The Comcast controversy strikes at the heart of some of the biggest debates engulfing technology, including how much control network operators should have over the flow of information and entertainment over their systems and how aggressively they ought to monitor content and adjust delivery speeds. Comcasts moves reflect a basic assumption that peer-to-peer networks are primarily used to send pirated material, including songs, TV shows, and full-length movies. Specifically, charges have focused on Comcasts throttling of files sent using a peer-to-peer standard called BitTorrent that by some measures is as popular for sending video today as Napster NAPS was for sending music in the late 1990s.
But reaching conclusions over the fairness of Comcasts moves and the legitimacy of peer-to-peer content wont be easy, since not all peer-to-peer traffic is made up of ripped-off tunes and flicks. Companies such as Joost, Vuze, and even BitTorrent—whose founder, Bram Cohen, created the original peer-to-peer protocol—have struck deals to use peer-to-peer technology to distribute programming by dozens of mainline content owners such as CBS CBS, PBS, and Viacoms VIA Showtime. These content owners see peer-to-peer techniques as a promising means to go from todays grainy YouTube-quality content to deliver full high-definition resolution to consumers via the Internet.
What’s more, many experts contend that Comcast and other network owners will never succeed in accurately filtering out peer-to-peer traffic, and certainly not just the illegal stuff. Files can be easily disguised to avoid detection with a few programming tricks—say, adding some descriptive bits to make a movie clip look like an e-mail.
For the last several years, Wal-Mart Stores and other large chains have threatened legal action to intimidate Web sites that get hold of advertising circulars early and publish prices online ahead of company-set release dates. The retailers’ threats rest upon some dubious legal arguments, however, which may be the reason they haven’t shown a keen interest in actually going to court over the issue.
Wal-Mart has been among the most aggressive retailers in trying to cow consumer Web sites. Last month, it sent a cease-and-desist letter to BFAds.net, a site devoted to publishing Black Friday ads. Wal-Mart sent the letter even before BFAds had published Wal-Mart’s sale prices, so the cease-and-desist letter would be more properly called a “don’t even think about it” letter.
Wal-Mart asserts that its sales-price data are “protected by copyright and other laws.” The “other laws” were never identified or explained in the letter, and the claim of copyright protection for facts themselves, like sales prices, that exist separately from their original expression was rejected by the courts long ago. In a 1991 case, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that names and phone numbers in a telephone directory could not be copyrighted and thus could be freely copied.
A couple of articles from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s WWW site:
Within its bowels, The Boeing Co. holds volumes of proprietary information deemed so valuable that the company has entire teams dedicated to making sure that private information stays private.
One such team, dubbed “enterprise” investigators, has permission to read the private e-mails of employees, follow them and collect video footage or photos of them. Investigators can also secretly watch employee computer screens in real time and reproduce every keystroke a worker makes, the Seattle P-I has learned.
For years, Boeing workers have held suspicions about being surveilled, according to a long history of P-I contact with sources, but at least three people familiar with investigation tactics have recently confirmed them.
GPS tracking devices installed on government-issue vehicles are helping communities around the country reduce waste and abuse, in part by catching employees shopping, working out at the gym or otherwise loafing while on the clock.
The use of GPS has led to firings, stoking complaints from employees and unions that the devices are intrusive, Big Brother technology. But city officials say that monitoring employees’ movements has deterred abuses, saving the taxpayers money in gasoline and lost productivity.
“We can’t have public resources being used on private activities. That’s Management 101,” said Phil Nolan, supervisor of the Long Island town of Islip.
By now, most employees have gotten the message: It’s both technically possible and legally permissible for your employer to read e-mail you send or receive at work.
That seems logical. If you’re using an e-mail address ending with your company’s name — a type of e-mail known as POP3 (Post Office Protocol) — the address makes it clear that the company owns the domain name and the server on which the e-mail system resides.
But what about Web-based e-mail, such as Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail?
What I get for checking in on the Committee Hearing list: Exploring the Scope of Public Performance Rights, with testimony from Lyle Lovett, Alice Peacock, Steven W. Newberry (for the NAB) and Dan Devany (a classical music radio station manager in DC). The topic at issue — payments for radio broadcasts of music to performers. A surprisingly balanced set of testimony, in fact.
Of course, it’s not even close to the end of this fight, but I really expected a different outcome: Panel Drops Immunity From Eavesdropping Bill
Reflecting the deep divisions within Congress over granting legal immunity to telephone companies for cooperating with the Bush administration’s program of wiretapping without warrants, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a new domestic surveillance law on Thursday that sidestepped the issue.
By a 10 to 9 vote, the committee approved an overhaul of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that dropped a key provision for immunity for telecommunications companies that another committee had already approved. The Senate leadership will have to decide how to deal with the immunity question on the Senate floor.
On Thursday night, the House voted 227 to 189, generally along party lines, to approve its own version of the FISA bill, which also does not include immunity.
But the administration has made clear that President Bush will veto any bill that does not include what it considers necessary tools for government eavesdropping, including the retroactive immunity for phone carriers that took part in the National Security Agency’s wiretapping program after the Sept. 11 attacks.
I can’t find the vote tally for S. 2248, but I guess it was party line.
A blow-by-blow from Glenn Greenwald: Important day for FISA and amnesty
Now, the next step will be focused on Sen. Reid. He has virtually unlimited discretion to decide what version of the bill to introduce to the full Senate. He could introduce the Intelligence Committee version (with amnesty), the Judiciary Committee version (without amnesty), the House version, or he could just introduce something entirely new altogether, something that gets negotiated between Rockefeller, Leahy and Reid.
Even under the best-case scenario — namely, Reid introduces a bill which does not contain amnesty — anyone can (and certainly will) offer an amendment to include amnesty in the bill, and no matter what happens, it will be necessary to find 41 Senators willing to support Dodd’s filibuster to keep amnesty out of the bill. […]
Seriously, where do these guys find the suckers? I cannot believe that there’s that much dumb venture money out there, but that’s what I get for actually knowing something about this particular topic: Taking a Whack at Making a Car. Dave Cole sticks it to them, but the tagline of the article is everything noxious about these sorts of folks:
“We’re not two gearheads,” Mr. Levine said. “We’re not two mechanics in a garage with a dream. We’re two entrepreneurs who saw an opportunity and came up with a business model.”
Buzzword bingo, anyone?
If the administration really cared about the telecoms, it would simply allow them to use these legal documents to defend themselves in court.
But it wont. Instead, the administration invokes a little-known rule of evidence called the state secrets privilege, which allows the executive branch to avoid revealing evidence—or even litigating cases—if it claims that doing so might reveal a “state secret.” Bush lawyers have used the state secrets privilege to convince a federal appeals court to dismiss an ACLU lawsuit against the National Security Agency asking a court to declare the spying program illegal. And in the cases that have been brought against the telecoms, the administration has invoked the same privilege to argue that courts cant let the cases go forward because the telecoms would be in the unfair position of not being able to defend themselves—because, of course, the administration wont let the companies turn over the relevant documents. Retroactive immunity isnt about letting the telecoms off the hook. Its about hiding the administrations own legal claims from any judicial or public scrutiny. The administration wants to keep these cases out of court so it can cover up for itself.
The head of the cable television industry’s lobbying group yesterday took aim at the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, blasting his attempts to place new regulations on cable companies while accusing the agency of manipulating data.
Kyle McSlarrow, president and chief executive of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, disputed a pending FCC report that suggests cable companies reach enough households to warrant additional oversight. He also said that FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin is using the threat of regulation to pressure cable companies into offering channels on an a la carte basis, which would let subscribers pay for only the stations they want.
Cable operators have opposed a la carte pricing, a hot-button issue for Martin.
A San Francisco Bay area subscriber to Comcast Corp.’s high-speed Internet service has sued the company, alleging it engages in unfair business practices by interfering with subscribers’ file sharing.
Subscriber Jon Hart based his claims on the results of an investigation by the Associated Press published last month that showed Philadelphia-based Comcast actively interferes with attempts some high-speed Internet subscribers to share files online.
Welcome to America 2007: AT&T to Sell Equipment to Monitor Workplaces
AT&T plans to introduce a nationwide program today that gives owners of small- and medium-size businesses some of the same tools big security companies offer for monitoring employees, customers and operations from remote locations.
Under AT&T’s Remote Monitor program, a business owner could install adjustable cameras, door sensors and other gadgets at up to five different company locations across the country.
Using a Java-enabled mobile device or a personal computer connected to the Internet, the owner would be able to view any of the images in real time, control room lighting and track equipment temperatures remotely. All the images are recorded on digital video, which can be viewed for up to 30 days.
“It is Big Brother, but in this day and age, you need these type of tools” […]
The prediction? The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them. – V. I. Lenin