May 2, 2011

Wikileaks Founder: Facebook is the most appalling spy machine that has ever been invented

Matt Brian:

Despite awaiting extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is still the subject of much media interest.

Russia Today (RT) interviewed Assange, getting his viewpoint on political unrest in Egypt and Libya, particularly probing what the Wikileaks founder makes of social media's roles in the recent revolutions in both countries. In his interview, Assange focuses particularly on Facebook calling it the "most appalling spy machine that has ever been invented".

Posted by jez at 8:35 PM

January 30, 2011

GOP pushing for ISPs to record user data

Declan McCullagh:

he House Republicans' first major technology initiative is about to be unveiled: a push to force Internet companies to keep track of what their users are doing.

A House panel chaired by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin is scheduled to hold a hearing tomorrow morning to discuss forcing Internet providers, and perhaps Web companies as well, to store records of their users' activities for later review by police.

One focus will be on reviving a dormant proposal for data retention that would require companies to store Internet Protocol (IP) addresses for two years, CNET has learned.

Tomorrow's data retention hearing is juxtaposed against the recent trend to protect Internet users' privacy by storing less data. Last month, the Federal Trade Commission called for "limited retention" of user data on privacy grounds, and in the last 24 hours, both Mozilla and Google have announced do-not-track technology.

Amazing. I thought the economy was job #1 for the Republicans.

Posted by jez at 8:18 PM

January 24, 2011

Antitrust bulldog Gary Reback pushes Google probe

James Temple:

In the 1990s, attorney Gary Reback helped goad the Department of Justice into launching the landmark antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft Corp. by hauling willing witnesses and damning information before any government body that would listen.

Reback, of Menlo Park law firm Carr & Ferrell LLP, is now waging a similarly relentless campaign against a technology giant of this era, Google Inc.

In an extensive interview with The Chronicle, he argued the Mountain View search company is engaging in a host of anti-competitive behaviors that are no less egregious than the earlier actions of Microsoft.

He also claims the Federal Trade Commission recently backed off an inquiry into certain of Google's practices at the behest of the DOJ. It's known to be conducting a separate investigation into, and possibly preparing to block, the company's proposed acquisition of travel data company ITA Software. (Read on for his take on what that means.)

Posted by jez at 10:08 PM

January 8, 2011

Politics & The Internet

The Economist:

FOR wizened cyberpunks, it is a seemingly timeless debate: does the internet inherently promote openness and democracy, or can it just as easily strengthen the hand of authoritarian regimes? A decade ago Andrew Shapiro's book "The Control Revolution" argued the former, while Shanthi Kalathil's and Taylor Boas's tome "Open Networks, Closed Regimes" dissented. This week sees the publication of "The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom" by Evgeny Morozov, which sides with the pessimists.

The argument usually ends in a stalemate of competing anecdotes. Street protests organised by mobile text messages successfully oust Philippine President Joseph Estrada in 2001; Iran's supposedly Twitter-powered Green Movement gets quashed in 2009. And so on. Clay Shirky, one of the preeminent public intellectuals of the internet, who has previously sided with cyber-utopian optimists, has now elegantly squared the circle by establishing an intellectual framework to consider the topic in "The Political Power of Social Media", an article in the current Foreign Affairs. (Users must register to access the complete essay, but it is free.) Mr Shirky's essay makes three principal contributions to the debate.

Posted by jez at 2:58 PM

December 23, 2010

On Net Nuetrality

Steve Wozniak:

To whom it may concern:

I have always loved humor and laughter. As a young engineer I got an impulse to start a Dial-a-Joke in the San Jose/San Francisco area. I was aware of such humor services in other countries, such as Australia. This idea came from my belief in laughter. I could scarcely believe that I was the first person to create such a simple service in my region. Why was I the first? This was 1972 and it was illegal in the U.S. to use your own telephone. It was illegal in the U.S. to use your own answering machine. Hence it also virtually impossible to buy or own such devices. We had a monopoly phone system in our country then.

The major expense for a young engineer is the rent of an apartment. The only answering machine I could legally use, by leasing (not purchasing) it from our phone company, the Codaphone 700, was designed for businesses like theaters. It was out of the price range of creative individuals wanting to try something new like dial-a-joke. This machine leased for more than a typical car payment each month. Despite my great passion and success with Dial-a-Joke, I could not afford it and eventually had to stop after a couple of years. By then, a San Francisco radio station had also started such a service. I believe that my Dial-a-Joke was the most called single line (no extensions) number in the country at that time due to the shortness of my jokes and the high popularity of the service.

Posted by jez at 2:46 PM

December 3, 2010

Some Data-Miners Ready to Reveal What They Know

Emily Steel

Seeking to head off escalating scrutiny over Internet privacy, a group of online tracking rivals are building a service that lets consumers see what information those companies know about them.

The project is the first of its kind in the fast-growing business of tracking Internet users and selling personal details about their lives. Called the Open Data Partnership, it will allow consumers to edit the interests, demographics and other profile information collected about them. It also will allow people to choose to not be tracked at all.
When the service launches in January, users will be able to see information about them from eight data and tracking firms, including BlueKai Inc., Lotame Solutions Inc. and eXelate Inc.

Additional tracking firms are expected to join once the system is live, but more than a hundred tracking firms and big Internet companies including Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. are not involved.

Posted by jez at 9:47 PM

August 31, 2010

Big Brother Google

William Gibson

"I ACTUALLY think most people don't want Google to answer their questions," said the search giant's chief executive, Eric Schmidt, in a recent and controversial interview. "They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next." Do we really desire Google to tell us what we should be doing next? I believe that we do, though with some rather complicated qualifiers.

Science fiction never imagined Google, but it certainly imagined computers that would advise us what to do. HAL 9000, in "2001: A Space Odyssey," will forever come to mind, his advice, we assume, imminently reliable -- before his malfunction. But HAL was a discrete entity, a genie in a bottle, something we imagined owning or being assigned. Google is a distributed entity, a two-way membrane, a game-changing tool on the order of the equally handy flint hand ax, with which we chop our way through the very densest thickets of information. Google is all of those things, and a very large and powerful corporation to boot.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:15 PM

August 15, 2010

Google On the Future. Will It All Be Good In the Googlesphere?

Professor Sabena
The nice people of Rupert's world sat down with Google head man - Eric Schmidt. The Wall Street Journal team peppered Eric with lots of interesting questions. Some of his answers would make the usual PRHHM (Public Relations hacks handlers and minders) squirm.

In the Googlesphere it has become clear that all information should be held sacred as long as Google has a copy and is in charge of what gets shown and not shown. As Schmidt noted in the Techonomy conference on August 4, 2010 , all information should be subject to "much greater transparency and no anonymity." ... because he assumes that (Google) technology is ultimately good (as opposed to evil). I think that makes me very nervous. And thank you, I vote for my Government which I think is called a democracy. Going back to the WSJ article, Schmidt continues - "Most people..... They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next."

In general I believe that personalization is part of the mix. My view is that 'context' is better term than 'personalization'. I don't think that everything needs to be/should be uniquely or personalized. That is not how we are in our work and personal lives. To assume that this is the case is blatantly arrogant in my view. What happens if you get this wrong? And yes people who should know better do get these sort of things wrong - frequently. Just look at credit reports. But Google doesn't seem to want to think about that because.... Mr. Schmidt is a believer in targeted advertising because, simply, he's a believer in targeted everything: "The power of individual targeting—the technology will be so good it will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not in some sense been tailored for them." ....This is a direct quote from the WSJ. Too bad that Big Brother Google will be the arbiter or this and thence directly or indirectly control and influence our tastes.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:04 PM

June 28, 2010

Three privacy initiatives from the Office of Management and Budget The U.S. government has a new take on federated identity, storage and social networks.

Andy Oram:
Last Friday was a scramble for government security personnel and independent privacy advocates, and should also have stood out to anyone concerned with the growth of online commerce, civic action, and social networking. The U.S. government's Office of Management and Budget, which is the locus of President Obama's drive toward transparency and open government, popped out three major initiatives that combine to potentially change the landscape for online identity and privacy, not only within government but across the Internet.

In this blog I'll summarize the impacts of all three documents, as well as the next steps that I see necessary in these areas. The documents (all distributed as PDFs, which is not the easiest format to draw commentary) are:
  • A discussion draft of the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. Comments can be viewed and entered on a feedback site.
  • An OMB Memorandum on Guidance for Online Use of Web Measurement and Customization Technologies.
  • An OMB Memorandum on Guidance for Agency Use of Third-Party Websites and Applications.
These documents are not long, but the complexity of the policy areas they address ensure that no blog could cover everything of importance, nor could a single commentator like me provide a well-rounded view. I'll focus on the changes they make to policies that are known to require change, with a "job well done" pat on the back. In highlighting gaps and omissions, I'll deliberately swim around the shoals that others have loudly pointed to already, focusing instead on problems that I believe deserve more attention.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:43 PM

June 20, 2010

Strolling Through 19th Century London Today

Brian Barrett:
Augmented reality might be the future, but my favorite application of it yet transports you far into past. StreetMuseum—an iPhone app from the Museum of London—overlays four hundred years of historic images on today's city streets.

StreetMuseum makes creative use of Google Maps and geo-tagging to show users how London used to look. You can use it to check out pictures and info about nearby historic locations, which is has more of a straightforward walking tour feel. But the fun starts when you're actually standing in front of a location in the database. That's when the AR "3D view" kicks in, with views that may look something like this:
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:26 PM

June 6, 2010

Group cites study in push for Google antitrust case

Consumer Watchdog continues to push its case that Google Inc.'s behavior necessitates antitrust scrutiny, releasing a report that alleges that the company is abusing its dominance in online search to direct users to its own services.

The study cites online traffic data that the Santa Monica group claims show the Mountain View Internet giant seized large portions of market share in areas like online maps, video and comparison shopping after its search engine began highlighting links to its products in results.

Google called the report's methodology and premise flawed and said its practices are designed to benefit users.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:10 PM

May 31, 2010

Google has mapped every WiFi network in Britain

Duncan Gardham:
Google has mapped every wireless network in Britain in order to use the information for commercial purposes, it has emerged.

Every WiFi wireless router – the device that links most computer owners to the internet - in every home has been entered into a Google database.

The information was collected by radio aerials on their Street View cars, which have now photographed almost every home in the country.

The data is then used on Google's Maps for Mobile application to locate mobile phones such as iPhones in order for users to access information relevant to the area such as restaurants, cinemas, theatres, shops and hotels.

The project had remained secret until an inquiry in Germany earlier this month in which Google was forced to admit that it “mistakenly” downloaded emails and other data from unsecured wireless networks where they we
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:40 PM

May 28, 2010

Identity cards scheme will be axed 'within 100 days'

The National Identity Card scheme will be abolished within 100 days with all cards becoming invalid, Home Secretary Theresa May has said.

Legislation to axe the scheme will be the first put before parliament by the new government - with a target of it becoming law by August.

The 15,000 people who voluntarily paid £30 for a card since the 2009 roll out in Manchester will not get a refund.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:28 PM

April 21, 2010

The decline of the Great Writ: The sad history of habeas corpus

The Economist:
Habeas Corpus: From England to Empire. By Paul Halliday. Harvard University Press; 502 pages; $39.95 and £29.95. Buy from,

WHEN discussing habeas corpus or the “Great Writ of Liberty”, as the most revered legal device of the Anglophone world is often known, jurists and civil libertarians tend to become misty-eyed. In 1777 Charles James Fox, a radical British politician, described habeas corpus during a parliamentary debate on its suspension as “the great palladium of the liberties of the subject” and deplored the “insolence and temerity” of those “who could thus dare to snatch it from the people”.

Nearly 230 years later, in an impassioned attack from the Senate floor on the Bush administration’s bill to suspend habeas corpus for anyone determined to be an “unlawful enemy combatant”, Barack Obama declared: “I do not want to hear that this is a new kind of world in which we face a new kind of enemy.” Another senator, Arlen Specter, roared: “The right of habeas corpus was established in the Magna Carta in 1215…what the bill seeks to do is set back basic rights by some 900 years.” In Britain, Lord Hoffmann, a law lord reviewing government “control orders” to detain terrorist suspects in 2007, thundered: “Such is the revulsion against detention without charge or trial, such is this country’s attachment to habeas corpus, that the right to liberty ordinarily trumps even the interests of national security.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:06 AM

April 7, 2010

The Europe roundup: Iceland, from the financial crisis to open data

Antonella Napolitino:
Iceland | From the financial crisis to open data
In 2008 in Iceland the financial system imploded. "Not surprisingly, this has led to a demand for more transparency, more access to public data and more effective communication by the government. All of a sudden Open Data is seen as a high priority among various lobby groups, branches of government and in restoration planning" says Hjalmar Gislason, an open data activist and member of the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Working Group on EU Open Data. In a long and detailed post, Gislason explains how this is not just part of the "momentum" open data is gaining in Europe, but a further step in a path that started in late '90s.
The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative and the presence of Wikileaks surely have a positive impact on the whole scenario and there is no doubt they will help boosting any future open data bill. The effects will be seen soon: "In December a rare cross-party parliamentary proposal (the first step in passing new legislation) was made, proposing a “default open” strategy for any public sector data. The Prime Minister’s Office has formed a committee that is to propose changes and improvements in legislation and suggest how to define the boundaries between data that is to be open and data that shall remain closed."
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:06 AM

April 5, 2010

German Government Minister's Letter to Facebook

German Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner:
Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,

I was astonished to discover that, despite the concerns of users and severe criticism from consumer activists, "Facebook" would like to relax data protection regulations on the network even further. Your current privacy policy states that in future user data is to be automatically passed on to third parties. These parties are supposed to comprise previously vetted operators of websites and applications. Anyone who does not want this to happen must take action themselves and use the opt-out function. I use the Internet every day, both professionally and privately, and am a member of several social networks, including Facebook. Social networks are an enrichment and it is difficult to imagine our lives without them. Networks such as Facebook link millions of people across national boundaries, and it is for this very reason that particular importance must be attached to protecting privacy. As you know, I, in my capacity as Federal Minister of Consumer Protection, am striving to ensure that personal data on the Internet is protected. Private information must remain private - I think that I speak for many Internet users in this respect. Unfortunately, Facebook does not respect this wish, a fact that was confirmed in the most recent study by the German consumer organisation "Stiftung Warentest". Facebook fares badly in this study. Facebook was graded as "poor" in respect of user-data policy and user rights. Facebook also refused to provide information on data security - it was awarded a "5" (= poor) in this category as well.

It is therefore all the more astounding that Facebook is not willing to eliminate the existing shortcomings regarding data protection, but is instead going even further. Decisions such as this will not engender trust in an enterprise in the long term.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:05 PM

March 23, 2010

"One Google, One World; One China, No Google"

Rebecca MacKinnon:
China's insomniac twitterati were on fire this afternoon U.S. time, powered no doubt by much caffeine and sugar in the the wee hours of the morning in China. Half an hour before Google's David Drummond posted his announcement that is now effectively operating from, Guangzhou-based open source programmer @LEMONed broke the news that was being redirected to the Hong Kong service. Reacting to the news, @wentommy quipped: "One Google, One World; One China, No Google."

As of now (still early morning in Beijing), is accessible from mainland China although specific search results for sensitive terms result in a browser error - or in other words, are blocked. Same as it's always been for sensitive searches on from inside mainland China. This is network filtering and would happen automatically as part of the "great firewall" Internet filtering system.

The ball is now in the Chinese government's court in two ways:

1) Whether they will block all of, which until now has not been blocked. If they are smart they will just leave the situation as is and stop drawing media attention to their censorship practices. The longer this high profile fracas goes on, the greater Chinese Internet users awareness will be about the lengths to which their government goes to blinker their knowledge of the world. That may inspire more people to start learning how to use circumvention tools for getting around the censorship. Chinese censorship is only effective if a large percentage of the population isn't very conscious of what they're missing. As I like to explain it: if you're born with tunnel vision you assume it's normal until somehow you're made aware that life without tunnel vision is both possible and much better. The longer this story remains in the headlines, the more people will become conscious of their tunnel vision and think about ways to eliminate it.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:33 PM

March 21, 2010

Making Sense of Privacy and Publicity

Danah Boyd:
Let me begin by saying that I'm tremendously honored to be here doing the welcoming keynote at SXSW. I have a huge feeling of warmth whenever I think about SXSW. Part of this is deeply personal - I met my soulmate here. I have met countless friends here. And made more professional connections than I can possibly enumerate. Walking down Red River fills me with a flash of fun memories.

What’s powerful about SXSW is first and foremost the people. From there, the content spills out beautifully. But as we think of the power of this conference to bring people together, I want to expressly call out the amazing work of Hugh Forrest, your fearless organizer. Hugh has done a phenomenal job of bringing diverse groups here to Austin to engage with one another. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.

For those of you who are old-timers, you know how special this conference is. For those of you who are new here, you're going to have a fantastic time! Just one bit of advice: beware of the tequila and, especially, of any future colleagues who may offer you tequila.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:39 PM

February 17, 2010

Why the Technology Sector Should Care About Google Books

Gary Reback @ TechCrunch:
Antitrust lawyer and Open Book Alliance leader Gary Reback has been called the “antitrust champion” and the “protector of the marketplace” by the National Law Journal, and has been at the forefront of many of the most important antitrust cases of the last three decades. He is one of the most vocal opponents of the Google Books settlement. I interviewed Reback a few months ago, and Google Books was one of the topics we discussed. In the column below, Reback discusses Google Books and its ties to Google search.

This Thursday leaders of the international publishing industry will watch with bated breath as a federal judge in New York hears arguments over whether to approve the Google Book Settlement.

More a complicated joint venture among Google and five big New York publishers than the resolution of pending litigation, the proposed settlement once promised unprecedented access to millions of out-of-print books through digital sales to consumers and online research subscriptions for libraries. But with the passage of time and the ability to examine the deal more closely, the promises proved illusory. The big publishers, as it turns out, have reserved the right to negotiate secret deals with Google for the books they claim through the settlement (pdf).

Meanwhile, torrents of outrage rained down on the New York court – from authors whose ownership rights will be appropriated through the settlement’s procedures, from librarians fearful of price exploitation by Google, from privacy advocates worried that Google will monitor the reading habits of library patrons, from libertarians incensed over the use of a legal procedure to effect the widespread appropriation of property, from digital booksellers concerned about Google’s unfair advantage in the marketplace.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:24 AM

February 12, 2010

Iceland aims to become an offshore haven for journalists and leakers

Jonathan Stray:
On Tuesday, the Icelandic parliament is expected to introduce a measure aimed at making the country an international center for investigative journalism publishing, by passing the strongest combination of source protection, freedom of speech, and libel-tourism prevention laws in the world.

Supporters of the proposal say the move would make Iceland an “offshore publishing center” for free speech, analogous to the offshore financial havens that allow corporations to hide capital from authorities. Could global news organizations with a home office in Reykjavík soon be as common as Delaware corporations or Cayman Islands assets?

“This is a legislative package to create a haven for freedom of expression,” Icelandic member of parliament Birgitta Jónsdóttir confirmed to me, saying that a proposal for comprehensive media law reform will be filed in parliament on Tuesday, and that whistle-blowing specialists Wikileaks has been involved in drafting it. There have been persistent hints of an Icelandic media move in recent weeks, including tweets from Wikileaks and a cryptic message from the newly created @icelandmedia Twitter account.

The text of the proposal, called the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, is not yet public, but the most detailed evidence comes from a video of a talk by Julian Assange and Daniel Schmitt of Wikileaks, given at the Chaos Communications Congress hacker conference in Berlin on Dec. 27:
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:00 PM

February 4, 2010

Google to enlist NSA to help it ward off cyberattacks

Ellen Nakashima:
The world's largest Internet search company and the world's most powerful electronic surveillance organization are teaming up in the name of cybersecurity. Under an agreement that is still being finalized, the National Security Agency would help Google analyze a major corporate espionage attack that the firm said originated in China and targeted its computer networks, according to cybersecurity experts familiar with the matter. The objective is to better defend Google -- and its users -- from future attack.

Google and the NSA declined to comment on the partnership. But sources with knowledge of the arrangement, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the alliance is being designed to allow the two organizations to share critical information without violating Google's policies or laws that protect the privacy of Americans' online communications. The sources said the deal does not mean the NSA will be viewing users' searches or e-mail accounts or that Google will be sharing proprietary data.

The partnership strikes at the core of one of the most sensitive issues for the government and private industry in the evolving world of cybersecurity: how to balance privacy and national security interests. On Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair called the Google attacks, which the company acknowledged in January, a "wake-up call." Cyberspace cannot be protected, he said, without a "collaborative effort that incorporates both the U.S. private sector and our international partners."
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:21 AM

A fight over freedom at Apple’s core

Jonathan Zittrain:
In 1977, a 21-year-old Steve Jobs unveiled something the world had never seen before: a ready-to-program personal computer. After powering the machine up, proud Apple II owners were confronted with a cryptic blinking cursor, awaiting instructions.

The Apple II was a clean slate, a device built – boldly – with no specific tasks in mind. Yet, despite the cursor, you did not have to know how to write programs. Instead, with a few keystrokes you could run software acquired from anyone, anywhere. The Apple II was generative. After the launch, Apple had no clue what would happen next, which meant that what happened was not limited by Mr Jobs’ hunches. Within two years, Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston had released VisiCalc, the first digital spreadsheet, which ran on the Apple II. Suddenly businesses around the world craved machines previously marketed only to hobbyists. Apple IIs flew off the shelves. The company had to conduct research to figure out why.

Thirty years later Apple gave us the iPhone. It was easy to use, elegant and cool – and had lots of applications right out of the box. But the company quietly dropped a fundamental feature, one signalled by the dropping of “Computer” from Apple Computer’s name: the iPhone could not be programmed by outsiders. “We define everything that is on the phone,” said Mr Jobs. “You don’t want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work any more.”

The openness on which Apple had built its original empire had been completely reversed – but the spirit was still there among users. Hackers vied to “jailbreak” the iPhone, running new apps on it despite Apple’s desire to keep it closed. Apple threatened to disable any phone that had been jailbroken, but then appeared to relent: a year after the iPhone’s introduction, it launched the App Store. Now outsiders could write software for the iPhone, setting the stage for a new round of revolutionary VisiCalcs – not to mention tens of thousands of simple apps such as iPhone Harmonica or the short-lived I Am Rich, which for $999.99 displayed a picture of a gem, just to show that the iPhone owner could afford the software.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:06 AM

February 2, 2010

Microsoft's Police State Vision?

Lauren Weinstein:
Greetings. About a week ago, in Google and the Battle for the Soul of the Internet, I noted that:
Even here in the U.S., one of the most common Internet-related questions that I receive is also one of the most deeply disturbing: Why can't the U.S. require an Internet "driver's license" so that there would be no way (ostensibly) to do anything anonymously on the Net?

After I patiently explain why that would be a horrendous idea, based on basic principles of free speech as applied to the reality of the Internet -- most people who approached me with the "driver's license" concept seem satisfied with my take on the topic, but the fact that the question keeps coming up so frequently shows the depth of misplaced fears driven, ironically, by disinformation and the lack of accurate information.

So when someone who really should know better starts to push this sort of incredibly dangerous concept, it's time to bump up to orange alert at a minimum, and the trigger is no less than Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer for Microsoft.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos two days ago, Mundie explicitly called for an "Internet Driver's License": "If you want to drive a car you have to have a license to say that you are capable of driving a car, the car has to pass a test to say it is fit to drive and you have to have insurance."
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:15 AM

January 17, 2010

Other People's Privacy

Nicholas Carr:
In the wake of Google's revelation last week of a concerted, sophisticated cyber attack on many corporate networks, including its own Gmail service, Eric Schmidt's recent comments about privacy become even more troubling. As you'll recall, in a December 3 CNBC interview, Schmidt said, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place. But if you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines - including Google - do retain this information for some time and it's important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities."

For a public figure to say "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place" is, at the most practical of levels, incredibly rash. You're essentially extending an open invitation to reporters to publish anything about your life that they can uncover. (Ask Gary Hart.) The statement also paints Schmidt as a hypocrite. In 2005, he threw a legendary hissy fit when CNET's Elinor Mills, in an article about privacy, published some details about his residence, his finances, and his politics that she had uncovered through Google searches. Google infamously cut off all contact with CNET for a couple of months. Schmidt didn't seem so casual about the value of privacy when his own was at stake.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:51 PM

November 25, 2009

Investigating The Card Game: Consumer Lending

As credit card companies face rising public anger, new regulation from Washington and staggering new rates of default and bankruptcy, FRONTLINE correspondent Lowell Bergman investigates the future of the massive consumer loan industry and its impact on a fragile national economy.

In The Card Game, a follow-up to the Secret History of the Credit Card and a joint project with The New York Times, Bergman and the Times talk to industry insiders, lobbyists, politicians and consumer advocates as they square off over attempts to reform the way the industry has done business for decades.

"The card issuers could do anything they want," Robert McKinley, CEO of, tells FRONTLINE of the industry's unchecked power over consumers. "They could change your interest rate. They could impose an annual fee. They could close your account." High interest rates along with more and more penalty fees drove up profits for the industry, Bergman finds, as the banks followed the lead of an aggressive upstart: Providian Bank. In an exclusive interview with FRONTLINE, former Providian CEO Shailesh Mehta tells Bergman how his company successfully targeted vulnerable low-income customers whom Providian called "the unbanked."

"They're lower-income people-bad credits, bankrupts, young credits, no credits," Mehta says. Providian also innovated by offering "free" credit cards that carried heavy hidden fees. "I used to use the word 'penalty pricing' or 'stealth pricing,'" Mehta tells FRONTLINE. "When people make the buying decision, they don't look at the penalty fees because they never believe they'll be late. They never believe they'll be over limit, right? ... Our business took off. ... We were making a billion dollars a year."
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:12 AM

October 27, 2009

The Inside Story of Wal-Mart's Hacker Attack

Kim Zetter:
Wal-Mart was the victim of a serious security breach in 2005 and 2006 in which hackers targeted the development team in charge of the chain’s point-of-sale system and siphoned source code and other sensitive data to a computer in Eastern Europe, has learned.

Internal documents reveal for the first time that the nation’s largest retailer was among the earliest targets of a wave of cyberattacks that went after the bank-card processing systems of brick-and-mortar stores around the United States beginning in 2005. The details of the breach, and the company’s challenges in reconstructing what happened, shed new light on the vulnerable state of retail security at the time, despite card-processing security standards that had been in place since 2001.

In response to inquiries from, the company acknowledged the hack attack, which it calls an “internal issue.” Because no sensitive customer data was stolen, Wal-Mart had no obligation to disclose the breach publicly.

Wal-Mart had a number of security vulnerabilities at the time of the attack, according to internal security assessments seen by, and acknowledged as genuine by Wal-Mart. For example, at least four years’ worth of customer purchasing data, including names, card numbers and expiration dates, were housed on company networks in unencrypted form. Wal-Mart says it was in the process of dramatically improving the security of its transaction data, and in 2006 began encrypting the credit card numbers and other customer information, and making other important security changes.

“Wal-Mart … really made every effort to segregate the data, to make separate networks, to encrypt it fully from start to finish through the transmission, ” says Wal-Mart’s Chief Privacy Officer Zoe Strickland. “And not just in one area but across the different uses of credit card systems.”

Wal-Mart uncovered the breach in November 2006, after a fortuitous server crash led administrators to a password-cracking tool that had been surreptitiously installed on one of its servers. Wal-Mart’s initial probe traced the intrusion to a compromised VPN account, and from there to a computer in Minsk, Belarus.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:52 AM

October 16, 2009

Brought to Book

Ben Fenton and Salamander Davoudi:
The new way of reading books arrived hesitantly. It exploited a novel technology, reflected changing public habits of consumption and radically altered the distribution and economics of the traditional publishing industry.

The paperback represented an intimidating revolution to the 1930s book industry. It took high literature to a far wider audience. But established publishers disdained it, fearing it would cheapen the industry and drive down profits. It might not have been – as its ancestor the pamphlet novel was in the 1840s – assailed as a threat to the “eyesight of a rising generation”, yet the reaction had much else in common with how the emergence of the electronic book is now being regarded.

At the Frankfurt Book Fair this week, the talk has been all about the impact of the e-book, with scores of sessions and seminars devoted to discussing the implications of devices such as Amazon’s Kindle and the Sony Reader. Another hot topic is Google’s digitisation of, so far, 10m books including about 9m still protected by copyright.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:08 PM

August 21, 2009

Flickr vs. Free Speech

Mike Arrington:
One thing I’ve learned over the years is this - screwing over your users while yelling “the lawyers made me do it!” rarely ends well. Particularly when the lawyers are just being lazy, and free speech rights are at stake.

Flickr really stepped in it this time. And they’ve sparked a free speech and copyright fascism debate that is unlikely to cool down any time soon.

Sometime last week they took down a photoshopped image of President Obama that makes him look like the Heath Ledger (Joker) character from The Dark Knight. The image was created and uploaded to Flickr by 20 year old college student Firas Alkhateeb while “bored over winter school break.” It was also later altered yet again by someone else and used to create anti-obama posters that went up in Los Angeles.

Thomas Hawk has a good overview of some of the other details, but the short version is the image was removed by Flickr sometime last week due to “due to copyright-infringement concerns.”

People are angry over the takedown. There are lots of pictures mocking President Bush on a Time Magazine cover on Flickr that haven’t been removed. And of the Heath Ledger Joker character.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:23 AM

August 14, 2009

On Locational Privacy, and How to Avoid Losing it Forever

Over the next decade, systems which create and store digital records of people's movements through public space will be woven inextricably into the fabric of everyday life. We are already starting to see such systems now, and there will be many more in the near future.

Here are some examples you might already have used or read about:
  • Monthly transit swipe-cards
  • Electronic tolling devices (FastTrak, EZpass, congestion pricing)
  • Cellphones
  • Services telling you when your friends are nearby
  • Searches on your PDA for services and businesses near your current location
  • Free Wi-Fi with ads for businesses near the network access point you're using
  • Electronic swipe cards for doors
  • Parking meters you can call to add money to, and which send you a text message when your time is running out
These systems are marvellously innovative, and they promise benefits ranging from increased convenience to transformative new kinds of social interaction.

Unfortunately, these systems pose a dramatic threat to locational privacy.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:47 PM

June 12, 2009

Thinking for the Driver: The New Mercedes E250CDI

Dan Neil:
If the car senses erratic steering and rapid corrections, the telltales of fatigue, the Attention Assist will advise you to get some rest as it displays a big coffee cup icon in the instrument panel (this is my favorite ISO 9000 icon, by the way). Attention Assist is just one of a dozen or more marquee safety systems Mercedes has piled onto the E-class for 2010, and it's clear at the outset that Mercedes is returning to safety as a transcendent brand value after years of marketing itself as the spoils of well-paying bad behavior, the glittery metal floss under Britney Spears' untrussed derriere.

Suddenly, the E-class is, again, the car for grown-ups.

I won't parrot the company line about the E-class being the heart and soul of the brand, except that it is. The E-class is a "business saloon," the standard-issue Mercedes -- stout, reliable, comfortable and enduring. This is the stainless-steel Rolex of cars, steadily elegant and appropriate for any occasion, and you have to admire the alacrity with which the E-class can go from being a tan airport taxi drone in Berlin to being a valet-park star in Beverly Hills.

To save you the suspense, I'll tell you now: The new E-class is a fantastic car but for one huge, agonizing, inexcusable error that baffles me like a Rubik's Cube the size of the Seagrams Building. More on that in a moment. For now, consider a short list of some of the more fun safety systems available on the E-class as standard or options.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:32 PM

February 25, 2009

An Email to Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and Senators Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl

Dear [ ]: I hope this message finds you well.

I am writing to express my great concern over this information. Please investigate and determine if it is true.

DoD Officials Vow Secrecy on Budget

If so, this is very disappointing and wrong.

I also would like you to investigate the amount of private jet use by elected officials (both government aircraft and those provided by campaigns and lobbyists). Dilbert has it right:

Website and contact information: Tammy Baldwin, Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:23 AM

February 1, 2009

A Guide To Bailout Transparency Sites

Elinore Longobardi:
It is no secret that bailout transparency is a problem.

Now that taxpayers have become financiers, we have a right to know where the money is going. In search of organizations with the curiosity and resources to help figure that out, we trolled the Internet for good, easily available bailout information and came up with several sites worth looking at.

You can get charts describing the allocation of bailout money from a variety of sources. Some are easier to find than others, and we’ll leave it up to the reader to figure out what it means that the WSJ has a quick link for the Super Bowl but not the bailout.

But even after you find them, charts will only get you so far.

If you are looking to understand the big picture, you should go first to organizations that focus specifically on tracking the bailout. Not only do they piece together information from a variety of sources, saving you the trouble, but a few also do their own snooping around.

A good place to start is Open the Government, an organization devoted to greater government transparency in general, and with a specific page on the bailout. The page is a good launching pad because it compiles a lot of information—from government organizations, news outlets and watchdogs—as well as providing a calendar of relevant dates. In the spirit of common cause, Open the Government also links to other bailout watchdog groups.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:40 PM

January 24, 2009

I Am Here: One Man's Experiment With the Location-Aware Lifestyle

MAthew Honan:
I'm baffled by WhosHere. And I'm no newbie. I built my first Web page in 1994, wrote my first blog entry in 1999, and sent my first tweet in October 2006. My user number on Yahoo's event site, 14. I love tinkering with new gadgets and diving into new applications. But WhosHere had me stumped. It's an iPhone app that knows where you are, shows you other users nearby, and lets you chat with them. Once it was installed and running, I drew a blank. What was I going to do with this thing?

So I asked for some help. I started messaging random people within a mile of my location (37.781641 °N, 122.393835 °W), asking what they used WhosHere for.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:50 PM

January 20, 2009

A Crackdown on Vietnam's Press

The Economist:
LIKE their counterparts in China, Vietnam's ruling Communists seem even more than usually sensitive to criticism. This month two leading reformist newspaper editors, Nguyen Cong Khe, of Thanh Nien (Young People), and Le Hoang, of Tuoi Tre (Youth Daily), were both told that their contracts would not be renewed, apparently because they were too good at their jobs. Their papers have assiduously uncovered official corruption, most notably with a joint exposé in 2006 about a crooked transport-ministry road-building unit. The journalists behind that story were punished by a Hanoi court last October for "abusing democratic freedoms". Now it looks as if their editors, too, have been culled. A spate of other arrests last year suggests a wider clampdown. AFP Read all about it (or not)

Ever since the start of doi moi (renewal) reforms in 1986, economic liberalisation has been accompanied by a gradual political loosening. There are around 700 newspapers in circulation. All are government controlled, but some are relatively outspoken. Meanwhile, a young, tech-savvy population has taken to reading opinion on the internet, in blogs penned by pseudonymous authors. These commentators are questioning government policy with increasing zeal. A day after the two journalists were arrested last year, their newspapers openly attacked the government's actions, hitting a few raw nerves. The government now also wants to curb the pesky bloggers, announcing rules in December restricting politically sensitive content on the internet.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:41 AM

January 12, 2009

"Counter Blog"

Noah Shachtman:
Bloggers: If you suddenly find Air Force officers leaving barbed comments after one of your posts, don't be surprised. They're just following the service's new "counter-blogging" flow chart. In a twelve-point plan, put together by the emerging technology division of the Air Force's public affairs arm, airmen are given guidance on how to handle "trolls," "ragers" -- and even well-informed online writers, too. It's all part of an Air Force push to "counter the people out there in the blogosphere who have negative opinions about the U.S. government and the Air Force," Captain David Faggard says.

Over the last couple of years, the armed forces have tried, in fits and starts, to connect more with bloggers. The Army and the Office of the Secretary of Defense now hold regular "bloggers' roundatbles" with generals, colonels, and key civilian leaders. The Navy invited a group of bloggers to embed with them on a humanitarian mission to Central and South America, last summer. Military blogger Michael Yon recently traveled to Afghanistan with Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

In contrast, the Air Force has largely kept the blogosphere at arms' length. Most of the sites are banned from Air Force networks. And the service has mostly stayed away from the Pentagon's blog outreach efforts. Captain Faggard, who's become the Air Force Public Affairs Agency's designated social media guru, has made strides in shifting that attitude. The air service now has a Twitter feed, a blog of its own -- and marching orders, for how to comment on other sites. "We're trying to get people to understand that they can do this," he tells Danger Room.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:45 AM

January 8, 2009

Vietnam imposes new blogging restrictions

The rules ban any posts that undermine national security, incite violence or crime, disclose state secrets, or include inaccurate information that could damage the reputation of individuals and organizations, according to a copy of the regulations obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.

The rules, which were approved Dec. 18, attempt to rein in Vietnam's booming blogosphere. It has become an alternative source of news for many in the communist country, where the media is state-controlled.

The new rules require Internet companies that provide blogging platforms to report to the government every six months and provide information about bloggers on request.

The companies are also required to prevent and remove content the government deems harmful.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:49 AM

November 23, 2008

2008 Wisconsin Public Records Audit: 3 in 10 public-records requests not properly fulfilled, new study finds

Bill Lueders & Jason Shephard:
A statewide public records audit found that one in 10 requests for basic documents were denied or ignored by local governments.

Another two in 10 requests were fulfilled only after records custodians required the requesters to identify themselves or explain why they wanted the documents, in violation of state law.

The audit, conducted by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication, involved 318 public records requests filed in 65 counties.

“We were not trying to trick anyone," says Bill Lueders, the Council's elected president and news editor of Isthmus newspaper. "We asked for basic information that no one should have any problems getting. And yet there were problems."
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:46 PM

November 1, 2008

Obama's Secret Weapons: Internet, Databases and Psychology

Sarah Lai Stirland:
During a sweltering Friday evening rush hour in early October, Jeanette Scanlon spent two-and-a-half hours with 20 other people waving a homemade Barack Obama sign at the cars flowing through a busy intersection in Plant City, Florida.

"I got shot the bird one time," laughs the easy-natured Scanlon, a 43-year-old single mother of three and a Tampa psychiatrist's billing manager. "That wasn't the thumbs up I was looking for."

Scanlon is one of an estimated 230,000 volunteers who are powering Obama's get-out-the-vote campaign in the swing state of Florida. And while sign-waving is a decidedly low-tech appeal to voters' hearts and minds, make no mistake: The Obama campaign's technology is represented here. Scanlon organized the gathering — and 24 others since September — through Obama's social networking site, Similarly, she used the site's Neighbor-to-Neighbor tool in September to find registered voters in her own neighborhood, so she could canvass them for Obama. And this weekend, Scanlon and another 75 or so Plant City volunteers will be phoning thousands of Floridians to urge them to vote, using a sophisticated database provided by the Obama campaign to ensure they don't call McCain supporters by mistake.

The Obama campaign has been building, tweaking and tinkering with its technology and organizational infrastructure since it kicked off in February 2007, and today has most sophisticated organizing apparatus of any presidential campaign in history. Previous political campaigns have tapped the internet in innovative ways — Howard Dean's 2004 presidential run, and Ron Paul's bid for this year's Republican nomination, to name two. But Obama is the first to successfully integrate technology with a revamped model of political organization that stresses volunteer participation and feedback on a massive scale, erecting a vast, intricate machine set to fuel an unprecedented get-out-the-vote drive in the final days before Tuesday's election.
A friend recently mentioned that one of the canvasers asked if they could leave an orange dot on their mailbox, notifying other workers that they have already voted! I wonder how long it will be until citizens push back on the extensive personal data mining.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:57 PM

September 3, 2008

Open Records Guerrilla

Nathan Halverson:

But if you want to download and save those laws to your computer, forget it.

The state claims copyright to those laws. It dictates how you can access and distribute them -- and therefore how much you'll have to pay for print or digital copies.

It forbids people from storing or distributing its laws without consent.

That doesn't sit well with Carl Malamud, a Sebastopol resident with an impressive track record of pushing for digital access to public information. He wants California -- and every other federal, state and local agency -- to drop their copyright claims on law, contending it will pave the way for innovators to create new ways of searching and presenting laws.

"When it comes to the law, the courts have always said there can be no copyright because people are obligated to know what it says," Malamud said. "Ignorance of the law is no excuse in court."

Malamud is spoiling for a major legal fight.

Posted by jez at 8:15 PM

August 19, 2008

Lessig on John McCain's Technology "Platform"

Larry Lessig

I have my doubts - unfortunately - that Obama will be much better on the crucial broadband issue for two reasons:

  • AT&T, very good at spreading the love money, or the king of telco lobbying is sponsoring the Democratic convention
  • Our own Democratic Governor - Jim Doyle, recently signed a AT&T supported "Video competition bill" into law - maybe useful for AT&T, but hardly good for citizens.

Posted by jez at 12:54 PM

August 14, 2008

AT&T Mulls Watching You Surf

Saul Hansell:

AT&T is "carefully considering" monitoring the Web-surfing activities of customers who use its Internet service, the company said in a letter in response to an inquiry from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

While the company said it hadn't tested such a system for monitoring display advertising viewing habits or committed to a particular technology, it expressed much more interest in the approach than the other big Internet providers who also responded to the committee's letter.

AT&T did however promise that if it does decide to start tracking its customers online, it will "do so the right way." In particular, the advertising system will require customers to affirmatively agree to have their surfing monitored. This sort of "opt-in" approach is preferred by privacy experts to the "opt-out" method, practiced by most ad targeting companies today, which records the behavior of anyone who doesn't explicitly ask to not to be tracked.

Posted by jez at 9:37 PM

June 30, 2008

I've Seen the Future, and It Has a Kill Switch

Bruce Schneier:

It used to be that just the entertainment industries wanted to control your computers -- and televisions and iPods and everything else -- to ensure that you didn't violate any copyright rules. But now everyone else wants to get their hooks into your gear.

OnStar will soon include the ability for the police to shut off your engine remotely. Buses are getting the same capability, in case terrorists want to re-enact the movie Speed. The Pentagon wants a kill switch installed on airplanes, and is worried about potential enemies installing kill switches on their own equipment.

Microsoft is doing some of the most creative thinking along these lines, with something it's calling "Digital Manners Policies." According to its patent application, DMP-enabled devices would accept broadcast "orders" limiting capabilities. Cellphones could be remotely set to vibrate mode in restaurants and concert halls, and be turned off on airplanes and in hospitals. Cameras could be prohibited from taking pictures in locker rooms and museums, and recording equipment could be disabled in theaters. Professors finally could prevent students from texting one another during class.

The possibilities are endless, and very dangerous. Making this work involves building a nearly flawless hierarchical system of authority. That's a difficult security problem even in its simplest form. Distributing that system among a variety of different devices -- computers, phones, PDAs, cameras, recorders -- with different firmware and manufacturers, is even more difficult. Not to mention delegating different levels of authority to various agencies, enterprises, industries and individuals, and then enforcing the necessary safeguards.

Posted by jez at 6:19 AM

May 17, 2008

Laptop Security While on Travel

Bruce Schneier:

Last month a US court ruled that border agents can search your laptop, or any other electronic device, when you're entering the country. They can take your computer and download its entire contents, or keep it for several days. Customs and Border Patrol has not published any rules regarding this practice, and I and others have written a letter to Congress urging it to investigate and regulate this practice.

But the US is not alone. British customs agents search laptops for pornography. And there are reports on the internet of this sort of thing happening at other borders, too. You might not like it, but it's a fact. So how do you protect yourself?

Encrypting your entire hard drive, something you should certainly do for security in case your computer is lost or stolen, won't work here. The border agent is likely to start this whole process with a "please type in your password". Of course you can refuse, but the agent can search you further, detain you longer, refuse you entry into the country and otherwise ruin your day.

Posted by jez at 2:01 AM

April 3, 2008

"The National Data Center and Personal Privacy"

Arthur Miller:

I can’t tell you how excited I was when I found this magazine on eBay. I thought that the author was this Arthur Miller. An article about the personal privacy threats inherent in massive government databases, written by the author of the Crucible sounded amazing. It turns out that the author was actually this Arthur Miller, and I don’t think anyone could have done a better job.

This is the most amazingly prescient article I’ve ever read. When people write about the future they are usually wrong. When people write about the future of computers, they are usually even more wrong. This article got everything right. If you changed the tense and a few bits of jargon, then handed to me and told me it was written by the EFF, I’d believe it.

Just to give you an idea of how right he was on even the basic computer stuff, here’s the second paragraph of the article. Keep in mind that this is what desktop computers looked like in 1967.

“The modern computer is more than a sophisticated indexing or adding machine, or a miniaturized library; it is the keystone for a new communications medium whose capacities and implications we are only beginning to realize. In the foreseeable future, computer systems will be tied together by television, satellites, and lasers, and we will move large quantities of information over vast distances in imperceptible units of time.”

Forty-one years ago Arthur R. Miller laid out all of the privacy threats that we face now. The power that credit reporting databases have over us. The illegal government use of our financial and phone records. The attempt to build a master database tying all of these together. The fact that the government might consider you a threat if you so much as sent a Christmas card to someone the government has on a watch list. It’s all here. He basically predicted and laid out all of the arguments against the Total Information Awareness program and the current NSA programs that have been so much in the news.

It’s nice to know there were people who were so ahead of the curve in trying to protect our rights, and it’s a tragedy that more people didn’t listen. I think it speaks strongly to the need to pay attention to this stuff now, because this problem will only get worse.

Posted by jez at 9:14 AM

March 10, 2008

NSA's Domestic Spying Grows As Agency Sweeps Up Data

Siobhan Gorman:

Five years ago, Congress killed an experimental Pentagon antiterrorism program meant to vacuum up electronic data about people in the U.S. to search for suspicious patterns. Opponents called it too broad an intrusion on Americans' privacy, even after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

But the data-sifting effort didn't disappear. The National Security Agency, once confined to foreign surveillance, has been building essentially the same system.

The central role the NSA has come to occupy in domestic intelligence gathering has never been publicly disclosed. But an inquiry reveals that its efforts have evolved to reach more broadly into data about people's communications, travel and finances in the U.S. than the domestic surveillance programs brought to light since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Posted by jez at 11:05 AM

February 16, 2008

"Madison’s council to clarify open records law" - Fascinating

Cara Harshman via a friend's email:

On the heels of an open records requests in Michigan that publicized an extramarital affair of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, Madison city officials are looking to set standards for changing technologies in the city.

After a year of detailed study and work, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and Ald. Zach Brandon, District 7, will introduce an ordinance to the City Council later this month clarifying the forms of electronic communication city employees use that are open to the public.

Rapidly changing electronic communication technology, like text messages, instant messages and Facebook prompted Brandon to ask, “What is an open record and what is not an open record?”

Currently, the Wisconsin public record law says electronic communications are open records, but does not specify which types of electronic communication are included, Brandon said.

“[The city] has gone the extra step to define what that means,” Brandon said. Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council said the city essentially used the state’s record law as a model to update its own open records law.

This will certainly be more fodder for the courts. Much more on Wisconsin open records here.

Posted by jez at 8:19 AM

February 13, 2008

Herb Kohl's Office on FISA

I phoned Senator Kohl's Washington office [(202) 224-5653] regarding his vote against the Dodd/Feingold telco immunity amendment yesterday. The telephone operator said that Senator Kohl supported an amendment that would have the government (we taxpayers) defend the telcos in court and that these cases should be heard in a court where intelligence information could be shared. John McCain voted with Senator Kohl, while Barack Obama voted with Russ Feingold and Hillary Clinton did not vote. David Isenberg has more as does Dave Farber. The Electronic Frontier Foundation posted a summery here.

Posted by jez at 9:38 AM

January 29, 2008

Security vs. Privacy

Bruce Schneier:

If there's a debate that sums up post-9/11 politics, it's security versus privacy. Which is more important? How much privacy are you willing to give up for security? Can we even afford privacy in this age of insecurity? Security versus privacy: It's the battle of the century, or at least its first decade.

In a Jan. 21 New Yorker article, Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell discusses a proposed plan to monitor all -- that's right, all -- internet communications for security purposes, an idea so extreme that the word "Orwellian" feels too mild.

The article (now online here) contains this passage:

In order for cyberspace to be policed, internet activity will have to be closely monitored. Ed Giorgio, who is working with McConnell on the plan, said that would mean giving the government the authority to examine the content of any e-mail, file transfer or Web search. "Google has records that could help in a cyber-investigation," he said. Giorgio warned me, "We have a saying in this business: 'Privacy and security are a zero-sum game.'"

I'm sure they have that saying in their business. And it's precisely why, when people in their business are in charge of government, it becomes a police state. If privacy and security really were a zero-sum game, we would have seen mass immigration into the former East Germany and modern-day China. While it's true that police states like those have less street crime, no one argues that their citizens are fundamentally more secure.

Posted by jez at 8:45 AM

January 23, 2008

Repress U


Free-speech zones. Taser guns. Hidden cameras. Data mining. A new security curriculum. Private security contractors. Welcome to the homeland security campus.

From Harvard to UCLA, the ivory tower is fast becoming the latest watchtower in Fortress America. The terror warriors, having turned their attention to "violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism prevention"--as it was recently dubbed in a House of Representatives bill of the same name--have set out to reconquer that traditional hotbed of radicalization, the university.

Building a homeland security campus and bringing the university to heel is a seven-step mission:

1. Target dissidents. As the warfare state has triggered dissent, the campus has attracted increasing scrutiny--with student protesters in the cross hairs. The government's number-one target? Peace and justice organizations.

From 2003 to 2007 an unknown number of them made it into the Pentagon's Threat and Local Observation Notice system (TALON), a secretive domestic spying program ostensibly designed to track direct "potential terrorist threats" to the Defense Department itself. In 2006 the ACLU uncovered, via Freedom of Information Act requests, at least 186 specific TALON reports on "anti-military protests" in the United States--some listed as "credible threats"--from student groups at the University of California, Santa Cruz; State University of New York, Albany; Georgia State University; and New Mexico State University, among other campuses.

At more than a dozen universities and colleges, police officers now double as full-time FBI agents, and according to the Campus Law Enforcement Journal, they serve on many of the nation's 100 Joint Terrorism Task Forces. These dual-purpose officer-agents have knocked on student activists' doors from North Carolina State to the University of Colorado and, in one case, interrogated an Iraqi-born professor at the University of Massachusetts about his antiwar views.

Posted by jez at 10:33 AM

January 19, 2008

Montana Governor Foments REAL ID Rebellion

Ryan Singel:

Montana governor Brian Schweitzer (D) declared independence Friday from federal identification rules and called on governors of 17 other states to join him in forcing a showdown with the federal government which says it will not accept the driver's licenses of rebel states' citizens starting May 11.
If that showdown comes to pass, a resident of a non-complying state could not use a driver's license to enter a federal courthouse or a Social Security Administration building nor could he board a plane without undergoing a pat-down search, possibly creating massive backlogs at the nation's airports and almost certainly leading to a flurry of federal lawsuits.

States have until May 11 to request extensions to the Real ID rules that were released last Friday. They requires states to make all current identification holders under the age of 50 to apply again with certified birth and marriage certificates. The rules also standardize license formats, require states to interlink their DMV databases and require DMV employee to undergo background checks.

Extensions push back the 2008 deadline for compliance as far as out 2014 if states apply and promise to start work on making the necessary changes, which will cost cash-strapped states billions with only a pittance in federal funding to offset the costs.

Both of our Senators: Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl supported REAL ID.

Posted by James Zellmer at 6:18 PM

January 16, 2008

GPS Liability?

Adena Schutzberg:

In early January accident, a California computer technician turned his rental car onto some train tracks in New York per the directions of his sat nav system. The car became stuck and he had to abandon it before an oncoming train hit it. There were no injuries, but there were significant delays in travel. "The rental car driver was issued a summons and is being held liable for the damage to the train and track."

That leads a real live lawyer, Eric J. Sinrod, writing at c|net to examine the potential of a driver to point to the GPS manufacturer as being at fault. The article points out:

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:35 AM

January 11, 2008

The Airport Security Follies

Patrick Smith:

Six years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, airport security remains a theater of the absurd. The changes put in place following the September 11th catastrophe have been drastic, and largely of two kinds: those practical and effective, and those irrational, wasteful and pointless.

The first variety have taken place almost entirely behind the scenes. Explosives scanning for checked luggage, for instance, was long overdue and is perhaps the most welcome addition. Unfortunately, at concourse checkpoints all across America, the madness of passenger screening continues in plain view. It began with pat-downs and the senseless confiscation of pointy objects. Then came the mandatory shoe removal, followed in the summer of 2006 by the prohibition of liquids and gels. We can only imagine what is next.

To understand what makes these measures so absurd, we first need to revisit the morning of September 11th, and grasp exactly what it was the 19 hijackers so easily took advantage of. Conventional wisdom says the terrorists exploited a weakness in airport security by smuggling aboard box-cutters. What they actually exploited was a weakness in our mindset — a set of presumptions based on the decades-long track record of hijackings.

In years past, a takeover meant hostage negotiations and standoffs; crews were trained in the concept of “passive resistance.” All of that changed forever the instant American Airlines Flight 11 collided with the north tower. What weapons the 19 men possessed mattered little; the success of their plan relied fundamentally on the element of surprise. And in this respect, their scheme was all but guaranteed not to fail.

Posted by James Zellmer at 2:55 PM

January 8, 2008

The Search Party: Google Squares off with its Capitol Hill Critics

Ken Auletta:

In June, 2006, Sergey Brin, one of the co-founders of Google, went to Washington, D.C., hoping to create a little good will. Google was something of a Washington oddity then. Although it was a multibillion-dollar company, with enormous power, it had no political-action committee, and its Washington office had opened, in 2005, with a staff of one, in suburban Maryland. The visit, which was reported in the Washington Post, was hurried, and, in what was regarded by some as a snub, Brin failed to see some key people, including Senator Ted Stevens, of Alaska, who was then the chairman of the Commerce Committee and someone whose idea of the Internet appeared to belong to the analog era. (He once said that a staff member had sent him “an Internet.”) Brin told me recently, “Because it was the last minute, we didn’t schedule everything we wanted to.” It probably didn’t help that his outfit that day included a dark T-shirt, jeans, and silver mesh sneakers.

Brin did meet with Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, and they spoke about “network neutrality”—an effort that Google and other companies are making to insure that the telephone and cable companies that provide high-speed access to the Internet don’t favor one Web site over another. Around the time of Brin’s visit, an organization called Hands Off the Internet, financed in part by telecommunications companies, ran full-page newspaper advertisements in which it accused Google of wanting to create a monopoly and block “new innovation”; one ad featured a grim photograph of a Google facility housing a sinister-looking “massive server farm.” Brin recognized it as a warning. “I certainly realized that we had to think about these things, and that people were going to misrepresent us,” he said. “We should be entitled to our representation in government.”

Fascinating to see Herb Kohl mentioned here. He's not been active on many issues so it is surprising to see him pick Google (perhaps there's something on the other side?)

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:34 AM

December 24, 2007

PGP & the 5th Amendment

Bruce Schneier:

A Vermont federal judge has ruled that a person cannot be compelled by police to divulge his PGP key. This is by no means the end of the legal debate (Orin Kerr comments), but it's certainly good news.
Clusty search on the 5th Amendment.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:38 AM

A Bit of Wisconsin Open Records History

Bill Lueders:

Walter H. Besley may well have been Wisconsin's first open-government crusader.

Back in 1853, five years after Wisconsin became a state, Besley, the clerk of circuit court in Jefferson County, billed the County Board of Supervisors $22 for two expenses: wood to furnish his office and a large box of candles to light and warm it.

The board rejected the expenditure. Besley sued and won. The board was ordered to pay these expenses, plus interest and "the costs of suit."

In 1856, the Wisconsin Supreme Court heard the case on appeal. It affirmed the circuit court's ruling, citing a state law mandating that the clerk and other county officials "keep his office open during business hours, Sundays excepted, and all books and papers required to be kept in this office shall be open for the examination of any person."

The court said the Legislature's intent was clear: "to accommodate the wants of the citizens" who had business to transact. "To require these officers to keep their offices open during business hours," it wrote, "and yet provide no means of warming or lighting them would be simply absurd."

While the law did not require the clerk "to keep a tavern" -- which presumably would also accommodate the wants of some citizens -- "it is clearly the object and intention of the statute that these county offices shall be kept open, and in a suitable condition." Thus the expenses presented by Besley were "a proper and legal county charge" that the board was wrong to reject.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

December 4, 2007

The Future of Reading (A Play in Six Acts)

Mark Pilgrim:

Act I: The act of buying

When someone buys a book, they are also buying the right to resell that book, to loan it out, or to even give it away if they want. Everyone understands this.

Jeff Bezos, Open letter to Author’s Guild, 2002

You may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense or otherwise assign any rights to the Digital Content or any portion of it to any third party, and you may not remove any proprietary notices or labels on the Digital Content. In addition, you may not, and you will not encourage, assist or authorize any other person to, bypass, modify, defeat or circumvent security features that protect the Digital Content.

Amazon, Kindle Terms of Service, 2007

Posted by James Zellmer at 2:55 PM

November 7, 2007

Former Technician 'Turning In' AT&T Over NSA Program

Ellen Nakashima:

His first inkling that something was amiss came in summer 2002 when he opened the door to admit a visitor from the National Security Agency to an office of AT&T in San Francisco.

"What the heck is the NSA doing here?" Mark Klein, a former AT&T technician, said he asked himself.

A year or so later, he stumbled upon documents that, he said, nearly caused him to fall out of his chair. The documents, he said, show that the NSA gained access to massive amounts of e-mail and search and other Internet records of more than a dozen global and regional telecommunications providers. AT&T allowed the agency to hook into its network at a facility in San Francisco and, according to Klein, many of the other telecom companies probably knew nothing about it.

Klein is in Washington this week to share his story in the hope that it will persuade lawmakers not to grant legal immunity to telecommunications firms that helped the government in its anti-terrorism efforts.

Perhaps our elected officials might consider this matter vis a vis AT&T's flawed video "competition" bill. unlikely

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:34 PM

October 22, 2007

Internet Freedom? Comcast Blocks the Bible

Peter Svensson:

To test claims by users that Comcast Corp. was blocking some forms of file-sharing traffic, The Associated Press went to the Bible.

An AP reporter attempted to download, using file-sharing program BitTorrent, a copy of the King James Bible from two computers in the Philadelphia and San Francisco areas, both of which were connected to the Internet through Comcast cable modems.

We picked the Bible for the test because it's not protected by copyright and the file is a convenient size.

In two out of three tries, the transfer was blocked. In the third, the transfer started only after a 10-minute delay. When we tried to upload files that were in demand by a wider number of BitTorrent users, those connections were also blocked.

Not all Comcast-connected computers appear to be affected, however. In a test with a third Comcast-connected computer in the Boston area, we were unable to test with the Bible, apparently due to an unrelated error. When we attempted to upload a more widely disseminated file, there was no evidence of blocking.

Much more at the EFF.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:52 AM

October 7, 2007

Ballmer: "Google Reads Your Email and We Don't"

Ed Moltzen:

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took a knock at one of his chief rivals during a speech to an audience in the U.K., saying Google reads customer email as part of a failed bid to drive ad-based revenue.

The software giant's chief made the remarks during a discussion about consumer software revenue models, and Ballmer used the dialogue as an entry point to take his shot at Google. The video is available to watch via the web site Ballmer made his remarks after an audience member asked him if an advertising model could support software business in the future. The CEO said a combination of models - - commercial and ad-paid - - would go forward.

"What's a good example? Will online publications be largely ad-funded as things move from the physical world to the online world?" Ballmer said. "I think the answer is yes.

"Have we seen the migration of things even like email? . . . Our Windows Live Hotmail, in and of itself, doesn't generate much ad revenue. So we've had to put, essentially, a whole portal around it because the traffic around it is very valuable but it's not very easily monetized in the context of mail.

"Google's had the same experience, even though they read your mail and we don't," Ballmer said, to chuckles and and a couple of gasps in the audience. "That's just a factual statement, not even to be pejorative. The theory was if we read your mail, if somebody read your mail, they would know what to talk to you about. It's not working out as brilliantly as the concept was laid out."

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:47 AM

October 5, 2007

"NBC is an AT&T Sock Puppet"

Terry Heaton:

How do I say it more clearly? Honestly, folks, we need better leadership than this in the seats of media power, and until that happens, we’ll just continue to miss the point, over and over and over again.

At an anti-piracy summit in Washington Wednesday, NBC’s Jeff Zucker actually called for AT&T and other Internet-service providers to install filtering software to, and get this, “weed out pirated content and unclog networks.” This is one of the most dangerous and desperate things I’ve ever heard come out of the mouth of someone who, among other things, is charged with certain responsibilities vis-a-vis the First Amendment. And the REAL PROBLEM is that this line was likely penned by the Telcos, not Zucker or his writers. I mean, come on! “Unclog networks?” Where have we heard that before?

AT&T would LOVE to filter the Web.

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:16 AM

October 4, 2007

Google & Privacy

Patty Seybold:

It’s been fun and edifying watching Google’s PR engine at work. Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, has been evangelizing the need for “international privacy standards.”

Google’s most powerful PR tool to-date is the comforting and accessible video series featuring Maile Ohye, a personable young woman who is a senior support engineer, giving a chalk talk about what information Google captures when you search, how it uses that information and how you can control it. The two videos in the series to-date are designed to be very comforting.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:37 AM

The Inevitable March of Recorded Music Towards Free

Mike Arrington:

The DRM walls are crumbling. Music CD sales continue to plummet rather alarmingly. Artists like Prince and Nine Inch Nails are flouting their labels and either giving music away or telling their fans to steal it. Another blow earlier this week: Radiohead, which is no longer controlled by their label, Capitol Records, put their new digital album on sale on the Internet for whatever price people want to pay for it.

The economics of recorded music are fairly simple. Marginal production costs are zero: Like software, it doesn’t cost anything to produce another digital copy that is just as good as the original as soon as the first copy exists, and anyone can create those copies. Unless effective legal (copyright), technical (DRM) or other artificial impediments to production can be created, simple economic theory dictates that the price of music, like its marginal cost, must also fall to zero. The evidence is unmistakable already. In April 2007 the benchmark price for a DRM-free song was $1.29. Today it is $0.89, a drop of 31% in just six months.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:31 AM

September 21, 2007


Cory Doctorow:

Google controls your e-mail, your videos, your calendar, your searches… What if it controlled your life?

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:05 PM

September 4, 2007

Your DNA, Please

The Economist:
Rapid advances in genetic testing promise to transform medicine, but they may up-end the insurance business in the process “IF YOU can make a good soufflé, you can sequence DNA.” That assertion sounds preposterous, but Hugh Rienhoff should know. When his daughter was born about three years ago, she suffered from a mysterious disability that stunted her muscle development. After many frustrated visits to specialists, Dr Rienhoff, a clinical geneticist and former venture capitalist, decided to sequence a specific part of her genome himself. He discovered that her condition, which most resembled a rare genetic disorder known as Beals's syndrome, was probably due to a new genetic mutation. “Without a lab and for just a few hundred dollars, you can contract or outsource almost all the steps,” he explains. What a well-connected and highly motivated scientist in California can do today the rest of the world will be able to do tomorrow. Indeed, a number of firms are already offering tests for specific ailments (or predispositions to ailments) directly to the public, cutting out the medical middle-man. Dr Rienhoff, for his part, will soon launch, a not-for-profit venture intended to help others to unravel the mysteries of their family's genes in the way that he unravelled those of his own.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:21 PM

August 30, 2007

Who's afraid of Google?

The Economist:

RARELY if ever has a company risen so fast in so many ways as Google, the world's most popular search engine. This is true by just about any measure: the growth in its market value and revenues; the number of people clicking in search of news, the nearest pizza parlour or a satellite image of their neighbour's garden; the volume of its advertisers; or the number of its lawyers and lobbyists.

Such an ascent is enough to evoke concerns—both paranoid and justified. The list of constituencies that hate or fear Google grows by the week. Television networks, book publishers and newspaper owners feel that Google has grown by using their content without paying for it. Telecoms firms such as America's AT&T and Verizon are miffed that Google prospers, in their eyes, by free-riding on the bandwidth that they provide; and it is about to bid against them in a forthcoming auction for radio spectrum. Many small firms hate Google because they relied on exploiting its search formulas to win prime positions in its rankings, but dropped to the internet's equivalent of Hades after Google tweaked these algorithms.

And now come the politicians. Libertarians dislike Google's deal with China's censors. Conservatives moan about its uncensored videos. But the big new fear is to do with the privacy of its users. Google's business model (see article) assumes that people will entrust it with ever more information about their lives, to be stored in the company's “cloud” of remote computers. These data begin with the logs of a user's searches (in effect, a record of his interests) and his responses to advertisements. Often they extend to the user's e-mail, calendar, contacts, documents, spreadsheets, photos and videos. They could soon include even the user's medical records and precise location (determined from his mobile phone).

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:48 AM

August 9, 2007

Google News Hypocrisy: Walled Off Content

Mike Arrington:

TechMeme founder Gabe Rivera makes an interesting observation on the Google News story all over the blogosphere today.
One thing that bugs me: they’re now hosting original news content, yet they prohibit other aggregators from crawling it (per robots.txt restrictions and TOS). Of course Google News relies on the openness of other organizations with original news content.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:21 AM

July 7, 2007

NH Rejects Real ID Law

Marc Songini:
New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch last week signed into law a bill that forbids New Hampshire government agencies from complying with the controversial federal national identification act, or Real ID bill.

The New Hampshire Legislature had overwhelming passed the bill this past spring and handed it off to Lynch, who signed it on June 27.

"Real ID is intended to make us all safer, which I think we can all agree is a laudable goal," said Lynch in a statement. "However, I strongly believe Real ID's proposed haphazard implementation and onerous provisions would have the exact opposite effect. The federal government obviously did not think this burdensome system through and that is why we in New Hampshire are right to reject it."
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:43 PM

June 27, 2007

When Public Records are Too Public

Jason Fry:

But then there's another set of personal details that have made their way online, and these documents are much more worrisome. Property deeds, marriage and divorce records, court files, motor-vehicle information and tax documents are increasingly being digitized, and contain a wealth of information that few of us would want online: Social Security numbers, birth dates, maiden names and images of our signatures. Local governments have rushed to put those documents online for a decade or so, often without scrubbing them of such information. And that's made them potentially fertile ground for busybodies, stalkers and identity thieves.

Betty "BJ" Ostergren, a 58-year-old from outside Richmond, Va., has made it her mission to alert people to the dangers of public records online. Ms. Ostergren is feisty bordering on ferocious: Her tactics include mailing letters to people alerting them that their personal information is online and posting copies of public documents (or links to them) displaying the personal information of circuit-court clerks and other politicians, including former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. (See her Web site, the Virginia Watchdog, here; this Washington Post profile of her is also a good read.)

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:47 AM

June 13, 2007

AT&T: Sticking it to us Yet Again

James Granelli:
AT&T Inc. has joined Hollywood studios and recording companies in trying to keep pirated films, music and other content off its network — the first major carrier of Internet traffic to do so.

The San Antonio-based company started working last week with studios and record companies to develop anti-piracy technology that would target the most frequent offenders, said James W. Cicconi, an AT&T senior vice president.

The nation's largest telephone and Internet service provider also operates the biggest cross-country system for handling Internet traffic for its customers and those of other providers.

As AT&T has begun selling pay-television services, the company has realized that its interests are more closely aligned with Hollywood, Cicconi said in an interview Tuesday. The company's top leaders recently decided to help Hollywood protect the digital copyrights to that content.

"We do recognize that a lot of our future business depends on exciting and interesting content," he said.

But critics say the company is going to be fighting a losing battle and angering its own customers, and it should focus instead on developing incentives for users to pay for all the content they want.
AT&T's complicity in domestic surveillance via an EFF lawsuit. Duncan Riley offers up a name change: American Tracking & Takedown. David Weinberger notes that AT&T is going to "exit the internet". It is disappointing to see our local politicians carrying the water for AT&T.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:00 PM

June 9, 2007

Google's Privacy Policy Criticized


Google Inc.'s privacy practices are the worst among the Internet's top destinations, according to a watchdog group seeking to intensify the recent focus on how the online search leader handles personal information about its users....

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:06 PM

June 7, 2007

Censorship 'changes face of net'


Amnesty International has warned that the internet "could change beyond all recognition" unless action is taken against the erosion of online freedoms.

The warning comes ahead of a conference organised by Amnesty, where victims of repression will outline their plights.

The "virus of internet repression" has spread from a handful of countries to dozens of governments, said the group.

Amnesty accused companies such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo of being complicit in the problem.

Amnesty's 2007 report can be found here.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:51 AM

May 25, 2007

New software can identify you from your online habits

Paul Marks:

F YOU thought you could protect your privacy on the web by lying about your personal details, think again. In online communities at least, entering fake details such as a bogus name or age may no longer prevent others from working out exactly who you are.

That is the spectre raised by new research conducted by Microsoft. The computing giant is developing software that could accurately guess your name, age, gender and potentially even your location, by analysing telltale patterns in your web browsing history. But experts say the idea is a clear threat to privacy - and may be illegal in some places.

Previous studies show there are strong correlations between the sites that people visit and their personal characteristics, says software engineer Jian Hu from Microsoft's research lab in Beijing, China. For example, 74 per cent of women seek health and medical information online, while only 58 per cent of men do. And 34 per cent of women surf the internet for information about religion, whereas 25 per cent of men do the same.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:25 AM

May 23, 2007

Google, Dell and Spyware

David Ulevitch:

This is a long post but it’s worth the read. In short, Google and Dell have teamed up to install some software on Dell computers that borders on being spyware. I say spyware because it’s hard to figure out what it is and is even harder to remove. It also breaks all kinds of OpenDNS functionality. At the end, I’ll tell you what we’re doing about it.

About a year ago Google and Dell announced a partnership to include the Google Toolbar on new Dell computers. At the same time, Google was trying to convince the Department of Justice that changing the default search engine in the (then) new IE7 was too difficult (when in reality it’s really simple). Installing the toolbar meant that users would have Google as their default search engine in IE7. It also meant that Dell and Google would share some of the revenue from the advertising clicks that resulted from these installations, much like The Mozilla Foundation does with its Firefox browser.

Dell and Google are now installing a second program on computers that intercepts all sorts of queries that the browser would normally try to resolve. This program has no clear name and is very hard to uninstall. In some circles, people would call this spyware.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:53 AM

May 14, 2007

NY Times Announces that it will mine web customers' data

Keach Hagey:

In fact, some people at the paper's annual stockholders meeting in the New Amsterdam Theatre exchanged confused looks when Janet Robinson, the company's president and CEO, uttered the phrase "data mining." Wasn't that the nefarious, 21st-century sort of snooping that the National Security Agency was doing without warrants on American citizens? Wasn't that the whole subject of the prizewinning work in December 2005 by Times reporters Eric Lichtblau and James Risen?

And hadn't the company's chairman and publisher, Pinch Sulzberger, already trotted out Pulitzers earlier in the program?

Yes, yes, and yes. But Robinson was talking about money this time. Data mining, she told the crowd, would be used "to determine hidden patterns of uses to our website." This was just one of the many futuristic projects in the works by the newspaper company's research and development department. Heck, she added, the R&D department, when it was founded several years back, was "a concept unique in the industry."

These days, of course, all media outlets—not just the Times—are trying to bulk up their online presence, and many are desperately attempting to learn more about their readers' habits and then target ads to them. The old-line newspaper companies in particular are under immense pressure to figure out how to make double-digit leaps in profits annually—something they didn't have to worry about doing before websites spirited away huge chunks of newspapers' classified advertisers.

Not that anyone would confuse an old-line media company like the Times with a modern data expert like Google, but Sulzberger himself made kind of a comparison earlier in the stockholders' meeting. Morgan Stanley and other investors have ragged on the Times for having a two-tiered stock structure that protects the powerful voting shares from falling into the "wrong" hands. Sulzberger reminded the crowd that Google stock, that most coveted of Wall Street delicacies, also comes in two tiers.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:58 AM

May 1, 2007

Red Tape for Tourists visiting the US

Cory Doctorow:
America is rated the world's most unfriendly destination for foreign travellers in a recent global poll. The War on Terror (which includes a $15 billion fingerprinting program that humiliates every visitor to America's shores and has yet to catch a single terrorist) has destroyed America's tourist industry, killing $94 billion worth of tourist trade, and 194,000 American jobs.
There's something to this challenging issue. A driver on Hong Kong told me recently that passengers destined for most countries, other than the USA can check in (and check luggage) downtown, then take the train to the airport and go right to the gate. The security "friction" does have significant costs all around.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:18 AM

March 23, 2007

"My National Security Letter Gag Order"

Via the Washington Post:
The Justice Department's inspector general revealed on March 9 that the FBI has been systematically abusing one of the most controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act: the expanded power to issue "national security letters." It no doubt surprised most Americans to learn that between 2003 and 2005 the FBI issued more than 140,000 specific demands under this provision -- demands issued without a showing of probable cause or prior judicial approval -- to obtain potentially sensitive information about U.S. citizens and residents. It did not, however, come as any surprise to me.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:56 AM

March 22, 2007

Crossing the Border

Tom Kyte:
It was that last bit. The customs agent wanted to know "is that your employers laptop" - nope, it is mine. "Do you do work on it, business work?". Well, I read email, browse the web, have all of my presentations on it, use it to present, run Oracle on it, demonstrate with it. "So, it is your companies laptop then?". Nope, it is mine.

They scribbled someone on the immigration form, handed it to me and said "have a nice trip". I head out of baggage claim - but instead of being told to go right (to freedom), I'm directed to the left - to additional scrutiny. No worries - nothing to be found, no problem.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:50 PM

March 10, 2007

Not Linking to the Sources?

Jon Udell:
When the inspector general of the US Department of Justice issues a special report, it tends to make news. The latest report, a dissection of the FBI’s use of “national security letters” under the Patriot Act, is no exception. References to this report are everywhere in the news today. But links to the report are less plentiful.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:28 PM

More on the Battle Over Real ID

Jim Harper:
Senator Susan Collins, a Republican of Maine, is the author of the latest effort to sell reluctant states on the REAL ID Act, the 2005 measure which would coerce states into issuing nationally standardized driver's licenses and require them to enter information about their drivers in nationally accessible databases.

Despite Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's public insistence that the Act needs to be implemented rapidly, the administration, and Mr. Chertoff himself, appear happy to avoid an immediate confrontation with the states and to go along with Ms. Collins' sales tactic. The Maine Senator introduced a bill, and pressed it as an amendment on the Senate floor, to extend the deadline for state compliance with the REAL ID Act, allowing companies in favor of the measure time to work in state capitols to calm the burgeoning rebellion.

Sen. Collins' counter-rebellion role is laden with irony. The revolt, after all, started in her own New England state. In late January, George Smith, executive director of the Maine Sportsmen's Alliance, stood to denounce the REAL ID Act at a community forum in Augusta. A Norman Rockwell painting come to life with the directness and accent of a lifelong Mainer, he said: "They had their Boston Tea Party. Let's have a REAL ID Party!"

The next day, the Maine House and Senate passed a resolution to reject REAL ID by overwhelming margins.
More on Real ID, which both Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl supported....
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:17 PM

March 8, 2007

2 States Opt out of Real Id; Where's Wisconsin?

Jay Stanley:
Idaho opted out of Real ID today, becoming the second state to say "no thanks," along with Maine. And there are a lot of other states moving in the same direction (we have a map that tracks them online at
Senator's Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl supported the National ID (Real ID) legislation. Related: Nathan Cochrane on becoming an unperson. Bruce Schneier has more.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:32 PM

Chinese Dissident's Wife to Sue Yahoo

Richard Komen:
Speaking with VOA's Mandarin Service Wednesday after arriving in Washington, Yu Ling said Chinese police arrested her husband, Wang Xiaoning, partly because Yahoo's Hong Kong office gave Chinese authorities information about his e-mail accounts.

Yu Ling said she has come to the United States to sue the company for damages and to demand an apology.

Last year, Yahoo provided the Chinese with information about Shi Tao, a journalist who emailed to Western news outlets details of China's plans to handle the 15th anniversary of Tiananmen Square.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:33 PM

March 7, 2007

We Can't Tell You, It's a Secret"

Joe Francica:
At GITA, Dr. Bill Gail of Microsoft's Virtual Earth team addressed a question as to working with highly sensititve imagery of perhaps a national security concern and whether they might be asked to black out areas on Virtual Earth. Google had been asked to do this previously for certain areas and Microsoft wanted to preempt such situations. Gail said that Microsoft has sat down with various government agencies to ask them about these potential conflict areas that they thought might be blacked out if asked to do so. Their answer was, "it's a secret, we can't tell you."
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:36 PM

March 6, 2007


PicSecret allows you to send secret messages disguised as ordinary pictures. You can learn more about it here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:33 PM

February 20, 2007

Fear and Loathing the Cable Company

Jeff Jarvis:
But then, that’s not news. I’ve been trying to get Joost working at home and was cursing it, but I was cursing the wrong party. Joost works fine at work. I can’t wait until Verizon finishes laying fibre on my street so I can get FIOS. Except Verizon hired the worst contractor imaginable to get the job done. They have been at it for more than two months on a street with fewer than 20 homes; they’ve managed to cut our cable and gas line and a neighbor’s electric line and they’re not nearly done. I’m about to go out with a shovel myself just so I can get rid of Cablevision sooner.
At least Jarvis can look forward to fiber to the home, via Verizon. Locally, AT&T is content to spend money on advertising and resell us the copper lines we've paid for over and over and over.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:16 AM

February 9, 2007

GPS Spying Case

Tom Foremski:
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that police can place a GPS tracking unit on a suspect's car without obtaining a search warrant. In US v Garcia (2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 2272), decided Feb. 2, Judge Richard Posner found that such a device was a mere "augmentation" of police officers' natural ability to follow a car.

In the Garcia case, an information alerted police that Garcia used meth with her, said he intended to resume producing meth, and was taped on a security camera buying chemicals to make meth. The police found his car and attached a GPS tracking device. When they retrieved the device, they discovered that he had visited a large tract of land. They obtained consent from the owner to search the land and found a meth lab. As they were searching, Garcia drove up. They searched his car and found additional evidence against him.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:52 PM

February 6, 2007

Advocating DRM-Less Music

Steve Jobs:
With this background, let’s now explore three different alternatives for the future.

The first alternative is to continue on the current course, with each manufacturer competing freely with their own “top to bottom” proprietary systems for selling, playing and protecting music. It is a very competitive market, with major global companies making large investments to develop new music players and online music stores. Apple, Microsoft and Sony all compete with proprietary systems. Music purchased from Microsoft’s Zune store will only play on Zune players; music purchased from Sony’s Connect store will only play on Sony’s players; and music purchased from Apple’s iTunes store will only play on iPods. This is the current state of affairs in the industry, and customers are being well served with a continuing stream of innovative products and a wide variety of choices.

Some have argued that once a consumer purchases a body of music from one of the proprietary music stores, they are forever locked into only using music players from that one company. Or, if they buy a specific player, they are locked into buying music only from that company’s music store. Is this true? Let’s look at the data for iPods and the iTunes store - they are the industry’s most popular products and we have accurate data for them. Through the end of 2006, customers purchased a total of 90 million iPods and 2 billion songs from the iTunes store. On average, that’s 22 songs purchased from the iTunes store for each iPod ever sold.
I hope the Hollywood types listen. Music should be very inexpensive ($0.05/track) and widely, widely used.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:27 PM

February 5, 2007

"Rights Managed Copy Machines"

John Landwehr:
Ricoh and Adobe are offering users the ability to manage risk at the point-of-capture. Paper documents are scanned at the Ricoh MFP where the security policy is applied. To ensure the information remains safe, the security policy remains with the document through its lifetime, whether it is transferred inside or outside the corporate firewall.
Wow. The Soviets denied ordinary citizens access to duplicating and copy machines....
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:02 AM

February 4, 2007

TIVO Selling User Data

David Lazarus:
TiVo revealed the other day that it's offering TV networks and ad agencies a chance to receive second-by- second data about which programs the company's 4.5 million subscribers are watching and, more importantly, which commercials people are skipping.

This raises a pair of troubling questions: Is TiVo, which revolutionized TV viewing with its digital video recording technology, now watching what people watch? And is it selling that sensitive info to advertisers and others?

The answers, apparently, are no and no.

"I promise with my hand on a Bible that your data is not being archived and sold," said Todd Juenger, TiVo's vice president and general manager of audience research and measurement.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:59 PM

December 30, 2006

Google's Tipping Point?

Michael Arrington:
Taken in a vacuum, a fairly trivial thing happened a few days ago. The co-founder of Firefox, Blake Ross, wrote a post criticizing Google called “Tip: Trust is hard to gain, easy to lose“. He takes issue with a new Google search feature that promotes certain of their own products over organic search results. See Google searches for Calendar, Blogging, Photo Sharing and others and see Google pushing Google Calendar, Blogger and Picasa, respectively, above what is supposed to be the most relevant results - Google search. Even a search for Yahoo Calendar has these Google results above the obvious destination the user was searching for.

I say this is trivial incident taken in a vacuum because, quite frankly, Google has every right to promote their own products on their website. But I think Ross’ post may be a sign of a change in attitude towards Google that’s been percolating for the last year or so, and is beginning to manifest itself. The fact that a highly respected entrepreneur finally spoke out should be a wakeup call for Google.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:11 PM

December 24, 2006

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss: Dems to Place Howard Berman in Charge of IP Subcomittee

So is there any hope for such reform from the Democrats? Word from Washington so far: Fat chance. As reported in the LA Times two weeks ago (registration required but hey, it’s LA), the crucial House IP subcommittee will be chaired by Hollywood Howard (Berman) — among the most extreme of the IP warriors. It is this committee that largely determines what reform Congress considers. It is the Chairman who picks what voices get heard. And while Berman is a brilliant man — whose brilliance could really have been used in the problems facing the mid-east — his brilliance has not yet been directed towards working out the problems of IP and the Net with any view beyond the narrowest of special interests.

This is like making a congressman from Detroit head of a Automobile Safety sub-committee, or a senator from Texas head of a Global Warming sub-committee. Are you kidding, Dems? The choice signals clearly the party’s view about the issues, and its view of the “solution”: more of the same. This war — no more successful than President Bush’s war — will continue.

No doubt, there are Net issues beyond copyright — surveillance, net neutrality, etc. But I suggest this choice is an important signal about this party (and I’m afraid, any party). I once asked a senior staffer of a brilliant Senator why the Senator didn’t take a stronger position in favor of Net Neutrality. “No Senator remains a Senator opposing an industry with that much money” was his answer.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:11 PM

December 22, 2006

A Health Information Exchange Conversation

Jon Udell:
Dr. John Halamka joins me for this week’s podcast. He’s a renaissance guy: a physician, a CIO, and a healthcare IT innovator whose work I mentioned in a pair of InfoWorld columns. Lots of people are talking about secure exchange of medical records and portable continuity of care documents. John Halamka is on the front lines actually making this these visions real. Among other activities he chairs the New England Health Electronic Data Interchange Network (NEHEN), which began exchanging financial and insurance data almost a decade ago and is now handling clinical data as well in the form of e-prescriptions. The technical, legal, and operational issues are daunting, but you’ll enjoy his pragmatic style and infectious enthusiasm.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:15 PM

December 21, 2006

"Bad ISP's

Here's a list of ISPs (Internet service provider) that are known to cause trouble for BitTorrent clients or P2P in general and the reason why. If you are using one consider finding a new, better one. If your ISP is not on the list come to the IRC channel and tell the OPs, they can add it. Read about Good settings and NAT problem first though.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:43 PM

December 19, 2006

Goodbye VHS, Farewell Fair Use

As VHS tapes and VCRs head the way of Betamax and phonographs, commentator Bill Hammack warns that the right to fair use is in danger of disappearing right along with them.

Back in the 1980s, the Supreme Court ruled VCR makers couldn't be held liable for copyright infringement.

That gave consumers the right to make personal copies of TV shows and movies using a VCR.

The new digital media that are erasing the VHS format are also erasing our rights.

A few years ago, a Judge issued a catch-22 ruling: Yes, she said, we can copy commercial DVDs too. But no one can sell the software to do that.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:48 PM

December 16, 2006

White House Tightens Publishing Rules for USGS Scientists

John Heilprin:
New rules require screening of all facts and interpretations by agency scientists. The rules apply to all scientific papers and other public documents, even minor reports or prepared talks, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

Top officials at the Interior Department's scientific arm say the rules only standardize what scientists must do to ensure the quality of their work and give a heads-up to the agency's public relations staff.

“This is not about stifling or suppressing our science, or politicizing our science in any way,'' Barbara Wainman, the agency's director of communications, said Wednesday. “I don't have approval authority. What it was designed to do is to improve our product flow.''

Some agency scientists, who until now have felt free from any political interference, worry that the objectivity of their work could be compromised.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:42 PM

December 2, 2006

Udell Chat with U of Michigan's Wilkin regarding the Google Scanning Deal

Jon Udell:
My guest for this week's podcast is John Wilkin. He's the director of the University of Michigan Library's technology department, and coordinator of the library's joint digitization project with Google. It's been two years since Google began partnering with the University of Michigan and with other libraries, including Harvard and the New York Public Library. In this conversation we talk about the UM's earlier (and still-ongoing) efforts to digitize its 7-million-volume library, about how the partnership with Google has radically accelerated that process, and about what this is all going to mean for libraries, for publishers, for Google, and for all of us. ...
The Google Library deals have been controversial (rightly so). The UW-Madison also has a deal with Google.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:06 PM

December 1, 2006

Cringely on VOIP Privacy

Robert X. Cringely:
The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA -- I've written about this one before) requires "managed" VoIP operators to provide law enforcement agencies a point of interception so they can tap your VoIP calls. What's a "managed" VoIP service? Packet8, Vonage, Comcast, and AT&T all certainly qualify, but does Skype? Yes, if you think of billing as management, now that there is SkypeOut and SkypeIn. And given the current management at the U.S. Department of Justice, "managed" could mean pretty much anything.

VoIP interception is usually done at the SBC/proxy. The network operator's SBCs perform decryption/encryption on the "secure" packets as they go through the node. It is a matter of "trust," as they say in the industry. If you want to encrypt you must also be willing to trust an SBC/proxy in China, Russia, wherever. That's the attack point.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:39 PM

Our Lobbyist Friends, the MPAA

A few months back, of course, you'll recall the big scandal over HP's use of "pretexting" to spy on various people to figure out who leaked some information from the board of directors. Pretexting is a nice way of describing a basic form of social engineering identity theft. Basically, you call up a company pretending to be someone in order to get their information. It seems pretty clear it should be illegal, and while Patricia Dunn was eventually charged with crimes over the practice, there were plenty of questions as to whether or not California laws actually made pretexting illegal. This surprised many people, who then started trying to push through such laws, which haven't really gone very far. In fact, there were similar laws that politicians had tried to put in place earlier that had failed as well.

A bunch of folks have submitted this morning that a Wired News investigation found out that the California law to make pretexting illegal had strong (nearly unanimous) support... until the MPAA killed it. Apparently, MPAA lobbyists explained to California politicians that they need to use this identity theft method to spy on file sharers. This isn't an idle threat either.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:10 PM

November 19, 2006

A New Take on Net Neutrality

The debate over net neutrality1 has often focused on video as the dominant medium that made the prioritization of packets either crucial or harmful. However, video is not the offering that will suffer the most if net neutrality becomes a wistful memory. Rather, the users that are likely to be most materially disadvantaged are those that utilize the Net for interactive communications – particularly voice over IP (VOIP) and online gaming. Of these two finalists for the dubious title of “innovation most likely to be stifled to the detriment of everyone by loss of net neutrality,” gaming is by far the more irreplaceable and senseless loss.

Unlike video and voice, ISPs are unlikely to have or be able to obtain a viable material stake in the gaming business and have no replacement for the service. As a result, consumers stand not only to lose their choice of the source of this product, but the very value of the gaming service itself.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:40 PM

November 15, 2006

More Controversy Over Web Tracking Cookies

Catherine Holahan:
Specifically, the groups want the FTC to require advertisers to alert consumers when tracking cookies and other such files are present on sites, and then let consumers choose whether they are willing to be monitored. "Most consumers have no idea of the extensive system of online data collection and targeted marketing that has evolved," says Chester. "They need to know that data is being collected about their viewing, that data is being sent back to a computer based on their tastes…there needs to be an opt in." Some companies that specialize in behavioral advertising are already getting the message.

The complaint says Microsoft (MSFT) and TACODA, the largest behavioral targeting ad network, are among companies that use behavioral targeting without sufficiently alerting Web surfers. A Microsoft representative didn’t return a call seeking comment. TACODA says it plans to be more upfront about targeting practices.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:06 PM

November 10, 2006

Interesting Data Mining Article: "I have Nothing to Hide"

Guy Kewney:
But you need to understand the basic principles of data mining to understand why the world of spooks and the world of search engines are about to overlap, and why you should be nervous about this.

The lesson here is one I call "The Sainsbury's Lesson" when doing presentations for technical audiences, because I was taught this by a data miner who worked for the giant British supermarket of that name.

The story, summarised, is that Sainsbury's was spending an absurd amount of money sending people promotional coupons, money-off special offers, and other junk mail to encourage them to swing by the Sainsbury's supermarket next time, rather than Waitrose or Safeway or Asda - and it was pretty hard to be sure it was actually doing any good. The trouble was simple: they were sending girly shampoo promotions to households with six rugby-playing male students, or home improvement promotions to households with one elderly pensioner with osteoporosis, or bulk beer deals to households where they were all strictly teetotal. Not profitable stuff. And their IT staff heard about this and said: "But you don't have to do that!"

Worry about governments who will make "pre-crime" a reality.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:06 AM

November 6, 2006

Dane County Register of Deeds Race

I'm happy that we actually have a choice in tomorrow's Dane County Register of Deeds race. This is unusual. I contacted both candidates recently and asked them for their views on Open Records and the Register of Deeds office.

I've been concerned over the years that some government agencies don't follow (ignore?) the Open Records laws. Rather, they take the opportunity to charge taxpayers twice, once via taxes and a second time via various access fees for public information. There are no shortage of arguments over these questions.

Peter Ellestad responded via email (I've not heard from his opponent, Kristi Chlebowski). Peter's response follows:
Sorry to take so long in responding -- I've been driving around the county a great deal.  Regarding my philosophy about records:  I think priority should be given to maintaining and enhancing free access to all real estate records.  At present, anyone who comes in to the register of deeds office may search all of these records at no charge, and will receive help from staff to find what they are looking for.  I've been startled when I've been helping someone find something to be asked "Is there a charge for that?" and I think they've been surprised to hear "No, anyone can search these records for free."  I think that free access is appropriate and is the responsibility of our office to provide. 
However, the situation regarding online searching, at least now, is somewhat trickier.  Our office currently provides two options for on line searchers: Tapestry and Laredo, which are both provided and maintained by a vendor to whom we pay a fee. (Since I’m not the register, my knowledge of the arrangement is not precise and I’m not aware of the exact contractual arrangement.) In the case of Tapestry, a user pays $3.99 by credit card to do a name search, and for documents recorded after 1993 can view and print an image for 50 cents a page. In the case of Laredo, a user pays a minimum of 50 dollars a month to have access to the same search program used on the public search computers in our office. Beyond a certain time threshold there is an additional charge per minute, and the user is able to print unlimited copies included at no additional payment. I think the overall effect of this is that the county does receive some money over and above its cost for providing this system. (However, these programs are providing copies as well as viewing access, and state statutes mandate charging fees for copies, so it’s hard to calculate what portion of the fees are applied to access and what are applied to copy production.) In any case, there certainly is a cost to providing and maintaining this online access, and I think that as long as this extra cost exists, it’s reasonable and appropriate to charge enough to cover that cost and any depreciation on the equipment used to provide the service. But, I don’t think records should be viewed as a product or commodity, and I don’t think access to them should become a cash cow for government.

Basically, I think one the primary functions of our office is to provide constructive notice, so that people have the information they need to make informed decisions about real estate. Our purpose is to archive and safeguard the records, not to hoard them. (In fact, most original documents do not stay in the office; after they are indexed and scanned they are sent back to whomever the drafter lists as the recipient.)

I suspect over time there will be much more electronic or online access to documents and some of these questions of cost will be moot. Regardless of that, I believe that in person access to records in our office should always be completely open and free, and that’s the view I will maintain as register.
From my perspective, land records should be freely available via the internet, just like local assessment data.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:31 PM

October 30, 2006

More on Yahoo's Cooperation with the Chinese Government

Tom Foremski:
hi Tao was sentenced to 10 years in prison after "illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities".

His crime was to have e-mailed details of the Chinese government's plans to handle news coverage of the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 2004. Yahoo! provided crucial information in the case, linking the message and e-mail account with Shi 's computer. Reporters Without Borders accused Yahoo! of acting as a "police informant".
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:26 PM

October 28, 2006

On Google's Intentions

News: Internet privacy? Google already knows more about you than the National Security Agency ever will. And don’t assume for a minute it can keep a secret. YouTube fans--and everybody else--beware.

Google Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the two former Stanford geeks who founded the company that has become synonymous with Internet searching, and you’ll find more than a million entries each. But amid the inevitable dump of press clippings, corporate bios, and conference appearances, there’s very little about Page’s and Brin’s personal lives; it’s as if the pair had known all along that Google would change the way we acquire information, and had carefully insulated their lives—putting their homes under other people’s names, choosing unlisted numbers, abstaining from posting anything personal on web pages.

That obsession with privacy may explain Google’s puzzling reaction last year, when Elinor Mills, a reporter with the tech news service cnet, ran a search on Google ceo Eric Schmidt and published the results: Schmidt lived with his wife in Atherton, California, was worth about $1.5 billion, had dumped about $140 million in Google shares that year, was an amateur pilot, and had been to the Burning Man festival. Google threw a fit, claimed that the information was a security threat, and announced it was blacklisting cnet’s reporters for a year. (The company eventually backed down.) It was a peculiar response, especially given that the information Mills published was far less intimate than the details easily found online on every one of us. But then, this is something of a pattern with Google: When it comes to information, it knows what’s best.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:16 PM

October 23, 2006

Unlocking the iPod - Great Fair Use Article

Robert Levine:
Sometimes, however, the things Johansen tries to improve were made a certain way for a reason. When he was 15, Johansen got frustrated when his DVDs didn't work the way he wanted them to. "I was fed up with not being able to play a movie the way I wanted to play it," that is, on a PC that ran Linux.

To fix the problem, he and two hackers he met online wrote a program called DeCSS, which removed the encryption that limits what devices can play the discs. That meant the movies could be played on any machine, but also that they could be copied. After the program was posted online, Johansen received an award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation - and a visit from Norwegian police.

Johansen, now 22 and widely known as "DVD Jon" for his exploits, has also figured out how Apple's iPod-iTunes system works. And he's using that knowledge to start a business that is going to drive Steve Jobs crazy.

A disruptor If you want to be specific - and for legal reasons, he does - Johansen has reverse-engineered FairPlay, the encryption technology Apple (Charts) uses to make the iPod a closed system. Right now, thanks to FairPlay, the songs Apple sells at its iTunes store cannot easily be played on other devices, and copy-protected songs purchased from other sites will not play on the iPod. (The iPod will play MP3 files, which do not have any copy protection, but major labels don't sell music in that format.)
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:28 PM

October 20, 2006

The Information Factories

George Gilder:
This change is as momentous as the industrial-age shift from craft production to mass manufacture, from individual workers in separate shops turning out finished products step by step to massive factories that break up production into thousands of parts and perform them simultaneously. No single computer could update millions of auctions in real time, as eBay does, and no one machine could track thousands of stock portfolios made up of offerings on all the world's exchanges, as Yahoo does. And those are, at most, terascale tasks. Page and Brin understood that with clever software, scores of thousands of cheap computers working in parallel could perform petascale tasks – like searching everything Yahoo, eBay,, and anyone else could shovel onto the Net. Google appears to have attained one of the holy grails of computer science: a scalable massively parallel architecture that can readily accommodate diverse software.

Google's core activity remains Web search. Having built a petascale search machine, though, the question naturally arose: What else could it do? Google's answer: just about anything. Thus the company's expanding portfolio of Web services: delivering ads (AdSense, AdWords), maps (Google Maps), videos (Google Video), scheduling (Google Calendar), transactions (Google Checkout), email (Gmail), and productivity software (Writely). The other heavyweights have followed suit.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:19 PM

October 19, 2006

How HP Kept Tabs on a Wall Street Journal Reporter

Pui-Wing Tam:
Unbeknownst to my family and me, someone was scoping out our trash earlier this year -- someone hired by Hewlett-Packard Co.

The trash study was carried out in January by Security Outsourcing Solutions Inc., a Needham, Mass., investigative firm that H-P employed, according to a briefing H-P officials gave me yesterday. Whether the sleuths ever encountered my toddler's dirty diapers, H-P said it doesn't know.

I learned this -- and more -- as I sat in a conference room at H-P's outside law firm yesterday in San Francisco, where attorney John Schultz ran through a litany of snooping tactics H-P's agents used against me as part of its effort to identify which of its directors might be leaking news to the press. For around a year, Mr. Schultz told me, H-P collected information about me. H-P's investigators tried at least five times, he said, to get access to my home-phone, cellphone and office-phone records. In several instances, they succeeded: H-P now has lists of calls I made to people such as my editors, my husband, my insurance company and a reporting source employed by one H-P rival.

H-P's agents had my photo and reviewed videotaped footage of me, said Mr. Schultz, of the law firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. They conducted "surveillance" by looking for me at certain events to see if I would show up to meet an H-P director. (I didn't.) They also carried out "pre-trash inspections" at my suburban home early this year, Mr. Schultz said.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:37 AM

October 17, 2006

The Politics of Electronic Rights

echWorld (a UK publication) has an article about a “leaked” letter from the Initiative for Software Choice (ISC) (apparently MSFT funded) about, as the article puts it, the “potentially dire effects if too much encouragement was given to open source software development.”

Nothing weird there. What is weird is, first, that such a letter has to be “leaked” (aren’t submissions to the EC a matter of public record?), and, second, the way in which the letter is made available on the TechWorld website. TechWorld gives you a link to the letter. The link states: “You can view the entire letter here.” And indeed, the link means what it says. You can ONLY view the letter. The PDF is locked so that it can’t be printed.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:23 AM

October 15, 2006

Website Tracks 911 Calls

John Cook & Scott Guitierrez:
ohn Eberly wasn't looking for controversy. The 31-year-old Ballard resident just wanted a better way to track the whereabouts of fire trucks and emergency vehicles in the city, a service he said could help people avoid traffic bottlenecks, protests or dangerous situations such as gas leaks.

For the past year, Eberly has operated, a Web site that until this week took real-time feeds of 911 calls from the Seattle Fire Department and plotted them on Google Maps. The site developed a cult following, with up to 200 unique visitors per day. The Seattle P-I incorporated the service into its Web site.


Schneier, the security expert, says the Seattle Fire Department's decision raises an interesting social question about the use of public information. He said it is the same issue as posting political donations or property records on Web sites.

"What the Fire Department is saying, which is interesting if you think about it, is that we are going to rely on the inconvenience of automating this to give you privacy," Schneier said. "The government is not saying, 'Hey, this data needs to be secret,' they are saying, 'This data needs to be inconvenient to get to.' "
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:31 PM

October 13, 2006

"Tagging" Air Passengers

Electronically tagging passengers at airports could help the fight against terrorism, scientists say.
The Register has more.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:28 PM

October 7, 2006

Our Federal Tax Dollars (and politicians) at Work: Intrastate Internet Gambling OK, but other Internet Gambling is Not

Last Saturday the United States Congress passed a port security bill that carried an amendment banning Internet gambling. This was a huge mistake, not because Internet gambling is a good thing (it was already illegal, in fact), but because the new law is either unenforceable or -- if it can be enforced -- will tear away the last shreds of financial privacy enjoyed by U.S. citizens. The stocks of Internet gambling companies, primarily traded in the UK, went into free-fall as their largest market was effectively taken away. I don't own any of those shares, but I guarantee you they will fully recover, which is part of what makes this situation so pathetically stupid.

Ironically, many of the senators who voted for this legislation may not have even known the gambling bill was attached, since it didn't appear in the officially published version of the port bill. But such ignorance is common in Congress, along with a smug confidence that people and institutions can be compelled to comply with laws, no matter how complex and arcane. The amendment was a surprise late addition, pushed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who has presidential ambitions and reportedly sees this battle against Internet gambling as part of his eventual campaign platform.

Only the new law isn't really against Internet gambling at all, since it specifically authorizes intrastate Internet gambling, imposing on the net the artificial constraint of state boundaries. So the law that is supposed to end Internet gambling for good will actually make the practice more common, though evidently out of the hands of foreigners, which in this case includes not just operators from the UK but, if you live in South Carolina as I do, it also includes people from Florida and New York. Let a million local poker hands be dealt.

What the new law actually tries to control is the payment of gambling debts through the U.S. banking system, making such practices illegal (except, of course, for intrastate gambling, which probably means your state lottery). Once President Bush signs the bill, your bank and credit card companies will have 270 days to come up with a way to prohibit you from using your own money to pay for gambling debts or -- though far less likely-- to keep you from receiving your gambling profits. The law covers not just credit card payments but also checks and electronic funds transfers.
Congressional and Senate votes here. Tammy Baldwin voted yes as did Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl. It would be interesting to know if any of them were aware of what was in this bill.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:37 AM

October 6, 2006

60 Minutes has a copy of the No Fly List

Bruce Schneier:
60 Minutes, in collaboration with the National Security News Service, has obtained the secret list used to screen airline passengers for terrorists and discovered it includes names of people not likely to cause terror, including the president of Bolivia, people who are dead and names so common, they are shared by thousands of innocent fliers.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:16 PM

September 17, 2006

RFID Tags in Your Passport

Bruce Schneier:
If you have a passport, now is the time to renew it -- even if it's not set to expire anytime soon. If you don't have a passport and think you might need one, now is the time to get it. In many countries, including the United States, passports will soon be equipped with RFID chips. And you don't want one of these chips in your passport. RFID stands for "radio-frequency identification." Passports with RFID chips store an electronic copy of the passport information: your name, a digitized picture, etc. And in the future, the chip might store fingerprints or digital visas from various countries.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:57 PM

September 13, 2006

Broadcast Flag & Indy Media

Kevin Marks raises some great issues in his review of Apple's iTV announcement:
Reading Paul Boutin's coverage of Apple's video announcements today, There are several questions that come to mind (and I know Jobs prefers not to answer questions).


In other words, will it play HD content made by independents cleanly, or will it require broadcast flag handshakes?
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:53 AM

Facebook & Privacy

Danah Boyd:
Facebook implemented a new feature called "News Feeds" that displays every action you take on the site to your friends. You see who added who, who commented where, who removed their relationship status, who joined what group, etc. This is on your front page when you login to Facebook. This upset many Facebook members who responded with outrage. Groups emerged out of protest. Students Against Facebook News Feeds is the largest with over 700,000 members. Facebook issued various press statements that nothing was going to change. On September 5, Mark Zuckerberg (the founder) told everyone to calm down. They didn't. On September 8, he apologized and offered privacy options as an olive branch. Zuckerberg invited everyone to join him live on the Free Flow of Information on the Internet group where hundreds of messages wizzed by in the hour making it hard to follow any thread; the goal was for Facebook to explain its decision. In short, they explained that this is to help people keep tabs on their friends but only their friends and all of this information is public anyhow.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:42 AM

September 11, 2006

9/11 Legacy: Five Years, still Fears?

Flight International:
Almost five years after the World's single most bloody act of terrorism - when hijacked aircraft were flown into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon building - aviation was again last month at the centre of another terrorism scare.

This time, UK security services foiled an alleged plot to bomb transatlantic airliners. 9/11 changed history, prompting the invasion of Afghanistan and the continuing US 'War on Terror' that led to the ousting of Iraq's Saddam Hussain.

But what has the lasting legacy of the 2001 attacks been on aviation? The industry has recovered strongly after a two-year nadir, but US airlines are still feeling the effects. And what of aviation security? Are we ever going to be able to terror-proof air travel?
Mike Boyd has more:
This, we would submit is only the tip of a very obvious and well-known corrupt iceberg. Five years after 9/11, there are more holes in aviation security than an Arkansas stop sign during hunting season.

Truth Doesn't Really Matter, Apparently. We covered it in detail last week (go there), so there's no point in trying to review the range of really stupid news stories we'll see today - the ones generally with the headlines that imply, "Security Much Improved Since 9/11" or "Passengers Adjusting To New Security Measures" or a range of other examples of slapdash journalism.

As you're regaled today by push-piece media stories, outlining the great "improvements" in aviation security, just ask yourself the following:
as does IAG along with Jeevan Vasagar.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:53 AM

September 10, 2006

"Ban Carry-on Luggage"

NYT Editorial:
In a directive whose logic is not always apparent, the Transportation Security Administration has spelled out what airline passengers can carry on board with them, what must be placed in checked luggage, and what can’t go on the plane at all. Knives must be checked but knitting needles and corkscrews are allowed in the cabin. Up to four ounces of eye drops can be carried aboard, with fingers crossed that multiple terrorists won’t combine their allotments to exceed the limit. Laptops, digital cameras, mobile phones and other electronic devices are permitted, so never mind any warnings you’ve heard that they could be used to trigger a bomb. The bomb ingredients themselves, notably liquid explosives, will be kept out of the cabin by a ban on liquids, gels and lotions, except for small amounts of baby formula and medications.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:45 PM

August 17, 2006

Search History / Privacy Debate

Kevin Bankston & Markham Erickson:
Search queries are stored and used by Internet companies for internal purposes. Unfortunately, AOL made a mistake in publishing its subscribers' online search requests. This should not have happened, and I hope every Internet company is evaluating its information procedures and policies to ensure that kind of thing does not happen again.

There are good, legitimate reasons why an Internet company would use historical search queries for internal uses. For example, search query information can be used in research and development to make improvements to search technology, to better tailor and make more efficient users' online requests. Companies also analyze historical query information to detect and protect against click fraud -- an activity that involves faking clicks on Web advertisements to drive up costs.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:50 PM

August 13, 2006

Changing the Air Travel Story

Seth Godin:

Over the last five years, security measures have gradually eroded the way people feel about commercial air travel. Today's events (“imminent” mid-air bomb plot disrupted) and the government's reaction to them will, in my opinion, mark the tipping point for an enormous amount of business travel by commercial air.

I'm delighted that the talented and brave investigators foiled this plot, and I'm saddened that we live in a world where something like this could even happen... the fact remains, though, that a key element of our lives has been changed, perhaps forever.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:56 AM

August 10, 2006

Sharecropping at the Washington Post

Denise Howell has a great post about the Washington Post’s plan to run a mash-up. According to the terms and conditions, as a condition of participating, the artists must agree to “grant and assign all right, title and interest in the Recording to” the Washington Post.
Youtube and other sites have similar "sharecropping terms.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:27 AM

August 5, 2006

China Blocking Feedburner RSS Feeds

Steve Rubel:
Essentially, the Chinese government is choosing to block some of the most popular RSS feeds in the world. That's like they decided to block the largest airline from their airspace. It is as close as you will see a nation coming to blocking the entire RSS/podcast transport. This goes beyond blocking blog services like TypePad and is important to watch. This might be a sign of bigger trouble for RSS in China.
Dave correctly notes that we should control our feeds and avoid centralization.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:40 PM

July 27, 2006

What Does $7 Billion in Telco Subsidies Buy?

Thomas Hazlett:
The “universal service” regime ostensibly extends local phone service to consumers who could not otherwise afford it. To achieve this goal, some $7 billion annually is raised – up from less than $4 billion in 1998 – by taxing telecommunications users. Yet, benefits are largely distributed to shareholders of rural telephone companies, not consumers, and fail – on net – to extend network access. Rather, the incentives created by these subsidies encourage widespread inefficiency and block adoption of advanced technologies – such as wireless, satellite, and Internet-based services – that could provide superior voice and data links at a fraction of the cost of traditional fixed-line networks. Ironically, subsidy payments are rising even as fixed-line phone subscribership falls, and as the emergence of competitive wireless and broadband networks make traditional universal service concepts obsolete. Unless policies are reformed to reflect current market realities, tax increases will continue to undermine the very goals “universal service” is said to advance.
Alex Tabarrok adds:
Guess how much would it cost a farmer to get telephone service in a small rural county far from a major city? Let's say $800 for satellite service.

Now guess how much the government subsidizes rural phone carriers to provide this service. The answer? As much as $13,000 per line per year.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:28 AM

Hackers Clone Human-implanted RFID Chip

This is the first time someone has cloned an human-implanted RFID chip The pair demonstrated the cloning process: Westhues held a standard RFID reader against an arm to register the chip ’s unique identification number. It actually has no security devices what-so-ever - VeriChip’s claims that its RFID chips can not be counterfited
Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson is (was) a director of Applied Digital Solutions, a firm that is promoting this technology.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:15 AM

July 25, 2006

License Plate Tracking for All

Luke O'Brien:
In recent years, police around the country have started to use powerful infrared cameras to read plates and catch carjackers and ticket scofflaws. But the technology will soon migrate into the private sector, and morph into a tool for tracking individual motorists' movements, says former policeman Andy Bucholz, who's on the board of Virginia-based G2 Tactics, a manufacturer of the technology.

Bucholz, who designed some of the first mobile license plate reading, or LPR, equipment, gave a presentation at the 2006 National Institute of Justice conference here last week laying out a vision of the future in which LPR does everything from helping insurance companies find missing cars to letting retail chains chart customer migrations. It could also let a nosy citizen with enough cash find out if the mayor is having an affair, he says.

Giant data-tracking firms such as ChoicePoint, Accurint and Acxiom already collect detailed personal and financial information on millions of Americans. Once they discover how lucrative it is to know where a person goes between the supermarket, for example, and the strip club, the LPR industry could explode, says Bucholz.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:32 AM

July 21, 2006

Google Knows Who You Really Are

Scott Lemon:
It's always fun to learn whole new layers of technology. What I'm posting about here is probably known by a lot of people, but my recent involvement in two new start-up companies has really started to have me think about the breadth and depth of data mining occurring on the Internet involving personal behavior and habits. And one of the largest harvesters of all of that personal information is Google. There are already others who cover this much better than I ... Google Watch is one ... however I still wanted to blog about this.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:50 PM

July 18, 2006

A Look at the UW's "Broad" Stem Cell Patents

Antonio Regalado & David Hamilton:
The broadly worded patents, which cover nearly any use of human embryonic stem cells, are held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, a nonprofit group that handles the school's intellectual-property estate, managing a $1.5 billion endowment amassed during 80 years of marketing inventions.

John Simpson, an official at the foundation bringing the challenge, says WARF's efforts to enforce its patents are "damaging, impeding the free flow of ideas and creating a problem." Mr. Simpson's group got involved in the dispute earlier this year after Wisconsin officials said they would demand a share of state revenue from California's voter-approved stem-cell initiative.

WARF doesn't charge academics to study stem cells, but it does ask commercial users to pay fees ranging from $75,000 to more than $250,000, plus annual payments and royalties. So far, 12 companies have licensed rights from WARF to use the cells, and more than 300 academic laboratories have agreements to use the technology without charge. WARF spokesman Andy Cohn declined to say how much the organization has earned from the patents so far but says it is less than what it has spent funding stem-cell research and paying legal costs.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:32 AM

July 12, 2006

Data Miners Dig a Little Deeper

Michelle Kessler & Byron Acohido:
When customers sign up for a free Hotmail e-mail account from Microsoft, they're required to submit their name, age, gender and ZIP code.

But that's not all the software giant knows about them.

Microsoft takes notice of what time of day they access their inboxes. And it goes to the trouble of finding out how much money folks in their neighborhood earn.

Why? It knows a florist will pay a premium to have a coupon for roses reach males 30-40, earning good wages, who check their e-mail during lunch hour on Valentine's Day.

Microsoft is one of many companies collecting and aggregating data in new ways so sophisticated that many customers may not even realize they're being watched.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:26 PM

FBI Plans New Net-Tapping Push

Declan McCullagh:
The FBI has drafted sweeping legislation that would require Internet service providers to create wiretapping hubs for police surveillance and force makers of networking gear to build in backdoors for eavesdropping, CNET has learned.

FBI Agent Barry Smith distributed the proposal at a private meeting last Friday with industry representatives and indicated it would be introduced by Sen. Mike DeWine, an Ohio Republican, according to two sources familiar with the meeting.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:12 AM

July 10, 2006

Sensenbrenner on Immigration

Mark Leibovich:
In recent weeks, Mr. Sensenbrenner has refused to yield on anything, derided what he calls the “amnesty” of the Senate bill and warned that he is willing to walk away without a compromise. He says his views have been influenced by the flood of immigration-related cases coming through his office and what he sees as the failure of previous immigration reform efforts he has worked on.

He is known as one of the toughest negotiators in Congress, which invites another canine metaphor from a colleague. “Sensenbrenner is a pit bull,” says Representative Ric Keller, a Florida Republican on the Judiciary Committee. “And the Senate negotiators he’s up against are wearing Milk-Bone underwear.”
Sensenbrenner has been a powerful friend of many Non-Wisconsin special interests such as the recording industry.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:08 PM

Hilary Rosen Gets DRM Religion?

Eliot Van Buskirk:
Obviously, Apple has a business strategy that says "proprietary" works for them. The record companies, I think, have tried to convince Apple to open up their system. I don't think that's been successful. The choice now is to either go unprotected so everybody has the same shot and the market expands, or to continue down what I think is an unfriendly path for consumers and the industry, because I don't think it's growing as fast as it can.

I understand there's a rabid philosophy on both sides of this to protect or not to protect … and I actually am not that black and white about it. I think if people want to protect their content, and want to have a DRM or a business model that limits its distribution, that's okay. If others don't want to, that's okay too. That's why I like Creative Commons. It's all about choice. What I have focused on is what will most dramatically expand the music market at a time when device choices feel so limited and the service side is so underutilized.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:46 PM

July 9, 2006

Save The Internet: Where Kohl & Feingold Stand

Check it out.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:06 PM

July 4, 2006

Music Sales: Fewer Big Hits, Many More Sales at the Tail....

Chris Anderson:
Larry Lessig pointed me to an interesting bit of research on filesharing and the decline of music sales in Denmark, which shows that the fall in sales has been felt far more in the hits than in the niches. The work, by Claus Pedersen, uses data from the Nordic Copyright Bureau. That means the data are not just estimates of sales declines, but actual sales. I've charted one aspect of the research, which looks at the change in sales in four sales categories, from bestsellers to the long tail:
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:15 AM

June 28, 2006

DCStat: Data for Digital Democracy

Jon Udell:
Starting in mid-June, [the city of Washington] DC began releasing operational data from a variety of city agencies to the Internet, in several XML formats including RSS and Atom.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:15 AM


BioPassword (Authenticates computer users based on the way they type on a keyboard.):
BioPassword offers the only multifactor authentication software that combines the user’s login credentials (userID and password) with the behavioral biometric of keystroke dynamics (unique typing rhythm) to provide a low-cost accurate security solution that is specific to the user, requires no change in user behavior, monitors and authenticates credentials and is immediately deployable across the organization and the Internet without the need for expensive hardware tokens, cards or other security devices.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:19 AM

June 20, 2006

Net Neutrality

Larry Lessig:
Apparent there are now allegations that SBC and Verizon forced the deals through DoJ when the designee for head of antitrust was on Senatorial hold for too activist an enforcement bent. DoJ cleared the deals and the hold was lifted. DoJ then ignored the amended Tunney Act and let the companies close the deals even before the judge did the Tunney Act review.

This is sleazy stuff, and it forms the real basis for being concerned about the games the network owners would play if free to play games. The really striking part of this (to me, a constitutionalist) is how the legislative branch keeps passing laws that the executive branch just ignores. And why ignore the laws? Corporate influence. That’s what this case reeks of.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:25 PM

DRM Stifling Innovation?

Fritz Attaway & Wendy Seltzer:
>Consumers now have the ability to buy digital versions of music and movies from a vast (and growing) online catalog. But that convenience has come at a price: Most of the digital content is packaged with technology called digital rights management, or DRM, a sort of copy protection that limits what users can do with the material.

The music and movie industries defend DRM as a means of protecting artists and publishers -- without it, they say, it would be too easy for users to abuse copyrights by illegally swapping files over the Internet. They also argue that without DRM technologies, publishers wouldn't have been willing to distribute their content in online music and video stores, such as Apple's iTunes.

But some consumer advocates argue that DRM often goes too far, treating customers as would-be criminals and putting burdensome restrictions on what they can do with music and movies that were legally purchased. (ITunes, for instance, allows users to burn music to an unlimited number of CDs, but limits the number of computers on which users can play purchased music.)
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:23 PM

June 17, 2006

Border Security

Bruce Schneier:
Surreal story about a person coming into the U.S. from Iraq who is held up at the border because he used to sell copyrighted images on T-shirt
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:33 PM

June 7, 2006

Government Wants Internet Firms to Keep Online Activity Records for Two Years

Joseph Menn:
Gonzales and Mueller asked Google Inc., Time Warner Inc.'s AOL and other companies to preserve the data at a May 26 meeting, citing their value to investigations into child-pornography distribution and terrorism. Internet companies typically keep customer histories for only a few days or weeks.

The Justice Department said Thursday that it was not seeking to have e-mail content archived, just information about the websites people visit and those with whom they correspond.

Beyond law enforcement, though, the trove also could be available to lawyers arguing civil lawsuits — including divorce cases and suits against people suspected of swapping copyrighted movie and music files online. Privacy advocates fear the user histories could be exploited by criminal investigators conducting inappropriate exploration or pursuing minor cases.

"This is not simply limited to kiddie porn or terrorism. It's a real break with precedent," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center. "Data retention is open-ended. The government is saying, 'Keep everything about everyone and we'll sort it out later.' "
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:29 AM

June 1, 2006

Vivisimo Criticizes Search Engine Personal Data Collection

Tom Foremski:
Mr Valdes-Perez is also a critic of the behavioral technologies that the large search engine companies use to try and improve the search experience by collecting personal data. does not collect any user data which means that there can be no privacy breaches, accidental or subpoenaed.

"Users search based on their whims at the time, and not on past behavior. It is much better to provide a user with several options on what they are searching for and allow them to choose," he says.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:12 PM

May 22, 2006

Whistle-Blower's Evidence, Uncut

Former AT&T technician Mark Klein is the key witness in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's class-action lawsuit against the telecommunications company, which alleges that AT&T cooperated in an illegal National Security Agency domestic surveillance program.

In a public statement Klein issued last month, he described the NSA's visit to an AT&T office. In an older, less-public statement recently acquired by Wired News, Klein goes into additional details of his discovery of an alleged surveillance operation in an AT&T building in San Francisco.

Klein supports his claim by attaching excerpts of three internal company documents: a Dec. 10, 2002, manual titled "Study Group 3, LGX/Splitter Wiring, San Francisco," a Jan. 13, 2003, document titled "SIMS, Splitter Cut-In and Test Procedure" and a second "Cut-In and Test Procedure" dated Jan. 24, 2003.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:43 PM

May 14, 2006

Follow the Money: How Advertising Dollars Encourage Nuisance and Harmful Adware and What Can be Done to Reverse the Trend

The Center for Democracy & Technology [pdf]:
Unwanted advertising software or "adware" has evolved from an annoyance into a serious threat to the future of Internet communication. Every day, thousands of Internet users are duped into downloading adware programs they neither want nor need. Once installed, the programs bog down computers’ normal functions, deluging users with pop-up advertisements, creating privacy and security risks, and generally diminishing the quality of the online experience. Some users simply give up on the Internet altogether after their computers are rendered useless by the installation of dozens of unwanted programs.

One of the most troubling aspects of this phenomenon is that the companies fueling it are some of the largest, best-known companies in the world. In the following pages, the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) details how advertising dollars from major, legitimate companies are fueling the spread of nuisance and harmful adware1 and how those companies can help to combat the online scourge by adopting and enforcing good advertising placement policies.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:58 PM

NSA and the Greek mobile phone tapping scandal

John Ioannidis:
Let me ask you first of all, there has been a lot of discussion here in Greece about this lawful interception software, explain to me what it is, and whether the US put pressure on worldwide companies to install that after 9/11 especially?

JB: Well the software is basically used to attach to commercial communication facilities, like the AT&T in the US, or whatever commercial company it is, and anything that goes over these communication facilities gets picked up, whether it is e-mail, or telephone calls and divert it to the US Government, whoever attached the equipment.

-- Is it your understanding that most of the hardware companies around the world, that provide mobile telephone companies with equipment, had this installed at some point?

JB: Well in the US there was a lot of requiring that US companies do it, but around the world I think there was pressure by the US for a lot of the friendly countries to the US, allied countries to do as much as they can in terms of domestic eavesdropping and this type of equipment is most useful for that.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:54 AM

May 13, 2006

REM Joins Net Neutrality Coalition

R.E.M has joined a growing coalition of artists and musicians who have signed the Artists and Musicians for Internet Freedom petition. The petition is being circulated in response to a large telecommunications bill Congress will soon vote on, one part of which would gut Net Neutrality, the long held principle that all online speech is equally accessible to Internet users, regardless of its source. In practice, Net Neutrality levels the internet playing field, insuring that small blogs and independent sites open just as easily as the sites of large media corporations. It allows every voice to be heard by thousands, even millions of people (Click here to read an article by Robert Reich in American Prospect for background). This freedom is currently under threat because the nation’s largest phone and cable companies have pressured Congress to give them more control over which Web sites work for users based on which corporation pays them the most! If Congress caves, consumer choice will be limited, the free flow of information will be choked off, and the free and open Internet will become a private toll road managed by these large companies.

Please take a minute to watch this enlightening video which clearly explains the Net Neutrality issue.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:42 PM

May 12, 2006

Passionate Service from AT&T Wisconsin

Kristian Knutsen:
read with great interest the biggest issue burning up the internets today, a USA Today article about the National Security Agency (NSA) collecting a database of phone records with the assistance of AT&T, Verizon and Bell South. "For the customers of these companies," USA Today reports, "it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made -- across town or across the country -- to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others."

Having been an AT&T Wisconsin customer since it was named SBC, I take this news seriously and immediately thought of two questions I'd like my phone company to answer. Were records of my calls made via AT&T included in data provided to the NSA? If so, did this violate the company's privacy obligations as a service provider?
More on AT&T.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:50 AM

William Gibson on the NSA Domestic Wiretapping

Cory Doctorow:
I can't explain it to you, but it has a powerful deja vu. When I got up this morning and read the USA Today headline, I thought the future had been a little more evenly distributed. Now we've all got some...

The interesting thing about meta-projects in the sense in which I used them [in the NYT editorial] is that I don't think species know what they're about. I don't think humanity knows why we do any of this stuff. A couple hundred years down the road, when people look back at what the NSA has done, the significance of it won't be about terrorism or Iraq or the Bush administration or the American Constitution, it will be about how we're driven by emerging technologies and how we struggle to keep up with them...
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:38 AM

Large Telco Liability based on USA Today Facts?

Peter Swire:
This morning, USA Today reported that three telecommunications companies - AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth - provided "phone call records of tens of millions of Americans" to the National Security Agency. Such conduct appears to be illegal and could make the telco firms liable for tens of billions of dollars. Here's why:
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:13 AM

May 11, 2006

The Problems With Massively Automated Domestic Spying

John Robb:
Noah, at DefenseTech, tapped Valdis Krebs for his analysis of the problems with the slowly leaked details on the NSAs domestic surveillance efforts. Valdis makes the absolutely correct observation that:
Bruce Schneier has more, as does David Isenberg.

Kristian Knutsen takes a useful look at the issue from a local perspective.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:25 PM

May 9, 2006

The Patent Trolls

Judy Newman takes a very useful look at the numerous and growing problems with our patent system.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:35 AM

May 8, 2006

TBL on Neutrality of the Net

Tim Berners Lee (Father of the web):
Net Neutrality is an international issue. In some countries it is addressed better than others. (In France, for example, I understand that the layers are separated, and my colleague in Paris attributes getting 24Mb/s net, a phone with free international dialing and digital TV for 30euros/month to the resulting competition.) In the US, there have been threats to the concept, and a wide discussion about what to do. That is why, though I have written and spoken on this many times, I blog about it now.

Twenty-seven years ago, the inventors of the Internet[1] designed an architecture[2] which was simple and general. Any computer could send a packet to any other computer. The network did not look inside packets. It is the cleanness of that design, and the strict independence of the layers, which allowed the Internet to grow and be useful. It allowed the hardware and transmission technology supporting the Internet to evolve through a thousandfold increase in speed, yet still run the same applications. It allowed new Internet applications to be introduced and to evolve independently.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:50 AM

April 29, 2006

Your License Plate Photo, Please

Dan Gilmor experiences our growing surveillance society first hand at SFO.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:45 AM

April 28, 2006

More on Photos Verboten

Kristian Knutsen probes the "limits" of public space (or perhaps quasi public space) photography. Nearly two years ago, I was advised the photos were prohibited at Philadelphia's National Constitution Center.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:00 PM

April 26, 2006

Head of Visitor Tracking Program Wants Global ID System

Jonathan Marino:
Williams said he wants to join forces with several DHS agencies to develop a global identification system that would cut wait times, reduce government fees for travelers, fight illegal immigration and, perhaps paramount, better defend nations from terrorists.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:40 PM

April 25, 2006

Bill Would Prohibit Mandatory Microchip Implants

Ryan Foley:
Former Gov. Tommy Thompson was one of the first high-profile supporters of tiny microchips implanted in people's arms that would allow doctors to access medical information.

Now the state he used to lead is poised to become the first to ban governments and private businesses from forcing such implants on employees, privacy advocates say.

A proposal moving through the state Legislature would prohibit anyone from requiring people to have the tiny chips embedded in them or doing so without their knowledge. Violators would face fines of up to $10,000.

The plan authored by Rep. Marlin Schneider, D-Wisconsin Rapids, won approval in the Assembly last month. The state Senate on Tuesday is scheduled to consider the measure, which would allow for the implants if the person gives consent.

Gov. Jim Doyle would sign the bill, a spokesman said.

Schneider aides say the legislator wants the law in place before companies and governments could use them to keep track of their employees.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:56 PM

April 19, 2006

Group: Yahoo Assisted China a 3rd Time

Audra Ang:
Yahoo Inc. turned over a draft e-mail from one of its users to Chinese authorities, who used the information to jail the man on subversion charges, according to the verdict from his 2003 trial released Wednesday by a rights group.

It was the third time the U.S.-based Internet company has been accused of helping put a Chinese user in prison.

Jiang Lijun, 39, was sentenced to four years in prison in November 2003 for subversive activities aimed at overthrowing the ruling Communist Party.

Hong Kong-based Yahoo Holdings Ltd., a unit of Yahoo Inc., gave authorities a draft e-mail that had been saved on Jiang's account, Reporters Without Borders said, citing the verdict by the Beijing No. 2 People's Court. The Paris-based group provided a copy of the verdict, which it said it obtained this week
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:24 PM

April 13, 2006

AT&T Seeks to Hide Spy Docs

Ryan Singel:
AT&T is seeking the return of technical documents presented in a lawsuit that allegedly detail how the telecom giant helped the government set up a massive internet wiretap operation in its San Francisco facilities.

In papers filed late Monday, AT&T argued that confidential technical documents provided by an ex-AT&T technician to the Electronic Frontier Foundation shouldn't be used as evidence in the case and should be returned.

The documents, which the EFF filed under a temporary seal last Wednesday, purportedly detail how AT&T diverts internet traffic to the National Security Agency via a secret room in San Francisco and allege that such rooms exist in other AT&T switching centers.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:27 AM

April 11, 2006

IRS Examines Paypals Records to Uncover Tax Fraud

Paul Carron:
Interesting article this afternoon on Bloomberg: IRS Reviews PayPal Purchase Records to Find Offshore Accounts, by Ryan J. Donmoyer: The IRS is examining some electronic-payment transactions processed by EBay's PayPal unit to find U.S. taxpayers who keep unreported income...
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:21 PM

April 8, 2006

AT&T Forwards ALL Internet Traffic to the NSA

Via Dave Farber; Ryan Singel:
AT&T provided National Security Agency eavesdroppers with full access to its customers' phone calls, and shunted its customers' internet traffic to data-mining equipment installed in a secret room in its San Francisco switching center, according to a former AT&T worker cooperating in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's lawsuit against the company.

Mark Klein, a retired AT&T communications technician, submitted an affidavit in support of the EFF's lawsuit this week. That class action lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco last January, alleges that AT&T violated federal and state laws by surreptitiously allowing the government to monitor phone and internet communications of AT&T customers without warrants.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:39 AM

March 30, 2006

Google's WiFi Privacy Ploy

John McMullen:
What this means is that Google and Earthlink plan to use online files (known as cookies) and other data-collection techniques to profile users and deliver precise, personalized advertising as they surf the Internet. (Earthlink is working with the interactive ad company DoubleClick, which collects and analyzes enormous amounts of information online to engage in individual interactive ad targeting.)

Not everyone is enthused by the Google/Earthlink model. San Francisco was advised by a trio of privacy advocates to develop policies that would respect personal privacy. In letters to the city, the ACLU of Northern California, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) urged the adoption of a "gold standard" for data privacy (pasted in below from, insuring that its Wi-Fi system would "accommodate the individual's right to communicate anonymously and pseudonymously." The groups also suggested that the city require any Wi-Fi company to allow users to "opt in" to any data-collection scheme. [Full disclosure: I rent office space in Washington, DC, from EPIC].
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:39 AM

March 29, 2006

Yahoo's China Problem

Rebecca Mackinnon:
Companies can and do make choices. You can engage in China and choose not to do certain kinds of business. Yahoo! has placed user e-mail data within legal jurisdiction of the People's Republic of China. Google and Microsoft have both chosen not to do so. Why did Yahoo! chose to do this?
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:00 PM

March 27, 2006

All of Your Memorial Union Photos Belong to Us

This morning I was chased out of the University of Wisconsin student union by a college student half my age telling me I couldn't take photographs there. I know, I wasn't his fault, he was just doing his job. I asked him why I couldn't take photographs there. He said everything in the Wisconsin Union was copyrighted and no one could take photographs inside the building without a "permit."

I am begining to find that in Madison, Wisconsin, one of the most liberal cities in America, it is becoming increasingly difficult to take photographs on state owned and/or tax payer financed facilities (i.e. UW, Overture Center, Monona Terrace, etc.). Ironic, isn't it? What's worse, I was at a learning institution!
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:40 AM

March 25, 2006

IRS Permits Tax Preparers to Sell Our Data

Jeanne Sahadi:
Would you ever agree to work overtime for free, indefinitely, creating profits for someone else?

I didn't think so.

But that's often what we do when we buy a product or service from companies. That's because they can continue to make money off us by selling whatever personal information we give them in the course of the transaction. Your payback: more junk mail and greater risk of identity theft.

And now it looks very likely that tax preparers will be able to profit off clients in ways having nothing to do with taxes.

Thanks to proposed changes to the IRS' privacy regulation of tax preparers, everyone from H&R Block to your local tax-prep shop may be allowed to sell their clients' tax return information to any third party, including marketers and data brokers.

Mind you, they would need to get your consent, according to the proposed regulations.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:39 PM

March 11, 2006

Flying Without an ID

Bruce Schneier:

According to the TSA, in the 9th Circuit Case of John Gilmore, you are allowed to fly without showing ID -- you'll just have to submit yourself to secondary screening.
The Identity Project wants you to try it out. If you have time, try to fly without showing ID.

Posted by James Zellmer at 6:03 AM

March 7, 2006

Investigated By Homeland Security for Paying Down a Credit Card

Bruce Schneier:
Retired Texas schoolteacher is "madder than a panther with kerosene on his tail" because the Department of Homeland Security opened an investigation on him. The reason? He had the gall to pay down his credit card, which apparently marks you as a potential terrorist in Bushworld.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:51 PM

February 24, 2006

Tauke but no Action on Network Neutrality

David Isenberg:
The principle seems to be, "If it helps the Bells, leave it in. If it hurts them, take it out."
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:56 AM

February 19, 2006

DRM Based Trusted Computing - Why We Should Care...

"We've always know that Trusted Computing is really about DRM, but computer makers always denied it. Now that their Trusted Computing chips are standard on most new PCs, they've decided to come clean. According to Information Week, Lenovo has demonstrated a Thinkpad with built-in Microsoft and Adobe DRM that uses a Trusted Computing chip with a fingerprint sensor. Even worse: 'The system is also aimed at tracking who reads a document and when, because the chip can report back every access attempt. If you access the file, your fingerprint is recorded.'"
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:32 AM

February 17, 2006

Congressman Quizzes Net Companies on Shame

Declan McCullagh:
Rep. Tom Lantos: Can you say in English that you're ashamed of what your company and what the other companies have done?

Google: Congressman, I actually can't, I don't think it's fair for us to say that we're ashamed.

Lantos: You have nothing to be ashamed of?

Google: I am not ashamed of it, and I am not proud of it...We have taken a path, we have begun on a path, we have done a path that...will ultimately benefit all the users in China. If we determined, congressman, as a result of changing circumstances or as a result of the implementation of the program that we are not achieving those results then we will assess our performance, our ability to achieve those goals, and whether to remain in the market.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:52 AM

February 16, 2006

RIAA: Ripping Your CD's is Not Fair Use (!)

It is no secret that the entertainment oligopolists are not happy about space-shifting and format-shifting. But surely ripping your own CDs to your own iPod passes muster, right? In fact, didn't they admit as much in front of the Supreme Court during the MGM v. Grokster argument last year?

Apparently not.

As part of the on-going DMCA rule-making proceedings, the RIAA and other copyright industry associations submitted a filing that included this gem as part of their argument that space-shifting and format-shifting do not count as noninfringing uses, even when you are talking about making copies of your own CDs:
Some of our politicians have been serving Hollywood's interests (to the detriment of ours) rather well, including Jim Sensenbrenner and John Conyers, among others.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:42 AM

February 11, 2006

FTC May Publicize Companies that use Adware

Via Slashdot:
"A ZDNet article reports that the FTC may be gearing up to humiliate companies that advertise via adware." From the article: "The FTC would publicly announce and publish the name of a company that advertises using adware that installs itself surreptitiously on consumer PCs or using spyware, Leibowitz said. He would recommend publicly shaming advertisers to the other FTC commissioners if the adware problem doesn't decrease, he said."
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:43 AM

February 9, 2006

Net Neutrality: Rick Boucher Makes Sense

Rep Rick Boucher:
Recently, executives at some telephone companies have indicated that their business models for providing broadband service include not only charging their end-user customers for an Internet connection but also assessing a fee on websites for users to reach them more quickly. They claim that to offer advanced content such as multiple video-programming channels in competition with cable they need to prioritize their bits to deliver quality programs. They then propose that they will give the same priority access to other companies that pay them for it.

Essentially, what these executives are proposing is the creation of a two-lane Internet where larger, more established websites with financial resources could squeeze out smaller, emerging websites. One clear victim will be the innovation that has thrived on the open Internet. Startups simply could not afford to pay for fast-lane treatment nationwide. One must ask where the next Google or Yahoo will come from if new innovative companies can receive only inferior, slow-lane Internet access...

In countries such as Japan and Korea, network speeds over the last mile of 100 megabits per second (mbps) are common. In the United States, our typical speed is less than 1 mbps. If broadband providers would increase their network speeds to approximate those in other countries, all content would reach consumers with assured quality. No prioritization of bits would be needed.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:02 PM

EFF: Don't Install Google Desktop

The Electronic Frontier Foundation:
The EFF is asking users not to use the new version of Google Desktop that has a 'search across computers' option. The option will store copies of documents on you hard drive on Google servers, where the goverment or anyone who wants to may subpoena (i.e. no search warrents) the information. Google says it is not yet scanning the files for advertising, but it hasn't ruled out the possibility."
slashdot discussion. John Paczkowski has more.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:34 PM

February 8, 2006

Another Cyberdissident Imprisoned Because of Data Provided by Yahoo

Rebecca McKinnon:
Reporters Without Borders today condemned the US firm Yahoo! for handing over data on one of its users in China which enabled the authorities there to send him to prison for eight years, the second such case that has come to light in recent months.

It called on Yahoo! to supply a list of all cyberdissidents it has provided data on, beginning with 81 people in China whose release the worldwide press freedom organization is currently campaigning for.

It said it had discovered that Yahoo! customer and cyberdissident Li Zhi had been given his eight-year prison sentence in December 2003 based on electronic records provided by Yahoo. “How many more cases are we going to find?” it asked.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:55 PM

February 4, 2006

Search Firms Surveyed on Privacy

Declan McCullagh and Elinor Mills:
To find out what kind of information the four major search companies retain about their users, CNET surveyed America Online, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.

We asked the same seven questions of each company. Their answers are reproduced below, with the responses sorted by the companies' names in alphabetical order.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:12 AM

January 30, 2006

Could Blogs Get Tangled in Web of Ethics Rules?

Lisa Sink:
That's because state elections law says that anyone who spends more than $25 a year to advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate - without that candidate's knowledge or control - must register with the state as an independent committee and disclose the sources of the money spent and how it was expended.

Should bloggers be regarded as a part of the news media, exempt from such rules, or should they be seen as partisan actors in a campaign who must register? Few bloggers draw the line where Berg did.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:00 PM

Did an iPod Scuttle the (Broadcast) Flag?

Wes Phillips takes an interesting look at the Senate Commerce Committee's recent sausage making discussion regarding the "Broadcast Flags" - or "Audio Flag's. These are essentially "takings" of our fair use rights via Hollywood special interests:
John Sununu (R-NH), an MIT graduate, questioned the necessity of the restriction. He said that advocates of the restriction maintained that its absence would "stifle creativity." He demurred. "We have now an unprecedented wave of creativity and product and content development…new business models, and new methodologies for distributing this content. The history of government mandates is that it always restricts innovation…why would we think that this one special time, we're going to impose a statutory government mandate on technology, and it will actually encourage innovation?"
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:51 PM

January 27, 2006

State Electronic Surveillance Laws

National Conference of State Legislatures:
Electronic surveillance is also examined in a brief that is part of NCSL's series, "States Respond to Terrorism," which surveys states' efforts to protect democracy from future terrorist attacks.

Electronic Surveillance involves the traditional laws on wiretapping--any interception of a telephone transmission by accessing the telephone signal itself--and eavesdropping--listening in on conversations without the consent of the parties.

Following the tragedies of September 11, there is growing support to give law enforcement agencies more power to tap into private communications to thwart further acts of terrorism by monitoring private electronic communications. State and federal policymakers face the challenge of balancing security needs via electronic surveillance against the potential erosion of individual privacy.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:07 PM

Zawodny: Has Google Lost its Soul?

Yahoo's Jeremy Zawodny:
We all knew it was a matter of "when" not "if", but it's surprising to see that it had to happen this way. Over on Google Blogscoped, I see that Google Removes Its Help Entry on Censorship: The page which used to say: Google does not censor results for any search term. The order and content of our results are completely automated; we do not manipulate our search results by hand. We believe strongly in allowing the democracy of the web to determine the inclusion and ranking of sites in our search results.

Now simply 404s. It's gone. Well, except for the cached copy in Google itself.

Rather than using that page to explain how and why they've compromised their corporate philosophy in China, they've removed it entirely with no e
Read the comments for a rather troubling look at Google's censorship.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:00 AM

January 25, 2006

Google in China

Rebecca MacKinnon:

So it has happened. Google has caved in. It has agreed to actively censor a new Chinese-language search service that will be housed on computer servers inside the PRC.

Obviously this contradicts its stated desire to make information freely available to everybody on the planet, and it contradicts its mission statement: "don't be evil."  As Mike Langberg at the San Jose Mercury News puts it: their revised motto should now read "don't be evil more than necessary."

Posted by James Zellmer at 3:19 PM

Best Law Money Can Buy: Sensenbrenner & Conyers

David Weinberger:
Ed Felten writes about his attempt to find out about the VEIL content protect technology specified in the Sensenbrenner/Conyers bill that would mandate that electronic devices plug the "analog hole." (The analog hole is the fact that analog playback can be converted into digits. E.g., point a digital camcorder at a movie screen. Or, play a DRM'ed mp3 on your computer and use digital recording software to intercept the analog signal on its way to your speakers.
Obviously, these matters are vital to Wisconsin and Michigan constituents.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:47 PM

January 24, 2006

What is a Torrent?

Patrick Norton:
Developed by Bram Cohen as a solution to large-file download bottlenecks—not to mention the problem of "leeches," people who download files but then don't share them as uploads—BitTorrent is a very effective tool for distributing big files online. And with good reason: BitTorrent works amazingly well to spread out the burden of creating thousands of copies of a file across the clients, or peers, that are downloading the file. That means there's no large central server to keep running, or massive bandwidth bills to pay for. It also means we can download, say, a 600MB Linux distro in a few short minutes.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:12 AM

January 23, 2006

Internet: Freedom or Privilege?

David Isenberg:
At issue: Is Internet access a freedom or a privilege? Just as Freedom of Speech means that, with very few limitations, nobody has the right to tell somebody else what to say, so should Internet freedom mean that gatekeepers should not control Internet applications or content. This is essential not just as a matter of freedom, but also as a matter of commerce, because the Internet’s success is directly due to its content-blindness. If the United States fails to understand this, U.S. Internet leadership will follow U.S. leadership in agriculture, in steel, in autos, and in consumer electronics to other countries that do.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:12 PM

January 20, 2006

TSA to Offer Pre-Approved Security Passes

Airline passengers who buy a preapproved security pass could have their credit histories and property records examined as part of the government's plan to turn over the Registered Traveler program to private companies, federal officials say.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:13 PM

How To Foil Search Engine Snoops

Ryan Singel:
On Thursday, The Mercury News reported that the Justice Department has subpoenaed search-engine records in its defense of the Child Online Protection Act, or COPA. Google, whose corporate credo famously includes the admonishment "Don't Be Evil," is fighting the request for a week's worth of search engine queries. Other search engines have already complied.

The government isn't asking for search engine users' identifying data -- at least not yet. But for those worried about what companies or federal investigators might do with such records in the future, here's a primer on how search logs work, and how to avoid being writ large within them.
Google's data mining tools are not without controversy. Battelle has more here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:30 AM

January 18, 2006

Experimental Film

Chris Oakley takes a "Minority Report" view of shopping malls. A well done, rather scar look at where we're going.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:34 PM

January 17, 2006

The Read / Write Internet

This will be the next big copyright war — whether this form of noncommercial creativity will be allowed. But there will be a big difference with this war and the last (over p2p filesharing). In the p2p wars, the side that defended innovation free of judicial supervision was right. But when ordinary people heard both sides of the argument, 90% were against us. In this war, the side that will defend these new creators is right. And when ordinary people hear both sides, and more importantly, see the creativity their kids are capable of, 90% will be with us.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:12 AM

January 13, 2006

Data Mining Run Amok

John Robb:
Google is likely central to the Internet portion of this effort. There's no doubt in my mind that Google has a fat contract with the Homeland Security Department. They can track your search behavior using cookies. Affiliates using cookies on adwords. Analyze the content of your weblog for dangerous phrases. Anonymity doesn't help. They have your IP address and therefore can get the records they need to put a name and a credit history next to your Internet behavior (all without a warrant).
A USDA Yin to that Yang.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:09 PM


Bruce Schneier notes that REAL ID is costing more to implement than our politicians thought.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:58 PM

January 12, 2006

Canadian Electronic Rights Political Action

Cory Doctorow:
In this video, shot by AccordionGuy, a geek who lives in her riding (district), Bulte is asked whether she will take the pledge, and she responds with bile, vowing not to allow "Michael Geist and his pro-user zealots, and Electronic Frontier Foundation members" to "intimidate her." Her entire response is an embarassment to her and her party, and it's must-see video for anyone going to the polls in Parkdale/High Park.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:45 AM

January 9, 2006

IRS Sued on Failure to Release Tax Data

David Cay Johnston:

Records showing how thoroughly the Internal Revenue Service audits big corporations and the rich, and how much it discounts the additional taxes assessed after audits, are being withheld from the public despite a 1976 court order requiring their disclosure, according to a legal motion filed last week in federal court in Seattle.

For decades, the information was given at no charge to a professor at Syracuse University, Susan B. Long, who made it available on the Internet at, with tools for people to conduct their own analyses.

Among other findings, Professor Long's information has shown that in 1999 the poor were more likely than the rich to be audited.

David Burnham, co-director with Professor Long of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which collects raw government data, said the withheld information made it impossible to evaluate the intensity of audits. Mr. Burnham noted that the withheld data included figures that indicated how much auditors say is owed in extra taxes, but that the tax agency lets taxpayers negotiate down.

"It is simply impossible to evaluate the I.R.S. without this data," Mr. Burnham said, "and they know it."
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:18 PM

January 8, 2006

Video DRM Morass (Digital Restrictions Management)

Tristan Louis nicely summarizes the morass that is proprietary video distribution online.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:25 PM

Genetic Testing for the Rest of Us - over the Internet

Katherine Seligman:
DNA Direct offers genetics tests that can reveal a predisposition to a half dozen diseases or conditions, among them breast and ovarian cancer, cystic fibrosis, clotting disorders and infertility. Phelan obtained her chromosomal analysis the same way any client could. She spoke with the company's genetic counselor and then went for a blood test. The counselor reviewed the findings to help her interpret what they meant. In Phelan's case, the results provided a surprise -- what looked like partial Turner's syndrome. It was a possible clue to her past struggle with infertility, although she's never had any other symptoms.

"When I realized this I was thrilled," she said. "There may have been an underlying genetic factor. ... I thought, wow, women could go through this and have this help. It can work backward and help diagnose the past."
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:35 AM

January 7, 2006

Your Phone Records Are For Sale

Frank Main:
Some online services might be skirting the law to obtain these phone lists, according to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has called for legislation to criminalize phone record theft and use.

In some cases, telephone company insiders secretly sell customers' phone-call lists to online brokers, despite strict telephone company rules against such deals, according to Schumer.

And some online brokers have used deception to get the lists from the phone companies, he said.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:40 PM

Congress Hands Caught in the Cookie Jar

Declan McCullagh and Anne Broache:
All House members who use cookies either acknowledge it or have privacy policies that are silent on the topic. Of the 23 senators who pledged not to employ cookies but do anyway, 18 are Republicans and five are Democrats.

"It shows their lack of understanding of technology," said Sonia Arrison, director of technology studies at the Pacific Research Institute, a nonprofit group in San Francisco. "It's willful ignorance. They're complete hypocrites. How can they accuse companies of poor data management when they're not doing it on their own Web sites?"

No rule prohibits the use of Web monitoring techniques by Congress. But such a restriction does apply to executive branch agencies. The Pentagon and others scrambled this week to eliminate so-called Web bugs and cookies after inquiries from CNET
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:41 AM

January 5, 2006

Data Mining 101: Finding Subversives with Amazon's Wishlists

A MUST Read:
Tom Owad writes about an issue we all need to be aware of:
It used to be you had to get a warrant to monitor a person or a group of people. Today, it is increasingly easy to monitor ideas. And then track them back to people. Most of us don't have access to the databases, software, or computing power of the NSA, FBI, and other government agencies. But an individual with access to the internet can still develop a fairly sophisticated profile of hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens using free and publicly available resources. Here's an example.

There are many websites and databases that could be used for this project, but few things tell you as much about a person as the books he chooses to read. Isn't that why the Patriot Act specifically requires libraries to release information on who's reading what? For this reason, I chose to focus on the information contained in the popular Amazon wishlists.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:32 AM

January 3, 2006

Microsoft Takes Down Chinese Blogger

Rebecca McKinnon:

Microsoft’s MSN Spaces continues to censor its Chinese language blogs, and has become more aggressive and thorough at censorship since I first checked out MSN’s censorship system last summer.  On New Years Eve, MSN Spaces took down the popular blog written by Zhao Jing, aka Michael Anti. Now all you get when you attempt to visit his blog at: is the error message pictured above. (You can see the Google cache of his blog up until Dec.22nd here.)

Note, this blog was TAKEN DOWN by MSN people. Not blocked by the Chinese government.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:27 PM

December 27, 2005

Conyers & Sensenbrenner's World: Sticking it to us

David Berlind nicely summarizes the DRM (Digital Restrictions Morass) that plagues mainstream electronic media supported by big money politics and the likes of our own Jim Sensenbrenner and Michigan's John Conyers.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:39 AM

December 22, 2005

Our Tax Dollars at Work

Jennifer LeClaire:

The Digital Transition Content Security Act would embed anticopying technology into the next generation of digital video products. If it makes its way from Capitol Hill to the Oval Office and becomes law, the measure will outlaw the manufacture or sale of electronic devices that convert analog video signals into digital video signals, effective one year from its enactment. PC-based tuners and digital video recorders are listed among the devices.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner Jr., a Wisconsin Republican, introduced the bill, which is backed by Democratic Rep. John Conyers. Sensenbrenner's goal is to protect analog content from theft, which has been made easier in the wake of the transition to digital technologies.

This is obviously an important issue for Sensenbrenner's constituents.... (and Conyer's Michigan voters). The power of money.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:47 AM

December 14, 2005

Tommy Thompson Delays Getting ID Chip Implanted


Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson seems to be in no rush to be implanted with an ID chip, as he told interviewers he would in July.
A TV network recently interviewed Thompson, a former U.S. secretary of health and human services, after he was named to the board of directors of VeriChip, which sells a radio-frequency ID chip that can be implanted under the skin. The chips alarms privacy advocates who worry whether government and corporations will abuse the technology.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

December 5, 2005

Rice on Internet Governance

Condoleezza Rice:
The Internet will reach its full potential as a medium and facilitator for global economic expansion and development in an environment free from burdensome intergovernmental oversight and control. The success of the Internet lies in its inherently decentralized nature, with the most significant growth taking place at the outer edges of the network through innovative new applications and services. Burdensome, bureaucratic oversight is out of place in an Internet structure that has worked so well for many around the globe. We regret the recent positions on Internet governance (i.e., the "new cooperation model") offered by the European Union, the Presidency of which is currently held by the United Kingdom, seems to propose just that - a new structure of intergovernmental control over the Internet.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:56 AM

November 26, 2005

Coming to TV: Ads About You

Gregory Hicks:
hen you watch your favourite program in the not-too-distant future, your TV could be watching back.

Cable companies are preparing to install software on digital set-top boxes that will keep track of everything you watch. Coupling that information with your address, the software would estimate your age, gender, interests and income.

The result? Advertisers could send different commercials to different viewers.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:13 AM

November 22, 2005

Tracking You: TIVO & RFID

New Scientist:

"working on a PVR that will recognise one of several individual users, and respond to their personal preferences." The patent application describes the invention as "a multimedia mobile personalization system provides a remote control that detects a user's electronic tag, e.g. an RFID tag." It also promises personalized viewing at a variety of locations, detailing how TiVo might forward stored shows from home to a TV in a hotel room, for example. It remains to be seen whether hotels will be eager to help TiVo undermine their pay-per-view video revenue."

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:56 AM

November 20, 2005

The EFF and Google's AutoLink (AdLink)

There are many positive aspects to the EFF's work.

However and unfortunately, they have been silent (or apparently supportive) on Google's land grab as Dave Winer points out this morning. More from Dave on the Google Toolbar

Google's toolbar places their links on top of the original author's hyperlinks ("Autolink").

I've not been a financial supporter since the EFF remained silent on the AutoLink "feature". Ironically, as Google Watch points out, the guy behind Microsoft's similar scheme "Smart Tags" now works for Google.

I wonder how far Google will push the envelope when they have to support their sky high 117B market valuation (P/E of 88.6!)?
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:31 AM

The Wedding EULA

David Weinberger:
Christina Aguilera required the 150 guests at her wedding to sign a three-page confidentiality agreement before they were allowed into the event. "Banned subjects included the cake, the rings, entertainment, speeches, food, the venue and other guests."

I wonder if her pre-nup has a non-compete?
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:17 AM

Senate Committee Passes Anti-Spyware Bill

Grant Gross:
A U.S. Senate committee has approved a bill that would outlaw the practice of remotely installing software that collects a computer users' personal information without consent. In addition to prohibiting spyware, the Spyblock (Software Principles Yielding Better Levels of Consumer Knowledge) Act would also outlaw the installation of adware programs without a computer user's permission. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved the bill Thursday. Spyblock, sponsored by Senator Conrad Burns, a Montana Republican, would prohibit hackers from remotely taking over a computer and prohibit programs that hijack Web browsers. The bill would protect antispyware software vendors from being sued by companies whose software they block.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:06 AM

November 18, 2005

FEC Rules Bloggers are Journalists

Federal Election Commission (PDF):

We are responding to your advisory opinion request on behalf of Fired Up! LLC (“Fired Up”), concerning the application of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, as amended (the “Act”), and Commission regulations to certain Internet websites owned and operated by Fired Up.
The Commission concludes that the costs Fired Up incurs in covering or carrying news stories, commentary, or editorials on its websites are encompassed by the press exception, and therefore do not constitute “expenditures” or “contributions” under the Act and Commission regulations.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

November 17, 2005

Sony's DRM Waterloo

Bruce Schneier:

The outcry was so great that on Nov. 11, Sony announced it was temporarily halting production of that copy-protection scheme. That still wasn't enough -- on Nov. 14 the company announced it was pulling copy-protected CDs from store shelves and offered to replace customers' infected CDs for free.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:42 PM

November 13, 2005

Google: What Lurks In It's Soul?

George Dyson:
My visit to Google? Despite the whimsical furniture and other toys, I felt I was entering a 14th-century cathedral — not in the 14th century but in the 12th century, while it was being built. Everyone was busy carving one stone here and another stone there, with some invisible architect getting everything to fit. The mood was playful, yet there was a palpable reverence in the air. "We are not scanning all those books to be read by people," explained one of my hosts after my talk. "We are scanning them to be read by an AI."

When I returned to highway 101, I found myself recollecting the words of Alan Turing, in his seminal paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence, a founding document in the quest for true AI. "In attempting to construct such machines we should not be irreverently usurping His power of creating souls, any more than we are in the procreation of children," Turing had advised. "Rather we are, in either case, instruments of His will providing mansions for the souls that He creates."

Google is Turing's cathedral, awaiting its soul. We hope. In the words of an unusually perceptive friend: "When I was there, just before the IPO, I thought the coziness to be almost overwhelming. Happy Golden Retrievers running in slow motion through water sprinklers on the lawn. People waving and smiling, toys everywhere. I immediately suspected that unimaginable evil was happening somewhere in the dark corners. If the devil would come to earth, what place would be better to hide?"
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:55 AM

Sony's Evil DRM: Lawyers Run Amok

Now compare that baseline with the world according to the Sony-BMG EULA, which applies to any digital copies you make of the music on the CD:
  1. If your house gets burgled, you have to delete all your music from your laptop when you get home. That's because the EULA says that your rights to any copies terminate as soon as you no longer possess the original CD.
  2. You can't keep your music on any computers at work. The EULA only gives you the right to put copies on a "personal home computer system owned by you."
  3. If you move out of the country, you have to delete all your music. The EULA specifically forbids "export" outside the country where you reside.
  4. You must install any and all updates, or else lose the music on your computer. The EULA immediately terminates if you fail to install any update. No more holding out on those hobble-ware downgrades masquerading as updates
  5. Sony-BMG can install and use backdoors in the copy protection software or media player to "enforce their rights" against you, at any time, without notice. And Sony-BMG disclaims any liability if this "self help" crashes your computer, exposes you to security risks, or any other harm.
  6. The EULA says Sony-BMG will never be liable to you for more than $5.00. That's right, no matter what happens, you can't even get back what you paid for the CD.
  7. If you file for bankruptcy, you have to delete all the music on your computer. Seriously.
  8. You have no right to transfer the music on your computer, even along with the original CD.
  9. Forget about using the music as a soundtrack for your latest family photo slideshow, or mash-ups, or sampling. The EULA forbids changing, altering, or make derivative works from the music on your computer.
Amazing... Bruce Schneier has more.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:49 AM

November 12, 2005

More on Baldwin Against Free Speech

Kristian Knutsen usefully follows up with Tammy Baldwin's press secretary, Jerilyn Goodman on HR 1606 and now HR 4194:

Though this might appear to be a niche issue, the ongoing war of words of FEC regulation of online communications, particularly with respect to blogs, forums, wikis, and other interactive formats, is a matter of general import. As the internet grows in importance as a communications and organizing medium, the application of federal regulations to the ether will have tremendous economic and political implications. On Nov. 2, Rep. Tammy Baldwin voted against H.R. 1606, titled the "Online Freedom of Speech Act." Exempting all internet communications from the FEC regulatory sphere, the bill was promoted by online political pundits across the ideological spectrum, but particularly by the highest profile partisan bloggers, namely Democratic Party activist Markos Moulitsas and Republican Party activist Mike Krempasky (who is also a new Wal-Mart online PR hire).
I cannot imagine anything positive arising from regulation on this matter.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:03 AM

November 10, 2005

California Sues Sony over Deceptive DRM on CD-ROMs

California has filed a class-action lawsuit against Sony and a second one may be filed today in New York. The lawsuit was filed Nov. 1 in Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles by Vernon, CA. It asks the court to prevent Sony from selling additional CDs protected by the anti-piracy software, and seeks monetary damages for California consumers who purchased them. The suit alleges that Sony's software violates at least three California statutes, including the "Consumer Legal Remedies Act," which governs unfair and/or deceptive trade acts; and the "Consumer Protection against Computer Spyware Act," which prohibits -- among other things -- software that takes control over the user's computer or misrepresents the user's ability or right to uninstall the program. The suit also alleges that Sony's actions violate the California Unfair Competition law, which allows public prosecutors and private citizens to file lawsuits to protect businesses and consumers from unfair business practices. EFF has released a list of rootkit affected CD's and Slashdot user xtracto also has a list."
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:49 AM

November 9, 2005

RIAA vs. The People: 2 Years Later

It's been two years since the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) started suing music fans who share songs online. Thousands of Americans have been hit by lawsuits, but both peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing and the litigation continue unabated.

In a report released Thursday, "RIAA v. The People: Two Years Later," the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) argues that the lawsuits are singling out only a select few fans for retribution, and many of them can't afford either to settle the case or defend themselves. EFF's report cites the case of a single mother in Minnesota who faces $500,000 in penalties for her daughter's alleged downloading, as well as the case of a disabled veteran who was targeted for downloading songs she already owned.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:42 AM

More on Sony's DRM Phoning Home from Your Computer

First point: Sysinternals discovered that the DRM unisntaller requires you to put in all your specs and then gives you a "unique ID" to download the uninstaller. Then the uninstaller doesn't run unless you shut down the DRM and you can't shut down the DRM until you run the uninstaller. Ay! Lucy!

Second point: In an NPR interview:
Thomas Hesse, President of Sony's Global Digital Business, literally says: "Most people, I think, don't even know what a rootkit is, so why should they care about it?"
So malicious intent and active contempt. Way to keep the faith.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:15 AM

Freedom of Expression on the Internet

Associated Press:
Twenty-five investment groups, representing about $21 billion in assets in the United States, Europe and Australia, are signatories to a "joint investor statement on freedom of expression and the internet," an initiative spearheaded by the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

The statement comes after several instances in which technology companies have been criticized for cooperating with governments, notably China, in order to secure strong market positions.

"As shareholders, we need to feel confident that our companies are not complicit in human rights abuses, directly or indirectly, and that they're not collaborating to effectively quell internet traffic, to harm their own good reputations and to reduce their long-term growth opportunities," said Dawn Wolfe, social research and advocacy analyst for Boston Common Asset Management, one of the participating investment funds.

Although China and other countries have come under fire for limiting what their citizens can see or post on the web, China also is a particularly sought-after market, for the potential its vast population offers.

Microsoft and Google have been accused of helping the government there censor news sites and blogs. And in a recent case, Reporters Without Borders criticized Yahoo for allegedly helping the Chinese government trace the private e-mail account of a Chinese journalist who was later imprisoned for providing state secrets to foreigners. Yahoo has defended its move, saying it is obliged to comply with Chinese regulations.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:10 AM

November 7, 2005

Beware Your Digital Fingerprint Trail

Tom Zeller:

According to some technologists, including Dennis M. Kennedy, a lawyer and consultant based in St. Louis, (, metadata might include other bits of information like notes and questions rendered as "comments" within a document ("need to be more specific here," for example, or in the case of my editors, "eh??"), or the deletions and insertions logged by such features as "track changes" in Microsoft Word.

"If you take the time to educate yourself a little and know the issues," Mr. Kennedy said, "you can avoid problems pretty easily."

With the Alito memo - which was distributed on a not-for-attribution basis, with no authors named - the D.N.C. was a little sloppy.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:59 PM

November 6, 2005

Domestic Surveillance under the USA Patriot Act

Barton Gellman

The Connecticut case affords a rare glimpse of an exponentially growing practice of domestic surveillance under the USA Patriot Act, which marked its fourth anniversary on Oct. 26. "National security letters," created in the 1970s for espionage and terrorism investigations, originated as narrow exceptions in consumer privacy law, enabling the FBI to review in secret the customer records of suspected foreign agents. The Patriot Act, and Bush administration guidelines for its use, transformed those letters by permitting clandestine scrutiny of U.S. residents and visitors who are not alleged to be terrorists or spies.

The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources, a hundredfold increase over historic norms. The letters -- one of which can be used to sweep up the records of many people -- are extending the bureau's reach as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

November 4, 2005

More on Baldwin's Vote Against Free Speech

Kristian Knutsen posts a response from Baldwin's Press Secretary on the Daily Page to her No vote on HR 1606. Glenn rounds up comments from around the blogosphere.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:35 PM

More On Sony: Hacking Your Customers

Chris Gulker, The Coverup is the Crime:

Unlike Cyveillance, Sony only uses this reprehensible technique on paying customers: so let's shoot the guys who are buying our stuff? Am I alone in thinking these guys are not serving shareholder interests well? Hack the paying customers and make it hard for them to hear the CD they purchased? Yikes. It's easier, and much smarter, to steal the music, than buy it, if your purchased CD makes your CD player, and possibly your whole computer, unusable.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

November 3, 2005

Baldwin Votes Against Internet Free Speech

Tammy Baldwin voted against internet free speech yesterday [The House voted 225 to 182 on the Online Freedom of Speech Act (H.R. 1606) -- a majority but less than the two-thirds required for a "suspension" bill to clear the House. via instapundit]. An explanation would be useful. Jim Abrams has more. There's certainly growing activism online. Adding complexity via more and more laws will be a loss for everyone (which is, perhaps one perspective of Baldwin and others who voted against H.R. 1606). Google News has more. As is typical, the small players get screwed in these deals, while the special interests on both sides spend money to get around the legal spaghetti, as we saw in the last national elections.

Ed Cone says "Email your congressman and tell him you want to blog without Federal regulation."

Wisconsin's House delegation voted as follows: Mark Green (R) voted Yes along with Ron Kind (D), Jim Sensenbrenner (R) - (I agree on something with Sensenbrenner???) and Mark Ryan (R).

Voting No with Baldwin (D) were Petri (R), Obey (D) and Moore (D).

Send Tammy Baldwin a note with your views on this important, local issue.

California Democrat Zoe Lofgren's supportive comments on this bill. Slashdot and Declan have more.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:59 AM

Sony Secretly Installs Rootkit on Computers

Bruce Schneier:

Mark Russinovich discovered a rootkit on his system. After much analysis, he discovered that the rootkit was installed as a part of the DRM software linked with a CD he bought. The package cannot be uninstalled. Even worse, the package actively cloaks itself from process listings and the file system.
Fascinating and scary look at the DRM mess

Posted by James Zellmer at 1:05 AM

November 2, 2005

Our Tax Dollars at Work: Hollywood Lobbyists' Halloween Work

BoingBoing has an interesting article about a joint RIAA/MPAA move started yesterday on Capitol Hill. From the article: 'Hollywood has fielded a shockingly ambitious piece of Analog Hole legislation while everyone was out partying in costume. Under a new proposed Analog Hole bill, it will be illegal to make anything capable of digitizing video unless it either has all its outputs approved by the Hollywood studios, or is closed-source, proprietary and tamper-resistant. The idea is to make it impossible to create an MPEG from a video signal unless Hollywood approves it.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:37 AM

October 31, 2005

October 27, 2005

No Cell Phone Tracking Without Probable Cause


Agreeing with a brief submitted by EFF, a federal judge forcefully rejected the government's request to track the location of a mobile phone user without a warrant.

Strongly reaffirming an earlier decision, Federal Magistrate James Orenstein in New York comprehensively smacked down every argument made by the government in an extensive, fifty-seven page opinion issued this week. Judge Orenstein decided, as EFF has urged, that tracking cell phone users in real time required a showing of probable cause that a crime was being committed. Judge Orenstein's opinion was decisive, and referred to government arguments variously as "unsupported," "misleading," "contrived," and a "Hail Mary."

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

October 22, 2005

Feds Push Colleges to Upgrade Networks for Monitoring

Sam Dillon and Stephen Labaton:

The action, which the government says is intended to help catch terrorists and other criminals, has unleashed protests and the threat of lawsuits from universities, which argue that it will cost them at least $7 billion while doing little to apprehend lawbreakers. Because the government would have to win court orders before undertaking surveillance, the universities are not raising civil liberties issues.

The order, issued by the Federal Communications Commission in August and first published in the Federal Register last week, extends the provisions of a 1994 wiretap law not only to universities, but also to libraries, airports providing wireless service and commercial Internet access providers.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:02 PM

October 20, 2005

Mossberg on the Evils of DRM

Walt Mossberg:

In some quarters of the Internet, the three most hated letters of the alphabet are DRM. They stand for Digital Rights Management, a set of technologies for limiting how people can use the music and video files they've purchased from legal downloading services.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:18 AM

October 19, 2005

Your Printer's Fingerprint - Exposed; A Way for Government to Track Your Documents

A EFF led research team recently broke the code behind tiny tracking dots that some color laser printers secretly hide in every document. Bruce Schneier has more on the DocuColor scheme.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:51 AM

October 13, 2005

Berlind on Getting Ripped off By DRM

David Berlind:
Secondary in my mind (not by much) to the DRM goal vector is the technology vector. This is where Hollywood's need to protect its turf has turned into a gift from heaven for the technology companies that incessantly seek out market control points through the use of proprietary technologies. To you, proprietary generally means one of two things. Lack of compatibility or increased cost to get compatibility. Today, the different DRM technology makers are in a race to drive as much DRMed content (DRMed with their different DRM technologies that is) into market as possible. By doing so, they are securing the future of their playback technologies because you'll always need them to access your content. In this context (driving DRMed content to market), Microsoft is the tortoise and Apple is the hare
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:48 AM

October 11, 2005

Wholesale Surveillance: Boston's License Plate Scanners

Bruce Schneier:
he Boston Transportation Department, among other duties, hands out parking tickets. If a car has too many unpaid parking tickets, the BTD will lock a Denver Boot to one of the wheels, making the car unmovable. Once the tickets are paid up, the BTD removes th boot.

The white SUV in this photo is owned by the Boston Transportation Department. Its job is to locate cars that need to be booted. The two video cameras on top of the vehicle are hooked up to a laptop computer running license plate scanning software. The vehicle drives around the city scanning plates and comparing them with the database of unpaid parking tickets. When a match is found, the BTD officers jump out and boot the offending car. You can sort of see the boot on the front right wheel of the car behind the SUV in the photo.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:38 AM

RFID & Privacy

Hiawatha Bray:

If this sounds paranoid, take it up with IBM. The company filed a patent application in 2001 which contemplates using this wireless snooping technology to track people as they roam through ''shopping malls, airports, train stations, bus stations, elevators, trains, airplanes, rest rooms, sports arenas, libraries, theaters, museums, etc." An IBM spokeswoman insisted the company isn't really prepared to go this far. Patent applications are routinely written to include every possible use of a technology, even some the company doesn't intend to pursue. Still, it's clear somebody at IBM has a pretty creepy imagination.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

October 2, 2005

Your DNA or Else! (Feingold & Kohl are on this Senate Comittee)

Declan McCullagh:

The Violence Against Women Act may be about to do violence to Americans' right to privacy.

A U.S. Senate committee (Judiciary, which includes both Wisconsin Senators: Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl - contact them on this issue!) has adopted an amendment to the VAWA legislation that would add the DNA of anyone detained by the cops to a federal DNA database called "CODIS."

Note that it doesn't require that you're convicted of a crime or even formally arrested on suspicion of committing one. Mere detention -- might a routine traffic stop eventually qualify? -- will be sufficient for CODISification. (Current law only authorizes blood or saliva swabs and entry into CODIS for people convicted of a crime.)

Senator Kohl is up for re-election in 2006. I think Kathleen Falk would make an excellent candidate!

Posted by James Zellmer at 2:32 PM

September 28, 2005

Losing Control of Your Cellphone

"Trusted Computing" comes to your cellphone.... The EFF correctly points out that this is a further limit on what we can do with our own devices.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:00 AM

September 26, 2005

Bill Would Permit DNA Collection From All Those Arrested

Jonathan Krim:

Suspects arrested or detained by federal authorities could be forced to provide samples of their DNA that would be recorded in a central database under a provision of a Senate bill to expand government collection of personal data.

The controversial measure was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week and is supported by the White House, but has not gone to the floor for a vote. It goes beyond current law, which allows federal authorities to collect and record samples of DNA only from those convicted of crimes. The data are stored in an FBI-maintained national registry that law enforcement officials use to aid investigations, by comparing DNA from criminals with evidence found at crime scenes.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

September 23, 2005

Your Internet Provider as Big Brother

Via Bruce Schneier: "This seems like a really bad idea.
Stepping up the battle against entertainment piracy, Verizon Communications Co. have entered a long-term programming deal that calls for the phone company to send a warning to Internet users suspected of pirating Disney's content on its broadband services.

Under the deal, one of the first of its kind in the television industry, Disney will contact Verizon when the company suspects a Verizon customer of illegally downloading content. Without divulging names or addresses to Disney, Verizon will then alert the customer that he or she might be violating the law. Disney will be able to identify suspicious customers through an Internet coding system.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:55 AM

September 22, 2005

Our Tax Dollars At Work for Hollywood: Anti-Copying Attaches

Tom Barnett:

Commerce is making ready a team of intellectual property (IP) specialists to deploy to nations giving us fits on piracy. Sort of a WTO-enforcing SWAT team.

The lead experience here is China, and that is all fine and good. This is where our "conflict" with China should really be centered: in economics and in rules.

Other countries targeted are all either New Core (Russia, India, Brazil) like China, or key Seam States (Thailand) or places where we're making a special trade effort to shrink the Gap (Big Bang-land Middle East).

Good move, I say. One the White House can point to in upcoming trade pact battled with Congress, which, in its infinite wisdom, is moving more and more toward protections as a catch-all answer for America's economic woes. Bad, stupid, ahistorical choice, but there it is.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:22 AM

September 18, 2005

"Obeying Orders" More on Yahoo Helping the Chinese Government Put a Reporter in Jail

Washington Post Editorial Page:
This is not merely an abstract business ethics issue: Yahoo's behavior in China could have real consequences for U.S. foreign policy. Over the past two decades, many have argued -- ourselves included -- that despite China's authoritarian and sometimes openly hostile government, it is nevertheless right to encourage American companies to work there. Their very presence has been thought to make the society more open, if not necessarily more democratic. If that is no longer the case -- if, in fact, American companies are helping China become more authoritarian, more hostile and more of an obstacle to U.S. goals of democracy promotion around the world -- then it is time to rethink the rules under which they operate.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:09 PM

Dutch Treat: Personal Database from Cradle to Grave

The Dutch government will begin tracking every citizen from cradle to grave in a single database, opening a personal electronic dossier for every child at birth with health and family data, and eventually adding school and police records.

As a privacy safeguard, no single person will be able to access someone's entire file. And each agency that contributes to the records will maintain its own files as well.

But organizations can raise "red flags" in the dossier to caution other agencies of potential problems with children, said ministry spokesman Jan Brouwer. Until now, schools and police have been unable to communicate with each other about truancy records and criminality, which are often linked.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:59 PM

September 14, 2005

Man Bites Dog: Keillor Threatens to Sue Blogger for Parody?

On a Tuesday night two weeks ago, the letter showed up in the mail. It is included below, so you can see for yourself the kind of verbal mastery it takes to make a legal document sound like Keillor's forlorn nostalgic prose.

Let's quickly review the situation: Garrison Keillor -- a liberal comedian! -- is threatening to sue MNspeak -- some blog! -- that uses a t-shirt to poke fun of his mega-gigantic media empire. You'd think we shot Guy Noir or something.

via Glenn

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:49 AM

September 11, 2005

The Cost of Online Anonymity

Dan Simmons:

After 10 years in the business, Anonymizer has two million active users. The US government pays it to promote the service in China and Iran in order to help promote free speech.

But these programs are becoming popular in the West too.

The software encrypts all your requests for webpages. Anonymizer's servers then automatically gather the content on your behalf and send it back to you.

No humans are involved and the company does not keep records of who requests what.

However, there is some censorship. Anonymizer does not support anonymous uploading to the web, and it blocks access to material that would be illegal under US law.

Posted by James Zellmer at 5:47 PM

Trusted Computing: What does it have to do with Trust?

Benjamin Stephan and Lutz Vogel created a very useful short film on the oxymoron "Trusted Computing".

Posted by James Zellmer at 3:47 PM

September 10, 2005

"Some Rights Have to Erode..."

"MI5 has recently let it be known that it is in favour of making telephone intercept evidence admissible in court. Previously the intelligence and security services had expressed concern such that evidence might reveal operational details. Meanwhile, Home Secretary Charles Clarke has been calling for EU states to keep mobile phone and e-mail records for longer, to help fight terrorism and crime."
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:28 PM

September 6, 2005

Yahoo Helps Put a Chinese Journalist in Jail

Reporters Sans Frontieres:

According to Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders), Information supplied by Yahoo! helped Chinese journalist Shi Tao get 10 years in prison

The text of the verdict in the case of journalist Shi Tao – sentenced in April to 10 years in prison for “divulging state secrets abroad” – shows that Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd. provided China’s state security authorities with details that helped to identify and convict him. It reveals that the company provided the Chinese investigating organs with detailed information that apparently enabled them to link Shi’s personal e-mail account (on the Chinese Yahoo! service at and the specific message containing information treated as a “state secret” to the IP address of his computer. More details from RSF here.

Shi Tao was jailed because he e-mailed sensitive political information to be posted on dissident websites hosted outside China. His case is a cautionary tale to bloggers around the world: If you are publicizing information and views that your government doesn’t want exposed - even if you believe you have the right to do so under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - companies like Yahoo! will not shield you from your government.

Click here for the full text in both Chinese and English of the Shi Tao verdict (PDF document) courtesy of the Dui Hua Foundation, a San Francisco-based non-governmental organization.

Posted by James Zellmer at 5:14 PM

September 5, 2005

Cost of Government Secrecy Continues to Grow (PDF):

The government is withholding more information than ever from the public and expanding ways of shrouding data. Last year, federal agencies spent a record $148 creating and storing new secrets for each $1 spent declassifying old secrets, a coalition of watchdog groups reported Saturday. That's a $28 jump from 2003 when $120 was spent to keep secrets for every $1 spent revealing them.
Slashdot discussion

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:04 AM

September 2, 2005

Massachusetts Turns off Microsoft Office

The State of Massachusetts is moving its workers away from Microsoft Office toward open source tools.

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:36 AM

The Customer is Always Wrong: EFF's Guide to DRM and Online Music

Electronic Frontier Foundation:

Many digital music services employ digital rights management (DRM) — also known as "copy protection" — that prevents you from doing things like using the portable player of your choice or creating remixes. Forget about breaking the DRM to make traditional uses like CD burning and so forth. Breaking the DRM or distributing the tools to break DRM may expose you to liability under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) even if you're not making any illegal uses.

In other words, in this brave new world of "authorized music services," law-abiding music fans often get less for their money than they did in the old world of CDs (or at least, the world before record companies started crippling CDs with DRM, too). Unfortunately, in an effort to attract customers, these music services try to obscure the restrictions they impose on you with clever marketing.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

August 31, 2005

"Trusted Computing" - Coming Soon to your PC

Bruce Schneier on "Trusted" Computing:
The Trusted Computing Group (TCG) is an industry consortium that is trying to build more secure computers. They have a lot of members, although the board of directors consists of Microsoft, Sony, AMD, Intel, IBM, SUN, HP, and two smaller companies who are voted on in a rotating basis.

The basic idea is that you build a computer from the ground up securely, with a core hardware "root of trust" called a Trusted Platform Module (TPM). Applications can run securely on the computer, can communicate with other applications and their owners securely, and can be sure that no untrusted applications have access to their data or code.

This sounds great, but it's a double-edged sword. The same system that prevents worms and viruses from running on your computer might also stop you from using any legitimate software that your hardware or operating system vendor simply doesn't like. The same system that protects spyware from accessing your data files might also stop you from copying audio and video files. The same system that ensures that all the patches you download are legitimate might also prevent you from, well, doing pretty much anything.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:07 PM

August 29, 2005

Identity Thief Steals House

James Cook left on a business trip to Florida, and his wife Paula went to Oklahoma to care for her sick mother. When the two returned to Frisco, Texas, several days later, their keys didn't work. The locks on the house had been changed.

They spent their first night back sleeping in a walk-in closet, with a steel pipe ready to cold-cock any intruders. The next day, they met the man who thought he owned their house, because he had put a US$12,000 down payment to someone named Carlos Ramirez. The Cooks went to the Denton County Courthouse and checked their title. Someone had forged Paula Cook's maiden name, Paula Smart, and transferred the deed to Carlos Ramirez. Paula's identity was not only stolen, but the thief also stole her house. Even the police said they've never seen a case like this one, but suspect the criminal was able to steal the identity and the house with just Mrs. Cook's Social Security number, driver's license number and a copy of her signature.
Via Bruce Schneier who points out that the National ID card (supported by our good Senators Feingold & Kohl) won't solve this problem:
This is a perfect example of the sort of fraud issue that a national ID card won't solve. The problem is not that identity credentials are too easy to forge. The problem is that the criminal needed nothing more than "Mrs. Cook's Social Security number, driver's license number and a copy of her signature." And the solution isn't a harder-to-forge card; the solution is to make the procedure for transferring real-estate ownership more onerous. If the Denton County Courthouse had better transaction authentication procedures, the particulars of identity authentication -- a national ID, a state driver's license, biometrics, or whatever -- wouldn't matter.
If we are ever going to solve identity theft, we need to think about it properly. The problem isn't misused identity information; the problem is fraudulent transactions.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:38 AM

RFID Commercial Research at the UW

Ryan J. Foley writes from Madison, WI:

What makes UW-Madison's lab unique is its collaboration with industry and its focus on the physics and engineering behind the technology, said Sweeney, who has visited other RFID labs elsewhere.

Critics worry, however, that UW-Madison is contributing to technology that could ultimately track humans.

One such fear involves the use of tags in clothing and shoes. If the chips aren't deactivated at the time of sale, unsuspecting consumers might essentially be carrying around information about their buying habits, allowing stores to target them with intrusive marketing pitches the next time they visit.

"When I see the move of RFID into universities, it concerns me," said Katherine Albrecht, a privacy advocate who specializes in RFID technology and shoppers. "It is sending a message that not only do we not have to worry about privacy but you can profit from it by a career perspective."

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:04 AM

August 28, 2005

RIAA vs the People

Lawyers representing people who have been sued by the RIAA started a blog:
We are lawyers in New York City. We practice law at Beldock Levine & Hoffman LLP.

Through the Electronic Frontier Foundation we and our firm have undertaken to represent people in our area who have been sued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for having computers whose internet accounts were used to open up peer-to-peer file sharing accounts.

We find these cases to be oppressive and unfair, as large law firms financed by the recording industry sue ordinary working people for thousands of dollars.

We have set up this blog in order to collect evidence and input about these oppressive lawsuit.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:18 PM

August 26, 2005

One of World's Most Prolific Spammers Arrested

Chris Williams:
A Minnesota man considered one of the world's most prolific e-mail spammers was indicted on more than a dozen federal charges related to the operation of his business, Xpress Pharmacy Direct.

The indictment against Christopher William Smith, 25, was unsealed Wednesday after he was arrested at his home in Prior Lake. Dr. Philip Mach, 47, of Franklin Park, N.J., and Bruce Jordan Lieberman, 45, from Farmingdale, N.Y., were also charged in the indictment, federal prosecutors said.
Slashdot discussion.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:32 AM

August 25, 2005

NYC: $212M on Surveillance Cameras

Bruce Schneier:

New York City is spending $212 million on surveillance technology: 1,000 video cameras and 3,000 motion sensors for the city's subways, bridges, and tunnels.

Why? Why, given that cameras didn't stop the London train bombings? Why, when there is no evidence that cameras are effectice at reducing either terrorism and crime, and every reason to believe that they are ineffective?

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

August 20, 2005

IRS: 4.6 Billion Disclosures of Tax Return Information in 2004

The report reveals that the IRS made 4.6 billion disclosures of tax return information to federal and state agencies. Here are the Top 5 recipients of taxpayer information:
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:41 AM

Request Your Right to Travel Records from the TSA

Ann Harrison:
In direct violation of the Privacy Act, TSA has collected over 100 million records from commercial data providers to test Secure Flight. If your records are contained in this database, you have a right to obtain them. What would happen if thousands of people requested their TSA travel records every day?

You can request your travel and commercial records under the Privacy Act, but you better do it before TSA destroys the information. TSA spokeswoman Deirdre O’Sullivan told Wired News that the TSA has only destroyed some passenger name records (PNR) from airlines and travel agents, but not information TSA gathered from commercial data bases. You can request both your PNR and commercial data with a Privacy Act request.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:35 AM

August 19, 2005

Four Internet Freedoms

Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell discussed his views on four internet freedoms:

  • Freedom to Access Content
  • Freedom to Use Applications
  • Freedom to Attach Personal Devices
  • Freedom to Obtain Service Plan Information
Here's a PDF of his February, 2004 speech. Via David Isenberg.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

August 17, 2005

Be Your Own Security

Mark Hoekstra:

The world is an increasingly dangerouse place. Research has shown that people need to get inspected to feel secure, even if the actual inspection is a complete farce. Yet as a society we cannot hire half the population to perform bogus inspections on the other half in order to keep up with market demand for perceived security
Classic - read it all.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

August 7, 2005

The FCC and the Open Internet

Susna Crawford parses the FCC's latest rulings on open internet access:

More faith-based policymaking. We'll need more than principles for the open internet to survive.
David Isenberg follows with a discussion of "Fat Wasteband", a useful look at telco attempts to control the open internet.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:55 PM

Tommy Thompson: "Stick a RFID Chip in Your Body"

RedNova News:

President Bush's former health secretary Tommy Thompson is putting the final touches to a plan that could result in US citizens having a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip inserted under their skin, The Business has learned.

The RFID capsules would be linked to a computerised database being created by the US Department of Health to store and manage the nation's health records. It could be the precursor to a similar scheme in the UK.

The president's budget for 2006 continues to support the use of health information technology by increasing funding to $125m for pilot schemes.

Thompson, now a director of Applied Digital Solutions, the company that makes the chips, intends to publish the proposal in the next 50 days, by which time he plans to have had a VeriChip inserted in his arm. Thompson believes the capsules could help save thousands of lives every year.

I'm glad Tommy is sticking it to himself first on this one. I can see some benefits to this approach, BUT there's a huge privacy downside.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

August 3, 2005

DHS: RFID Cards for US Visitors

Bruce Schneier:

According to the DHS:
The technology will be tested at a simulated port this spring. By July 31, 2005, the testing will begin at the ports of Nogales East and Nogales West in Arizona; Alexandria Bay in New York; and, Pacific Highway and Peace Arch in Washington. The testing or "proof of concept" phase is expected to continue through the spring of 2006.

I know nothing about the details of this program or about the security of the cards. Even so, the long-term implications of this kind of thing are very chilling.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

August 2, 2005

Privacy: Hacking the Hotel TV

Joris Evers:
What's more, by connecting his laptop to certain modern hotel TV systems, Laurie says he can spy on other guests. He can't look into their rooms (yet), but depending on the system he can see what they are watching on their TV, look at their guest folios, change the minibar bill and follow along as they browse the Internet on the hotel television set.

To tease his fellow guests, he can also check them out of their room and set early wake-up calls via the TV.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:44 AM

July 29, 2005

Third Party Cookies

David Kesmodel:

The controversy over the cookies highlights the tension that exists between marketing companies like Omniture and Web users who are increasingly aware of, and adverse to, files that are automatically placed on their computers when they surf the Internet. At a time when PCs are under assault by viruses and other nefarious software like never before, users are employing a range of software tools and tactics to protect themselves. Many users don't distinguish between cookies, which are small bits of text commonly used by Web sites to identify users, and malicious software that can steal personal information or change PC settings. That has put marketers on the defensive, as they try to get users to spare cookies when wiping computers clean of potential threats.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:02 AM

July 28, 2005

Monopolies and DRM

Bruce Schneier:

Two years ago I (and others) wrote about the security dangers of Microsoft's monopoly. In the paper, we wrote:

Security has become a strategic concern at Microsoft but security must not be permitted to become a tool of further monopolization.

A year before that, I wrote about Microsoft's trusted computer system (called Palladium -- Pd, for short -- at the time:

Pay attention to the antitrust angle. I guarantee you that Microsoft believes Pd is a way to extend its market share, not to increase competition.

Intel and Microsoft are using DRM technology to cut Linux out of the content market.

This whole East Fork scheme is a failure from the start. It brings nothing positive to the table, costs you money, and rights. If you want to use Linux to view your legitimately purchased media, you will be a criminal. In fact, if you want to take your legitimately bought media with you on a road trip and don't feel the need to pay again for it - fair use, remember - you are also a criminal. Wonderful.

Intel has handed the keys to the digital media kingdom to several convicted monopolists who have no care at all for their customers. The excuse Intel gives you if you ask is that they are producing tools, and only tools, their use is not up to Intel. The problem here is that Intel has given the said tools to some of the most rapacious people on earth. If you give the record companies a DRM scheme that goes from 1 (open) to 10 (unusably locked down), they will start at 14 and lobby Congress to mandate that it can be turned up higher by default.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:50 AM

Frankston on the Evils of DRM (Digital Restrictions Management)

Frankston has more on Microsoft, Intel and others locking down our computers via DRM:

For those who found my recent DRM post too complicated I'll put it more simply. There are those who believe that I must not zap commercials while watching their content. It's not very different from saying I'm not allowed to go to the bathroom during commercials -- I must use a DRM complaint toilet in order to implement such policies.

If they can require that all my wires and devices be DRM complaint why not the other distractions that reduce the value of their content?

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:02 AM

July 27, 2005

Is Your Printer Spying on You?

Electronic Frontier Foundation:
Imagine that every time you printed a document, it automatically included a secret code that could be used to identify the printer -- and potentially, the person who used it. Sounds like something from an episode of "Alias," right?

Unfortunately, the scenario isn't fictional. In an effort to identify counterfeiters, the US government has succeeded in persuading some color laser printer manufacturers to encode each page with identifying information. That means that without your knowledge or consent, an act you assume is private could become public. A communication tool you're using in everyday life could become a tool for government surveillance. And what's worse, there are no laws to prevent abuse.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:15 PM

Watching Us Through The Sorting Door

Mark Baard:

A former CIA intelligence analyst and researchers from SAP plan to study how RFID tags might be used to profile and track individuals and consumer goods.

"I believe that tags will be readily used for surveillance, given the interests of various parties able to deploy readers," said Ross Stapleton-Gray, former CIA analyst and manager of the study, called the Sorting Door Project.

What is RFID?

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

July 26, 2005

Payola is Pervasive

Barry Ritholtz:
"This is not a pretty picture; what we see is that payola is pervasive," Mr. Spitzer said, using a term from the radio scandals of the 1950's in describing e-mail messages and corporate documents that his office obtained during a yearlong investigation. "It is omnipresent. It is driving the industry and it is wrong."

The Attorney General's findings alleges that the illegal payoffs for airplay were designed to manipulate record charts, generate consumer interest in records and increase sales:

"Instead of airing music based on the quality, artistic competition, aesthetic judgments or other judgments, radio stations are airing music because they are paid to do so in a way that hasn't been disclosed to the public," Spitzer said at a press briefing.
An alternative? I think we'll see more of this.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:51 AM

July 25, 2005

Milwaukee Talk Show Host Faces Court Date for Weblog Post

Derrick Nunnally:

Barring a late settlement, talk-radio host Charlie Sykes faces a court date as a defendant in a libel suit this week.

The plaintiff, Spanish Journal editor Robert Miranda, sued Sykes in January over a November post on Sykes' Weblog on the WTMJ-AM (620) site that alleged Miranda had helped foment a protest at a 1991 pro-Gulf War event in which several speakers were pelted with small objects. Miranda wasn't in Wisconsin at the time of that protest, which Sykes described in his essay as an "an example of the assaults on free speech on university campuses."

Although Miranda's original requests for a court order mandating Sykes publicly apologize, undergo sensitivity training sessions and make diversity presentations to middle and high school students are no longer in play - a small-claims court doesn't have that authority, it turns out - Miranda said the suit, which now requests the small-claims maximum of $5,000 in damages, will serve as a forum in which Sykes' "journalistic integrity will be questioned," among other matters.

Posted by Erika Frederick at 8:52 PM

July 23, 2005

George Gilder on Hollywood

Scott Kirsner interviews George Gilder about the pending "dissolution of the television and motion picture industries as we know them". MP3 Audio. Meanwhile, our good Senator, Herb Kohl has some decisions to make on whether he supports the future, or the past.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:31 PM

July 22, 2005

US Help for China's Internet Filtering

Cisco's sale of networking equipment used to filter Chinese internet traffic has drawn some well justified attention recently (Microsoft's activities with the Chinese government has also drawn attention):

  • Rebecca MacKinnon
    Cisco argues that if they don't do this business, their competitors will. And that will be bad for U.S. jobs. Well, as I've said before, at the end of the day either we believe that the ideals of "freedom" and "democracy" mean something, and are worth sacrificing short-term profit so that more people around the world have a chance of benefiting from them, or we don't. Cisco clearly doesn't. This is an insult to the thousands of Americans - public servants, men and women in uniform, journalists and others - who risk their lives daily in far-flung corners of the globe for the sake of these ideals.
  • Anne Applebaum:
    Without question, China's Internet filtering regime is "the most sophisticated effort of its kind in the world," in the words of a recent report by Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. The system involves the censorship of Web logs, search engines, chat rooms and e-mail by "thousands of public and private personnel." It also involves Microsoft Inc., as Chinese bloggers discovered last month. Since early June, Chinese bloggers who post messages containing a forbidden word -- "Dalai Lama," for example, or "democracy" -- receive a warning: "This message contains a banned expression, please delete." It seems Microsoft has altered the Chinese version of its blog tool, MSN Spaces, at the behest of Chinese government. Bill Gates, so eloquent on the subject of African poverty, is less worried about Chinese free speech.
UPDATE: Rebecca comments on a recent Newsweek story that fails to mention her 9 years of experience in China, among other items.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

July 21, 2005

Fingernails Store Personal Information

Jacqueline Hewett:

Secure optical data storage could soon literally be at your fingertips thanks to work being carried out in Japan. Yoshio Hayasaki and his colleagues have discovered that data can be written into a human fingernail by irradiating it with femtosecond laser pulses. Capacities are said to be up to 5 mega bits and the stored data lasts for 6 months - the length of time it takes a fingernail to be completely replaced.
Via Macintouch

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

July 17, 2005

Disney's Fingerprint Biometric

Disneyworld is collecting fingerprints from season ticket buyers as a way to stop fraud.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:28 PM

July 16, 2005

3rd Party Cookes are Spyware - Mossberg

Walt Mossberg:

Suppose you bought a TV set that included a component to track what you watched, and then reported that data back to a company that used or sold it for advertising purposes. Only nobody told you the tracking technology was there or asked your permission to use it.

You would likely be outraged at this violation of privacy. Yet that kind of Big Brother intrusion goes on every day on the Internet, affecting millions of people. Many Web sites, even from respectable companies, place a secret computer file called a "tracking cookie" on your hard disk. This file records where you go on the Web on behalf of Internet advertising companies that later use the information for their own business purposes. In almost all cases, the user isn't notified of the download of the tracking cookie, let alone asked for permission to install it.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

July 10, 2005

Jean Feraca's Here on Earth on Podcasting

Wisconsin Public Radio's Jean Feraca hosts a weekly program called Here on Earth. Driving around between events Saturday, I heard a bit of her program on Podcasting. A list of participants can be found here. However and unfortunately, WPR's podcasts, like our dear Airport's WiFi, is non-existent. I did chuckle a bit as both Jean and the BBC's Peter Day speculated about their job security as a result of Podcasting's growth. Times are changing. I would agree that some radio stations have reasons to be concerned. Advertising overkill and the same old same old playlists have pushed more and more listeners away - to ipod's attached to their car radios or ipods and short distance fm transmitters. Wikipedia on podcasting.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

July 8, 2005

The Invisible War on Culture

Twila Raftu & Shaun Cronin:

"Alternative Freedom" is their feature-length documentary about the invisible war on culture.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:53 AM

July 6, 2005

National ID Act: Becoming an Unperson

Nathan Cochrane on becoming an unperson. July 1, 2005 was the first day of the Real ID Act, supported by our good Senators Feingold and Kohl.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:20 AM

William Gibson: Who Owns the Words?

William Gibson:
We seldom legislate new technologies into being. They emerge, and we plunge with them into whatever vortices of change they generate. We legislate after the fact, in a perpetual game of catch-up, as best we can, while our new technologies redefine us - as surely and perhaps as terribly as we've been redefined by broadcast television.

"Who owns the words?" asked a disembodied but very persistent voice throughout much of Burroughs' work. Who does own them now? Who owns the music and the rest of our culture? We do. All of us.

Though not all of us know it - yet.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:54 AM

Russia's Black Market Data Trade

Bruce Schneier:
Interesting story on the market for data in Moscow:
This Gorbushka vendor offers a hard drive with cash transfer records from Russia's central bank for $1,500 (Canadian).

At the Gorbushka kiosk, sales are so brisk that the vendor excuses himself to help other customers while the foreigner considers his options: $43 for a mobile phone company's list of subscribers? Or $100 for a database of vehicles registered in the Moscow region?

The vehicle database proves irresistible. It appears to contain names, birthdays, passport numbers, addresses, telephone numbers, descriptions of vehicles, and vehicle identification (VIN) numbers for every driver in Moscow.
The recent passage of the National ID Act, supported by our good Senators Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl means that it won't be long before all of our data is available in this manner.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:36 AM

July 5, 2005

UK Identity Cards

The Economist:

If the government's plans stay on track, Britons will, within three years, begin to receive cards containing personal details, together with a digital photograph, fingerprints and an iris scan. A nation that has not possessed identity cards since 1952 will, in a step, acquire the world's most complex system.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

July 4, 2005

Winer & Searls on the Evils of DRM

Doc Searls and Dave Winer (mp3) have some useful comments on the evils of DRM (Digital Restrictions Management). Craig Burton calls it EBWU (evil, wrong, bad and ugly).

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

June 30, 2005

Microsoft's Puzzling Array of Linux Attack Money

Doc Searls Points to Tom Adelstein's fascinating blog on Microsoft's money and influence in Washington (the article also mentions some subtle reporting changes at the Washington Post):
What we did not discuss on Monday, however, was the possibility that the committee could remain deadlocked for other reasons. Such reasons could involve additional payments which Preston Gates may have some difficulty explaining. Should the ethics committee meet, some democrats could face similar problems for Tom DeLay. According to the the Washington Post, other names are beginning to surface, including both House and Senate members. Names discussed in the article include Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.) and Harry M. Reid (Nev.), Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.), Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.), Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.) and Byron L. Dorgan (N.D.).

While you might find the Washington Post's work admirable, there are some subtle changes in their reporting that grabbed my attention. For example, a switch has occurred in naming Jack Abramoff's employer. In our previous discussion, we referenced a washington Post story that said that Abramoff worked for Preston Gates. Even the Seattle Times wrote an article focused on Preston Gates' potential problems. For example, in a discussion of one of the firm's clients the article states:
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:53 AM

Madison Should be Out Front on this.....

David Isenberg on Lafayette, Louisiana's 7/16/2005 referendum to fund a municipal fiber network:
Following the Brand X decision, the future of U.S. networks weighs more heavily on municipal network initiatives.

As Lafayette, Louisiana's muni FTTH proposal approaches it's July 16th referendum on the necessary $125 million bond issue, the following organizations have stepped up to support the plan, including, The Realtors Association of Acadiana Downtown Development Authority Downtown Lafayette Unlimited The Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce Lafayette Economic Development Authority Rebuild Lafayette North Committee Acadiana Home Builders Association parish executive committees of both Democratic and Republican parties, The Louisiana Municipal Association and several others
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:13 AM

Ten Years of Chilled Innovation

Robert Hof interviews Larry Lessig on the US Supreme Court's Grokster decision:
Q: What do you think of the decision? A: This is a pretty significant defeat here. Certainly the result is better than what the MGM companies wanted -- because they wanted the Sony case modified -- and [Justice David Souter, who wrote the decision, isn't] modifying Sony. But still, this intent standard...will invite all sorts of strategic behavior that will dramatically increase the cost of innovating around these technologies.

Q: How so? A: Imagine that you're a company with a copyright and you see a company coming out with a technology you don't like because it's challenging your business model. We've seen lots of these -- for example, ReplayTV, or the VCR. Obviously, if the technology is illegal, you can just get it stopped.

But a second way to stop the innovation is just to litigate. Look what happened to ReplayTV: It spent years and millions of dollar litigating to defend its right to have the ReplayTV technology as it was. Essentially, it had to fold the company because the legal standard then was so uncertain that you had to get to trial before you could resolve the case.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:07 AM

June 27, 2005

Grokster, Streamcast Lose

Not a good day for us. SCOTUSblog has more. EFF Wall Street Journal Roundtable

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:51 AM

Seagate's Full Disc Encryption

Bruce Schneier:

"Seagate has introduced a hard drive with full-disk encryption.

The 2.5-inch drive offers full encryption of all data directly on the drive through a software key that resides on a portion of the disk nobody but the user can access. Every piece of data that crosses the interface encrypted without any intervention by the user, said Brian Dexheimer, executive vice president for global sales and marketing at the Scotts Valley, Calif.-based company.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:08 AM

June 26, 2005

Unauthorized Access to IRS Records

This problem will likely get worse, particularly with the recently passed gift to data thieves - the national ID act (Both Wisconsin Senators, Kohl & Feingold supported the National ID Act!). Caroline Drees has more:
The Internal Revenue Service is investigating whether unauthorized people gained access to sensitive taxpayer and bank account information but has not yet exposed any privacy breaches, an official said on Friday.

The U.S. tax agency -- whose databases include suspicious activity reports from banks about possible terrorist or criminal transactions -- launched the probe after the Government Accountability Office said in April that the IRS "routinely permitted excessive access" to the computer files.

The GAO team was able to tap into the data without authorization, and gleaned information such as bank account holders' names, social security numbers, transaction values, and any suspected terrorist activity. It said the data was at serious risk of disclosure, modification or destruction.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:05 AM

June 25, 2005

Feinstein's Double Talk on the Broadcast Flag

California Senator Diane Feinstein responds to her constituents opposition to the broadcast flag, with a rather large amount of Orwellian talk. Cory Doctorow says that "Practically every sentence in this letter is a lie":

Thank you for writing to me about the digital broadcast flag. I appreciate hearing from you.
I feel strongly that we must prevent the theft of copyrighted works, and that includes digital television (DTV) programming. As we move forward in the digital age, it is increasingly easy for unauthorized copies of copyrighted works to be made and illegally distributed. Over-the-air digital content is the easiest to pirate.

As we contemplate the use of new technologies to protect copyrighted works, we must pay careful attention to ensure that a balance is struck between competitive protections and individual consumer interests. It is important to allow for the continued fair use of copyrighted material, even while we seek to stop unauthorized reproductions from being illegally distributed outside the home and over the Internet.

I continue to find it amazing that our elected representatives spend so much time on this, given Hollywood's outsize influence relative to their economic size (The tech & consumer electronic industry dwarf Hollywood).

Posted by James Zellmer at 6:24 AM

June 24, 2005

Broadcast Flag Not in Federal Legislation

Dan Gillmor:

Good news for Silicon Valley and consumers: The infamous "Broadcast Flag" -- digital restrictions on playback of broadcast video -- is still dead, it seems, at least for the moment.

When it looked several days ago as though Hollywood would try to sneak the flag into a big appropriations bill, several alert organizations including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge rallied citizens to the cause -- to tell senators that they shouldn't do this. Apparently, they didn't slip this into the bill, and that's cause for celebration.

Evidently, quite a few people contacted their Senators on this matter, which is wonderful. This is a great example of the last minute special interest schemes that go on all the time.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:04 AM

June 23, 2005

Frankston on Bank of America's Security Practices

Bob Frankston:

Even more so because of a letter I received after sending an online Query to CallVantage using another unique address and I quickly got an unrelated letter from a third party site that seemed fraudulent. I reported it to the third party’s ISV and got a response saying they were shut down but know no more than that.

I view these as very serious breaches because they indicate attacks at the vital points in the system.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:02 AM

TSA Collects Airline Passenger Data Despite Pledge


A federal agency collected extensive personal information about airline passengers although Congress told it not to and it said it wouldn't, according to documents obtained Monday by The Associated Press.

A Transportation Security Administration contractor used three data brokers to collect detailed information about U.S. citizens who flew on commercial airlines in June 2004 in order to test a terrorist screening program called Secure Flight, according to documents that will be published in the Federal Register this week.

The TSA had ordered the airlines to turn over data on those passengers, called passenger name records, in November.

The EFF's Lee Tien has more.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

June 22, 2005

iLaw Conference Underway In Boston

Friend and Business partner John Stathas emailed some links from the iLaw conference at Harvard:

  • John Palfrey summarizes Jonathan Zittrain's presentation. Key words: "teach the kids to code. Teach the artists to code. Let them control their own culture."
  • Irina has more on Zittrain
  • Herkko Hietanen adds his take on Zittrain

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:11 AM

Bob Lefsetz on the Music Business

Barry Ritholtz published Bob Lefsetz's comments on the state of the music industry:

"We're being duped. The RIAA keeps saying it's saving the MUSIC when really all its label members are interested in is saving THEMSELVES!

It's out of control. Irrelevant of the Grokster decision. These billion dollar companies with their high-priced lobbyists have infected the media and the minds of the public to the detriment of ART! What's worse, they've convinced the musicians signed to their labels of the validity of their position, which is equivalent to slaves standing up for plantation owners.

I don't know about you, but I believe in MUSIC, not LABELS!

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:05 AM

June 21, 2005

Where will Senator Kohl Stand? With the People or Hollywood

Cory Doctorow urges us to contact Senator Kohl, along with others and urge him to stop Hollywood's special interests from inserting the broadcast flag requirement into a Senate appropriations bill today. The broadcast flag is yet another reduction in our fair use rights.

This is a classic dead of night, end of game maneuver. The Wisconsin Senator has voted against our interests recently, including the National ID bill, the bankruptcy bill (more) and large corporate giveaways. I hope he does the right thing today. Call his office: (202) 224-5653 or send an email. I cannot see any benefit to Wisconsin residents of Kohl's recent efforts. More on the Senator's votes here. The EFF has more. Roger Simon correctly points out that Hollywood's real problem lies with their declining product quality.

Watch the conversation via Technorati
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:21 AM

June 17, 2005

US DOJ Want's Internet Providers to Retain All Records

Declan McCullough:

The U.S. Department of Justice is quietly shopping around the explosive idea of requiring Internet service providers to retain records of their customers' online activities.

Data retention rules could permit police to obtain records of e-mail chatter, Web browsing or chat-room activity months after Internet providers ordinarily would have deleted the logs--that is, if logs were ever kept in the first place. No U.S. law currently mandates that such logs be kept.

In theory, at least, data retention could permit successful criminal and terrorism prosecutions that otherwise would have failed because of insufficient evidence. But privacy worries and questions about the practicality of assembling massive databases of customer behavior have caused a similar proposal to stall in Europe and could engender stiff opposition domestically.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:06 AM

June 16, 2005

Doctorow/Cuban on Ineffective DRM

Cory Doctorow and Mark Cuban question inane Digital Restriction Management (DRM) tools that Hollywood is using to restrict our fair use rights. Support the EFF.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:56 AM

June 14, 2005

Microsoft Censoring Chinese Blogs

Weblog entries on some parts of Microsoft's MSN site in China using words such as "freedom", "democracy" and "demonstration" are being blocked. Chinese bloggers already face strict controls and must register their online journal with Chinese authorities. Microsoft said the company abided by the laws, regulations and norms of each country in which it operates.
Rebecca MacKinnon has more
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:07 AM

June 12, 2005

Schneier Disects the TSA's "Trusted Traveler Program"

Bruce Schneier:
I've already written about what a bad idea trusted traveler programs are. The basic security intuition is that when you create two paths through security -- an easy path and a hard path -- you invite the bad guys to take the easy path. So the security of the sort process must make up for the security lost in the sorting. Trusted traveler fails this test; there are so many ways for the terrorists to get trusted traveler cards that the system makes it too easy for them to avoid the hard path through security.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:03 AM

Miller on DRM Lock-in

Ernest Miller on Apple & Microsoft DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) Lock-in:
Look at it from Microsoft's point of view. Every song you purchase from iTunes with Apple's proprietary, DMCA-protected DRM is one more bit of lock-in to Apple. When you've got a hundred or two hundred or more of your favorite (let's face it, you buy your favorites first) songs in iTunes format, you've got some significant lock-in in the form of very high switching costs. Just the way Steve Jobs likes it.

And that lock-in is growing at a rate of millions of songs every month.
Very useful post, Ernie!
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:36 AM

June 11, 2005

Feingold Introduces a Bill That Requires Data Mining Notification

US Senators Russ Feingold and John Sununu introduced a bill requiring federal agencies to report to Congress on data-mining programs they are developing or using. Ironic, given that our Senator Feingold voted for the National ID Act which will create a juicy data mining target....

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

June 8, 2005

Free Culture: Isenberg on The Star Wars Money Machine

David Isenberg:

So here is the question which you should be asking yourself. If you released full digital copies of all of the Star Wars films -- with no DRM -- allowing anyone to duplicate and distribute to their hearts contents... would sales in the toys, video games, and publishing categories increase by enough to offset the loss in sales from video and DVD?

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:02 AM

May 31, 2005

Flaws in the National ID Card - Supported by Feingold & Kohl

Joseph Menn:

The standards are intended to weed out impostors applying for licenses, in part by requiring state employees to check on the validity of birth certificates and other supporting documents. After states adopt the necessary changes, anyone applying for or renewing a license will get one reflecting the new standards.

But once the law takes full effect three years from now, it will also give many more bureaucrats access to personal information on people nationwide. And it will add more data to each file — including digital copies of documents with birth and address information.

To some industry experts and activists concerned about the fast- growing crime of identity theft, putting so much data before more eyes guarantees abuse at a time when people are increasingly concerned about who sees their personal information and how it gets used.

"It's a gigantic treasure trove for those who are bent on obtaining data for the purpose of creating fake identities," said Beth Givens of the nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. Armed with a stranger's name, Social Security number and date of birth, it's not hard for fraudsters to take out bogus loans that can wreck a victim's credit record.

Additional Background. Let Senators Kohl & Feingold know your views on this latest personal information grab.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:09 AM

Losing Control of Your PC (Dell, this time), continued

Art Wolinsky:

Wait a minute... Let me see if I have this right. You installed Dell Support on my computer and then tell me that if I don't want the upgrade, I'm going to have to pay you help me get off what you put on?

After some discussion, it is absolutely clear that is the case with "no exceptions". Any software support I need, no matter what the nature of that support, I am going to have to pay for.

Similar to Microsoft charging for anti-virus software...

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

May 30, 2005

Salon's take on the EliteTorrents FBI takedown

Andrew Leonard:

Haven't we seen this rerun before? A particular version of file-sharing software becomes popular. The entertainment industry starts paying attention. Lawsuits begin to fly. A few people get their fingers burned, and then we do it all over again. Napster, Kazaa, Grokster and now BitTorrent -- the names change but the story doesn't. The software will get better and the busts will get bigger. Same as it ever was.

The latest news in the file-sharing wars was delivered via a press release from the Department of Justice with all the solemn portentousness of an announcement that a major terrorist had been captured. "This morning, agents of the FBI and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) executed 10 search warrants across the United States against leading members of a technologically sophisticated P2P network known as Elite Torrents."

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

May 29, 2005

Intel: Losing Control of Your PC

Intel is baking Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) into its latest chipsets, according to the Register. Slashdot has a discussion as well. Bad news for wintel pc users as these tools mean that someone can shut down activities on your computer....

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

May 27, 2005

Our Tax Dollars at Work: Saving Hollywood...

The Motion Picture Association of America:
The U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security today announced that they have shut down one of the world’s largest BitTorrent websites, Elite Torrents. Carrying out what is known as Operation D-Elite, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) executed search warrants against prominent members in Elite Torrents’ membership. Elite Torrents was one of the first peer to peer networks to post an illegal copy of Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith before the movie officially opened in theaters last Thursday.
I'm not making this up..... Visit Elite Torrents and check out the home page, which now features US DOJ and DHS logos....

Copyright is important to some fair degree (Congress, via Hollywood money has greatly distorted the copyright law...). However, spending our tax dollars to save the latest Star Wars film is simply absurd. Let's use some of that money for education or debt reduction.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:34 PM

Giving Electronic Books Away Increases Paper Book Sales

Gray was asked to study the publishing strategy of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) in South Africa. This research institution had a traditional strategy of publishing lots of research books, and selling them. Gray convinced them to change their strategy -- to give away all their research books for free online, and offer a high quality print-on-demand service for anyone who wants the paper version. The result: "the sales turnover of the publishing department has risen by 300%." As she concluded her presentation, "giving away books and lead to an increase in our book sales." There's much much more in her interesting analysis.
Download the pdf.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:00 AM

May 22, 2005

California Bill Bans RFID in State ID Documents

Kim Zetter:

The bill, which California lawmakers believe is the first of its kind in the nation, would prohibit the use of radio-frequency identification, or RFID, chips in state identity documents such as student badges, driver's licenses, medical cards and state employee cards. The bill allows for
some exceptions.

RFID, also known as contactless integrated circuits, transmits information wirelessly, allowing scanners to read cards from a distance, typically a few feet. The technology is widely used in building security and inventory-tracking systems, and is being considered for numerous other applications.

The bill, which passed out of the state Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday with a vote of 6 to 1, also would outlaw skimming -- which occurs when an unauthorized person with an electronic reading device surreptitiously reads the electronic information on an RFID chip without the knowledge of the person carrying or wearing the chip.

I assume, unfortunately, based on our political leaders initial embrace of the Matrix personal data mining scheme, that we will not be as wise in Wisconsin...

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

May 14, 2005

Stifling Creativity

Eugene Zinovyev (A UC Berkeley undergrad):

Today, entertainment lobby groups are consciously trying to prevent technological and creative progress in the United States.

Late in March, Ted Olson, the former solicitor general under the current President Bush and counsel for the Recording Industry Association of America and Motion Picture Association of America, wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal arguing against peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, likening them to services that allow users to exploit others' property illegally with no legal repercussion. Yet, the analogy between his scenario and the sharing of music and movies is deeply flawed, because digital movies and songs are not property in the same sense that a car or a pair of shoes are.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

May 13, 2005

UW's John Webster's Taser Study

UW Professor John Webster dropped an adviser tied to the Taser Company from his proposed taser experiment on pigs after USA Today revealed that the adviser was a paid consultant for the company that makes the stun guns. Google News
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:12 PM

May 12, 2005

National ID passes Senate

Kim Zetter on the recently passed legislation 100-0, which means both Senators Kohl & Feingold voted for it.... Bill Scannell notes that 5/10/2005 is the date that a national ID card requirement was passed.... A major player behind this legislation - our own, safe seat congressman, F. James Sensenbrenner.... (recipient of the largest amount of special interest travel among Wisconsin's congressional delegation).

Declan McCullagh posted a FAQ.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:43 AM

May 7, 2005

Court Nixes "broadcast flag"

Some sanity in the copyright wars a Federal appeals court has overturned the FCC's rule requiring that consumer electronic makers help restrict the copying of digital TV broadcasts. Michael Grebb | Lessig | Dave Winer on things worth copying, or not | Stephen Labaton
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:17 PM

May 6, 2005


Interesting local cybersquatting:

The progressive biweekly newspaper The Madison Observer accused its conservative counterpart The Mendota Beacon Wednesday of "cybersquatting," or anonymously buying two web domains similar to The Madison Observer's and redirecting those sites to The Mendota Beacon's website.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

May 3, 2005

DHS (homeland insecurity): TIA - Just Trust Us

Siobhan Gorman:

Call it Total Information Awareness, homeland-style.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff this week floated an idea to start a nonprofit group that would collect information on private citizens, flag suspicious activity, and send names of suspicious people to his department.

Your papers, please....

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:05 AM

April 29, 2005

Feeding at the Trough: Sensenbrenner, Obey & Others

Bill Christofferson summarizes Wisconsin members of Congress who had their travel expenses paid for by private corporations & non-profits:
  • Jim Sensenbrenner: 19 trips; 168K
  • David Obey: 13 trips; 73K
  • Paul Ryan: 6 trips: 25K
  • Tammy Baldwin; 12 trips: 29K
Hard to see how any of this benefits Wisconsinites. Sensenbrenner's trips were paid for by many special interests, including the Hollywood Lobbyists (Sensenbrenner's committee has jurisdiction on copyright issues).
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:51 PM

April 28, 2005

Microsoft's Black Box for Windows

Yet another reason to move off of Microsoft Windows:
In a move that could rankle privacy advocates, Microsoft said Monday that it is adding the PC equivalent of a flight data recorder to the next version of Windows, in an effort to better understand and prevent computer crashes.

The tool will build on the existing Watson error-reporting tool in Windows but will provide Microsoft with much deeper information, including what programs were running at the time of the error and even the contents of documents that were being created. Businesses will also choose whether they want their own technology managers to receive such data when an employee's machine crashes.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:39 AM

April 16, 2005

Microsoft's Palladium Lives - Part of "Longhorn" - next Windows

Mary Jo Foley on Microsoft's plans to restrict your rights on the next PC you purchase.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:14 PM

April 13, 2005

Lexis/Nexis: Data on 310,000 People Stolen


An investigation by the firm's Anglo-Dutch parent Reed Elsevier determined that its databases had been fraudulently breached 59 times using stolen passwords, leading to the possible theft of personal information such as addresses and Social Security numbers.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

April 10, 2005

Losing your Medical Records the Old Fashioned Way

Scott Simon:

In Cleveland, thousands of confidential hospital records went flying when they fell off the back of a truck. The Cleveland Clinic says it will try to contact all who may have been affected by the lost documents.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:02 AM

April 9, 2005

Lessig & Tweedy: The Right to Rip, Mix & Burn

David Carr Larry Lessig & Wilco's Jeff Tweedy spoke at the NY Public Library last week:
The tickets for the event Thursday sold out in five minutes on the Internet, and on the evening itself the lines stretched down the block. The reverent young fans might as well have been holding cellphones aloft as totems of their fealty.

Then again, this was the New York Public Library, a place of very high ceilings and even higher cultural aspirations, so the rock concert vibe created some dissonance. Inside, things became clearer as two high priests of very different tribes came together to address the question of "Who Owns Culture?" - a discussion of digital file-sharing sponsored by Wired magazine, part of a library series called "Live From the NYPL."

Both Jeff Tweedy, the leader of the fervently followed rock band Wilco, and Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford University law professor who has opposed criminalizing file sharing, seemed to agree that just about anybody who owns a modem also owns - or at least has every right to download - culture products.
Audio archive is available on Wilco's web site.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:27 AM

Sensenbrenner & The Patriot Act Renewal

Craig Gilbert:

Most of the debate involves a handful of the new powers, such as government access to personal records from medical offices, libraries and businesses.

Sensenbrenner suggested that most of the 16 temporary powers could be made permanent, but that a few would remain subject to a sunset, or expiration date.

"I think it's evident . . . there's not going to be a repeal of the sunset," Sensenbrenner said, referring to the fact that even some Republicans on his committee oppose making all the expiring provisions permanent.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:02 AM

Top Big Brother Picks

Joanna Glasner:

Two major data brokers, a California elementary school and Google's Gmail service are leading contenders for the Big Brother Awards -- a dubious prize spotlighting organizations with egregious privacy practices.

Award recipients will receive a statue of a golden boot stomping on a human head.

The nominees were among those on a list made public Wednesday by Privacy International, the British watchdog group that runs the annual U.S. Big Brother Awards. The group plans to announce winners on April 14.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:02 AM

Spend $2, Go to Jail

Steve Wozniak passes along a story about how some folks deal with the unfamiliar.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

April 7, 2005

Homeland Insecurity: Rosenzweig Chairman of DHS Privacy Board

Declan McCullagh:
The Department of Homeland Security's privacy board chose as its chairman Paul Rosenzweig, a conservative lawyer best known in technology circles for his defense of the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness project. Bowing to privacy concerns, Congress pulled the plug on the program two years ago. Nuala O'Connor Kelly, the department's chief privacy officer, nominated Rosenzweig for the job during the group's first meeting in a downtown hotel here. Rosenzweig is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former Justice Department trial attorney.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:28 AM

March 29, 2005

Armstrong's Notes on MGM vs Grokster

Timothy K. Armstrong:
I would say the argument went a little better for Grokster than I would have expected it to. Not to the point where I'd actually predict victory for them, but to my mind at least, the questions Grokster got were not as difficult as those MGM got. The big issue that the Justices were wrestling with, it seemed to me, is what the standard ought to be for deciding whether services like Grokster can be secondarily liable for their users' copyright infringement. The Justices did not sound especially satisfied with either MGM's or the government's answers to this question.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:52 PM

Big Brother, continued: Amazon Knows Who You Are & Will Sell the Data

AP has one potentially big advantage over its rival online retailers: It knows things about you that you may not know yourself.

Though plenty of companies have detailed systems for tracking customer habits, both critics and boosters say Amazon is the trailblazer, having collected information longer and used it more proactively. It even received a patent recently on technology aimed at tracking information about the people for whom its customers buy gifts.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

March 27, 2005

Cuban Funding MGM vs. Grokster

Mark Cuban, in a lengthy post on the landmark MGM vs. Grokster case discloses his financial support for the EFF (our rights - vs. the Hollywood Rent Seekers).

Useful Background at

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:02 AM

March 21, 2005

What Price Trusted PC Security?

Bill Thompson:

Because the trusted computing base is also used to make digital rights management systems more secure, this will give content providers a lot more control over what we can do with music, movies and books that we have bought from them.
Slashdot discussion.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

March 19, 2005

Microsoft's New Internet Ad Product: Selling Your Information

Dan Fost:
The new tool will allow advertisers to buy not just keywords but also the demographics of the person searching on those keywords.

MSN can do that most effectively when the search is conducted by a registered user who has already provided some personal details to the site. MSN attracts more than 380 million unique users worldwide per month.
This means that MSN, Hotmail and other Microsoft property users search & click data is aggregated, then sold to advertisers.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:57 AM

March 18, 2005

Better Bad News

Better Bad News summarizes the commentary around Google's AutoLink (adlink) toolbar (which places google links on top of pages you view and phones your activity home). Quite funny and direct!
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:06 AM

March 17, 2005

Beatallica: Milwaukee-based parody band & the music wars

Xeni Jardin:

On the NPR program "Day to Day" today, I report on Beatallica, the Milwaukee-based parody band known for Metallica-infused covers of Beatles songs. As reported previously here on Boing Boing, Sony Music accused them of violating copyright laws, demanded that their webmaster pay "unspecified damages," and forced the band's ISP to shut down their website.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

March 11, 2005

BootFinder & Carjacking

New Haven city marshals, armed with a new tool that photographs auto license plates and instantly matches them against a tax scofflaw database, had towed Byers' car right out of his driveway.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:50 AM

March 10, 2005

Choicepoint files found riddled with errors

Bob Sullivan:

Pierce said she felt an uneasy twinge in her stomach as she began to flip the pages. A dozen former addresses were listed, along with neighbors and their phone numbers. Almost 20 people were listed as relatives -- and their neighbors were listed, too. There were cars she supposedly owned, businesses she supposedly worked for.

But the more closely she looked, the more alarmed she became: The report was littered with mistakes.

ChoicePoint, the now embattled database giant, aggregates data from hundreds of sources on millions of Americans. The reports are then sold to thousands of companies and government agencies that want to know more about their clients, customers, or employees.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:02 AM

Mossberg on Google's Autolink

Steve Rubel summarizes Walt Mossberg's comments on Google's AutoLink/Adlink toolbar.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

March 8, 2005

Better Bad News Show on Google's Autolink (or Adlink)

Well done! Check it out and send the link around.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:02 AM

March 6, 2005

Google's Sergey Brin: Being Evil?

Sergey Brin, Google's co-founder famously talked about not "being evil". Google's new Autolink ("AdLink") unfortunately is evil.... Technorati | Dave Winer. Don't use Google's Toolbar.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:32 AM

ChoicePoint Identity Theft Saga Continues

Robert O'Harrow, Jr digs further into the Choicepoint mess:

But the man's call last fall was different, according to a detective's description of the encounter and testimony presented in a later court hearing. Unknown to ChoicePoint, the caller was not Garrett, an actor in the Los Angeles area. Police said he was a con artist involved in a vast identity-theft scam that succeeded in making off with records of at least 145,000 people. The real Garrett was just another victim.

The imposter's attempt to gain access to even more files would not only expose the scam, but spark a national outrage and congressional hearings over whether the nation's growing commercial data industry is doing enough to guard personal information.

Here's how the scam worked.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

March 2, 2005

Choicepoint's Chief Information Security Officer on Their "Hack"

Bruce Schneier on the recent choicepoint fiasco (and the company's spin).

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

March 1, 2005

Another Attack on the Freedom to Connect

Cory Doctorow:

Telus began blocking selected Internet connection to home computers. The blocking is invisible to most users, but all it takes is a cruise around message boards frequented by tech-savvy usersor a chat with a local geekto know that Telus high-speed service isnt what it used to be . . . Blocked ports include those used to listen for incoming email, FTP (file transfer), Telnet (remote login), and Internet Relay Chat client traffic, as well as incoming World Wide Web connections. Users can access other servers providing those services, but cannot provide them from their own computers. In other words, a Telus customer can be a client, but not a server.
I emailed Mayor Dave seeking to insure that Madison's forthcoming WiFi service will be fully, 2-way...

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:03 AM

February 28, 2005


Doc Searls has a useful post on brandjacking.

I no longer keep, much less answer, email from my bank (which, to keep from making things worse, I won't name). Nor from any other bank. Nor from eBay or PayPal.

Except for their Web sites, all those companies have had their brands hijacked on the Net by Phishers and Pharmers.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

February 24, 2005

More on ChoicePoint Identity Theft Victims

Verne Kopytoff visits with some of the Choicepoint victims.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:52 AM

Dept of Homeland (in)Security Adds a Spyware Guy to their Advisory & Integrity Committee

One would think this is from the Onion, but, in fact, it's true. Slashdot discussion.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:41 AM

February 23, 2005

Google: Doing Evil to its users

Google, a company with a philosophy that includes: #6: "You can make money without doing evil". is now, doing just that with:
  • AutoLink: Google modifies publisher content via their toolbar in Windows Internet Explorer (simple answer - don't), making it look like original links. Dave Winer dives in and explains the issues. John Robb points out googles strategic error.
  • The Google toolbar phones home with every page you land on, and tattles to Google what you're looking at, while offering up your globally-unique Google cookie ID that expires in 2038.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:38 AM

February 20, 2005

ID Theft & ChoicePoint Imbroglio

"We regret to inform you that your identity has been stolen. We hope this does not cause an inconvenience." Robert O'Harrow, Jr:
Earlier this week, ChoicePoint officials said the records of about 35,000 people in California may have been disclosed. But yesterday, the company said the scope of the scheme is probably much wider than it originally reported. Company officials said they were sending out more letters to 110,000 addresses throughout the country that may be connected to the reports delivered to the fraudsters.

"We have reason to believe your personal information may have been obtained by unauthorized third parties, and we deeply regret any inconvenience this event may cause you," the letters say.

Authorities said the number of records involved may go higher as the investigation continues. "This is way far more reaching," said Los Angeles Sheriff's Department Lt. Robert Costa, commander of an identity theft unit. "I believe that when we're done it will be more than a half million nationally. It's huge."
I ran into Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenshlager at the Winter Farmer's Market and mentioned that only California apparently has a law requiring notification of identity theft.... It's long past time for Wisconsin to act.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:25 AM

The Best Law Money can Buy

Susan Crawford on the broadcast flag absurdity.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:51 AM

Richard Stallman: Bill Gates & Other Communists

Stallman correctly takes Gates to task for his support of software patents (which are a very bad thing - Gates was against them in 1991. Now that the game is changing, he is of course for them).
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:50 AM

February 18, 2005

Microsoft's Free Anti-Spyware: What does it really cost?

Joel has some useful comments on Microsoft's latest attack on other software companies: "free" antispyware software. Wiping out the competition surely opens up a can of worms (I agree with Joel that it is highly unlikely that Microsoft will truly wipe out your spyware - especially when a friendly media conglomerate has paid to put it on your vulnerable pc).
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:11 PM

February 17, 2005

Garbage Survellience

Hugh Muir:
Though he foresaw many ways in which Big Brother might watch us, even George Orwell never imagined that the authorities would keep a keen eye on your bin.

Residents of Croydon, south London, have been told that the microchips being inserted into their new wheely bins may well be adapted so that the council can judge whether they are producing too much rubbish.

If the technology suggests that they are, errant residents may be visited by officials bearing advice on how they might "manage their rubbish more effectively".
I wonder if Madison's forthcoming trash bins include this "feature"?
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:38 AM

February 16, 2005

Consumer Database Giant Gives Personal Information to Fake Firms

Bob Sullivan:

Criminals posing as legitimate businesses have accessed critical personal data stored by ChoicePoint Inc., a firm that maintains databases of background information on virtually every U.S. citizen, has learned.

The incident involves a wide swath of consumer data, including names, addresses, Social Security numbers, credit reports and other information. ChoicePoint aggregates and sells such personal information to government agencies and private companies.

California is the only state that requires these personal data mining firms to notify people who have had their information compromised. I wonder where our political leaders stand on this?

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:02 AM

Richard Stallman on Bill Gates & Patents

Interesting look at Bill Gates view of patents in 1991 and today.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

February 15, 2005

T-Mobile Security Hack - Privacy, Please

Bruce Schneier on privacy in the internet era:

This is new. A dozen years ago, if someone wanted to look through your mail, they would have to break into your house.

Now they can just break into your ISP. Ten years ago, your voicemail was on an answering machine in your house; now it's on a computer owned by a telephone company. Your financial data is on Websites protected only by passwords. The list of books you browse, and the books you buy, is stored in the computers of some online bookseller. Your affinity card allows your supermarket to know what food you like. Data that used to be under your direct control is now controlled by others.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

February 11, 2005

Age Verification Technology

i-mature and RSA announced a partnership that uses bone scanning technology to determine a person's age:
The partnership will work towards a unique solution that would genuinely improve the safety of the Internet for children, by enabling both adult and children's sites to restrict their content more reliably to their appropriate audience.

i-Mature has developed an innovative technology that can determine, through a simple biometric bone-scanning test, whether a user is a child or an adult -- and thereby control access to Internet sites and content. AGR technology could help prevent children from accessing adult Internet sites and prevents adults from accessing children's sites and chat rooms.
Dave Farber has posted an extensive discussion of this topic here, here, here, here, here and here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:32 AM

February 10, 2005

Sensenbrenner Strikes again - H.R. 418: National ID Bill

From the taking away our rights to make us safer department, Wisconsin Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, assured of a safe seat, has introduced a National ID bill (H.R. 418). I wonder if any of his constituents understand or support this initiative.

We remember Sensenbrenner's earlier efforts on behalf of his Hollywood constituents...

How any of this benefits Wisconsin's citizens or economy is beyond me. Sensenbrenner is a poster boy for congressional redistricting reform.

Decland McCullagh forwarded this:
You will remember that late last year, Congress passed (and the President signed) legislation which starts us down the road to a National ID card. In the name of preventing alien terrorists from operating in this country, the so-called Intelligence Reform bill gave federal bureaucrats unprecedented new powers to force changes in state-issued driver's licenses -- including, possibly, the addition of computer chip technology that can facilitate the tracking of all U.S. citizens.

Now, the House will be debating new legislation, H.R. 418, that was recently introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI). In considering this bill, the U.S. House will vote on whether to empower the federal government to determine who can get a driver's license -- and under what conditions..
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:02 AM

Broadcast Flag will Kill Superbowl Commercial Parties

Hollywood takes away more fair use rights. Cory Doctorow:

Every year, EFF president Brad Templeton throws a special Superbowl party: they tivo the whole Superbowl, ignore the football, and watch the ads. This might be the last year that they get to do this, though: when the Broadcast Flag kicks in this summer, this kind of shenanigan will require hardware that's illegal to make and sell:

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

February 7, 2005

Microsoft Seeks Latitude/Longitude Patent

Slashdot discussion Microsoft's recent PTO office application for compact text encoding of latitude/longitude coordinates, in which the software giant explains how a floating-point number can also be represented as a less-precise integer that's displayed in base-30 notation!
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:36 PM

Photos Verboten: Chicago Publicly Financed Sculpture!

Cory Doctorow:

Chicago spent $270 million on its Millennium Park, placing a big public sculpture by Anish Kapoor in the middle of it, bought with public money. Woe betide any member of the public who tries to photograph this sculpture, though: it's a copyrighted sculpture and Chicago is spending even more money policing Chicagoans who try to photograph it and make a record of what their tax-dollars bought.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

February 6, 2005

Losing Control of Your PC - Thanks to Dell

Paul Biggar:
It seems that horrible day has come when my computer will no longer truly be mine. Since about 2000 we've heard about Palladium and Trusted Computing waiting in the wings for the day that I can no longer trust my computer, and my computer demands that it can trust me. Digital Rights (restrictions) Management means that you can no longer play media which is not yours. Or, in its current implementation, you cannot use something which you have bought, in a way which you are legally entitled to play it, because the content owners do not wish it. Once Dell and others start shipping these chips, and Windows provides for it, then everything must be DRM, and non-DRM applications and hardware are rendered useless.
What can you do? Support the EFF and perhaps, buy a mac while it's still open.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:35 AM

February 2, 2005

EFF: Is Big Brother Watching the Internet Without a Warrant?

The EFF filed a FOIA request yesterday with the FBI and other offices of the US DOJ regarding expanded powers granted by the USA PATRIOT Act. The EFF is making the request in an attempt to find out whether or not Section 216 is being used to monitor web browsing without a warrant. The DOJ has already stated they can collect email and IP addresses, but has not been forthcoming on the subject of URL addresses. It seems the EFF is seeking any documentation to confirm such activity is taking place. One can only hope the automated FOIA search doesn't produce any false negatives or cost the EFF $372,999."
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:34 AM

January 30, 2005

EFF: Endangered Gizmos

The Electronic Freedom Foundation is making a list of technologically advanced, otherwise desirable gizmos threatened by folks who don't understand that intellectual property protections are supposed to spur innovation, not suppress it. Support the EFF. Via Virginia Postrel.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:30 AM

January 29, 2005

Safeway Shopper Card Leads to Arson Arrest

Richard Smith summarizes the story of a Tukwila, Washington firefighter - Philip Scott Lyons. Lyons, a Safeway loyalty cardholder was arrested last August and charged with attempted arson:
According to the KOMO-TV and the Seattle Times, a major piece of evidence used against Lyons in his arrest was the record of his supermarket purchases that he made with his Safeway Club Card. Police investigators had discovered that his Club Card was used to buy fire starters of the same type used in the arson attempt.

For Lyons, the story did have a happy ending. All charges were dropped against him in January 2005 because another person stepped forward saying he set the fire and not Lyons. Lyons is now back at work after more than 5 months of being on administrative leave from his firefighter job.

The moral of this story is that even the most innocent database can be used against a person in a criminal investigation turning their lives completelyupside down.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

January 24, 2005

Government Weather Data: Must We Pay Twice?

James Fallows takes a look at the intersection of public (taxpayer funded) and private (business) interests, specifically, weather data that we've already paid for. Some businesses, who have made a living recycling that data, would like to continue their gatekeeper role. [We have examples of this in Madison. Access Dane offers "subscription" access to data that we've already paid for]. Here's a clip from Fallows article. Read it all.
some of the most significant innovations have been made where public and private efforts touch. In its first term, the Bush team made a few important pro-technology choices. Over the next year it will signal whether it intends to stand by them. There is a long historical background to the administration's choices, plus a variety of recent shifts and circumstances. The history stretches to the early days of the republic, and the idea that government-sponsored research in science and technology could bolster private business growth. Progress in farming, led by the land-grant universities, demonstrated this concept in the 19th century. Sputnik-era science, culminating in the work that led to the Internet, did the same in the 20th century.
Open source weather is available here. Create your own weather site using the NOAA's xml web service.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

Your Papers Please

Cory Doctorow relates an odd and disturbing experience while travelling from London to Dallas on American Airlines. Ryan Singel contacts AA and receives this response.... Singel operates a useful blog - secondary screening.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

January 21, 2005

Sony admits their attempt to lock us in a box failed: DRM

Sony's non mp3 support in it's portable audio devices was a mistake, they now admit. Yuri Kageyama:
Ken Kutaragi, president of Sony Computer Entertainment, said he and other Sony employees had been frustrated for years with management's reluctance to introduce products like Apple's iPod, mainly because the Sony had music and movie units that were worried about content rights.

But Sony's divisions were finally beginning to work together and share a common agenda, Mr Kutaragi said at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Tokyo.
Well, duh. Most of these DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) schemes will fail. Slashdot discussion.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:32 AM

DRM is not binary

Tristan Louis takes a useful look at DRM (digital rights/restrictions management):

What I am trying to highlight is that while proponents and opponents of DRM solutions both see the world in black and white, they may want to start a dialogue and realize that there's a lot of gray areas out there.
Via Doc Searls.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

January 14, 2005

Investors supporting spyware

Ben Edelman's page is a great example of the internet's enormous "power to the people" potential. Edelman lists the firms producing spyware along with their investors. Check it out. Wikipedia:

Strictly defined, spyware consists of computer software that gathers and reports information about a computer user without the user's knowledge or consent. More broadly, the term spyware can refer to a wide range of related malware products which fall outside the strict definition of spyware. These products perform many different functions, including the delivery of unrequested advertising (pop-up ads in particular), harvesting private information, re-routing page requests to illegally claim commercial site referral fees, and installing stealth phone dialers.
Clusty fat link: spyware.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

January 9, 2005

Our Rights: Television Liberation


Today, you can use any device you like with your television: VCR, TiVo, DVD recorder, home theater receiver, or a PC combining these functions and more. A year from now, when the FCC's broadcast flag mandate [PDF] takes effect, some of those capabilities will be forbidden.

Responding to pressure from Hollywood, the FCC has adopted a rule requiring future digital television (DTV) tuners to include "content protection" (aka DRM) technologies. Starting next year, all makers of HDTV receivers must build their devices to watch for a broadcast "flag" embedded in programs by copyright holders. When it comes to digital recording, it'll be Hollywood's DRM way or the highway. Want to burn that recording digitally to a DVD to save hard drive space? Sorry, the DRM lock-box won't allow it. How about sending it over your home network to another TV? Not unless you rip out your existing network and replace it with DRMd routers. Kind of defeats the purpose of getting a high definition digital signal, doesn't it?

Read this review of the EyeTV 500 HD (High Definition) TV Tuner/Recorder.

Posted by James Zellmer at 4:56 PM

January 8, 2005

Wisconsin Open Records: Bill Leuders on AG Peg Lautenschlager's support

Isthmus news editor Bill Leuders writes about Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager's strong support for our open records rights:

Last spring, the newspaper I work for had a problem obtaining some public records from Madison schools. Officials demanded that we first send a check for $613.08 to cover the costs they expected to incur reviewing the records and deciding what information to black out.

These costs put the records effectively beyond our reach. Worse, I knew from my involvement with the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council that this was part of a much larger problem. Throughout the state, records custodians were seizing on some loose language in a 2002 Supreme Court case to justify charging exorbitant fees designed to thwart records requests.

I asked state Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager for an opinion on this practice. Her office reviewed the matter and in short order issued an unequivocal opinion stating that Open Records Law does not permit such costs. Custodians may charge only for copies and in some cases for the cost of locating records.

It was a major win for the cause of openness in Wisconsin, one of many on which Lautenschlager has played a role. Indeed, in my opinion, no one in Wisconsin has done more to preserve the public's right to know.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

January 6, 2005

Bill Gates CES Meltdown

It's interesting to compare this simple legacy media press release framed as an article with a very different perspective [Lessig | Boing Boing] on Gates Las Vegas comments regarding our fair use rights (he essentially sides with the hollywood cartels). Slashdot discussion. Bottom line - don't do Windows.

A bit more research (a few seconds on google) and we have Bill Gates in 1991:

"If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today"
Thanks to Jeff Keltner for that pointer.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:14 PM

December 28, 2004

Top Ten Privacy Resolutions for 2005

EPIC just published their top 10 privacy resolutions for 2005. Very worthwhile reading. In a related development, EFF has released TOR, a software tool that bounces internet communications around "onion routers", which makes it hard for people to track your online activity.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

December 23, 2004

Telecom Advocacy Site: Consumer's Union

Consumers Union has released a new telecommunications and media online resource: Check it out. Consumer tips on what to do before you buy, understanding your bills after and making companies listen when you are unhappy (from phone services to copyright rules on digital content).

Posted by James Zellmer at 4:32 PM

December 16, 2004

USPS Kiosk Takes Your Photo

"According to FOIA documents obtained by EPIC new Postal Service self-service postage machines take portrait-style photographs of customers and retain them for 30 days." IBM is the contractor behind the kiosks. Note that the kiosk is supposed to not complete the transaction if it determines the photograph has been compromised, so simply covering the camera is unlikely to work. As the cost of cameras and digital storage approaches zero, is it inevitable that every machine you interact with will take your photograph and store it? Via Slashdot.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:04 PM

Duke's 2 minute short copyright movies

Duke's law school recently ran a contest that asked entrants to create short films demonstrating some of the tensions between art and intellectual property law, and the intellectual property issues artists face, focusing on either music or documentary film. Take a look here. Via Cory Doctorow.

Posted by James Zellmer at 1:05 AM

November 27, 2004

Opening the Do Not Call List to Phone Spam

Lance Gay:

The agency overseeing the national Do Not Call Registry is considering opening a loophole to allow companies to deliver 'pre-recorded message telemarketing.' The effort is being organized by Allen Hile of the FTC's division of marketing practice. Be sure to let the FTC know how you feel about it.
Via Slashdot.

Posted by James Zellmer at 5:07 PM

November 23, 2004

Color Laser Printers Add Hidden ID to Prints

Jason Tuohey:

Next time you make a printout from your color laser printer, shine an LED flashlight beam on it and examine it closely with a magnifying glass. You might be able to see the small, scattered yellow dots printer there that could be used to trace the document back to you.

According to experts, several printer companies quietly encode the serial number and the manufacturing code of their color laser printers and color copiers on every document those machines produce. Governments, including the United States, already use the hidden markings to track counterfeiters.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

November 20, 2004

The Slippery Slope to Censorship

Scott Simon comments on the 65 ABC stations who decided not to broadcast Saving Private Ryan.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:28 PM

November 19, 2004

McCain Fights for Our Rights - Are Kohl & Feingold MIA?

I wonder how our Senators (Feingold & Kohl) respond when the MPAA and RIAA lobbyists stop by? Do they think about our fair use rights, like John McCain? McCain put a stop to H.R. 4077 because of valid concerns about whether the freedoms it granted (to enable parents to filter "smut" from films) would be read to deny fair use in other cases (note that the MPAA and RIAA are masters of wrapping their rent taking strategies in the flag). Via Lessig

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:02 AM

Gartenberg on DRM

Michael Gartenberg takes a look at Digital Restrictions Management (DRM):

The issue of DRM has been raised again in recent weeks when Apple broke a popular utility that allowed users to bypass the DRM built into the iPod and allowed copying from the iPod to a PC. Consumers, the argument goes, are against any DRM for their media and will not buy protected music.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

November 17, 2004

Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl on the Induce Legislation

I received a belated response today to an inquiry I made to Senator Kohl's Washington Office on the Leahy/Hatch Induce Act (Kohl sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held a hearing on the bill this past July).

The Senator's thin response leaves me disappointed in several ways:

  • Kohl uses the term "piracy" which Hollywood has artfully used to try and kill all fair use rights (except, as the Professor says, the right to hire a lawyer). Let's think about Wisconsin constituents interests. I can't imagine a vote for the Hollywood Lobby in any way benefits Badger residents.

  • He does not take a position on a bill which would outlaw the iPod and similar music players. I find that strange.

  • The Copyright Cartel is going for the big score and trying to ram a copyright reform act through the lame duck Congress. I would like to see the Senator take a citizen friendly position on fair use rights. Perhaps he should try some podcasts...
His letter can be read by clicking the link below.

November 16, 2004

Mr. James Zellmer

Dear Mr. Zellmer:

Thank you for taking the time to get back in touch with me. I appreciate hearing from you. I apologize for the delay in my response, and I would like to take this opportunity to address your concerns.

As you know, S. 2560, the "Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act" (INDUCE), was introduced by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) on June 22, 2004. This bill addresses growing concerns with piracy and the protection of intellectual property rights. This legislation would target copyright infringement associated with peer to peer software by creating a new offense for intentional inducement to cause copyright infringement.

The INDUCE Act has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which I am member. The committee held a hearing on July 22, 2004 entitled, "Protecting Innovation and Art while Preventing Piracy." After extended negotiations on the bill, a suitable compromise that protected copyright holders, but that did not stifle innovation has not yet been reached. Please be assured, I will keep your views in mind as I work with my colleagues to find a solution to growing concerns about piracy and intellectual property rights while also considering the implications of this legislation on current infringement laws.

Again, thank you for contacting me. I appreciate knowing your views on this important issue.


Herb Kohl
U.S. Senator

Please do not reply to this message; to make further comments or to find additional information, please visit my web site at

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

November 15, 2004

Data Mining & Wal-Mart

Constance L. Hays takes a look at Wal-Marts massive customer/product database.

URRICANE FRANCES was on its way, barreling across the Caribbean, threatening a direct hit on Florida's Atlantic coast. Residents made for higher ground, but far away, in Bentonville, Ark., executives at Wal-Mart Stores decided that the situation offered a great opportunity for one of their newest data-driven weapons, something that the company calls predictive technology.

A week ahead of the storm's landfall, Linda M. Dillman, Wal-Mart's chief information officer, pressed her staff to come up with forecasts based on what had happened when Hurricane Charley struck several weeks earlier. Backed by the trillions of bytes' worth of shopper history that is stored in Wal-Mart's computer network, she felt that the company could "start predicting what's going to happen, instead of waiting for it to happen," as she put it.

The experts mined the data and found that the stores would indeed need certain products - and not just the usual flashlights. "We didn't know in the past that strawberry Pop-Tarts increase in sales, like seven times their normal sales rate, ahead of a hurricane," Ms. Dillman said in a recent interview. "And the pre-hurricane top-selling item was beer."

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

November 10, 2004

Wildstrom responds

Stephen Wildstrom emailed me his comments regarding my post on electronic music distribution formats and proprietary digital rights management tools (ie, limiting our fair use rights):

Actually, WMA/Janus is no more or less proprietary than AAC/FairPlay, except that Microsoft owns both the format and the DRM, while with AAC, Dolby owns the format and Apple owns the DRM. WMA and AAC are both freely licensable, the former from Microsoft, the latter through the MPEG-4 patent pool.

I don't want to rescue anyone from FairPlay. It's a perfectly fine DRM as DRMs go. I just think Apple has to open it, in the sense of licensing to all comers, if they really want to compete.

In writing the piece, I had no intention of getting into the virtues of DRM. Mostly that was because I just didn't have space, but partly it's because if we want digital content that is, like the overwhelming bulk of stuff that people seem to want, controlled by movie studios and record companies, we're going to have to put up with DRM. With all respect to Prof. Lessig, his view of fair use seems to be based more on wishful thinking than law. And while there is some attraction to Creative Commons as a concept, I haven't seen a rush of artists--at least not those who expect to get paid--to it.

INDUCE, by the way, did not pass and is dead for this year. I think it will be a lot tougher next year because the tech industry, which bizarrely let Microsoft take a leadership position on the bill, has woken up. Microsoft claimed that it had the backing of all the companies in the business software alliance, but they seem to have avoided asking Intel, which is staunchly opposed. Even within Microsoft, the company's backing for INDUCE, which seems to be driven by the legal department, is very controversial. It will be interesting to see if Microsoft joins a flock of tech companies that are filing amicus briefs opposing the MPAA's petition for a write of certiorari in the Grokster case.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:59 PM

Stephen Wildstrom: Microsoft to the Rescue???

Stephen Wildstrom argues, incorrectly - that Microsoft will ride to the rescue and "save us" from incompatible music formats (Apple uses a format called Fairplay, Microsoft uses a proprietary format called Janus, while RealPlayer's is Helix and Sony's is known as ATRAC). All of these formats include DRM (digital restrictions management): software techniques to limit our fair use rights.The very last thing we need is for Microsoft to own the electronic music distribution format. Who can forget their famous statement vis a vis Netscape "Cut off their air supply". A Microsoft controlled music format means no more MP3's which are playable on a very wide variety of devices.

Wildstrom should listen to and understand Larry Lessig's recent Bloggercon session. Microsoft worked with Orrin Hatch (a formerly hostile senator) to push the absurd Induce Act through congress, further eroding our rights (but for, as Lessig says, the right to hire a lawyer). Anyone with a clear understanding of Microsoft's history with proprietary formats and API's would not support their controlling electronic music distribution. Make no mistake, there's a real battle going on and presently Apple is winning (the iPod still plays MP3's....)

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

Best Buy: Devil Patrons...

Kurt MacKey on Best Buy's attempt to use technology to weed out their least profitable customers:

dage "the customer is always right" goes, Best Buy doesn't buy it. The massive retailer is being vocal about something that at first might sound a little uncouth: frankly, they'd rather not have 20% of their customers as customers. In an age where it seems like everyone casts their nets as wide as possible to bring in more eyes, feet, and wallets, Best Buy is doing the opposite. They believe that a small portion of their customers are bad for business, and they're looking to shut them out. Of course, Best Buy loves their "angel" customers who buy things regardless of price, and load up on high ticket items. The problem is that the details are about the devils.

The devils are its worst customers. They buy products, apply for rebates, return the purchases, then buy them back at returned-merchandise discounts. They load up on "loss leaders," severely discounted merchandise designed to boost store traffic, then flip the goods at a profit on eBay. They slap down rock-bottom price quotes from Web sites and demand that Best Buy make good on its lowest-price pledge. "They can wreak enormous economic havoc," says Mr. Anderson.

Some see this as Best Buy trying to "have its cake and eat it too," by wanting to keep rebates, loss leaders, and massive promotions going, but exclude those who make routine use of them.

Slashdot discussion.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

November 9, 2004

Under the Hood - With Big Brother

Bob Gritzinger on Orwell's 1984 paranoia made real in our cars:

Someday itll happen, probably when you least expect it. Just as you countersteer while drifting out of a tight corner, or after you punch the brakes hard, youll hear the mechanically animated female voice emanating from your cars audio system:

Collision detected. Calling OnStar.

You need not be anywhere close to a collision, really. For our road test team this summer, it was just a matter of running a routine slalom in a Chevy Malibu Maxxwithout so much as hitting a rubber conewhen OnStar called to check up on our drivers health.

If youre anything like us, it wont be until after youve explained to the distant helper that you didnt have an accident, the airbags did not deploy, and you dont need assistance, that youll begin to experience an uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach.

Howd they know that you were driving like that? What else do they know? And who else knows?

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

November 8, 2004

Best Law Money Can Buy - Lessig @ Bloggercon IP Discussion

Click to view additional Bloggercon photos.

Larry Lessig opened Bloggercon with a useful statement:

In normal times, people come to univerisities to learn things, these are extraordinary times: Universities (such as) Chicago, Harvard, Northwestern don't have a clue - we need to go out and find things, bring people here who are doing interesting things. (I'm paraphrasing)

I had the great pleasure of participating in his lively Law section. Lessig provided a very useful overview, including a color coded slide of the current copyright morass and mentioned Creative Commons as an alternative universe for creative folks. He also mentioned that our "fair use" rights from the RIAA/MPAA perspective generally means that we have the right to hire a lawyer (!). The session also included some very informative comments from Hummer Winblad's Hank Berry, an active participant in the Washington lobbying wars, including the recent induce act madness.

Berry mentioned the following points (check out the video (127MB - about 60% of the session) and listen to the forthcoming mp3's for more details)

  • Utah Senator Orrin Hatch visited Microsoft 3 weeks before he, along with Vermont Democrat Pat Leahy introduced the induce act (I find this rather ironic as Hatch was a proponent of breaking up Microsoft).
  • Yahoo evidently refused to discuss the bill, which killed it. Hank said that this was the first time a Silicon Valley firm refused to deal with the RIAA/MPAA folks (kudos to yahoo)
  • We also discussed the WinTel "trusted computing" - an oxymoron - scheme. A number of folks expressed concerns that Microsoft and Apple could pull the plug on MP3 support via a software update and thereby kill fair mp3 use.....
Lots of great stuff at Bloggercon. Kudos to Dave Winer for making it happen.

Later: I asked Larry: how do you like the west or east coast approach (He was at Harvard before)? "This is better, people talk..." (vis a vis harvard, nw, chicago, etc.)

9.4MB MP3 | 127MB Quicktime

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

November 6, 2004

MPAA Sues their Customers...

Dan Glickman, a former politician and ag secretary from Kansas, is now running the MPAA (motion picture association of america). Glickman is kicking off his reign with a series of lawsuits against movie downloaders. Via Slashdot.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:26 AM

October 22, 2004

Passports, Please (RFID Only)

Ryan Singel:

New U.S. passports will soon be read remotely at borders around the world, thanks to embedded chips that will broadcast on command an individual's name, address and digital photo to a computerized reader.

The State Department hopes the addition of the chips, which employ radio frequency identification, or RFID, technology, will make passports more secure and harder to forge, according to spokeswoman Kelly Shannon.

The reason we are doing this is that it simply makes passports more secure," Shannon said. "It's yet another layer beyond the security features we currently use to ensure the bearer is the person who was issued the passport originally."

But civil libertarians and some technologists say the chips are actually a boon to identity thieves, stalkers and commercial data collectors, since anyone with the proper reader can download a person's biographical information and photo from several feet away.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:03 AM

October 19, 2004

Disney reaps what it sows

Cory Doctorow:

Disney's being sued by a kids' hospital that has the rights to the Peter Pan novels. The hospital says that the 1998 Sonny Bono term-extension (a law that Disney bought in order to ensure that its earliest cartoons didn't enter the public domain) covers the Peter Pan stories and so Disney owes it royalties on a sequel that a publishing subsidiary put out. Disney says that the law doesn't cover the Pan books -- and that it should know, since it paid for that law! -- and now they're going to court.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:25 AM

October 17, 2004

Total Information Awareness Goes Offshore

Robert O'Harrow Jr:

It began as one of the Bush administration's most ambitious homeland security efforts, a passenger screening program designed to use commercial records, terrorist watch lists and computer software to assess millions of travelers and target those who might pose a threat.

The system has cost almost $100 million. But it has not been turned on because it sparked protests from lawmakers and civil liberties advocates, who said it intruded too deeply into the lives of ordinary Americans. The Bush administration put off testing until after the election.

Now the choreographer of that program, a former intelligence official named Ben H. Bell III, is taking his ideas to a private company offshore, where he and his colleagues plan to use some of the same concepts, technology and contractors to assess people for risk, outside the reach of U.S. regulators, according to documents and interviews.

Bell's new employer, the Bahamas-based Global Information Group Ltd., intends to amass large databases of international records and analyze them in the coming years for corporations, government agencies and other information services. One of the first customers is information giant LexisNexis Group, one of the main contractors on the government system that was known until recently as the second generation of the Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-screening Program, or CAPPS II. The program is now known as Secure Flight.

This is not a big surprise. I'm sure we'll see more of it.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

October 14, 2004

FDA Approves Use of Chip in Patients

Diedtra Henderson:

Medical milestone or privacy invasion? A tiny computer chip approved Wednesday for implantation in a patient's arm can speed vital information about a patient's medical history to doctors and hospitals. But critics warn that it could open new ways to imperil the confidentiality of medical records.

The Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites) said Wednesday that Applied Digital Solutions of Delray Beach, Fla., could market the VeriChip, an implantable computer chip about the size of a grain of rice, for medical purposes.

With the pinch of a syringe, the microchip is inserted under the skin in a procedure that takes less than 20 minutes and leaves no stitches. Silently and invisibly, the dormant chip stores a code that releases patient-specific information when a scanner passes over it.

Barnaby Feder & Tom Zellmer

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

October 13, 2004

Biometric Iris Scanning Replaces Hotel Keys?


A Boston hotel called Nine Zero is using biometric iris scanning to replace room keys, allowing guests to gain access to their rooms with just a quick flash of the eyeball. Using a system from LG, first-time guests have a picture of their iris scanned, which is quickly encrypted to a hashed numeric code and the source image deleted (meaning they don't keep a copy of your iris on file, just the results a scan of your iris would provide). Because the data can be held on to indefinitely, returning guests can make reservations and gain access to their rooms without ever talking to a clerk, booking a room by email and getting their room number in response.

Posted by James Zellmer at 5:25 PM

Best Laws our tax Dollars can Buy

Nice to see US Attorney General John Ashcroft is busy addressing our most pressing legal needs: protecting Hollywood.

Ashcroft declares "most aggressive assault" on piracy in US history

At a press conference in Los Angeles today, Atttorney General John Ashcroft announced an expansion of Department of Justice powers to combat intellectual property theft. Some say the approach appears to be modeled after the war on drugs.

The U.S. Justice Department recommended a sweeping transformation of the nation's intellectual property laws, saying peer-to-peer piracy is a "widespread" problem that can be addressed only through more spending, more FBI agents and more power for prosecutors.

In an extensive report released Tuesday, senior department officials endorsed a pair of controversial copyright bills strongly favored by the entertainment industry that would criminalize "passive sharing" on file-swapping networks and permit lawsuits against companies that sell products that "induce" copyright infringement.

Link to Declan's story, Link to DoJ press release, Link to the lengthy report issued today by the DoJ's Task Force on Intellectual Property (PDF). More coverage at the LA Times: Link 1, Link 2

Via Boing Boing

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

October 8, 2004

Lessig MP3 on fair use....

Download the mp3 here.

Posted by James Zellmer at 1:16 AM

October 6, 2004

National ID Card?

Declan McCullagh:

Rep. David Dreier wants to force all Americans to carry a national ID card around with them. The California Republican is not about to describe his new bill in those terms, but that's the reality.

Dreier's legislation would prohibit employers from hiring people unless the job applicants first obtain new federal ID cards with their photograph, Social Security number and an "encrypted electronic strip" with additional information. Any employer who fails to comply faces hefty fines and prison terms of up to five years.

Dreier is smart enough to realize that these federal IDs would be immediately forged, so he takes the next step of linking them to an employment eligibility database that's queried by card readers whenever the ID is swiped. The employment database is required to include "all such data maintained by the Department of Homeland Security," combined with what the Social Security Administration has on file.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

October 4, 2004

iPod users are "thieves" - Microsoft's Ballmer

Andy McCue:

Billing Microsoft as the good guys and Apple the villains of the piece - at least as far as corporate America, rather than users, is concerned, Ballmer said: "Weve had DRM in Windows for years. The most common format of music on an iPod is 'stolen'."

"Part of the reason people steal music is money, but some of it is that the DRM stuff out there has not been that easy to use. We are going to continue to improve our DRM, to make it harder to crack, and easier, easier, easier, easier, to use," he said.

However, Ballmer conceded it isn't going to be an easy battle to win. "Most people still steal music," he said. "We can build the technology but there are still ways for people to steal music."

Microsoft would rather that we have only one choice - their DRM (Digital Restrictions Management Software). Learn more about DRM here.....

Posted by James Zellmer at 3:12 PM

October 2, 2004

Insecure Browsing

Andrew Chin on missed opportunities in US v Microsoft:

But freedom of contract is expressly limited by the antitrust laws. The courts therefore had authority to order Microsoft to license and distribute its software so as to offer a neutral choice of Web browser. Microsoft could easily have done so without undoing its programming innovations.

Instead, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals created a special antitrust immunity to license Windows and other "platform software" under contractual terms that destroy freedom of competition.

The security hazards that have resulted from Microsoft's unredressed actions are serious, and already being felt. Equally serious, but perhaps less tangible, is the D.C. Circuit's waste of judicial resources in issuing precedential opinions that fallaciously treat Microsoft's flagship software product as consisting of lines of code rather than intellectual property rights. The courts have missed a golden opportunity to affirm the freedom to compete in the information age.

Chin is an associate professor at the UNC School of Law and a former legal extern to Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, the trial judge in U.S. v. Microsoft.

Related Article on Microsoft's now dormant and flawed Internet Explorer browser. (use firefox)

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:15 AM

October 1, 2004

Insurance Discounts for Having Trips Tracked

Tom Scheck:

One car insurance company now offers discounts to drivers who allow the company to track when and how fast they drive electronically. Privacy advocates are worried that outside groups could eventually see that information.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:06 AM

September 29, 2004

NAB Death Star

Adam Curry:

Doc Searls has been following the iPodder explosion and points to a piece in Forbes about the history of the NAB and how they are succesfully regulating satellite radio out of business. It's going to get interesting when iPods are outlawed and assault rifles are legal.
Read more about the latest Hatch/Leahy absurdity, the Induce Act here. Will Senator Kohl also carry water for Hollywood? Kohl is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which meets to discuss the Induce Act on Thursday.

The Librarians are also against this bill.....

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:50 AM

September 27, 2004

Google Conforms to Chinese Censorship

Michael Liedtke:

Google Inc.'s recently launched news service in China doesn't display results from Web sites blocked by that country's authorities, raising prickly questions for an online search engine that has famously promised to "do no evil."

Dynamic Internet Technology Inc., a research firm striving to defeat online censorship, conducted tests that found Google omits results from the government-banned sites if search requests are made through computers connecting to the Internet in China.

Steered by an identical search request, computers with a United States connection retrieved results from the sites blocked by China.

"That's a problem because the Chinese people need to know there are alternative opinions from the Chinese government and there are many things being covered up by the government," said Bill Xia, Dynamic's chief executive. "Users expect Google to return anything on the Internet. That's what a search engine does."

Let Google know how you feel about their support of Chinese censorship:

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

September 25, 2004

Taxpayers get to pay Twice?

A number of government agencies are circumventing open public records access via fees or "National Security. The result is that we get to pay twice, or more (collection and management of information along with overlapping distribution costs). Here are some examples:

  • "subscription": Access Dane

  • The state's highest court will now decide a landmark public records case involving access to aerial reconnaissance photographs and maps of Greenwich, CT. The town maintains the images in a tightly kept database known as a geographic information system, which a judge declared to be public records last December. The Connecticut Supreme Court announced Monday that it will hear the town's appeal of that ruling, expediting the case by leap-frogging the state Appellate Court. The move virtually coincides with the third anniversary of the initial complaint in the case, which Greenwich resident and computer consultant Stephen Whitaker filed with the state Freedom Information Commission after the town denied his request for an electronic copy of the entire database for security and privacy reasons."
The Greenwich case is absurd. We (taxpayers) pay for all of this.... Via Slashdot.

Email Mayor Dave (mayor at madison dot com ) and County Exec Kathleen Falk (falk at and let them know your thoughts on taxpayer funded public records access.

Most importantly, support the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Protect your electronic rights.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:33 AM

September 23, 2004

"Free Access to Every Work of Creativity.. is a Better World"

David Weinberger:

[F]or one moment, I'd like you to perform an exercise in selective attention. Forget every other consideration even though they're fair and important considerations and see if you can acknowledge that a world in which everyone has free access to every work of creativity in the world is a better world. Imagine your children could listen to any song ever created anywhere. What a blessing that would be!

...We publish stuff that gets its meaning and its reality by being read, viewed or heard. An unpublished novel is about as meaningful and real as an imaginary novel. It needs its readers to be. But readers aren't passive consumers. We reimagine the book, we complete the vision of the book. Readers appropriate works, make them their own. Listeners and viewers, too. In making a work public, artists enter into partnership with their audience. The work succeeds insofar as the audience makes it their own, takes it up, understands it within their own unpredictable circumstances. It leaves the artist's hands and enters our lives. And that's not a betrayal of the work. That's its success. It succeeds insofar as we hum it, quote it, appropriate it so thoroughly that we no longer remember where the phrase came from. That's artistic success, although it's a branding failure.

Via Boing Boing

Related: Cory Doctorow's recent anti-DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) speech to Microsoft is now available in a PDF file:

In this transcript of a speech he gave at Microsoft's campus, Cory explains why DRM doesn't work, why DRM is bad for society, bad for business, bad for artists, and a bad move for Microsoft.
Related 2: I recently emailed Dave Black, General Manager of the UW's excellent WSUM radio station, complementing him on their "Student Section" sports talk show. I liked the fact that these student broadcasters, unlike many in the local sports media, are not 'homers" with respect to UW Football. I also urged him to post their shows online in a iPod friendly mp3 format. Note his comments on the restrictions that the Hollywood paid for DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) places on their ability to share locally produced shows. The right solution? Cut deals with local artists/clubs and route around the outage.

Dave Replied:

Thanks, Jim,

What a pleasure to hear your kind words. Glad you enjoy the show, it is one of my favorites.

I have forwarded your email to our sports director, Joe Haas. He will take it up with our webmaster to see how feasible. As you may or may not know, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act makes archiving on a site difficult when it includes any musical content (e.g., the songs they play during the breaks). We will do the best we can under the circumstances.

All the best and please keep listening,

Dave Black
General Manager
WSUM-FM 91.7
University of Wisconsin-Madison
602 State St #205
Madison, WI 53703
608-262-9542 (no sales calls, please)
gm at
visit our alumni organization at

Yet another example of the "best law money can buy approach" is before the Senate: the Leahy/Hatch sponsored Induce Act. I recently emailed Senator Kohl to express my opposition to this bill. His reply was not great. Let him know what you think. Russ Feingold and Tim Michels should also know what you think.

Posted by James Zellmer at 6:42 AM

September 21, 2004

Chicago's "Smart" Surveillance Cameras

Stephen Kinzer:

A highly advanced system of video surveillance that Chicago officials plan to install by 2006 will make people here some of the most closely observed in the world. Mayor Richard M. Daley says it will also make them much safer.

"Cameras are the equivalent of hundreds of sets of eyes," Mr. Daley said when he unveiled the new project this month. "They're the next best thing to having police officers stationed at every potential trouble spot."

Police specialists here can already monitor live footage from about 2,000 surveillance cameras around the city, so the addition of 250 cameras under the mayor's new plan is not a great jump. The way these cameras will be used, however, is an extraordinary technological leap.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:02 AM

September 18, 2004

Trusted Traveller?

Bruce Schneier on the DHS's "Trusted Traveller" Program:

IF YOU FLY OUT of Logan Airport and don't want to take off your shoes for the security screeners and get your bags opened up, pay attention. The US government is testing its "Trusted Traveler" program, and Logan is the fourth test airport. Currently, only American Airlines frequent fliers are eligible, but if all goes well the program will be opened up to more people and more airports.

Participants provide their name, address, phone number, and birth date, a set of fingerprints, and a retinal scan. That information is matched against law enforcement and intelligence databases. If the applicant is not on any terrorist watch list and is otherwise an upstanding citizen, he gets a card that allows him access to a special security lane. The lane doesn't bypass the metal detector or X-ray machine for carry-on bags, but it bypasses more intensive secondary screening unless there's an alarm of some kind.

Unfortunately, this program won't make us more secure. Some terrorists will be able to get Trusted Traveler cards, and they'll know in advance that they'll be subjected to less stringent security.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:54 AM

Patriot Act: 5 Legal Signs for your Librarian

Five Technically Legal Signs for Your Library

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

September 15, 2004

IP Extremists & Kerry: Lessig

Larry Lessig:

One of the exciting thing about the early days of the Democratic primary was that there was at least some debate about whether the Democratic Party would continue to be led by IP extremists. Some of the worst in IP came, after all, from the Clinton administration. Reflecting on that, many were hopeful wed see some new thinking. Many of the most passionate Deaniacs were eager to see new thinking on this issue. Senator Edwards addressed some of this on this blog.

Word now is that Bruce Lehman, former Assistant Secretary of Commerce, and Commissioner of Patents, is spreading the word that he is running IP policy on the Kerry campaign. In the scheme of extremists, few are more extreme. Of all the government Czars in our form of government, he proved himself to be most to be feared.

Yet another bit of depressing news, if true, from this extraordinarily important campaign.

Speaking of IP, the Gutenberg Project is publishing Scientific American e-zines that have entered the public domain. This is a useful article, from 1891 (!) on "The Business End of American Newspapers.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:48 AM

Secret Laws

Secret Hearings, trials without a defendant or defense attorneys? Right here, in the USA:

John Gilmore describes himself as "a civil libertarian millionaire eccentric." He has recently garnered headlines because he refuses to show ID when boarding airplanes and is suing the Justice department and Southwest Airlines for not allowing him to travel in the U.S. without "showing papers."

Some commentators, notably Hiawatha Bray at the Boston Globe don't have much sympathy:

"The idea that we should be wasting our time arguing over whether it's right to have to show ID before boarding a plane is too silly to deserve further discussion. I'm not trying to be rude; I just can't take you [Todd Pinkerton] seriously, or Mr. Gilmore either."

But Gilmore raised one deep concern in his foray against the Justice department: there appears to be a secret law that is being applied by the airlines, if not the TSA. What is the law? Who made it? How can I comply if I don't know what it is? In a democracy that believes in the rule of law, this has got to be troubling.

t Gilmore raised one deep concern in his foray against the Justice department: there appears to be a secret law that is being applied by the airlines, if not the TSA. What is the law? Who made it? How can I comply if I don't know what it is? In a democracy that believes in the rule of law, this has got to be troubling.

So, when the Ashcroft Justice Department demanded that the first hearing of the Gilmore case be held in secret, and that Gilmore and his attorneys be barred from it, things got even weirder, IMHO. This was beginning to sound like a proceeding from some totalitarian regime. The good news, in my opinion, is that the Court denied the DOJ motion.

- Chris Gulker

Memo to Republican Senate contender Tim Michels (running against incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold): The Patriot Act argument will not carry the day.....

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:44 AM

September 11, 2004

WPT Here and Now on the Patriot Act

Wisconsin Public Television's Here and Now ran a useful piece on the Patriot Act's local politics (Republican candidates for the US Senate are pressing incumbant Russ Feingold on his solo vote against it). 5.7MB Quicktime.

I frankly don't think this issue will make it for the Republicans. There are plenty of problems with the Patriot Act. More on the Senate Race here.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

September 10, 2004

Sensenbrenner Carries More Water for Hollywood; How does this benefit his Wisconsin Constituents?

Nice to see Republican Jim Sensenbrenner working hard to help our economic, education and health care concerns by carrying water for Hollywood....

Thwarted by the courts, copyright holders and their lobby groups, notably the Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA), have been forced to file "John Doe" suits against infringers. But HR.4077 brings the full power of the state to their aid:

The FBI will be required to serve as propaganda ministry, or in the words of the bill, "develop a program based on providing of information and notice to deter members of the public from committing acts of copyright infringement through the Internet," and enforcer.

The Feds must "facilitate the sharing among law enforcement agencies, Internet service providers, and copyright owners of information concerning acts of copyright infringement described in paragraph".

The chairman of the House Committee which nodded through the measure, Rep James Sensenbrenner (R.-Wis), was paid $18,000 by the Recording Industry Ass. of America to make a trip to Taiwan and Thailand in January 2003, a breach of the House ethics rules, say critics. [WaPo | Reg] Sensenbrenner said it was a "fact-finding mission", even though his schedule was arranged by the State Department.

But the distinction between State and corporate interests are now so close as to be indistinguishable.

This is all about killing our fair use rights AND trying to make the internet a one way pipe (ala cable tv). How this benefits Wisconsin residents is beyond me. Let Sensenbrenner know your thoughts on how his time is spent working hard for Wisconsin. More from the EFF.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:41 AM

September 8, 2004

Best Law Money Can Buy: House votes to support junk faxes!

Dan Gillmor:

In one of the most dishonestly named bills of all time, the House recently passed the "Junk Fax Prevention Act of 2004". The legislation would, in fact, open the floodgates for these intrusions into our lives.

The bill, S 2603, would allow anyone who's done any kind of business with you during the last seven years -- seven years! -- to send you faxes without getting your permission first. You would have to opt out each time.

The FCC's latest regulations, which proposed to tighten the current rules against junk faxes, were too much for corporate America and its marketing wizards who continue to invade every corner of our lives. Their power with Congress is far greater than yours, so far.

At least they could tell the truth, naming S 2603 the ``Junk Fax Enabling Act.''

Contact Tammy Baldwin and urge her to repeal this absurdity.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:52 PM

GPS used to spy on Detectives

Jacqueline Seibel:

Suspicious that his detectives were not hard at work solving the latest crimes in Muskego, Police Chief John Johnson spied on his own investigators using high-tech surveillance equipment usually used to keep tabs on drug dealers and gangbangers.

Secretly placing a global positioning system tracker in a squad car shared by the department's two detectives, police supervisors learned that the pair were driving to a tanning salon, shopping at the Geoffrey Beene Outlet Store in Kenosha County and running personal errands while on duty, according to reports released Tuesday.

This is not a new story, there have been previous examples of GPS (Global Positioning System) used to track rental car users among others.

Posted by James Zellmer at 6:13 AM

September 2, 2004

Piracy and Kool Aid

Ed Treleven unfortunately passes along some Hollywood Kool Aid regarding file sharing in this article.

I don't see any mention of our "fair use" rights in Treleven's article. It's clearly not right to copy thousands of copyright protected music files (read Janis Ian's take and Courtney Love Does the Math for a counter argument), however, file sharing has many legitimate uses, significantly reducing the distribution costs of public domain and permissively shared art and speech, as well as reducing the centralized control of that distribution," Judge Sidney R. Thomas in the recent Grokster case.

What's next, no photos at the National Constitution Center due to "copyright"?

Actually, it's worse than that. Democratic Senator Pat Leahy and Republic Orrin Hatch are carrying water for Hollywood by pushing the Induce Act.

Copyright Act (S.2560, Induce Act) would make it a crime to aid, abet, or induce copyright infringement. He want us all to think that the Induce Act is no big deal and that it only targets "the bad guys" while leaving "the good guys" alone. He says that it doesn't change the law; it just clarifies it.

He's wrong.

Right now, under the Supreme Court's ruling in Sony v. Universal (the Betamax VCR case), devices like the iPod and CD burners are 100% legal -- not because they aren't sometimes used for infringement, but because they also have legitimate uses. The Court in Sony called these "substantial non-infringing uses." This has been the rule in the technology sector for the last 20 years. Billions of dollars and thousands of jobs have depended on it. Industries have blossomed under it. But the Induce Act would end that era of innovation. Don't let this happen on your watch - tell your Senators to fight the Induce Act!

Senator Herb Kohl sits on the Judiciary Committee, which held hearings on the Induce Act July 22, 2002.

I've not seen Kohl take a position on this, so I emailed his office on August 3 and received a reply on 8/30/2004. Contact Senator Kohl and tell him to vote against this Hollywood give away.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

August 29, 2004

National Constitution Center: Photos Verboten!

Words fail me, today.

I took a number of photos during a visit to Philadelphia's generally well done National Constitution Center. Four times, I was told that neither photos, nor videos are allowed. I asked how it was that the National Constitution Center would prohibit photos or videos. A manager was called and told me that:

Some of the materials are copywritten and that flash photography could be harmful to documents. I agreed that most people don't know how to turn off their flash when shooting in AUTO mode, but I've visited many, many places where photography is permitted without a flash (including the Philadelphia Museum of Art).
My better half, Nancy whispered to me that today was not really the day to get "thrown out of the National Constitution Center". Perhaps I should not be so surprised, when I read things like this.
Eldred case & Mickey
WI Representatives
CA Representatives
Legal Books
Founding Fathers
George Soros
Touch Screen
Woody Guthrie
Linda Chavez
Voting is Power
There's also this: [pre-emptive interrogations - shades of Minority Report]

Posted by James Zellmer at 3:01 AM

August 25, 2004

Your tax dollars at work

Nice to see the DOJ carrying water for Hollywood. Surely there are more pressing matters. Our tax dollars at work.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:02 PM

August 21, 2004

Hollywoods Tax on ALL of us

Wisconsin Public Radio's Home page tells the story:

NOTICE: Due to rights issues, the Ideas Network internet streaming service cannot carry the BBC and CBC programming from 11:30pm to 6am weekdays and 12am to 6am on weekends until the conclusion of the Olympics on September 1st. Our live streaming for the Ideas Network will be off the air during these periods.
This absurdity, due to NBC's broadcast rights deal with the IOC (International Olympic Committee), is yet another example of how the media has had its way with our politicians.

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:35 AM

August 14, 2004

Interview with Grateful Dead Lyricist John Perry Barlow

Reason posts a useful interview with John Perry Barlow (currently vice chair of the EFF):

Every existing power relation is up for renewal with cyberspace, and it was only natural there would be an awful lot of fracas where cyberspace met the physical world. EFF has been the primary mediator on that border. We have been very successful at protecting against excessive government encroachment into the virtual world.

Copyright and intellectual property are the most important issues now. If you dont have something that assures fair use, then you dont have a free society. If all ideas have to be bought, then you have an intellectually regressive system that will assure you have a highly knowledgeable elite and an ignorant mass.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:28 AM

July 27, 2004

Induce Act Absurdity - continued

I've sent an email off to Senator Kohl's office requesting a statement on the absurd Leahy/Hatch RIAA backed Induce Act. (Senator Kohl is a member of the Judiciary committee). LawMeme has a very useful summary of the proposed legislation.

How does this affect us on Main Street? We plan to use P2P (person to person) tools to share videos from next week's All City Swim meet.

Posted by James Zellmer at 2:59 AM

July 19, 2004

Checking Account Fraud

Caroline Mayer and Griff Witte cover a growing problem with checking account fraud (helped, in part by the growth of automated payments):

When Shereen Greene recently scanned her bank statement, she found a $139 charge from a company she had never heard of --

The Atlanta paralegal dug out her canceled check and easily saw it was fake. The name on it was her maiden name, which she had not used in seven years. The address was five years old and her signature was missing. In its place, was a brief message: "Authorized by your customer. No signature required."

Still, the numbers at the bottom of the check belonged to Greene's bank account, and in the increasingly automated world of check processing, that was all that mattered.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:11 AM

July 14, 2004

Chip Implant - Mexico's Attorney General

"Rafael Macedo de la Concha, Mexico's Attorney-General, now has a non-removable microchip in his arm, to track his movements and to give him access to a new crime database, according to Bloomberg. The article says that eventually around 160 Mexican officials will have a chip implanted."

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:43 AM

July 6, 2004

The Constitution on DRM

Lessig points to a DRM (digital restrictions management) protected version of the US Constitution (!). He also points to a non-drm ipod friendly version.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:44 PM

July 4, 2004

Digital Television Liberation

Today, you can use any device you like with your television: VCR, TiVo, DVD recorder, home theater receiver, or a PC combining these functions and more. A year from now, when the FCC's broadcast flag mandate [PDF] takes effect, some of those capabilities will be forbidden. Read more about the EFF's anti broadcast flag initiative.

Posted by James Zellmer at 6:46 AM

June 30, 2004

Forsaking Privacy

If the government had access to the communications between a client and his lawyer, the lawyer would be nothing but a government agent, like Soviet defense attorneys, whose official role was to serve as adjuncts to the prosecution.
Paul Craig Roberts and Lawrence M. Stratton, "The Tyranny of Good Intentions"

Once upon a time, the U.S. Justice Department respected the legal rights that make law a shield of the innocent rather than a weapon of government. No more. What the great English jurist William Blackstone called "the Rights of Englishmen" have been eroded beyond recognition.

The last remaining right the attorney-client privilege is under full-scale assault by Justice Department prosecutors in the tax shelter case involving the accounting firm KPMG. The Justice Department has demanded, and the accounting firm has agreed to, a waiver of the attorney-client privilege for communications between lawyers and KPMG employees involved in marketing tax shelters the Internal Revenue Service has challenged.

The attorney-client privilege was long championed by jurists because they realized the privilege promoted equality under the law. Convictions can result from lack of access to legal knowledge as well as from actual wrongdoing. To ensure defendants would avail themselves of legal counsel, their communications with attorneys were made confidential, outside the reach of prosecutors.

I've written about tax issues before, including this article on our very odd SUV subsidies.

In recent years, the Justice Department has taken the position that winning its cases is more important than historic rights centuries in the making. Arguing that the innocent have nothing to fear from their attorneys' disclosures of their confidences, department has employed various means of subverting the attorney-client privilege.

Sentencing guidelines from the White House-appointed U.S. Sentencing Commission have greatly strengthened prosecutors' ability to attack the attorney-client privilege. Indictment of a company and the severity of punishment depends on its "cooperation" with the investigation.

A January 2003 memo by Deputy Attorney General Larry D. Thompson, now a fellow at the Brookings Institution, defines "cooperation" in a way that drives a wedge between a company and its employees. A company that pays its employees' legal fees is defined as uncooperative.

Faced with the threat of being declared uncooperative, KPMG announced it would pay its employees legal fees only if they waived the attorney-client privilege and "cooperated" with the investigation. Invariably, "cooperation" requires self-incrimination and negotiation of a guilty plea. By making it impossible for a defendant to defend himself, the government need never have a real case.

Americans must think seriously about the quality of "justice" coming from the Justice Department. Prosecutors have defined "cooperation" as aid in convicting oneself or a fellow employee, as waiving all constitutional rights and privileges, as betrayal of fellow employees and as helping prosecutors create the appearance of guilt even when no crime has been committed.

Among the pending victims in the KPMG case, Jeffrey Eischeid faces 20 years in prison for marketing KPMG tax shelters that experts said were legal.

The IRS has the right to challenge the tax shelters, and the accounting firm has stopped marketing them. But for the Justice Department to retroactively declare them illegal illustrates the precarious position of a defendant today. Whatever he has done can be declared illegal after the fact.

The Justice Department also has disposed of the legal principle there can be no crime without intent. Neither Jeffrey Eischeid nor other KPMG employees knowingly or intentionally sold illegal tax shelters. The products were approved by KPMG's professional responsibility committee, and the IRS' challenge does not mean a crime was committed.

However, Justice prosecutors have become experts at creating the impression crimes have been committed. By stripping away a defendant's rights, prosecutors can coerce a guilty plea, crime or no crime.

Conservatives who prattle about Americans living under a rule of law are speaking of a bygone era. The rule of law ended during the New Deal, when President Franklin Roosevelt turned congressional statutes into authorization bills for federal bureaucrats to legislate via regulations.

Today, there is even less accountability. Appointed officials make criminal law without even a congressional authorization bill. The Sentencing Commission's "proposals" become law unless Congress vetoes them. What we are witnessing is the emergence of a fascist legal order in which law and legal procedure are whatever unelected officials decide serves the interest of government.

How else can we explain how the four foundations of our legal system no retroactive law, no crime without intent, no self-incrimination, and the attorney-client privilege have been swept aside in the federal case against KPMG?

Paul Craig Roberts is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:57 PM

EFF: Illegitimate Patents

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a Patent Busting Contest:

Every year numerous illegitimate patent applications make their way through the United States patent examination process without adequate review. The problem is particularly acute in the software and Internet fields where the history of prior inventions (often called prior art) is widely distributed and poorly documented. As a result, we have seen patents asserted on such simple technologies as:

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:14 AM

June 29, 2004

Making Public Data Would "Crash the System"

The Justice Department today denied Freedom of Information Act requests to make public data on foreign lobbyists, claiming that '[i]mplementing such a request risks a crash that cannot be fixed and could result in a major loss of data, which would be devastating'. The requestor responded that '[t]his was a new one on us. We weren't aware there were databases that could be destroyed just by copying them.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:40 PM

June 25, 2004

Best Law Money Can Buy - Hatch/Leahy Deconstructed

Ernie rebuts Hollywood and the music industry shiller's Hatch & Leahy's new "Induce Act", which criminalizes the act of inducing another to commit a copyright violation.

The EFF posts a fake complaint against Apple Computer, maker of the ipod.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:41 PM

Congress goes after your fair use rights

Dan Gillmor writes about the latest version of the "best law money can buy":

I hadn't been taking some proposed new copyright legislation very seriously, mainly because it's logically absurd on its face. But the "Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act of 2004" (PDF) seems to be moving so quickly that we have to pay attention now.

This bill, the stated purpose of which is to criminalize actions that might "induce" copyright infringement, doesn't just overrule the Sony Betamax case, which gave us the right to tape TV shows to watch later. It would turn people offering totally legitimate technology into criminals, if what they offered could also be used for infringing purposes.

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch is cloaking the bill as "child protection." It is nothing of the sort. It is a Hollywood-sponsored attack on fundamental freedom, and on innovation. (Ernie Miller deconstructs Hatch's floor speech introducing the bill. See also Lessig's comments.)

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:00 AM

June 18, 2004

Certain Equations are Illegal

Cory Doctorow gave a talk this week at Microsoft. He is asking the company to go back to its roots on the issue of Digital "Rights" Management (aka Digital Restrictions Management), or DRM. He posted the talk on his website. Doctorow tried to persuade Microsoft that:

  • DRM systems don't work
  • DRM systems are bad for society
  • DRM systems are bad for business
  • DRM systems are bad for artists
  • DRM is a bad business move for msft
via Dan Gillmor

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:45 AM

June 7, 2004

The Free & The Unfree

Wired on intellectual property holders and IP outlaws:

On the one side are the intellectual property holders, predominantly citizens of Western nations. They're squaring off against IP outlaws, who tend to live in developing countries. The propertied class loudly asserts its ownership and control. The insurgents cry for openness and exploit technological loopholes with abandon.
PDF Atlas of the free and unfree.

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:06 AM

June 6, 2004

More Patriot Act Abuses

Eric Grimm writes:

It seems odd to me that the defenders of the PATRIOT act urge us to look at the details of the Act and stop viewing it as Federal law enforcement's ticket to do essentially whatever law enforcement wants, without procedural safeguards.

When you get into the trenches and watch how they are actually using PATRIOT, however, it becomes pretty clear that law enfocement has interpreted it as their ticket to do whatever they want.

My personal pet peeve is the Treasury Department's abuse of PATRIOT, as part of investigations having absolutely nothing to do with terrorism.

For instance, I represent a small Internet service provider. Over a year ago, they received from the Customs Service (part of Treasury) a subpoena for a customer's personal information. The Subpoena purported to be about some buzz-word called "cybersmuggling" (how do you smuggle stuff over the Internet? -- perhaps we're closer to Star Trek transporters than I ever imagined!), and had no apparent connection to terrorism.

And, of course, Customs insisted that we must not tell anyone else about their Subpoena (don't want anyone to scrutinize and question what the Government is doing, I suppose). I've provided a redacted copy of my response letter to Customs (revealing no details of the investigation or the subject) to Chilling Efffects, and even they appear to be afraid to publicize this abuse.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:53 AM

May 31, 2004

National Identity: Making Pizza Delivery More Efficient (!Not)

This email is floating around: ordering pizza in 2015. Let's hope it never comes to this. (You should support the Electronic Frontier Foundation)


Operator: "Thank you for calling Pizza Hut. May I have your..."

Customer: "Hi, I'd like to order."

Operator: "May I have your NIDN first, sir?"

Customer: "My National ID Number, yeah, hold on, eh, it's 6102049998-45-54610."

Operator: "Thank you, Mr. Sheehan. I see you live at 1742 Meadowland Drive, and the phone number's 494-2366. Your office number over at Lincoln Insurance is 745-2302 and your cell number's 266-2566. Which number are you calling from, sir?"

Customer: "Huh? I'm at home. Where d'ya get all this information?"

Operator: "We're wired into the system, sir."

Customer: (Sighs) "Oh, well, I'd like to order a couple of your All-Meat Special pizzas..."

Operator: "I don't think that's a good idea, sir."

Customer: "Whaddya mean?"

Operator: "Sir, your medical records indicate that you've got very high blood pressure and extremely high cholesterol. Your National Health Care provider won't allow such an unhealthy choice."

Customer: "Dang . What do you recommend, then?"

Operator: "You might try our low-fat Soybean Yogurt Pizza. I'm sure you'll like it."

Customer: "What makes you think I'd like something like that?"

Operator: "Well, you checked out 'Gourmet Soybean Recipes' from your local library last week, sir. That's why I made the suggestion."

Customer: "All right, all right. Give me two family-sized ones, then. What's the damage?"

Operator: "That should be plenty for you, your wife and your four kids, sir. The 'damage,' as you put it, heh, heh, comes to $49.99."

Customer: "Lemme give you my credit card number."

Operator: "I'm sorry sir, but I'm afraid you'll have to pay in cash. Your credit card balance is over its limit."

Customer: "I'll run over to the ATM and get some cash before your driver gets here."

Operator: "That won't work either, sir. Your checking account's overdrawn."

Customer: "Never mind. Just send the pizzas. I'll have the cash ready. How long will it take?

Operator: "We're running a little behind, sir. It'll be about 45 minutes, sir. If you're in a hurry you might want to pick 'em up while you're out getting the cash, but carrying pizzas on a motorcycle can be a little awkward."

Customer: "How the heck do you know I'm riding a bike?"

Operator: "It says here you're in arrears on your car payments, so your car got repo'ed. But your Harley's paid up, so I just assumed that you'd be using it."

Customer: "@#%/$@&?#!"

Operator: "I'd advise watching your language, sir. You've already got a July 2006 conviction for cussing out a cop."

Customer: (Speechless)

Operator: "Will there be anything else, sir?"

Customer: "No, nothing. Oh, yeah, don't forget the two free liters of Coke your ad says I get with the pizzas."

Operator: "I'm sorry sir, but our ad's exclusionary clause prevents us from offering free soda to diabetics."

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:44 AM

May 27, 2004

Leahy Shills for the Copyright Cartel

Dan Gillmor writes about Vermont Democrat Pat Leahy's shilling for the copyright cartel: Copyright Cartel Buying Another Federal Anti-Infringement Law ("Piracy Act"). Evidently, Democrat Leahy needs more cash from Hollywood. The worse part of this insanity: the law would require us (via the Department of Justice) to pay for tracking file sharers and filing lawsuits....

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:49 PM

Government Data Mining

Barry Steinhardt referenced today's GAO Report on Government Data Mining (full report - PDF) - (Highlights PDF). Steinhardt mentions four programs of special concern:

  • Verity K2 Enterprise - Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Mines data "to identify foreign terrorists or U.S. citizens connected to foreign terrorism activities." (Page 30 of GAO report)
  • Analyst Notebook I2 - Department of Homeland Security. "Correlates events and people to specific information." (p. 44)
  • PATHFINDER - DIA. "Can compare and search multiple large databases quickly" and "analyze government and private sector databases." (p. 30)
  • Case Management Data Mart - DHS. "Assists in managing law enforcement cases" Using private-sector data. (p. 44)

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:34 PM

May 26, 2004

Disney Fights Against Free Speech

From Lessig:

As reported by Ernie, Disney is lobbying to get indecency regulations applied to cable yet another example (after the Sonny Bono Act) to use law to protect itself against competition. When your movies flop, and youve driven away the greatest animation company in the world, I guess theres not much strategy left.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:43 AM

May 25, 2004

Killing Internet Radio

Doc Searls on the RIAA's latest lobbying to maintain its monopoly

First the RIAA successfully lobbies the Librarian of Congress to impose a distribution fee and reporting regime on the infant Internet radio business, essentially preventing it from happening. That was in 2002, though the lobbying started in '98, right after the same kinda guys got the DMCA pushed through.

Now comes news from J.D. that the RIAA wants to get the FCC to impose a "broadcast flag" on radio as well as TV. It's creepy shit:

The Recording Industry Association of America has discovered that digital radio broadcasts can be copied and redistributed over the Internet.

The horror.

And so the RIAA, the music business's trade and lobbying group, has asked the Federal Communications Commission to step in and impose an "audio broadcast flag" on certain forms of digital radio.

On April 15, the FCC bowed to the RIAA's request and initiated a notice of inquiry, typically a step leading to formal rule-making. The public may submit comments to the FCC between June 16 and July 16.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:47 AM

May 24, 2004

May 23, 2004

Monsanto vs. Saskatoon Farmer

Interesting intellectual property case: Monsanto went to court to stop a Saskatchewan farmer from replanting genetically modified canola seeds (without payment of an annual license fee). Wired News | NY Times.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:41 AM

May 21, 2004

Tuning out the Media

Dot Com era Billionaire and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban on why we're tuning out the media...

We are now in an era where media searches for stories that will generate media coverage of the story. Stories are written not for the value they bring the readers, viewers or listeners, but rather the volume of coverage they will bring.

The question I had then, is the same question I have now? What is the goal of these media outlets? How do they define what is newsworthy. It sure appears to me that the newsmedia has evolved from all the news that is fit to print to How much free publicity can we get from this story?

Thanks to Glenn Reynolds who correctly states: "They're churning out Granadas and Chevettes and telling us that we're idiots for complaining."

Posted by James Zellmer at 3:23 AM

May 19, 2004

Why can't we download all of NPR?

Jeff Jarvis asks a useful question: Why can't we download all of NPR (they are playing the Digital Restrictions Management game, using audio streams only, vs. clean MP3 downloads). In other words, NPR policies mean that we, the public cannot listen to their programming on our ipods or other mp3 players.

Not very public... (Unfortunately, WPR adopts the same restrictive approach).

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:41 PM

May 12, 2004

Lessig Congressional Testimony on Copyright Extremism

Professor Lessig goes to Washington to testify about Congressman Rick Boucher's Digital Media Consumer Rights Act [pdf].
This is one issue you should support. Contact Tammy Baldwin and tell her you support Boucher's bill.

This is what happens when the public sleeps.... Support the EFF.

Yet another reason to get involved: Security expert Bruce Schneier writes: Curb electronic surveillance abuses, as technological monitoring grows more prevalent, court supervision is crucial

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:42 PM

May 9, 2004

Microsoft pays for Kind's Trip to Seattle

Interesting example of money, technology & politics. Wisconsin voters have many other priorities, such as education, jobs, taxes and healthcare. How exactly, the Windows 2003 Server and Office 2003 product launches fit into those priorities is a mystery:

"If people really believe that something like this makes members of Congress bribable, obviously they have a very poor opinion of members of Congress." Ron Kind, Wisconsin congressman. Katherine M. Skiba and Jeff Nelson follow the money..... The airfare prices look like first class... Why exactly would Microsoft spend money on a Congressman from La Crosse, WI?

Additional trips were timed to include product launches such as Windows Server 2003 and Office 2003....

Microsoft's priorities include copyright, patent, purchasing and other issues.....

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:07 AM

May 2, 2004

Copyright Cartel & Privacy

Dan Gillmor pens a very useful article the copyright cartel's (MPAA & RIAA) activities, things that ultimately restricts our fair use rights.

Posted by James Zellmer at 5:04 PM

Hotspots for Democracy

OpenPark Launches free, public wireless (WiFi) internet access on the Washington Mall.

Posted by James Zellmer at 4:59 PM

April 30, 2004

Best Law Money Can Buy

From Dave Farber's IP List:

Lets the DOJ bring civil suits on behalf of copyright owners. (Link goes to
text of bill):

I especially enjoy the thought of the DOJ having a division that "(employs
and leverages) the expertise of technical experts in computer forensics;
(and) (F) collects and preserves) electronic data in a forensically sound
manner for use in court proceedings". I wonder how far 2 million dollars
will get them in one year.

S. 2237 (Pirate Act)

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:48 AM

April 29, 2004

MIT Student Grills Valenti on Fair Use

Keith Winstein writes about his chat with MPAA's Jack Valenti:

Valenti is an incredibly polished advocate for the movie studios. He has numerous legislative and regulatory successes to his name, and his stated commitment to honest debate (he spoke passionately several times about his commitment to the ideal of civic discourse and his disgust at Washington, D.C.s lack of it) is admirable.

But we dont have a real debate on copyright issues. We have rival camps that rarely understand each other. Virtually everybody I know and encounter on the Internet thinks Valentis signal accomplishments are bad. He can claim credit for the anticircumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which make it illegal to build your own DVD player and well-nigh impossible to watch DVDs legally under the GNU/Linux operating system, as well as the Federal Communication Commissions Broadcast Flag, which will make it illegal or virtually impossible to build your own digital television receiver or, again, watch HDTV under Linux.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:40 AM

April 22, 2004

Losing our Edge?

Tom Friedman writes about a recent trip to Silicon Valley:

Still others pointed out that the percentage of Americans graduating with bachelor's degrees in science and engineering is less than half of the comparable percentage in China and Japan, and that U.S. government investments are flagging in basic research in physics, chemistry and engineering. Anyone who thinks that all the Indian and Chinese techies are doing is answering call-center phones or solving tech problems for Dell customers is sadly mistaken. U.S. firms are moving serious research and development to India and China.

The bottom line: we are actually in the middle of two struggles right now. One is against the Islamist terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere, and the other is a competitiveness-and-innovation struggle against India, China, Japan and their neighbors. And while we are all fixated on the former (I've been no exception), we are completely ignoring the latter. We have got to get our focus back in balance, not to mention our budget. We can't wage war on income taxes and terrorism and a war for innovation at the same time.

Curriculum was and is a hot topic in the Madison School District.

Further, the tech industry has been playing footsie with Hollywood (ironic, given the size of the tech industry vs Hollywood) regarding our fair use rights. Dan Gillmor has recently published a draft version of his upcoming book: Making the News. Chapter 11 includes some very troubling quotes:

  • Jack Valenti, head of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America): "And he was adamant that technology in the future -- including personal computers -- will have to be modified to prevent people from making unauthorized copies.. The result: "Give the copyright holders the ability to "fix" all of its perceived infringement problems, and you give copyright holders unprecedented control over tomorrow's information, over culture itself. Here's an example: It is currently illegal to copy a snippet of video directly from a DVD to use as part of another work. But you can do this with a piece of text, though the e-book industry is working to prevent even a small cut and paste. If we need permission, or have to pay, simply to quote from other works, scholarship will be only one casualty."
  • No technology company has done more to curry favor with the copyright cartel than Microsoft, a company that repeatedly ignored copyright law in building its own powerful business. Here's how Cory Doctorow put it:
    When Microsoft shipped its first search-engine (which makes a copy of every page it searches), it violated the letter of copyright law. When Microsoft made its first proxy server (which makes a copy of every page it caches), it broke copyright law. When Microsoft shipped its first CD-ripping technology, it broke copyright law.

    It broke copyright law because copyright law was broken. Copyright law changes all the time to reflect the new tools that companies like Microsoft invent. If Microsoft wants to deliver a compelling service to its customers, let it make general-purpose tools that have the side-effect of breaking Sony and Apple's DRM, giving its customers more choice in the players they use. Microsoft has shown its willingness to go head-to-head with antitrust people to defend its bottom line: next to them, the copyright courts and lawmakers are pantywaists, Microsoft could eat those guys for lunch, exactly the way Sony kicked their asses in 1984 when they defended their right to build and sell VCRs, even though some people might do bad things with them. Just like the early MP3 player makers did when they ate Sony's lunch by shipping product when Sony wouldn't.
    Unfortunately, Microsoft's answer has been to build Digital Rights Management -- the more appropriate term is "Digital Restrictions Management" -- into just about everything it makes.

  • Microsoft, Intel and several other major technology companies are now working on a "Trusted Computing" initiative, putatively designed to prevent viruses and worms from taking hold of people's PCs and to keep documents secure from prying eyes. Sounds good, but the effect may be devastating to information freedom. The premise of these systems is not trust; it's mistrust. In effect, says security expert Ross Anderson, trusted computing "will transfer the ultimate control of your PC from you to whoever wrote the software it happens to be running." He goes on:

    [Trusted Computing] provides a computing platform on which you can't tamper with the application software, and where these applications can communicate securely with their authors and with each other. The original motivation was digital rights management (DRM): Disney will be able to sell you DVDs that will decrypt and run on a TC platform, but which you won't be able to copy. The music industry will be able to sell you music downloads that you won't be able to swap. They will be able to sell you CDs that you'll only be able to play three times, or only on your birthday. All sorts of new marketing possibilities will open up.
    But now consider the ways it could be used, beyond simple tracking by copyright holders of what they sell. Anderson writes:
    The potential for abuse extends far beyond commercial bullying and economic warfare into political censorship. I expect that it will proceed a step at a time. First, some well-intentioned police force will get an order against a pornographic picture of a child, or a manual on how to sabotage railroad signals. All TC-compliant PCs will delete, or perhaps report, these bad documents. Then a litigant in a libel or copyright case will get a civil court order against an offending document; perhaps the Scientologists will seek to blacklist the famous Fishman Affidavit. A dictator's secret police could punish the author of a dissident leaflet by deleting everything she ever created using that system - her new book, her tax return, even her kids' birthday cards - wherever it had ended up. In the West, a court might use a confiscation doctrine to `blackhole' a machine that had been used to make a pornographic picture of a child. Once lawyers, policemen and judges realise the potential, the trickle will become a flood.
    The Trusted Computing moves bring to mind a conversation in early 2000 with Andy Grove, longtime chief executive at Intel and one of the real pioneers in the tech industry. He was talking about how easy it would soon be to send videos back and forth with his grandchildren. If trends continued, I suggested, he'd someday need Hollywood's permission. The man who wrote the best-seller, "Only the Paranoid Survive," then called me paranoid. Several years later, amid the copyright industry's increasing clampdown and Intel's unfortunate leadership in helping the copyright holders lock everything down, I asked him if I'd really been all that paranoid. He avoided a direct reply.

I've often wondered if our tech industry & hollywood's attempts to impose their fair use & big brother controls on PC's will destroy their export business (and our jobs). China and intel recently battled over a wireless security spec.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:33 AM

EFF honors Pioneer Award Winners

The Electronic Frontier Foundation recently announced the recipients of its 2004 Pioneer awards:

Electronic Frontier Foundation has revealed the winners of the Thirteenth Annual Pioneer Awards.

Focusing on the area of electronic voting security and accountability, they have highlighted the work of Kim Alexander, the president of the California Voter Foundation, David Dill, a Stanford Professor and founder of, and Avi Rubin, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who co-authored the highly publicized Diebold report of 2003.

From Slashdot.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:04 AM

April 20, 2004

The Political Promise of the Internet

Mitch Kapor writes about Korean politics, where a two year old party, The Uri (Our Party) decisively took over the National Assembly in last week's elections:

It was done using the Net. It is no accident that the political coming-of-age of the Net came about in Korea where almost 70% of its households are broadband connected. Starting as a social movement organized through the Net, the new Uri party became a political phenomena.

In December 2002, the Uri party used the Net to go around Korea's traditional political structures and elect Roh Moo-hyun President. Korea's national politics have traditionally been regionally based. However, using the Net, the Uri put together a new political coalition based not on geography, but age, bringing together those under 30. Paradoxically, the Uri also used the Net to involve citizens at local face to face meetings.

The Net was used to begin to break the overwhelming political influence of Korea's giant corporate conglomerates, the chaebols, who funded (both legally and illegitimately) much of Korea's politics. The Uri use the Net to help fund their campaign with tens of thousands of small contributions.

Key Points: The Uri used the internet to route around the establishment (including entrenched media companies who have an interesting in keeping the establishment in power). Here's a Saudi Blogger's "diary of life in the "Magic Kingdom", where the Religious Police ensure that everything remains as it was in the Middle Ages." via Jeff Jarvis.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:37 AM

The Copyright Killing Fields

J.D. Lasica writes about copyright law and its challengers:

For years, all was peaceful in the house of Horowitz. Jed Horowitz, a 53-year-old New Jersey entrepreneur with sharply chiseled features and gleaming bald head, had been running a small video operation called Video Pipeline that took Hollywood films, created two-minute trailers to help promote them, and distributed them to online retailers such as Netflix, BestBuy, and Barnes and Noble, as well as public libraries. Then one day in 2000, the Walt Disney Co. sent a cease-and-desist order, charging that Horowitz's company was violating Disney's copyright by featuring portions of their movies online.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:08 AM

April 17, 2004

Battle of Information & Ideas

Verlyn Klinkenborg nicely summarizes recent news in the recording industry's battle against file sharing:

But this isn't just a legal battle, of course. It's a battle of information and ideas. A new book from Lawrence Lessig called "Free Culture" makes a forceful, cogent defense of many forms of file sharing. And perhaps worst of all from the industry's perspective a new academic study prepared by professors at Harvard and the University of North Carolina concludes, "Downloads have an effect on sales which is statistically indistinguishable from zero." This directly counters recording industry claims that place nearly all the blame for declining CD sales on illegal file sharing.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:37 PM

April 13, 2004

National ID Does Not Equal Greater Security....

Security expert Bruce Schneier writes about the reality of National ID cards:

The potential privacy encroachments of an ID card system are far from minor. And the interruptions and delays caused by incessant ID checks could easily proliferate into a persistent traffic jam in office lobbies and airports and hospital waiting rooms and shopping malls.

But my primary objection isn't the totalitarian potential of national IDs, nor the likelihood that they'll create a whole immense new class of social and economic dislocations. Nor is it the opportunities they will create for colossal boondoggles by government contractors. My objection to the national ID card, at least for the purposes of this essay, is much simpler:

It won't work. It won't make us more secure.

Posted by James Zellmer at 2:10 PM

April 12, 2004

Post & Publish

Nahal Toosi writes a very thin article about blogging, including campus initiatives.

Last week, Tim Kelley asked me to visit with his UW journalism class and discuss my perspective on blogging. [608K PDF]

Posted by James Zellmer at 1:18 PM

April 2, 2004

Google's Hypocrisy?

Google, which makes a very nice living scraping internet sites (copying & storing images, text & data from sites around the world) and presenting that data to search users has issued a issued a cease-and-desist order against British programmer Julian Bond with a warning that the creation of a news feed from the results of Google News was against its terms of reference. From Jeff Jarvis.

Search engine alternatives: Teoma | Alltheweb | Yahoo Search

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:14 AM

March 29, 2004

Leahy Shills for Copyright Cartel

Dan Gillmor is right on the money with his criticism of Vermont's Patrick Leahy regarding his co-sponsorship of the "Pirate Act". One would think our politicians have more important things to do (education, health care, terrorism, the economy) than carrying water for the Hollywood cartel.

s stunning, and disheartening, to see U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who has been one of the champions of civil liberties on Capitol Hill, become a water-carrier for Hollywood and the music industry. But there's no other interpretation for his co-sponsorship of what's being called the PIRATE Act, a chillingly bad bill that would give the copyright cartel a gift for the ages.

The basics of this legislation are fairly simple: In a time when there are truly serious things on the minds of law enforcement, such as terrorism, Leahy and his colleague Orrin Hatch would send the FBI and Justice Department (Copyfight) after file-sharers. If this passes, look for a crackdown that makes today's music-industry lawsuit frenzy look tame. And look for the end of most experiments in new media, because file-sharing networks are the only financially feasible way to distribute content for people who aren't trying to corner a market.

If I still lived in Vermont, I would call Leahy's office and ask anyone who'd listen how someone I've respected for years could do something so awful.

I've sent a note to Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl encouraging them to vote against this and any other similar nonsensical initiatives.

Posted by James Zellmer at 1:27 PM

March 12, 2004

Wisconsin Backs out of Matrix Personal Data Mining Project

Wisconsin Representative Terese Berceau emailed me last night that the Wisconsin Attorney General's office decided to back out of this project.

Gina Barton writes:

Citing both financial and privacy concerns, Wisconsin law enforcement officials have changed their minds about becoming part of a computerized information-sharing network.

The network, funded by a $12 million federal grant, aims to create a clearinghouse of information authorities can use to track terrorists and criminal suspects. Advocates say it simply consolidates data already available to investigators, allowing them to access it more quickly. Detractors worry that it could be used to mine computer files for details about ordinary citizens.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:03 AM

March 9, 2004

Your Rights: Wisconsin Joins Matrix

Even as states retreat from participating in a controversial interstate antiterrorism database that holds billions of records of ordinary Americans' activities, Wisconsin has decided to join the program.

The head of Wisconsin's division of criminal investigation, James R. Warren, signed on to join the Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange, or Matrix, on Feb. 11, said Tom Berlinger, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which runs the program.

With access to the Matrix database, Wisconsin law enforcement officials can look up vast amounts of personal information culled from government and commercial databases. The information includes driver's license pictures, addresses, professional licenses, names of neighbors and relatives, and even domain-name registration filings and hunting licenses.

Officers also get access to information derived from Seisint's proprietary database, which includes voter rolls, property records, website registrations, civil and criminal court records, phone number directories and financial filings.

From Wired News.....

Learn more about Matrix: Google | Teoma | All the Web | Yahoo Search

Let Governor Doyle, your senators and representatives know how you feel about this initiative. You should also support the EFF.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:50 PM

March 4, 2004

I'm Sorry, Dave, You're Speeding

Electronic logging & authentication in your car.

"What we're suggesting is the driver's license in the future will be a smartcard, and it's embedded with all the data required to operate the car more safely and efficiently," Toyota project manager Paul Beranger said.

If you are concerned about electronic rights (and you should be), support the EFF.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:20 AM

February 13, 2004

Google Bans Critical Ads

The Age: "Online search engine leader Google has banned the ads of an environmental group protesting a major cruise line's sewage treatment methods, casting a spotlight on the policies -- and power -- of the popular Web site's lucrative marketing program."

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:14 AM