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New Zealand Parliament Overwhelming Decides Free Speech Must Take A Backseat To Cyberbullying Concerns (Free Speech)

by Tim Cushing

from the being-mean-but-with-technology?-that's-a-jailing dept on Monday, July 6th, 2015 @ 6:39AM

New Zealand is the latest country to "do something" about online trolling. A rather comprehensive anti-cyberbullying act passed its third reading in the Parliament by a significant margin (116-5) and is awaiting royal assent. The "Harmful Digital Communications Act" criminalizes plenty of speech, mainly through the use of broad wording.

Principle 1
A digital communication should not disclose sensitive personal facts about an individual.


Principle 2
A digital communication should not be threatening, intimidating, or menacing.

Principle 3
A digital communication should not be grossly offensive to a reasonable person in the position of the affected individual.

Principle 4
A digital communication should not be indecent or obscene.

Principle 5
A digital communication should not be used to harass an individual.

Principle 6
A digital communication should not make a false allegation.

Principle 7
A digital communication should not contain a matter that is published in breach of confidence.

Principle 8
A digital communication should not incite or encourage anyone to send a message to an individual for the purpose of causing harm to the individual.

Principle 9
A digital communication should not incite or encourage an individual to commit suicide.

Principle 10
A digital communication should not denigrate an individual by reason of his or her colour, race, ethnic or national origins, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.
Violating these principles could result in a two-year prison sentence. Encouraging someone to take their own life could result in an addition year in prison, even if no suicide attempt is made.

A quick glance at the principles reveals several flaws. First off, journalists are going to have a hard time avoiding disclosing "sensitive facts about an individual." While the courts are obliged to weigh the public interest during enforcement of this act, it sets a very low bar for those who wish to file complaints. And while deliberating this aspect, courts may issue interim orders to take down "offending" material until the matter is resolved.

That's just one aspect that chills speech. Lowering the bar for "harm" to "serious emotional distress" is another. The wording hints at objectivity with "reasonable person" but also asks the "reasonable person" to act as an empathetic proxy for the person filing the complaint.

Principle 10 fortunately limits itself to targeted individuals, rather than criminalizing the denigration of entire groups. Ignorance shouldn't be criminalized. There's far too much of it in the world, but putting people in jail for being racist, sexist or bashing their least-favorite religion does nothing to change the minds of those involved and will needlessly harm the lives of people who are far more stupid than dangerous.

On top of this, the new law would add additional responsibilities for social media platforms and site owners. They are invited to apply for New Zealand-specific "safe harbours," but these only provide them temporary immunity from prosecution. Once the court order arrives, platform/site owners are obliged to remove the offending post(s). Failure to do so puts the site owners in line for $50,000 fines and/or prison terms. So, it's not really a "safe harbor." All it does is prevent the person filing the complaint from going after the platform/site first, rather than the person actually posting the offending content.

The arguments for the passage of the bill were the expected ones. Legislator Jacqui Dean admitted there were concerns about the new law -- especially considering there were plenty of laws on the books already to deal with a majority of the offenses (defamation, harassment, etc.), but still felt more was needed because children.
There have been many thoughtful contributions on this Harmful Digital Communications Bill. I do acknowledge that it is a legislative response that some view as impinging on freedom of speech and perhaps might be too heavy-handed. What I would say is that the protection of our young people in particular—their protection from cyber-bullying—is so very important that I think this bill is a very good step, and I commend it to the House.
This argument -- from Deputy Leader Tracey Martin -- is particularly horrifying, especially considering her earlier statement that the internet's mutating "threats" are the reason new legislation is needed. Martin thinks there's should be a clear delineation between those who receive the "public interest" exemption and those who don't, despite her previous acknowledgment that the entire situation remains in a constant state of flux.
Ms Ardern addressed the question of whether—there was conversation at the select committee—bloggers were really “media”. I would make this statement: media can certainly be bloggers; bloggers cannot, and should not, ever be considered as media. The media has actually taken training. They have criteria. They have boundaries that they work inside of, and they can be held accountable inside of them. Anybody who wants to set up a blog and just vent their opinion should not be considered media. So with regard to that, I would hope—and I know it was pushed by certain members of the blogging society at the select committee—that the line maintained by media, true media, is maintained.
Some of the worst arguments appeared outside of the legislation. This editorial, written by Minister of Justice, Amy Adams, hits all the speech tropes in three sentences.
It's worth remembering that no right or freedom is absolute. Just as you can't scream fire in a crowded theatre, nor should you be allowed to threaten someone online, incite people to kill themselves on social media, or share revenge porn with the world, and claim that as your democratic right. Our rights can, and should be, subject to reasonable limits where demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
The only mitigating factor in Adam's "free speech is more about what's not allowed" argument is that her view comes from the viewpoint of a New Zealander, rather than someone deliberately misreading the First Amendment.

One of the few to vote against the bill (and against his own party) was Gareth Hughes, who made several good points during his address, starting with the bill's creation of two sets of laws that treat online and offline very differently.
In my time here I have seen some very badly drafted tech legislation. We have seen the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act and the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Act, or the “Skynet Act”, where badly conceived law came together with under-informed legislators, all with the best of interests, to pass terrible laws. So, for the first time in my parliamentary career, today I am casting a separate vote from my party, because I believe this law, this bill, is the wrong solution to the right question, which is “What do we do about cyber-bullying?”. Ultimately, this bill is overly broad, it risks limiting our freedom of expression and the important role of the media in our democracy, and it introduces a precedent that one thing can be legal offline but illegal onlineI believe there are better ways to go about reducing cyber-bullying, such as the approved agency and funding education, without making a new criminal offence just for the digital world.

[...]

As Tim Watkin has pointed out, this law applies not just to bloggers but to journalists as well. He points to the ludicrous situation that a public interest story of, say, the corrupt MP, as we have given the example of before, who is subject to harm by the story, would be perfectly legal if it were published in a newspaper but punishable if posted on that media organisation’s website or transmitted electronically.
David Seymour (Leader - ACT) noted the bill's "do something" origin and its overall awfulness.
This bill is a case study in bad lawmaking. All of the elements of bad lawmaking exist in this bill. Not since we microchipped dogs in the hope that it would prevent a particularly egregious dog event has there has been such a bad law before this House. First, you had the high-profile and really quite disgraceful event. Then you had the discovery that in actual fact the laws in place had not been properly used by the agency in place to prevent the harms that occurred there. Then you had the knee-jerk reaction from the politicians, who said: “We must do something. This bill is indeed something; therefore, we will pass this bill, and it must be the right thing to do.”

[...]

What exactly does this bill do? Well, the first thing that it does is introduce a set of communications principles that might be appropriate if we were about to embark on a school camp, but which are not appropriate for the governance of 4.5 million people, many of whom are adults—and the children among them are the responsibility of adults. It says that you cannot offend somebody. So, for instance, would Flight of the Conchords’ song Albi the Racist Dragon be offensive if it was communicated online? Well, we are told, in defence of the “badly burnt Albanian boy” from last week, that of course this law would never be used in such a silly and un-sensible way. That is the problem with the law: it gives no protection. We are supposed to rely on the beneficence of the enforcers. That is bad lawmaking.
Seymour also pointed out the "government knows best" condescension being displayed towards opponents of the broadly-worded bill.
The pace of development on the internet is so rapid that, in actual fact, the incentive for the hosts of content is to give good experiences. If it is true that harm is being done, then the one person who has both the incentive and the means to rapidly mitigate that harm is the host, whether that be Facebook, or Ask.fm, or Twitter, or whoever else hosts the website. For the same reason that harmful digital communication becomes exponentially greater, those people have the tools to mitigate it. But you do not hear that from the Government or from the supporters of this bill. There is a moralising tone from them: if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear; that these vague principles will not be enforced for silly reasons, you understand; that as long as you are sensible and you are doing nothing wrong, it will not be used against you.
This mentality is fully on display in the Minister of Justice's op-ed:
Some commentators claim the bill's measures erode freedom of expression and prevent genuine media reporting. These fears are unfounded and I'm confident the bill has struck the right balance between preventing real harm and preserving valuable free speech.

Critics have hysterically claimed it will muzzle journalists from pursuing stories and restrict cartoonists from publishing satire.

This is simply untrue.
In defense of her claims, the Minister points at the bill's intentions.
The bill aims to stop and prevent the circulation of online abuse, not curtail people's freedoms of expression or suppress the media.
As if broadly-written laws have never resulted in unintended consequences and mission creep. According to Adams, the government is a good steward of citizens' rights and never acts out of malice, self-interest or pure stupidity. The government can be trusted to fight for citizens rather than allow the powerful to abuse a bad law for their own ends. Really. Trust us. This time we mean it.



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Hacking Team Hacked: Documents Show Company Sold Exploits And Spyware To UN-Blacklisted Governments ((Mis)Uses of Technology)

by Tim Cushing

from the I-would-imagine-there-are-plenty-of-new-openings-on-its-appointment-calendar dept on Monday, July 6th, 2015 @ 3:39AM

Hacking Team -- purveyor of exploits and spyware to a variety of government agencies all over the world -- has been hacked. Late Sunday night, its Twitter account name was changed to "Hacked Team" and its bio to read:


Developing ineffective, easy-to-pwn offensive technology to compromise the operations of the worldwide law enforcement and intelligence communities.
Whoever's behind this (no group has claimed responsibility yet) has repurposed the official Hacking Team Twitter feed to send out screenshots of incriminating information it/they have uncovered. For those who want to take a look themselves, the liberated documents can be torrented. Here are two places the torrent file can be picked up. (CAUTION: actual file is 400 GB, so use a robust client and check your drive[s] for free space…) [And, if those go down, I've also stashed the torrent file here.]

What has been exposed so far shows Hacking Team has been lying about its business partners. It claims to only sell to NATO partners and blacklists oppressive governments. But its "Customer" Wiki appears to show that it counts such countries as Kazakhstan, Sudan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Malaysia as partners.

Screenshots of emails accessed by Hacking Team's hackers show the company circumventing local regulations and restrictions on the export of exploits and spyware by using third party resellers.


If you can't see/read the screenshot, here's the pertinent information. The email subject is "Remote Control Davinci System into Nigeria." Underneath that is the proposed third-party process for sneaking Hacking Team's "Davinci" past import/export restrictions:

Commissions and meeting:

Being an Italian company, we are following the guidelines of our exterior ministry.

Understanding that this is an uncommon circumstance, this is what we are proposing:

HackingTeam will sell directly to your company and then TunsmosPetroleum will add its own mark up. The price you will purchase from us will include a discount on the list price as a compensation for the 1st meeting/demo in Milan and the training (in Milan as well) after the sale.
Other screenshots further confirm Hacking Team's efforts in forbidden markets. One shows the company dealing with a "Sudan Citizen Lab request," suggesting its end user(s) are uncomfortable with the investigative activities CL is performing.

ACLU technologist Chris Soghoain has taken a look at the files and uncovered even more incriminating information, including Hacking Team's stonewalling of a UN investigation into its sales in Sudan. This investigation is the direct result of Citizen Lab's investigative work. According to the files viewed by Soghoian, Hacking Team has denied any "current sales relationship" with Sudan, at least in terms of selling the sort of weaponized software forbidden by multiple treaties and UN resolutions. It claimed the software isn't weaponized tech. The UN disagreed.

Your letter 1029 of 13 March 2015 also stated that the company did not consider the Remote Control Software to be a weapon, and therefore fell outside the parameters of the sanctions regime. The view of the Panel is that as such software is ideally suited to support military electronic intelligence (ELINT) operations it may potentially fall under the category of "military… equipment" or "assistance" related to prohibited items…
There's still plenty more to be uncovered in the document dump. Soghoian has already uncovered a spreadsheet listing every government customer, along with revenue to date.

Whatever happens from here on out should prove very interesting. Hacking Team is in for the longest Monday ever.
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Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt (Techdirt)

by Leigh Beadon

from the trump-cards dept on Sunday, July 5th, 2015 @ 12:00PM

This week, the MPAA unveiled some new anti-piracy ads that are targeted (of course) at people who have already paid to go see a movie. Vincent Clement won most insightful comment of the week by underlining just how backwards this is:

It's interesting that at no point does the RIAA or movie studio every THANK people for paying to see the movie or for buying the DVD or digital file.

Even a used car salesman will shake your hand when you buy a vehicle.

Meanwhile, as we continued our discussion of the Uber crackdown in France, one commenter brought out the disingenuous argument that this is is really all about knowing that you're insured when taking a cab. Senor Space Beans won second place for insightful by putting that notion to bed:

It's funny, my state government checks to see if I have insurance before issuing my drivers licence. It doesn't cost six figures to perform said check. The license doesn't provide the insurance; it stipulates that you have insurance.

Taxi Licenses in Paris cost so much because legacy taxi companies lobbied to have them raised to prevent any new comers from elbowing in on their market share. They've created their own problem and nobody's talking about it because it's easier to blame someone else when you've failed to innovate.

For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start out with a response to the FCC commissioner's apparent view that broadband isn't all that important. Seegras had a solid theory on just how he could be so wrong:

Secretary Syndrome

Some people don't even realise they're dependant on the internet, because they have all their staff doing the work -- depending on the internet -- on their behalf.

Next, we circle back to the MPAA's anti-piracy ads, where one commenter suggested there's nothing movie studios could that the Techdirt community would approve of or appreciate. DannyB chimed in with a list of counter-examples:

You are wrong. But you are too blind to see it.

Here are a dozen things the movie industry could do.

1. Quit focusing on Google which has absolutely nothing to do with piracy.
2. Go after actual infringers. With proof. Using due process. You know, the site hosting infringing content. Free Clue: if you take those down, then those sites don't appear in Google. (and other search engines!)
3. Quit trying to use copyright as a censorship tool.
4. Quit trying to create laws the impose liability upon everyone except the actual infringers.
5. Try making movies that I actually want to see. (There is exactly one movie this summer that I am interested in seeing -- this is the first time in several years. This new stupid anti-piracy ad for three minutes is giving me 2nd thoughts.)
6. If you want to actually help the hard working people you feature in your anti piracy ad, then get rid of Hollywood Accounting.
7. Quit complaining about the Creative Commons license.
8. If I buy a DVD (or CD) I should own either a piece of plastic that costs virtually nothing to produce, or I should own a licensed copy that allows me to very cheaply replace the worn piece of plastic. Or have reasonable backup policies. Most people are honest. But you'll never see this.
9. Quit trying to destroy the public domain. Quit trying to re-copyright it.
10. Quit extending copyright.
11. In short, quit abusing copyright.
12. Quit trolling TechDirt

Extra freebie:

13. Get your head out of the sand. Quit being stuck in the past. See the future. Technology is your friend. It always has been historically even when you fought it kicking and screaming.

Over on the funny side, we start out on a recent patent trolling story, this time involving newly-formed company Wetro Lan, LLC. Beltorak noticed something about that name, and I'm not even entirely sure it's a coincidence:

wait wait wait wait

are you serious?? a patent troll called "We Trollin"??? How is this not some form of high satire?

oh yeah, cause they're serious :-/

Next, in response to Donald Trump's defamation lawsuit over an Instagram photo that put his face next to Dylan Roof's, one anonymous comment's second-place win shows just how much people can't stand Trump:

About that side-by-side picture- between the two of them, why is Trump the one suing?

For editor's choice on the funny side, we'll start by heading back to the MPAA anti-piracy ads one more time, since one anonymous commenter discovered something hilarious when he tried to watch:

I don't usually go to the movies but I still wanted to see what these commercials are about, so I clicked the links.

"This content is not available in your region."

Huh, I guess they only want people in the United States to stop pirating.

Finally, every now and then we get a comment that is a complete satirical re-imagining of a famous work. Truth be told, a lot of them don't seem all that inspired — but DannyB deserves a second nod this week for his opus, How the Cable TV stole Internet Streaming:

Every Who on the Internet liked Netflix a lot...
But the Cable who lived north of Internet, Did NOT!
The Cable HATED Netflix, the whole TV streaming!
Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his greed was too tight.
But the reason most likely for the copyright pigs
May have been that their ego was six sizes too big.

Whatever the reason, Their heart or their greed,
They stood on the precipice of Cable TV.
Staring down from their cave with a sour, greedy fret,
At the warm lighted screens all over the Internet.

For they knew down on the Internet
Every Who they could see
Was watching Netflix original series
Instead of Cable TV!

And that new streaming content! cable snarled with a sneer,
Streaming TV is popular, it is practically here!
Then they growled with their long fingers nervously drumming,
"I MUST find some way to stop the Streaming from coming!"

For in the future cable knew, all the Who girls and boys,
Would be watching on smart phones, their tablets, gadgets and toys!

Then they got an idea! An awful idea!
The Cable got a horrible, awful idea!
"I know just what to do!" The Cable laughed like a brute.
I'll call my lawyers", they snarled, "to file a lawsuit!"

That's all for this week, folks!

31 Comments

This Week In Techdirt History: June 28th - July 4th (Techdirt)

by Leigh Beadon

from the it's-all-relative dept on Saturday, July 4th, 2015 @ 12:00PM

Five Years Ago

Last week, we recalled on ASCAP's attack on Creative Commons. This week in 2010, its own members lashed out at it in response. EFF, Public Knowledge and Creative Commons itself all politely responded to the attack, while we noted that the music publishing industry in general has a bad habit of aggression towards consumer's groups and those who respect individual rights.

The Swedish Pirate Party was seeking to host The Pirate Bay from inside the Swedish parliament, while Dutch ISPs were fighting against demands that they block the site entirely, even as Dutch public television was experimenting with BitTorrent distribution. Meanwhile, the pilot of TV show Pioneer One was released on BitTorrent and quickly raised $20,000 do create more episodes.

The Supreme Court's Bilski Ruling came out, narrowly allowing software and business model patents to survive while dropping plenty of hints that the court was against software patents in the long run. The IEEE, on the other hand, just celebrated.

Ten Years Ago

This week in 2005, there were two other expected and fairly predictable rulings from the Supreme Court: Grokster and Brand X. Sweden was putting a bad file-sharing law into effect while a Taiwanese court ruled that file-sharing software is completely legal. The EU wanted an EU-wide licensing scheme for music downloads, former RIAA boss Hilary Rosen realized that these victories might not be victories and at least one record label surprised us by not blaming technology for its problems. Warner Brothers, on the other hand, was still actively rebelling against new business models, while UK residents were discovering that their home VHS copies were the only remaining records of shows the BBC never kept.

Newspapers were having fun making pointless and/or obvious observations about the digital age, like the fact that online directions are sometimes wrong, or that user-created content is popular, or that giant would-you-rather studies about technology yield weird results.

Fifteen Years Ago

Five years before that, the New York Times was already criticizing geeks while lexicographers were struggling to agree on the correct spelling of "dot-com" (or .com or dotcom or...) A former top music exec was pointing out that file-sharing can't be stopped, while a current top music exec was insisting he'll crush digital music sites entirely.

Some high-profile outages also rocked the web this week in 2000: Yahoo! went down when a fiber line was severed, United Airlines' website disappeared for most of a morning, and most shocking of all, a glitch took down Techdirt's front page for an hour and a half.

One-Hundred And Ten Years Ago

We've had lots of technology history lately, so this week let's take a break for some science history. It was on June 30th, 1905 that the Annalen der Physik science journal received Albert Einstein's paper On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies, which established the theory of special relativity. The universe would never be the same again.

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Awesome Stuff: Supplying The R For VR (Innovation)

by Leigh Beadon

from the look-all-around dept on Friday, July 3rd, 2015 @ 12:00PM

A few weeks ago, we featured the Gloveone and talked about the growing market for supplemental virtual reality devices. We also talked about the coming VR future on this week's podcast episode. But there's another half of the VR world we haven't talked a lot about: the capture and creation of VR environments. This week, we're looking at the Sphericam 2, a 360-degree 4k camera.

The Good

As VR devices like the Oculus Rift become more popular, there's going to be a huge thirst for content — and in this everyone-is-a-creator world, a huge thirst for content-making tools, too. Though much of the excitement has been around video games and from-scratch environments, there are also plenty of compelling things to be done with material captured the real world. For that, you need an elaborate multi-camera setup — or a device like the Sphericam. It's tiny (about the size of a tennis ball), rugged and full-featured, and requires no special knowledge to capture 360-degree footage which can then be converted to a navigable VR environment. It's basically a GoPro combined with a Google Street View car, and that's pretty cool. For the videophile, it has solid specs: 60fps raw video at 4096x2048 resolution, on six cameras with no blind spots.

The Bad

There's really only one major drawback here, and that's the price. At $1500 plus shipping, it's not something that's going to find its way into everyone's pocket overnight. That's not to say the price is unfair — given the amount of technology packed into the device, it seems at least reasonable, but for the time being it remains an obstacle. Still, just like the VR devices themselves, it's likely that things like the Sphericam will only get more and more accessible as time goes on.

The User Generated

This is the part that's really exciting and interesting about devices like this. Today, it's simply no longer enough to release a new means of consuming content to the world — it needs to come with ways of creating that content. The world of virtual reality will have no multi-decade gap between early "professional only" days and later "everyone's in on it" days, like photography or film or recorded music — the two will arrive almost simultaneously, with content coming from a huge spectrum from amateur to professional and everything in between. Devices like the Sphericam are paving the way for this, demonstrating that even something cutting-edge like virtual reality can and will be adopted by creators of all classes. It's going to be an interesting future in more ways than one.

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