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Wed, May 20th 2015 9:23am
iiNet, the second biggest ISP in Australia, has been a bit of a magnet when it comes to BitTorrent lawsuits. In 2008 they were sued by the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) for failing to prevent its subscribers from infringing copyright via Bittorrent, a case it won, as the court found it was not iiNet's responsibility.
In late 2014, Voltage Pictures – the company behind Oscar winning movie 'Dallas Buyers Club' – started proceedings against Australian users it accused of downloading its movie, just as it has in both the US and Canada. The alleged Australian infringements all occurred between 2 April 2014 and 27 May 2014.
iiNet refused to hand over the account details of the 4,726 IP addresses demanded by Voltage, and took it to court, where, in early April, the judges sided with Voltage. However, in a massive blow to Voltage, they required that any letters sent out to people be approved by the court, undermining the key tactic of exaggerating claims in these kinds of cases. Most such cases rely on threatening significant damages at court in order to 'encourage' the recipient to settle, but Justice Perram has indicated that the damages could be as low as AU$10 (US$8), although there could be significant court costs as well.
Now iiNet has dealt Voltage another blow, announcing in a blog post:
If you do receive a letter you may want to get legal advice. iiNet is working with a law firm that has offered to provide pro-bono services for any of our customers
This would be a major setback to the speculative invoicing model used by Voltage, which relies on the high potential damages, plus the significant cost of defending a case (greater than the settlement demanded) to ensure a steady revenue stream. With the court restricting the intimidating language, and the offer of free legal counsel to defend the cases, it may end up being far more costly for Voltage to pursue claims than they can hope to recoup.
And while iiNet has jumped to the defense of its customers in this way, it may not be alone. The M2 group has also indicated it may provide pro-bono legal assistance in similar cases, although they have refused to commit prior to a court hearing on May 21st when a date for the transfer of customer information will be agreed.
It is not looking like Australia will be a fruitful venue for copyright trolls.
Wed, May 20th 2015 8:10am
The nice thing about hating both of America's stupid political parties is you get to make fun of everyone. That said, occasionally one political candidate or another says something so stupidly wrong to support a stupidly wrong political position that your brain screeches to a halt aghast. Today's cerebellum stopper is Chris Christie, who most commentators seem to think is going to be running in the next presidential election. If he continues this line of, "Civil liberties are for extremists and NSA spying concerns are baloney because 9/11" rhetoric, however, it's probably going to be a short foray into the primaries.
Civil liberties advocates’ fears about the government’s intelligence efforts are “baloney,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will say Monday during a speech in the early primary state of New Hampshire, calling for expanded American military and intelligence programs.Christie went on to say in that speech that the American people should not listen to Edward Snowden, because Snowden is a criminal, and also Vladimir Putin, and especially because 9/11, obviously. It's an interesting political move, I think, considering that a majority of Americans believe the government has overreached on domestic spying, but I'm not here to tell Christie how to run his campaign. I am here to tell him that he isn't allowed to make plainly false claims about this country's ideals and the people that developed them, however.
The government is not the enemy when it comes to fighting terrorist threats, he will say, according to a copy of his prepared remarks provided by his political action committee.
“There are going to be some who are going to come before you and are going to say, ‘Oh, no, no, no. This is not what the Founders intended.’ The Founders made sure that the first obligation of the American government was to protect the lives of the American people, and we can do this in a way that’s smart and cost-effective and protects civil liberties. But you know, you can’t enjoy your civil liberties if you’re in a coffin.”This, in case you're confused, is absolute nonsense. That's not to say that protecting American lives wasn't high on the founding fathers' list of things to do. It certainly was. It appears just below protecting their freedom, however. Christie suggesting that it was the founding fathers' intention to negotiate some compromise between freedom and safety is fiction. Man, if only there was some catchy phrase from a historical figure that could some this all up for me in an easily reproducable, easy-to-tweet to Christie fashion.
Damned extremists, always trying to, you know, start the country that Christie is now going to run for chief executive of. There are other examples, of course, although the chief example of the founding fathers' willingness to put freedom before safety is probably, oh I don't know, the Revolutionary War. I wasn't there, but I'm pretty sure that war wasn't all that safe.
Look, the point of all this is that 9/11, while certainly not forgotten, is in the rearview mirror and can't be invoked as the boogeyman to push bad, freedom-thieving policy on Americans any longer. We've had over a decade of that and it just isn't going to work any more. But, hey, if Chris Christie wants to make himself un-electable, I'm all for it. Give me a better candidate or give me death.
by Karl Bode
Wed, May 20th 2015 6:13am
"KWISP President Kenneth Hohhof told Ars that his two-person company makes revenue of $250,000 to $300,000 per year, and he estimates that he’ll have to pay $20,000 in legal costs because he intends to hire a lawyer to review his business practices. Hohhof admits that he “pulled that [number] out of the air,” but given the hourly rates charged by telecom lawyers, he expects the bill to be substantial for such a small company.Yes, like with any regulations, investors will need to do due diligence, and businesses need to occasionally consult attorneys to understand the market landscape in which they operate. Also, shockingly, lawyers do indeed tend to take extra advantage of people who can't be bothered to understand when their services are or aren't needed. And while it's clear the FCC could do a better job communicating the rules' impact, these problems aren't the fault of the rules themselves.
...Another wireless ISP Pai described is SCS Broadband in rural Virginia, which serves 800 customers and “has already stopped investing in new rural areas because of the FCC’s decision, and it won’t resume until it can ‘determine if the additional cost in legal fees warrant such investments,’” Pai said. “And investors have already told SCS Broadband that ‘projects that were viable investments under the regime that existed before the Order will no longer provide the necessary returns to justify the investment.’"
"If you're behaving in your customers' best interests and operating above the board, I don't think you have anything to be concerned about,” he said. “If you're advertising a $19 rate and then jacking people's bills up to $125 with fees and other things after six months and claiming some kind of long-term deal, yeah you're probably going to have trouble. [The FCC] made it very clear that their goal is to encourage competition, and I don't think they have their eyes on small players."At the heart of the net neutrality opposition are very wealthy companies immeasurably angry that somebody is finally trying to stop them from aggressively cashing in on the lack of competition over the broadband last mile. At the periphery are many satellite opponents who just oppose the new rules because (certainly not without some valid historic justification) they believe all regulation is always bad, and you don't need to have an intelligent, nuanced debate on the merits of individual proposals because the fact that regulation is always, automatically bad is always true and la la la I can't hear you. The former have a pretty easy time riling up the latter, but you can go a long way toward avoiding this kind of confusion by actually reading and understanding the regulations you're busy claiming will destroy the business universe as we know it.
by Tim Cushing
Wed, May 20th 2015 4:10am
I'll never understand the mentality of an employee -- government or otherwise -- who watches porn while on the clock and on company computers. I get that the mind wanders when not otherwise occupied, but rather than surf the web for innocuous time-killers, certain people decide to just head off the deep end and view something that's forbidden in every work environment not actively engaged in the production or distribution of porn.
While I may have skirted policies meant to keep time-wasting to a minimum (some days were filled with only wasted time), I have never opted to go the porn route. I have nothing against porn or those who watch it. I would just rather not give my employers (a) the equivalent of the middle finger re: computer use policies and (b) any insight into my personal sexual preferences. (LET YOUR IMAGINATIONS RUN WILD.) Both of these seem like BAD THINGS to do.
(Also, there's that whole thing about it that insinuates some sort of self-pleasure is involved, and in a work environment, that's just… amazingly gross. Even the employees at the porn shop don't relish cleaning up the spank rooms. Imagine being told after a few weeks at work that your predecessor [and previous cubicle occupant] was fired for watching tons of porn during work hours. You'd want to shower in decontaminant and return in a hazmat suit.)
And yet, we have written multiple stories about employees (most of them in the public sector) who not only watch porn at work, but do so with unimaginable gusto for hours at a time. Here's yet another, involving a Baltimore Department of Public Works employee:
Inspector General Rob Pearre Jr. released a report last week revealing the employee, a maintenance supervisor at the facilities division of the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant, was suspended in September 2014 and fired Jan. 20 at the conclusion of an investigation.Nothing handles the ridiculousness of a porn-related firing more aptly than an official report so dry it could apply for disaster relief funds.
The report said officials received an anonymous complaint about the worker in August of last year and monitoring software installed on the man's work computer found he spent 39 of the 82 hours he spent working in a two-week period watching a pornographic DVD on the computer.
The City-owned computer operated by the MSI was connected to a single monitor. OIG personnel noted that when pornographic material was visible, the video was maximized to cover the entire screen.Full-screen porn during work hours is a strong indicator that the employee was neither valued nor popular. Viewing porn in full screen can only be done by those confident their porn sessions will not be interrupted.
OIG personnel noted that minimal computer activity was performed while pornographic material was visible. Based on these findings, the OIG believes that little to no work was being performed during the time that pornographic material was visible on the screen of the MSI’s City-owned computer.Doh! If only this employee would have reduced it to the upper-corner of the monitor and run a few work-related applications in the background. He might have been able to hold onto this job until retirement -- at which point his porn-watching could have resumed uninterrupted, barring the occasional trip to the bank to deposit his pension check. (Or not, what with direct deposit…) But he didn't. Instead, he did this.
OIG personnel noted that the MSI would occasionally maximize his email inbox in the Microsoft Outlook program and then minimize it moments later leaving only the pornographic material visible on the screen.Fortunately for Baltimore taxpayers, there's no pension in the future nor the continued annual funding of Dept. of Public Works porn-watching. $30,000/year for twiddling your
At an hourly rate of $29.90, the MSI was paid $1,166 for 39 hours for which no work was performed. By annualizing the data gathered during the two-week monitoring based on a 2000 hour work-year, pornographic material would be visible on the screen of the MSI’s City-owned computer for 951 hours which would cost the City approximately $28,400.Also noted in the report: the employee appealed his pending termination briefly before being persuaded to take a 10-day payout in exchange for dropping the appeal he had very little chance of winning.
by Tim Cushing
Wed, May 20th 2015 1:09am
Intelligence gathering on intelligence gatherers. Watching the watchers. Whatever you want to call it, Transparency Toolkit is doing it. It has gathered 27,000 publicly-posted resumes from members of the "intelligence community" and turned them into a searchable database.
The database -- ICWatch -- was put together using software specifically constructed by Transparency Watch (and posted at Github). Not only can the database be searched through TW's front end, but the data is also available in raw form for data-mining purposes.
Some may find this searchable database to be a form of doxxing, but TW says that isn't the intent. Instead, it's meant to give the public additional insight into the inner workings of the intelligence community, as well as allowing researchers and journalists to sniff out information on still-unrevealed surveillance programs.
"These resumes include many details about the names and functions of secret surveillance programs, including previously unknown secret codewords," Transparency Toolkit said.What Transparency Watch has done is simplified a task anyone could have performed prior to the compilation of the ICWatch database. In fact, nearly two years ago, the ACLU's Chris Soghoian pointed out that public LinkedIn profiles were coughing up classified program names posted by intelligence community members in their listed skills and work history.
"We are releasing these resumes in searchable form with the hopes that people can use them to better understand mass surveillance programs and research trends in the intelligence community."
The data was collected from LinkedIn public profiles using search terms like known codewords, intelligence agencies and departments, intelligence contractors, and industry terms, the group said.What Soghoian noted back in 2013 remains true. Searches for known NSA programs frequently bring up other program names, all posted publicly by employees and contractors with an apparent disregard for the agency's "everything is a secret" policies.
Cultweave, UIS, Nucleon, CREST, Pinwale, Anchory, Association, Dishfire, SharkFinn, GistQueue, GoldPoint, MainwayAnd another listing these terms:
Snort, TRAFFICTHIEF, PINWALE, BOUNDLESS INFORMANT, BLARNEY, BULLRUN, CARNIVOREYou can also find out who's involved in Predator drone flights. Or who's participated in the NSA's Tailored Access Operations.
by Tim Cushing
Tue, May 19th 2015 9:04pm
The Congressional Research Service conducts research for Congress on a multitude of topics. This information is (theoretically) used to guide policy decisions. The research itself is (again, theoretically) valuable, considering it's free of partisan rhetoric and biased conclusions. This lack of bias and rhetoric helps explain the following actions:
First, Congress has again -- for the third year straight -- refused to increase the office's budget. Congress chalks this up to its seldom-seen sense of budgetary restraint.
In the new spending bill, the House Committee ominously rejected a CRS request for a $5 million budget increase in 2016, and allocated $107 million, the same as the 2015 level.Fiscal restraint is great, but it's always a good idea to take a closer look at the areas Congress decides to apply it. (There aren't many, so it shouldn't take long…) Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists' (FAS) Secrecy News blog notes that Congress doesn't have much use for unbiased research.
"The Legislative Branch must set itself as an example for fiscal restraint while continuing to serve the Nation. This bill will require strict fiscal discipline on the part of all congressional offices and all agency heads in the Legislative Branch," the report said.
[CRS reports are] the kind of in-depth policy analysis that can only be helpful to those whose policy preferences are not predetermined by ideology or affiliation.Who wants to pay (via taxpayers) for research that doesn't agree with the requester's point of view? Not Congress. So, the CRS will have to make do with the same budget it's had for three years straight. And while it struggles to meet the demands of representatives' requests for research, the CRS will also have to pitch in with the arduous task of answering requests from constituents on behalf of Congress members.
What is often deemed most useful is having CRS analysts assist congressional staff in responding to constituent mail, including eccentric or demented requests for information.Like this request, which resulted in the CRS losing an analyst.
Why is the US Postal Service "stockpiling ammunition"? That sort of question helped lead CRS analyst Kevin Kosar to leave his job, he explained in an article in the Washington Monthly earlier this year ("Why I Quit the Congressional Research Service," Jan/Feb 2015).This is where Congress feels CRS's limited resources (that it limited) are best deployed -- not providing clear, factual insight into policy issues.
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) will continue to be barred from releasing its reports to the public, the House Appropriations Committee said yesterday in its report on legislative branch appropriations for the coming year.And so, the research remains locked up. Constituents can request this information from their representatives, but they are under no obligation to produce the documents. The same public that paid for the research once now spends its own money maintaining archives of any CRS reports they manage to acquire. FAS hosts hundreds of liberated reports. Wikileaks has posted nearly 7,000 CRS reports to its archives as well.
"The bill contains language which provides that no funds in the Congressional Research Service can be used to publish or prepare material to be issued by the Library of Congress unless approved by the appropriate committees," the House report said.
Over time, CRS products might come to be written with a large public audience in mind and could no longer be focused solely on congressional needs.However, another listed concern seems to indicate the service is OK with allowing Congress members to "translate" its reporting for American citizens.
The danger of placing CRS, a support agency, in an intermediate position responding directly to constituents instead of preserving the direct relationship between constituents and their elected representatives. This threatens the dialog on policy issues between Members and their constituents that was envisioned by the Constitution.This seems like a legitimate complaint until you realize exactly what's happening here. CRS provides mostly-unbiased research -- something citizens could use to better inform themselves about legislative/world issues. If it allowed these reports out into the wild, Congress members would be unable to twist the findings to fit their own personal agendas or conform with the party line. This "direct relationship" with constituents means molding the data to match the message -- something that's crucial to winning the support of influential figures and cash-heavy contributors. A CRS report out in the open undercuts spin attempts. By not pushing for the release of unbiased research to the general public, the CRS is complicit in allowing politics -- rather than data -- to guide decision-making, while keeping the electorate from being fully informed.
by Michael Ho
Tue, May 19th 2015 5:00pm
by Karl Bode
Tue, May 19th 2015 3:49pm
"North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Federal Communications Commission seeking to overturn the FCC's decision to allow the City of Wilson to expand its community broadband network service known as Greenlight. The state has been "aggrieved," according to Cooper. But a broadband group labeled the suit a "waste" of taxpayer money. Cooper stated in the suit that the FCC "unlawfully inserted itself" between the state and "political subdivisions" such as communities."The problem is the FCC is Congressionally mandated to ensure the "timely and reasonable" deployment of broadband services, and it's pretty hard to argue you're helping that goal by letting AT&T lawyers and lobbyists write state law that does the exact opposite. It's not like this influence resides in shadow, ALEC's draft legislation sits on the outfit's website for anyone to read. The irony of using taxpayer money under the pretense of protecting taxpayer money didn't escape municipal broadband groups commenting on the case:
"Attorney General Cooper must not realize the irony of using state taxpayer dollars to ensure less money is invested in rural broadband, but we certainly do," says Christopher Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. "State leaders should stand up for their citizens' interests and demand good broadband for them, rather than fighting alongside paid lobbyists to take away those opportunities."It's worth reiterating that these towns and cities wouldn't be getting into the broadband business if they were happy with the service provided by regional monopolies and duopolies. The real absurdity of it is this: municipalities, companies and consumers alike benefit immeasurably from expanded broadband in a state, regardless of how it's provided. That Tennessee and North Carolina are willing to throw all of this potential growth away just to protect the campaign cash contributions of big telecom operators speaks volumes about the quality of Tennessee and North Carolina state legislators, and the stranglehold companies like AT&T, CenturyLink and Comcast have over the state legislative process.
by Mike Masnick
Tue, May 19th 2015 2:33pm
Grenade launchers, bayonets, tracked armored vehicles, weaponized aircraft and vehicles, firearms and ammunition of .50-caliber or higher will no longer be provided to state and local police agencies by the federal government under Obama's order.For police departments that already have the now "banned" items, they will have to be returned. You'll notice that one of the biggest symbols that people point to of overly-militarized police -- the MRAP -- is not included in the banned list. There are some other limitations here as well. And a big one, as the guy who literally wrote the book on militarized police, Radley Balko, notes: the 1033 program is no longer the biggest supplier of such things to police:
In addition to the prohibitions in his order, Obama also is placing a longer list of military equipment under tighter control, including wheeled armored vehicles like Humvees, manned aircraft, drones, specialized firearms, explosives, battering rams and riot batons, helmets and shields. Starting in October, police will have to get approval from their city council, mayor or some other local governing body to obtain such equipment, provide a persuasive explanation of why it is needed and have more training and data collection on its use.
Since 2003, for example, the Department of Homeland Security has been giving grants to police departments around the country to purchase new military-grade gear. That program now dwarfs the 1033 Program. It has also given rise to a cottage industry of companies that build gear in exchange for those DHS checks. Those companies now have a significant lobbying presence in Washington. I suspect that presence will now only grow stronger. So if the Obama administration really wants to roll back police militarization, this program needs reform, too.Still, as Balko also notes, there is still a lot of importance in the symbolism of the move made this week:
From what has been reported, this new initiative addresses these concerns as well and seems to indicate that the Obama administration understands and appreciates that the symbolic component of police militarization is just as important as the practical component. I’m uncomfortable with any military vehicles going to local police. Free societies tend to draw a clear line between cops and soldiers. Blurring that line indicates a failure to appreciate its importance. But this initiative is moving toward reestablishing that line, not moving it or further blurring it. Federal programs are pretty difficult to disband, so a blanket ban was probably never in the cards. Conditioning the acceptance of this gear on increased transparency, accountability and a move toward community policing seems like a good compromise. We’ll either get less use of this military-issued equipment, or we’ll get more and better information about how it’s used. Either outcome is progress.Balko gives some additional (fantastic) background on why President Obama made the announcement in Camden, New Jersey -- a city that had serious problems between the local police and the community, and basically figured out a way to restart from scratch (closing down the local police force and letting the county take over) while creating a much stronger community tie between police and the community, rather than the all-too-common adversarial relationship that has grown up in many places (which is often made worse by the militarization).
The nation’s largest police union is fighting back against a White House plan to restrict local police forces’ ability to acquire military-style gear, accusing President Barack Obama’s task force of politicizing officers’ safety.Other police are hilariously arguing that this move will actually increase military presence, because police without this equipment will no longer be able to contain crowds, and thus the National Guard will have to be called in more frequently. Of course, all of that seems to assume that violent protests are the norm, rather than a semi-rare occurrence -- and, it also ignores how militarized police often seem to exacerbate such situations, rather than calm them down.
Explore some core concepts:
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