May 22, 2006

On Why Wired Posted The AT&T Docs [3:33 pm]

Wired News: Why We Published the AT&T Docs

A file detailing aspects of AT&T’s alleged participation in the National Security Agency’s warrantless domestic wiretap operation is sitting in a San Francisco courthouse. But the public cannot see it because, at AT&T’s insistence, it remains under seal in court records.

[...] AT&T claims information in the file is proprietary and that it would suffer severe harm if it were released.

Based on what we’ve seen, Wired News disagrees. In addition, we believe the public’s right to know the full facts in this case outweighs AT&T’s claims to secrecy.

As a result, we are publishing the complete text of a set of documents from the EFF’s primary witness in the case, former AT&T employee and whistle-blower Mark Klein — information obtained by investigative reporter Ryan Singel through an anonymous source close to the litigation. The documents, available on Wired News as of Monday, consist of 30 pages, with an affidavit attributed to Klein, eight pages of AT&T documents marked “proprietary,” and several pages of news clippings and other public information related to government-surveillance issues.

Slashdot: Wired Releases Full Text of AT&T NSA Document

Later: a WaPo article — Web Site Says Papers May Be From Lawsuit Filed Against AT&T

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I Don’t Think There’s Any “May” About It [3:30 pm]

Voice Encryption May Draw U.S. Scrutiny

Philip R. Zimmermann wants to protect online privacy. Who could object to that?

He has found out once already. Trained as a computer scientist, he developed a program in 1991 called Pretty Good Privacy, or PGP, for scrambling and unscrambling e-mail messages. It won a following among privacy rights advocates and human rights groups working overseas — and a three-year federal criminal investigation into whether he had violated export restrictions on cryptographic software. The case was dropped in 1996, and Mr. Zimmermann, who lives in Menlo Park, Calif., started PGP Inc. to sell his software commercially.

Now he is again inviting government scrutiny. On Sunday, he released a free Windows software program, Zfone, that encrypts a computer-to-computer voice conversation so both parties can be confident that no one is listening in. It became available earlier this year to Macintosh and Linux users of the system known as voice-over-Internet protocol, or VoIP.

What sets Zfone apart from comparable systems is that it does not require a web of computers to hold the keys, or long numbers, used in most encryption schemes. Instead, it performs the key exchange inside the digital voice channel while the call is being set up, so no third party has the keys.

Slashdot’s Online: Zimmermann, Encrypted VoIP, and Uncle Sam

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Google and Transparency [9:53 am]

The One Bit of Info Google Withholds: How It Works - [pdf]

“It’s somewhat of a paradox,” said Jordan Rohan, a financial analyst at RBC Capital Markets. “Google’s whole purpose is to make information easier to access — unless, of course, you want to know information about Google.”

[...] Although Google playfully reveals how much chicken and coffee its engineers consume every month, as it did during Google Press Day last year, the company won’t disclose much potentially helpful information about its core business, such as how many search queries it returns, how many companies advertise through Google and whether ad prices are increasing or decreasing.Google’s unwillingness to disclose little more than the legally required basics of how it does what it does — and where it’s headed — has left advertisers puzzled, partners confused, competitors nervous and investors frustrated. Even seasoned Wall Street analysts are left scratching their heads at precisely how Google posted $6.1 billion in revenue last year.

[...] Search advertising is praised as a cost-effective way to reach consumers when they have something specific on their minds. It’s also maddeningly complex. Unlike Yellow Pages or newspapers, many marketers have little clue when or where their ads will appear. That’s because Google’s system is a dynamic auction. Advertisers bid for placement, but price is only one factor in ranking the ads. Google also uses “click-through-rate” — if ads aren’t clicked on much, they will be replaced by others that are. Searchers are more likely to be interested in those ads, which helps marketers sell products and Google get paid.

“It’s a great system,” said Joshua Stylman, managing partner at Reprise Media Inc., a New York firm that manages search campaigns for advertisers such as Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., BellSouth Corp. and Guess Inc. “Inherently all of the constituencies have the same incentive.”

But it’s tricky to do well, and Google in August made it even harder when it began adding other factors to the ad-ranking mix, including some it wouldn’t disclose.

“It’s become more of a black box, because they don’t tell you specifically what those attributes are, nor do they explain the interplay between them,” Stylman said. “The opacity of the auction is making it more challenging to manage.”

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A Stab At Changing the Paradigm [7:42 am]

Microsoft tests ‘pay as you go’ computers [pdf]

In a departure from their traditional business models, Microsoft and hardware makers will test a pay-as-you-go plan for PC users in emerging markets around the world — letting consumers buy time on their home computers through prepaid cards and subscriptions.

The initiative, dubbed Microsoft FlexGo, aims to lower the barrier to buying a PC by requiring a smaller initial payment. After paying for minutes on the PC over time, consumers ultimately own it outright — albeit for a higher total cost than if they had paid in full up front.

After quietly testing the concept in Brazil for the past year, Microsoft and its partners are preparing to roll it out for additional tests in other parts of the world. The company will show the technology this week at its Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in Seattle.

Related: Mystery deal is high-security chip for ‘FlexGo’ [pdf]

The details of Microsoft Corp.’s mysterious deal with Transmeta Corp. have finally been revealed. And none of the speculation was even close.

The microprocessor company has been working for the past year on a high-security, power-efficient chip for Microsoft’s new “FlexGo” pay-as-you-go PC initiative in developing nations.

Slashdot’s Microsoft Introduces Pay-as-You-Go Computing

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May 21, 2006

Report from the Spam War Front [12:50 pm]

The Fight Against V1@gra (and Other Spam)

If individual users also have personal spam filters installed on their computers, their in-box spam count can be reduced to a trickle.

But spam continues to account for roughly 70 percent of all e-mail messages on the Internet, despite tough antispam laws across the globe (including the Can-Spam Act in the United States), despite vigorous lawsuits against individual junk-mail senders and despite the famous prediction, by Bill Gates at the World Economic Forum in 2004, that spam would be eradicated by 2006.

The continuing defiance of spammers was demonstrated last week when one of them forced Blue Security, an antispam company based in Israel, to shut down its services. The company gave customers the power to enact mob justice on spammers by overloading them with requests to be removed from mailing lists. A spammer in Russia retaliated by knocking out Blue Security’s Web site and threatening virus attacks against its customers. Blue Security said it would back off rather than be responsible for a “cyberwar.”

[...] Zombies now deliver half to three-quarters of all spam, according to a Federal Trade Commission report to Congress in December on the state of the spam problem. Among the zombies’ many advantages is an ever-shifting collection of I.P. addresses.

Another trump card was handed to spammers just over a year and a half ago, when VeriSign, the security and services company that controls the dot-com and dot-net network domains, unveiled a quicker way to update domain names.

Although a boon to people setting up their own sites, the new system decreased the time needed for a newly registered domain name to be activated, to 5 minutes from about 12 hours. That put spammers, armed with stolen credit cards and a willingness to buy and quickly abandon domain names, at a new advantage.

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Digital Distribution and Classical Music [12:44 pm]

Critic’s Notebook: and Online Classical (Whatever That Is)

So far, perhaps the most notable innovation that iTunes has brought to the classical field has been creating an impetus to get the musicians’ union to agree on new terms regarding broadcast rights for downloads. This paved the way, for instance, for Deutsche Grammophon to team up with the New York Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Philharmonic to sell live recordings under the rubric “DG Concerts.” This hardly represents a crass sellout to popular taste.

It remains to be seen what spin, if any, MTV gives to its classical section on Urge. There is every indication that the site is attempting to match the iTunes standard.

Related: A unimpressed review of Urge from the WaPo — New Media Player: Nice Features, but It’s No ITunes

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May 19, 2006

Berners-Lee on the Future of the WWW [5:25 pm]

Web inventor sees his brainchild ready for big leap [pdf]

“My personal view is that a lot of it is coming together now. That is very gratifying to see. We’re moving into another mode with established technology. I’m very optimistic at this moment,” Berners-Lee said in a telephone interview ahead of the annual World Wide Web conference, which will be bigger than ever before when it opens in Edinburgh, Scotland on Monday.

“The whole industrial environment is more exciting. We had the bubble and the burst, but now you see a low of young companies again. There’s renewed enthusiasm among VCs (venture capitalists) to invest in start-ups. I get a feeling of upsurge in activity.”

[...] He is no fan, however, of fenced-off Web areas specially designed for mobile devices such as the new “.mobi” suffix. He wants websites and devices to be smart enough to figure out what the best way is to present information to consumers.

He is also concerned about how some Internet providers in the United States have started to filter data, giving priority to premium data for which the operator receives an additional fee. They can do this, because they own the cables, the service, the portals and other key applications.

“The public will demand an open Internet,” he said.

On his blog, at, Berners-Lee pays hommage to the democratic principles of the designers of the Internet who decided that all data packets were created equal. “I tried then to make the Web technology, in turn, a universal, neutral, platform.”

“It is of the utmost importance that, if I connect to the Internet, and you connect to the Internet, that we can then run any Internet application we want, without discrimination as to who we are or what we are doing.”

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A Real Rhetorical Stretch [10:39 am]

Jockeying for a position in the Net Neutrality fight: Politicos propose new action on Net neutrality

Called the “Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act,” the bill is designed to “provide an insurance policy for Internet users against being harmed by broadband network operators abusing their market power to discriminate against content and service providers,” Sensenbrenner said in a statement.

Citing government statistics that 98 percent of Americans have at most two choices for broadband service, Sensenbrenner said such a “virtual duopoly” is ripe for anticompetitive practices, and “a clear antitrust remedy is needed.”

[...] Republican Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Sam Brownback of Kansas also have joined the opposition against the idea of legislating Net neutrality. In a one-page letter (click for PDF) to their Senate colleagues dated May 16, they argued that doing so would “penalize broadband access providers for making major improvements to the Internet.”

The senators also charged that such rules would “deprive parents of new technologies they may use to protect their families from online harm.”


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May 18, 2006

Salon on the EFF v. AT&T Suit [8:15 am]

AT&T can’t silence whistle-blower

A federal judge denied AT&T’s request on Wednesday to force the Electronic Frontier Foundation to return documents the nonprofit organization received from a retired AT&T employee.

The documents that former AT&T technician Mark Klein gave EFF earlier this year, and which the court has sealed, contain details of what EFF and Klein are alleging is a secret agreement between the telecommunications company and the National Security Agency to provide the government agency with illegal access to communications belonging to its customers. In a preface to the documents, Klein said he was motivated to blow the whistle in 2004 “when it became clear to me that AT&T, at the behest of the National Security Agency, had illegally installed secret computer gear designed to spy on Internet traffic.”

The documents, which Klein released to the New York Times and other newspapers before the court sealed them, describe how AT&T diverted the communications of customers to a secret room that the company maintained at its hubs in San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose, Calif., Los Angeles and Seattle. The rooms housed “computer gear for a government spy operation which taps into the company’s popular WorldNet service and the entire Internet,” Klein wrote. “These installations enable the government to look at every individual message on the Internet and analyze exactly what people are doing.”

Klein’s assertions help support a class-action lawsuit that EFF filed against AT&T in January on behalf of its customers, alleging that the company violated the wiretap statute, the FISA statute and several communications and privacy laws in aiding the government’s domestic spying operation without a court order.

EFF’s announcement, and their webpage on the suit

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Culture Shift? Or Just More Of The Same? [8:00 am]

Colleges Chase as Cheats Shift to Higher Tech

At the University of California at Los Angeles, a student loaded his class notes into a handheld e-mail device and tried to read them during an exam; a classmate turned him in. At the journalism school at San Jose State University, students were caught using spell check on their laptops when part of the exam was designed to test their ability to spell.

And at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, after students photographed test questions with their cellphone cameras, transmitted them to classmates outside the exam room and got the answers back in text messages, the university put in place a new proctoring system.

“If they’d spend as much time studying,” said an exasperated Ron Yasbin, dean of the College of Sciences at U.N.L.V., “they’d all be A students.”

[...] Mr. Dapremont said technology had made cheating easier, but added that plagiarism in writing papers was probably a bigger problem because students can easily lift other people’s writings off the Internet without attributing them.

Still, some students said they thought cheating these days was more a product of the mind-set, not the tools at hand.

“Some people put a premium on where they’re going to go in the future, and all they’re thinking about is graduate school and the next step,” said Lindsay Nicholas, a third-year student at U.C.L.A. She added that pressure to succeed “sometimes clouds everything and makes people do things that they shouldn’t do.”

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Willful Blindness [7:57 am]

Evidence of just how badly people have conceptualized what it means to “put something on the Internet:” On the Internet, College Athletes Acting Badly

The indiscretions of college students — whether it is binge drinking, cheating or hazing — may be old school, but universities now face the new reality that their students’ misbehavior will eventually be exposed on the Internet.

By the students themselves.

This new challenge to college administrators was underscored this week when the Web site posted photographs from a hazing by the Northwestern women’s soccer team, leading to the team’s suspension. Yesterday, followed up with photos from freshman, varsity and club team initiations at 12 other colleges, complete with links to the teams’ rosters. plucked and collated the often disturbing photos from, a site where students post and share thousands of pictures covering a variety of activities.

[...] The ease with which students can download photos to, or pictures and biographical information to another popular site,, is making college administrators nervous. They do not know when a student may post embarrassing images that can dramatically undermine their policies against hazing or other prohibited activities.

[...] Shawn Presley, a spokesman for the college, said an investigation had begun.

“We’re dealing with a generation of students who are so used to the Internet and so used to putting anything on it, whether it’s blogs or making their personal lives public, that they lose perspective,” he said.

Bruce Madej, an associate athletic director at the University of Michigan, said that colleges would have First Amendment issues if they tried to bar students from posting photographs or text on the Internet.

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May 17, 2006

A Hardware Business Opportunity: Opposing Net Neutrality [9:58 pm]

Surprise — deep packet inspection requires something more than a basic router.  Upgrades all around!  Hardware firms oppose Net neutrality laws

Some of the largest hardware makers in the world, including 3M, Cisco, Corning and Qualcomm, sent a letter to Congress on Wednesday firmly opposing new laws mandating Net neutrality–the concept that broadband providers must never favor some Web sites or Internet services over others.

[...] “It is premature to attempt to enact some sort of network neutrality principles into law now,” says the letter, which was signed by 34 companies and sent to House Majority Leader Dennis Hastert and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “Legislating in the absence of real understanding of the issue risks both solving the wrong problem and hobbling the rapidly developing new technologies and business models of the Internet with rigid, potentially stultifying rules.”

The letter even goes so far as to applaud a committee vote in the House of Representatives on April 26, in which Net neutrality proponents–largely Democrats–lost by a wide margin. “We are pleased that the committee rejected attempts to add so-called ‘network neutrality’ provisions to the bill,” it says.

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Ominous Pattern Continues To Be Repeated [9:54 pm]

This game of letting the executive use its power to redefine the playing  field without any Congressional reaction (much less action) is getting old.  The idea that this is a conservative administration is beyond ironic at this point.  Will the legislative branch do anything about this?  Legal loophole emerges in NSA spy program

An AT&T attorney indicated in federal court on Wednesday that the Bush administration provided legal authorization for the telecommunications company to open its network to the National Security Agency.Federal law may “authorize and in some cases require telecommunications companies to furnish information” to the executive branch, said Bradford Berenson, who was associate White House counsel when President Bush authorized the NSA surveillance program in late 2001 and is now a partner at the Sidley Austin law firm in Washington, D.C.

Far from being complicit in an illegal spying scheme, Berenson said, “AT&T is essentially an innocent bystander.”

AT&T may be referring to an obscure section of federal law, 18 U.S.C. 2511, which permits a telecommunications company to provide “information” and “facilities” to the federal government as long as the attorney general authorizes it. The authorization must come in the form of “certification in writing by…the Attorney General of the United States that no warrant or court order is required by law.”

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Planting Some Rhetorical Stakes In The Ground [10:42 am]

In what is certain to be a long fight: Software Makers Crack Down on Net Piracy - [pdf]

Software makers have long complained about pirates looting their sales. The industry estimates it loses $11 billion to $12 billion a year from the distribution of pirated software.

The industry believes 90 percent of all software sold on Internet auctions violates copyrights or licensing agreements, Kupferschmid said.

San Jose, Calif.-based eBay disagreed with those estimates. “We know (piracy) is an issue, but we don’t think it’s a big problem,” spokesman Hani Durzy said. Ebay supports the software industry’s efforts to penalize pirates, Durzy said.

Copyright holders and eBay don’t always agree on the definition of an improper sale.

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Speaking of Upsetting Applecarts…. [10:34 am]

Silicon Valley backs US wireless broadband plan - [pdf]

Three Silicon Valley venture capital firms are backing a project to grab a slice of valuable U.S. wireless airwaves to offer nationwide high-speed Internet service, according to a recent regulatory filing.

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Charles River Ventures and Redpoint Ventures, each with more than $1.5 billion under management, are financing a firm called M2Z Networks Inc. to launch the project.

Most wireless spectrum is auctioned to the highest bidder but M2Z has offered to pay the U.S. Treasury 5 percent of its gross revenues from the premium broadband service it plans to offer alongside free, but slower, Internet access.

[...] The airwaves, 2155 megahertz (Mhz) to 2175 Mhz, are being vacated and have been allocated for advanced wireless services. M2Z argued they would lay fallow for years since they are not paired with other airwaves.

M2Z’s plan could be controversial since the FCC usually sells wireless airwaves through auctions. Next month, the agency is slated to auction nearby airwaves for advanced wireless services, a sale that analysts say could raise $8 billion to $15 billion.

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Skype Upsetting Apple Carts [9:04 am]

Sounding a now-familiar plea: Skype Gives It Away [pdf]

Internet phone company Skype Technologies SA said yesterday that customers in the United States and Canada can place free phone calls from their computers to any land line or mobile phone in the two countries until the end of the year. The move comes at a time when millions of Americans are beginning to ditch traditional long-distance service and experiment with technology that allows people to talk using an Internet connection.

[...] “From a technology aspect, this stuff is game-changing. It’s fascinating. It ruins the telecom companies’ economic model as we know it,” said Maribel D. Lopez, vice president at Forrester Research Inc. in Boston. Lopez estimates that about 20 to 25 percent of Americans will adopt some kind of Internet phone service by 2010, but that doesn’t mean it will replace land lines altogether. “It takes time. Not everybody is going out overnight [to sign up]. Only people with compelling economic reasons are using Skype.”

[...] Some analysts said the offer would spur movement of legislation to regulate companies like Skype, which are not obligated to pay universal access fees or offer emergency 911 service. A bill offered by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, proposes to levy fees on voice-over-Internet companies, and hearings on the legislation are scheduled later this week. But few expect the bill to reach a vote because it also includes several other measures on which there is wide disagreement.

Telecom consultant Rudy Baca, a former Federal Communications Commission official now at Rini Coran PC, said Skype’s offer will be a “catalyst” for older telecom firms to push harder for some kind of regulation of such upstarts. “They’re going to be a competitive force,” said Baca, whose firm represents BellSouth Corp. but not in relation to the telecom bill. “How do you compete with free? That’s really the problem for other companies.”

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TV Advertising and TiVo [8:58 am]

Bar the Door. TV Ads Want Your TiVo.

No Top 40 program has a higher percentage of its audience watching on delay [than "24"], according to numbers from Nielsen Media Research. Only “Lost” and “Survivor” come close.

It’s a perfectly pleasant way to watch a show, and it is easy to imagine that television will always be this good as long as you have a TiVo. But the odds that we have entered a post- advertising age are about as good as the odds that Jack Bauer gets killed next week.

[...] Advertisers are still smarting from their timidity back in the 1980’s, when VCR’s started catching on and Nielsen decided that its ratings would include people who taped programs rather than watching them live. The truth, of course, is that many recorded shows never end up being watched.

[...] With the stakes much larger this time around, Nielsen has started releasing three different ratings for every show. The first is the old-fashioned version, which counts the live audience (as well as the VCR audience). The second includes people who watch the show on their DVR within 24 hours, while the third adds everybody who watches within a week of a show’s broadcast. Mr. Schwartz and his firm are pushing Nielsen to go even further and calculate separate ratings for a show and for its commercials.

[...] Privately, though, the executives understand that TiVo is rapidly undercutting the economics of television. Since “24″ made its debut in 2001, my wife and I have missed just one episode, yet I don’t think we have seen a commercial in three years. We are free riders, enjoying the product without paying the bills. [Editor's note: !!!]

[...] TiVo is not going to kill advertising, and it won’t kill the networks. If anything, it may help them, by increasing the audience for top shows like “24″ at the expense of shows that just happen to be on when you turn on your set.

And once they have gotten you to watch the show, the TiVo-proof ads will surely follow. The golden age of commercial-free prime time isn’t going to last long.

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It’s My Party, and I’ll Sue If I Want To [7:14 am]

Music Labels Sue XM Over Recording Device [pdf]

To stay competitive with Apple’s iPod and similar products, XM and Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. recently introduced radios with recording features. XM’s Inno and Sirius’s S50 allow subscribers to record as much as 50 hours of broadcast music, or search for songs by particular artists.

XM and Sirius pay the labels for the right to broadcast music and have argued that the right to record music for personal use is included under that.

Yesterday, however, a coalition of record labels alleged that XM’s Inno device amounts to a “new digital download subscription service” not covered by existing agreements.

[...] “These are legal devices that allow consumers to listen to and record radio just as the law has allowed for decades. The music labels are trying to stifle innovation, limit consumer choice and roll back consumers’ rights to record content for their personal use,” XM spokesman Chance Patterson said yesterday in a written statement. “XM will vigorously defend this lawsuit on behalf of consumers.”

[...] The music industry officials contend the recording capability of Sirius’s S50 and XM’s Inno goes beyond existing agreements and requires a separate license and fee.

The industry is also lobbying Congress to change copyright laws more broadly to ensure that artists and labels are paid the same when their work is distributed across different platforms.

[...] The issue is not about giving subscribers the ability to record songs for personal use, Bainwol said. Rather, he argued that XM’s technology is similar to iTunes and other online music download services.

From the Beeb: Satellite radio in recordings row

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May 16, 2006

BW Speculation on the French DRM Legislation [7:19 pm]

Apple to France: Drop Dead? [pdf]

French lawmakers are softening the language of a proposed law that would force Apple Computer (AAPL) and other companies that sell digital music to make their songs compatible with all the music players on the market. But the move is unlikely to quell concerns at Apple, making it very possible that the company will close its iTunes music store in France.

[...] The spectre of Apple shutting down the French outpost of its iTunes Music Store is very real. Apple hasn’t said as much publicly, but France’s portion of Apple’s music-download business accounts for less than 1% of the business unit’s worldwide revenue. A contentious new legal and regulatory environment would make it hardly worth the effort — let alone the increased cost — of keeping the French store open.

Shutting down the French unit of the iTunes operation wouldn’t affect sales of iPods, however, nor of other Apple products. French consumers also would be able to continue downloading the iTunes software and using it with their iPods. They simply would not be able to buy music from the iTunes store.

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Verizon: “Not Us!” [7:03 pm]

A report from CNN: Verizon denies handing out phone info

Verizon Communications Inc. denied earlier media reports that it entered into a contract with the National Security Agency, providing the government office with info about its customer phone calls.

“One of the most glaring and repeated falsehoods in the media reporting is the assertion that, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Verizon was approached by NSA and entered into an arrangement to provide the NSA with data from its customers’ domestic calls,” the company said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Ditto” - BellSouth

Later: Why so long to get the denials out? Could it be that someone’s try to goad someone from USAToday into making an ill-advised call?

Later: WashPost’s article - Verizon Says It Did Not Give Customer Records to NSA [pdf]; also the LATimes’s article on the White House decision to brief the intelligence committees in the hopes of limiting the damage to the nominee to head the CIA: President Backs Off Wiretap Secrecy [pdf] - we’ll have to see if our elected representatives are ready to act on their Constitutional prerogatives.

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