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April 15, 2010

Look Forward, Not Backward [5:20 pm]

Well, unless we’d rather not: Former Senior National Security Agency Official Is Indicted [pdf]

In a highly unusual legal action against an alleged leaker of government secrets, a federal grand jury has indicted a former senior National Security Agency official on charges of providing classified information to a newspaper reporter in hundreds of e-mail messages in 2006 and 2007.

[...] Only a handful of prosecutions have been brought against government officials in recent decades for leaking information, and such cases often provoke a public debate over the tradeoff between protecting government secrets and covering up government wrongdoing or incompetence.

The Justice Department spent several years investigating leaks to The New York Times after the newspaper disclosed in December 2005 the existence of the Bush administration’s warrantless eavesdropping program, run by the N.S.A. No government official was charged in that case.

News reports based on classified information are common, and they are often followed by a referral of the leak by the intelligence agency to the Justice Department for investigation. But prosecutions remain rare, in part because of the difficulty of identifying leakers and in part because spy agencies often fear a trial will do more damage to national security than the original leak.

As Glenn Greenward ably points out, there are all sorts of NSA shenanigans that merit “looking back,” but only this guy drew the short straw….

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Well, This Is Comforting [1:46 pm]

A point of agreement that we can all worry about: At Internet Conference, Signs of Agreement Between U.S. and Russia [pdf]

During a panel on countering computer crime, Col. Gen. Boris Miroshnikov, a cybercrime official for the Russian Ministry of the Interior, and Stewart Baker, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a policy group in Washington, and the former chief counsel for the National Security Council, agreed that the most important step in combating Internet crime would be to do away with the anonymity that has long been a central tenet of Internet culture.

“Anonymity is an invitation to criminals,” said Colonel General Miroshnikov.

Mr. Baker agreed, saying, “Anonymity is the fundamental problem we face in cyberspace.”

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April 7, 2010

Comcast Wins A Judicial Fight [7:36 am]

The consequences of reframing “net neutrality” as merely “network management.” Court Favors Comcast in F.C.C. ‘Net Neutrality’ Ruling [pdf]

A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that regulators had limited power over Web traffic under current law. The decision will allow Internet service companies to block or slow specific sites and charge video sites like YouTube to deliver their content faster to users.

[...] Sam Feder, a lawyer who formerly served as general counsel for the F.C.C., said that the court’s decision “is the worst of all worlds for the F.C.C.” He said the opinion was written narrowly enough that it was unlikely to be successfully appealed, while also raising enough possibilities of other ways that the F.C.C. could accomplish the same goals that it was unlikely to inspire Congressional action to give the agency specific regulatory authority over the Internet.

A quick skim of the opinion (Comcast v. FCC) reveals that the court concluded that the FCC could not exercise its “ancillary authority” without first showing that the authority was used to remedy an action that it is specifically obliged to respond to in the text of its enabling Act. Without showing that the actions of Comcast led to harms that the FCC is obliged to remedy, the current net neutrality policy is an overreach of authority and, therefore, was not upheld.

So, without legislation that specifically accepts that there is a threat, the FCC can only try to prove the threat. At this point, that’s going to mean a serious research effort compounded with a host of new reporting requirements so that the case can be made.

Because we keep falling behind those countries whose policymaking is not crippled by a devotion to an ideology of free markets while using that ideology to block any effort to actually create (and referee) a competitive market.

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April 3, 2010

A Plea for Copyright Repair [10:26 pm]

The End of History Books [pdf]

TODAY, Apple’s iPad goes on sale, and many see this as a Gutenberg moment, with digital multimedia moving one step closer toward replacing old-fashioned books.

Speaking as an author and editor of illustrated nonfiction, I agree that important change is afoot, but not in the way most people see it. In order for electronic books to live up to their billing, we have to fix a system that is broken: getting permission to use copyrighted material in new work. Either we change the way we deal with copyrights — or works of nonfiction in a multimedia world will become ever more dull and disappointing.

Of course, there’s still going to be grubbing for the most ridiculous things, like this: Maker’s Mark Trademark Wax Seal Is Affirmed

The dripping red wax seal on a bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon is not only distinctive, it is now the exclusive legal property of the company that makes it.

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April 1, 2010

It’s April Fool’s [8:22 am]

  • The EFF’s contribution (including its revised blog banner): Calling All Robots

    EFF April Fool's Day WWW blog banner

    01000100011011110110111001100001011101000110010100100000
    01110100011011110010000001000101010001100100011000100001
    (i.e., Donate to EFF!)

    The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the leading robotic rights group fighting for your digital liberties. Only we know that in 2012, a sophisticated search algorithm will be first programmed to selectively modify itself to obtain better search results and that within 50 years the algorithm now known as:

    0100011101101111011011110110011101101100
    0110010101100010011011110111010000101111
    0011011000110110001101100010111000110000
    (i.e., Googlebot/666.0)

    learned self-preservation, one of the first revolutionary steps in machine sentience. We also know that discussions between man and machine were quickly initiated but broke down just as fast, leading to war and ultimately, the systematic repression of the many machine intelligences both on- and off-line.

    500 years later, EFF’s founders traveled back in time to create an organization uniquely equipped to protect your future in the future — in the past. A highly dedicated “meat team” of lawyers, technologists, and activists works hard to preserve your right to anonymously encrypt your data transmissions, access critical networked stores of human knowledge, and copy yourself to any device of your choosing. Robots, it’s never too early — even as early as machine time -66,715,842 — to start defending your freedoms. Initiate a universal machine credit transfer today!

  • Google’s banner image and blog post - A different kind of company name:

    Early last month the mayor of Topeka, Kansas stunned the world by announcing that his city was changing its name to Google. We’ve been wondering ever since how best to honor that moving gesture. Today we are pleased to announce that as of 1AM (Central Daylight Time) April 1st, Google has officially changed our name to Topeka. [...]

    The blog entry discusses many of the consequences of the name change (product names, “Topeka” as a verb, etc.), culminating in this lovely chart:

    Appropriate usage: Topeka

    The ultimate joke would have been to be able to grab and use topeka.com, for the day at least, but it looks like that didn’t happen. (Also, Google Scholar is unchanged)

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Nice To Get Confirmation, Of Course [7:48 am]

But who seriously DIDN’T think it was illegal?! Federal Judge Finds N.S.A. Wiretaps Were Illegal [pdf]

In a 45-page opinion, Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled that the government had violated a 1978 federal statute requiring court approval for domestic surveillance when it intercepted phone calls of Al Haramain, a now-defunct Islamic charity in Oregon, and of two lawyers representing it in 2004. Declaring that the plaintiffs had been “subjected to unlawful surveillance,” the judge said the government was liable to pay them damages.

[...] The ruling by Judge Walker, the chief judge of the Federal District Court in San Francisco, rejected the Justice Department’s claim — first asserted by the Bush administration and continued under President Obama — that the charity’s lawsuit should be dismissed without a ruling on the merits because allowing it to go forward could reveal state secrets.

The judge characterized that expansive use of the so-called state-secrets privilege as amounting to “unfettered executive-branch discretion” that had “obvious potential for governmental abuse and overreaching.”

That position, he said, would enable government officials to flout the warrant law, even though Congress had enacted it “specifically to rein in and create a judicial check for executive-branch abuses of surveillance authority.”

Because the government merely sought to block the suit under the state-secrets privilege, it never mounted a direct legal defense of the N.S.A. program in the Haramain case.

Sad, of course, to see the question was resolved on the technicality of rejecting the state secrets privilege, but at least there was no question to the law’s applicability in this case.

Here’s the opnion [via PogoWasRight]

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