Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the you-said-it dept

This week, our first place winner on the insightful side comes in response to the FCC’s refusal to release certain records to a FOIA request. David noted that their reason — “to prevent harm to the agency” — was a big problem:

It’s not the job of the agency to prevent harm to the agency. It is the job of the agency to prevent harm to consumers. The ones paying its salaries. The FOIA act ensures that the employers of public officials have the means to make sure that the officials are doing the job they are being paid for by the people.

If that would be detrimental to the good of the agency, the good of the agency is not aligned with the good of the people and salaries are obtained under fraudulous pretenses.

Basically the answer is “Accountability? I beg your pardon, we are criminals!”

In second place on the insightful side, we’ve got That One Guy with a response to the perennial and patently silly accusation that we are partisan hacks:

If you didn’t notice those sorts of articles cropping up as often when Obama was in office, perhaps it’s because he wasn’t engaging in such actions nearly as much as the current administration.

He was criticized plenty when he did something wrong, if Trump and team get criticized more it’s probably because they’re doing more worthy of being criticized.

For editor’s choice on the insightful side, we start out with a comment from Roger Strong, who took the common light comparison between internet platforms and telephone companies and expanded on it, and its connection to one of the biggest myths about CDA 230:

And there were court battles over exactly that, a century or so ago. The upshot was that the phone companies weren’t liable.

Online services had battles over this before the Communications Decency Act:

In 1991 Cubby v. CompuServe ruled that CompuServe was merely a distributor, rather than a publisher. It was only liable for defamation if it knew, or had reason to know, of the defamatory nature of content in its forums. Since it wasn’t moderating them, it didn’t know.

In 1995 Stratton Oakmont v. Prodigy went the other way. Prodigy moderated its forums, wanting a family-friendly environment. And so the court ruled that it was liable for what was posted.

All of which could only mean one thing: Online services that chose to remain ignorant of their content were immune from liability. Those that moderated content, even in good faith, assumed full publisher liability.

1996’s CDA 230 changed this. It’s now safe to make good faith efforts to prevent criminal activity. Remove 230’s protections, and we may go back to “ignorance is safety.”

Which would be a gift to the criminals, though those who want to kill CDA 230 will deny it.

Next, though by now there is plenty of analysis of the Nunes memo from every angle, our second editor’s choice is a nod to the anonymous commenter who provided one of the meatiest comments in the Techdirt discussion on the topic:

Two key points from the Nunes memo

In a stunning case of “own goal”, the very end of the memo points out that the FBI had an investigation going long before the Steele memo (which isn’t a memo at all, but a series of reports) came along. There are two reasons that the FBI paid attention to the Steele memo: (1) Steele has a reputation, a very good one, along with lots of experience and a sizable network of contacts (2) the contents of Steele documents matched things THEY ALREADY KNEW TO BE TRUE.

The second point bears some explanation, because most of you don’t have jobs that require the assessment of raw intelligence that comes from multiple people who may be omitting things or fabricating things or deliberately embedding some truth in a web of lies. The Steele memo is just that kind of raw intelligence, which is why — if you take the time to read it — you’ll notice that Steele himself points out the possible presence of these issues.

But when you get your hands on raw intelligence, and it gives you — let’s say — 100 facts that you can check, and you find that 82 of them are true, 16 are unverifiable, and 2 are false — then you have good reason to think that at least some of those 16 are worth further investigation because they may well turn out to be true. That’s why you get a warrant: first, to re-re-re-verify the 82 and second, to find out about those 16. That’s your JOB.

Then of course you have to make some progress. Because if you don’t, then you’re not going to get multiple judges to renew your warrant multiple times. You might still not be able to check all 16 of those outstanding items, but if you can check 4 and make progress on 7, then you’re getting there and it’s reasonable for a judge to grant more time. If you can’t check any of them, then maybe you’re barking up the wrong tree and the warrant you seek isn’t going to help anyway.

One more thing. This isn’t an edge case. Anyone who goes out of their way to pal around with intelligence agents from another country, even a friendly one, should expect that they’re going to get surveilled: by us, by them, and by third parties who are of course interested in such things for reasons of their own. And anyone who openly brags about it should REALLY expect scrutiny. I have no great love for the FBI, but in this case, they did exactly what any sensible organization should do: start watching people who are heavily interacting with known agents of a hostile foreign power.

Over on the funny side, instead of a first and second place winner, we have a rare perfect tie for the top spot, both from anonymous commenters! So in no particular order, we’ve got a response to apologists for the aggressive use of copyright on Martin Luther King Jr.’s works:

Yes, without copyright protection there would have been no incentive for Dr. King to make speeches!

Next we’ve got a reply to some rant or another by one of our loopier critics:

The Techdirt logo doesn’t have a gold border. Under the Banana Republic Second Circuit Court of Captain Kangaroo, I hereby place you on time out from your silly postings.

For editor’s choice on the funny side, we’ve got a one-two punch on our story about the FCC patting itself on the back for its incredibly stupid first year. An anonymous commenter chimed in early:

Figuratively speaking. To be specific, they mandated that the FTC do the actual back-patting for them.

Then XcOM987 added a further thought:

If all goes to plan though the FTC won’t have the authority to pat the FCC on the back

That’s all for this week, folks!

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Comments on “Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt”

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Roger Strong (profile) says:

What I didn't know when I posted that...

In 1995 Stratton Oakmont v. Prodigy went the other way. Prodigy moderated its forums, wanting a family-friendly environment. And so the court ruled that it was liable for what was posted.

The story of Stratton Oakmont is the basis for Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. The character of Donny Azoff portrayed by Jonah Hill in the 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street was loosely based on its president Danny Porush. (Defamed in Stratton Oakmont v. Prodigy) The 2000 film Boiler Room was also based on Stratton Oakmont.

Apparently there’s a lot to be said for litigating your defamation lawsuits BEFORE other litigation proves the accusations true in court.

Anonymous Coward says:

A bit more on raw intelligence

I should have included this example at the time, but: here’s a little scenario illustrating how raw intelligence works.

You’re a narcotics detective. You haul Frank in (for the fourth time) on a minor possession charge. Frank isn’t happy and is in a talkative mood: he wants to trade some information in return for walking out the door. You agree to see what you can do, and Frank tells you that George — who you’re familiar with — is dealing again, in a major way. Maybe this is true. Or maybe Frank is facing competition from George and is trying to get you to squash that before it becomes serious.

You tell Frank that if this checks out, you’ll spring him, but if not, he’s going to face charges. And then you go find Jim, your longtime informant, and you ask him if he’s heard about any new players lately. (You DO NOT ask him about George. Why? Because he may figure out where you’re going and tell you what he thinks you want to hear.) So let’s say Jim tells you that, yeah, some guy named George is starting to build up his business.

Then you go find Alice. Alice runs an electronics and jewelry and quick loan operation. You ask Alice if anybody has purchased a bunch of phones lately. Alice tells you yes, and she doesn’t know the name, but it was a guy from the southeast part of town. George is in the southeast part of town. You ask Alice for a look at the store’s surveillance camera recordings and she shows you the excerpt from that purchase of 30 phones.

This is all raw intelligence. It all might be true. It all might be lies. Every one of these people has reasons to tell the truth, they all have reasons to lie. If you’re writing this up, you report it as-is and maybe you include notes on your idea of the veracity of each source. Maybe you include notes on the evidence you’ve seen, like the recordings in the last paragraph.

Then this goes to an analyst. (Here the example departs from reality: in police work, YOU are probably the analyst. But not in intelligence.) The analyst takes all of your notes and starts trying to figure out what’s true and what’s not. They correlate against another raw intelligence. They use signals intelligence. They use case files. They use everything they can to try to figure out what this means, and then — if it seems to be something worth pursuing — they start figuring out how to gather more data. Maybe that means having someone follow Frank around. Maybe that means wiretapping those phones. Maybe it means surveilling George’s front business. The whole point is to try to see if the raw intelligence means what it appears to mean.

So when something like the Steele “dossier” comes out, don’t expect it to be completely correct. Lots of it, yes: Steele is very good what he does. But some if it will be wrong, some of it will be fabricated, some it will be planted disinformation. Steele knew that: read what he wrote. Fusion GPS knew it too, because they read. What we’ve learned since is that there is all kinds of OTHER information from OTHER sources that substantiates the raw intelligence in those documents and that’s enough to make alarm bells go off in the heads of any experienced investigators…like the FBI.

So don’t pay attention to the frothing about this detail or that detail in the Steele documents that turns out to be slightly inaccurate or even completely wrong. Not important. Not news. We KNEW that would be the case because, again, it’s raw intelligence, not analysis. Instead pay attention to the details that are backed up from other sources. Especially pay attention to the details that make people uncomfortable.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: A bit more on raw intelligence

Unfortunately this is also explains the US torture program.

People claim – correctly – that a torture victim will tell you what you want to hear. That "torture is ventriloquism." But that assumes that you’re torturing only one person.

So the US tortured suspects AND they tortured those around them AND they tortured those who they suspected merely might have some distant connection to them. Then compared notes. It was a data mining operation.

Which is why Gitmo had to be expanded AND they had interrogation centers in eastern Europe and Morocco AND they were torturing in Iraqi prisons AND they were torturing in Afghanistan AND STILL they had to farm out work to places like Syria and Egypt. They were trying to get as big a dataset as possible. It’s why so many were released with a "never mind" having never been charged.

BTW, one of the torturers is now running for Congress in Pennsylvania.

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