As the growing number of Techdirt stories on the subject testify, drones are becoming a more familiar part of modern life. But their presence can add a new element to situations. An obvious example is during demonstrations, where drones can be used to monitor those taking part -- but also the authorities' reaction. As with cases where members of the public have used smartphones to capture police abuse, so drones offer the possibility of revealing questionable police activity that might in the past have gone unrecorded.
Tuesday afternoon on June 11th 2013, Police was violently attacking peaceful protestors. Police fired guns at one of our [remote control] drone during the protests in Taksim square, Istanbul. Police aimed directly at the camera. Due to the impact on the camera (it did have a housing) the last video was not saved properly on the SD card. The camera and drone were both broken. Managed to keep the SD card.
Here's a video of the take-down:
The drone's images before its violent end provide amazingly clear pictures of what is happening on the ground, and you can see why the authorities might not be very happy about that:
But as a Geek.com article on the incident points out, when you can soon buy a tiny $50 drone that streams straight to your smartphone for uploading to video sharing sites, the police may find themselves being monitored by tens or even hundreds of such devices during their actions against demonstrations, which makes shooting them all down problematic. Doubtless the authorities will come up with an answer to that (a squadron of police drones engaging in a dog-fight, perhaps?), but citizen drone users will then find a way around that -- perhaps flying small, hard-to-spot drones very high in the sky, and using high-quality cameras with zoom lenses. And so the drones arms race will continue.
It's been quite incredible to see defenders of the surveillance state attack not just Edward Snowden for leaking information about the NSA's surveillance efforts, but also go after the reporters who broke the various stories concerning what he leaked. While many of the attacks have been focused on Glenn Greenwald, the other journalist who has access to Snowden is the Washington Post's Bart Gellman, and apparently it's his turn to be attacked for doing a good job in reporting. The attacker, in this case, is Stewart Baker, the former Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security and former General Counsel for the NSA. He wrote an incredible attack on Gellman, arguing that he has somehow crossed the despicable line from "journalist" to "advocate" in his reporting on Snowden's leaks.
Baker and Gellman had a conversation via email concerning why Gellman chose to publish which information when, and as part of his response, Gellman pointed out -- quite rightly -- that in one of the recent leaks, concerning how the NSA goes about "minimizing" the likelihood that Americans are profiled, it needs to be acknowledged that the NSA is collecting tons of data on Americans and that can have a real impact -- an impact that the NSA refuses to acknowledge. Gellman writes convincingly on this topic, and Baker's response is to ignore the entire substance of Gellman's argument, to condescendingly claim that this is no longer journalism:
Maybe it's just me, but I don't think anyone can read that without wondering whether Bart Gellman has slipped from journalist to advocate. And from there it's a short step to wondering whether he suppressed the guidelines in his earlier story because they didn't fit his preferred narrative. Somehow they were not worth disclosing when they might have blunted privacy concerns but they had to be disclosed once "they seem[ed] to demonstrate that the president’s words are untrue." Put another way, it seemed better to hold the truth back until it could be used to sandbag the adversary.
Gellman shot back, via Twitter a key point that is all too often ignored:
What @stewartbaker overlooks is that my advocacy is for open debate of secret powers. That's what journalists do
Journalists have always been advocates. They're supposed to be advocates for openness and transparency, explaining to the public what others are up to which they should know about. To argue that Gellman's reporting is somehow less than worthy because he's advocating for open debate on secret programs of government surveillance is really quite pitiful on Baker's part. Once again, it suggests that the defenders of this kind of surveillance cannot and will not debate the merits of the program in public, instead resorting to what appears to be petty name calling, rather than substantive discussion about this program they love so much.
Okay, here's one that's just crazy. A few weeks ago, lots of folks, including us, covered the story of how the Justice Department claimed to a court that reporter James Rosen was "an aider and abettor and/or co-conspirator" in a leak of some State Department info concerning North Korea. He was none of the above. He was a reporter, but the DOJ was abusing its power in order to spy on his email and phone records, to try to find the source of the leak. Soon after that, it came out that the DOJ had been working overtime to make sure that the details of the surveillance of Rosen's communications was held under seal.
However, some are noticing an odd statement in the DOJ's filing to try to keep the case under seal. In what is likely a case of an overworked DOJ lawyer just cutting and pasting from a different attempt to keep some surveillance a secret, one of the motions to keep the search warrant sealed falsely claimed that Rosen was involved in a bombing, rather than just disclosing information on North Korea.
Somehow, if the DOJ can't even read its own motions to seal that carefully, you have to question if they really "considered alternatives less drastic than sealing," or if they were happy that throwing in key words like "responsible for the bombings" despite the case having nothing to do with bombings, only helped to keep it secret that they were spying on a the communications of a reporter, almost certainly in violation of the DOJ's own guidelines, and potentially in violation of the Constitution.
While we realize that the intricacies of IP law (and its often-attendant ridiculousness) can be rather difficult for the average, uninterested person to parse, it's really not asking too much to expect large international news agencies to make an effort to get the terminology right.
As you recall, Kim Dotcom recently announced he holds a patent for two-factor authentication, which he then waved in the direction of other internet titans like Twitter and Google, promising not to sue in exchange for contributions to his legal defense fund.
Congratulations, AFP. The headline sounds like Facebook itself wrote it, using machine learning to gather IP-related flotsam from the feeds of millions of teenagers, each one bragging about trademarking their copyright on some catchy phrase they misheard on Twitter ("Be careful talking when you have a mouthful of glass") and regurgitating its findings in 40-pt font across the top of Raw Story's piped-in news selection.
The story reiterates the "copyright" claim in the opening paragraph.
Internet mogul Kim Dotcom said Thursday he was considering taking legal action against tech giants such as Twitter, Google and Facebook for infringing copyright on a security measure he invented.
Then it quotes Dotcom tweeting about his patent and even remarks on the fact that Kim posted a patent approved in 2000 as proof. But, even with multiple chances to rescue this story from the unfortunate headline, AFP continues down its chosen path.
Dotcom said he had never sought to enforce copyright on his invention but was now reconsidering in light of the US case accusing him of masterminding massive online piracy through his now-defunct Megaupload file-sharing site.
Now, the hypothetical teens used above can be excused their (hypothetical) ignorance. But a news agency, especially one of AFP's size and longevity? Not a chance. It's especially inexcusable when AFP seems to know the correct terminology when its suing Google for linking to its stories or suing a photographer whose photographs it used without permission. (No, you read that last part right.)
Perhaps AFP truly doesn't understand the definitions and limitations of various IP protections. It certainly doesn't seem to be too well-informed in the linked stories. Maybe AFP views all IP terms as interchangable. It may be striving to know just enough to be dangerous, but to date, it only seems to have gathered enough knowledge to injure itself.
The saga concerning the DOJ scooping up phone records of Associated Press has continued to expand. The DOJ sent a quick and rather disingenuous letter in response to the AP's complaint. In it, the DOJ -- contrary to its own history of abusive practices concerning reporter phone records -- insists that it was incredibly careful to only seek key information involving classified information that "can risk lives and cause grave harm to the security of all Americans."
The scope of the subpoena was overbroad under the law, given that it involved seizing records from a broad range of telephones across AP’s newsgathering operation. More than 100 journalists work in the locations served by those telephones. How can we consider this inquiry to be narrowly drawn?
Furthermore, the AP claims that while the DOJ says that only some records were obtained, the original notification it received indicated a very broad swath of phone records.
However, the real question that's beginning to come out is whether or not this was really such a serious issue that the DOJ needed to sweep in and grab a bunch of phone records, likely revealing protected journalistic sources. We've discussed in the past how the Obama administration has been the most aggressive in history in going after whistleblowers and anyone who leaks to the press -- and, because of that, many are rightly wondering if that's what's driving the DOJ here. As more details come out, there is a very strong indication that the investigation had absolutely nothing to do with security at all.
A few years ago, we wrote about how Daniel Ellsberg (one of the most famous whistleblower/leakers of all time) speculated that President Obama's unprecedented attacks on whistleblowers were really out of embarrassment about questionable things his administration was doing being revealed. That may be the case with this particular leak and investigation as well. The AP has pointed out repeatedly that the report they published -- concerning the thwarting of another underwear bomber -- had been held back, but they only published it after the government had said there was no more threat:
We held that story until the government assured us that the national security concerns had passed. Indeed, the White House was preparing to publicly announce that the bomb plot had been foiled.
But the issue appears to go deeper than that. Eric Holder made some extreme claims about the leak to defend the collection of the phone records:
This was a very serious leak. A very, very serious leak. I’ve been a prosecutor since 1976, and I have to say that this is among, if not the most serious, it is within the top two or three most serious leaks I’ve ever seen. It put the American people at risk. And that is not hyperbole. It put the American people at risk.
However, as emptywheel points out in the link above, John Brennan, now head of the CIA, apparently was the one who revealed to the press the fact that the bomber was a US agent and that there was no real risk to anyone. During his appointment hearings, when questioned about leaking that info to the press, Brennan explained:
I think what you're referring to, Senator, is when I had a teleconference with some individuals, former government officials from previous administrations who were going to be out on talk shows on the night that a IED was intercepted.
And so I discussed with them some of the aspects of that, because I was going on the news network shows the following day, I wanted to make sure they understood the nature of the threat and what it was and what it wasn't.
And so what I said, at the time, because I said I couldn't talk about any operational details, and this was shortly after the anniversary of the Bin Laden takedown, I said there was never a threat to the American public as we had said so publicly, because we had inside control of the plot and the device was never a threat to the American public.
When asked more specifically about this, Brennan again insisted that there was no threat because the US was in control. As emptywheel asks, if this particular leak of information -- which it seems Brennan did directly -- was really so much of a threat that "put people at risk," then why would Brennan be appointed and approved to head the CIA?
So, now we have a situation where the AP reported on information which it's pretty clear the government told them was no security risk. That resulted in the eventual "outing" that the guy who had the bomb was a US controlled agent, which is apparently why the US government was upset. But that outing seems to have come not from these reporters, but from the now head of the CIA directly to members of the press. And yet it's the reporters that are being aggressively investigated, while Brennan gets the job at the top of the CIA?
Once again, this points to an administration cracking down on leaks not because of any real risk or threat, but out of embarrassment.
Upon realizing this, Reuters issued an apology, but apparently left the original story up for about an hour before someone realized that perhaps they should pull it down.
Hey, everyone makes mistakes, but it seems a little silly when people want to argue that bloggers are untrustworthy and that the mainstream media is careful about these things. Following their massive fuck up concerning the Boston Marathon bombing and then followed by stories like this, I think it's safe to note that mistakes happen across the board -- though it seems as if amateur blogs and the like often seem a lot faster about making corrections...
The death of journalism and fact-checking has long been the mantra of the major media in response to so-called internet journalism (which should just be called journalism, by the way). This, despite the fails of major media and the wins by journalistic websites, reveals a sort of paternal arrogance on the part of the still-major players in traditional reporting. It's always interesting when the roles are massively reversed, which was on full display in the Boston Marathon bombing aftermath.
We thought we'd condense today's mess of media reporting into something easily consumable for the crowd that may have been working and thus wasn't privy to the disaster taking place on television airwaves. Here, then, are your trusted news sources reporting, misreporting, backtracking, and scapegoating their way through the day.
You have to see the video for yourself, which I frustratingly can't seem to find an embed for, to have the magnitude of mistakes and misreporting fully hit home. In a matter of hours, major news sources reported that a suspect was about to be arrested, had been arrested, was of brown-skin, white-skin, was taken by U.S. Marshals, then wasn't arrested, then was re-arrested and was on his way to the courthouse, was then again un-arrested, culminating with the reporting that no suspect was even known by name, let alone arrested. In fact, there are times when the supposed fact-checking media can go even further and splash the pictures of people they claim are suspects on their front page, who definitely are not, for no apparent reason beyond that which seems to be they are brown-skinned. It's enough to take one's breath away.
Now, it should be noted that this isn't to suggest that news sources on the internet aren't capable of misreporting as well. Media, in general, is subject to a drive to draw attention by having the latest information, which often results in a rush to report what hasn't been verified. But that is a characteristic of media, not traditional media or internet media. Just media. On the other hand, if you want the most extensive available investigation into the matter, your best choice isn't the television or the papers, but Reddit, which has organized their own crowd-sourced investigation. That's the power of the internet.
A few days ago, the former executive editor of the NY Times, Bill Keller wrote about the Bradley Manning situation, in which he discusses Manning's revelation that he originally tried to go directly to the NY Times and the Washington Post, but was ignored, leading to the decision to approach Wikileaks. Keller's piece is basically an attempt by the NY Times to rewrite history to make Keller and the NY Times feel better. I wouldn't say that Keller lies necessarily, because he might just be very, very ignorant, but there is no doubt that he blatantly misrepresents what Manning said and did.
Specifically, Keller argues first, that Manning was trying to dump all of the information he had, indiscriminately, and the wise reporters at the NY Times would have figured out what was really important: "If Manning had connected with The Times, we would have found ourselves in a relationship with a nervous, troubled, angry young Army private who was offering not so much documentation of a particular government outrage as a chance to fish in a sea of secrets." Furthermore, he argues that Manning's motivations in making his speech to the court last week somehow contradict the only other clear statement into Manning's motivations: his 2010 chat logs with Adrian Lamo that Lamo turned over to the government, leading to Manning's arrest. Those chat logs were leaked to the press, and Keller argues that Manning's reasoning for leaking the material is not clear, summarizing it as:
His political views come across as inchoate. When asked, he has trouble recalling any specific outrages that needed exposing. His cause was "open diplomacy" or — perhaps in jest — "worldwide anarchy."
Furthermore, Keller insults the many people who have supported Manning by suggesting that Manning has created his current views based on what his supporters have told him.
However, as multiple people shot back, this is simply untrue. Author Greg Mitchell points out that Keller is flat out "wrong" and that if he actually read the chat logs, Manning lays out his reasoning, which is entirely consistent with his statement in court. He points out that contrary to Manning "having trouble recalling any specific outrages," Manning has no problem doing so, pointing to examples of corruption in favor of Iraqi prime minister Maliki (rounding up dissidents who were just exercising basic free speech rights), along with the now famous Collateral Murder video. Mitchell points out that for Keller to claim that Manning had not mentioned anything specific, is simply wrong:
More from the Lamo chat log: It virtually opens with Manning saying he had seen evidence of "awful things" such as at Gitmo and Bagram. Then he mentions "criminal political dealings" and cites the "buildup to the Iraq war." He details what he saw on the "Collateral Murder" video and why he wanted it released ("I want people to see the truth"). He wants to get this and much else out (he IDs more) because it might "actually change something." As for the State Dept. cables, he hopes they will spark "worldwide discussion, debates and reforms." Yet Keller claims this was all "vague."
When Nathan Fuller, a supporter of Manning, emailed Keller about all of this, Keller doubled down and stood by his original assessment, saying nothing more than that he believed his characterization is "fair." When pressed, Keller reveals his general attitude towards Manning's supporters, claiming that they have "assembled a coherent political motivation by fishing here and there in the Lamo file." As opposed to Keller who quoted five whole words from the transcripts and took even those out of context?
Meanwhile, Daniel Ellsberg, who probably identifies with Manning more than anyone else in the world, having famously given the Pentagon Papers to the NY Times decades ago, has responded angrily to Keller (video) stating that: "It shows him as an arrogant, ignorant, condescending person. A very smart person who manages to be stupid in certain ways.... What we've heard are people like the NY Times who have consistently slandered [Bradly Manning]."
Ellsberg goes on to point out that there was a ton of material that Manning had access to, but which he chose not to disclose. He first mocks Keller's description of Manning as a "boy" who was "indiscriminately dumping" files, and notes that the evidence shows otherwise:
He, personally, had access to material higher than top secret, higher than Bill Keller has ever seen.... He chose not to put out the top secret communications intelligence, to which he clearly had access. He put out only material that he felt would be embarrassing [rather than harmful], and which, three years later we can say, only was embarrassing.
As we've discussed a few times, we seem to get threatened with a lawsuit approximately once a month or so (though they tend to come in bunches after extended quiet periods). The threats usually fall under one of two categories: someone upset about something we wrote about them, or someone upset about something someone in the comments said about them. When it's cases where people are upset about something that we have said, often the person is angry that we didn't call them to get their side of the story, as if that were some sort of legal requirement. We've seen such claims very recently, in fact.
However, in a recent court case in California that looked at exactly that question, a judge made it pretty damn clear that journalists have absolutely no legal requirement to reach out to the people they are writing about. The story is a fairly crazy one. The Associated Press wrote a story about a court granting Sheryl Crow a three years restraining order against a guy named Philip Sparks, who had admitted to threatening to shoot both Crow and famed movie exec Harvey Weinstein. The AP reported that Sparks had accused both Crow and Weinstein of "stealing $7.5 million from him, videotaping and following him without permission and leaving him homeless." It also reported that a forensic psychiatrist had testified that "Mr. Sparks is unambiguously delusional."
In response, Sparks sued the Associated Press, arguing that the article was defamatory. Since it was filed in California and California has a good anti-SLAPP law, the AP filed an anti-SLAPP motion. Sparks tried to argue against the First Amendment: "There needs to be a boundary between the Media and the First Amendment, otherwise the Media can hide behind the First Amendment and publish anything that they want regardless if the statements are false, or violate one's civil rights." Of course, that's not true. Defamation laws still apply to the press, but the key issue here seemed to really be about whether or not the AP needed to report on Sparks' version of the story.
Thankfully, the judge pointed out that this was simply untrue. The "tentative order" from LA Superior Court judge Rolf Treu has some useful quotes. As an aside, the website for the LA Superior Court is horrifically bad and nearly impossible to navigate. The fact that it says: "This site is best viewed using Internet Explorer 5 or higher." should tell you something... After a fair bit of poking and prodding, I finally found the ruling, which I've published here and embedded below. But the key point is that there is no requirement to get his side of the story:
To the extent Plaintiff takes issue with Defendant's failure to report facts that Plaintiff raised during the hearing (see Pl.'s Response filed 1/11/13 p. 12-13 (concerning a security expert who pretended to be Plaintiff's lawyer and challenges to Dr. Glaser's diagnosis)), Defendant is not required to present Plaintiff's side of his story or his key facts
The court also pointed out that the AP had no requirement to report on the fact that the doctor who declared him delusional had been sanctioned by the Medical Board of California, noting that "there is no such requirement." The judge makes the key point: as long as the AP reported accurately, they were not required to cover the story the way Sparks wanted them to cover it:
To the average reader, the substance of judicial proceeding was the issuance of the restraining orders, which was accurately described by Defendant's article.
While this just confirms that which was already known, it seemed useful to remind people of this basic fact. Just because someone doesn't contact you or report things the way you want them to, it doesn't mean it's against the law.
We've written many times in the past about how, thanks to the ridiculous sense of "ownership society" that is often presented to the world around copyright, patents and trademarks, it's unfortunately common to see massive overclaiming of certain rights. That's especially true of trademarks, which really shouldn't be lumped in with patents and copyrights, since they're very very different. Trademarks, as we've noted before, are really about avoiding consumer confusion, so they don't buy one product trusting that it's another product. It is not about "ownership" in any sense. And yet so many companies (and individuals) think that if they get a trademark on a word or phrase, they can basically stop anyone else from ever using it.
The latest example of trademark overreach comes from PNC Bank, who threatened a reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle for having the gall to use the phrase "virtual wallet" in an article. PNC sent a legal nastygram, telling the SF Chronicle that it must "refrain from misuse of our client's VIRTUAL WALLET trademark." Except, of course, that's hogwash. Nothing in trademark law could possibly make that true, and the Chronicle's James Temple responded appropriately:
To which I say: virtual wallet, virtual wallet, virtual wallet, virtual wallet.
Furthermore, he notes that the trademark itself is almost certainly invalid, as the phrase was in widespread common usage for many years before 2008 when the bank sought the trademark (and, ridiculously, the USPTO granted it).
In late 1994, Newsweek published an article titled "The Age of Cybercash" that informed readers: "Your virtual wallet may soon be here."
By the end of 2007, the term "virtual wallet" had appeared more than 700 times in the English press, including in American Banker, the Economist, the New York Times and Consumer Reports.
Nevertheless, the following year, PNC Financial Services Group launched a "Virtual Wallet" product. It sought trademark protection, asking to own the commercial rights to two consecutive words that had been pushed together by the press and industry more than a decade earlier.
Temple goes on to call out others who have sought to abuse trademark law to "homestead" the English language -- including our favorite trademark troll ever, Leo Stoller, who "trademarked" all kinds of words including "stealth," "all goods and services," "chutzpah," and (oh yeah) "Google" which he claimed to have been using since 1981.
As Temple notes, PNC is trying to avoid having the phrase "virtual wallet" be declared generic such that their registered trademark can be eliminated, but if they didn't want that to happen, they probably shouldn't have gone with such an already generic and descriptive phrase.