Legislating Away Councilman

Senate bill proposes to close e-mail wiretapping “loophole” – Senator Leahy’s press release (S.936 – text not yet available at thomas.loc.gov

As two of the leading privacy advocates in the U.S. Senate, Leahy and Sununu sponsored the E-Mail Privacy Act to stave off the privacy erosions generated by a recent ruling of the First Circuit Court of Appeals in the United States v. Councilman case. Last year, the court, in a 2-1 ruling by a panel of the court that is being appealed to the full court, found it permissible for an Internet Service Provider (ISP), without permission, to systematically intercept, copy and read its customers’ incoming emails for corporate gain as the messages were being transmitted.

The court based its ruling on its interpretation of the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), a law which Leahy wrote and sponsored.

“In what was clearly a strained reading of the law (ECPA), the court condoned an unacceptable privacy intrusion,” said Leahy, who is the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I know firsthand that we wrote and enacted that law with one purpose in mind – to ensure that Americans could enjoy the same amount of privacy in their online communication as they do in the offline world. Our bill would restate and underscore Congress’s intent and restore the law to its full purpose.”

This decision has serious ramifications beyond allowing ISPs to snoop among their customers’ e-mails, Leahy said. It would also allow the government to conduct searches without complying with the wiretap procedures that to date have been a standard part of investigative practice.

OT: How History Gets Made

A fascinating tale of how the most famous image of the fall of Saigon does not depict what most believe it shows: Thirty Years at 300 Millimeters

THIRTY years ago I was fortunate enough to take a photograph that has become perhaps the most recognizable image of the fall of Saigon – you know it, the one that is always described as showing an American helicopter evacuating people from the roof of the United States Embassy. Well, like so many things about the Vietnam War, it’s not exactly what it seems. In fact, the photo is not of the embassy at all; the helicopter was actually on the roof of an apartment building in downtown Saigon where senior Central Intelligence Agency employees were housed.

OT: How Different the Mac and Windows Worlds

I, too, am looking forward to this upgrade without any of the upset that I know I feel when I have to upgrade my wife’s Windows machine:

The Strange Pleasure of Upgrading Software

Like many Apple computer users, I’m in a pleasant state of expectation. I’ve ordered Apple’s updated operating system, but it hasn’t yet arrived. I have housecleaning to do before I can install it: deleting dead programs in my applications folder, for instance, and backing up my hard drive. Then will come the almost visceral pleasure of installing new software. This is one of the most pleasant tasks I know, vastly easier than straightening up the barn or taking the truck in for service.

[…] Until a few years ago, the release of a new version of Windows would cause a splendid national frenzy. Millions and millions of units were wrapped and shipped and received with a nervous excitement. It was, in those days before huge multiplayer online games, the closest possible thing to a collective computer experience. And then the fun went out of it, after too many versions, too many software patches in rapid succession and, worst of all, the uneasy sense that an upgrade could turn into a can of worms.

Apple has not been perfect either, its imperfections amplified by a customer base as curmudgeonly as it is fanatical. But to me, coming from that other world, upgrading Apple software feels almost redemptive.

When Tiger comes, I’ll open the shipping box and tear off the shrink-wrap. But then I’ll have to remember that inside the box, there will be only a disk or two. (The days of printed manuals are long gone.) I’ll slip the disk into my computer, agree to the provisions of a contract I haven’t really read [emphasis added] and then sit back, waiting until the moment I can restart my computer and see what these pristine new instructions contain.

Why Take On Real Pirates?

When you can pick on college students and movie videotapers instead: U.S. Stand on Piracy in China

News that the Bush administration will not take its dispute with China to the W.T.O. seems likely to disappoint business organizations and members of Congress who have advocated action to stamp out the counterfeiting of films, music and software.

But the trade representative’s review, which began last year, failed to generate enough evidence demonstrating the specific losses caused to United States industry by particular cases of unauthorized copying, the executive said.

Riiiiight — but we’ll happily swallow the RIAA/MPAA/SBA arguments on “lost sales” to support criminalizing copyright infringement by US citizens.

Santorum’s Weather Push

I got an EFF Action Alert this morning — regarding S.786: National Weather Services Duties Act of 2005. The key bit is the effort to undo what was a great decision by the National Weather Service – making government collected data openly available to anyone who wants to make use of it. Instead, this bill insists that the NWS only release data to enable services that the private sector won’t generate – a “shoulda, coulda” requirement that essentially means release nothing:


  1. NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE- To protect life and property, the Secretary of Commerce shall, through the National Weather Service, be responsible for the following:

    1. The preparation and issuance of severe weather forecasts and warnings designed for the protection of life and property of the general public.

    2. The preparation and issuance of hydrometeorological guidance and core forecast information.

    3. The collection and exchange of meteorological, hydrological, climatic, and oceanographic data and information.

    4. The provision of reports, forecasts, warnings, and other advice to the Secretary of Transportation and other persons pursuant to section 44720 of title 49, United States Code.

    5. Such other duties and responsibilities as the Secretary shall specify.

  2. COMPETITION WITH PRIVATE SECTOR- The Secretary of Commerce shall not provide, or assist other entities in providing, a product or service (other than a product or service described in subsection (a)(1)) that is or could be provided by the private sector unless–

    1. the Secretary determines that the private sector is unwilling or unable to provide such product or service; or

    2. the United States Government is obligated to provide such product or service under international aviation agreements to provide meteorological services and exchange meteorological information.

Voice your opposition to this innovation-blocking bill.

BitTorrent Users Targeted in HK

Hong Kong charges man with online piracy [pdf] (via Slashdot)

Hong Kong customs officials on Wednesday filed copyright violation charges against a 38-year-old man who allegedly uploaded three movies onto the Internet using the popular file-sharing program BitTorrent.

The suspect, who has only been identified by his surname, Chan, faces three charges of attempting to distribute copies of copyrighted material without authorization, the government said in a statement.

[…] Separately, a Hong Kong movie industry trade association said it plans to send letters to 100 BitTorrent users through their Internet service providers threatening legal action unless they stop using the software.

Be interesting to see under what sort of legal theory they will frame their “request.”

Parody? Exemption? Naah!

Wal-Mart targets parody site [pdf] (via Slashdot)

A college student was forced to redesign a Web site satirizing a foundation run by Wal-Mart after the discount retail giant claimed he violated copyright law by using graphics from the company’s Web site.

Daniel Papasian, 20, of West Hartford, Conn., said he was forced to change his Web site — http://www.walmart-foundation.org — after lawyers for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. sent his Web host a cease-and-desist order last week.

Wal-Mart claimed Papasian violated copyright law and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by improperly using images from the real Wal-Mart Foundation’s Web site — http://www.walmartfoundation.org.

[…] Papasian launched the Web site April 16 for an art class at Carnegie Mellon University called “Parasitic Media.” The class teaches students about the political uses of satire in the media. He acknowledged using Wal-Mart’s graphics on his Web site but said he believed he could use the images as part of a parody.

Papsian’s press release

“They’re trying to shut me down by going after me for copyright infringement, but I have a hard time believing that’s what they care about. They didn’t even bother to contact me to ask that anything be removed from my site. They’re not worried because my page has a similar layout or design. They’re worried because my ideas are a threat to them. They’re threatened by my belief that big corporations like Wal-Mart have too much influence on the world. Multinational corporations have won immense powers over governments with recent international trade agreements, so it’s no surprise they’re going to start going after people directly.”

Papasian is not discouraged by the cease and desist, however. He plans on documenting his experience and making it available on his site, www.walmart-foundation.org.

“I don’t want to get sued,” said Papasian. “But I won’t be silenced.”

OT: Where Has This Guy Been?

After being missing in action for so long, it’s gratifying to hear him finally speak up — Al Gore’s speech yesterday at the Hyatt Regency Washington: “An American heresy”

Having gone through that experience, I can tell you — without any doubt whatsoever — that if the justices who formed the majority in Bush v. Gore had not only all been nominated to the Court by a Republican president, but had also been confirmed by only Republican Senators in party-line votes, America would not have accepted that court’s decision.

Moreover, if the confirmation of those justices in the majority had been forced through by running roughshod over 200 years of Senate precedents and engineered by a crass partisan decision on a narrow party line vote to break the Senate’s rules of procedure then no speech imaginable could have calmed the passions aroused in our country.

As Aristotle once said of virtue, respect for the rule of law is “one thing.”

It is indivisible.

And so long as it remains indivisible, so will our country.

But if either major political party is ever so beguiled by a lust for power that it abandons this unifying principle, then the fabric of our democracy will be torn.

The survival of freedom depends upon the rule of law.

CNN’s coverage: Gore: Filibuster flap about GOP domination [pdf]

Once Again, A Little Clarity from Bruce Schneier

Fight fraud not ID theft

ID theft is a misnomer which is hurting the fight against fraud, according to encryption guru Bruce Schneier. Instead of talking about ID theft it’s better to talk about fraud due to impersonation, he claimed.

The crime exists because identifying information about a person is easy to steal and valuable once it is stolen. Schneier said that rather than focusing on making identity harder to steal it makes more sense to make information harder to use for criminal purposes. “The industry is going the wrong way in the US by worrying about keeping identity details secret. The focus should be on fraud. European countries, such as Holland [The Netherlands], are doing better than the US,” he said.

So, Are You Inside, Or Outside, The Control Loop?

And, how can you tell? Ads That Know What You Want

If you’re like many web users, you probably find it creepy that your local paper knows you’re looking for new wheels. Even so, advertisers are betting you’re far more likely to click on the car dealer’s ad than a random banner for a dating site or DVD rentals.

That’s the theory behind behavioral marketing — a growing niche in the online advertising industry focused on targeting promotional messages to an individual’s online activities. Some might call such tracking across websites by a less flattering name: adware. Marketers call it a promising revenue stream.

[…] Targeted marketing is nothing new in the online world, as anyone who’s ever received personalized book recommendations from Amazon.com can attest. However, by recording peoples’ movements over networks of web properties rather than just individual sites, some marketers are betting that they will be able to improve response rates to online ad campaigns dramatically.

[…] “It is probably true that people don’t mind getting more-relevant ads, but there’s a question of what they’re willing to do for it, and whether they understand the bargain at hand,” said Ari Schwartz, associate director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, which supports broader restrictions on online profiling.