How high must you be…?
Almost everything gets pretty contentious in a divorce. That’s pretty much a universal truth. And now we can thank copyright for making things even more of a mess. Five years ago we wrote about a case involving a divorcing couple who fought over the thousands of photos that were amassed during two decades of marriage. As we noted at the time, it seemed a bit odd that no one brought up the copyright question during that fight. Well, now it’s come to that. Comedian/TV host Rosie O’Donnell is apparently going through a (yup) contentious divorce with her wife, Michelle Rounds, and it’s reached the point were Rounds is claiming copyright over a photo that O’Donnell posted to Instagram last week. Rounds, of course, says that she took the photo and thus holds the copyright. She even went so far as to file a takedown notice with Instagram — though as of writing this, the photo is still up on the site.
This, of course, is not what copyright law is supposed to be used for — but since so many people now see it as a sort of universal “censor this now” button, that’s how it’s being used. It would be insane for this to actually result in a lawsuit, but if it did, I would imagine that O’Donnell would have a decent set of defenses, from an implied license to fair use and more. But, really, that’s besides the point. It’s becoming fairly ridiculous how frequently people seek to use copyright law to just block things because they don’t like it, not because of anything having to do with “promoting the progress.” This is just the latest example — which (once again) highlights the sheer insanity of automatically applying copyright to every work upon creation.
This week, federal prosecutors indicted former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.
Hastert is charged with two federal crimes: structuring financial transactions to evade IRS reporting requirements in violation of 31 U.S.C. section 5324(a)(3) and lying to the FBI in violation of the notorious 18 U.S.C. section 1001. Both charges reflect the breadth of federal prosecutorial power.
The indictment has mostly inspired chatter about what it doesn’t say. Hastert is charged with structuring withdrawals of less than $10,000 (so that they would not be reported to the IRS) so that he could pay off an unidentified person for Hastert’s unidentified past misconduct. What past misconduct, or threatened accusation of misconduct, could lead Hastert to pay $3.5 million? The indictment doesn’t say, but it has been drafted to imply that the allegation of past misconduct relates to Hastert’s job as a teacher and coach in Yorkville, Illinois. Hastert isn’t charged with doing anything to the accuser, and the accuser isn’t charged with extortion.
As Radley Balko has pointed out, structuring (or “smurfing”) charges are extremely flexible. They demonstrate the reality of how Americans targeted by the Department of Justice can be charged. We imagine law enforcement operating like we see on TV: someone commits a crime, everyone knows what the crime is, law enforcement reacts by charging them with that crime. But that’s not how federal prosecution always works. Particularly with high-profile targets, federal prosecution is often an exercise in searching for a theory to prosecute someone that the feds would like to prosecute. There is an element of creativity: what federal statute can we find to prosecute this person?
We’ll learn more about the reasons for Hastert’s payments in the course of the case (or through Department of Justice leaks calculated to harm him). I suspect we’ll find that the investigation happened like this: the feds heard that Hastert was paying someone off based on an accusation of old misconduct, determined that the misconduct was too old (or out of their jurisdiction) to prosecute, and started subpoenaing records and interviewing witnesses until they found some element of what he was doing that was a federal crime. In other words, they targeted the man, and then looked for the crime.
The problem with this scenario is that federal criminal law is extremely broad. Practically speaking, it gives federal prosecutors vast discretion to determine who among us faces criminal charges. If you think that you’re safe because you’ve never committed a crime, you may learn to your surprise that you’re wrong.
The rational response to this situation is clear: don’t trust the feds, don’t talk to the feds. But Dennis Hastert, like many accomplished people, believed he could talk his way out of the situation. When the FBI came to interview him, he didn’t refuse to answer and call his lawyer. According to the indictment, he confirmed in response to an FBI agent’s question that he was withdrawing cash in order to store it because he didn’t feel the banking system was safe. For that, he’s been charged with lying to federal agents.
Early last year The Court of The Hague handed down its decision in a long running case which had previously forced two Dutch ISPs, Ziggo and XS4ALL, to block The Pirate Bay.
The Court ruled against local anti-piracy outfit BREIN, concluding that the blockade was ineffective and restricted the ISPs’ entrepreneurial freedoms.
Responding to the verdict the two ISPs quickly unblocked the site and various other Dutch ISPs followed suit.
Meanwhile, the Hollywood-backed group took its case all the way to the Supreme Court and today Advocate General Van Peursem published his conclusion after a careful review.
The Advocate General advises the Supreme Court to stay the proceedings between BREIN and the Internet providers in order to seek clarification from the EU Court of Justice on several matters.
The first question that requires a European review is whether The Pirate Bay is actually communicating illegal content to the public. If this isn’t the case then the EU Court should rule whether ISPs can be ordered to block the site on other grounds.
A decision at the European level will be important, as it may also affect court orders in other countries, such as the UK, Italy and Belgium.
When the questions are resolved at the EU Court, the Advocate General advises to redo the entire trial noting that The Court of The Hague was too strict when it concluded that the blockade was ineffective and disproportional.
The Advocate General’s advice is not binding so it’s not yet certain whether the case will be referred to the EU Court of Justice. However, in most cases the recommendations are followed by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court is expected to release its verdict on October 9th.
The CEO of a Pakistani company called Axact, which called itself the country’s largest software exporter, was arrested yesterday in Karachi. Axact and its CEO, Shoaib Ahmed Shaikh, are accused of running a global network of selling fake diplomas.
Local television showed pictures of a room filled with the fakes, according to reports in The New York Times and The Guardian. The documents were stamped with letterhead from fake Axact-owned universities with names like Bay View, Cambell State, and Oxdell.
Other Axact institutions adopted names that mimicked well-known US universities, such as “Barkley” and “Columbiana.”
“We have seized hundreds of thousands of fake degrees,” Shahid Hayat, a director for Pakistan’s federal investigative agency, told The Guardian.
Shaikh was shown on Pakistani TV being led to a waiting government car, according to The New York Times. As he got into the car, he told the officials arresting him that he would “see to every one of them.”
Several other Axact officials were arrested as well. The charges include forgery, fraud, and illegal money transfers.
Pakistan has requested FBI assistance to deal with the case, since many of the fake universities are US-based.
The nature of Axact’s business was brought to light in a New York Times article published earlier this month. That article described Axact as employing some 2,000 people, offering “Silicon Valley-style employee perks like a swimming pool and yacht.”
But the company’s real business was selling fake academic degrees on a network of some 370 websites. It was estimated to be earning several million dollars per month. The websites included slick videos, with actors hired to portray professors and students.
Telephone salespeople at Axact worked around the clock, sometimes catering to “customers who clearly understand that they are buying a shady instant degree for money,” according to the Times. Other times, agents would “manipulate those seeking a real education, pushing them to enroll for coursework that never materializes, or assuring them that their life experiences are enough to earn them a diploma.”
The company called the New York Times expose “baseless, substandard, maligning and defamatory,” and a “massive conspiracy by the seths of the Pakistani media industry.”
The arrests come as Axact was on the verge of launching its own TV network and newspaper group. It isn’t clear what will come of those plans.
Encryption is not the refuge of scoundrels, as Obama administration law-enforcement officials loudly proclaim – it is an essential tool needed to protect the right of freedom of opinion and expression in the digital age, a new United Nations report concludes.
Encryption that makes a communication unintelligible to anyone but the intended recipient creates “a zone of privacy to protect opinion and belief,” says the report from David Kaye, who as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression is essentially the U.N.’s free speech watchdog.
The significance of encryption extends well beyond political speech, Kaye writes. “The ability to search the web, develop ideas and communicate securely may be the only way in which many can explore basic aspects of identity, such as one’s gender, religion, ethnicity, national origin or sexuality.”
Encryption, like anonymity, is essential to artists, journalists, whistleblowers, and many other classes of people, the report says.
And far from banning or weakening encryption, governments should embrace and strengthen it, Kaye writes. He specifically urges the U.S. Congress to “prohibit the Government from requiring companies to weaken product security or insert back-door access measures.”
Obama administration officials have been advocating for encryption with some sort of built-in measure that law enforcement could circumvent, either an intentional weakness that creates a “back door,” or some sort of split “master key”.
Newly-installed Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Wednesday became the latest to engage in fear-mongering, saying she had “grave concerns” about encryption’s use by “people whose sworn duty is to harm Americans here and abroad.”
National Security Agency director Mike Rogers took a slightly more nuanced view on Wednesday, ZDNet reported. “You’re not going to hear me say that encryption is a bad thing. I don’t think it is a bad thing. Encryption is not bad. Encryption is a fundamental part of the future; I think it would be ridiculous to pretend otherwise,” Rogers told a cyberwarfare conference in Estonia.
But he expressed his desire for a legal framework that would give law enforcement access, asking: “Can we create some mechanism where within this legal framework there’s a means to access information that directly relates to the security of our respective nations, even as at the same time we are mindful we have got to protect the rights of our individual citizens?”
Kaye’s answer is: No. He concludes from his research that “compromised encryption cannot be kept secret from those with the skill to find and exploit the weak points, whether State or non-State, legitimate or criminal.” Thus: “In the contemporary technological environment, intentionally compromising encryption, even for arguably legitimate purposes, weakens everyone’s security online.”
And Kaye points out that law enforcement officials “have not demonstrated that criminal or terrorist use of encryption serves as an insuperable barrier to law enforcement objectives.”
Indeed, FBI Director James Comey gave a much-quoted speech last fall about how increasingly common cell-phone encryption could lead law enforcement to a “very dark place” where it “misses out” on crucial evidence to nail criminals. But the examples he then gave failed the laugh test.
The United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights appoints expert “special rapporteurs” to be their eyes and ears when it comes to key human rights issues. Kaye, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, began his three-year term as the rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression in August 2014.
His report also warns that state prohibitions of anonymity online – such as required real-name registration for online activity, SIM card registration, or banning of anonymity tools such as Tor — interfere with the right to freedom of expression.
Encryption advocates hailed the report. “This landmark report shows how fundamental — and necessary — encryption is for exercising freedom of expression,” said Access Senior Policy Counsel Peter Micek. “It’s a sober rebuke of baseless fear-mongering from those who say encryption only helps criminals and terrorists.”
Across the country, legislatures are responding to whistleblowers and activists who have exposed inhumane and at times unsanitary practices at farms by passing laws that criminalize the taking of photos or videos at agricultural facilities.
Farming interests have publicly backed the campaign to outlaw recording. But emails I obtained through a records request reveal that in Idaho, which passed an “ag-gag” law last year, dairy industry lobbyists actually crafted the legislation that was later introduced by lawmakers.
State Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, said he sponsored the bill in response to an activist-filmed undercover video that showed cows at an Idaho plant being beaten by workers, dragged by the neck with chains, and forced to live in pens covered in feces, which activists said made the cows slip, fall and injure themselves. The facility, Bettencourt Dairies, is a major supplier for Burger King and Kraft. The workers who were filmed were fired.
Introducing the bill, Patrick compared the activists behind the Bettencourt video to marauding invaders who burned crops to starve their enemies. “This is clear back in the sixth century B.C.,” Patrick said, according to Al Jazeera America. “This is the way you combat your enemies.”
Idaho is a major center for dairy production, an industry that generates $2.5 billion a year in the state.
Patrick’s bill was introduced on February 10, 2014, sailed through committee within days, and was signed by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter on February 28. The legislation calls for a year in jail and fines up to $5,000 for covertly recording abuses on farms or for those who lie on employment applications about ties to animal rights groups or news organizations.
But the groundwork was laid by Dan Steenson, a registered lobbyist for the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, a trade group for the industry.
Steenson testified in support of the ag-gag bill, clearly disclosing his relationship with the trade group. Emails, however, show that he also helped draft the bill. On January 30, before Sen. Patrick’s bill was formally introduced, Steenson emailed Bob Naerebout, another Dairymen lobbyist, and Brian Kane, the Assistant Chief Deputy of the state attorney general’s office, with a copy of the legislation. “The attached draft incorporates the suggestions you gave us this morning,” Steenson wrote, thanking Kane for his help in reviewing the bill. Kane responded with “one minor addition” to the legislation, which he described to Steenson as “your draft.”
The draft text of the legislation emailed by Steenson closely mirrors the bill signed into law.
“Dan and the Idaho dairymen had a large input but also Idaho Farm Bureau as well as Idaho-eastern seed growers,” Patrick said in an email to The Intercept. “This was not about only dairy so but all of agriculture since all farms have risks of distorted facts,” he added. “We only want the whole truth to be told not just a few social media sites.”
The law made Idaho the seventh state to pass “ag-gag” efforts. Similar efforts have been signed into law in recent years in Utah, Iowa and Missouri.
This week, North Carolina may become the next state to do so. The North Carolina version of the act covers not just farms and agricultural facilities, but many other workplaces, including nursing homes and daycares — an expansion of the law that critics say will muffle whistleblowers. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory is deciding whether to sign or veto the legislation.
The old joke goes “George Orwell’s 1984 was a warning, not a ‘how to’ manual.” But that joke is increasingly less funny as the UK really seems to be doing everything it can to put in place Orwell’s fictitious vision — just a few decades later. Right after the election a few weeks ago, we noted the government’s plan to push forward with its “extremist disruption orders” (as had been promised). The basic idea is that if the government doesn’t like what you’re saying, it can define your statements as “extremist” and make them criminal. Prime Minister David Cameron did his best Orwell in flat out stating that the idea was to use these to go after people who were obeying the lawand then arguing that the UK needed to suppress free speech… in the name of protecting free speech. Really.
For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. It’s often meant we have stood neutral between different values. And that’s helped foster a narrative of extremism and grievance.
This government will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach. As the party of one nation, we will govern as one nation and bring our country together. That means actively promoting certain values.
Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights regardless of race, gender or sexuality.
We must say to our citizens: this is what defines us as a society.
Faced with increasing local website censorship and Internet services that restrict access depending on where a user is based, more and more people are turning to specialist services designed to overcome such limitations.
With prices plummeting to just a few dollars a month in recent years, VPNs are now within the budgets of most people. However, there are always those who prefer to get such services for free, without giving much consideration to how that might be economically viable.
One of the most popular free VPN/geo-unblocking solutions on the planet is operated by Israel-based Hola. It can be added to most popular browsers in seconds and has an impressive seven million users on Chrome alone. Overall the company boasts 46 million users of its service.
Now, however, the company is facing accusations from 8chan message board operator Fredrick Brennan. He claims that Hola users’ computers were used to attack his website without their knowledge, and that was made possible by the way Hola is setup.
“When a user installs Hola, he becomes a VPN endpoint, and other users of the Hola network may exit through his internet connection and take on his IP. This is what makes it free: Hola does not pay for the bandwidth that its VPN uses at all, and there is no user opt out for this,” Brennan says.
Politico recently ran a fantastic historical profile of journalist Theodore H. White by the writer Scott Porch. White invented the genre of modern presidential campaign books with The Making of the President, 1960 (and then 1964, 1968 and 1972).
The 1960 version, which won a Pulitzer Prize and sold four million copies, describes John F. Kennedy as a “forlorn and lonesome young man … lithe as an athlete … handsome and tired, with just a fleck of gray now in his glossy brown hair” who “baffled” the “old-line politicians of Tammany.” Then after Kennedy was assassinated, White helped Jackie Kennedy create the “Camelot” myth of his presidency.
In other words, White publicly took the stance that U.S. politicians and politics were just super. This is from the first pages of The Making of the President, 1960:
I owe two general acknowledgments:
First, to the politicians of America — men whom I have found over the long years the pleasantest, shrewdest and generally the most honorable of companions …
Second, I must thank my comrades of the press — whose reporting at every level of America politics purifies, protects and refreshes our system from year to year.
But what did White think about U.S. politics in private? See if you can spot the subtle difference between White’s public statements and this letter he wrote to a close friend on August 31, 1960 during the Kennedy-Nixon campaign:
…it is all fraudulent, all of it, everywhere, up and down, East and West. The movies, radio and state and books and TV — all of them are fraudulent; and the foundations and universities and scholars, they are all fraudulent too; and the executives and the financiers … and the Commissars and the Krushchevs and the Mao Tze-tungs, they are fraudulent equally; it is all a great game; and there are two dangers in this great game: first, the fraudulent people come to believe their own lies, they come to have faith in their fraud; and second, underneath it all, because people are fundamentally good, they come to realize that we live in lies and the people get angrier and angrier and they may explode.
The scenery of politics is ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous. Yet I must report all this as serious. This is the strain on me. That I must be serious, and I must exhaust myself trying to find out what is true and what is fraud and yet, even after I know, I must take them both seriously and write of them both as if I did not know the true distinctions between them.