June 30, 2006

Updated: Now the Fun Begins (Or Not!) [1:55 pm]

French lawmakers approve ‘iTunes law’ - pdf

French lawmakers gave final approval Friday to legislation that could force Apple Computer Inc. to make its iPod and iTunes Music Store compatible with rivals’ music players and online services.

Both the Senate and the National Assembly, France’s lower house, voted in favor of the copyright bill, which some analysts said could cause Apple Computer Inc. and others to pull their music players and online download stores from France.

The vote was the final legislative step before the bill becomes law — barring the success of a last-ditch constitutional challenge filed last week by the opposition Socialists.

Later: a revised view - France adopts toned down version of download law - pdf

[T]he final version of the law allows online distributors to retain significant control over so-called Digital Rights Management (DRM), the technical measures that control access to digital data including songs, films or software.

[...] [A]fter amendments introduced in the upper house of France’s parliament, the Senate, the law allows companies to restrict the compatibility of songs or films sold online if they have the agreement of the copyright holders.

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June 29, 2006

Building on a Joke, Online [8:08 am]

A long-term running joke online, this movie’s producers have decided to build upon the online buzz for “Snakes on a Plane” by incorporating online suggestions into the story. Will this process mean blockbuster sales or the explosion of a peculiar experiment using the internet “echo chamber?” When Fans Hissed, He Listened - pdf

The film’s title says just about everything you need to know about the plot: On a transpacific flight, a Hawaiian mobster trying to eliminate a protected witness uncorks a carton of poisonous serpents. But as websites posted details during preproduction and as shooting got underway last summer, B-movie fans began to react. They wanted more creative snake attacks, more gore, more nudity and more of star Samuel L. Jackson’s signature four-syllable obscenity.

How much of the chorus was sincere and how much of it was a desire to propel an already quirky plot over the top is unclear.

Nevertheless, based in part on the comments, director David R. Ellis went back and reshot scenes to make the attacks more violent, the sex more explicit and the language more profane — including adding an expletive-laden line of dialogue for Jackson.

“I had the luxury to go back and tailor the film exactly like the fans demand and they expect,” said Ellis, whose experience with “Snakes on a Plane” reflects the increasing influence that Internet fan communities have over what’s playing on multiplex screens.

It’s as if thousands of people worldwide are sitting in on daily rushes, in which the crew and studio executives offer advice and commentary on movies during production. Although most common with films based on superheroes such as Superman and fantasy worlds such as in “The Lord of the Rings” — franchises with established rabid fan bases — the Internet’s reach is gradually turning the already collaborative process of moviemaking into a global endeavor.

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June 28, 2006

What *Is* Reality? [6:54 am]

With a Cellphone as My Guide

The phones combine satellite-based navigation, precise to within 30 feet or less, with an electronic compass to provide a new dimension of orientation. Connect the device to the Internet and it is possible to overlay the point-and-click simplicity of a computer screen on top of the real world.

[...] Only two American carriers are using the G.P.S. technology, and none have announced plans to add a compass. As a result, analysts say Japan will have a head start of several years in what many analysts say will be a new frontier for mobile devices.

“People are underestimating the power of geographic search,” said Kanwar Chadha, chief executive of Sirf Technology, a Silicon Valley maker of satellite-navigation gear.

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Saw This In The Herald Tribune [6:51 am]

Should be quite the interesting fight: Complaints Filed Against Group That Gave Data to U.S.

A human rights group in London said today that it had lodged formal complaints in 32 countries against the Brussels-based banking consortium known as Swift, contending that it violated European and Asian data protection rules by providing the United States with confidential information about international money transfers.

[...] “Swift appears to have violated data protection rules in Europe by making these transfers without the consent of the individuals involved, and without the approval of European judicial or administrative authorities,” Mr. Davies said. “The scale of the operation, involving millions of records, places this disclosure in the realm of a fishing exercise rather than a legally authorized investigation.”

The Bush administration has defended the program as an important part of its campaign against terrorism. But Europe and the United States are increasingly at odds over how to protect civil liberties while pursuing terrorists.

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June 27, 2006

You Have Got To Be Kidding [1:06 pm]

What’s disgraceful?!?!? Bush Says Report on Bank Data Was Disgraceful

President Bush on Monday condemned as “disgraceful” the disclosure last week by The New York Times and other newspapers of a secret program to investigate and track terrorists that relies on a vast international database that includes Americans’ banking transactions.

See also Surveillance Disclosure Denounced

Maybe something the Chinese have come up with will make him happy.

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June 26, 2006

Spinning Net Neutrality [4:32 am]

Let’s see if you can guess whose side this opinion columnist from the WaPo is on: No Neutral Ground in This Internet Battle

Net neutrality.

Sounds benign, but no two words have stirred more passion this year. The mere mention of the issue is enough to make a wonk explode.

Yet the public advocacy on this important topic has concealed far more than it has illuminated. Commercials on either side of the issue are confusing, opaque or downright deceptive.

More about this obfuscation later. But first, a definition.

Net neutrality, which is shorthand for network neutrality, is one of two possible answers to the following legislative question: Should cable and telephone companies be allowed to charge add-on fees to others for access to their networks?

Hold your nose and check your shoes before wading too deeply into this argument:

Put another way, if net neutrality passes, the AT&Ts of the world will be forced to pay for all of their equipment upgrades themselves and could not subsidize that effort by imposing premium fees for premium services. If net neutrality fails, they will be able to recoup more of those costs than they can now from the likes of Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and other major users of the World Wide Web.

Hmmm - so AT&T is paying for network development now, gratis? I wonder what all those bills people get in the mail are for, then.

Ultimately, this article purports to point out that neither side has made a good case to the public, but it’s also got a decided slant.

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Economics and Urban WiFi [3:43 am]

What if They Built an Urban Wireless Network and Hardly Anyone Used It?

Peter Shyu, an engineer, spends most of his day out of the office, and when he needs an Internet connection he often pops into one of the many coffee shops in this city that offer free wireless access.

He could use WiFly, the extensive wireless network commissioned by the city government that is the cornerstone of Taipei’s ambitious plan to turn itself into an international technology hub. But that would cost him $12.50 a month.

“I’m here because it’s free, and if it’s free elsewhere, I’ll go there too,” said Mr. Shyu, hunched over his I.B.M. laptop in an outlet of the Doutor coffee chain. “It’s very easy to find free wireless connections.”

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Piracy — Taking on the Real Thing [2:07 am]

Film Piracy Saga Is Pure Hollywood - pdf

Major Hollywood studios aren’t the only victims of movie piracy. Ask the owners of Southern California’s many small production and distribution companies, and they’ll tell you their very survival depends on curbing counterfeiting. But saying it needs to be stopped is one thing. Doing it is another.

That’s what sets Borsten apart. The Santa Monica native is a short, spirited woman who is fluent in five languages and harbors a passion for Russian fairy tales.

She and her husband used their actor friends and their knowledge of the Russian emigre community to infiltrate a world that often confounds even Hollywood’s anti-piracy agency, the Motion Picture Assn. of America.

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Second Guessing Hudson v. Michigan [2:03 am]

Scalia twisted my words - pdf

OF mine e-mailed me last week with some exciting news — the Supreme Court had cited one of my criminal justice policy books in an important, late-term decision. My law professor friends tell me that being mentioned by the court is a huge deal. And my 93-year-old mother in Cleveland will certainly be impressed that her son has finally done something worthy of note.

Alas, as I surfed the Net for news about Hudson vs. Michigan, my excitement quickly turned to dismay, then horror. First, I learned that Justice Antonin Scalia cited me to support a terrible decision, holding that the exclusionary rule — which for decades prevented evidence obtained illegally by police from being used at trial — no longer applies when cops enter your home without knocking.

Even worse, he twisted my main argument to reach a conclusion the exact opposite of what I spelled out in this and other studies.

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Electoral Politics in the Digital Age [2:00 am]

The GOP knows you don’t like anchovies - pdf

Some of the GOP advantages are recent developments, such as the database called Voter Vault, which was used to precision in the San Diego County special election. The program allows ground-level party activists to track voters by personal hobbies, professional interests, geography — even by their favorite brands of toothpaste and soda and which gym they belong to.

Both parties can identify voters by precinct, address, party affiliation and, often, their views on hot-button issues. Democrats also use marketing data, but Voter Vault includes far more information culled from marketing sources — including retailers, magazine subscription services, even auto dealers — giving Republicans a high-tech edge in the kind of grass-roots politics that has long been the touchstone of Democratic activists.

As a result, Republicans have moved well ahead of Democrats nationally in their ability to find previously unaffiliated voters or even wavering Democrats and to target them with specially tailored messages. Voter Vault, although it is a closely guarded GOP trade secret, is nevertheless easily accessible to on-the-ground campaign workers and operatives should they need to mobilize votes in a hurry.

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June 23, 2006

My Privacy Is AT&T’s IP? [3:29 pm]

Concerns Raised Over AT&T Privacy Policy - pdf

Consumer advocates said yesterday that a new privacy policy from AT&T Inc. marks the first time a major telecom company has asserted that customer calling and Internet records are corporate property and raises concerns about how the company tracks consumer behavior and shares data with government and law enforcement agencies.

The new privacy policy is scheduled for release today on the company’s Web site. AT&T said it does not share the data with third-party marketing firms, but it cites circumstances under which it shares customer information with the government and law enforcement. For its broadband Internet customers, the company also makes clear that it will collect information about which Web pages its customers view, how much time is spent on each page and what links are clicked on.

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Will They Find A Middle Ground? [2:51 pm]

Is there such a thing as compromise when it comes to digital restrictions management: France Softens iTunes Law, but Apple Is Still Disgruntled

Leading French lawmakers voted Thursday to water down a draft copyright law that could force Apple Computer to make its iPod music player and iTunes online store compatible with rivals’ offerings.

But the changes did not appear to go far enough to satisfy Apple, which dropped the strongest hint yet that it might withdraw from the French downloading market rather than comply.

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So What’s Next? [2:48 pm]

How far is this going to have turned out go have gone? Bank Data Is Sifted by U.S. in Secret to Block Terror

The program, however, is a significant departure from typical practice in how the government acquires Americans’ financial records. Treasury officials did not seek individual court-approved warrants or subpoenas to examine specific transactions, instead relying on broad administrative subpoenas for millions of records from the cooperative, known as Swift.

That access to large amounts of confidential data was highly unusual, several officials said, and stirred concerns inside the administration about legal and privacy issues.

“The capability here is awesome or, depending on where you’re sitting, troubling,” said one former senior counterterrorism official who considers the program valuable. While tight controls are in place, the official added, “the potential for abuse is enormous.”

Later: Officials Defend Financial Searches

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June 21, 2006

Community Action or a Lynch Mob? [3:21 pm]

And can one ensure that one does not become the other? Tale of a Lost Cellphone, and Untold Static

Three weeks ago, Mr. Guttman went on a quest to retrieve a friend’s lost cellphone, a quest that has now ended with the arrest of a 16-year-old on charges of possessing the missing gadget, a Sidekick model with a built-in camera that sells for as much as $350. But before the teenager was arrested, she was humiliated by Mr. Guttman in front of untold thousands of people on the Web, an updated version of the elaborate public shamings common in centuries past.

The tale began when Mr. Guttman’s best friend Ivanna left her cellphone in a taxicab, like thousands of others before her. After Ivanna got a new Sidekick, she logged on to her account — and was confronted by pictures of an unfamiliar young woman and her family, along with the young woman’s America Online screen name.

[...] Using instant messages, Mr. Guttman tracked down Sasha and asked her to return it. “Basically, she told me to get lost,” Mr. Guttman recalled. “That was it.”

So he set up a no-frills Web page with a brief account of what happened, and posted the pictures of the girl and her family. Within hours of putting up the Web page, Mr. Guttman was fielding hundreds of e-mail messages from those nursing their own bitter memories of a lost cellphone, a BlackBerry or a digital camera that went unreturned.

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Gearing Up For A Conference [12:08 pm]

But came across this gem: WARD-Generating Civil Society

Generating Civil Society (Music by Ward)

Director: David Meme

Generating Civil Society is a stopmotion animation that explores the meaning and form of commons based peer-production (See the work of Yocahi [sic] Benkler) through the use of intertextuality and interdiscursivity in the production of a music video. [...]

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When Is A Decision Not A Decision? [11:57 am]

When it’s not: Justices’ Rulings Called ‘Murky’ and ‘Confusing’ - pdf

The Supreme Court is, after all, a committee of nine lawyers.

And like other committees, the court sometimes does not come up with clear answers to the legal questions it is supposed to decide.

Instead, it makes more work for lawyers. [...]

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Privacy, Children and Chattels [11:50 am]

In some ways, the title says it all: Cellphones: Just a leash for children? - pdf

Sprint Family Locator, which debuted in April, is just one of many newly released cellular services that use global positioning satellites — originally developed for military use — to allow family members to keep tabs on each other via their phones. Disney Mobile, which opened for business earlier this month, includes child tracking among its basic features. Verizon Wireless’ Chaperone service lets parents enclose up to 10 areas in virtual fencing, and to receive a text message if their children breach a boundary.

This technology isn’t cutting-edge, exactly; similar location based services have been marketed with limited success over the last few years, notably Nextel’s Mobile Locator designed for companies to track employees. But cellular carriers are in a tizzy to fulfill a Federal Communications Commission mandate that 911 operators be able to pin down phone locations — and it stands to reason that they recoup their investment by offering that same capability to subscribers. Carriers make beaucoup bucks, parents like Fahrnow rest easier; everybody wins.

Everybody except the people being tracked, say teens and privacy advocates who peg this trend to an unhealthy desire for control. [...]

[...] Alan Phillips is an ardent proponent of this revolution. In 2002 he caught his 14-year-old son skateboarding when he was supposed to be at a friend’s house, and Phillips promptly founded uLocate Communications, in Massachusetts, to develop location-based services for mobile phones. These days the Phillips family can check each others’ locations via a cellphone click (or on the Web) and can even view the rate of speed at which family members are traveling.

“My son plays soccer,” Phillips says. “We set up ‘geofences’ so that when he’s coming back from games on the bus, every time his phone comes within five miles of the school, we are alerted. So that we know when to pick him up.”

Very convenient; but even Phillips admits that sometimes the ever-present eye is a little much. “I have intentionally turned off my phone to suppress data from my wife,” he says. “If I’m leaving late and had told her that I’d meet her somewhere….”

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Salon on Internet Spying [7:49 am]

Or not. Is the NSA spying on U.S. Internet traffic? A surpisingly weak story from Salon.

In a pivotal network operations center in metropolitan St. Louis, AT&T has maintained a secret, highly secured room since 2002 where government work is being conducted, according to two former AT&T workers once employed at the center.

In interviews with Salon, the former AT&T workers said that only government officials or AT&T employees with top-secret security clearance are admitted to the room, located inside AT&T’s facility in Bridgeton. The room’s tight security includes a biometric “mantrap” or highly sophisticated double door, secured with retinal and fingerprint scanners. The former workers say company supervisors told them that employees working inside the room were “monitoring network traffic” and that the room was being used by “a government agency.”

[...] The nature of the government operation using the Bridgeton room remains unknown, and could be legal. Aside from surveillance or data collection, the room could conceivably house a federal law enforcement operation, a classified research project, or some other unknown government operation.

Later: More Rumblings About Net Privacy

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June 20, 2006

My Tax Dollars At Work [4:11 pm]

US says progress made in fighting piracy - pdf

Officials with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights advocacy group, said they understood the government’s desire to prosecute commercial piracy but questioned the need for more expansive laws targeting such acts as “attempted” piracy.

“The legal changes that DOJ is seeking are completely outrageous and legally unjustifiable,” EFF staff attorney Fred von Lohmann said. “Those changes are intended to make it possible to criminally convict someone without having to prove that actual copy infringement took place. There’s no evidence here that we need to make it any easier to throw a person in jail than it is to sue them for money for infringement.”

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June 19, 2006

More on Data Mining, Terrorism and Privacy [4:20 pm]

Data Mining Still Needs a Clue to Be Effective [pdf]

In the two decades or so since software scientists began “mining” computerized databases for information they were never designed to yield, the sophistication of their techniques has increased dramatically.

And although marketing companies today — especially with the advent of the Internet — can routinely predict who you will vote for, where you will eat dinner and, most of all, what products you will buy, experts say it is far less clear whether security agencies can sift mounds of data to track down terrorist networks — unless they start with a useful lead.

[...] “Even if one out of 10 searches is a hit, the technique is useful,” one expert said. “But one out of 1,000 or one in 1 million?” In these cases, experts suggest, maybe the technician would be more cost-effective by searching something besides phone logs.

So, is that an excuse to collect more data, or to change tactics and focus a bit more on pure investigation? Which strategy do you expect we’ll see coming down the road?

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June 2006
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