Friday, August 08, 2008

Ex-Bush aide claims `Swing Vote' stolen from him

Via Findlaw: Ex-Bush aide claims `Swing Vote' stolen from him

"A former presidential aide claims in a lawsuit that plot and marketing elements of the Kevin Costner and Kelsey Grammer movie "Swing Vote" were stolen from him.

Political commentator Bradley Blakeman, a former deputy assistant to President Bush for appointments and scheduling, said in the lawsuit filed Thursday that he gave a copyrighted screenplay entitled "Go November" to Grammer in 2006."

MPAA hacker case could redefine online privacy

From the Washington Post: E-Mail Hacking Case Could Redefine Online Privacy

"A federal appeals court in California is reviewing a lower court's definition of "interception" in the digital age, in a case that some legal experts say could weaken consumer privacy protections online.

The case, Bunnell v. Motion Picture Association of America, involves a hacker who in 2005 broke into a file-sharing company's server and obtained copies of company e-mails as they were being transmitted. He then e-mailed 34 pages of the documents to an MPAA executive, who paid the hacker $15,000 for the job, according to court documents.

The issue boils down to the judicial definition of an intercept in the electronic age, in which packets of data move from server to server, alighting for milliseconds before speeding onward. The ruling applies only to the 9th District, which includes California and other Western states, but could influence other courts around the country.

In August 2007, Judge Florence-Marie Cooper, in the Central District of California, ruled that the alleged hacker, Rob Anderson, had not intercepted the e-mails in violation of the 1968 Wiretap Act because they were technically in storage, if only for a few instants, instead of in transmission."

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Inflating tyres and ignorance of energy efficiency

Have military commissions been worth it?

Op ed at the LA Times:
Have military commissions been worth it?
"Regular courts could have convicted and sent to prison more truly dangerous terrorists."

"On Nov. 13, 2001, President Bush issued a military order authorizing trials of suspected terrorists before military commissions. Terrorists, the president warned, may cause "mass deaths and ... place at risk the continuity of the operations of the United States government." And only military commissions would suffice to bring terrorists to justice, because "given the danger to the safety of the United States" and the unique "nature" of terrorism, "it is not practicable to apply ... the principles of law and the rules of evidence generally recognized in the trial of criminal cases in the United States district courts."

So how're those commissions working out for you, Mr. President?

On Wednesday, after 6 1/2 years of controversy and delay, the administration finally scored a "victory" in a military commission trial at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, gaining the conviction of one terrorist mastermind.

Osama bin Laden, you ask?

Ah, no. He's still living it up somewhere in Pakistan, enjoying a good chuckle at our expense.

Wednesday instead saw the conviction of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who fessed up to being ... Bin Laden's driver. He was accordingly convicted of the "war crime" of "providing material support for terrorism." Next up before the military commissions: Bin Laden's pastry chef, for providing culinary support to terrorism...

are these guys really the worst of the worst, evil terrorist masterminds who so threaten "the continuity of the operations of the United States government" that they couldn't possibly be tried in U.S. civilian courts?"

China: the one place that even the US won't transfer detainees

I guess President Bush felt liberated to lecture the Chinese on human rights abuses yesterday because it is the one place that even the US won't transfer detainees.

"The Convention Against Torture prohibits nations from expelling, returning or extraditing a person to another State "where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture." The U.S. has interpreted this to apply only where it is more likely than not that the person will be tortured -- i.e., the odds of torture must be over 50 percent.

Now, the Bush Administration claims it does not have to abide by this treaty obligation unless the person in question is in the United States proper. (More on this claim here.) Nevertheless, the Administration insists that as a matter of "policy" it will not render detainees to nations where it is more likely than not they will be tortured. This is how the State Department described that U.S. policy, in a Report to the United Nations on the Convention Against Torture:
The United States is aware of allegations that it has transferred individuals to third countries where they have been tortured. The United States does not transfer persons to countries where the United States believes it is "more likely than not" that they will be tortured. This policy applies to all components of the United States government.
Despite this policy, the U.S. virtually never finds that someone is more likely than not to be tortured, even in nations with substantial, confirmed records of torture and abuse, such as Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Haiti, etc. We have sent persons, including detainees, to all of these places upon findings (often based on so-called "assurances") that the risk of torture was less than 50 percent."

Mash up DJ skirts copyright law

The NYT has an article on mash-up DJ Girltalk.

EU asks UK if Phorm breaches data protection laws

The EU commissioner for the information society, Viviane Reding, has apparently written to the UK government asking them to determine whether the Phorm system, secretly used by BT to target ads at subscribers, breaches EU data protection laws.

Thanks to Glyn at ORG for the link.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

McKinnon plea bargain offer not an abuse of process

The Times has an accessible law report on the McKinnon extradition case that the House of Lords decided last week.

"A plea bargain offered by a foreign prosecutor to an accused person whose extradition was sought, particularly if offered during a regulated process of plea-bargaining, did not constitute an abuse of process unless it was so extreme as to amount to a threat of unlawful action which imperilled the integrity of the extradition process.

The House of Lords so held, dismissing an appeal by the defendant, Gary McKinnon, from the dismissal by the Queen’s Bench Divisional Court (Lord Justice Maurice Kay and Mr Justice Goldring) (The Times April 19, 2007) of his appeal from:

(i) a decision of District Judge Nicholas Evans at Bow Street on May 10, 2006, to send his case to the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the ground, under section 87 of the Extradition Act 2003, that his extradition to the United States of America would not be incompatible with his human rights, and

(ii) the Home Secretary’s decision of July 4, 2006, to order his extradition at the request of the Government of the USA on offences alleging that between February 1, 2001, and March 19, 2002, he had gained unauthorised access to 97 US Government computers. "

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

CERN rap

Is this what will finally demonstrate to school children that particle physics is cool. The CERN rap.

CERN Rap from Will Barras on Vimeo.

EFF v Uri Geller

The EFF have won their case on the fair use of a video clip of Uri Geller.

The clip is on YouTube if you're interested and is related to James Randi's investigations which undermined Uri Geller's claims about being psychic.

TSA loses personal data of 33,000 fast track travellers

Just to show the TSA are just as good with data as HMG, BoinBoing points out that a laptop with data about 33,000 Clear card applicants has been lost at San Francisco Airport

Jammie Thomas $222,000 P2P case back in court

The Jammie Thomas case - $222,000 damages for copyright infringement of 24 songs on P2P networks - was back in court yesterday.

Prescription Data Used To Assess Consumers

From the Washington Post:

"Health and life insurance companies have access to a powerful new tool for evaluating whether to cover individual consumers: a health "credit report" drawn from databases containing prescription drug records on more than 200 million Americans.

Collecting and analyzing personal health information in commercial databases is a fledgling industry, but one poised to take off as the nation enters the age of electronic medical records. While lawmakers debate how best to oversee the shift to computerized records, some insurers have already begun testing systems that tap into not only prescription drug information, but also data about patients held by clinical and pathological laboratories."

ACCURATE build research prototype robust evoting machine

Dan Wallach and the folks at ACCURATE have built a research prototype VoteBox: a tamper-evident, verifiable electronic voting system. Abstract of the paper describing it:

"Commercial electronic voting systems have experienced
many high-profile software, hardware, and usability failures
in real elections. While it is tempting to abandon
electronic voting altogether, we show how a careful application
of distributed systems and cryptographic techniques
can yield voting systems that surpass current systems
and their analog forebears in trustworthiness and usability.
We have developed the VoteBox, a complete electronic
voting system that combines several recent e-voting
research results into a coherent whole that can provide
strong end-to-end security guarantees to voters. VoteBox
machines are locally networked and all critical election
events are broadcast and recorded by every machine on
the network. VoteBox network data, including encrypted
votes, can be safely relayed to the outside world in real
time, allowing independent observers with personal computers
to validate the system as it is running. We also
allow any voter to challenge a VoteBox, while the election
is ongoing, to produce proof that ballots are cast as intended.
The VoteBox design offers a number of pragmatic
benefits that can help reduce the frequency and impact of
poll worker or voter errors."

Sounds promising , especially from an auditing and live operational challenge perspective, but it still doesn't get away from the problem of the handful of techies being the only ones who really understand what is going on inside the machine.

A small step forward on voting in the US

From Ed Felten:

"Barbara Simons, an accomplished computer scientist and e-voting expert, was recently appointed to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) Board of Advisors. (The EAC is the U.S. Federal body responsible for voting technology standards, among other things.) This is good news.

The board has thirty-seven members, of which four positions are allocated for “members representing professionals in the field of science and technology”. These four positions are to be appointed by Majority and Minority leaders in the House and the Senate. (See page 2 of the Board’s charter.) Given the importance of voting technology issues to the EAC, it does seem like a good idea to reserve 10% of the advisory board positions for technologists. If anything, the number of technologist seats should be larger."

Dell get trademark on "Cloud computing"

Dell have been awarded a trademark on "cloud computing".

US Appeal Court oks recording TV on remote servers

From the Register:

"A US appeals court has given the thumbs up to Cablevision's new-age DVR, which stores recorded shows on remote servers rather than in-home hard drives.

Reversing an earlier decision from a lower court, the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled that despite the remote-server setup of Cablevision's RS-DVR, end users would still be the ones making copies of any copyrighted material.

"Cablevision would not directly infringe plaintiffs' under the Copyright Act by offering its RS-DVR system to consumers," the ruling reads. And yes, the plaintiffs are a who's who of the Hollywood old guard, including movie studios Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures and Disney and TV broadcasters ABC, CBS and NBC."

Update: The EFF label it "victory for DVRs in the cloud". Quite appropriate really.

"In March 2006, Cablevision announced that it would be launching a "remote storage" DVR (RS-DVR) system that would operate much like a TiVo, except that the recordings would be stored on hard drives in Cablevision buildings rather than on a box under a consumer's television. A collection of studios and networks sued Cablevision, arguing that RS-DVRs would violate copyright.

Wait, doesn't the Sony Betamax case say that time-shifting is legal? Yes, but that's not what the plaintiffs complained about. Indeed, they carefully avoided attacking what the consumers would be doing. They instead argued that an RS-DVR is different, because Cablevision is making the copy, and that somehow makes all the difference.

Cablevision, supported by EFF and other amici, explained that this was the wrong way to think about things. When a consumer presses the record button on a remote control, it's the consumer who's making the copy, regardless of whether the copy is being stored on a hard drive a few feet away, or in a data center miles away. Although the district court agreed with the plaintiffs, the appellate court today resoundingly sided with Cablevision, EFF, and the other amici that supported Cablevision:

In the case of a VCR, it seems clear . . . that the operator of the VCR, the person who actually presses the button to make the recording, supplies the necessary element of volition, not the person who manufactures, maintains, or, if distinct from the operator, owns the machine. We do not believe that an RS-DVR customer is sufficiently distinguishable from a VCR user to impose liability as a direct infringer on a different party for copies that are made automatically upon that customer’s command...

That's not all there was to cheer in the Cablevision decision. The court also reminded everyone that in order to be a "copy" for purposes of copyright law, a work must be "sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be . . . reproduced . . . for a period of more than transitory duration" (here, the court concluded that data in temporary buffers in the Cablevision system that would be overwritten in, at the longest, 1.2 seconds were of transitory duration). In the digital age, where routers and caches often make fleeting copies of bytes in the ordinary course, this was welcome news.

And, finally, the court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that Cablevision was engaging in unauthorized public performances. The way the Cablevision system was designed, every time a consumer decided to record a given show, Cablevision would store a separate copy of that program, and each of those copies could be played back only by the consumer who recorded it. The plaintiffs urged the court to hold that if 1000 copies of the season finale of Desperate Housewives are played back in 1000 households, that's a public performance. The court instead correctly concluded that each of those copies is playable in only one household, which means that we're talking about 1000 private viewings, not a public performance.

Just three years ago, in MGM v. Grokster, the Supreme Court proclaimed that copyright law should "leave[] breathing room for innovation and vigorous commerce," and today the Second Circuit has done just that."

The decision is available online.

Public knowledge haved joined the usual suspects in welcoming the decision.

Librarian v censorship

One of the things I've come to appreciate over the past ten years or so of amateur stumbling round the intellectual property landscape is the amazing job that so many librarians do. Here's just one terrific example - defending the stocking of a book that one parent, at least, would like removed from the library's shelves - of the work done by that unsung army of smart people whose job it is to facilitate access to knowledge.

Ireland heading for ID cards?

The Irish Times is reporting that the Irish government are introducing 'photo ID benefit cards.'

"THE GOVERNMENT will begin issuing hundreds of thousands of new public service cards later this year, which will be used to access State services such as welfare benefits, free travel and medical rebates. CARL O'BRIEN , Social Affairs Correspondent reports

Officials claim it will help cut out cumbersome form-filling and red tape when dealing with government departments and agencies.

However, civil liberties groups argue that the photo ID and personal information contained on the cards could form the basis of a national identity card.

The Irish Times understands that the card will initially be deployed for use by the 640,000 recipients of free travel before the end of the year.

It will ultimately replace cards used for accessing services in social welfare, revenue, health, education, agriculture and local government."

Monday, August 04, 2008

Wesch at the Library of Congress

Michael Wesch has been spreading his enthusiasm on educational technologies at the Library of Congress.

Thanks to Rob Myers via the ORG list for the pointer. He picked it up because Professor Wesch reckons that 1 in 20 of the thousands of videos he's viewed on YouTube are "addressed to the YouTube community" or made for the YouTube audience you might say. Actually one YouTube phenomenon involved people doing their own versions of a popular musician's dance. When the record company picked up on this eventually they made their own version of the YouTube versions, explicitly celebrating their artist seeding so much YouTube creativity. There's a novel approach from the record business. And this then got nominated for a Grammy award. There is a lesson in there somewhere.

Wesch is also the one who summed up David Weinberger's book Everything is Miscellaneous in 5 minutes 28 seconds:

Update: Pamela Jones at Groklaw has done a helpful timeline of Wesch's Library of congress talk.

Here's the UK's EFF

Becky Hogge and Danny O'Brien talk about about ORG's plans for the future:

Sunday, August 03, 2008


David Weinberger has listed 20 things he has stolen on his blog.

"I read the headlines of a newspaper that was for sale in a kiosk box...

I listened all the way through to a Metallica song emanating from my neighbor’s radio, but closed my window when the commercial came on...

Frequently have I browsed stores with absolutely no intent to purchase. On some such occasions, I have felt fabrics I did not intend to buy.

I placed a bag on the seat next to me on the subway.

I continued to wear in public running shoes after the Nike “swoosh” wore off..."

Read the full list. It's amusing and thought provoking.

TSA staff on performance related pay

Apparently staff on TSA checkpoints are on performance related pay.

"Good afternoon, Chairman Akaka, Ranking Member Voinovich, and distinguished members of the Subcommittee. I am pleased to be here today to discuss TSA's progress on our pay-for-performance system, known as PASS [Performance Accountability and Standards System]...

How does PASS improve security? When you get paid more to do a better job, you do a better job. PASS is targeted to reward excellent performance. That is an incentive to perform at the highest level to which you are capable. PASS rewards the individual performance necessary to achieve TSA's organizational goals and that increases security.

TSA's pay-for-performance system is driven by validated data. Its performance metrics are standardized, measurable, observable and almost completely objective."

The administrators don't realise that what gets measured in these simplistic target systems is what is easy to measure not what is important. So the focus is on the wrong things and real security is compromised.

Groklaw roundup of SCO litiigtion

The good folks at Groklaw have created a new page on the SCO litigation, SCO Litigation - From Soup to Nuts.

Second Anniversary: Blackboard v. Desire2Learn

Jim Farmer has been ruminating about edupatents over at Michael Feldstein's excellent e-literate blog, on the second anniversary of the Blackboard v Desire2Learn case.

The RIAA v The 30,000

Here's an interesting article in The Judges’ Journal, Volume 47, Number 3, Summer 2008, from New York lawyer and Recording Industry vs. The People blogger, Ray Beckerman.

"As every federal judge must be painfully aware by now, an estimated
30,000 ordinary people2 have been sued during the past four years in U.S. district courts by the world’s four largest record companies, EMI, SONY BMG, Warner Brothers Records, and Vivendi/Universal, or their affiliates. The suits have been brought for alleged infringement of sound recording copyrights. Although these companies are represented by a trade association, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), none of the hundreds of other members of this association has participated in the litigation campaign.

The large majority of the defendants have defaulted, and the default judgments against them have been in amounts that represent more than 2,000 times the actual damages sustained by the plaintiffs.3 Of those remaining, most have paid settlement amounts that exceed 1,000 times the plaintiffs’ actual damages, and a great number of the settling defendants—perhaps most of them— are people who did not actually engage in file sharing, let alone copyright infringement through file sharing, and against whom no legally cognizable claim for secondary infringement could be mounted. However, they are settling because the alternative—protracted, costly federal litigation—is not possible for them...

The courts of other countries—notably the Netherlands and Canada—are not clogged with these cases for the simple reason that they were quick to recognize the paucity of the RIAA’s evidence and refused to permit the identities of Internet subscribers to be disclosed to the record companies.5 The courts of the United States have not been so discriminating and have allowed a veritable flood of one-sided litigation to crowd their dockets.

This article will at-tempt to remove some of the mythology re-garding these cases, to make observations regarding some of the points at which the process is breaking down, and at each of those junctures, to offer one or more practical, constructive suggestions as to what the courts need to do to make the process more fair and balanced."

O'Reilly on Open Source and Cloud Computing

Tim O'Reilly on open source and cloud computing. Must read.