Save the Internet: Stop Fast Track

Evan from Fight for the Future writes, "Want to help save democracy? The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a super-secretive trade agreement that threatens everything you care about. It's been negotiated behind closed doors with ample input from over 600 corporate lobbyists -- but no access for journalists or the public. Sound bad? It gets worse. The corporate interest groups pushing for the TPP are the same folks that brought us SOPA, ACTA, and NAFTA." Read the rest

Silk Road prosecution: how does the US criminal justice system actually work?

Popehat's Ken White (a former federal prosecutor) uses the arrest of alleged Silk Road founder Ross "Dread Pirate Roberts" Ulbricht to explain how the criminal justice system works, including the difference between a grand jury indictment and a criminal charge, and how to understand sentencing guidelines and "maximum possible sentences." It's a great way to use current events to deepen your understanding of important, complicated systems.

If you enjoy that, you should also check out Ed Felten's post that contrasts the Silk Road story with the shut down of Lavabit to explore how crypto does -- and doesn't -- change the criminal justice system. Read the rest

Middle school vice principal says students who made fun of him on social media guilty under CFAA, RICO

In Matot v. CH, et al, a middle school assistant principal named Adam Matot asked a court to find that two students who'd set up parody social media accounts mocking him had violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and when the court laughed that out the door, asked the court to find that the students had violated the RICO Act and were engaged in organized crime. Thankfully, the court understood that this was raw sewage disguised as legal theory [PDF] ("Congress did not intend to target the misguided attempts at retribution by juvenile middle school students against an assistant principal in enacting RICO.") and found for the kids. Here's some trenchant analysis from Venkat Balasubramani: Read the rest

Top UK cop calls for end to war on drugs, legalization of Class A substances

Pity the British establishment. Like their American counterparts, they keep insisting -- against all evidence -- that they're winning the war on drugs, that drugs are an unimaginable scourge and far worse than tobacco or booze, and that the real problem is that we're not jailing enough addicts for long enough. Despite this, well-informed, respected people continue to publicly state that the war on drugs is a public health, economic, and legal disaster. Last time, it was UK Drugs Czar David Nutt, who called banning marijuana and psychedelics "the worst case of scientific censorship since the Catholic Church banned the works of Copernicus and Galileo" and wrote an amazing book about the awful state of drug policy.

Now, Mike Barton, Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary, one of the UK's most senior police officers, has published an editorial in the Observer comparing the war on drugs to the American alcohol prohibition of the 1920s and 1930s. He calls for drugs to be legalised, so that their sale will no longer fund criminal gangs, and for the NHS to distribute drugs -- including Schedule A drugs (cocaine, morphine, mescaline, LSD, oxycodone, psilocybe mushrooms, and many others). Read the rest

Public Resource kickstarting free, open publication of the world's safety standards

We've written often about Carl Malamud, the rogue archivist who has devoted his life to making the world's laws, standards, and publicly owned information into free, accessible, beautiful online documents. Now, I'm pleased to help him launch an ambitious, vital Kickstarter project aimed at raising at least $100,000 to turn the world's public safety codes into thoroughly linked, high-quality HTML documents (presently, many of the 28,040 public safety codes that Carl and public.resource.org have put online exist as scanned bitmaps that can't be searched or linked). The project involves a careful re-typing of all that scanned material and re-tracing of images and formatting them as vector-based SVG files.

Carl and his colleagues have fought in the courts for their right to publish the law that we, the people, are expected to follow. They have passed on lucrative careers in the private sector to devote themselves to public interest, public spirited work that makes the sourcecode for the world's governments available at our fingertips. The work they are doing unlocks untold billions in value -- from being able to ensure that your weekend DIY rewiring project meets code and won't burn down your house, all the way up to giving workers in deadly factories in Bangladesh access to the laws that are supposed to be honored in their workplaces.

$115 gets you a copy of their giant, amazing book of global safety standards, but there are interesting and awesome premiums at price-ranges from $10 (public acknowledgement on the Wall of Safety) to $475 (the Big Box of Propaganda!). Read the rest

Adding some evidence to copyright's "evidence-free zone"

In the Columbia Journalism Review, Sarah Laskow looks at the empirical research on whether, and how, copyright works. From Christopher Buccafusco et al's experimental work on the motivations for creative work to Paul Heald's work on copyright term-extension, which showed that the negative impact of extending copyright on most works -- as their copyright terms extended, they simply disappeared. Bill Patry's amazing How to Fix Copyright and James Boyle's wonderful The Public Domain both make a case for copyright policy as an "evidence-free zone," and this is a timely reminder of just how true that is. Read the rest

Terms and Conditions May Apply: documentary about abusive license terms, privacy and surveillance

Cullen Hoback's documentary "Terms and Conditions May Apply" is a scathing look at the abusive, lengthy fine-print that dominates our online lives. If the YouTube trailer and the non-embeddable Guardian trailer are representative, this is an important and timely film. I do quibble with one point -- the movie doesn't distinguish between the stupid license agreements that are a function of a stupid law (for example, requiring LinkedIn users to license the stuff they give to LinkedIn so that LinkedIn can display it) and the ones that are pure greed and venality (AT&T making you agree to extrajudicial wiretapping).

Hoback has an op-ed in today's Guardian where he sets out his thesis with great clarity, and draws the important connection between Patriot Act surveillance and fine-print "agreements." Unfortunately, the video itself seems to be exclusively available through Itunes, which has some pretty dreadful license terms, and mandatory DRM to boot. Read the rest

EFF's guide to NSA reform bills

As the Snowden leaks (and the materials that the Electronic Frontier Foundation has compelled the DoJ to publish) show, the NSA is out of control. The laws that supposedly limit its activities are routinely flouted; the court that is supposed to oversee its activities is a rubber-stamp machine; and the supposed Congressional oversight of its activities are kept in the dark and denied any real authority.

Ten lawmakers in the Senate and the House have proposed eight bills to reform American surveillance laws. While it's nice that Congress has woken up to the dangers of all this spying, that's still a lot of legislation to keep track of! Thankfully, the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Mark M. Jaycox, a policy analyst and legislative assistant, has compiled a cheat sheet with commentary on each of the bills, showing how they relate to one another. Can't tell the players without a scorecard! Read the rest

Timeline of Net Neutrality

Michael from Public Knowledge sez, "Today the DC Circuit Court is hearing Verizon's challenge to the FCC's net neutrality rules. It has been a while since net neutrality was in the news, so we created this interactive timeline to remind people of all of the twists and turns of net neutrality so far."

A Timeline of Net Neutrality

(Thanks, Michael!) Read the rest

Surveillance State Repeal Act

Alan sez, "A Representative from New Jersey, Rush Holt, has introduced the aptly named 'Surveillance State Repeal Act' with the goal of rolling back some of the worst excesses of the NSA regime. Holt correctly points out that these are spy agencies, not 'screw every company so people don't want to buy our software products' agencies. The chain of unintended consequences from the NSA's overreach is only beginning to be understood. Now if only we had a president who would sign such legislation..." Read the rest

Which States guarantee your right to use a clothesline in the teeth of an uptight homeowner's association?

People in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, or Wisconsin are allowed to use clotheslines, even if their homeowners' association objects. In other States, Big Pecksniff has successfully lobbied to allow bans of environmentally friendly clotheslines, citing "unsightliness" and "strangulation hazard." Seriously.

According to the report, a Washington legislator considered a clothesline-protection bill after a bunch of high-school students proposed it, but dropped the idea when lobbyists "came to Olympia intent on crushing the idea." In addition to the argument that hanging underpants outdoors is unsightly and lowers property values, which seems like a reasonable argument, the associations also appear to contend that the lines "pose a strangulation hazard," which doesn't, really. I don't think children could reach them. I guess you could strangle yourself on one if you tried, but I'd like to see the statistics on clothesline strangulations, if any, before making a decision.

These things would definitely impair my ability to ride my motorcycle freely through my neighbors' backyards, which I see as my God-given right as an American, so there is that.

Washington May Join 19 Other "Right to Dry" States

(Image: Clothesline c. 1974, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from sskennel's photostream) Read the rest

Bill to cut off funding to schools that ban brandishing a pastry in a gun-like manner

Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Tex.) has introduced legislation that would cut off funding to schools whose zero tolerance policies lead them to punish children for brandishing pastries in the manner of a gun, for making gun-fingers and saying "bang" (or similar), for pointing pretend guns that are smaller than 2" in length, drawing a picture of a gun, making a gun out of legos or pencils or whatnot, or wearing a t-shirt "that supports Second Amendment rights." Read the rest

Act now to stop the UK Leveson press-regulations from applying to blogs and individuals online!

I've written here before that the impending UK press-regulation rules coming in as a result of the Leveson report will inadvertently end up treating bloggers and other everyday Internet users as though they were newspapers, exposing them to the threat of arbitration proceedings where they will have to pay the legal costs of people who want to silence them, and be subject to "exemplary damages" -- enormous statutory fines that grossly exceed any actual harm caused.

Now the Open Rights Group has started a campaign to warn party leaders about this in the three days we have left before Leveson becomes law. We need your help now, or bloggers and the open Internet will become collateral damage in the campaign to control Britain's awful tabloids.

Jim from ORG writes, "The Leveson regulations are being applied to UK websites -- in ways that could catch more or less anyone who publishes a blog. Ordinary bloggers could be threatened with exemplary damages and costs. If this happens, small website publishers will face terrible risks, or burdensome regulation -- and many may simply stop publishing."

Cameron, stop the Dangerous Blogs Bill

(Thanks, Jim!)

(Disclosure: I co-founded the Open Rights Group and am proud to volunteer on its advisory board) Read the rest

Telcos lobby North Carolina to make community Internet illegal, then abandon the state to second-worst Internet in the country

Christopher sez,

A lot of people were frustrated in 2011 when the North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill written by Time Warner Cable to revoke local authority to build community-owned networks. A new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Common Cause explains how Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and CenturyLink bought their bill.

In the two years since, the big companies have refused to invest in better networks and AT&T just announced layoffs for some call center workers. Meanwhile, the state is tied with Mississippi for last place in the US in the number of households subscribing to at least a "basic broadband connection" according to the FCC. Perhaps these decisions should be made locally and not by corporate lobbyists?

The Empire Lobbies Back: Killing Broadband Competition in NC Read the rest

Congressman calls for ban on 3D printed guns

Well, that was predictable: days after a 3D printed gun fired a few rounds, Rep Steve Israel has called for a ban on of Wiki Weapons. The congressman points out (correctly) that all-plastic 3D printed weapons would not be easy to spot using traditional methods, such as metal detectors.

However, what Rep Israel doesn't say is how he hopes to accomplish his goal. Firmware locks for 3D printers? A DMCA-like takedown regime for 3D shapefiles that can be used to generate plastic firearms (or parts of plastic firearms?). A mandate on 3D printer manufacturers to somehow magically make it impossible for their products to print out gun-parts?

Every one of those measures is a nonsense and worse: unworkable combinations of authoritarianism, censorship, and wishful thinking. Importantly, none of these would prevent people from manufacturing plastic guns. And all of these measures would grossly interfere with the lawful operation of 3D printers.

Rep. Steve Israel urges Congress to renew ‘Wiki Weapon’ ban Read the rest

Authors get option to take their 35-year-old books back this Jan

This January sees the first cohorts of books whose authors can terminate their contracts with their publishers under a 1978 law that lets authors kill their old deals after 35 years. Given all the interesting stuff happening with backlists and ebooks, expect to see a lot of authors being courted by, say, Amazon with big fat advances for their profitable backlists if they yank their books and make them Amazon-exclusive. And this is going to happen every year from now on.

The law in question is Section 203 of the 1978 Copyright Act which allows authors to cut away any contract after 35 years. Congress put it in place to protect young artists who signed away future best sellers for a pittance.

“People have had 2013 circled on their calendar for a while,” said Andrew Bart, a copyright lawyer at Jenner & Block, in a phone interview...

The 1978 law also means a threat to the back list of titles that are a cash cow for many publishers. The threat is amplified as a result of new digital distribution options for authors that were never conceived when the law was passed — these new options mean authors have more leverage to walk away from their publishers altogether.

Publishers brace for authors to reclaim book rights in 2013

(via Making Light) Read the rest

Darrell Issa proposes 2-year ban on Internet legislations, will appear in Reddit AMA today to discuss

Rep Darrell Issa (R-CA) has pretty good credentials as a friend of the Internet, being one of the early Congresscritters to stand up to SOPA and PIPA (though there's the little matter of sponsoring a corporatist bill to limit open access for state-funded research). He's introduced a bill called the "The Internet American Moratorium Act (IAMA)" which proposes a two-year moratorium on Internet-related legislation. Presumably, this would give Internet freedom activists a couple years to prepare an offense game, rather than having to always be reacting to pro-surveillance and pro-censorship proposals from Hollywood and the DHS.

Issa's appearing in a Reddit AMA today at 1030h Eastern to discuss the bill.

The Internet American Moratorium Act (IAMA) Read the rest

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