by Mike Masnick
Wed, Mar 21st 2012 8:58am
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Mar 12th 2012 9:36am
from the uh,-bad-decision dept
By "thought paper" -- they actually mean an instruction manual.
Seriously. The document is basically a step-by-step guide for government officials on how to seize, takedown and censor websites. It has sections like "guide for preparing domain name orders, seizures & takedowns" and "checklist of information to submit with a legal or regulatory action." This is exactly the opposite of what ICANN should be doing if it believes in preserving the basic structure and principles of the internet. But given ICANN's general incompetence, is it really any surprise that it's ending up on the wrong side of this issue, too?
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Mar 1st 2012 9:14am
from the ridiculous dept
It appears that Homeland Security contracted out the seizures to a private company, immixGroup IT Solutions, which set up the "seizedservers.com" domain that the seized domains now point to. The other bit of useful info is that the seizures appear to have been done directly by VeriSign at the top level domain level. VeriSign, of course, controls the .com TLD, and so Homeland Security appears to have just asked VeriSign to move the domains (with a court order, of course), and it did so.However, we agree with Jeftovic that this is crazy, and if it finally gets some more attention now, that would be a good thing. Another point that he raises is that the Bodog seizures seem to be based on a violation of Maryland state law, which raises additional questions about jurisdictional issues. You may recall a few years ago, that the state of Kentucky tried to seize a bunch of gambling related domains, and the world freaked out about a massive overreach by that state against websites that had no presence in the state. Shouldn't there be similar concerns when it comes to a Maryland state law... and the federal government?
But there's a bigger point in all of this, which Jeftovic raises at the end, which deserves a lot more attention: where the hell is ICANN on this and why isn't it speaking out against these domain seizures?
It's a good point that highlights what a joke ICANN has been on this front. It should have come out right when ICE started seizing domains. The longer it's silent, the worse it makes things.
Where the fsck is ICANN in all of this?
They are nowhere. They are collecting their fees, pushing their agenda of as many possible new-top-level domains and despite the fact that SOPA, ACTA, PIPA et aim directly at the interests of their core stakeholders, for whom they are supposed to be advocates and stewards. ICANN is conspicuous in their absence from the debate, save for a smug and trite abdication of involvement (i.e. "ICANN Doesn't Take Down Websites") – translation: "This isn't our problem".
And therein lies the issue. ICANN needs to make this their problem, because it very much is. If ICANN isn't going to stand up, and vigorously campaign for global stakeholder representation in these matters, than they are not only abdicating any responsibility in the ongoing and escalating crackdown on internet freedom, they are also abdicating their right to govern and oversee it.
They need to be visible, they need to be loud and they need to come down on the right side of these issues or they need to be replaced.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Dec 30th 2011 7:46am
from the and-then-what? dept
A series of 9th circuit appeals court rulings on various cases related to these issues all came out on Thursday. The big one, Hepting v. AT&T, was on the question of the Constitutionality of the retroactive immunity clause. While the specifics of the ruling focus on some tricky specific legal claims (and you have to wade through 26 pages listing all the parties to the case...), the basic summary: granting retroactive immunity is perfectly Constitutional, in large part because of the big scary bogeyman of "national security." For example, in the discussion of whether or not Congress had an "intelligible principle" in delegating authority concerning retroactive immunity under the Act to the Attorney General, the Court basically "national security" is good enough:
When considering how to respond to lawsuits like this one, the Committee "recogniz[ed] the importance of the private sector in assisting law enforcement and intelligence officials in critical criminal justice and national security activities." ... The Report further states that "electronic surveillance for law enforcement and intelligence purposes depends in great part on the cooperation of the private companies that operate the Nation's telecommunication system." ... The intelligible principle that comes through in the legislative history is one of protecting intelligence gathering and national security information.This strikes me as somewhat bizarre reasoning. Even if we recognize that the government has to rely on the private sector in intelligence gathering, that should never create immunity for illegal activities. The concerns that telcos would be afraid to help the government without immunity seems ridiculous. If the actions were legal then it would already have effective immunity, in that suits would be quickly dismissed. It's only if the actions are illegal that they would need immunity.
The fact that § 802 arises within the realm of national security--a concern traditionally designated to the Executive as part of his Commander-in-Chief power--further suggests that the intelligible principle standard need not be overly rigid.
There are a number of other specific points in the ruling, but the other one that strikes me as ridiculous is the court's response to Hepting's claim that another problem with the Act is that it puts a biased party in charge of determining who gets immunity, and that's a due process violation. To put it simply, if it's the government's own Attorney General deciding to grant telcos immunity to coverup the government's own illegal wiretapping... then that's a due process violation in that the plaintiff has no way to get a fair hearing from a neutral or unbiased judge. Amazingly, the court rejects this in two ways. First, by saying that the Attorney General "certifying" the actions of telcos to qualify them for immunity does not count as "adjudicating," but is merely "factfinding." But if that "factfinding" blocks any chance of the case being heard, isn't that effectively the same as "adjudicating."
The second reason for rejecting this argument is that we just have to assume the Attorney General is unbiased, according to the court:
Hepting views Attorney General Mukasey as operating under "a structural, institutional bias" because he served during the Bush Administration, which advocated for the legislation, and was counsel to the United States in these lawsuits. He follows with the claim that Mukasey "had an actual bias in this matter," because he stated publicly that the immunity provision was "important" and that immunity represented "a fair and just result," and also conveyed this opinion to members of Congress.Yeah, but that's not the issue. No one's saying that public officials can't make use of legislation they supported in general. But in this specific situation, the law allows the AG to very easily cover up illegal activities performed by companies to help his own investigations. That's the bias concern. No one cares that he supported the law. They're concerned that his bias is in covering up illegal actions that helped his own efforts.
Hepting ignores that the Attorney General has a legitimate policy role. It is well established that "[a]dministrators . . . may hold policy views on questions of law prior to participating in a proceeding." .... Public officials are presumed not to be biased; expressing an opinion, even a strong one, on legislation, does not disqualify an official from later responding to a congressional mandate incorporating that opinion.
The courts also rejected Hepting's argument that retroactive immunity precludes any legal action against the wiretapping, by noting that retroactive immunity only applies to the telcos -- but the government itself can still be liable. And that's where the second important ruling on this issue comes in. The ruling in Jewel v. NSA is at least slightly more encouraging, in that it sends a separate, but related case against the government for warrantless wiretapping back to the district court, rejecting many of its arguments that led it to dump that case earlier.
In that case, the district court dismissed the case, claiming that Jewel lacked the standing to sue the government. However, the appeals court disagrees and says that Jewel does have standing. It finds that Jewel showed "concrete and particularized injury." Of course, the district court may still turn around and dump the case, agreeing with the government's other key assertion that the "state secrets privilege" kills off the case. Of course, if that's what happens it kind of undermines the claim in the Hepting ruling that telco immunity is fine because you can still sue the government. Furthermore, even if the government loses here, it's not clear that it matters. As in the similar Al-Haramain case, if the government is found to have illegally wiretapped someone, so what? In Al-Haramin, the government just had to fork over about $40,000. That's hardly going to make the government stop...
There was a third ruling related to all of this as well, in McMurray v. Verizon, which more or less was the same thing as the Hepting case, but also added one separate argument: that the FISA Amendments Act represented a violation of the Takings Clause. The court keeps this one short, and says that while the idea is a "novel approach," it really just doesn't apply here, in large part because McMurray "failed to seek just compensation from the Court of Federal Claims," as required for a Takings Clause claim to be valid.
In the end, the Jewel ruling is nice, but may not get much further, and the acceptance of the Constitutionality of retroactive immunity is pretty horrifying. Obviously, this seems not just ripe for abuse, but pretty clearly a sign that there was past abuse that the government is happy to keep covering up.
Fri, Dec 16th 2011 3:48am
from the otherOS?-what-otherOS? dept
We now learn, via IGN, the presiding judge has dismissed the case against Sony. Back in February of this year, Judge Seeborg had dismissed all but one claim leaving the option for an amended complaint to be filed.
While it cannot be concluded as a matter of law at this juncture that Sony could, without legal consequence, force its customers to choose either to forego installing the software update or to lose access to the other OS feature, the present allegations of the complaint largely fail to state a claim. Accordingly, with the exception of one count, the motion to dismiss will be granted, with leave to amend.The judge wasn't convinced by the latest amended complaint and has completely dismissed the case stating that the PS3 owners failed to convince him that they were entitled to the OtherOS feature or access to PSN outside the PS3's warranty period. That is an interesting point. Had the PS3's been within the warranty period, would this case have gone the other way? That is certainly something to consider. After all, the OtherOS feature was part of the whole PS3. However, even outside the warranty period, are we really to just accept it when a manufacturer deliberately disables a function?
Perhaps responding to just such concerns, Seeborg stated:
The dismay and frustration at least some PS3 owners likely experienced when Sony made the decision to limit access to the PSN service to those who were willing to disable the Other OS feature on their machines was no doubt genuine and understandable. As a matter of providing customer satisfaction and building loyalty, it may have been questionable.A questionable move indeed. Sony may have dodged a legal bullet here, but the bullet of continued frustration that Sony customers have with this addition to many many questionable business decisions has hit it between the eyes. How much longer will Sony customers put up with this kind of abuse? What features will it cut next? While we don't know the answer to that, we do know one thing. Sony removed this functionality in order to prevent PS3 owners from jailbreaking it. However, if the EFF has its way this year, this dismissal will be moot.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Sep 1st 2011 1:11pm
from the please-explain-how-that-works dept
What's pretty stunning about the federal government's position is that it seems so farcical on its face. It seems to be claiming that (1) as long as the government breaks the law in a classified way, that can never be subject to litigation and (2) if lawsuits concerning illegal activity would be a burden on those who participated in the illegal activity, then such lawsuits should not be allowed. I'm not kidding. A couple of quotes:
“Congress made a considered decision that it would be unfair if [the telcos] were subject to potential suits and ruinous liability,” Kellogg said.But combine those two things and you're basically saying the government has full impunity to do whatever the hell it wants and can never face any legal consequences. On top of that, those who help the government can never face legal consequences either. How does that possibly make sense? It appears that at least two of the judges on the three judge panel had significant concerns about this:
Department of Justice Attorney Thomas Bondy urged the panel of judges to abide by Congress’ wishes. He repeated over and again that litigating the allegations would expose national security secrets.
“Who was or who was not surveilled, that’s classified,” he said. “What any particular carrier did or did not do, that’s all classified.”
Judge Michael Daly Hawkins wondered aloud, “If these plaintiff’s don’t have standing, who would?” Judge M. Margaret McKeown said the “concern” she had was that the suits’ dismissal “cuts off the plaintiffs … from ever pursuing a claim.”But, those random musings aren't necessarily indicative of how the court will rule. I am hopeful they realize the plainly ridiculous state of the government simply being able to hide any illegal activity behind a claim that "it's classified," and will allow at least some of these cases to go forward.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Aug 29th 2011 2:45am
from the norwegian-wood dept
John Thomas, a law professor at Quinnipiac University and a blues and ragtime guitarist, says "there's a lot of anxiety, and it's well justified." Once upon a time, he would have taken one of his vintage guitars on his travels. Now, "I don't go out of the country with a wooden guitar."And since this is a "strict liability" situation, asking the government for help in making sure you're being legal may actually make things worse. Much worse:
It's not enough to know that the body of your old guitar is made of spruce and maple: What's the bridge made of? If it's ebony, do you have the paperwork to show when and where that wood was harvested and when and where it was made into a bridge? Is the nut holding the strings at the guitar's headstock bone, or could it be ivory? "Even if you have no knowledge—despite Herculean efforts to obtain it—that some piece of your guitar, no matter how small, was obtained illegally, you lose your guitar forever," Prof. Thomas has written. "Oh, and you'll be fined $250 for that false (or missing) information in your Lacey Act Import Declaration."
Consider the recent experience of Pascal Vieillard, whose Atlanta-area company, A-440 Pianos, imported several antique Bösendorfers. Mr. Vieillard asked officials at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species how to fill out the correct paperwork—which simply encouraged them to alert U.S. Customs to give his shipment added scrutiny.I'm all for not destroying the environment -- and if Gibson is really doing something bad, then that should be dealt with. But some of these other situations just seem flat out ridiculous. Don't the feds have more important things to do?
There was never any question that the instruments were old enough to have grandfathered ivory keys. But Mr. Vieillard didn't have his paperwork straight when two-dozen federal agents came calling.
Facing criminal charges that might have put him in prison for years, Mr. Vieillard pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of violating the Lacey Act, and was handed a $17,500 fine and three years probation.
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Jun 21st 2011 12:38pm
from the is-that-reason-good? dept
Making things interesting is the news that the EFF will no longer accept Bitcoin. It had started accepting Bitcoin donations a little while ago, but has since rethought the concept for a few reasons. The key point is that they're not entirely sure of the legality of Bitcoin and its uses, and want to avoid getting mixed up in a lawsuit over that as a subject, rather than as an advocate:
We don't fully understand the complex legal issues involved with creating a new currency system. Bitcoin raises untested legal concerns related to securities law, the Stamp Payments Act, tax evasion, consumer protection and money laundering, among others. And that’s just in the U.S. While EFF is often the defender of people ensnared in legal issues arising from new technologies, we try very hard to keep EFF from becoming the actual subject of those fights or issues. Since there is no caselaw on this topic, and the legal implications are still very unclear, we worry that our acceptance of Bitcoins may move us into the possible subject role.Some, such as Jim Harper, find this reasoning to be weak, saying that this is a bogus excuse, since lots of technologies that the EFF uses are legally ambiguous at the start:
Bitcoin is legally novel. But every new technology is legally novel. EFF didn’t shy away from publishing commentary online while publisher liability was legally ambiguous.I recognize both arguments, and I think that the EFF is basically saying it's interested in these issues, and certainly willing to get involved in a potential legal dispute down the road -- but it would prefer to do it as an advocate, rather than as the subject of a lawsuit -- and it still doesn't fully understand the legal implications (and, likely, technical situation) of Bitcoin itself, so it doesn't have a firm position on the issue that makes it worth fighting for. I respect that, though, I do wonder why the EFF didn't consider this originally and simply not use Bitcoin in the first place.
Accepting a Bitcoin donation is like accepting a donation in kind, in contract rights, or in cat food. If it’s worth taking, you go figure out how to accept the donation and square it with existing law. If it’s clearly illegal, you don’t accept the contribution. (EFF would have said so if they felt it was.) If it’s in the middle, a defender of rights to use technology should be inclined toward accepting Bitcoin and clarifying the law, not away from accepting Bitcoin in deference to legal ambiguity and free-ranging government power.
by Mike Masnick
Tue, May 24th 2011 10:16am
Why We Haven't Seen Any Lawsuits Filed Against The Government Over Domain Seizures: Justice Department Stalling
from the running-scared? dept
What was really incredible was how everyone I spoke to involved in these cases (even though not at all connected with one another) had an identical story: they'd all love to take their cases to court, but they're waiting for the government to actually get in touch with them. If it was just one site, there would be no story. But I spoke to people associated with many sites, and the story was nearly identical. To hear John Morton and other proponents of domain seizures talk about it, it's "easy" for the owners of seized sites to protest and file suit against the government over the seized sites. Tragically, the reality has turned out to be quite different. Many of the sites were not even officially notified about the seizure until months later. Prior to that, they weren't even told what the sites were accused of, let alone who was doing the accusations. You try responding to a government action against you completely blind. You don't know who you're suing or for what.
Even once notified, the "notification" often came in the form of an "offer" from the government to effectively give up any and all legal claims against the government. From there, the process sounds like something out of the movie Brazil. Any attempt to speak to the government has been met with either a total lack of response or directing people to someone else, who then won't respond. Some of the people navigating this situation said it took months just to figure out who in the government they should be discussing the issue with -- and once it was figured out, actually getting those individuals to respond to basic questions that are normally answered as a matter of course in discussions prior to any litigation, has been an exercise in futility.
Basically, the same story was heard over and over again: the Justice Department doesn't seem to want these lawsuits to proceed and is stalling as much as possible and trying to avoid the legality of the seizures from being tested. At the same time, the site holders are eager to take these issues to court and are tremendously frustrated and distressed over the idea that the US government can simply seize domains without hearing, notice or effective process of appeal. However, nearly all of them expect that it will eventually end up in court (though one suggested that we might all be dead before a case moves forward at this rate).
Of course, I reached out to the government as well. I spoke to the press office of the part of the Justice Department involved in these cases, and beyond pointing me to the press releases they put out, they had no comment. I asked if there was an official process to protest domain seizures and was promised they'd get back to me. It's been a week and no one has gotten back to me. Separately, I reached out to people in other parts of the government that are heavily involved in the seizures, and despite multiple people promising to respond with details of the process, or to pass on my question to others who might know the process, days have gone by with no further response.
So, apparently it's "easy" to protest these seizures, but the people most involved in these seizures don't want to even let us (or those who it matters most to!) know what the process is. After talking to so many people on this, it's become abundantly clear that the lack of lawsuits has nothing to do with the strength of the government's case, but the very opposite. Multiple site owners would like to file suit, but can't. The government, who insists that it's easy to protest their wholesale seizure of a domain without prior notice or hearing can't even provide me a straight answer to what the process is to protest such a seizure. It's almost as if the government never even expected anyone to want to protest such censorship and were totally caught off-guard by this.
But the real tragedy is for the folks who ran these sites. Even as many have found alternative homes, they're frightened and disillusioned by the US government. They don't feel they did anything wrong, and yet were blindly punished by the US government, declared as criminals with no clear recourse -- and when they sought out information or details, have been met with the bureaucratic equivalent of a brick wall. We can all disagree over whether or not these domain seizures are legal or productive, but I would hope we can all agree that those who have had their domains seized should at least have a clear path to protest their innocence if they believe that they did not commit the crime Homeland Security, the Justice Department and a magistrate judge already declared them guilty of committing.
by Mike Masnick
Tue, May 3rd 2011 1:00am