Over in Russia, they're preparing some new internet legislation that would censor the internet using the typical bogeymen. The claim from supporters is that the law is to block access to information on drugs, suicide and child porn -- all to protect the children. The way it works is with a giant blacklist, that I'm sure won't be abused at all (yes, that's sarcasm). We're talking about a country that has abused copyright law to go after critics and which has a bit of a... er... reputation for government officials abusing power to get what they want. In fact, some are already pointing out that the wording in the bill is really vague, such that it can be used to block any site dubbed as an "extremist" site.
And it's not just the human-reviewed blacklist that's at issue. The bill will also require "a special automatic system that will block websites containing 'prohibited' information.'" Because I'm sure that'll work even better...
We've noted other Russian legislation in the past, but this bill seems to go a hell of a lot further in creating a massive censorship tool for the Russian government.
The Russian Wikipedia is blacking out its site in protest, reminding many of the SOPA blackouts of Wikipedia in the US, though it's also worth noting that the Italian Wikipedia did a similar blackout even before the big SOPA blackout. It's good to see people speaking out and realizing that they don't have to just accept it when a government sweeps away their rights online. Who knows if this will have much of an impact, but getting more attention on the issue is a good start.
Ron Kirk may believe that he's getting away with something in negotiating the TPP agreement without the public knowing what he's doing, but sooner or later he has to realize that the public isn't going to take it. With the recent TPP negotiations in Dallas, there was (of course) a corporate-sponsored "welcome gala." However, it appears that some protestors infiltrated the event and were able to announce that the USTR Ron Kirk and the other US negotiators had won the 2012 Corporate Power Tool Award. A protestor by the name of David Goodwin commandeered the microphone at the event and announced that he was Git Haversall, of the "Texas Corporate Power Partnership", and was giving the award to Ron Kirk because "The TPP agreement is shaping up to be a fantastic way for us to maximize profits, regardless of what the public of this nation—or any other nation—thinks is right."
The protestors actually came very close to giving the plaque to Kirk himself, but security got in the way at the last second. Somewhere around that point, a bunch of protestors apparently started dancing around and chanting "TPP! TPP! TPP!" You can see much of this in the video below:
Apparently the protestors also successfully replaced much of the toilet paper in the public bathrooms in the hotel with special TP-TPP:
I'm generally of mixed opinions on these kinds of protests. However, seeing as we're dealing with Ron Kirk, who seems to go out of his way to avoid the public concerning TPP and only listen to corporate interests, any method of making it clear to him that the public is unhappy seems worthwhile.
I recently gave a talk at the Innovate/Activate conference, where I discussed where the copyright lobby had been super successful, and where it seemed some of their weaknesses were. One thing I pointed out was that they had completely lost the hearts and minds of the public -- and no matter how hard they tried, they were unable to muster up any kind of public or grassroots support. As an example, I showed a photo of the massive street protests against ACTA in Poland, and questioned what a pro-ACTA demonstration might look like. Well, bizarrely, it appears that some in the Copyright Lobby had decided to try to put on a pro-ACTA demonstration... but they needed to hire people to act as ACTA supporters. Of course, when you seem to think -- as the industry often appears to -- that the only motivating factor possible in the world is monetary exchange, perhaps this isn't that surprising.
It appears that Congress still doesn't get it. Rep. Mike Rogers, the sponsor of the bad CISPA bill that puts your privacy at risk, really doesn't seem particularly concerned about the protests that have been happening online this week. He referred to them as being "like turbulence on the way down to landing" for the bill. He also said that he fully expects the bill to easily pass next week when its brought to the floor.
What really comes through in the article -- which mostly talks about how Rogers has been supposedly working with Google to change some of the language in the bill to make it more acceptable -- is how little concern Rogers has for the public. Instead, most of the article just talks about how he's been working with tech companies to make sure they're okay with the bill. And while that's a start, it's no surprise that lots of tech companies would be okay with CISPA, because it grants them broad immunity if they happen to hand over all sorts of private info to the government.
But to then call the protests mere "turbulence" is pretty damned insulting to the actual people this will impact the most: the public, whose privacy may be violated. While we appreciate Rogers' willingness to amend the bill, it seems clear that there are still major problems with it, and Rogers does not seem to be actually listening to the privacy concerns of the public -- just the various tech companies.
In the meantime, the protests continue, and if Rogers thinks they're mere "turbulence" then it appears that not enough people are speaking out. The folks at Fight for the Future have put together an excellent page to make it easier to speak out, over at CongressTMI.org. At the very least, is it that difficult for Congress to present a real reason why this bill is needed? Bogus stories of planes falling from the sky or evil Chinese hackers really aren't cutting it. Perhaps Congress should talk to some of the experts who note that Congress doesn't understand the tech enough to regulate it properly. As privacy expert Jim Harper notes:
"Congress has no particular capacity or knowledge of how to do cybersecurity," Harper says. "It's not a choice between two different versions in the House and two different versions in the Senate. The question is still open: is Congress capable of doing any good here?"
Unfortunately, in the mad dash to pass these bills (which appear to be much more about who gets to control multi-billion dollar "cybersecurity budgets" than anything else), no one in Congress seems willing to address the basic question of what problem this really solves.
Usually, this DailyDirt post provides some relief from the regular topics here on Techdirt. Not today. SOPA & PIPA need to be defeated, and the organizations behind these bills won't stop. So we won't either. Here are just a few more sites that will help you learn about why SOPA & PIPA are just plain bad for everyone -- and each can show you to how to contact your elected representatives for political action.
From 9am tomorrow morning, Rock, Paper, Shotgun will be blacked out in protest against SOPA and PIPA. The site will be gone, but for a single black page explaining why we're doing this. And then Thursday morning we'll be back.
Of particular note is the fact that RPS is a UK-based site, but one that recognizes that the threat SOPA and PIPA pose to the internet as we know it expands past national boundaries, much like the internet itself, a fact that seems lost on the legislators behind it.
At RPS we genuinely believe in the astonishing wonder of the internet. An unpredictable, utterly remarkable endeavour of humanity, it has radically changed the world in the 16 or so years that it’s been a part of the average person’s life, and the many years before that when it was going unnoticed. It has challenged everything, shaken entire industries, and created hundreds of thousands of new ones...
SOPA and PIPA seek to destroy all of this, rendering the internet a system controlled by the State and large corporations. The incredible freedom will be taken away, replaced with a system controlled by those with the most money. After a year when the internet has been the foundation of radical changes throughout the world, from those able to network themselves to overthrow their oppressive regimes, to those who have made a mockery of super-injunctions, the incredible means of supporting previously unknown projects through Kickstarter and the like, to the many wonderful pieces of art that have flourished, after that year, and after the year before it, and the one before that, how can anyone sit back and not fight for this precious, precious thing...
No, neither Congress nor the Senate will care that RPS is down, but the hundreds of thousands of people who visit RPS every day will. And they can pass that message on. This matters.
A tremendous statement from Rock, Paper, Shotgun, boiling down these bills to the underlying motive behind them: protecting favored industries. To see our representatives willing to throw in with their corporate benefactors despite worldwide protest is to see the hollow, hypocritical facade of a corrupted system disintegrate before your eyes.
Red 5 Studios is joining Reddit in protest of SOPA by going dark on January 18. We will be taking down our website, community site and Firefall beta for 24 hours on the 18th. We are extremely disappointed in this misguided legislation. We are also ashamed of the ESA for supporting a bill which is clearly not in the best interests of gamers or the game industry. This bill, and it’s sister bill, Protect IP, will shut down live streaming, shout casting, user generated content and have a chilling effect on game innovation and social media.
Most of all, it hurts the smaller game companies, who will not have the legal resources or lobbying presence to protect themselves from unwarranted shutdown. We issue a call to all our industry peers, including developers, publishers and game press, to join us in letting the ESA know they do not represent our views on this issue, and strongly oppose SOPA and PIPA.
Notch and his fellow Minecrafters are also mulling their options and planning on joining the blackout, with updates delivered via Notch's Twitter feed.
As RPS points out, the beneficiaries of this legislation and their representatives (who often seem to forget are supposed to be our representatives) won't care. But it should, at the very least, make it clear that opposition to this bill is not limited to a few hundred noisy pirates and a handful of apologists. If this legislation continues to be pushed through, it will be crystal clear who our "representatives" actually represent and no amount of spin will be able to turn that around.
“This year is going to be a very crucial year for the fate of digital rights and freedoms on the internet. We strongly support the campaign against both the Protect IP Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act. For that reason our websites will be down from 05.00 GMT for 24 hours in support of the campaign.
It's been really sickening to see our usual critics (some of whom are admitted lobbyists in favor of the bills) insist that anyone against the bills is "in favor of piracy." Clearly, many people from all over the place -- including those who make their living in the "entertainment business" are against the bills. Or are we going to hear that Peter Gabriel just wants free stuff, too?
Following the news that Reddit, Wikipedia, and a bunch of other sites will be going dark to protest PIPA (and, to a lesser extent, SOPA) tomorrow, Google has now announced that it will use its home page to express its dislike of the bill. Google has not made clear exactly how it will protest. It won't "go dark" like those other sites, but it appears that it will post some sort of link, and will highlight ways for people to contact their elected officials in protest over the bill. With both Google and Wikipedia pushing people to call Congress... you might want to assume that Congress is going to get a few phone calls tomorrow.
from the and-don't-forget-the--militarization-of-the-police dept
By now, I expect that many of you have heard or seen the reports of police in riot gear pepper spraying students at UC Davis late last week. If you haven't seen one of the many, many videos of the incident out there, this one is particularly popular and has a pretty good view of the police officer walking up and down the line of peaceful protesters with their arms locked, spraying them heavily with pepper spray:
However, there appear to be dozens of other videos capturing the same thing from a variety of different angles. I just watched about a half dozen of them, and each one provides a little more insight or perspective into what happened. None of them make the police look good. This and other recent incidents of police pepper spraying protesters raise a few different issues (regardless of what you think of what people are protesting for). Let's discuss two of them quickly.
First, it's fascinating to see how protest is changing in the age of YouTube. In the past, photographs often captured iconic moments in similar situations. Or, in some cases, merely the stories of what happened. And while there can be something powerful and moving about a still photograph, the video of these latest incidents really lets you see the details, and I find such videos to be much more powerful in showing the full extent of what's happening. It makes it that much harder to cover things up or try to explain away the actions of the police. We've talked about why the right to record police is an important right for Americans, but in situations like this, it also shows not just the value of recording what the police are doing, but also the power of bringing millions of people around the world right into the situation of what happened.
Related to that is the fact that such a large percentage of people these days now carry handheld video cameras, often in their mobile phones. That we don't just get one angle on these stories, but coverage from pretty much every perspective, is really quite an incredible experience.
The other issue worth discussing is the long term unintended consequences of regulatory and legal battles against vague bogeymen without a thought to what happens. If you want to read a really fascinating opinion piece on what happened at Davis, you should read what Bob Ostertag had to say. Ostertag, among other things, is a professor of Technocultural Studies and Music at UC Davis, and his discussion is really fascinating -- directly calling out the administration for its bogus defense of the pepper spraying (and comparing it to a similar situation that was handled quite peacefully at Columbia). He goes on to highlight other ridiculous overreactions first within the UC system (at nearby Berkeley) and then elsewhere in the country, such as the pepper spraying of an 84-year-old woman in Seattle.
One of the key points he uses to summarize all this is the following:
Last week, former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper published an essay arguing that the current epidemic of police brutality is a reflection of the militarization (his word, not mine) of our urban police forces, the result of years of the "war on drugs" and the "war on terror." Stamper was chief of police during the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999, and is not a voice that can be easily dismissed.
Stamper's article is also a fascinating, yet disturbing read. He points to his own failings in 1999, but also how much worse things have become. He also points to some ideas for turning things around -- creating radically different police forces, with civilian involvement.
Part of me wonders if these two issues converge. The ability of people to so widely document the abuses -- and horrify the watching public -- will hopefully lead people to seek out the sorts of "radical" solutions Stamper suggests (and, yes, I do recognize the ridiculousness of suggesting that police work closely with civilians is considered "radical"). But part of me wonders about the likelihood that things just get worse. We see this elsewhere, where "law enforcement" or the government through declaration or regulation declares "war" on something, rather than trying to understand and deal with the underlying issues. It never helps solve the problem, and oftentimes serves to make it that much worse. But oftentimes it seems like once the moral panics and the "war on..." announcements have been made, politicians and law enforcement become totally committed, unable to back down, even as their "solution" makes things worse.
It's stories like these that should make us wary of jumping on any sort of moral panic that doesn't involve a true look at the underlying causes, and how to fix them, but rather seeks solely a stricter "enforcement" solution. What we see, over and over again, is that that level of "enforcement" becomes a weapon that is used more and more regularly and more and more indiscriminately. Even as some amount of transparency hopefully counteracts some of it, people get so committed that the situation moves far away from solving problems, and just creates more and more new ones.
iamtheky sends in the story of a UC San Diego Professor, Ricardo Dominguez, whose focus of research is "electronic civil disobedience," (for which he received tenure and a fellowship from his university), but who is now potentially facing discipline or even criminal charges from the university for staging a "virtual sit-in" to protest budget cuts. It certainly raises questions about the line between telling people to visit a website and a hack attack to take down a website. It's difficult to see how just telling people to go to a website should ever qualify as any kind of attack, but the University is said to be contemplating criminal charges.