February 29, 2008

Nice Language! [9:44 pm]

Can it be that the Democrats have found a workable framing for this fight? Bush Calls Surveillance Bill an ‘Urgent Priority’

And Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts said the president was using “the specter of terrorism” to push his own agenda.

“If the telecommunications companies didn’t break the law, they do not need immunity,” the senator said. “If they broke the law, the American people deserve to know the size and scope of their lawbreaking. Adhering to the rule of law would not ‘aid our enemies’ — it would uphold the very principles we are fighting for. The President’s position has nothing to do with protecting Americans and everything to do with sweeping under the rug illegal activity by his administration and his corporate partners.”

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February 22, 2008

(more) Sporadic Posting for a While [1:01 pm]

Posting will be sporadic for a couple of weeks — too much going on the last couple of weeks.

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Dataveillance Consolidation [12:58 pm]

Reed Elsevier, owners of Lexis-Nexix, make a scary move: Magazines Up for Sale, Including Variety

Variety, Publishers Weekly and dozens of other trade publications are going up for sale as the publishing company Reed Elsevier looks to get out of the uncertain advertising market.

The company, based in London and Amsterdam, announced Thursday that it intended to sell one unit, Reed Business Information, and acquire ChoicePoint, a provider of consumer information, for $4.1 billion.

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Ed Felten Causing Unrest [12:53 pm]

Just keeping folks on their toes! Researchers Find Way to Steal Encrypted Data

The move, which cannot be carried out remotely, exploits a little-known vulnerability of the dynamic random access, or DRAM, chip. Those chips temporarily hold data, including the keys to modern data-scrambling algorithms. When the computer’s electrical power is shut off, the data, including the keys, is supposed to disappear.

In a technical paper that was published Thursday on the Web site of Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy, the group demonstrated that standard memory chips actually retain their data for seconds or even minutes after power is cut off.

When the chips were chilled using an inexpensive can of air, the data was frozen in place, permitting the researchers to easily read the keys — long strings of ones and zeros — out of the chip’s memory.

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February 21, 2008

The Times, They Are A-Changin’ [9:12 am]

Sorry, Boys, This Is Our Domain

Research shows that among the youngest Internet users, the primary creators of Web content blogs, graphics, photographs, Web sites are not misfits resembling the Lone Gunmen of “The X Files.” On the contrary, the cyberpioneers of the moment are digitally effusive teenage girls.

“Most guys don’t have patience for this kind of thing,” said Nicole Dominguez, 13, of Miramar, Fla., whose hobbies include designing free icons, layouts and “glitters” shimmering animations for the Web and MySpace pages of other teenagers. “It’s really hard.”

[...] If you did a poll I think you’d find that boys rarely have sites,” she said. “It’s mostly girls.”

Indeed, a study published in December by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that among Web users ages 12 to 17, significantly more girls than boys blog 35 percent of girls compared with 20 percent of boys and create or work on their own Web pages 32 percent of girls compared with 22 percent of boys.

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Funny [8:11 am]

If it weren’t so sad: Look, Up in the Sky!

The price tag for shooting USA-193 is up to $60 million. Try making a list of the threats to your personal safety that could be reduced for that amount of money. For instance, there’s a construction site next to our office building, and I personally spend a great deal of time worrying that the monster crane will come crashing through my office window and squash me. I bet $60 million would go a long way toward convincing the contractors to find another way to lift things.

Small, paranoid minds wondered if the government was not being completely forthright about its motives. The weapons the military mobilized to do the shooting are part of the missile defense system. Some people think the whole poison-gas story is just an excuse to give the Pentagon a chance to test its hardware.

This is only conceivable if you can imagine that the people who are in charge of intelligence-gathering might attempt to mislead the American public.

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Specialized Book Scanning Project [7:46 am]

Literary treasures, kid-friendly formatpdf

It is barely bigger than a matchbook. Its tiny spine is hand-sewn with string. Published in the mid-1800s, its eight pages are softly tattered and dappled brown with age.

Until recently, the only way to see this miniature illustrated children’s book at the Boston Public Library was to visit the rare books department, accompanied by a librarian, and view it in a private reading room.

But now, “Gems for Children,” which extols the joy of school and virtue of doing right, is available to anyone with a computer and Internet connection. With a mouse click, it can be read - page by page, picture by picture - in the International Children’s Digital Library, a website aiming to become the world’s largest collection of online children’s literature.

[...] “This provides a way for us to reach many, many more children, teachers, and parents,” said Tim Browne, executive director of the International Children’s Digital Library Foundation, the Manchester nonprofit that operates the site in collaboration with the University of Maryland. “In very remote villages, we can for the first time expose children and educational systems to real, educational books.”

The nonprofit relies heavily on volunteers to identify worthy books to add to its collection, secure copyright permission if necessary, and send the books to the foundation physically or digitally. Books are digitized by scanning them page by page, a process the library sometimes outsources to places like the Internet Archive.

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February 19, 2008

New Kid On The Block [6:19 pm]

Renowned legal scholar to join Harvard Law facultypdf

Legal scholar and political theorist Cass Sunstein is joining the faculty of Harvard Law School.

Harvard Dean Elena Kagan calls Sunstein “the pre-eminent legal scholar of our time.”

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A Test Case [6:15 pm]

Web Site That Posts Leaked Material Ordered Shut

In a move that legal experts said could present a major test of First Amendment rights in the Internet era, a federal judge in San Francisco on Friday ordered the disabling of a Web site devoted to disclosing confidential information.

The site, Wikileaks.org, invites people to post leaked materials with the goal of discouraging “unethical behavior” by corporations and governments. It has posted documents concerning the rules of engagement for American troops in Iraq, a military manual concerning the operation of prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and other evidence of what it has called corporate waste and wrongdoing.

[...] On Friday, Judge Jeffrey S. White of the Federal District Court in San Francisco granted a permanent injunction ordering Dynadot of San Mateo, Calif., the site’s domain name registrar, to disable the Wikileaks.org domain name. The order had the effect of locking the front door to the Wikileaks.org site — a largely ineffectual action that kept back doors to the site, and several copies of it, available to sophisticated Web users who knew where to look.

Later — an NYTimes editorial: Stifling Online Speech

In a second order, the judge directed Wikileaks not to distribute the bank documents. That was a “prior restraint” on speech, something the courts almost always find violates the First Amendment. If the employee did not have a right to the documents and the bank was injured as a result, a suit against the leaker for monetary damages should be sufficient.

Much of the law governing the Internet remains unsettled. Still, the free speech burdens of closing down a journalistic Web site are just as serious as closing down a print publication, and courts should tread carefully.

For now, the lawsuit appears to have backfired, bringing worldwide publicity to the documents. Enterprising Internet users have found ways to get to the site. We hope it will also educate judges and the public about the importance of giving full protection to online speech.

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Lessig For Congress? [3:52 pm]

I got an email from a past student alerting me to this development: Lessig For Congress?

Interestingly, he doesn’t seem to have rejected the draft Lessig movement out of hand. What that means is not clear, though.

Later - a reader points me to Larry’s Lessig ‘08 site

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February 18, 2008

Privacy = “Identity Management?” [9:42 am]

Lurching toward a meaningful framework for debate: One Friend Facebook Hasn’t Made Yet: Privacy Rights

Facebook was in the news this month for its disturbing policy of making it all but impossible for users to quit the site and erase their personal information. The issue was presented as one of privacy, which it is, but it is more precisely a matter of what the sociologist Erving Goffman called “identity management,” which takes on whole new levels on the Internet.

Goffman argued that people spend much of their lives managing their identity through “presentation of self.” Offline, people use clothing, facial expressions, and the revealing and withholding of personal information to convey to the world who they are, or who they want to be taken to be.

The physicality of the offline world provides built-in protections. When people talk to a group of friends, they can look around to see who is listening. When they buy a book or rent a video, if they pay in cash, no record is made connecting them to the transaction.

It’s more complicated online. [...]

So, a good start, right? But then we get this:

What Web sites need to do — and what the government should require them to do — is give users as much control over their identities online as they have offline. Users should be asked if they want information to be viewable by others, and by whom: Their friends? Everyone in the world? Privacy settings, which allow for this kind of screening, should be prominent, clear and easily managed. (I’m not sure I was part of the intended audience for my colleague’s college-years anecdotes.)

This paragraph shows how far we have to go in this discussion — because managing my offline identity is NOWHERE NEAR as simple as depicted in this editorial. While I might not completely disagree with the claim that we no longer have any privacy, I would agree that we have come to accept a level of intrusion without giving it much thought, because companies have been relatively careful. But identity theft is NOT a Facebook phenomenon; it derives from completely different sources.

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February 17, 2008

A Lesson of Transactions Costs [10:25 am]

When they get high enough, people go to all sorts of lengths to avoid them — and we get to explore how to rearrange things to lower them, for everyone’s benfit: ‘The Rings’ Prompts a Long Legal Mire

This week heirs of J. R. R. Tolkien, author of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Hobbit,” and a group of publishers joined the battle with a lawsuit demanding at least $150 million from New Line Cinema, the movie studio that hit the jackpot with three enormous hits based on the trilogy.

They are hardly the first: in fact, the trilogy may be turning into the first true cinematic “franchise” for local legal representatives. The lawsuits, to some extent, have fed one another, and are providing a feast for those who bill by the hour.

[...] The litigation history surrounding the movies is almost as complicated as the lore of Middle-earth. [...]

[...] To some extent, the flood of suits is business as usual in Hollywood, where success has a thousand fathers, and they all want to be paid. Yet there is something extraordinary in the spectacle of litigants, one after another, filing claims for a bigger piece of the “Rings” trilogy.

See also Universal Royalty Suit

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February 15, 2008

Who’d ‘a Thought It? [8:02 am]

Just when you’re ready to give up on the Democrats: House Leaves Surveillance Law to Expire

The House broke for a week’s recess Thursday without renewing terrorist surveillance authority demanded by President Bush, leading him to warn of risky intelligence gaps while Democrats accused him of reckless fear mongering.

The refusal of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, to schedule a vote on a surveillance measure approved Tuesday by the Senate touched off an intense partisan conflict over the national security questions that have colored federal elections since 2002 and are likely to play a significant role again in November.

[...] “The president knows full well that he has all the authority he needs to protect the American people,” said Ms. Pelosi, who then referred to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s admonition about fearing only fear itself. “President Bush tells the American people that he has nothing to offer but fear, and I’m afraid that his fear-mongering of this bill is not constructive.”

The decision by the House Democratic leadership to let the law lapse is the greatest challenge to Mr. Bush on a major national security issue since the Democrats took control of Congress last year.

See also Glenn Greenwald’s sardonically titled Jihadis throw a wild bash over the Protect America Act and the Post’s House Defies Bush on Wiretaps (pdf)

Later: Sharp Exchanges Over Surveillance Law

Mr. Bush accused the House Democrats of putting the nation’s security at risk by refusing to extend the administration’s surveillance authority, including immunity from lawsuits for the telecommunications companies, which the Senate approved Tuesday.

House Democrats, in turn, accused the president of needlessly frightening the American people and insisted that intelligence agencies would still have every ability to monitor terrorism suspects if a temporary surveillance authority lapsed at midnight Saturday. The Democrats noted that the underlying law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, would remain in force.

Then, both sides left town — Mr. Bush for a 12-day trip to Africa and Congressional leaders for a weeklong recess — though officials said negotiations to resolve the dispute would continue.

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February 14, 2008

An Open Network Protocol Question [9:31 am]

Are DNS machines like “bad” money (i.e., “bad money drives out good”)? Or is the network more robust? Or do we need to do something about it? Use of rogue DNS servers on rise — pdf

Mendacious machines controlled by hackers that reroute Internet traffic from infected computers to fraudulent Web sites are increasingly being used to launch attacks, according to a paper published this week by researchers with the Georgia Institute of Technology and Google Inc.

The paper estimates roughly 68,000 servers on the Internet are returning malicious Domain Name System results, which means people with compromised computers are sometimes being directed to the wrong Web sites — and often have no idea.

The conference: 15th Annual Network & Distributed System Security Symposium; the paper abstract — Corrupted DNS Resolution Paths: The Rise of a Malicious Resolution Authority

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Markey Introduces HR 5353 [9:18 am]

Rep. Markey offers net-neutrality billpdf

Legislation designed to prevent broadband Internet providers from unreasonable interference with subscribers access to content was introduced on Wednesday by a senior U.S. lawmaker.

Thomas’ summary - HR 5353

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So What? [7:51 am]

Eavesdropping Law Is Likely to Lapse

Broad spying powers temporarily approved by Congress in August appear likely to lapse this week after a daylong game of chicken on Wednesday between the White House and House Democrats produced no clear resolution.

[...] House Democratic leaders tried to obtain a 21-day reprieve to allow more time to negotiate before the temporary measure expires on Friday night. But the proposal was defeated in the face of opposition from liberals who are against the surveillance plan and conservatives who favor it.

House Democrats now say they may simply let the deadline pass without acting on the Senate plan.

Mr. Bush maintained on Wednesday that letting the broadened surveillance powers lapse “would jeopardize the security of our citizens.”

Democrats insisted that a lapse would have no real effect.

As I noted earlier, I agree completely with this Democratic claim. After all, this President has never felt that he is bound by the law anyway, so what difference does it make whether the conference committee puts together something or not?

If anything, we may get to see someone ask the President why he cares, since he was perfectly happy to conduct warrantless surveillance when it was illegal — what’s stopping him now? Some kind of new desire to hew to the dictates of the US Government? Hard to believe.

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February 12, 2008

A List of Shame (updated) [4:09 pm]

Here’s why the Democratic Congress is so reviled — and why it’s really not possible for me to even consider giving money to the party. From today’s shameful series of Senate votes giving the telcom companies amnesty, as reported by Glenn Greenwald: Amnesty Day for Bush and lawbreaking telecoms

The Dodd/Feingold amendment to remove telecom immunity from the bill just failed by a whopping vote of 31-67 — 20 votes shy of the 50 needed for a passage. A total of 18 Democrats joined all Republicans in voting for immunity: Bayh, Inouye, Johnson, Landrieu, McCaskill, Ben Nelson, Bill Nelson, Stabenow, Feinstein, Kohl, Pryor, Rockefeller, Salazar, Carper, Mikulski, Conrad, Webb, and Lincoln. Obama voted against immunity, and Hillary Clinton was the only Senator not voting.

Time to start brushing up on the use of GPG

Later, as the US Senate formally ushers in the end of the rule of law in the US: Senate Moves to Shield Phone Companies on Eavesdropping; Senate OK’s immunity on wiretaps (pdf); Senate Votes for Expansion of Spy Powers; Senate Authorizes Broad Expansion Of Surveillance Act (pdf)

So, the Washington Post includes the following bit —

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the president “will not sign another extension” of the temporary law, a decision that could force congressional leaders to reconcile their differences this week.

Here’s my question — given that this President argues that he can break the law with impunity when he feels like it, how is this a threat for any kind of action at all on the part of the conference? What difference does it make anyway whether they reconcile the two bills at all? It seems to me that the logical avenue for opponents is simply to fight in conference up until the recess and let the current law expire.

Also - a clever editorial cartoon from today’s Globe

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Open Access and Harvard University [3:05 pm]

Harvard Proposal to Publish Scholarly Research Free on the Internetpdf (also At Harvard, a Proposal to Publish Free on Web)

Publish or perish has long been the burden of every aspiring university professor. But the question the Harvard faculty will decide on Tuesday is whether to publish — on the Web, at least — free.

Faculty members are scheduled to vote on a measure that would permit Harvard to distribute their scholarship online, instead of signing exclusive agreements with scholarly journals that often have tiny readerships and high subscription costs.

Although the outcome of Tuesday’s vote would apply only to Harvard’s arts and sciences faculty, the impact, given the university’s prestige, could be significant for the open-access movement, which seeks to make scientific and scholarly research available to as many people as possible at no cost.

Later: Harvard faculty votes to post research online — pdf

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Some Things Never Change [6:55 am]

Tolkien Heirs Sue New Line Over Millions From ‘Rings’pdf

Charging “unabashed and insatiable greed,” the plaintiffs said in the complaint that New Line, which produced and distributed the “Lord of the Rings” movies, had failed to pay anything despite a nearly 40-year-old contract that entitles the trusts and the publishers to 7.5 percent of the films’ gross revenues, less certain costs.

According to the complaint, the three movies generated about $6 billion in box office receipts and ancillary revenues from DVD sales, cable television licensing fees and other sales, although Steven Maier, the British-based lawyer for the trustees, said they had not been allowed to audit the receipts from the second and third films.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs argue that New Line has “clearly engaged in the infamous practice of creative ‘Hollywood accounting,’ ” by excluding certain revenue from calculations and racking up costs that have so far prevented the studio from paying out a single dime.

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February 11, 2008

Written To Paint Critics As “Tinfoil Hatters” … [3:00 pm]

But this is really a resurgence of “net neutrality” in a new form: Demand for video reshaping Internetpdf

The growing popularity of video on the Net has driven a traffic increase thats putting strains on service providers, particularly cable companies. To deal with it, they have had to change the way they convey Internet data.

And they’ve done this in secret, raising concerns — by Web companies, consumer groups and the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission — that the nature of the Internet is being altered in ways that are difficult to divine.

But as traffic grows, there are signs that these subtle and secret controls are insufficient, and will give way to more overt measures. For instance, we could find ourselves paying not just for the speed of our connection, but for how much we download. Already, some ISPs are hindering file-sharing traffic, and AT&T Inc. is talking about blocking pirated content.

The issue is coming to a head this year, as the FCC is investigating complaints from consumer groups and legal scholars that Comcast Corp., the countrys largest cable ISP, secretly hampered file sharing by its subscribers. [...]

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