April 21, 2008

Electronic Devices and Searches [5:47 pm]

Court says search of laptop with porn is legal (pdf)

A lower court agreed with Arnold, but on Monday the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision, saying reasonable suspicion is not necessary to check laptops or other electronic devices coming over border checkpoints.

“Arnold has failed to distinguish how the search of his laptop and its electronic contents is logically any different from the suspicion-less border searches of travelers’ luggage that the Supreme Court and we have allowed,” Diarmuid O’Scannlain wrote for a three-judge panel.

Local copy of the opinion; see earlier posting: Searches and Digital Devices

From the opinion:

With respect to these searches, the Supreme Court has refused to draw distinctions between containers of information and contraband with respect to their quality or nature for purposes of determining the appropriate level of Fourth Amendment protection. Arnold’s analogy to a search of a home based on a laptop’s storage capacity is without merit. [...]

[...] Moreover, case law does not support a finding that a search which occurs in an otherwise ordinary manner, is “particularly offensive” simply due to the storage capacity of the object being searched. [...]

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A Question of Harm [2:55 pm]

This Friday I went to see Jonathan Zittrain give a talk at Harvard about his new book, which I have not yet finished reading. Jonathan was his usual incredibly diverting self and he gave gave good precis of the book (at least, consistent with what I have read to this point.

During the Q&A John Palfrey asked the closing question, a classic question to a presenter, which could be roughly phrased as “of all the questions you’ve gotten on this talk, which was the hardest to answer that hasn’t already been asked today.” Jonathan pointed to one of the key questions that have continued to come up in these talks, which is essentially, “why won’t the market just take care of this problem?” Jonathan admitted that, at this point, he really doesn’t have a compelling proof, just a strong conviction.

Which brings me to this little news item, elements of which have been percolating for some time. It seems to me that dealing with the market question ultimately brings us back to two classic policy questions - (1) where’s the harm and (2) is the harm (and thus its remedy) external to the market? So, keeping those two questions in mind while reading this (and pondering appropriate remedies) might be helpful — because showing the harm is not easy, IMHO, but it’s the necessary step before you even get to discussing remedies: HD enthusiasts crying foul over cable TV’s crunched signals (pdf)

As cable TV companies pack ever more HD channels into limited bandwidth, some owners of pricey plasma, projector and LCD TVs are complaining that they’re not getting the high-def quality they paid for. They blame the increased signal compression being used to squeeze three digital HD signals into the bandwidth of one analog station.

The problem is viewers want more HD channels at a time when many cable and satellite providers are at the limits of their capacity, said Jim Willcox, a technology editor for Consumer Reports magazine.

“They have to figure out a way to deliver more HD content through their distribution networks,” he said.

Compressing the signal is cheaper than costly infrastructure upgrades to increase capacity. Satellite TV providers — including DirecTV Group Inc. and Dish Network Corp. — also have the option of launching satellites to boost the number of HD channels on their systems.

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Recessions and Online Advertising [9:19 am]

Evolving business models: A Web Shift in the Way Advertisers Seek Clicks

In the United States, $21.1 billion was spent on online advertising last year, up from $16.9 billion in 2006, according to eMarketer. Search advertising — Google’s stronghold — is the majority of that spending, according to Jeffrey Lindsay, an analyst at Sanford Bernstein.

According to a report by Imran Khan, an Internet analyst at JPMorgan Chase, ad networks “are growing much faster than the general graphical advertising industry.” He estimated that the top 20 ad networks had earned $2 billion in 2007, or 14 percent of the display market.

The reasons ad networks are thriving are price and improved technology. Ad networks charge much lower cost per thousand ads served (known as CPMs), as low as $4 on an ad network with some targeting, compared with $40 and up for some ads on premium sites like MSN or Yahoo.

“While the home pages are still very effective media buys, the price tags on them have become a little outrageous for many advertisers. For all the growth that has gone on from a site standpoint, there are other ways to amass that type of audience fairly quickly that are more efficient,” said Margaret Clerkin, the chief executive of Mindshare Interaction, a media-buying firm.

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A Good Question [9:14 am]

Tension Over Sports Blogging

Tension over sports blogging is one of the strains between sports franchises, leagues and reporters to have emerged during the digital age.

The dispute has grown lately between the press and organized sports over issues like how reporters cover teams, who owns the rights to photographs, audio and video that journalists gather at sports events, and whether someone who writes only blogs should be given access to the locker room.

The explosion of new media, especially with regard to advertising income, has made competitors out of two traditional allies — news media and professional sports.

At the heart of the issue, which people on both sides alternately describe as a commercial dispute and a First Amendment fight, is a simple question: Who owns sports coverage?

Of course, the question to resolve first is “Should sports coverage be ownable?” Some other great questions posed in the article.

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A Different Sort of Privacy Question [9:10 am]

From DNA of Family, a Tool to Make Arrests (pdf)

He was a church-going father of two, and for more than 30 years Dennis Rader eluded police in the Wichita area, killing 10 people and signing taunting letters with a self-styled monogram: BTK, for Bind Torture Kill. In the end, it was a DNA sample that tied BTK to his crimes. Not his own DNA. But his daughter’s.

Investigators obtained a court order without the daughter’s knowledge for a Pap smear specimen she had given five years earlier at a university medical clinic in Kansas. A DNA profile of the specimen almost perfectly matched the DNA evidence taken from several BTK crime scenes, leading detectives to conclude she was the child of the killer. That allowed police to secure an arrest warrant in February 2005 and end BTK’s murderous career.

The BTK case was an early use of an emerging tool in law enforcement: analyzing the DNA of a suspect’s relatives. [...]

[...] As things stand in some states, lab analysts who discover a potential suspect in this way may not be permitted to share that information with investigators. Such a policy, said William Fitzpatrick, a New York state district attorney, “is insanity. It’s disgraceful. If I’ve got something of scientific value that I can’t share because of imaginary privacy concerns, it’s crazy. That’s how we solve crimes.”

But the technique is arousing fierce objections from privacy advocates, who maintain that it turns family members into genetic informants without their knowledge or consent. They complain that it takes material collected for one purpose and uses it for another. And with the nation’s DNA database disproportionately comprised of minority offenders, they say, it amounts to placing a class of Americans under greater scrutiny merely because their relatives have committed crimes.

“If practiced routinely, we would be subjecting hundreds of thousands of innocent people who happen to be relatives of individuals in the FBI database to lifelong genetic surveillance,” said Tania Simoncelli, science adviser to the American Civil Liberties Union.

See also Saturday’s Ted Rall cartoon (local copy)

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