Try Out “Switzerland”

Something to try out: Switzerland Network Testing Tool

Is your ISP interfering with your BitTorrent connections? Cutting off your VOIP calls? Undermining the principles of network neutrality? In order to answer those questions, concerned Internet users need tools to test their Internet connections and gather evidence about ISP interference practices. After all, if it werent for the testing efforts of Rob Topolski, the Associated Press, and EFF, Comcast would still be stone-walling about their now-infamous BitTorrent blocking efforts.

Developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Switzerland is an open source software tool for testing the integrity of data communications over networks, ISPs and firewalls. It will spot IP packets which are forged or modified between clients, inform you, and give you copies of the modified packets.

TorrentSpy Fallout: The Bunnell Appeal

Appeals of E-Mail Hacking Case Could Redefine Online Privacy (pdf)

A federal appeals court in California is reviewing a lower court’s definition of “interception” in the digital age, in a case that some legal experts say could weaken consumer privacy protections online.

The case, Bunnell v. Motion Picture Association of America, involves a hacker who in 2005 broke into a file-sharing company’s server and obtained copies of company e-mails as they were being transmitted. He then e-mailed 34 pages of the documents to an MPAA executive, who paid the hacker $15,000 for the job, according to court documents.

The issue boils down to the judicial definition of an intercept in the electronic age, in which packets of data move from server to server, alighting for milliseconds before speeding onward. […]

In August 2007, Judge Florence-Marie Cooper, in the Central District of California, ruled that the alleged hacker, Rob Anderson, had not intercepted the e-mails in violation of the 1968 Wiretap Act because they were technically in storage, if only for a few instants, instead of in transmission.

The EFF’s site on the appeal; Wired’s I Was a Hacker for the MPAA; eWeek’s Court Ruling Could Have Major Impact on E-Discovery

What Universities Are All About

Education Bill with Anti-P2P Clause Goes to Bush

The House on Thursday approved an education bill with a controversial anti-piracy provision still intact.

The bill, H.R. 4137, extends the Higher Education Act of 1965, but also authorizes the secretary of education to withhold federal financial aid money to schools that do not develop and implement solutions to reduce the amount of illegal downloading. A similar bill also passed the Senate.

The bill now moves to President Bush for his signature.

Specifically, in order to receive government funds, schools would have to notify students on an annual basis that they could face civil or criminal charges if they are found to be illegally downloading copyrighted material.

Schools must also develop a P2P policy, including how schools discipline students who are found to be in violation, and provide the Education Department with a description of actions taken to prevent and detect illegal file-sharing.

A Probe Into The Scope Of Targeted Marketing Online

Lawmakers Seek Data On Targeted Online Ads (pdf)

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is expanding its inquiry into potential privacy violations of online advertising that is targeted based on consumers’ Web-surfing activities.

The lawmakers have written to 33 telecommunications businesses to learn whether, how and when Internet companies might have engaged in such practices. Their aim in part is to determine whether existing laws sufficiently protect consumers’ privacy in online behavioral advertising or whether new legislation is needed.

“The Committee is interested in learning how pervasive this practice is among cable, phone, and Internet companies, what safeguards are in place to ensure that consumers are aware of the practice, and how best to preserve their privacy,” committee Chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), said in a letter Friday to firms including AOL, AT&T, Comcast, Cox, Google, Time Warner Cable, Microsoft, Yahoo and Verizon.

DVR Legitimacy?

An entertaining read of what I am sure is going to be a continuing series of challenges: A Ruling May Pave the Way for Broader Use of DVR

RECORDING TV shows — and skipping the commercials that come with them — may become more pervasive in the wake of a new court ruling that blesses a new networked form of digital video recorder.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York said Monday that the so-called network DVR, which records programs on a faraway computer rather than on the device itself, does not violate copyright law.

The opinion: The Cartoon Network LP, LLLP v. CSC Holdings, Inc.

Defendant-Appellant Cablevision Systems Corporation (“Cablevision”) wants to market a new “Remote Storage” Digital Video Recorder system (“RS-DVR”), using a technology akin to both traditional, set-top digital video recorders, like TiVo (“DVRs”), and the video-on-demand (“VOD”) services provided by many cable companies. Plaintiffs-Appellees produce copyrighted movies and television programs that they provide to Cablevision pursuant to numerous licensing agreements. They contend that Cablevision, through the operation of its RS-DVR system as proposed, would directly infringe their copyrights both by making unauthorized reproductions, and by engaging in public performances, of their copyrighted works. The material facts are not in dispute. Because we conclude that Cablevision would not directly infringe plaintiffs’ rights under the Copyright Act by offering its RS-DVR system to consumers, we reverse the district court’s award of summary judgment to plaintiffs, and we vacate its injunction against Cablevision.

[…] In most copyright disputes, the allegedly infringing act and the identity of the infringer are never in doubt. These cases turn on whether the conduct in question does, in fact, infringe the plaintiff’s copyright. In this case, however, the core of the dispute is over the authorship of the infringing conduct. After an RS-DVR subscriber selects a program to record, and that program airs, a copy of the program–a copyrighted work–resides on the hard disks of Cablevision’s Arroyo Server, its creation unauthorized by the copyright holder. The question is who made this copy. If it is Cablevision, plaintiffs’ theory of direct infringement succeeds; if it is the customer, plaintiffs’ theory fails because Cablevision would then face, at most, secondary liability, a theory of liability expressly disavowed by plaintiffs.

Few cases examine the line between direct and contributory liability. […]

[…] We do not believe that an RS-DVR customer is sufficiently distinguishable from a VCR user to impose liability as a direct infringer on a different party for copies that are made automatically upon that customer’s command.

[…] For these reasons, we are not inclined to say that Cablevision, rather than the user, “does” the copying produced by the RS-DVR system. As a result, we find that the district court erred in concluding that Cablevision, rather than its RS-DVR customers, makes the copies carried out by the RS-DVR system.

[…] From the foregoing, it is evident that the transmit clause directs us to examine who precisely is “capable of receiving” a particular transmission of a performance. Cablevision argues that, because each RS-DVR transmission is made using a single unique copy of a work, made by an individual subscriber, one that can be decoded exclusively by that subscriber’s cable box, only one subscriber is capable of receiving any given RS-DVR transmission. This argument accords with the language of the transmit clause, which, as described above, directs us to consider the potential audience of a given transmission. We are unpersuaded by the district court’s reasoning and the plaintiffs’ arguments that we should consider a larger potential audience in determining whether a transmission is “to the public.”

[…] [N]one of the arguments advanced by plaintiffs or the district court alters our conclusion that, under the transmit clause, we must examine the potential audience of a given transmission by an alleged infringer to determine whether that transmission is “to the public.” And because the RS-DVR system, as designed, only makes transmissions to one subscriber using a copy made by that subscriber, we believe that the universe of people capable of receiving an RS-DVR transmission is the single subscriber whose self-made copy is used to create that transmission.

Drugs, Data, Surveillance

I don’t even want to think about what “off label” prescriptions are going to mean to this system: Prescription Data Used To Assess Consumers (pdf)

Health and life insurance companies have access to a powerful new tool for evaluating whether to cover individual consumers: a health “credit report” drawn from databases containing prescription drug records on more than 200 million Americans.

Collecting and analyzing personal health information in commercial databases is a fledgling industry, but one poised to take off as the nation enters the age of electronic medical records. While lawmakers debate how best to oversee the shift to computerized records, some insurers have already begun testing systems that tap into not only prescription drug information, but also data about patients held by clinical and pathological laboratories.

Traditionally, insurance companies have judged an applicant’s risk by gathering medical records from physicians’ offices. But the new tools offer the advantage of being “electronic, fast and cheap,” said Mark Franzen, managing director of Milliman IntelliScript, which provides consumers’ personal drug profiles to insurers.

The trend holds promise for improved health care and cost savings, but privacy and consumer advocates fear it is taking place largely outside the scrutiny of federal health regulators and lawmakers.

Obscurity Eroded

And errors propagated: If You Run a Red Light, Will Everyone Know?

WANT to vet a baby sitter? Need to peek into the background of a prospective employee? Curious about the past of a potential date?

Last month, PeopleFinders, a 20-year-old company based in Sacramento, introduced CriminalSearches.com, a free service to satisfy those common impulses. The site, which is supported by ads, lets people search by name through criminal archives of all 50 states and 3,500 counties in the United States. In the process, it just might upset a sensitive social balance once preserved by the difficulty of obtaining public documents like criminal records.

Academics have a term for the old inaccessibility of records like those for criminal convictions: “practical obscurity.” Once upon a time, people in search of this data had to hire private investigators to navigate byzantine courthouses and rudimentary filing or computer systems, and to deal with often grim-faced legal clerks. In a way, the obstacles to getting criminal information maintained a valuable, ignorance-fueled civil peace. Convicts could start fresh after serving their time without strangers knowing their pasts, and there was little risk that unsophisticated researchers could confuse people with identical names.

Well, not anymore. The information on CriminalSearches.com is available to all comers. “Do you really know who people are?” the site blares in large script at the top of the page.

[…] Mr. Lane concedes that his site contains some mistakes. Every locale has its own computer system, he notes, and some are digitizing and updating records faster than others.

A quick check of the database confirms that it is indeed imperfect. Some records are incomplete, and there is often no way to distinguish between people with the same names if you don’t know their birthdays (and even that date is often missing).

The Diplopedia

Cooperative content development at the State Department: An Internal Wiki That’s Not Classified

IN the past, said Stacie R. Hankins, a special assistant at the United States Embassy in Rome, when the ambassador prepared to meet an Italian political figure, the staff would e-mail a memo about the meeting and attach biographies of those who would be attending to be printed out.

Today, she said, they still produce the memo, but “now they attach a link to the Diplopedia article” — Diplopedia being a wiki, open to the contributions of all who work in the State Department. The ambassador, Ronald P. Spogli, frequently reads the biographies on his BlackBerry on the way to the meeting.

The advantages are obvious, in efficiency and in saving paper, but it has required a leap of faith, too. For, theoretically at least, anyone at the State Department could have edited the biographies Mr. Spogli was reading — unlike traditional resources.

[…] The decision to embrace wikis is part of a changing ethic at the department, from a “need to know culture” to a “need to share culture,” said Daniel Sheerin, deputy director of eDiplomacy, which was created in 2003. “This is a technological manifestation of a policy difference,” he said, a change he dated to when Colin L. Powell was secretary of state.