Friday, August 31, 2007

Legal or Not, IPhone Hacks Might Spur Revolution

Jennifer Granick writing in Wired has offered her perpective on the iPhone "hacking" controversy i.e. techies breaking through the proprietary digital locks to enable iPhone owners to use their expensive gadgets with providers other than AT&T.

"The iPhone's fantastic user interface is inspiring another consumer-electronics revolution: making people care about cell-phone unlocking. After my clients' long, successful battle before the U.S. Copyright Office to exempt phone unlocking from the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, have iPhone customers won the freedom to tinker with their cool new handsets? The answer, unfortunately, is that we still don't know.

In the past week, New Jersey teenager George Hotz published instructions for unlocking the iPhone. Meanwhile an anonymous group called iPhoneSimFree plans to sell its software-only solution, and a company called UniquePhones is set to sell a remote unlocking service. These offers generated buzz from iPhone owners, who are restricted -- by technological locks built into the GSM-based handset -- to using the AT&T wireless network. On Monday, some buzz circulated from AT&T lawyers trying to shut down the distribution of unlocking software. Does AT&T have a leg to stand on?...

We won an exemption in November of 2006 that allows you to circumvent digital locks (.pdf) in order to access "computer programs in the form of firmware that enable wireless telephone handsets to connect to a wireless telephone communication network, when circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of lawfully connecting to a wireless telephone communication network."

Despite this success, the exemption does not offer blanket protection for phone unlocking, though the practice might be legal for other reasons. The problem is that the exemption protects unlockers, but it doesn't apply to those entities that distribute unlocking tools or provide unlocking services to others."

Ed Felten has some thoughts on the controversy too.

"Can AT&T cook up a legal theory justifying a ban on iPhone unlocking? I’ll leave that question to the lawyers. It seems to me, though, that regardless of what the law does say, it ought to say that iPhone unlocking is fine. For starters, the law should hesitate to micromanage what people do with the devices they own. If you want to run different software on your phone, or if you want to use one cell provider rather than another, why should the government interfere?

I’ll grant that AT&T would prefer that you buy their service. Exxon would prefer that you be required to buy gasoline from them, but the government (rightly) doesn’t try to stop you from filling up elsewhere. The question is not what benefits AT&T or Exxon, but what benefits society as a whole. And the strong presumption is that letting the free market operate — letting customers decide which product to buy — is the best and most efficient policy."

With Gonzales gone is it time to probe the war on terror policies

Edward Lazarus thinks that, now that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has resigned, it is time for the US to have a wide public debate about the Bush administration's policies relating to the 'war on terror'.

"It's been inevitable for quite a while, and now it has finally happened: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has abandoned his bedraggled rear-guard action and resigned his post. It is not hard to sum up Gonzales's legacy at the Department of Justice: He leaves behind a shattered agency - a corps of loyal career public servants who were forced to choose between opting out of their life's work, and watching helplessly as Gonzales (and other top officials) consistently chose loyalty to the President and partisan advantage over professionalism and even-handed enforcement of the law...

Now that Gonzales has joined the merry ranks of Bushies abruptly deciding to attend more closely to family concerns... There are three obvious items on the agenda: the pending investigations, the goal of re-invigorating DOJ, and the debate over the questionable legal theories underlying the Bush Administration's approach to the war on terror (policies that DOJ, under both Ashcroft and Gonzales, rationalized and implemented). All of these issues are important, but none, in my view, is as important at this particular moment than the last."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Polaris sues Amazon, Google and others

From the NYT:

"Maybe they haven’t sued the whole Internet, just a good chunk of it. Polaris IP, a patent firm, has filed a patent infringement suit against Google, Yahoo,,, Borders, AOL and IAC/InterActiveCorp, which owns

Polaris is the owner of United States Patent No. 6,411,947, for an “Automatic Message Interpretation and Routing System.” It is not entirely clear what the patent covers or how Google, Yahoo, et. al. infringed on it. "

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Microsoft, Yahoo! deal with Chinese

Microsoft and Yahoo have signed a deal with the Chinese government to encourage "the big name web players to record the identities of bloggers and censor content. So says Reporters Without Borders, an organization that fights for journalistic rights across the globe."

Dan Rather on evoting

Dan Rather recently broadcast a programme on evoting. Worth watching - a nice accessible introduction to the problems with electronic voting. He opens with the Sarsota county debacle in Florida in 2006, the results of which are still being challenged by the losing candidate, Christine Jennings.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Convicted Bittorrent admin must use Windows

A linux user convicted and jailed for criminal copyright offences via BitTorrent is, following his release from jail, obliged to install Windows so that the probation department can monitor his computer use. The probation depatment's monitoring software is incompatible with linux. Thanks to Becky Hogge at ORG for the pointer.