Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Your Cloud Ain’t Clean
The idea of data storage “in the cloud,” “cloud storage,” or “iCloud” conjures up a light and fluffy image of an ephemeral, insubstantial imaginary host for your web activities. Well, it turns out that because data storage centers for all kinds of websites—from Westlaw to the federal government to Facebook—are afraid of losing you as a customer, they keep multiple underused servers running day and night, and backup generators at the ready. This New York Times article, the first in a series, points out the close relationship between investor-owned utilities and the data centers they serve. Using “more power than a medium-size town” to keep servers on standby in case of a surge in demand, while 6-10 percent of their capacity is normally used to process data, data centers are the users power companies want.
Imagine another insubstantial, but quite extant substance—air. Each of us breathes 50-60 pounds, or approximately 20,000 liters, of air a day. The Clean Air Act, enacted in 1970, amended many times, but still around, is a permitting process new power plants have to go through to show they are only going to emit so many tons of pollutants per year. The Act is federal, but the states come up with plans and provide permits under it. It regulates as “criteria pollutants” NOx, or nitrogen oxides, SO2, or sulfur dioxide, particulate matter in size PM-10 and PM-2.5 (that’s microns), and O3, which includes volatile organic compounds, non methane organic gases, and hydrocarbons. The nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide cause acid rain; the particulate matter is that gray or black stuff coming out of the bus exhaust. The stuff in the “O3” category are ozone precursors. Particulate matter and ozone in the lower atmosphere, also known as smog, cause asthma and other respiratory diseases. N2O, nitrous oxide, is part of NOx, and is a greenhouse gas in addition to being “laughing gas.” Although carbon monoxide, a poison, was always regulated by the Act, carbon dioxide, another greenhouse gas, was not clearly within the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate until Massachusetts v. EPA (http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=16923241216495494762&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr) in 2007, which was about motor vehicle emissions. EPA then created the “Tailpipe Rule” making greenhouse gases a regulated pollutant.
All these are emitted by coal combustion power plants, and the diesel generators that back up “the cloud” in times when a power line might trip and cause a blackout. Amazon, for example, has been violating state regulations and permits by installing and testing generators. Another Times article written this April discusses a Greenpeace study which found that internet-based companies like Apple are moving to North Carolina, Virginia, northeastern Illinois, and similar regions, to use their (presumably less expensive) coal and nuclear power. Apple came back at Greenpeace, saying it had plans to build two huge renewable energy facilities near its North Carolina data center.
Nevertheless, Google and Facebook, two giants, have a better record on renewables at the moment. Greenpeace ran a campaign on Facebook against Facebook’s Pineville, Oregon data center, which runs off of coal-fired power, according to writer Emil Protalinski on ZDNet and Facebook changed its policy on siting data centers. It’s a bit easier to change your policy after you already have the data center with a handy coal plant. Google invests in renewable energy projects outside its own needs, such as this investment in Solar City, a company that leases solar arrays to home and office owners who might not have the funds to purchase one and this investment in four solar PV projects in Silicon Valley (a good investment because these projects benefit from a tariff in their municipality that guarantees a certain price for their energy). Google also has its own solar outlay on its corporate campus.
The D.C. Circuit Court, in Coalition for Responsible Regulation, Inc. v. EPA , held that since the Environmental Protection Agency created the “Tailpipe Rule” for cars, it can’t just ignore the greenhouse gases coming from “major stationary sources.” A source, like a fossil-fuel-fired power plant, emitting more than 100 tons per year of any regulated pollutant, has to have caps imposed upon it through the Clean Air Act permits. The problem now is that each stationary source emits such a large quantity of greenhouse gases compared with any given car that the EPA said it’s okay to potentially emit 100,000 tons of greenhouse gases per year (that’s called the “Tailoring Rule”). Fat lot of good that does.
With regard to data centers, efficiency (conservation) and investment in renewables (growth) could lessen their pollution factor. LexisNexis, for example, is examined in the first Times article above for going through an energy audit process where it was able to reduce the number of servers running without creating any user issues. More than half of Lexis’s 333 servers were found to be “comatose.” A company called Power Assure sells technology allowing servers to safely power down at night when they are not being used, but people are afraid to try it. Unfortunately, IT folks from back in the day when running too many programs on a computer—or even turning it on and off—would crash it, are paranoid. Now, I want my internet as much as the next person does. But with all the talk about green energy, smart grids, and efficiency, data centers—and the demand from the “cloud” that drives conventional power—are something to keep an eye on.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Superman’s Heirs v. DC Comics: who owns The Man of Steel?
Heirs of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster will not be able to recapture the rights to the admirable superhero from DC Comics after a recent decision finding that copyright termination was not applicable because of a 1992 agreement which superseded its 1975 agreement between DC Comics and the co-creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel. In the 1975 agreement, DC Comics agreed to provide lump sums of $75,000 to each co-creator, as well as crediting them for new Superman works, in exchange for the Superman copyrights. It is believed that DC Comics was pressured to enter into this 1975 agreement because in the original 1938 agreement, the co-creators were forced to grant Superman to DC Comics for only $130.
After the death of Schuster in 1992, his siblings Frank and Jean agreed to grant DC Comics the copyrights to Superman as long as DC Comics paid for all of Schuster’s debts, as well as paying Jean $25,000 a year for life. In addition to this deal, Jean has asked DC Comics for additional money in consideration for not reclaiming the rights to Superman. However, on eight separate occasions from 1993 to 2001, DC Comics gave Jean bonuses ranging from $10,000 to $25,000 while noting that it had no legal obligation to do so. To this day, Jean has earned more than $600,000 from DC Comics.
In 2003, Jean’s son Mark attempted to terminate the 1992 agreement by arguing that Schuster’s heirs have the rights to Superman because of the 1976 Copyright Act. Under Section 203 of the Act, authors or their heirs have the right “to terminate grants of copyright assignments and licenses that were made on or after January 1, 1978,” as long as they wait for thirty-five years after the agreement. The rationale behind this act is the belief that artists are usually disadvantaged at the negotiation table because of the lack of leverage they have. To provide relief, the act allows artists and their heirs to revoke past deals in which they deem to be unfair, unreasonable, or unsatisfactory.
Although the act seems to support artists, musicians, and other creators in retaining their rights to their respective copyrights, it is unclear as to whether these contracts may be supplemented, and if it is supplemented, does the date carry-on from the original date or from the new date? It would make sense for the original date of the agreement to carry-on if it is supplemented because it encourages both parties to negotiate; promoting fairness. If courts did not allow parties to supplement their contractual terms, it could substantially burden one party over the other.
Here, in the current case, the court looks at the 1992 contract not as a supplement, but as a new and different contract between Schuster’s heirs and DC Comics, and finds the copyright termination date to apply thirty-five years after 1992. Some may agree to the court’s decision because the agreement involves different parties; Schuster’s heirs instead of Schuster and Siegel. But opponents to the court may argue that the 1992 contract is the same contract as the 1975 agreement because it involves similar terms; DC Comics giving money to those who have the granting rights. But even if the court adopted the opponent’s position, giving Schuster’s heirs the benefit of tacking the thirty-five years at the 1975 contract, it would be unfair for Siegel’s heirs because they did not benefit from the 1992 agreement, nor did they attain special bonuses as did Jean.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Google v. Government: Cell Phone Manufacturers Increasingly Resistant to Unlocking Suspects’ Personal Devices for Law Enforcement
Edited on: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 5:23 PM
Categories: Internet, Misc.
At this point in the age of the internet everyone has heard of the horrors that can befall a person who doesn’t carefully guard their digital information. Pictures on Facebook have cost people job opportunities, credit card transactions have revealed infidelity, and YouTube videos have led to criminal charges. But what happens when the information isn’t on the internet – but on your phone?
Requests under the Freedom of Information Act by The American Civil Liberties Union have revealed that law enforcement officials will often ask cell phone manufacturers to aid in a criminal investigation by unlocking a suspect’s password protected phone.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, law enforcement often has the tools to access information stored on a password protected phone without the help of the owner or manufacturer. In circumstances where they can’t, however, the law surrounding access to the information is grey. Suspects have a Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves, so if a suspect feels information on the phone may be incriminating they have an affirmative right not to provide the password to police – even if the police have a subpoena. That’s when law enforcement often turn to manufacturers.
The “Third Party Doctrine” allows police to obtain information from a third party, putting all information stored on “the cloud” clearly within reach of police. But manufacturers unlocking suspects’ password-protected phones (which often include call logs, emails, photographs, and browsing history) enters a murky area between a search and a wiretap.
Friday, October 19, 2012
Recent Attack on the Federal Circuit is Factually Inaccurate
Edited on: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 5:22 PM
Categories: Computers, Patent
Software patents can be a prickly subject. Groups such as the GNU project and Free Software Foundation are vehemently anti-patent, claiming that software patents have a chilling effect. Others argue that the patent system instead acts as a net positive on innovation, and as evidence point to the greater overall success of countries with patent systems. While thoughtful debate in this regard is welcomed, occasionally clearly biased articles masquerading as journalism make their way into reputable news sources.
For example, the online publication Ars Technica recently published an article by Timothy B. Lee declaring that a single appellate court, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC), wrecked the patent system. Lee argues that the creation of the CAFC in the early 1980’s, a move intended to increase the uniformity of patent law, was disastrous. As the sole arbiter of patents, the CAFC effectively disregarded Supreme Court precedent by upholding patent holder’s rights in the vast majority of cases involving software patents. The article further claimed that software patents were generally considered ineligible for patent protection following a trio of cases by the Supreme Court a decade before the CAFC existed. The problem, however, with many of Lee’s claims is that they are demonstrably untrue.
As outspoken blogger Gene Quinn at IPWatchDog.com colorfully pointed out in a reaction piece, Lee grossly mischaracterized many of the judicial decisions regarding software patents. The trio of Supreme Court cases cited by Lee (Benson, Flook, and Diehr) indeed involved patents that claimed software elements. And, while the methods claimed in Benson and Flook were held patent-ineligible because they preempted the use of an abstract idea, the software-driven process of curing rubber in Diehr (and its incorporation of the Arrhenius equation was held to be patentable.
With the Diehr decision, the Supreme Court acknowledged that software, at least in some forms, was worthy of a patent. Recently, the Supreme Court has specifically acknowledged the patentablity of software in Bilski v. Kappos, a case which also put to rest any questions regarding a “business method exception” for patents.
Lee responded to Quinn’s article in a blog posting, again claiming that the CAFC, and not the Supreme Court, legalized software patents. In his post, he failed to address the Bilski decision and continued to mischaracterize Diehr. In response, Quinn had further kind words.
There are problems with the current patent system. Often, obvious claims are able to make their way through the patent office, which may be only found invalid after lengthy (and expensive) litigation. But to assert that these problems lie with a single appellate court is factually incorrect. Lee’s article is a clearly erroneous attack on the CAFC, one explained either by ignorance, or a biased agenda.
Thursday, October 18, 2012
How Congress Should React to Printable Guns
Stratasys, a company that manufactures 3D printers, recently seized one of their own printers. The company planned to sell the printer to Defense Distributed, a group that is attempting to design a firearm that can be printed out on a 3D printer. In a plan called the Wiki Weapon project, Defense Distributed planned to share 3D weapon blueprints with individuals online to allow those who have access to 3D printers the ability to print a firearm. When Stratasys got wind of the intended use of their 3D printer, the company took it back, claiming that it was Stratasys company policy not to facilitate illegal activity.
Today, 3D printing is a reality that is projected to have a dramatic impact on our society. The process works by stacking layers of material on top of one another, then fusing the layers together to form an object. Many different materials such as plastic, titanium and sugar may be used in this process. Indubitably, as with many forms of new technology, it is only a matter of time before the process is used to manufacture weapons.
Defense Distributed’s Wiki Weapon project would allow everyone with a computer access to 3D weapon blueprints. Then, using those blueprints, the individual can print the weapon on a 3D printer, a technology becoming more accessible and affordable.
Currently, U.S. law allows an individual to manufacture a personal firearm so long as 1) the individual does not manufacture an NFA-gun: a firearm regulated in the National Firearms Act and 2) the individual is legally allowed to possess a firearm. The current state of the law may be acceptable in light of the common manufacturing technology available to ordinary citizens today, but as 3D printing technology becomes more accessible, the regulations on personal manufacturing of firearms must become more rigid.
New legislation preventing the widespread manufacturing of homemade guns could come in many forms. Lawmakers could proscribe the manufacturing of weapons made with specific materials without a license, the possession of a homemade weapon, or specific manufacturing processes. Congress could also ban any firearm that is capable of circumventing x-ray machines and metal detectors, a possibility with plastic weapons manufactured with 3D printing technology.
It is foolish to try to suppress the progress of a new technology that has so many beneficial applications for our society. However, fostering new technology should not inhibit the creation of preemptive legislation aimed at mitigating the negative side effects of the technology on our society.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Dis-“Like”-ing the Proposed Revisions to Child Privacy Laws
Edited on: Thursday, October 18, 2012 1:50 PM
Categories: Computers, Internet, Legislation, Privacy
Mark Zuckerberg’s “liked” pages at the moment probably don’t include the Federal Trade Commission. Recently, Facebook sent a twenty-page letter to the Federal Trade Commission objecting to proposed revisions of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), applicable to children under 13 years of age. Facebook asserts that it has no control over sites that incorporate social plug-ins, such as a “like” button, and should not be held liable under the child privacy law.
In her letter, Facebook Chief Privacy Officer of Policy Erin M. Egan argues that Facebook cannot be held liable for the sites using social plug-ins because the “like” button is an “off-the-shelf” product over which Facebook no longer has control. Egan also posits that Facebook’s age verification at sign-up should be sufficient as actual knowledge, pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act, and holding Facebook liable for failure to check a user’s age when a “like” button is clicked from a third-party website is inconsistent with the Act. In support of her argument, Egan points to Congress’s intent in passing COPPA: “to limit COPPA’s obligations to situations in which ‘personal information [is] collected from a child.’” Furthermore, Egan attacks the proposals to COPPA as a First Amendment violation because social plug-ins such as the “like” button constitute free speech.
Facebook’s latest disagreement with COPPA is merely a part of the ongoing dispute over child privacy laws. As mentioned in the letter, Facebook adamantly insists that the Internet is a valuable learning tool for children, and COPPA can only serve to inhibit that benefit. As Facebook argues, these stricter regulations would certainly raise issues for Facebook and the third-party websites using its social plug-ins by adding a burden of age verification procedures for the plug-ins, perhaps chilling such use of the plug-ins.
Facebook’s constitutional argument is interesting to consider. While the current Supreme Court tends to take an expansive view of First Amendment rights, COPPA as it currently stands has not been ruled unconstitutional. The proposed regulations still allow for the free speech of children under 13 years of age as long as certain procedural requirements are met, and minors have long had First Amendment rights somewhat less than those of a full-fledged adult, so at first blush, it does not seem that the Court would find these proposed revisions to COPPA unconstitutional.
New Bill Requires Law Enforcement officials to obtain a search warrant for email and cell tracking.
Edited on: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 5:42 PM
Categories: Computers, Legislation, Misc.
On September 25, 2012 Representative Zoe Lofgren introduced a bill called the ECPA 2.0 Act of 2012 requiring that police must get warrants to access suspects’ emails and track their cellphones. The bill is supported by a number of large technology companies including Apple and Google. The U.S. Justice Department will likely oppose the bill.
Lofgren’s bill, if passed, amends the1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“ECPA”). The ECPA is criticized for being outdated and difficult for judges to follow. The ECPA did not have cloud computing or social networking in mind when it was written and thus computer users currently have more privacy rights over their locally stored data.
The new act will make the ECPA easier for judges to follow and requires law enforcement officials to obtain search warrants to access private communications and the locations of mobile devices. Lofgren claims that the bill’s purpose is to prevent excessively broad government surveillance and to provide Americans greater measures of privacy. The bill’s introduction will not have an immediate effect, as there will be a continuing dialogue extending into 2013 when the bill will be reexamined.
Despite the support of many technology companies, the bill may have a difficult time passing. The U.S. Justice Department will likely oppose the adoption of the bill arguing that requiring warrants for emails and cell tracking would have an adverse effect on criminal investigations. Furthermore, similar privacy legislation has been unsuccessful in the past due to police opposition.
To successfully pass the bill, Lofgren will likely have to show that emails and cell phone tracking is protected under the Fourth amendment. The Fourth Amendment only protects individuals when they have a legitimate expectation of privacy. A party proves that he has a legitimate expectation of privacy by showing he has a subjective expectation of privacy and by showing that it is an expectation society is prepared to recognize as reasonable. Showing that individuals have subjective expectations of privacy in their emails and cell phone tracking will likely not be an issue. Lofgren will most likely be challenged by proving that society is prepared to recognize citizens’ expectation of privacy in their emails and cellphone tracking as reasonable by showing that an individual’s expectations of privacy in these communications outweigh the adverse effects such legislation would have on criminal investigations.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Where You At?: Privacy Concerns with Automated License Plate Readers
Two months have passed since the ACLU and its associates sent a letter under the Freedom of Information Act to the DOJ, DOT, and DHS requesting the government’s automated license plate readers’ (ALPR) records. After little to no response the ACLU of Massachusetts was obligated to file suit against the DOJ and the DHS in federal court on September 25th.
The ACLU’s main concern is focused on why and how the government is using these records in regards to ordinary citizens.
On July 30, the ACLU filed an open-records request, also referred to as a Freedom of Information Act request, asking the government to provide records and information in regards to the ALPR’s uses since January 1, 2006. The demands were by no means “light lifting”; the letter was roughly six pages in length. Yet, most American citizens would have found it justified, especially since the government’s use of ALPRs continues to expand leading to a further invasion of ordinary citizens’ privacy rights.
The ALPRs are small radio sized boxes and are adhered to police cars or other static objects along the roadways. A reader can snap over 1,000 pictures of license plates per minute, while also noting the time, date and location of the vehicle. Once a license plate number is obtained the reader is able to search criminal databases. The device is beneficial for tracking stolen cars, wanted criminals and those with expired registrations, but also records mass amounts ordinary citizens’ information. Thus, the ACLU is alarmed with the amount of information obtained by the readers and how it is being protected and used. The federal agencies' failure to respond to the ACLU’s requests raised even greater concerns and forced the ACLU to seek legal action.
The ALPRs are unfortunately just another form of government surveillance being disputed in the courts. A Wall Street Journal analysis states that the government records information about an ordinary American citizen in 20 different manners a day. But unlike cell phones and online tracking, license plates do not have an off button and chances are if you're driving around or even parked at Kwiki Mart, the federal government knows this and has your daily activities on file. Clearly this raises Fourteenth Amendment privacy concerns specifically in regards to ordinary citizens whose privacy freedoms are not diminished by a criminal record.
Furthermore, the expense of surveillance technology, including the ALPRs has diminished throughout the years, to the extent that even private entities have invested in the devices. Many are also concerned as whether or not the current databases are safe from hackers. Considering the massive amount of information ALPRs record on daily basis what would happen if they were hacked or information was leaked? Forget the government watching your every move. What about criminals, stalkers or your mom?!
The underlying focus of the ACLU is to learn what the federal government is doing with all this information. It is easy to assume that the ALPRs can or soon will be combined with speed detectors and other video surveillance. Could this mean traffic tickets will soon be sent and received in the mail? The influx on most district or traffic courts would be astronomical, as if these courts are not already busy enough.
Lastly, could this information be used as evidence in trial cases, and if so, how accurate is the information? Most of photographs are only of the license plate and do not include the passengers, car make, or model. Hopefully, the ACLU’s recent legal actions will soon shed some light on ALPRs and how they may be infringing on our privacy rights.
Monday, October 15, 2012
Apple v. Samsung: The Smartphone’s Role in Shaping U.S. Patent Law
In early October, South Korean company Samsung filed a motion in a California court claiming that Apple’s iPhone 5 infringed on eight of its patents. Some of the disputed patents include synchronizing photos, music, and videos and sharing them between multiple devices. Many in the patent community have faulted Samsung for choosing the courtroom as the forum for this dispute resolution. There is concern that large software companies are improperly using litigation as a means for negotiation.
However, Samsung was not the first to make a move in this mudslinging battle. Prior to this claim, Apple sued Samsung for patent infringement. Six of the seven disputed patents were found to be infringing. Most of the patents were design patents, which raise the question of whether design is actually invention that can be patent protected and whether it should be protected. Patent experts claim that this sort of patenting could quell innovation because Apple now controls a majority of the smart phone patent market and now has the possibility of controlling rights to more aspects of product.
The cases have attracted international attention and much international criticism. A Netherlands newspaper published an article entitled, “Apple vs. Samsung: In America, Even a 'Fart' can be Patented,” arguing that the U.S. patent system has reached the point of absurdity and allows far too much to be patented. In a South Korean editorial, “Apple vs. Samsung: More Proof that American Industry has Lost its Edge,” the U.S. is criticized for discouraging innovation through its patent court decisions and generally exhibiting sore loser tendencies.
It is possible that innovation will still occur in the smart phone industry, but around the Apple patents. Some predict that Samsung will now focus on windows-based products in an effort to steer away from possible infringement claims. The company remains the largest supplier of parts used in Apple products, ultimately providing 26% of Apple product components.
The recent wave of smart phone patent litigation seems to be an abuse of the U.S. court system and patent law in general. Apple’s recent victory over Samsung raises questions as to the appropriate reach of patent protection and its effects on innovation. Patent law was designed to encourage and facilitate innovation; however, these cases might result in the opposite.
Saturday, October 13, 2012
Should the Government Be Able to Use Social Media for Surveillance?
Social media is used by millions of people daily. While these outlets are on the internet, some level of privacy is expected when a person uses them to update a status, tweet or post pictures. After all, there are privacy settings to limit who can see each post and if you can limit which family members are viewing why can’t you limit what the government is seeing? Donte Jamar Sims, a 21 year old from Charlotte, North Carolina was one of many social media users who used twitter to express his personal feelings. CNN reported that on September 3, 2012 Sims used twitter to make death threats to President Obama. Soon after posting, the Secret Service came to his house and arrested him. Sims is now facing felony charges for his death tweets to the President.
Social media is used to express an individual’s thoughts or feelings in real time. Allowing the government to monitor and limit thoughts made on these sites infringes on people’s privacy and their right to free speech. While Sims statements are extreme, it becomes a question of what else the government can legally monitor and take legal action against a person for posting. People should not have to worry about the phrasing of each and every statement made on social media sites to prevent the government from knocking on their door.
Sims’ case also brings up the question of whether tweeting a statement provides enough evidence to arrest someone. Social media accounts are not the most secure websites. Most people use these sites for personal reasons and have limited information supplied on them. Weak passwords or allowing others access either purposely or accidentally by not logging out of a shared computer are more frequent because there is no financial information stored on the site. Social media accounts can be created using fake information or supplying partial information, so arresting a person based on a single statement raises concerns that people may pose as others to post statements.
People are willing to give up some level of privacy to ensure safety. Balancing the intrusion into our personal lives and the safety each person expects is difficult with the internet. People want to post their thoughts and often do not think too much about the impact of their words but they also want to be protected from people making extreme statements like Sims because they fear something might be done if these statements are ignored.
The desire to be protected from extreme statements that may hurt someone means that people need to give up some level of privacy so that the government can monitor for these statements. While most people will not make these extreme statements on social media, it is possible someone will pose as another and make some statement. A line still needs to be drawn so that each individual’s safety and freedom of speech is protected when using social media but that is easier said than done. Determining which statements should be monitored, which words will be flagged and what will have the secret service show up on your front door is not easily done. There needs to be some monitoring but the government also needs to check that a person is not arrested or confronted for statements made by another person. For most social media users, having the government flag words will not affect them in any way. It would be a minimal intrusion into people’s daily lives if there was an intrusion at all.
Friday, October 12, 2012
Facing contempt, Twitter finally hands over subpoenaed tweets and account information of OWS protestor
“So Twitter handed over a pile of my tweets that'll stay sealed pending a hearing on the 21st. Bummer.” So reads a recent tweet by Malcolm Harris, aka @bigmeaninternet (formerly @destructuremal).
On October 1, 2011, Harris was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct along with 700 other protestors after participating in an Occupy Wall Street march across the Brooklyn Bridge.
In January, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. without a search warrant, issued a broad-sweeping subpoena to Twitter, requesting “[a]ny and all user information, including e-mail address, as well as any and all tweets posted for the period of 9/15/2011-12/31/2011” for the account @destructuremal. The theory was that the content of the now-deleted tweets would contradict Harris’s anticipated defense. The D.A.’s office also “directed” Twitter not to inform Harris of the subpoena. Following it’s own policy, Twitter informed him anyway.
Harris filed a motion to quash. The D.A. argued that Harris had no standing to challenge a subpoena issued to Twitter. The court agreed. Just for kicks, the court also decided to go ahead and rule that the underlying subpoena was valid, issuing a sua sponte order requiring Twitter to provide the requested information within twenty days. Harris moved to reargue and Twitter filed it’s own motion to quash, supported by an amicus brief submitted the ACLU, EFF, and Public Citizen. The motion was denied, and eventually Twitter, facing a contempt order, handed over the goods to the D.A., on condition that they remained sealed until after a writ of mandamus hearing.
Why all the fuss over a disorderly conduct charge? Well, the standing issue is particularly huge. Twitter ostensibly wants to protect the property and privacy rights of its user. In its own terms of service, Twitter assures the world’s tweeters and followers that “[y]ou retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services.” This would seemingly vest the user with property rights. This makes sense. While Twitter wants its users shielded from unwanted and unconstitutional government intrusion, it does not want to fight each battle itself. But if users don’t have standing, it will have to.
The court apparently did not buy the assertion that the terms of service created a proprietary interest in the content. Otherwise, it would have granted standing. The court also rejected the argument that Harris’s Fourth and First Amendment rights were being violated. Tweets are public. Therefore they do not require a warrant, nor do they vest any privacy rights. Or so claimed the court.
At this point, we all know that social network posts are different from email or other private communications. “Reasonable expectation of privacy” doesn’t really apply, depending on your settings. But this case seemed the perfect vehicle for Twitter to argue their case because of the breadth of the subpoena’s request. The D.A. didn’t just want the relevant tweets. He wanted “[a]ny and all user information. This includes an email address, direct messages (DM, the Twitter equivalent of email). the IP addresses from which Harris logged in, and the duration of each login. This is coming dangerously close to surveillance without a warrant.
If you tweet publicly, you don’t expect it to remain private. The whole point is that it’s a public forum. But sometimes you log in and don’t tweet. Maybe you send a DM. Or you just sit there, killing time, refreshing and reading tweets. If the government wants to find out when, where, and for how long I have these mindless procrastination sessions, I’d like to be able to at least have a say in the matter.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Self-driving cars now legal in California
On Tuesday, California Governor Edmund “Jerry” Brown signed a bill authorizing “self-driving cars” to be tested on public roads in California. Google co-founder Sergey Brin and state senator Alex Padilla were both present for the bill’s singing. The California bill, Senate Bill 1298, not only authorizes the cars to be tested on public streets but it also calls on the DMV to develop requirements and regulations to determine when the automated cars will be considered “road-ready”. Google is currently the primary developer of this technology, which they have already been testing in Nevada.
The Senate Bill lays out very specific guidelines for when and how the automated cars can be driven on the road. Currently, the bill only allows these cars to be driven on public roads “for testing purposes”. There is a section however that outlines the procedure for when these cars can eventually be used by the general public. Until that time, the cars can only be operated by company testers.
To be allowed on the road, the bill requires that a specially licensed operator is sitting in the driver’s seat, ready to take over the controls at a moment’s notice. This is for safety purposes because the technology is still quite new. Although according to Sergey Brin, the automated cars have successfully logged about 300,000 miles without the drivers needing to intervene. Further, there has only been one reported accident and it was while the car was being driven by one of the test drivers. This technology has a promising future that could eventually change the way we as a population travel.
While Google is the primary developer of this technology they currently do not have an interest in producing cars themselves. Their primary goal is to continue to develop and fine tune this technology so that it can then be sold to manufacturing companies. The system combines different technology to allow the car to successfully operate without assistance. The technology includes cameras and radar senses located around the car. The car also includes an advanced computer system that analyzes all of the data at split second speeds. This allows the car to properly respond to any number of situations that might occur while on the road.
The possibilities of this technology are seemingly endless, but there are also potential issues that may occur. Brin imagines a future where eventually there will be more automated cars on the road than human operated ones. He predicts that this technology will be of great use to those who are unable to drive, such as the elderly, individuals with certain disabilities, and even those who are too intoxicated. There is also an idea that eventually your automated car could drive you to work, drop you off, and then drive home to park itself safely in your driveway. This would likely be further down the road, however it is clear that the possibilities are endless.
Even with all of the possibilities that this technology could bring, there could still be potential issues with its widespread use. One of the issues that Google is dealing with now is how best to react to unpredictable pedestrians. Also, while the technology makes the car drive very carefully, many drivers will likely be hesitant to give over the controls to a computer. Google recognizes that their will likely be hesitance at first, but Brin is confident that individuals will “get over” this feeling.
It is also interesting to examine potential legal issues that will certainly arise with automated cars. Such as, who would be responsible in the event of an accident? Would it be the owner of the car, even though they were not driving? Would it be Google, who developed the technology? Or will the manufacturer who produced the car be liable? The widespread use of these automated vehicles will no doubt raise interesting legal questions. However, until the time that this technology is available to the public, it is exciting to look at how this technology could potentially change the future of transportation as we know it.
Sunday, October 07, 2012
A Blessing or a Curse: Microsoft’s New Default “Do Not Track” System
Edited on: Sunday, October 07, 2012 5:30 PM
Categories: Business, Computers, Entertainment, Event, Internet, Legislation
Microsoft’s newest operating software, Windows 8, is scheduled for release to consumers in October. But this time around, Microsoft has changes in place that will affect more than just PC consumers. Internet Explorer Version 10, which will premiere with Windows 8, has the attention of major companies, including Google and Facebook, advertisers, and the average Internet user.
Internet Explorer 10, just as other Internet browsers like Firefox and Safari, will have a “do not track” option for users. This option allows users to choose whether or not they want their online activities to be tracked, documented, and studied by companies that will use the data to tailor advertisements to the user based on their interests, habits, and projected needs. But it is the way Microsoft plans on implementing the “do not track” option that has caused such an upset: in IE 10, the option will be automatically enabled, and the user will have to customize the settings to turn this preference “off” if they wish to allow companies to track their online behavior.
Online advertising has become a $300 billion dollar industry, thanks to its effective ability to target consumers with ads that are relevant to the consumer’s desires. Because of the high-level of tailoring available in online advertising, it has become one of the most popular choices for companies both large and small, as it is cost-efficient. This is all made practical by data exchanges, which target users with cookies. Companies that compile this data and sell it to potential advertisers depend on users not opting out of the tracking system; the less data there is to track and analyze, the less effective their advertising becomes. Most users do not go to the trouble of “activating” the “do not track” option on their browser (figure estimated at 11%), and companies take advantage of this. Companies fear that with a default “do not track” option automatically enabled, even fewer users will go to the trouble of “de-activating” the “do not track” option, and the companies and online advertising will fall apart.
Microsoft is only one piece of the “do not track” puzzle. However, their choice to implement the automatic “do not track” option may begin a sort of domino effect. The FTC has already recommended that all browsers give consumers the “do not track” option; this has caused Google Chrome to just recently add the feature. But with Microsoft’s move, the FTC might see the “do not track” option as not going far enough to protect consumers, and require all browsers to make “do not track” the default setting. Other browsers may simply follow suit in order to retain customers, if consumers are attracted to Microsoft’s “pro-privacy” stand and other browsers need to maintain a competitive edge.
Some enraged data tracking companies are threatening to not honor default “do not track” preferences. The industry is self-regulated, and a user selecting “do not track” only alerts the data companies that the consumer does not wish their activities to be tracked, allowing the companies to decide how to respond. This could lead to lawsuits over what “do not track” actually means, and how these companies can be regulated to properly satisfy consumers who wish to “not be tracked” by default.
If “do not track” becomes the standard default due to competitive forces or mandated by legislation, the effects for the Internet as we know it could be devastating. The bottom would fall out of online advertising, and online companies that make their money solely from advertising could crumble. Websites might then be forced to charge users for access, depriving many of the free services that are currently available, because they have no revenue from advertising. Every site may only allow access after each user has specifically agreed to “opt in” to tracking, causing a slew of complications for users that desire easy-access and legal issues for the site itself.
Or perhaps, consumers will simply take the time to set their preferences to “tracking on,” realizing the benefits that tailored online advertising provides them as well as advertising companies. But it seems unlikely that the average Internet user, influenced by the hype surrounding “pro-privacy,” would go out of his or her way to opt-in to tracking, with slogans of “Big Brother” filling the minds of the masses. “Do not track” legislation, predictably on its way, could prove devastating to the Internet as it works today.
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