and principal advisor to Susan Rice.“At this point, the delegation was one part Google, three parts US foreign-policy establishment, but I was still none the wiser.” Assange goes on to explain the work Cohen was doing for the government prior to his appointment at Google and just how Schmidt himself plays a bigger role than previously thought.In fact, he says that his original image of Schmidt, as a politically unambitious Silicon Valley engineer, “a relic of the good old days of computer science graduate culture on the West Coast,” was wrong.
  • However, Assange concedes that that is not the sort of person who attends Bilderberg conferences, who regularly visits the White House, and who delivers speeches at the Davos Economic Forum.He claims that Schmidt’s emergence as Google’s “foreign minister” did not come out of nowhere, but it was “presaged by years of assimilation within US establishment networks of reputation and influence.” Assange makes further accusations that, well before Prism had even been dreamed of, the NSA was already systematically violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act under its director at the time, Michael Hayden. He states, however, that during the same period, namely around 2003, Google was accepting NSA money to provide the agency with search tools for its rapidly-growing database of information.Assange continues by saying that in 2008, Google helped launch the NGA spy satellite, the GeoEye-1, into space and that the search giant shares the photographs from the satellite with the US military and intelligence communities. Later on, 2010, after the Chinese government was accused of hacking Google, the company entered into a “formal information-sharing” relationship with the NSA, which would allow the NSA’s experts to evaluate the vulnerabilities in Google’s hardware and software.
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  • “Around the same time, Google was becoming involved in a program known as the “Enduring Security Framework” (ESF), which entailed the sharing of information between Silicon Valley tech sharing and Pentagon-affiliated agencies at network speed.’’Emails obtained in 2014 under Freedom of Information requests show Schmidt and his fellow Googler Sergey Brin corresponding on first-name terms with NSA chief General Keith Alexander about ESF,” Assange writes.Assange seems to have a lot of backing to his statements, providing links left and right, which people can go check on their own.
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    The "opinion piece for Newsweek" is an excerpt from Assange's new book, When Google met Wikileaks.  The chapter is well worth the read. http://www.newsweek.com/assange-google-not-what-it-seems-279447
Paul Merrell

Facebook blasted by US and UK lawmakers - nsnbc international | nsnbc international - 0 views

  • Lawmakers in the United States and the United Kingdom are calling on Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to explain how the names, preferences and other information from tens of millions of users ended up in the hands of the Cambridge Analytica data analysis firm.
  • After Facebook cited data privacy policies violations and announced that it was suspending the Cambridge Analytica data analytics firm also tied to the Trump campaign, new revelations have emerged. On Saturday, reports revealed that Cambridge Analytica, used a feature once available to Facebook app developers to collect information on some 270,000 people. In the process, the company, which was, at the time, handling U.S. President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, gained access to data on tens of millions of their Facebook “friends” and that it wasn’t clear at all if any of these people had given explicit permission for this kind of sharing. Facebook’s Deputy General Counsel Paul Grewal said in a statement, “We will take legal action if necessary to hold them responsible and accountable for any unlawful behavior.”
  • The social media giant also added that it was continuing to investigate the claims. According to reports, Cambridge Analytica worked for the failed presidential campaign of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and then for the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Federal Election Commission records reportedly show that Trump’s campaign hired Cambridge Analytica in June 2016 and paid it more than $6.2 million. On its website, the company says that it “provided the Donald J. Trump for President campaign with the expertise and insights that helped win the White House.” Cambridge Analytica also mentions that it uses “behavioral microtargeting,” or combining analysis of people’s personalities with demographics, to predict and influence mass behavior.  According to the company, it has data on 220 million Americans, two thirds of the U.S. population. Cambridge Analytica says it has worked on other campaigns in the United States and other countries, and it is funded by Robert Mercer, a prominent supporter of politically conservative groups.
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  • Facebook stated that it suspended Cambridge Analytica and its parent group Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) after receiving reports that they did not delete information about Facebook users that had been inappropriately shared. For months now, both the companies have been embroiled in investigations in Washington and London but the recent demands made by lawmakers focused explicitly on Zuckerberg, who has not testified publicly on these matters in either nation.
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