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EFF, Public Knowledge and Engine tell the USPTO how to improve patent quality

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge and Engine have submitted comments [PDF] to the US Patent and Trademark Office explaining how examiners could improve the quality of patents that the USPTO issues by expanding their search for "prior art" (that is, evidence that the thing under discussion has already been invented) by building searchable databases, and by seeing through the common, misleading practices of using synonyms for common words to make obvious things sound new.

As EFF points out in its post on the filing, the real answer for this is action from Congress to reform patents and end patent-trolling, but these are all useful steps for the USPTO to take in the meantime.

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Videos of individual Trustycon talks

I linked to the seven-hour video file from Trustycon, the convention held as an alternative to RSA's annual security event, inspired by the revelation that RSA took money from the NSA to sabotage its own products.

Now Al has broken down the video into the individual talks, uploading them to Youtube. This is very handy -- thanks, Al!

TrustyCon Videos Available (Thanks, Al!)

Middle schooler wins C-SPAN prize for doc about NSA spying

Dave from the Electronic Frontier Foundation sez, "Remember when Rep. Mike Rogers likened opponents of pernicious cybersecurity legislation to 14-year-olds? It turns out that middle-school-age students are also well-prepared to debate him on the NSA's programs as well. EFF congratulates students from two middle schools who took home top prizes in the C-SPAN StudentCam 2014 competition for young filmmakers with their documentaries on the debate over mass surveillance."

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US Embassy and Godaddy conspire to censor dissenting Mexican political site


Godaddy has censored a prominent Mexican political site that was critical of the government and a proposed law to suppress public protests. Godaddy says that it suspended 1dmx.org after a request from a "Special Agent Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Embassy, Mexico City." A lawyer for the site believes that the someone in the Mexican government asked the US embassy to arrange for the censorship, and is suing the Mexican government to discover the identity of the official who made the request.

Leaving aside the Mexican government corruption implied by this action, Americans should be outraged about the participation of the US Embassy in the suppression of political dissent. And, as always, Godaddy customers should be on notice that Godaddy is pretty much the worst domain registrar/hosting company in the world, with a long history of meekly knuckling under to absurd, legally dubious censorship claims from random law-enforcement and government agencies, and never, ever going to bat for its customers (I prefer Hover, one of Godaddy's major competitors).

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Trustycon: how to redesign NSA surveillance to catch more criminals and spy on a lot fewer people

The Trustycon folks have uploaded over seven hours' worth of talks from their event, an alternative to the RSA security conference founded by speakers who quit over RSA's collusion with the NSA. I've just watched Ed Felten's talk on "Redesigning NSA Programs to Protect Privacy" (starts at 6:32:33), an absolutely brilliant talk that blends a lucid discussion of statistics with practical computer science with crimefighting, all within a framework of respect for privacy, liberty and the US Bill of Rights.

Felten's talk lays out how the NSA's mass-collection program works, what its theoretical basis is for finding terrorists in all that data, and then explains how this is an incredibly inefficient and risky and expensive way of actually fighting crime. Then he goes on to propose an elegant alternative that gets better intelligence while massively reducing the degree of surveillance and the risk of disclosure.

I'm using Vid to MP3 to convert the whole seven hours' worth of talks to audio and plan on listening to them over the next couple of days.

Update: Here's that MP3 -- it's about 1GB. Thanks to the Internet Archive for hosting it!

TrustyCon - Live from San Francisco

Phoenix on Lessig and Lisztomania: "We Support Fair Use of Our Music!"

Last August, I posted about a lawsuit brought by Larry Lessig and the Electronic Frontier Foundation against Australia's Liberation Music, who hold the rights to "Lisztomania," a song by the French band Phoenix. Lessig had used brief clips from Lisztomania in a presentation on remix culture, and when the lecture was posted to Youtube, Phoenix Music sent a series of bogus copyright notices and threats to Youtube and Lessig.

Now (unsurprisingly), Liberation has settled, admitting that it was wrong. It has paid a confidential sum to EFF to cover costs and pay for future work defending the rights of people whose work is censored from Youtube by bogus copyright claims. It has also promised to fix the way it polices its copyright.

The best part is the statement released by Phoenix, who were apparently aghast to learn that their label was so reactionary when it came to remixing and fair use. It's amazing to see a band bust out statements like "One of the great beauties of the digital era is to liberate spontaneous creativity - it might be a chaotic space of free association but the contemporary experience of digital re-mediation is enormously liberating."

Click through for the whole thing, it's amazing.

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Report from Trustycon: like RSA, but without the corruption


Seth Rosenblatt reports from Trustycon, the conference formed as a protest against, and alternative to the RSA security conference. RSA's event is the flagship event in the security industry, but the news that RSA had accepted $10M from the NSA to sabotage its own products so that spies could break into the systems of RSA customers led high profile speakers like Mikko Hypponen to cancel their appearances at the event.

Trustycon sold out, raised $20,000 for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and, most importantly, got key members of the security industry to come to grips with the question of improving network security in an age when spy agencies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars every year to undermine it.

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American citizen and EFF sue Ethiopian government for installing British spyware on laptop

A US citizen had government-grade spyware placed on his laptop by the Ethiopian government, who proceeded to monitor his Skype calls, instant messages, and his whole family's Internet use. Finspy, the software the Ethiopian regime used was provided by Gamma Group, a British company that makes and sells spyware exclusively to governments. They attacked the US citizen's computer while he was in the USA.

The victim of the attack -- who is being called "Mr. Kidane" in order to protect his family in Ethiopia -- is suing the Ethiopian government in a US court, and is represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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Podcast: EFF, Trustycon, and The Day We Fight Back

Nathan sez, "This is Episode 9 of Embracing Disruption Podcast (EDP). In this episode I interview April Glaser from the EFF. We talk about internet activism, the EFF, TrustyCon, and The Day We Fight Back."

009 EFF, TrustyCon, and The Day We Fight Back

EFF's HTTPS Everywhere + Firefox = most secure mobile browser

Peter from the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes, "Over at EFF, we just released a version of our HTTPS Everywhere extension for Firefox for Android. HTTPS Everywhere upgrades your insecure web requests to HTTPS on many thousands of sites, and this means that Firefox on Android with HTTPS Everywhere is now by far the most secure browser against dragnet surveillance attacks like those performed by the NSA, GCHQ, and other intelligence agencies."

I installed it today.

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Move your domain, support EFF

Spocko sez, "The Electronic Frontier Frontier saved my bacon back in 2007 and they might save yours in the future, this is a simple, easy way to support them in addition to becoming a member. In 2011 and 2013 Namecheap raised $64K and $44K for EFF with 'Move Your Domain Day.'"

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Bruce Sterling on making the Internet safe for freedom and art

Bruce Sterling's keynote at the Transmediale conference in Berlin is one of his best-ever outings (and I say that as a person who dropped out of university and totally upended his life after reading a transcript of one of Bruce's speeches). Sterling addresses the bankruptcy of tech giants, who have morphed themselves into intrusive presences that carry water for the surveillance industry, and lays out a credible case for a future where they are forgotten footnotes in our history.

In particular, I was impressed by this speech because it corrected some serious errors from Sterling's essay "The Ecuadorian Library," which, as Danny O'Brien pointed out completely misattributed a kind of optimistic naivete to technology activists past and present.

In this speech, Sterling revisits the origins and ongoing reality of the project to remake technology as a force for freedom, and corrects the record. As Sterling says, John Perry Barlow didn't write the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace because he thought the cops couldn't or wouldn't try to take over the Internet: he wrote it because the cops were trying to take it over, and he was "shouting through a megaphone" at them.

There's a species of bottom-feeding contrarian that has sprung up in this century to decry the Internet as a system of oppression. Most of these men are people with some passing connection to the entertainment industry, which has spent the past 20 years demanding systems of Internet censorship and surveillance to help with copyright enforcement. These critics -- who get a lot of press from the news-media, who love mud-slinging as much as they fear disruptive technology -- have somehow hit upon groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Free Software Foundation as villains in their narratives. Nevermind the fact that the cause of Internet freedom (which includes a fair deal in copyright, because the Internet is a machine for copying) has always been central to these groups' missions, and that they've championed Internet freedom because they were frightened of how the net could be used to surveil and control us, not because they were blind to that possibility.

This talk demolishes that streak of revisionism, and furthermore advances an agenda for a technologically adept arts-practice. It is a marvel of rhetoric and a tonic for those of us who are heartily sick of the trolls.

Bruce Sterling / transmediale 2014 afterglow Opening Ceremony (via Futurismic)

Army won't answer Freedom of Information Request on its SGT STAR AI chatbot

Dave from the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes, "Seven years ago, the U.S. Army launched the SGT STAR program, which uses a virtual recruiter (an AI chatbot) to talk to potential soldiers. We put in a FOIA request for a bunch of documents related to the program, including current and historical input/output scripts. So far, the Army Research and Marketing Group--which is supposed to help with transparency--hasn't responded."

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Podcasting patent trolls seek to intimidate EFF supporters, EFF fights back


Personal Audio is a patent troll that claims to own the process of sending audio around because they bought a patent from a guy who read Scientific American articles onto cassette tapes and sent them through the mail (seriously!). The Electronic Frontier Foundation is seeking to invalidate this patent -- which Personal Audio is using to shake down all kinds of indie podcasters for protection money -- using a new, cheaper, streamlined process.

Personal Audio is fighting dirty. They've filed an expensive lawsuit outside of the patent proceeding, and subpoenaed the names and personal details of everyone who donated to the campaign against their patent, purely to raise the price of adjudicating their patent and to intimidate podcasters who gave to the litigation fund rather than paying off Personal Audio.

EFF is fighting back. At stake is the process that is supposed to fix one tiny corner of the patent quagmire -- if Personal Audio's tactic succeeds, it will kill Congress's patent-fix dead.

The Juelsgaard Intellectual Property and Innovation Clinic at Stanford Law School has offered free counsel to anyone who's worried about the subpoena.

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13-year-old filmmaker's documentary on NSA spying

Dave from the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes, "I escort a lot of TV crews in and out of the building at EFF. Few have been as efficient and polite as Ben Blum, a 13-year-old San Francisco independent YouTube producer who interviewed EFF's Parker Higgins for this short documentary. Pitched to us as an entry in a C-Span competition about what issues Congress should deal with in 2014, Data Obsession breaks down the controversy over domestic surveillance with help from AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein.

Data Obsession - A Look Inside Government Surveillance (Thanks, Dave!)

Calling on the global Internet to keep the world free of mass government spying

A broad coalition of businesses, civil society groups, activists, and individuals (including Boing Boing) are planning a global day of action against surveillance for February 11, in memory of Aaron Swartz and in the service of a dream for an Internet that serves liberty and hope instead of spying and control. Much of the rhetoric about curbing American spying has focused on domestic surveillance, and the right of Americans to be free from warrantless, suspicionless surveillance from their government. But there's a lot of us who aren't Americans and don't live in America and we deserve to be free, too. Katitza Rodriguez from the Electronic Frontier Foundation tackles the global agenda for February 11th in a post that calls on the global Internet to get involved in making the Internet into a force for freedom.

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Boycott RSA, attend Trustycon instead!


Several high-profile speakers have bailed on RSA's annual security conference over the revelation that the company sabotaged its products at the behest of the NSA. There's even a petition to get Stephen Colbert to cancel his keynote.

Now, there's an alternative conference that will run at the Metreon down the street from RSA's show. It's called Trustycon, and will feature Mikko Hypponen, Chris Palmer, and others. The conference is being run by EFF and Defcon, with sponsorship from Cloudflare and Microsoft.

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Copyright must accomodate free expression

Here's another great post from the Electronic Frontier Foundation in honor of Copyright Week, explaining the relationship between copyright and free expression. Copyright is a monopoly on speech -- the right to decide, within limits, who can express themselves with certain words, tunes, and images -- so it's important that the law be structured so that monopoly doesn't jeopardize free debate and artistic expression.

Arts groups often have a blind spot here, staunchly defending free speech right up until it conflicts with copyright, and then stopping dead. But if you support free speech except where it conflicts with copyright, then your free speech movement is practically irrelevant to the age of the Internet, since all expression on the Internet involves making copies, and thus interacting with copyright.

Or as EFF's legal director Cindy Cohn likes to say, "We know you love the First Amendment, but we want you to share."

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Scoring Obama's NSA reforms (spoiler: it's not good)


Earlier this week, EFF published a scorecard for rating Obama's NSA reforms. Now that the reforms have been announced, it's time to measure them up. They don't fare well, I'm afraid. Here's a roundup of commentary from privacy leaders around the world, expressing disappointment (if not surprise) at Obama's half-hearted reining in of the surveillance state.

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Congress requires publicly funded research to be publicly available

The new Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which Congress passed yesterday, contains an important -- and fantastic -- provision: it requires that scientific research funded by the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education be placed in a free online repository within 12 months of their publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

There are some caveats (this only covers research from agencies with budgets of $100M or more) and it could have been better (immediate publication and all work placed in the pubic domain), but this is still a major stride forward. To be frank, it's well beyond what I'd hoped we'd get from Congress, who are traditionally more than willing to let private firms wall away pubic access from the research that tax-payers fund.

Here's the inside dirt from the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Adi Kamdar:

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You bought it, you own it, right?

In the latest Electronic Frontier Foundation post for Copyright Week, Corynne McSherry tackles one of the most troubling aspects of modern copyright law: the idea that even though you've bought a device or a copyrighted work to play on it, they're not really your property. Because of the anti-circumvention rules (which are supposed to backstop "copy protection"), it's illegal to discover how your technology works, to tell other people how their technology works, to add otherwise lawful features to your technology, and to make otherwise lawful uses of your media.

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Scorecard for Obama's NSA reforms


Tomorrow, Obama will announce his long-awaited reforms to the NSA. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has produced a score-card (with detailed commentary) describing the minimum set of reforms that would be compatible with the rule of law and a free and fair democracy. It makes a handy crib-sheet to use while you're watching the press-conference -- you can print out one for each of your friends and discuss it around the TV during your NSA press-conference party:

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Copyright's insane penalties

Here's another important Copyright Week post from the Electronic Frontier Foundation: Mitch Stoltz looks at the brutal penalties for copyright violations: "What if a single parking ticket carried a fine of up to a year's salary? What if there were no way to know consistently how much the fine would be before you got it? And what if any one of hundreds of private citizens could decide to write you a ticket?"

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Copyright week: using and losing the public domain


As Copyright Week continues, here's a pair of posts focusing on the importance of the public domain. First off, a guest editorial from Wikimedia's lawyers on the role of the public domain in the creation and maintenance of Wikipedia, one of the most amazing and important phenomena of the Internet age:

We must defend a vibrant public domain if we want collaborative projects like Wikipedia to continue to thrive. When material is removed from the public domain, it damages projects like Wikipedia and impacts Wikipedia readers and reusers at large. We are disappointed in the decision in Golan v. Holder, which removed content in the public domain by upholding the the Uruguay Round Agreements Act of 19941. Given the impact of the URAA on Wikipedia, the Wikimedia Foundation joined EFF in an amicus brief challenging the URAA a few years ago. When copyright is restored in a work, the public domain suffers. The immediate result is that Wikipedia is not as rich, because removing material from the public domain means that work previously available on Wikipedia may need to be removed.

Next, Techdirt's Mike Masnick reminds us that the public domain has been stolen from the public wholesale, through a series of economically and morally indefensible extensions of copyright that put that which rightly belongs to all of us into private hands:

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Dirty secrets of America's most notorious patent troll


MPHJ are the notorious patent trolls who claim that any business that scans documents and then emails them owes them $1,000 per employee. Their corporate structure is shrouded in mystery, hidden behind a nigh-impenetrable screen of shell companies, but thanks to a lawsuit the company has launched against the Federal Trade Commission, we're getting access to some details about their extortion racket. The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Julie Samuels rounds up the most interesting tidbits including the fact that MPHJ believes that every business in America with more 100 employees owes them $1,000 per employee, no matter what industry the company is in.

MPHJ brought suit against the FTC because it claims that it has a First Amendment right to send threatening letters to small businesses.

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Copyright Week: the law shouldn't be copyrighted


The Electronic Frontier Foundation continues to publish its excellent series of Copyright Week posts (here's yesterday's installment). Today, Corynne McSherry describes the fight over copyrighted laws. Not copyright laws -- laws about copyright -- but, rather, laws that are copyrighted, and that can't be read without paying hefty fees.

This odd situation crops up often in the realm of public safety standards (the last kind of law you'd want to hide away from the public, really): lawmakers commission private standards bodies to write these standards, then write a law that reads, "In order to comply with the law, you must follow standard such-and-such." So now you've got this weird situation where the law is a secret, it is proprietary, it cannot be published, and you can't see it or know what it says unless you're willing to pay the standards body.

But that's just the beginning:

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Copyright week: take copyright back!


This week is Copyright Week, and every day this week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and its allies in the fight for a fair, balanced copyright will be posting new article explaining how to fix copyright. The week is organized around six principles: transparency, a robust public domain, open access, "you bought it, you own it," fair use and balance. They're asking for you to sign onto the principles and support the campaign. Here's the kick-off post:

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Remembering Aaron Swartz

It's been a year since Aaron Swartz killed himself. The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Parker Higgins has posted a memorial to him that I found quite moving. I miss Aaron a lot.

I've been feeling pretty hopeless about the future lately, and I think a lot of it has been driven by the impending anniversary of Aaron's death. The last couple years were hard ones.

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EFF: "Everything we know about NSA spying" from 30C3

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Kurt Opsahl -- a brillliant digital civil liberties attorney who has been suing the US government and the NSA over spying since 2006 -- took to the stage at the 30th Chaos Communications Congress in Hamburg this week to explain in clear and simple language the history of NSA spying. Kurt lays out the tortured legal history of American bulk surveillance, showing how an interlocking set of laws, policies, lies and half-truths have been used to paper over an obviously, grossly unconstitutional program of spying without court oversight or particular suspicion.

If you're mystified by the legal shenanigans that led up to the Snowden and Manning leaks, this is where you should start. And even if you've been following the story closely, Opsahl gives badly needed coherence to the disjointed legal struggle, connecting the dots and revealing the whole picture.

30c3: Through a PRISM, Darkly - Everything we know about NSA spying

Interactive version of EFF's NSA crossword

Here's a nice little Christmastime Creative Commons and free/open source software success story: yesterday, I posted the Electronic Frontier Foundation's NSA-themed crossword puzzle, which was CC licensed. Shortly after, TheDod posted an interactive version of the puzzle to Github, forking an interactive crossword program written by the Boston Globe's Jesse Weisbeck.

Interactive edition of EFF's Xmas 2013 NSA crossword puzzle (Thanks, Dave!)