Reading the Tea Leaves

Court skeptical of FCC on broadband wiretap access [pdf]

U.S. telecommunications regulators on Friday faced tough questioning from a federal appeals court about whether the government can force broadband Internet service providers to give law enforcement authorities access for surveillance purposes.

One of the three judges hearing the case called the government’s rationale for the surveillance requirement “gobbledygook,” and another also expressed reservations.

“This is totally ridiculous. I can’t believe you’re making this argument,” Judge Harry Edwards told the Federal Communications Commission lawyer.

The issue before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is a decision by the FCC in August requiring facilities-based broadband providers and those that offer Internet telephone service to comply with U.S. wiretap laws.

Familiar Arguments

Almost a mere global search-and-replace away from a discussion of municipal broadband: Maker of Tax Software Opposes State Filing Help [pdf]

When the state offered to take some of the agony out of tax season for thousands of low-income and elderly Californians by filling out their returns for them, the reaction was overwhelming.

Most of the taxpayers who voluntarily participated in a test run of the state’s ReadyReturn program said it alleviated anxiety, saved time and was something government ought to do routinely. More than 96% said they would participate again, according to a state survey.

Then a legislative committee tried to kill the program, leaving Stanford law professor Joe Bankman, who helped design it, bewildered. He had thought the logic of it was so obvious, and the enthusiasm from participants so great, that lawmakers would rush to embrace it.”I can’t believe how naive I was,” said Bankman, a tax-law scholar with a tendency toward rumpled suits who has temporarily traded the ivory tower for the hallways of the Capitol. “It’s unbelievable how little I knew about how things are really done.”

Bankman had underestimated how much influence one Silicon Valley company could have on the lawmaking process.

[…] Intuit spokeswoman Julie Miller said in a written statement that ReadyReturn is a bad idea, and it is “a fundamental conflict of interest for the state’s tax collector and enforcer to also become people’s tax preparer.”

“The debate over this issue is not — and should not be — about politics,” she wrote. “It should be about what is the best public policy for every California taxpayer.”

Lawmakers opposed to ReadyReturn say it confuses people, creates privacy concerns and could scare taxpayers away from legitimate deductions.

[…] Tom Campbell, a former budget director who served in Congress and the state Senate, said he has “never seen the public interest being overborne by private interest as clearly as it has been in this case.”

Campbell, who as budget director sat on the state tax board that launched ReadyReturn, said the only argument opponents made to him that wasn’t a red herring was that ReadyReturn threatened their business.

“The argument was never presented in terms of the public interest,” he said. “It was stark. It was: ‘We are doing it and we don’t want the competition.’ ”

Industry officials endorse that position.

“A dynamic, innovative free market is in everybody’s interest,” said Ed Black, president and chief executive of the Computer and Communications Industry Assn. in Washington, D.C. “That kind of market is interfered with when … government enters as a competitive player. The government always has the advantage.”

Rise of the Zombies

Old news, I know, but you do what you can: Beware the sophisticated ‘spam zombies’ to come [pdf]

Canadian researchers have figured out a way to create spam that could bypass the best filters and trick even the most savvy computer users into opening messages they would normally delete.

Mischief makers would use this kind of spam — which employs hijacked computers to make sophisticated e-mail messages that appear to be from people known to computer users — to release viruses, worms or spyware on unsuspecting users or expose them to theft of personal information.

“It’s very much an arms race between the good guys and the bad guys,” said study co-author John Aycock, a computer scientist at the University of Calgary.

Spam is always evolving, but the kind of high-tech stuff once thought to be too much work for spammers was easily demonstrated by Aycock and student-researcher Nathan Friess in their study, “Spam Zombies from Outer Space.”

Lala gets some Globe Ink

Music CD swappers turn to snail mail [pdf]

It may be a crime to swap digital music over the Internet, but there’s no law against doing it through the Postal Service. That’s the theory behind La La Media Inc., an Internet start-up that encourages music lovers to trade tunes by mail.

[…] There are none of those free but illegal Internet file downloads. Nguyen’s website charges its members a small fee to barter the actual music disks among themselves.

Members publish ”have” lists of the music CDs they own. Because so many music lovers copy their CDs to their computers, provides software that can generate a list of albums on a computer’s hard drive.

In addition, users can log into the Lala website and type in the names of the albums in their collections. Users also create ”want” lists of CDs they’d like to own. Lala members can then search each other’s lists.

Members also get postage-paid mailing envelopes suitable for shipping CDs.

[…] Lala is hardly a shoestring operation. It’s funded by $9 million in venture money from Boston-based Bain Capital LLC and Ignition Partners of Seattle. With a staff of just 17 workers and low start-up costs, Nguyen predicted that Lala would soon be profitable.

But he plans to cut into those profits by paying 20 percent of the company’s income to the recording artists. Used-music dealers aren’t required to do this. But Nguyen said musicians too often get a raw deal from the industry, and wants Lala to do better.

”We’re trying to lead by example,” he said.