from the that's-not-transparency dept
IP Watch notes that the USTR released its list of weekly press events... in which every one of them is closed to the press.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Oct 24th 2013 8:15pm
by Michael Ho
Thu, Oct 24th 2013 5:00pm
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Oct 24th 2013 3:45pm
If you haven't been following, a very large coalition of folks worried about NSA surveillance activities have put together the Stop Watching Us Rally, taking place on this Saturday in DC. As folks prepare for the rally, it appears to be gaining a lot of steam and support, including via an excellent new video featuring a combination of politicians, actors, activists and whistleblowers talking about the importance of our privacy.
The NSA's supporters keep acting like this is no big deal and it will all blow over, but that seems less and less likely.
by Glyn Moody
Thu, Oct 24th 2013 2:41pm
The idea that Wikipedia is dying has become one of the Internet's recurrent stories. Because something used by so many people every day is completely free and dependent on the selfless dedication of relatively few individuals, there is perhaps an underlying fear that it will disappear, and it will be our fault for not supporting it better. However, alongside major issues like the need for an influx of new contributors from more diverse backgrounds, one of the lesser-known challenges Wikipedia faces is the rise of "socking", or sock puppetry. Here's how Wikipedia defines the term:
The use of multiple Wikipedia user accounts for an improper purpose is called sock puppetry (often abbreviated in discussion as socking). Improper purposes include attempts to deceive or mislead other editors, disrupt discussions, distort consensus, avoid sanctions, or otherwise violate community standards and policies. The term comes from sock puppet, an object shaped roughly like a sock and used on the hand to create a character to entertain or inform. In Internet terminology it is an online identity used for deception.
One of the most frowned-upon forms of socking involves payments. A fascinating article in The Daily Dot reveals a company called Wiki-PR that offers exactly that:
Wiki-PR is no secret. Wikipedia admins have been aware of the company for some time. It openly boasts of its service on its website. Wiki-PR claims to have a "staff of 45 Wikipedia editors and admins helps you build a page that stands up to the scrutiny of Wikipedia's community rules and guidelines."
It's ironic, because a PR debacle is what Wiki-PR seems to be experiencing thanks to a major Wikipedia clampdown on socking, announced in this post by the Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, Sue Gardner:
It claims a roster of 12,000 clients and offers them this ironic warning: "Don't get caught in a PR debacle editing your own page."
Editors on the English Wikipedia are currently investigating allegations of suspicious edits and sockpuppetry (i.e. using online identities for purposes of deception). At this point, as reported, it looks like a number of user accounts -- perhaps as many as several hundred -- may have been paid to write articles on Wikipedia promoting organizations or products, and have been violating numerous site policies and guidelines, including prohibitions against sockpuppetry and undisclosed conflicts of interest. As a result, Wikipedians aiming to protect the projects against non-neutral editing have blocked or banned more than 250 user accounts.
She goes on to explain why paid advocacy is a problem:
Editing-for-pay has been a divisive topic inside Wikipedia for many years, particularly when the edits to articles are promotional in nature. Unlike a university professor editing Wikipedia articles in their area of expertise, paid editing for promotional purposes, or paid advocacy editing as we call it, is extremely problematic. We consider it a "black hat" practice. Paid advocacy editing violates the core principles that have made Wikipedia so valuable for so many people.
What's interesting about this episode -- aside from all the details revealed by The Daily Dot investigation -- is that it raises some key questions about what Wikipedia is and what it is trying to do. For example, when does an article about a company become promotional material? What if a PR person is genuinely correcting incorrect info? Can they do so ethically? More generally, what kind of subjects should be included? Wikipedia uses the idea of "notability", but what does that mean? Would paying Wikipedia contributors help to bring in the much-needed new blood to re-invigorate the project, or would it simply lead to yet more socking? Those are questions worth pondering and answering because, for all the concerns about Wikipedia's future, few have any doubts about its value and importance -- both to the Internet, and indeed to modern society.
What is clear to everyone is that all material on Wikipedia needs to adhere to Wikipedia’s editorial policies, including those on neutrality and verifiability. It is also clear that companies that engage in unethical practices on Wikipedia risk seriously damaging their own reputations. In general, companies engaging in self-promotional activities on Wikipedia have come under heavy criticism from the press and the general public, with their actions widely viewed as inconsistent with Wikipedia's educational mission.
Thu, Oct 24th 2013 1:38pm
Here's the problem. First, everyone who isn't a duck-billed platypus high on ether knows the handle in question is a parody account. The text of the tweet makes it obvious to anyone who isn't even familiar with Francesa. Secondly, all this threat does, broadcast on his own show in New York, is draw even more attention to the tweet in question, the parody account, and anything the guys behind it might put out later. Thirdly, all this really accomplishes is to make Francesa look like a humorless blowhard who can't take a little gentle ribbing. That ain't New York tough, Mike. And, finally, the threat itself sucks. Promising to out people for who they are and what they do for a living, when you've already admitted they're just everyday guys, is about as terrifying as a poodle with a cough. All that would do is bring these guys even more attention.
And he's not just limiting his criticism to those guys, but he's attacking Twitter as well:
Twitter, which is gonna go public here next month, has gotta do something about the process of people's names being able to be used without their say so. OK? You can't control what the people say. This account's in my name.Of course, that ignores that Twitter actually has just such a policy, though it's arguable whether or not the parody account fully complies with the policy requirements. Still, it's impossible to look at that account or any single one of its tweets and not realize it's a parody account.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Oct 24th 2013 12:30pm
In one recent case, a US official provided NSA with 200 phone numbers to 35 world leaders. S2 Operations Staff immediately supplied this information to the S2 Production Centers (PCs). Despite the fact that the majority is probably available via open source, the PCs have noted 43 previously unknown phone numbers. These numbers plus several others have been tasked to OCTAVE.OCTAVE is an NSA tool for metadata, so it would appear that they were collecting the (still important) metadata on those calls, but not necessarily recording them or listening to them (caveat: "... under this program...").
This success leads S2 to wonder if there are NSA liaisons whose supported customers may be willing to share their rolodexes or phone lists with NSA as potential sources of intelligence. S2 welcomes such information!I'll bet they do! Also: "supported customers"?
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Oct 24th 2013 11:36am
The central element of abuse of process is the use of litigation for an ulterior purpose -- that is, a purpose other than to achieve relief for the wrong alleged. The overall record of this case leaves no doubt that that is exactly what Jenzabar did; it subjected Long Bow to protracted and costly litigation not to protect the good will of its trademark from misappropriation, but to suppress criticism of Jenzabar's principals and its corporate practices.Jenzabar might still appeal this ruling, apparently, and given its willingness to drag this on for years and years and years, despite almost no chance of prevailing, it seems like there's a decent chance it will do so.
[....] Equally indicative of Jenzabar's ulterior purpose is its conduct of discovery, particularly its pursuit of lines of inquiry in depositions that had no conceivable relevance to its claims. The exercise of discretion by the judge who heard discovery motions not to award sanctions at that time does not preclude this Court's consideration of Jenzabar's conduct at depositions as part of the totality of the circumstances of the case.
Similarly instructive as to Jenzabar's ulterior purpose is its statement of facts in opposition to summary judgment, in which it set forth a series of assertions to the effect that statements by Long Bow on its Jenzabar page and elsewhere were harmful to Jenzabar's reputation and its "standing in the academic community." Clearly, Jenzabar's concern was not user confusion as to sponsorship or source, but harm to its reputation arising from the content of Long Bow's statements. Jenzabar's multiple and shifting legal and factual theories, asserted at the various stages of the case, support the same conclusion, as does its objection to pro hac vice admission of the lawyer who assumed Long Bow's defense after it had exhausted its resources. In this regard, the differences in economic power between the parties is one of many circumstances that tends to confirm the conclusion that Jenzabar engaged in extortionate conduct, making this case exceptional.
by Tim Cushing
Thu, Oct 24th 2013 10:35am
The court ruling earlier this year that found in favor of Universal Music Group against Grooveshark hinged on an argument made by the plaintiff that the DMCA (and its safe harbors) doesn't apply to pre-1972 recordings, thanks to some clumsy wording within the law itself. While that may not have been the intent of the law, the wording of the law can be interpreted that way -- an argument the court felt was persuasive enough to rule in favor of UMG. Other courts haven't been so sure, but the possibility that the DMCA doesn't apply has resulted in a lot of concerns... and a whole bunch of lawsuits.
As it stands now, post-1972 recordings are clearly covered by federal law (and DMCA safe harbors apply). Pre-1972 recordings are subject to a variety of state laws and, according to the New York court's ruling, are not subject to the DMCA or its safe harbors. The attorney who represented UMG for its appeal, Andrew Bart of New York's Jenner & Block (one of the RIAA's favorite law firms), is also listed as the attorney for the four record labels who are now suing United Airlines for its making pre-1972 recordings available to stream on demand on its flights.
Arista, Sony, Zomba and LaFace Records sued United Airlines, InFlight Productions and RightsCom, in Federal Court. InFlight and RightsCom are both based in London.The list of allegedly infringing tracks is likely pulled from United/InFlight's own playlists which seem to change periodically. The labels claim "thousands" of violations on songs that cost "millions" to produce and are seeking to collect both statutory and compensatory damages, as well as "unjust profits" and court costs.
The record labels claim the defendants work "in concert" to load copyrighted music onto servers that are installed on United airplanes, "where they are used to transmit performances of plaintiffs' copyrighted sound recordings and music videos to passengers."
The copyright violations are for music recorded before 1972, the labels say. Thirteen pages attached to the complaint contain more than 600 songs whose copyrights the defendants allegedly violate, by artists including Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Oct 24th 2013 9:29am
The deeper threat that leakers such as Manning and Snowden pose is more subtle than a direct assault on U.S. national security: they undermine Washington’s ability to act hypocritically and get away with it. Their danger lies not in the new information that they reveal but in the documented confirmation they provide of what the United States is actually doing and why. When these deeds turn out to clash with the government’s public rhetoric, as they so often do, it becomes harder for U.S. allies to overlook Washington’s covert behavior and easier for U.S. adversaries to justify their own.The real threat then to all of this activity is that that form of political hypocrisy is no longer possible, because (1) the public in other countries won't accept it any more leading to (2) politicians having to point out the hypocrisy and (inevitably) (3) other global powers taking advantage of that now public hypocrisy to further their own interests.
Few U.S. officials think of their ability to act hypocritically as a key strategic resource. Indeed, one of the reasons American hypocrisy is so effective is that it stems from sincerity: most U.S. politicians do not recognize just how two-faced their country is. Yet as the United States finds itself less able to deny the gaps between its actions and its words, it will face increasingly difficult choices -- and may ultimately be compelled to start practicing what it preaches.
Given how much they benefit from the global public goods Washington provides, they have little interest in calling the hegemon on its bad behavior. Public criticism risks pushing the U.S. government toward self-interested positions that would undermine the larger world order. Moreover, the United States can punish those who point out the inconsistency in its actions by downgrading trade relations or through other forms of direct retaliation. Allies thus usually air their concerns in private. Adversaries may point fingers, but few can convincingly occupy the moral high ground. Complaints by China and Russia hardly inspire admiration for their purer policies.Furthermore, it points out, the fact that the US has been able to get away with this for so long has just perpetuated the issue. US politicians probably don't feel like they're being hypocritical, as discussed above, but part of it is pure complacency. They've gotten away with it so many times in so many ways for so many years, that it's become the way things are done. And these leaks may undermine all of that.
A better alternative would be for Washington to pivot in the opposite direction, acting in ways more compatible with its rhetoric. This approach would also be costly and imperfect, for in international politics, ideals and interests will often clash. But the U.S. government can certainly afford to roll back some of its hypocritical behavior without compromising national security. A double standard on torture, a near indifference to casualties among non-American civilians, the gross expansion of the surveillance state -- none of these is crucial to the country’s well-being, and in some cases, they undermine it. Although the current administration has curtailed some of the abuses of its predecessors, it still has a long way to go.If we were to actually move in that direction, many of us believe it would be a powerful and wonderful thing. Imagine a United States that actually lived up to the ideals we claim to live by? If that was the end result -- and again, the likelihood of this happening may be incredibly slim -- then the efforts of Manning and Snowden will be much more powerful and important than either of them likely imagined. Of course, if the US were to drop the hypocrisy and focus on its ideals, it might stop persecuting both of them for their actions as well.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Oct 24th 2013 8:25am
You may have heard the story of the now infamous "Goblin Valley Topplers." Some Boy Scout leaders on a trek through Goblin Valley decided to push over a "goblin" rock formation which was millions of years old, and then cheered about it. The video went viral, as did plenty of people condemning Glenn Taylor and Dave Hall (who filmed the video and posted it online). The backlash was quick. The two men were relieved of their Boy Scout leadership positions. Meanwhile, authorities (back on the job after the government shut down), began exploring possible felony charges against the men. Oh, and then it came out that just a month ago, Taylor, who is the man seen actually pushing the heavy rock off its ancient pedestal, had just filed a "personal injury" lawsuit against a woman and her father for supposedly "debilitating injuries" in from a 2009 car crash.
The father, Alan MacDonald, points out that Taylor doesn't appear to be particularly debilitated in the video, in which he climbs over rocks and then shoves the giant boulder off of where it's rested for probably a few million years:
"He's climbing over other rocks," he said, "then he lines up, gets leverage and pushes that big old rock several times before he finally pushes it over. Then he turns and twists and high-fives and yucks it up and flexes his muscles.Taylor, when confronted by a news reporter about this, displays very little grasp of the law, weakly trying to excuse his behavior before insisting that the interview cannot be put online (that's not how it works):
"He just doesn't look like a terribly disabled person to me," he said.
"You don't seem very debilitated [on the video]," Jones said,And now, to top it all off, it would appear that Hall, who took the video, also does not have a particularly good grasp of the law. He's using copyright claims to take down as many copies of the video as he can, apparently not understanding how fair use -- especially for news reporting works. While he did film it, and likely does have the copyright, taking down the video and arguing it's a copyright violation is pretty damn questionable.
"You didn't see how hard I pushed," Taylor replied.
"It looked like you were pushing pretty hard," the reporter said.
"You don't have my authority to put this online, to put this on the news," Taylor said, ending the conversation.
Hall would not say Wednesday what he had to do to file the copyright claim. He said he was working with an attorney, but declined to provide the attorney’s name.The Salt Lake Tribute notes that the video had about 4.5 million views on YouTube, last they checked, though they're not sure how high it got before it got taken down. Of course, some others still have the video up, and now (of course), it's getting even more attention, thanks to the weak attempt to take it down.
by Tim Cushing
Thu, Oct 24th 2013 7:19am
Oh, the hilarity that is the phrase "criminal justice system." Talk to any defense attorney and they'll tell you how the deck is stacked against defendants and defense lawyers. The ideal of "innocent until proven guilty" has become little more than a disclaimer tacked onto cop-centered reality shows. Defendants are guilty until the jury is somehow tricked by the defense into handing down a "not guilty" verdict. A lot of effort goes towards dissuading defendants from even making it this far, as prosecutors will present worst-case scenarios comprised of every violation conceivable in order to get an agreement to plead guilty to a lesser charge.
The prevailing perception that the person charged is guilty, with the only answer yet to be determined is how guilty, makes defending arrestees an uphill battle. Judge (former judge) Elizabeth Coker took this uphill battle, increased the grade to 85 degrees, covered it with a sheet of ice and sprinkled it with a 50/50 blend of Teflon and motor oil.
Elizabeth E. Coker may forever be known as the "texting judge," but her notoriety will soon be all that is left of her days on the bench of the 258th District Court of Polk, Trinity, and San Jacinto Counties. Coker signed an "AGREEMENT TO RESIGN FROM JUDICIAL OFFICE IN LIEU OF DISCIPLINARY ACTION" with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct…The good news is that Coker is being stripped of all of her judicial power. Once the resignation goes through, she won't even be able to perform a wedding. The bad news is that this texting incident was only one of several alleged incidents in which Coker undermined the justice system. [Perhaps someone should have passed her, and any prosecutors dealing with her courtroom, a copy of this letter from a Texas DA warning his staff away from ex parte discussions...]
The agreement comes in the wake of a recent investigation revealing Coker texted instructions from the bench to a Polk County Assistant District Attorney who was assisting in the prosecution of a case in Coker's court.
[J]udge Coker used Assistant District Attorney Jones to privately communicate information about the Reeves case to the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case; to suggest questions for the prosecutor to ask during the trial; to ensure that a witness was able to refresh his memory and rehabilitate his testimony by reviewing his videotaped interview with law enforcement before he took the stand for the second time the following day; and to discuss legal issues pertinent to the case. in an unsuccessful effort to assist the State obtain a guilty verdict in the case…Add to all the alleged misconduct above the apparent fact that she kept using the same questionable tactics right up to her appearance before the Commission.
[t]he Commission investigated claims that Judge Coker allegedly engaged in other improper ex parte communications and meetings with Jones, other members of the Polk County District Attorney's Office, the San Jacinto County District Attorney, and certain defense attorneys regarding various Cases pending in her court; Judge Coker allegedly exhibited a bias in favor of certain attorneys and a prejudice against others in both her judicial rulings and her court appointments: and Judge Coker allegedly met with jurors in an inappropriate manner, outside the presence of counsel, while the jurors were deliberating in one or more criminal trials…
[t]he Commission also expressed concerns that Judge Coker discussed the Commission's investigation and Judge Coker's written responses to the investigation with a material witness prior to that witness' testimony before the Commission in an apparent attempt to influence that witness, and that the judge may not have been candid and truthful in her testimony before the Commission when questioned about her contact with the witness...In addition to stripping her judicial powers, the Commission also leaves her solely responsible for bearing the cost of any litigation arising from her alleged misconduct. The Commission, however, chose not to pursue these allegations in exchange for her immediate resignation. Coker utilizes that out in her public statement.
"The Judicial Commission made no finding or determinations of fact in my voluntary resignation, and I have not admitted guilt, fault or liability in my voluntary resignation. While I could have fought these allegations, it would have involved significant time, significant expense, and disruption to everyone involved. I did not feel that was in the best interests of the taxpayers, our court system, my family or myself" Coker stated.Yeah, that sounds about right. Coker sacrificing herself for the good of a long list of others, including the taxpayers who paid her salary and the court system she allegedly abused from a position of power. Thanks to the commission's decision, these will forever remain allegations -- the equivalent of "getting off on a technicality." If Coker ends up in court because of her previous improprieties, I would imagine she'll have to search well outside her district for a defense lawyer.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Oct 24th 2013 5:13am
CMS serves the important role of systems integrator or "quarterback" on this project and is the ultimate responsible party for the end-to-end performance of the overall Federal Exchange.Basically: it's the government's fault. We just build the damn thing. If they didn't tell us to build the right thing, or test it properly, well, it's their fault. Also, someone else we won't name is really at fault:
Another contractor was awarded the contract for the Data Services Hub portion of the Federal Exchange.Oh, and also another unnamed contractor:
The first set of issues for users dealt with the enterprise identity management (or EIDM) function provided by another contractor, which allows users to create secure accounts.Of course, it's not too difficult to figure out who the "other" contractor is. Because it's on the panel too. QSSI built the Data Services Hub and the "EIDM" functions mentioned, and QSSI is owned by Optum, whose executive vice president Andy Slavitt is testifying as well. And, you know, it's not his fault. First, he insists that the Data Service Hub worked splendidly throughout, no matter what anyone else might say. EIDM, of course, is having some trouble, but that? Why, other vendors are to blame there too:
It is relevant to note that the EIDM tool is only one piece of the federal marketplace’s registration and access management system, which involves multiple vendors and pieces of technology. While the EIDM plays an important role in the registration system, tools developed by other vendors handle critical functions such as the user interface, the e-mail that is sent to the user to confirm registration, the link that the user clicks on to activate the account, and the web page the user lands on. All these tools must work together seamlessly to ensure smooth registrationIn other words, if only those other vendors did their job right, the whole thing would work much better. Oh yes, also someone (nameless) decided to change the specs at some late date:
It appears that one of the reasons for the high concurrent volume at the registration system was a late decision requiring consumers to register for an account before they could browse for insurance products. This may have driven higher simultaneous usage of the registration system that wouldn't have occurred if consumers could "window shop" anonymously.The final note, going back to CGI Federal, is to remind Congress that building websites is really hard.
Unfortunately, in systems this complex with so many concurrent users, it is not unusual to discover problems that need to be addressed once the software goes into a live production environment. This is true regardless of the level of formal end-to-end performance testing -- no amount of testing within reasonable time limits can adequately replicate a live environment of this nature.That's true to some extent, but it doesn't excuse many, many of the overall problems with the system, which did not appear to be built with any recognition of how to build a high-traffic transactional website. While CGI Federal would like to point fingers at everyone else, it was its name on the contract, which it received through questionable means, and it should take at least some responsibility for it. Perhaps, if it was so "complex," it shouldn't have taken on the job.
by Tim Cushing
Thu, Oct 24th 2013 3:16am
The currently ongoing International Association of Chiefs of Police has, so far, seen law enforcement officials exhibit a new found wariness of rolling out invasive surveillance technology in the wake of the NSA leaks. This sort of caution and concern has sadly been missing up until now. The generally accepted practice has been to roll out surveillance programs quickly, with little in the way of oversight or privacy protections, and deal with the fallout later.
As I expressed in the previous post, I was concerned if this would change following appearances by James Comey, the new director of the FBI, and Attorney General Eric Holder, neither of which have a history of prioritizing Americans' civil liberties.
Comey has made his appearance, but rather than attempt to "calm" the suddenly rational voices of law enforcement, he took this opportunity to complain about the FBI's budget woes, something he's done pretty much nonstop since he took the position.
At a time when FBI agents play a larger role than ever fighting violent crime and terrorism, they are facing potentially devastating cuts because of congressional budget slashing.This CBS report claims this is the "first time" Comey's spoken publicly about the FBI's money problem, but Reuters quotes him as speaking to "major news outlets" about the same issue back in September, shortly after he took office.
“I’m required to cut 3,500 positions, to cut my operations to the bone, to do things like ration gas money and to stare at the prospect of sending my folks home for an extended period,” FBI Director James Comey said.
The FBI during Mueller's final year made its budget by "looking through the couch cushions," Comey said. With a new government fiscal year set to begin October 1 and Congress not close to passing a budget, "the couch has been turned upside-down," he said...Great! Let's have that discussion.
Comey said he was considering a furlough of 10 days or more for each of the FBI's 36,000 employees. New agent classes at a bureau compound in Quantico, Virginia, stopped within the past few months, he said.
"I'm happy to have a discussion with anyone who thinks I have too many people or too many resources," Comey said.
In the two years from March of 2009 to March 2011, the FBI opened more than 82,000 of these assessments of people and groups without a factual basis to suspect wrongdoing. Only 3,315 of these assessments found information sufficient to justify further investigation.Not only was the hit rate insignificant (and hardly enough to justify the opening of 82,000 assessments), but the FBI is still holding onto the data collected on the 78,000 targets it was unable to find any reason to continue investigating.
The ACLU of Northern California recently obtained hundreds of SARs from California, including many that were entered into eGuardian, which clearly show people are targeted based on racial and religious characteristics and First Amendment-protected activity like photography. The Government Accountability Office criticized the federal government's SAR programs for failing to establish metrics to determine whether they actually improve security. Any program that violates rights and doesn't improve security should be closed immediately.On top of that, there's the Fusion Centers the FBI works with. Although these are technically a DHS line item, any money being spent collaborating with (or withholding information from[?]) entities a Congressional investigation called "wasteful," "useless" and "possibly fraudulent" is money better spent elsewhere.
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