Copyright Protection vs Big Brother Howling at the Door

The United States Congress has been racking up historically low approval ratings, numbers bouncing from 3-9% over the last year.  Why?  Our legislative process has become paralyzed by partisan politics and perhaps, more importantly, the influence of massive amounts of money.  When lobbyists outnumber our representatives in the Halls of Congress by 5-1, the current inability and/or refusal to work in the interests of the American public is a given.

Money speaks.  Even the Supreme Court agreed in their disastrous Citizens United decision.  The more money, the bigger the noise.  The Do-Nothing Congress has earned its title.

Yet with all the pressing problems facing the Nation, one piece of legislation was kicked through the process and then flown, until recently, under the radar.  Specifically, that’s SOPA, Stop Online Piracy Act, and its kissing cousin IPPA, Protect IP Act.

Last October, I wrote about this legislation here.  With a quick followup here.

On the face of it, copyright concerns are absolutely legitimate.  Any artist, musician, writer, etc., wants and expects protection of his/her creative efforts from rip-off artists.  You create something, it takes off, you expect the financial and psychic reward from that success.  There have been [and probably will continue to be] amoral individuals who plagiarize [steal] with abandon.  Corporations–those that still develop ideas and products–are also open to thievery by competitors.  Governments are vulnerable as well, which if anything [at least in my pea brain] demands that security measures around highly sensitive material be strong and effective, including careful clearance of those working with said materials.  Regardless of where one falls on the Manning case [hero or villain], anyone ever wonder how Bradley Manning, a private first class, was able to so easily tap records for Wikileaks, particularly after several red flags were ignored by Army personnel?

Accountability for lousy security anyone?

However, are we as a population willing to accept the radical tradeoff that SOPA represents, a serious curtailment of free expression and innovation, a barrier in the exchange of information between individuals and groups around the world to protect the financial and security issues of other entities?  And if so, what will the Internet be reduced to?

Think about the information that has circulated on the Net, regarding corrupt practices on Wall St. that led to the financial meltdown, the collusion of political partners, the failure of government bodies to investigate and prosecute guilty parties.  Do you think this information would have been disseminated as widely without the Internet access? Have we heard much about it in the mainstream press/newscasts?  Beyond Dylan Ratigan, that is, a MSNBC commentator.  Or, the ongoing global protests—The Arab Spring, the European Summer, the American Autumn, the Russian Winter.  Do you think these Movements would have gotten off the ground without Facebook and other social media outlets? Do you imagine we would have known of subsequent police over reactions?

Here’s the scoop from Techdirt on the byproduct of this asinine proposal, which is now suppose to be cleaned up and improved—the 2.0 version:

End result: SOPA 2.0 contains a crazy scary clause that’s going to make it crazy easy to cut off websites with no recourse whatsoever. And this part isn’t just limited to payment providers/ad networks — but to service providers, search engines and domain registrars/registries as well. Yes. Search engines. So you can send a notice to a search engine, and if they want to keep their immunity, they have to take the actions in either Section 102(c)(2) or 103(c)(2), which are basically all of the “cut ’em off, block ’em” remedies. That’s crazy. This basically encourages search engines to disappear sites upon a single notice. It encourages domain registries to kill domains based on notices. With no recourse at all, because the providers have broad immunity.

Look, I’m all for protecting the copyright of artists and other creators.  But not at the expense of free speech, open channels of communication and political discourse.

Here’s another question—do you not find it odd that so little time [make that anytime at all] has been spent by the mainstream press to discuss the problems with this legislation?  This is the same mainstream press that is suppose to be ‘free’ but has been consistently found wanting in actual reporting the news or investigating much of anything.  Yes, there are exceptions [Dylan Ratigan and recently 60 Minutes].  But by and large, the press today is held captive by the very forces paralyzing the government and buying off politicians.  These forces are keenly aware that restriction of a free-information vehicle, the Internet, is in their best interests.  There’s no doubt major news outlets are concerned by online sources ripping off their reports word-for-word.  But as far as distribution, information sharing and dissemination?  They’ve lost that battle to the Electronic Age.  And frankly, if the MSM had been doing their jobs–speaking truth to power–instead of playing lapdogs, their market share would not be as dismal.

In addition to the music and movie industries supporting this legislation [which at least makes sense], the American Bankers Association is a sponsor as well.  In fact, here’s a list of sponsors [interested parties].

If that link turns to gobblety-gook on you, check here at Wikipedia:

The link turning to gibberish was pretty weird—maybe a sign of things to come.  It worked perfectly fine the first time I checked it.

We do not need a bazooka to bring down a mouse.  The collateral damage can be significant, sometimes worse than the original problem.  That’s what this legislation represents.  And by collateral damage, I mean you, me and anyone plugged in at moment.  Sorry, but there’s something very disturbing that a complaint against a website can result in that site being ‘disappeared’ without explanation or appeal.

Consider this the ‘indefinite detention’ for objectionable sites on the Internet.

For additional information on the legislation itself, go here, here, here, and here.  Note that numerous online bigwigs [Google, Facebook,  Amazon, etc.] strongly oppose SOPA and have threatened a boycott/blackout, most likely on January 23rd in opposition to the upcoming cloture vote on the 24th.  Yves Smith has a good essay on what we’re looking at in terms of implications.

This is an important issue.  Citizen/online pressure can bring results.  Paul Ryan, for instance, stepped back just this past Monday from his initial support.  Resistance is everywhere and comes in many forms.  Here’s a boycott of another flavor.

An informed public is the best weapon against Big Brother and the invisible supporters of authoritative repress-freedom-for-the-sake-of-security measures.  We need to protect access to information to protect the present and future. We need access to information to save and preserve the core of our freedoms.

Total Information Awareness* is Here

Yesterday Joseph Cannon put up a disturbing post about the American company that made it possible for Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian government to shut down the internet in Egypt, making it much more difficult for Egyptians to communicate over social media like Twitter and Facebook. Be sure to read Cannon’s post and watch the Democracy Now video that he included.

The company is Narus, located in Sunnyvale, CA. The company was purchased by Boeing last summer.

I was intrigued enough to do a little more reading about Narus, and thought I’d add a bit to what Cannon had to say.

According to Wikipedia, Narus (emphasis added)

is notable for being the creator of NarusInsight, a supercomputer system which is allegedly used by the NSA and other bodies to perform mass surveillance and monitoring of citizens’ and corporations’ Internet communications in real-time, and whose installation in AT&T’s San Francisco Internet backbone gave rise to a 2006 class action lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against AT&T, Hepting v. AT&T.

That’s the NSA spying program that supposedly targeted only foreign communications, but actually spied on all of us.

At the Electronic Frontier Foundation site, I found this report by Brian Reid, who is described as a “telecommunications expert.” He is also a former electrical engineer professor at Stanford and computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University West. Reid was asked by the EFF to examine the technology used by AT&T in the spying program. Here’s a bit of what he had to say:

NSA Headquarters, Fort Meade, MD

This infrastructure is capable of monitoring all traffic passing through the AT&T facility (some of it not even from AT&T customers), whether voice or data or fax, international or domestic. The most likely use of this infrastructure is wholesale, untargeted surveillance of ordinary Americans at the behest of the NSA. NSA involvement undermines arguments that the facility is intended for use by AT&T in protecting its own network operations.

This infrastructure is not limited to, nor would it be especially efficient for, targeted surveillance, or even untargeted surveillance aimed at communications where one of the ends is located outside the United States. It is also not reasonably aimed at supporting AT&T operations and security procedures.

Reid explains that the equipment he examined “is far more powerful and expensive than that needed to do targeted surveillance or surveillance aimed only at international or one-end foreign communications.” Furthermore:

The documents describe a secret, private backbone network separate from the public network where normal AT&T customer traffic is carried transmitted. A separate backbone network would not be required for transmission of the smaller amounts of data captured via targeted surveillance. You don’t need that magnitude of transport capacity if you are doing targeted surveillance.

The bottom line is that the equipment used to provide data to the NSA for Bush’s spying program was designed to spy on ordinary American citizens–not foreign terrorists.

Read the rest of this entry »

Monday Reads

Good Morning!

First up is something that is one huge step back for civil rights and humankind.  I can’t believe this outrageous motion was adopted by the UN.  The US and its allies need to object vigorously.

The UN has removed a reference to sexual orientation from a resolution condemning arbitrary and unjustified executions.

The UN General Assembly resolution, which is renewed every two years, contained a reference opposing the execution of LBGT people in its 2008 version. But this year’s version passed without any reference to gay rights after a group of mostly African and Asian countries, led by Mali and Morocco, voted to remove it.

Gay rights groups fear the move — which passed in a narrow 79 to 70 vote — will act as a signal that persecuting people for their sexual orientation is internationally acceptable.

“This vote is a dangerous and disturbing development,” Cary Alan Johnson, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, said in a statement. “It essentially removes the important recognition of the particular vulnerability faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people — a recognition that is crucial at a time when 76 countries around the world criminalize homosexuality, five consider it a capital crime, and countries like Uganda are considering adding the death penalty to their laws criminalizing homosexuality.”

Johnson was referring to a bill introduced in Uganda’s legislature last year that would mandate the death penalty for multiple acts of gay sex or for any gay person carrying HIV. Though the bill appeared to be shelved after an international outcry, its principal supporter said last month the bill would be law “soon.”

Thankfully, we’re moving closer to repealing DADT.   The Marines have stated that they stand ready to remove enforcement of the provision. Semper Fi!!!

The head of the U.S. Marine Corps will fully cooperate with a repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy barring openly gay and lesbian soldiers from the military, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said Sunday.

In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Mullen said there was “no question” that Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos, an opponent of repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy at this time, would implement all necessary changes to allow openly gay Marines to serve if Congress passes a repeal measure.

“He basically said that if this law changes, we are going to implement it, and we are going to implement it better than anybody else,” Mullen said of comments Amos recently made at a townhall-style meeting with Marines.

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on repealing the policy in coming weeks. The House already has passed a repeal measure, and President Barack Obama says he supports repeal under a process worked out with Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates that includes a review of what the change would entail for the military.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared on Fox News on Sunday . Clinton told Chris Wallace that she believed the ‘vast majority’ of Gitmo detainees should be tried in civilian courts.

We do believe that what are called Article Three trials, in other words in our civilian courts, are appropriate for the vast majority of detainees,” Clinton told Fox News’ Chris Wallace.

This week, a civilian trial convicted Guantanamo Bay detainee Ahmed Ghailani on one count and acquitted him of more than 280 other counts.

“The question is do you have any choice now except to hold all of the terror detainees at Gitmo or either give them military trials or hold them indefinitely?” Wallace asked Clinton.

“The sentence for what he was convicted of is 20 years to life,” Clinton replied. “That is a significant sentence. Secondly, some of the challenges in the courtroom would be the very same challenges before a military commission about whether or not certain evidence could be used.”

Clinton also appeared on Meet the Press. She expressed reservations about the intrusive pat down procedures adopted by the TSA.

The Secretary of State also branded the procedure as ‘offensive’ and called for officials to make the new airport security measures less intrusive.

Speaking on CBS’ Face the Nation and NBC’s Meet the Press, Mrs Clinton said she recognised the need for tighter security but said there was a need to ‘strike the right balance’ and ‘get it better and less intrusive and more precise.’

When asked if she would submit to a pat-down, she replied ‘Not if I could avoid it. No. I mean, who would?’

Mrs Clinton added she understood ‘how offensive it must be’ for passengers forced to endure the measures.

Another economist–Professor James Hamilton–is incensed about that stupid bunny cartoon with it’s outrageous lies on QE.  There’s some more take down of the stupid thing on Econbrowser.  Hamilton explains why ‘the Goldman Sachs’ is one of the agents used by the Fed when it does Open Market Operations.   Basically, it’s the law and this is true  if it’s in the name of QE or just regular monetary policy.  He also takes down some of the other ones so that I don’t have to do it.  He tackles the inflation fallacy as well as the stupid comment about QE being the equivalent of printing money.

Goldman Sachs is one of 16 different dealers from which the Federal Reserve Bank of New York solicits competitive bids. That’s the way it’s been done for a century, and it would be illegal for the Fed to do as the bunnies propose. From U.S. Monetary Policy and Financial Markets, 1998, Chapter 7:

The Federal Reserve makes all additions to its portfolio through purchases of securities that are already outstanding. The Federal Reserve Act [of 1913] does not give the [Federal Reserve] System the authority to purchase new Treasury issues for cash. Over the years, a variety of provisions had permitted the Treasury to borrow limited amounts directly from the Federal Reserve. Options for such loans existed until 1935. Temporary provisions for direct loans were reintroduced in 1942 and renewed with varying restrictions a number of times thereafter. Authority for any kind of direct loans to the Treasury lapsed in 1981 and has not been renewed.

The reason that the Fed has always been required to buy bonds from private dealers rather than the U.S. Treasury is that the process of money creation needs to be institutionally separated from the process of financing the public debt. In fact, the potential blurring of those boundaries is one of the most important legitimate criticisms of quantitative easing.

Another topic that confuses a lot of people is the Social Security Trust Fund. Does it exist or not?  John Holbo at Crooked Timber takes on Matt Yglesias and a Planet Money podcast.   He explains it in terms of a parent (the government) borrowing a future allowance from a child (Social Security).

If the US government completely and unrecoverably collapses, as a going economic concern, then the Social Security Trust Fund will be bust – and there will be no United States, too! (The latter is the more consequential concern, I should think.)

If the US government falls on seriously hard times, economically, there may need to be belt-tightening. Maybe the US government will have to break the deal it made, not making good on the IOU’s in the Social Security Trust Fund. Likewise, if our family falls on hard times, I may be driven to spend my daughter’s back allowance money on food for our table, in the sense that I may never pay her that money. (Hope not!) But if that happens I won’t describe the logic of the situation in terms of my daughter’s back allowance having turned out not to have been ‘real’, all along. If I don’t pay her, it won’t be because I don’t owe her – nor because that specific money ‘doesn’t exist’, whereas the money to put food on the table ‘does exist’. Talking that way just takes the minor accounting fiction that starts us out, and inflates it into a major fiction.

If the US government doesn’t fall on seriously hard times, but just finds financial life a bit tight – as it often is – the same point applies, only more so.

Scientific American has an important piece up on the Web with an important call for continued Open Standards and Net Neutrality.  They also have taken a strong stand against snooping and protecting free speech on the web.  You can see in this article just how far ahead our European cousins are in protecting individual rights over corporate rights on the Web and the internet. They even quote Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s firm stand on internet freedom.

Free speech should be protected, too. The Web should be like a white sheet of paper: ready to be written on, with no control over what is written. Earlier this year Google accused the Chinese government of hacking into its databases to retrieve the e-mails of dissidents. The alleged break-ins occurred after Google resisted the government’s demand that the company censor certain documents on its Chinese-language search engine.

Totalitarian governments aren’t the only ones violating the network rights of their citizens. In France a law created in 2009, named Hadopi, allowed a new agency by the same name to disconnect a household from the Internet for a year if someone in the household was alleged by a media company to have ripped off music or video. After much opposition, in October the Constitutional Council of France required a judge to review a case before access was revoked, but if approved, the household could be disconnected without due process. In the U.K., the Digital Economy Act, hastily passed in April, allows the government to order an ISP to terminate the Internet connection of anyone who appears on a list of individuals suspected of copyright infringement. In September the U.S. Senate introduced the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, which would allow the government to create a blacklist of Web sites—hosted on or off U.S. soil—that are accused of infringement and to pressure or require all ISPs to block access to those sites.

In these cases, no due process of law protects people before they are disconnected or their sites are blocked. Given the many ways the Web is crucial to our lives and our work, disconnection is a form of deprivation of liberty. Looking back to the Magna Carta, we should perhaps now affirm: “No person or organization shall be deprived of the ability to connect to others without due process of law and the presumption of innocence.”

When your network rights are violated, public outcry is crucial. Citizens worldwide objected to China’s demands on Google, so much so that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. government supported Google’s defiance and that Internet freedom—and with it, Web freedom—should become a formal plank in American foreign policy. In October, Finland made broadband access, at 1 Mbps, a legal right for all its citizens.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?