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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.
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Judge: Facebook has to face lawsuit over scanning user messages - Tech News and Analysis - 0 views

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    "Facebook will have to deal with a class-action lawsuit that alleges that the company violated privacy laws by scanning the private messages of users"
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    "Facebook will have to deal with a class-action lawsuit that alleges that the company violated privacy laws by scanning the private messages of users"
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Judge Worries That Piracy Lawsuits Lawsuits Flood Courts - TorrentFreak - 1 views

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    " Andy on November 26, 2015 C: 29 Breaking The chief judge of an IP court in Finland has expressed concern that 'copyright-troll' piracy lawsuits lawsuits cause chaos if a law firm follows through with threats to sue hundreds of Internet users. Using the courts is the ultimate weapon to make alleged pirates settle but experts believe that copyright owners could have an uphill battle."
Paul Merrell

Whistleblowers File $100 Million Suit against NSA, FBI - WhoWhatWhy - 0 views

  • In a $100 million lawsuit that has garnered virtually no public attention, five National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblowers are accusing the federal government of illegally retaliating against them for alerting the NSA and Congress to a waste of taxpayer funds that benefitted a well-connected contractor.The lawsuit tells the story of the infancy of the NSA’s efforts to surveil the Internet. Back then, there were two programs for the spying agency to choose from — and the first was called ThinThread. It had been developed internally, was comparatively inexpensive, had been tested and proven to be effective, and included safeguards preventing the spying on Americans without a court warrant. The other was called Trailblazer. It did not include such safeguards, had not yet been shown to be effective, and cost 1,000 times more than ThinThread. Instead of being developed internally, it was to be outsourced to Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a politically connected contractor.The NSA chose Trailblazer.
  • In response, four NSA employees who had worked on ThinThread, as well as a congressional staffer, alerted Congress and the Office of the Inspector General of the NSA that the agency was wasting taxpayer funds. That is when their troubles began, according to the lawsuit.It alleges that the defendants, which include the NSA, FBI, and the Department of Justice, as well as individuals associated with them, “knowingly and intentionally fabricated” a claim that the plaintiffs leaked classified information to New York Times reporters Eric Lichtblau and James Risen.“[The defendants] used this fabricated claim for retaliation, illegal searches and seizures, physical invasion of their residences and places of business, temporary false imprisonment, the confiscation of their property, cancellation of security clearances leading to the loss of their jobs and employment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, harassment and intimidation,” the lawsuit alleges.It also states that the defendants should have known that the plaintiffs were not the leaks because the NSA “was tracking all domestic telephone calls for the supposed purpose of protecting national security.”
  • The plaintiffs are former NSA employees Thomas Drake, Ed Loomis, J. Kirk Wiebe, William Binney, and former congressional staffer Diane Roark. They seek “punitive damages in excess of $100 million because of Defendants [sic] callous and reckless indifference and malicious acts …” as well as well as an additional $15 million for lost wages and to cover costs.Larry Klayman, the prominent conservative public interest attorney and founder of Judicial Watch, filed the suit on August 20th. However, it is expected to be amended this week, and it is possible that additional publicity for the case Will be sought then.
Paul Merrell

Reset The Net - Privacy Pack - 1 views

  • This June 5th, I pledge to take strong steps to protect my freedom from government mass surveillance. I expect the services I use to do the same.
  • Fight for the Future and Center for Rights will contact you about future campaigns. Privacy Policy
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    I wound up joining this campaign at the urging of the ACLU after checking the Privacy Policy. The Reset the Net campaign seems to be endorsed by a lot of change-oriented groups, from the ACLU to Greenpeac to the Pirate Party. A fair number of groups with a Progressive agenda, but certainly not limited to them. The right answer to that situation is to urge other groups to endorse, not to avoid the campaign. Single-issue coalition-building is all about focusing on an area of agreement rather than worrying about who you are rubbing elbows with.  I have been looking for a a bipartisan group that's tackling government surveillance issues via mass actions but has no corporate sponsors. This might be the one. The reason: Corporate types like Google have no incentive to really butt heads with the government voyeurs. They are themselves engaged in massive surveillance of their users and certainly will not carry the battle for digital privacy over to the private sector. But this *is* a battle over digital privacy and legally defining user privacy rights in the private sector is just as important as cutting back on government surveillance. As we have learned through the Snowden disclosures, what the private internet companies have, the NSA can and does get.  The big internet services successfully pushed in the U.S. for authorization to publish more numbers about how many times they pass private data to the government, but went no farther. They wanted to be able to say they did something, but there's a revolving door of staffers between NSA and the big internet companies and the internet service companies' data is an open book to the NSA.   The big internet services are not champions of their users' privacy. If they were, they would be featuring end-to-end encryption with encryption keys unique to each user and unknown to the companies.  Like some startups in Europe are doing. E.g., the Wuala.com filesync service in Switzerland (first 5 GB of storage free). Compare tha
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    "This June 5th, I pledge to take strong steps to protect my freedom from government mass surveillance. I expect the services I use to do the same."
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    I wound up joining this campaign at the urging of the ACLU after checking the Privacy Policy. The Reset the Net campaign seems to be endorsed by a lot of change-oriented groups, from the ACLU to Greenpeac to the Pirate Party. A fair number of groups with a Progressive agenda, but certainly not limited to them. The right answer to that situation is to urge other groups to endorse, not to avoid the campaign. Single-issue coalition-building is all about focusing on an area of agreement rather than worrying about who you are rubbing elbows with.  I have been looking for a a bipartisan group that's tackling government surveillance issues via mass actions but has no corporate sponsors. This might be the one. The reason: Corporate types like Google have no incentive to really butt heads with the government voyeurs. They are themselves engaged in massive surveillance of their users and certainly will not carry the battle for digital privacy over to the private sector. But this *is* a battle over digital privacy and legally defining user privacy rights in the private sector is just as important as cutting back on government surveillance. As we have learned through the Snowden disclosures, what the private internet companies have, the NSA can and does get.  The big internet services successfully pushed in the U.S. for authorization to publish more numbers about how many times they pass private data to the government, but went no farther. They wanted to be able to say they did something, but there's a revolving door of staffers between NSA and the big internet companies and the internet service companies' data is an open book to the NSA.   The big internet services are not champions of their users' privacy. If they were, they would be featuring end-to-end encryption with encryption keys unique to each user and unknown to the companies.  Like some startups in Europe are doing. E.g., the Wuala.com filesync service in Switzerland (first 5 GB of storage free). Com
Paul Merrell

Belgium sues Facebook over illegal Privacy Violations of Users and Non-Users | nsnbc international - 0 views

  • The Belgian government will be suing Facebook. The Commission for the Protection of Privacy states that Facebook violates Belgian and EU law by tracking systems that target both Facebook users as well as non-Facebook users. Facebook is known for cooperating with the U.S.’ National Security Agency. 
  • The Belgian privacy watchdog’s case against the internet giant Facebook will be heard at a court in Brussels on Thursday. The Commission has repeatedly requested that Facebook should comply with Belgian and EU law. Facebook failed to comply, and the Commission has no power to enforce the law; hence the decision to sue Facebook to attain a a court ruling. The President of the Commission for the Protection of Privacy, willem Debeuckelaere, told the press that: “Facebook treats its users’ private lives without respect and that needs tackling. It’s not because we want to start a lawsuit over this, but we cannot continue to negotiate through other means. .. We want a judge to impose our recommendations. These recommendations are chiefly aimed at protecting internet users who are not Facebook members.”
  • The Belgian privacy watchdog alleges that Facebook tracks the web browsing of all visitors, including those who have specifically turned the tracking function off; This gathering of private information allegedly also includes those who do not have a Facebook account. Moreover, the Commission claims that Facebook has the capability to surveil computers without consent, even when users are logged out; and Facebook can monitor every PC of users that use websites with Facebook plugins. The capability to monitor both Facebook users and non-Facebook users allegedly functions via Cookies that store information about user’s internet activities, including preferential settings of websites and which websites internet users have visited. The Commission claims that Facebook installs these Cookies on all computers that visit websites that for example have a Facebook plugin to share internet content. That includes the computers of persons who do not make use of Facebook’s “share” or “like” button.
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  • In other words, Facebook has the capacity to monitor your browser settings as well as which websites you have visited if you have read this article or any other article on any website that contains a Facebook “share” button, whether you “like” it or not. The Commissions lawsuit against Facebook is or particular importance due to the fact that the corporation is known for its cooperation with the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA). While the lawsuit is of particular interest for Belgian and EU citizens, it also sheds light on Facebook’s monitoring of U.S. citizens.
Paul Merrell

Gmail blows up e-mail marketing by caching all images on Google servers | Ars Technica - 1 views

  • Ever wonder why most e-mail clients hide images by default? The reason for the "display images" button is because images in an e-mail must be loaded from a third-party server. For promotional e-mails and spam, usually this server is operated by the entity that sent the e-mail. So when you load these images, you aren't just receiving an image—you're also sending a ton of data about yourself to the e-mail marketer. Loading images from these promotional e-mails reveals a lot about you. Marketers get a rough idea of your location via your IP address. They can see the HTTP referrer, meaning the URL of the page that requested the image. With the referral data, marketers can see not only what client you are using (desktop app, Web, mobile, etc.) but also what folder you were viewing the e-mail in. For instance, if you had a Gmail folder named "Ars Technica" and loaded e-mail images, the referral URL would be "https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#label/Ars+Technica"—the folder is right there in the URL. The same goes for the inbox, spam, and any other location. It's even possible to uniquely identify each e-mail, so marketers can tell which e-mail address requested the images—they know that you've read the e-mail. And if it was spam, this will often earn you more spam since the spammers can tell you've read their last e-mail.
  • But Google has just announced a move that will shut most of these tactics down: it will cache all images for Gmail users. Embedded images will now be saved by Google, and the e-mail content will be modified to display those images from Google's cache, instead of from a third-party server. E-mail marketers will no longer be able to get any information from images—they will see a single request from Google, which will then be used to send the image out to all Gmail users. Unless you click on a link, marketers will have no idea the e-mail has been seen. While this means improved privacy from e-mail marketers, Google will now be digging deeper than ever into your e-mails and literally modifying the contents. If you were worried about e-mail scanning, this may take things a step further. However, if you don't like the idea of cached images, you can turn it off in the settings. This move will allow Google to automatically display images, killing the "display all images" button in Gmail. Google servers should also be faster than the usual third-party image host. Hosting all images sent to all Gmail users sounds like a huge bandwidth and storage undertaking, but if anyone can do it, it's Google. The new image handling will rollout to desktop users today, and it should hit mobile apps sometime in early 2014. There's also a bonus side effect for Google: e-mail marketing is advertising. Google exists because of advertising dollars, but they don't do e-mail marketing. They've just made a competitive form of advertising much less appealing and informative to advertisers. No doubt Google hopes this move pushes marketers to spend less on e-mail and more on Adsense.
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    There's an antitrust angle to this; it could be viewed by a court as anti-competitive. But given the prevailing winds on digital privacy, my guess would be that Google would slide by.
Paul Merrell

Google Wants to Write Your Social Media Messages For You - Search Engine Watch (#SEW) - 0 views

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    Visions of endless conversations between different people's bots with no human participation. Then a human being reads a reply and files a libel lawsuit against the human whose bot posted the reply. Can the defendant obtain dismissal on grounds that she did not write the message herself; her Google autoresponder did and therefore if anyone is liable it is Google?  Our Brave New (technological) World does and will pose many novel legal issues. My favorite so far: Assume that genetics have progressed to the point that unknown to Bill Gates, someone steals a bit of his DNA and implants it in a mother-to-be's egg. Is Bill Gates as the biological father liable for child support? Is that child an heir to Bill Gates' fortune? The current state of law in the U.S. would suggest that the answer to both questions is almost certainly "yes." The child itself is blameless and Bill Gates is his biological father.
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Movie Studios Want to Copy Megaupload's Servers - TorrentFreak [# ! N ] - 0 views

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    "Hollywood's major movie studios are protesting a request from Megaupload's legal team to put their civil lawsuit on hold for another six months. The movie studios will only agree to the request if they can get copies of the Megaupload servers stored at Cogent, something the defunct cloud-hosting service fiercely objects to."
Paul Merrell

US pushing local cops to stay mum on surveillance - Yahoo News - 0 views

  • WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration has been quietly advising local police not to disclose details about surveillance technology they are using to sweep up basic cellphone data from entire neighborhoods, The Associated Press has learned. Citing security reasons, the U.S. has intervened in routine state public records cases and criminal trials regarding use of the technology. This has resulted in police departments withholding materials or heavily censoring documents in rare instances when they disclose any about the purchase and use of such powerful surveillance equipment. Federal involvement in local open records proceedings is unusual. It comes at a time when President Barack Obama has said he welcomes a debate on government surveillance and called for more transparency about spying in the wake of disclosures about classified federal surveillance programs.
  • One well-known type of this surveillance equipment is known as a Stingray, an innovative way for law enforcement to track cellphones used by suspects and gather evidence. The equipment tricks cellphones into identifying some of their owners' account information, like a unique subscriber number, and transmitting data to police as if it were a phone company's tower. That allows police to obtain cellphone information without having to ask for help from service providers, such as Verizon or AT&T, and can locate a phone without the user even making a call or sending a text message. But without more details about how the technology works and under what circumstances it's used, it's unclear whether the technology might violate a person's constitutional rights or whether it's a good investment of taxpayer dollars. Interviews, court records and public-records requests show the Obama administration is asking agencies to withhold common information about the equipment, such as how the technology is used and how to turn it on. That pushback has come in the form of FBI affidavits and consultation in local criminal cases.
  • "These extreme secrecy efforts are in relation to very controversial, local government surveillance practices using highly invasive technology," said Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which has fought for the release of these types of records. "If public participation means anything, people should have the facts about what the government is doing to them." Harris Corp., a key manufacturer of this equipment, built a secrecy element into its authorization agreement with the Federal Communications Commission in 2011. That authorization has an unusual requirement: that local law enforcement "coordinate with the FBI the acquisition and use of the equipment." Companies like Harris need FCC authorization in order to sell wireless equipment that could interfere with radio frequencies. A spokesman from Harris Corp. said the company will not discuss its products for the Defense Department and law enforcement agencies, although public filings showed government sales of communications systems such as the Stingray accounted for nearly one-third of its $5 billion in revenue. "As a government contractor, our solutions are regulated and their use is restricted," spokesman Jim Burke said.
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  • Local police agencies have been denying access to records about this surveillance equipment under state public records laws. Agencies in San Diego, Chicago and Oakland County, Michigan, for instance, declined to tell the AP what devices they purchased, how much they cost and with whom they shared information. San Diego police released a heavily censored purchasing document. Oakland officials said police-secrecy exemptions and attorney-client privilege keep their hands tied. It was unclear whether the Obama administration interfered in the AP requests. "It's troubling to think the FBI can just trump the state's open records law," said Ginger McCall, director of the open government project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. McCall suspects the surveillance would not pass constitutional muster. "The vast amount of information it sweeps in is totally irrelevant to the investigation," she said.
  • A court case challenging the public release of information from the Tucson Police Department includes an affidavit from an FBI special agent, Bradley Morrison, who said the disclosure would "result in the FBI's inability to protect the public from terrorism and other criminal activity because through public disclosures, this technology has been rendered essentially useless for future investigations." Morrison said revealing any information about the technology would violate a federal homeland security law about information-sharing and arms-control laws — legal arguments that that outside lawyers and transparency experts said are specious and don't comport with court cases on the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. The FBI did not answer questions about its role in states' open records proceedings.
  • But a former Justice Department official said the federal government should be making this argument in federal court, not a state level where different public records laws apply. "The federal government appears to be attempting to assert a federal interest in the information being sought, but it's going about it the wrong way," said Dan Metcalfe, the former director of the Justice Department's office of information and privacy. Currently Metcalfe is the executive director of American University's law school Collaboration on Government Secrecy project. A criminal case in Tallahassee cites the same homeland security laws in Morrison's affidavit, court records show, and prosecutors told the court they consulted with the FBI to keep portions of a transcript sealed. That transcript, released earlier this month, revealed that Stingrays "force" cellphones to register their location and identifying information with the police device and enables officers to track calls whenever the phone is on.
  • One law enforcement official familiar with the Tucson lawsuit, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak about internal discussions, said federal lawyers told Tucson police they couldn't hand over a PowerPoint presentation made by local officers about how to operate the Stingray device. Federal officials forwarded Morrison's affidavit for use in the Tucson police department's reply to the lawsuit, rather than requesting the case be moved to federal court. In Sarasota, Florida, the U.S. Marshals Service confiscated local records on the use of the surveillance equipment, removing the documents from the reach of Florida's expansive open-records law after the ACLU asked under Florida law to see the documents. The ACLU has asked a judge to intervene. The Marshals Service said it deputized the officer as a federal agent and therefore the records weren't accessible under Florida law.
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    The Florida case is particularly interesting because Florida is within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which has just ruled that law enforcement must obtain a search warrant from a court before using equipment to determine a cell phone's location.  
Paul Merrell

Washington becomes first state to pass law protecting net neutrality - Mar. 6, 2018 - 0 views

  • n a bipartisan effort, the state's legislators passed House Bill 2282. which was signed into law Monday by Gov. Jay Inslee. "Washington will be the first state in the nation to preserve the open internet," Inslee said at the bill signing. The state law, approved by the legislature last month, is to safeguard net neutrality protections, which have been repealed by the Federal Communications Commission and are scheduled to officially end April 23. Net neutrality requires internet service providers to treat all online content the same, meaning they can't deliberately speed up or slow down traffic from specific websites to put their own content at advantage over rivals. The FCC's decision to overturn net neutrality has been championed by the telecom industry, but widely criticized by technology companies and consumer advocacy groups. Attorneys general from more than 20 red and blue states filed a lawsuit in January to stop the repeal. Inslee said the new measure would protect an open internet in Washington, which he described as having "allowed the free flow of information and ideas in one of the greatest demonstrations of free speech in our history." HB2282 bars internet service providers in the state from blocking content, applications, or services, or slowing down traffic on the basis of content or whether they got paid to favor certain traffic. The law goes into effect June 6.
Paul Merrell

Lessons (So Far) From WhatsApp v. NSO - Lawfare - 0 views

  • NSO Group, an Israeli vendor of “lawful” hacking tools designed to infect a target’s phone with spyware, is regarded by many as a bad actor. The group claims to be shocked when its products are misused, as they have been in Mexico, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. One incident might be excusable, but the group’s continued enabling of misbehavior has resulted in well-earned enmity. Recently, Facebook struck back. NSO Group deployed a weaponized exploit for Facebook’s WhatsApp messenger, integrated it into its Pegasus malcode system, and offered it to its customers (a mix of legitimate government agencies and nefarious government actors) interested in hacking WhatsApp users beginning in April. This was a particularly powerful exploit because it required no user interaction and the only sign of the exploit a user might discover would be a series of “missed calls” received on the user’s phone. Facebook patched the vulnerability on May 13, blocking the NSO campaign. Facebook wasn’t satisfied with simply closing the vulnerability. In cooperation with CitizenLab, Facebook identified more than 100 incidents in which NSO Group’s WhatsApp exploit appeared to target human rights activists and journalists. In total, Facebook and CitizenLab identified 1,400 targets (which apparently also included government officials in U.S. allied governments). They then filed a federal lawsuit against NSO Group, closed NSO Group member accounts, and, most damaging of all to NSO’s customers, sent a notice to all identified victims alerting them of the attack. This meant that all targets, both dissidents and drug lords alike, were notified of this surveillance. The lawsuit will be a case to watch. Facebook has already revealed a large amount of detail concerning NSO Group’s internal workings, including the hands-on nature of its business model: NSO Group actively assists countries in hacking targets. For example, we now know that while an NSO Group employee may not press the “Enter” key for a target, NSO employees do act to advise and consult on targeting; and NSO Group is largely responsible for running the infrastructure used to exploit targets and manage implants. Expect more revelations like this as the case proceeds.
Paul Merrell

Is Apple an Illegal Monopoly? | OneZero - 0 views

  • That’s not a bug. It’s a function of Apple policy. With some exceptions, the company doesn’t let users pay app makers directly for their apps or digital services. They can only pay Apple, which takes a 30% cut of all revenue and then passes 70% to the developer. (For subscription services, which account for the majority of App Store revenues, that 30% cut drops to 15% after the first year.) To tighten its grip, Apple prohibits the affected apps from even telling users how they can pay their creators directly.In 2018, unwilling to continue paying the “Apple tax,” Netflix followed Spotify and Amazon’s Kindle books app in pulling in-app purchases from its iOS app. Users must now sign up elsewhere, such as on the company’s website, in order for the app to become usable. Of course, these brands are big enough to expect that many users will seek them out anyway.
  • Smaller app developers, meanwhile, have little choice but to play by Apple’s rules. That’s true even when they’re competing with Apple’s own apps, which pay no such fees and often enjoy deeper access to users’ devices and information.Now, a handful of developers are speaking out about it — and government regulators are beginning to listen. David Heinemeier Hansson, the co-founder of the project management software company Basecamp, told members of the U.S. House antitrust subcommittee in January that navigating the App Store’s fees, rules, and review processes can feel like a “Kafka-esque nightmare.”One of the world’s most beloved companies, Apple has long enjoyed a reputation for user-friendly products, and it has cultivated an image as a high-minded protector of users’ privacy. The App Store, launched in 2008, stands as one of its most underrated inventions; it has powered the success of the iPhone—perhaps the most profitable product in human history. The concept was that Apple and developers could share in one another’s success with the iPhone user as the ultimate beneficiary.
  • But critics say that gauzy success tale belies the reality of a company that now wields its enormous market power to bully, extort, and sometimes even destroy rivals and business partners alike. The iOS App Store, in their telling, is a case study in anti-competitive corporate behavior. And they’re fighting to change that — by breaking its choke hold on the Apple ecosystem.
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  • Whether Apple customers have a real choice in mobile platforms, once they’ve bought into the company’s ecosystem, is another question. In theory, they could trade in their pricey hardware for devices that run Android, which offers equivalents of many iOS features and apps. In reality, Apple has built its empire on customer lock-in: making its own gadgets and services work seamlessly with one another, but not with those of rival companies. Tasks as simple as texting your friends can become a migraine-inducing mess when you switch from iOS to Android. The more Apple products you buy, the more onerous it becomes to abandon ship.
  • The case against Apple goes beyond iOS. At a time when Apple is trying to reinvent itself as a services company to offset plateauing hardware sales — pushing subscriptions to Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple News+, and Apple Arcade, as well as its own credit card — the antitrust concerns are growing more urgent. Once a theoretical debate, the question of whether its App Store constitutes an illegal monopoly is now being actively litigated on multiple fronts.
  • The company faces an antitrust lawsuit from consumers; a separate antitrust lawsuit from developers; a formal antitrust complaint from Spotify in the European Union; investigations by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice; and an inquiry by the antitrust subcommittee of the U.S House of Representatives. At stake are not only Apple’s profits, but the future of mobile software.Apple insists that it isn’t a monopoly, and that it strives to make the app store a fair and level playing field even as its own apps compete on that field. But in the face of unprecedented scrutiny, there are signs that the famously stubborn company may be feeling the pressure to prove it.
  • Tile is hardly alone in its grievances. Apple’s penchant for copying key features of third-party apps and integrating them into its operating system is so well-known among developers that it has a name: “Sherlocking.” It’s a reference to the time—in the early 2000s—when Apple kneecapped a popular third-party web-search interface for Mac OS X, called Watson. Apple built virtually all of Watson’s functionality into its own feature, called Sherlock.In a 2006 blog post, Watson’s developer, Karelia Software, recalled how Apple’s then-CEO Steve Jobs responded when they complained about the company’s 2002 power play. “Here’s how I see it,” Jobs said, according to Karelia founder Dan Wood’s loose paraphrase. “You know those handcars, the little machines that people stand on and pump to move along on the train tracks? That’s Karelia. Apple is the steam train that owns the tracks.”From an antitrust standpoint, the metaphor is almost too perfect. It was the monopoly power of railroads in the late 19th century — and their ability to make or break the businesses that used their tracks — that spurred the first U.S. antitrust regulations.There’s another Jobs quote that’s relevant here. Referencing Picasso’s famous saying, “Good artists copy, great artists steal,” Jobs said of Apple in 2006. “We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” Company executives later tried to finesse the quote’s semantics, but there’s no denying that much of iOS today is built on ideas that were not originally Apple’s.
Paul Merrell

Facebook to Pay $550 Million to Settle Facial Recognition Suit - The New York Times - 2 views

  • Facebook said on Wednesday that it had agreed to pay $550 million to settle a class-action lawsuit over its use of facial recognition technology in Illinois, giving privacy groups a major victory that again raised questions about the social network’s data-mining practices.The case stemmed from Facebook’s photo-labeling service, Tag Suggestions, which uses face-matching software to suggest the names of people in users’ photos. The suit said the Silicon Valley company violated an Illinois biometric privacy law by harvesting facial data for Tag Suggestions from the photos of millions of users in the state without their permission and without telling them how long the data would be kept. Facebook has said the allegations have no merit.Under the agreement, Facebook will pay $550 million to eligible Illinois users and for the plaintiffs’ legal fees. The sum dwarfs the $380.5 million that the Equifax credit reporting agency agreed this month to pay to settle a class-action case over a 2017 consumer data breach.
Paul Merrell

NSA Will Destroy Archived Metadata When Program Stops - 0 views

  • Four months from now, at the same time that the National Security Agency finally abandons the massive domestic telephone dragnet exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, it will also stop perusing the vast archive of data collected by the program. The NSA announced on Monday that it will expunge all the telephone metadata it previously swept up, citing Section 215 of the U.S.A Patriot Act. The program was ruled illegal by a federal appeals court in May. In June, Congress voted to end the program, but gave the NSA until the end of November to phase it out. The historical metadata —  records of American phone calls showing who called who, when, and for how long — will be put out of the reach of analysts on November 29, although technical personnel will have access for three more months. The program started 14 years ago, and operated under rules requiring data be retained for five years, and then destroyed.
  • The only possible hold-up, ironically, would be if any of the civil lawsuits prompted by the program prohibit the destruction of the data. “The telephony metadata” lawsuits be “preserved solely because of preservation obligations in pending civil litigation,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence announced. “As soon as possible, NSA lawsuits destroy the Section 215 bulk telephony metadata upon expiration of its litigation preservation obligations.” ACLU staff attorney Alex Abdo told The Intercept his organization is “pleased that the NSA intends to purge the call records it has collected illegally.” But, he added: “Even with today’s pledge, the devil may be in the details.”
Paul Merrell

Obama to propose legislation to protect firms that share cyberthreat data - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • President Obama plans to announce legislation Tuesday that would shield companies from lawsuits for sharing computer threat data with the government in an effort to prevent cyber­attacks. On the heels of a destructive attack at Sony Pictures Entertainment and major breaches at JPMorgan Chase and retail chains, Obama is intent on capitalizing on the heightened sense of urgency to improve the security of the nation’s networks, officials said. “He’s been doing everything he can within his executive authority to move the ball on this,” said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss legislation that has not yet been released. “We’ve got to get something in place that allows both industry and government to work more closely together.”
  • The legislation is part of a broader package, to be sent to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, that includes measures to help protect consumers and students against ­cyberattacks and to give law enforcement greater authority to combat cybercrime. The provision’s goal is to “enshrine in law liability protection for the private sector for them to share specific information — cyberthreat indicators — with the government,” the official said. Some analysts questioned the need for such legislation, saying there are adequate measures in place to enable sharing between companies and the government and among companies.
  • “We think the current information-sharing regime is adequate,” said Mark Jaycox, legislative analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy group. “More companies need to use it, but the idea of broad legal immunity isn’t needed right now.” The administration official disagreed. The lack of such immunity is what prevents many companies from greater sharing of data with the government, the official said. “We have heard that time and time again,” the official said. The proposal, which builds on a 2011 administration bill, grants liability protection to companies that provide indicators of cyberattacks and threats to the Department of Homeland Security.
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  • But in a provision likely to raise concerns from privacy advocates, the administration wants to require DHS to share that information “in as near real time as possible” with other government agencies that have a cybersecurity mission, the official said. Those include the National Security Agency, the Pentagon’s ­Cyber Command, the FBI and the Secret Service. “DHS needs to take an active lead role in ensuring that unnecessary personal information is not shared with intelligence authorities,” Jaycox said. The debates over government surveillance prompted by disclosures from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have shown that “the agencies already have a tremendous amount of unnecessary information,” he said.
  • The administration official stressed that the legislation will require companies to remove unnecessary personal information before furnishing it to the government in order to qualify for liability protection. It also will impose limits on the use of the data for cybersecurity crimes and instances in which there is a threat of death or bodily harm, such as kidnapping, the official said. And it will require DHS and the attorney general to develop guidelines for the federal government’s use and retention of the data. It will not authorize a company to take offensive cyber-measures to defend itself, such as “hacking back” into a server or computer outside its own network to track a breach. The bill also will provide liability protection to companies that share data with private-sector-developed organizations set up specifically for that purpose. Called information sharing and analysis organizations, these groups often are set up by particular industries, such as banking, to facilitate the exchange of data and best practices.
  • Efforts to pass information-sharing legislation have stalled in the past five years, blocked primarily by privacy concerns. The package also contains provisions that would allow prosecution for the sale of botnets or access to armies of compromised computers that can be used to spread malware, would criminalize the overseas sale of stolen U.S. credit card and bank account numbers, would expand federal law enforcement authority to deter the sale of spyware used to stalk people or commit identity theft, and would give courts the authority to shut down botnets being used for criminal activity, such as denial-of-service attacks.
  • It would reaffirm that federal racketeering law applies to cybercrimes and amends the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act by ensuring that “insignificant conduct” does not fall within the scope of the statute. A third element of the package is legislation Obama proposed Monday to help protect consumers and students against cyberattacks. The theft of personal financial information “is a direct threat to the economic security of American families, and we’ve got to stop it,” Obama said. The plan, unveiled in a speech at the Federal Trade Commission, would require companies to notify customers within 30 days after the theft of personal information is discovered. Right now, data breaches are handled under a patchwork of state laws that the president said are confusing and costly to enforce. Obama’s plan would streamline those into one clear federal standard and bolster requirements for companies to notify customers. Obama is proposing closing loopholes to make it easier to track down cybercriminals overseas who steal and sell identities. “The more we do to protect consumer information and privacy, the harder it is for hackers to damage our businesses and hurt our economy,” he said.
  • In October, Obama signed an order to protect consumers from identity theft by strengthening security features in credit cards and the terminals that process them. Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said there is concern that a federal standard would “preempt stronger state laws” about how and when companies have to notify consumers. The Student Digital Privacy Act would ensure that data entered would be used only for educational purposes. It would prohibit companies from selling student data to third-party companies for purposes other than education. Obama also plans to introduce a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. And the White House will host a summit on cybersecurity and consumer protection on Feb. 13 at Stanford University.
Paul Merrell

Net neutrality comment fraud will be investigated by government | Ars Technica - 0 views

  • The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) will investigate the use of impersonation in public comments on the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality repeal. Congressional Democrats requested the investigation last month, and the GAO has granted the request. While the investigation request was spurred by widespread fraud in the FCC's net neutrality repeal docket, Democrats asked the GAO to also "examine whether this shady practice extends to other agency rulemaking processes." The GAO will do just that, having told Democrats in a letter that it will "review the extent and pervasiveness of fraud and the misuse of American identities during federal rulemaking processes."
  • The GAO provides independent, nonpartisan audits and investigations for Congress. The GAO previously agreed to investigate DDoS attacks that allegedly targeted the FCC comment system, also in response to a request by Democratic lawmakers. The Democrats charged that Chairman Ajit Pai's FCC did not provide enough evidence that the attacks actually happened, and they asked the GAO to find out what evidence the FCC used to make its determination. Democrats also asked the GAO to examine whether the FCC is prepared to prevent future attacks. The DDoS investigation should happen sooner than the new one on comment fraud because the GAO accepted that request in October.
  • The FCC's net neutrality repeal received more than 22 million comments, but millions were apparently submitted by bots and falsely attributed to real Americans (including some dead ones) who didn't actually submit comments. Various analyses confirmed the widespread spam and fraud; one analysis found that 98.5 percent of unique comments opposed the repeal plan.
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  • The FCC's comment system makes no attempt to verify submitters' identities, and allows bulk uploads so that groups collecting signatures for letters and petitions can get them on the docket easily. It was like that even before Pai took over as chair, but the fraud became far more pervasive in the proceeding that led to the repeal of net neutrality rules. Pai's FCC did not remove any fraudulent comments from the record. Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called for a delay in the net neutrality repeal vote because of the fraud, but the Republican majority pushed the vote through as scheduled last month. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been investigating the comment fraud and says the FCC has stonewalled the investigation by refusing to provide evidence. Schneiderman is also leading a lawsuit to reverse the FCC's net neutrality repeal, and the comment fraud could play a role in the case. "We understand that the FCC's rulemaking process requires it to address all comments it receives, regardless of who submits them," Congressional Democrats said in their letter requesting a GAO investigation. "However, we do not believe any outside parties should be permitted to generate any comments to any federal governmental entity using information it knows to be false, such as the identities of those submitting the comments."
Gary Edwards

Two Microsofts: Mulling an alternate reality | ZDNet - 1 views

  • Judge Jackson had it right. And the Court of Appeals? Not so much
  • Judge Jackson is an American hero and news of his passing thumped me hard. His ruling against Microsoft and the subsequent overturn of that ruling resulted, IMHO, in two extraordinary directions that changed the world. Sure the what-if game is interesting, but the reality itself is stunning enough. Of course, Judge Jackson sought to break the monopoly. The US Court of Appeals overturn resulted in the monopoly remaining intact, but the Internet remaining free and open. Judge Jackson's breakup plan had a good shot at achieving both a breakup of the monopoly and, a free and open Internet. I admit though that at the time I did not favor the Judge's plan. And i actually did submit a proposal based on Microsoft having to both support the WiNE project, and, provide a complete port to WiNE to any software provider requesting a port. I wanted to break the monopolist's hold on the Windows Productivity Environment and the hundreds of millions of investment dollars and time that had been spent on application development forever trapped on that platform. For me, it was the productivity platform that had to be broken.
  • I assume the good Judge thought that separating the Windows OS from Microsoft Office / Applications would force the OS to open up the secret API's even as the OS continued to evolve. Maybe. But a full disclosure of the API's coupled with the community service "port to WiNE" requirement might have sped up the process. Incredibly, the "Undocumented Windows Secrets" industry continues to thrive, and the legendary Andrew Schulman's number is still at the top of Silicon Valley legal profession speed dials. http://goo.gl/0UGe8 Oh well. The Court of Appeals stopped the breakup, leaving the Windows Productivity Platform intact. Microsoft continues to own the "client" in "Client/Server" computing. Although Microsoft was temporarily stopped from leveraging their desktop monopoly to an iron fisted control and dominance of the Internet, I think what were watching today with the Cloud is Judge Jackson's worst nightmare. And mine too. A great transition is now underway, as businesses and enterprises begin the move from legacy client/server business systems and processes to a newly emerging Cloud Productivity Platform. In this great transition, Microsoft holds an inside straight. They have all the aces because they own the legacy desktop productivity platform, and can control the transition to the Cloud. No doubt this transition is going to happen. And it will severely disrupt and change Microsoft's profit formula. But if the Redmond reprobate can provide a "value added" transition of legacy business systems and processes, and direct these new systems to the Microsoft Cloud, the profits will be immense.
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  • Judge Jackson sought to break the ability of Microsoft to "leverage" their existing monopoly into the Internet and his plan was overturned and replaced by one based on judicial oversight. Microsoft got a slap on the wrist from the Court of Appeals, but were wailed on with lawsuits from the hundreds of parties injured by their rampant criminality. Some put the price of that criminality as high as $14 Billion in settlements. Plus, the shareholders forced Chairman Bill to resign. At the end of the day though, Chairman Bill was right. Keeping the monopoly intact was worth whatever penalty Microsoft was forced to pay. He knew that even the judicial over-site would end one day. Which it did. And now his company is ready to go for it all by leveraging and controlling the great productivity transition. No business wants to be hostage to a cold heart'd monopolist. But there is huge difference between a non-disruptive and cost effective, process-by-process value-added transition to a Cloud Productivity Platform, and, the very disruptive and costly "rip-out-and-replace" transition offered by Google, ZOHO, Box, SalesForce and other Cloud Productivity contenders. Microsoft, and only Microsoft, can offer the value-added transition path. If they get the Cloud even halfway right, they lawsuits own business productivity far into the future. Rest in Peace Judge Jackson. Your efforts were heroic and lawsuits be remembered as such. ~ge~
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    Comments on the latest SVN article mulling the effects of Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's anti trust ruling and proposed break up of Microsoft. comment: "Chinese Wall" Ummm, there was a Chinese Wall between Microsoft Os and the MS Applciations layer. At least that's what Chairman Bill promised developers at a 1990 OS/2-Windows Conference I attended. It was a developers luncheon, hosted by Microsoft, with Chairman Bill speaking to about 40 developers with applications designed to run on the then soon to be released Windows 3.0. In his remarks, the Chairman described his vision of commoditizing the personal computer market through an open hardware-reference platform on the one side of the Windows OS, and provisioning an open application developers layer on the other using open and totally transparent API's. Of course the question came up concerning the obvious advantage Microsoft applications would have. Chairman Bill answered the question by describing the Chinese Wall that existed between Microsoft's OS and Apps develop departments. He promised that OS API's would be developed privately and separate from the Apps department, and publicly disclosed to ALL developers at the same time. Oh yeah. There was lots of anti IBM - evil empire stuff too :) Of course we now know this was a line of crap. Microsoft Apps was discovered to have been using undocumented and secret Window API's. http://goo.gl/0UGe8. Microsoft Apps had a distinct advantage over the competition, and eventually the entire Windows Productivity Platform became dependent on the MSOffice core. The company I worked for back then, Pyramid Data, had the first Contact Management application for Windows; PowerLeads. Every Friday night we would release bug fixes and improvements using Wildcat BBS. By Monday morning we would be slammed with calls from users complaining that they had downloaded the Friday night patch, and now some other application would not load or function properly. Eventually we tracked th
Paul Merrell

FBI Flouts Obama Directive to Limit Gag Orders on National Security Letters - The Intercept - 0 views

  • Despite the post-Snowden spotlight on mass surveillance, the intelligence community’s easiest end-run around the Fourth Amendment since 2001 has been something called a National Security Letter. FBI agents can demand that an Internet service provider, telephone company or financial institution turn over its records on any number of people — without any judicial review whatsoever — simply by writing a letter that says the information is needed for national security purposes. The FBI at one point was cranking out over 50,000 such letters a year; by the latest count, it still issues about 60 a day. The letters look like this:
  • Recipients are legally required to comply — but it doesn’t stop there. They also aren’t allowed to mention the order to anyone, least of all the person whose data is being searched. Ever. That’s because National Security Letters almost always come with eternal gag orders. Here’s that part:
  • That means the NSL process utterly disregards the First Amendment as well. More than a year ago, President Obama announced that he was ordering the Justice Department to terminate gag orders “within a fixed time unless the government demonstrates a real need for further secrecy.” And on Feb. 3, when the Office of the Director of National Intelligence announced a handful of baby steps resulting from its “comprehensive effort to examine and enhance [its] privacy and civil liberty protections” one of the most concrete was — finally — to cap the gag orders: In response to the President’s new direction, the FBI will now presumptively terminate National Security Letter nondisclosure orders at the earlier of three years after the opening of a fully predicated investigation or the investigation’s close. Continued nondisclosures orders beyond this period are permitted only if a Special Agent in Charge or a Deputy Assistant Director determines that the statutory standards for nondisclosure continue to be satisfied and that the case agent has justified, in writing, why continued nondisclosure is appropriate.
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  • Despite the use of the word “now” in that first sentence, however, the FBI has yet to do any such thing. It has not announced any such change, nor explained how it will implement it, or when. Media inquiries were greeted with stalling and, finally, a no comment — ostensibly on advice of legal counsel. “There is pending litigation that deals with a lot of the same questions you’re asking, out of the Ninth Circuit,” FBI spokesman Chris Allen told me. “So for now, we’ll just have to decline to comment.” FBI lawyers are working on a court filing for that case, and “it will address” the new policy, he said. He would not say when to expect it.
  • There is indeed a significant case currently before the federal appeals court in San Francisco. Oral arguments were in October. A decision could come any time. But in that case, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which is representing two unnamed communications companies that received NSLs, is calling for the entire NSL statute to be thrown out as unconstitutional — not for a tweak to the gag. And it has a March 2013 district court ruling in its favor. “The gag is a prior restraint under the First Amendment, and prior restraints have to meet an extremely high burden,” said Andrew Crocker, a legal fellow at EFF. That means going to court and meeting the burden of proof — not just signing a letter. Or as the Cato Institute’s Julian Sanchez put it, “To have such a low bar for denying persons or companies the right to speak about government orders they have been served with is anathema. And it is not very good for accountability.”
  • In a separate case, a wide range of media companies (including First Look Media, the non-profit digital media venture that produces The Intercept) are supporting a lawsuit filed by Twitter, demanding the right to say specifically how many NSLs it has received. But simply releasing companies from a gag doesn’t assure the kind of accountability that privacy advocates are saying is required by the Constitution. “What the public has to remember is a NSL is asking for your information, but it’s not asking it from you,” said Michael German, a former FBI agent who is now a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice. “The vast majority of these things go to the very large telecommunications and financial companies who have a large stake in maintaining a good relationship with the government because they’re heavily regulated entities.”
  • So, German said, “the number of NSLs that would be exposed as a result of the release of the gag order is probably very few. The person whose records are being obtained is the one who should receive some notification.” A time limit on gags going forward also raises the question of whether past gag orders will now be withdrawn. “Obviously there are at this point literally hundreds of thousands of National Security Letters that are more than three years old,” said Sanchez. Individual review is therefore unlikely, but there ought to be some recourse, he said. And the further back you go, “it becomes increasingly implausible that a significant percentage of those are going to entail some dire national security risk.” The NSL program has a troubled history. The absolute secrecy of the program and resulting lack of accountability led to systemic abuse as documented by repeated inspector-general investigations, including improperly authorized NSLs, factual misstatements in the NSLs, improper requests under NSL statutes, requests for information based on First Amendment protected activity, “after-the-fact” blanket NSLs to “cover” illegal requests, and hundreds of NSLs for “community of interest” or “calling circle” information without any determination that the telephone numbers were relevant to authorized national security investigations.
  • Obama’s own hand-selected “Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies” recommended in December 2013 that NSLs should only be issued after judicial review — just like warrants — and that any gag should end within 180 days barring judicial re-approval. But FBI director James Comey objected to the idea, calling NSLs “a very important tool that is essential to the work we do.” His argument evidently prevailed with Obama.
  • NSLs have managed to stay largely under the American public’s radar. But, Crocker says, “pretty much every time I bring it up and give the thumbnail, people are shocked. Then you go into how many are issued every year, and they go crazy.” Want to send me your old NSL and see if we can set a new precedent? Here’s how to reach me. And here’s how to leak to me.
Paul Merrell

NSA Doesn't Want Court That Found Phone Dragnet Illegal to Actually Do Anything About It - 1 views

  • The National Security Agency doesn’t think it’s relevant that its dragnet of American telephone data — information on who’s calling who, when, and for how long — was ruled illegal back in May. An American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit is asking the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which reached that conclusion, to immediately enjoin the program. But the U.S. government responded on Monday evening, saying that Congressional passage of the USA Freedom Act trumped the earlier ruling. The Freedom Act ordered an end to the program — but with a six-month wind-down period.
  • The ACLU still maintains that even temporary revival is a blatant infringement on American’s legal rights. “We strongly disagree with the government’s claim that recent reform legislation was meant to give the NSA’s phone-records dragnet a new lease on life,” said Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU’s deputy legal director in a statement. “The appeals court should order the NSA to end this surveillance now.  It’s unlawful and it’s an entirely unnecessary intrusion into the privacy of millions of people.” On Monday, the Obama administration announced that at the same time the National Security Agency ends the dragnet, it will also stop perusing the vast archive of data collected by the program. Read the U.S. government brief responding to the ACLU below:
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    Go ACLU!
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