The weird, sickening persecution of Barrett Brown continues. Whether or not you like the guy (and every time we post about him, we hear from people who provide reasons why they dislike him), the way he's been treated by our justice system is despicable. If you don't recall, Brown is an award winning journalist, who certainly went deep with Anonymous and other online groups. Eventually that resulted in him being arrested and harassed by prosecutors for sharing a link. When the infamous Stratfor hacks were released, he shared a link to the files to get people to sift through them. Because some of the files included swiped credit card numbers, he was charged with "trafficking" in stolen credit cards. Oddly, right before trial -- realizing how insane it was to charge him over this -- the feds dropped the charges around linking, but pushed forward on other charges because he hid a laptop in a cabinet and (stupidly...) got angry at the FBI when they came to investigate. The odd part is that following a plea deal, the judge sentenced him to an astounding 63 months in jail -- and cited the sharing of the link (again, those charges were dropped, but it sometimes appeared the judge didn't realize that) to explain why.
But the odder part throughout all of this was just how vindictive and petty everyone in the system were towards Brown -- and specifically towards his interactions with the press. The feds sought to stop the media from reporting on Brown's case and got a judge to block Brown or his lawyers from talking to the media. And once he was in prison, the feds cut off his email.
All this weird petty shit, just to stop him from talking to the media.
Late last year, he was released from prison (earlier than expected) and has been complying with all the terms of his release... except, apparently, officials disagreed with that... because he was conducting interview with the media, according to D Magazine, where Brown has been working since his release. The Intercept, which employed Brown as a columnist while he was in prison, has more details, claiming that his check-in officer suddenly claimed that he needed permission before he could conduct media interviews -- something he had not been told at all.
According to his mother, who spoke with Brown by phone after his arrest, Brown believes the reason for his re-arrest was a failure to obtain “permission” to give interviews to media organizations. Several weeks ago, Brown was told by his check-in officer that he needed to fill out permission forms before giving interviews.
Since his release, Brown has given numerous interviews, on camera and by phone. But according to his mother, Brown said that the Bureau of Prisons never informed him about a paperwork requirement. When he followed up with his check-in officer, he was given a different form: a liability form for media entering prisons.
Just last week, Brown was interviewed for two days by VICE, and his PBS interview was set for Friday.
Leiderman said he had not been presented with a formal justification for the arrest but was told that it had “to do with failing to abide by BOP restrictions on interviews.”
That's both astounding and frightening at the same time, and seems like a fairly blatant kick in the face to the First Amendment. There appears to be no other reason for his arrest other than his speech in the form of conducting media interviews (often critical of criminal justice system). Nothing about this makes sense, other than out of pure vindictiveness. And, of course, if the idea was to shut him up about this, it seems quite likely to backfire massively. Not only will Brown continue to be able to talk about on this, but it's drawing much more attention to the issue from many others in the press, wondering what kind of world we live in when you can be arrested for agreeing to do media interviews.
We've seen random attempts by governments to block access to social media sites or even the internet as a whole, but the Indian state of Kashmir has ordered 22 social networks to be blocked for at least a month. Journalist Nazir Masoodi, who is in Kashmir, tweeted out screen shots of the government order, noting "This could be my last tweet."
This could be my last tweet.Govt bans twitter, whataapp, Facebook and all other social networking sites in Kashmir pic.twitter.com/IF6YJiHAf8
— Nazir Masoodi (@nazir_masoodi) April 26, 2017
We've taken those images and turned them into a PDF if you'd prefer to view them that way. But you can see that basically every big name social network is listed: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Skype, Snapchat, Reddit, YouTube (apparently they just want YouTube uploads blocked, but you can visit the site) and more. MySpace is still available.
As the NY Times points out, this pointless and heavy handed approach is apparently a terrible response to protests:
The move illuminated a government increasingly vexed by civilian protests, by a newly budding homegrown militancy in south Kashmir and by a series of video clips, distributed on social media, depicting confrontations between civilians and Indian security forces.
The order, signed by the principal secretary in the state’s Home Department, contended that social media was being used by “anti-national and subversive elements” for “vitiating peace and tranquillity” in the state.
As always, when governments resort to out-and-out censorship, it's difficult to see how this will do any good at all. There are always alternative ways to communicate and share information, and these kinds of actions tend to galvanize those being censored into being even more aggressive in sharing such info. Indeed, the NY Times quotes protesting students pointing out how pointless such a ban really is:
“The government has to understand that there is a sentiment which forces students to come out on the streets: it is not the internet, it is not Facebook or any other social media platform,” said Aqib Shah, a 19-year-old student at Amar Singh College, who has been participating in protests in Srinagar for the last several days. “It is because of the overwhelming presence of forces that are deployed here.”
Instead of trying to shut people up on the internet, maybe it would be a better idea to listen to them.
As we noted yesterday, FCC Chair Ajit Pai has officially kicked off his plan to kill net neutrality -- and unfortunately did so by spouting debunked myths and fantasies about how much damage net neutrality was causing for investment. As we pointed out that, that's complete hogwash. If you actually looked at what telcos and ISPs were spending it showed no impact from the open internet rules. And, really, why should it have changed investment plans? As we've noted, the rules had basically no impact on ISPs unless those ISPs were looking to screw over consumers. And if it harmed those ISPs' investment plans, that doesn't seem like a very big loss. Otherwise, the open internet rules just provided clear "rules of the road" for ISPs to treat internet data fairly and to not screw over end users.
Either way, that's not the only "investment" that Pai should be looking at. Because one of the other key aspects of having an open internet is the massive amount of investment that has resulted for companies that operate on the internet. Pai seems (bizarrely) exclusively focused on investment in the infrastructure (which, again, has not dropped despite his claims) and totally ignores all the investment layers above (which also helps funds the infrastructure). So, just as Pai is (wrongly) whining that net neutrality harmed investment, over 800 startups, from all 50 states, sent him a letter urging him not to get rid of the open internet rules (and, yes, we were among those who signed onto the letter).
This is important. Pai is making all sorts of misleading to nonsensical claims about the impact on the economy of the net neutrality rules, but in doing so he's trying to ignore all of the business that's created because the internet is kept open and free and the giant incumbent access providers are unable to favor their own services or throttle and stifle innovative upstarts. Pai talks a good game about how he wants the "democratization of entrepreneurship" thanks to a fast internet. That's great. But if he kills off net neutrality we lose that. We get a system where each startup has to go begging and pleading to each access provider for a deal they probably can't get or couldn't afford even if they were able to. We've seen that world. It's the world that existed on mobile phones in the early 2000s when the providers got to control (i.e., charge ridiculous sums for) who had access to their customers. That was not a good world to live in and it vastly limited the economic opportunities of the mobile world. It was only when smartphones broke away from the carriers' control that things changed.
We shouldn't move back towards that kind of world, yet that appears to be the clear end result of the plans that Pai is pushing. This is a mistake and over 800 startups are letting him know that. Pai may think he can ignore them all, but he should note that each of those companies has a lot of users, and it's not difficult to ask them to speak up too. Pai is playing with fire if he thinks that the public won't speak out about his attempts to kill off net neutrality and to harm the most innovative companies out there, in favor for the slow, lumbering duopolists who control the pipes.
It doesn't take many stories of people suffering due to unaffordable medicine to make you question the state of pharmaceutical patents, but the arguments in their defense are loud and frequent. Most are variations on the same theme: without the promise of a monopoly, important drugs would never be researched and developed. But does this argument truly hold up? It's come up as a tangent in previous episodes of the podcast, but this week we're dedicating a full episode to questioning the popular defenses of pharma patents and looking for a better way forward.
Anyone familiar with internet culture will be familiar with Godwin's law. It goes roughly something like this: the longer a discussion goes on on the internet, the higher the probability that a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis will be made. This axiom enjoys lofty status on the internet -- so often have we seen its claim played out in threads and discussions.
Godwin's Law is, of course, not a real law. But there may soon be a real Godwin's Law on the books, stemming from the murder of Robert Godwin Sr. and the subsequent video upload to Facebook of the murder.
Erie Feinberg, heads a company called GIPEC, specializing in deep Internet searches looking for criminals or terrorists. He is now calling for new federal regulations so what happened in Godwin’s case doesn’t happen again.
“I think it starts in Cleveland, in Ohio right now, where everybody calls their congressman and their senator," Feinberg told the FOX 8 I-Team. He wants new limits on websites posting horrific crimes. "They created this world, and it's not an excuse to say, ‘You can't expect us to police every bit of content post and video.’ Well, you created this. You should secure it."
Feinberg isn't the first person to stamp his or her feet in the wake of Robert Godwin's murder with calls for social media sites to do something, anything, to keep this type of content from ever being shared on the computer screens of the masses. What's frustrating about these types of screeds is how clear it is, at times even to the person screeding, that there is little if anything that can be done by companies like Facebook beyond what they do already to stop any of this. The problem is how tantalizing it is to those grieving, as well as to those of us viewing what happened to Godwin from afar, to try to place blame on a site like Facebook for ever having shown us this type of terrible content. You can hear it in Feinberg's words: "You created this. You should secure it." (And let's not even bother digging into the more cynical take that this kind of "do something!" regulation might benefit Feinberg's own company... )
Facebook already works quite hard to take down violent videos of this kind from its pages. However, there is little it can do to prevent the content from being uploaded initially. The site relies on users to report when images and videos ought to be taken down. The takedowns can only happen after the upload. The fundamental question is: do we want a world where user videos can be uploaded to Facebook? If we do, we need to understand the collateral content that may come with that. No Godwin's Law that would pass constitutional muster is going to solve the problem. And no amount of fist-shaking at this tragedy is going to make Facebook magically able to solve it either.
The calls for something to be done are calls based on emotion. Understandable emotion. You can, again, hear it in Feinberg's words as he pushes for a real-life Godwin's Law.
"There's gotta be some good or some positives out of this heinous act," Feinberg said.
No, there doesn't. This isn't a movie. Bad things happen and there isn't always something that can, or should, be done about it. Certainly, laying blame at the feet of Facebook because a single user uploaded a murder video is wholly inappropriate.