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Posted on Techdirt - 23 November 2013 @ 12:00pm

James Hogg's Favorite Techdirt Posts Of The Week

from the how-has-it-come-to-this? dept

Greetings to all of you Techdirt readers! And thank you to Mike Masnick for allowing me the chance for a front-page post after I opportunistically jumped at the opening.

Techdirt is a dependable resource for discovering where the heat of most technology synthesis takes place. I shall be frank: skepticism, science, language, dialectical thinking and argument for the sake of argument are all grand virtues in my background. Whether you are of the thesis or the anti-thesis, it does not matter nearly as much as your thought process. I shall respect, for example, an advocate of copyright far more if he has taken the time and effort to investigate his position and come to his own non-clichéd conclusions. Far more than those who have believed in copyright solely because everyone else has.

Let us begin with one of five articles this week that caught my eye. Beginning chronologically, we start with the MacGyver-esque videos posted by Evan Booth detailing how to improvise the assembly of dangerous weapons with items collected after TSA screening. The answer he gave to the critical question about the consequences of revealing the information to the public was spot on: Islamic fascists no doubt already know this stuff and then some if Evan can so casually come across these findings himself (the better question is why fascists have not attempted this while many were unaware). The true danger, if there is to be one, lies with the public not knowing about the potential threats, never mind them being even more hindered from coming to the rather self- evident conclusion that most airport screening practices punish many and deter few. If the danger presented by these videos is so nasty, why not a) have an open discussion instead of shoving the issue under the carpet and pretending that it will solve itself, and b) give the opportunity for the TSA to ban the items in these videos as well, only to look equally ridiculous in the future.

There can be good reasons for wanting to not know something, but "ill-intentioned fanatics will find out" is not one of them. Just because you choose not to research into if you can build a nuclear bomb in the name of the survival of our species does not mean the worst totalitarian nightmares of our planet will take as kindly. You are far better off beating them to the discovery so that you can prepare to resist it accordingly. Just remember this any time you hear people claim that scientific inquiry is evil in itself, never mind common inquiry.

Next, we note the story about the malicious re-routing of internet traffic and its repercussions. If there is one ideological odor that can almost always show it to be stinking of wrong -- I am tempted to just say "always" but for the sake of avoiding absolutism I won't -- it is a utopian odor. We are unfortunately still in the premature age of the internet despite how far it has progressed, and as a result we still have a wave of cyber-utopians claiming that the internet can set you, and keep you, free on its own. But the internet, like all tools and/or weapons, does not free people. People free people, to improve on a well- known mantra. And we have to remember that technology accumulates power as well as separates it. For instance, here is one slogan you are unlikely to see as you go about your daily lives: "CCTV is in operation in this area to protect you from the police."

This traffic diversion shows exactly why all technology, even such as this sophisticated mass-communications channel, is not infallible. To still be uncertain as to how it is even happening speaks volumes in itself. The last thing you want is for dictatorships or other dodgy states to take advantage of traffic flowing through their servers for profiteering purposes or otherwise. And you certainly do not want them decrypting the NSA-backdoor-encryption for their own purposes (which they could most likely do, thanks to the NSA). Do not ever forget: just because the NSA deliberately weakens encryption for the "security" of the nation does not mean that everybody will use that tainted encryption.

Believe it or not, the large corporate tentacles of Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc do not extend everywhere on the planet. There is no reason why an Al Qaeda fascist cannot research the mathematical techniques independently and write his own encryption program that IS up to standard, and will not be crackable even if you throw millions of years of supercomputer-workload at it. David Cameron was simply being frivolous when he invoked Alan Turning for NSA expansion a few days ago. Alan Turning did not help crack the Enigma code by politely asking the Nazis to install backdoors. And he would have failed miserably had the Nazis been using uncompromised SSL. This is why you have to be ready for the real possibility that technology can turn against you. Al Qaeda, as I have said before, are not likely to be stupid. Totalitarian, racist, homophobic, misogynistic, nihilistic and religious, yes. But not stupid.

I do have hopes that this attitude will pass. Ultimately, it is a reactionary phase to the birth of the mainstream internet, and in a few decades we shall have seen enough to know that the internet has its limits when "it" fights states and corporations.

Next, we have LG having to embarrassingly look into claims that its smart TVs were picking up user data without users' consent. If I were older back in the days of the PC really proliferating, the first reaction I would have had to cameras being installed on the screens as a norm would have been "Sweet merciful CRAP... Orwell was right about THAT particular deadly nightmare?", and flipped my shit. However, we have been reasonably fortunate that what we call "telescreens" have not been under the sole control of a state. But still, for the most uncomfortable of reasons, we have been surrendering our resistance to even potential eavesdropping from "user-friendly" companies so slowly and passively: PCs, Laptops, Kinect, and now the TV on its own?

I really have to ask: how has it come to this? Why is such a monstrosity even necessary?

If I were an investigative journalist, the first thing I would look into as a result of this story is how many other companies supposedly have such glitches and manifest a great headline piece of my own. The first place I would start with is Digital Rights Management within software -- a theory that works so well to protect the unauthorized copying of data that we do not need copyright law whatsoever.

If EA will go as far to split their games in half -- one half on a PC and the other half on a server of theirs -- in order to protect their content, only to have it disproved so swiftly and so humiliatingly within days, shows that the control- freak mentality of corporations cannot be healthy, and we have every right to be suspicious in the days of mass NSA wiretapping. Do yourselves a favor: start being hostile towards built-in cameras as a first principled step if you need to take one. I do not think Cory Doctorow exaggerates when he stresses the urgency of watching out for a war on "general purpose computing."

And finally, we yet again have assaults on the rights of derivative artists with Paramount's attacks on the public domain. I would indeed like to know if there is any other property system out there that claims somebody can have ownership of property before it even exists, because I certainly do not know of it. And I also would certainly like to know why retroactive extension of copyright of ANY kind is considered democratic: either a law is valid at the time of it being in effect or it is not. We do not hold people's actions of the past under the laws of the present. That I would have thought was a very important principle. But no. It does not matter how much labor and work went into a derivative work that was ready for release for after the original's copyright expiry. All of it can be spat on and thrown away.

Then again, you can always work around the transparent nonsense of copyright and start a viral Twilight fan-fic, replace the characters at the very last moment and make tons of money. Mass scale infringement has, after all, still occurred quite profoundly in this situation, yet the answer to stopping it does not seem to come anywhere close to sane. Some others would rather pretend such a dilemma does not exist at all.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read. Enjoy your weekends!

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