Tim Wu on AT&T’s Goofy Pronouncements

Why does AT&T want to know what you’re downloading?

Chances are that as you read this article, it is passing over part of AT&T’s network. That matters, because last week AT&T announced that it is seriously considering plans to examine all the traffic it carries for potential violations of U.S. intellectual property laws. The prospect of AT&T, already accused of spying on our telephone calls, now scanning every e-mail and download for outlawed content is way too totalitarian for my tastes. But the bizarre twist is that the proposal is such a bad idea that it would be not just a disservice to the public but probably a disaster for AT&T itself. If I were a shareholder, I’d want to know one thing: Has AT&T, after 122 years in business, simply lost its mind?

[…] [T]he most serious problems for AT&T may be legal. Since the beginnings of the phone system, carriers have always wanted to avoid liability for what happens on their lines, be it a bank robbery or someone’s divorce. Hence the grand bargain of common carriage: The Bell company carried all conversations equally, and in exchange bore no liability for what people used the phone for. Fair deal.

AT&T’s new strategy reverses that position and exposes it to so much potential liability that adopting it would arguably violate AT&T’s fiduciary duty to its shareholders.[…]

[…] Here’s the kicker: To maintain that [“Transitory Digital Network Communications”] immunity, AT&T must transmit data “without selection of the material by the service provider” and “without modification of its content.” Once AT&T gets in the business of picking and choosing what content travels over its network, while the law is not entirely clear, it runs a serious risk of losing its all-important immunity. An Internet provider voluntarily giving up copyright immunity is like an astronaut on the moon taking off his space suit. As the world’s largest gatekeeper, AT&T would immediately become the world’s largest target for copyright infringement lawsuits.

See also Should AT&T police the Internet?

Gawker Taking on Scientology

Copyright infringement claims have a longstanding role in the efforts of Scientology to avoid the ridicule that follows once elements of their beliefs are made public, and Gawker has decided to go for broke in the face of a spate of recent releases of Tom Cruise videos online: Tom Cruise: Church of Scientology Claims Copyright Infringement

[I]t’s hardly surprising that the Scientologists’ lawyers would at least threaten a huge lawsuit against the author of this week’s controversial new biography of Tom Cruise, which also exposes many of the sect’s most embarrassing secrets. Nor that Gawker Media has received a copyright infringement notice. Below, the request to remove clips posted to Gawker and Defamer as part of our coverage of the Tom Cruise biography; and, after that, Gawker’s refusal to comply. […]

Just to complete the link-whoring, here’s the link to Gawker’s current video repository: Tom Cruise Uncut: The Freedom Medal Award Ceremony – and no post on the subject can not include a link to Operation Clambake, although I feel I also must include Dave Touretzky‘s page, even though I have always enjoyed his Gallery of CSS Descramblers more.

Something Else From This Week’s New Yorker

A profile of Mike McConnell, rife with what I can only classify as statistics yanked out of thin air and terrifying sophistries. Also discussion of the FISA runaround: The Spymaster (also some audio: What We Know)

One day in May, at a meeting with the President and several cabinet members, McConnell asked for authority to wage information warfare against the techsavvy insurgents in Iraq. First, he described the three aspects of information warfare operations. Computer-network exploitation-that is, the theft or manipulation of information-is done by the N.S.A. Computer-network attacks are the province of the Department of Defense. The third element, computer-network defense, was not the specialty of any agency. According to someone who was in the Oval Office, McConnell then said, “If the 9/11 perpetrators had focussed on a single U.S. bank through cyber-attack and it had been successful, it would have an order-of-magnitude greater impact on the U.S. economy.” The President blanched and turned to the Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Paulson. “Is that true, Hank?” he said. Paulson said that it was. The President then charged McConnell to come up with a security strategy, not only for government systems but also for American industry and private individuals.

One proposal of McConnell’s CyberSecurity Policy, which is still in the draft state, is to reduce the access points between government computers and the Internet from two thousand to fifty. “The real question is what to do about industry,” McConnell told me. “Ninety-five percent of this is a private-sector problem.” He claimed that cyber-theft accounted for as much as a hundred billion dollars in annual losses to the American economy.

“The real problem is the perpetrator who doesn’t care about stealing-he just wants to destroy.” The plan will propose restrictions that are certain to be unpopular. In order for cyberspace to be policed, Internet activity will have to be closely monitored. Ed Giorgio, who is working with McConnell on the plan, said that would mean giving government the authority to examine the content of any e-mail, file transfer, or Web search. “Google has records that could help in a cyber-investigation,” he said. Giorgio warned me, ‘We have a saying in this business: ‘Privacy and security are a zero-sum game.'” [emphasis added]

With the cyber-security initiative, McConnell is asking the country to confront a dilemma: Americans will have to trust the government not to abuse the authority it must have in order to protect our networks, and yet, historically, the government has not proved worthy of that trust. “FISA reform will be a walk in the park compared to this,” McConnell said. “This is going to be a goat rope on the Hill. My prediction is that we’re going to screw around with this until something horrendous happens.”

Related: Glenn Greenwald’s Lawbreaking telecoms still conniving to obtain immunity from Congress — note that McConnell quoted in the above article as, unsurprisingly, being all for this immunity.

Also, Wired looks at this article — NSA Must Examine All Internet Traffic to Prevent Cyber Nine-Eleven, Top Spy Says