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News :: Media
Internet Slowdown protest: Top web companies to join strike for net neutrality
06 Sep 2014
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Leading web companies like Mozilla, Foursquare and Reddit will take part in the Internet Slowdown protest next week to urge US authorities to change their view on a proposal that allows the creation of “fast lanes” on the internet for some companies.

The protesting companies will display a widget with a "loading" symbol on their websites to show how the internet would look should the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) go ahead with the proposal, thus overturning "net neutrality" rules.

The FCC proposed rules will allow cable giants like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon to create a two-tiered internet, with “slow lanes” for most internet companies, and “fast lanes” for corporations that are willing to pay extra for a faster service.

According to the new rules cable companies would have the power to discriminate against online content and applications, shake sites down for fees, block content for political reasons, and make it easier for internet users to view content the cable companies own.

Some of the world’s largest internet companies, including Etsy, Kickstarter, Mozilla, Reddit, imgur, Foursquare, Vimeo, and Wordpress announced on Thursday they will join more than 35 advocacy organizations and hundreds of thousands of activists on September 10 to show how the internet might look if the FCC’s proposed rules go into effect.

However the FCC has left open the possibility of reclassifying internet service as a telecommunications service, and require internet service providers to deliver all content at equal speeds.

The protest comes just five days before the FCC’s next comment deadline on September 15th
See also:
http://rt.com/business/185020-us-tech-slow-day/

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Patriot Act’s absurd new spawn: Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse
06 Sep 2014
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Congress may be preparing to reinforce two horrible FISA Court decisions and an abusive government search with no debate in the coming weeks: a decision to give national security orders unlimited breadth, one making it legal for the government to investigate Americans for activities protected under the First Amendment, and the FBI’s “back door” searches of Americans’ communication content collected under the FISA Amendment Act Section 702 authority.

On Tuesday, the ACLU and the Department of Justice argued about the legality of the NSA’s phone dragnet program before the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. Much of the discussion focused on the implications of the government’s theories that it can collect all phone records in the United States based on a claim they are “relevant” to standing terrorism investigations. “You can collect everything there is to know about everybody and have it all in one big government cloud,” said Judge Gerard Lynch, describing the implications of the government’s theories to Assistant Attorney General Stuart Delery.

But the ACLU and the government also engaged in an equally important debate — on whether the FISA Court’s interpretation of the word “relevant” overstepped Congress’ intent – focused on whether Congress had backed FISC’s definition of “relevant” by reauthorizing the Patriot Act twice.

The executive branch and the FISA Court have spent the last 15 months arguing that Congress “ratified” the expansive interpretations on which the phone dragnet program relies when it reauthorized the Patriot Act in 2010 and 2011 because, having been informed of the program, Congress extended the Patriot Act without changing that language. “When Congress reenacts a statute without change,” the administration said in a white paper on the phone dragnet in August 2013, ”it is presumed to have adopted the administrative or judicial interpretation of the statute if it is aware of the interpretation.” Three federal judges have bought that claim, relying on it to rule the program is legal.

The government’s claim with regards to past authorizations is terribly weak. There were at least six known instances where Congress did not get notice it should have; in several cases, those obligations were imposed by law. Perhaps the most important – in which House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers did not invite most congressmen to read notice of the dragnet provided to Congress in 2011 — means that 65 of the people who voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act in 2011 probably had had no way of learning about the phone dragnet. And, as the ACLU’s Alexander Abdo pointed out in Tuesday’s hearing, Congress couldn’t have been briefed on the legal analysis underlying the phone dragnet because the FISA Court never got around to writing an opinion on it until 2013, in response to the Snowden leaks.

The executive’s claim that Congress “ratified” the phone dragnet before the Snowden leaks — and therefore that the program currently complies with the intent of Congress — is farcical. And the judges on the panel — in addition to Lynch, fellow Democratic appointees Robert Sack and Vernon Broderick — seem skeptical of the government’s claim that secret briefings offered about an unannounced program can support a claim that Congress knowingly ratified the program.

So the government’s argument that the program is legal because Congress reauthorized the Patriot Act after the government started secretly using it to collect most phone records in the U.S. may fail to persuade the 2nd Circuit.

But that won’t be true going forward.

The government’s public release of numerous court opinions and other intelligence information over the last 15 months means no one in Congress can make a credible claim to be uninformed of the decisions underlying these parts of the government’s spying. In 2011, most members of Congress probably didn’t know the FISC had redefined the word “relevant” in a key Patriot Act definition to mean “everything,” but they should know that now. Yet none of the current proposals to reform the dragnet do anything about the definition of “relevant.” They limit collection of phone records in other ways, but would permit bulky collection under that “relevance” standard in a number of ways and by association using a number of statutes.

Thus, while the 2nd Circuit might rule the current dragnet illegal in part because the legal logic of it would permit the government to “collect everything there is to know about everybody,” if Congress passes the USA Freedom Act without changing that definition of “relevant,” it will be easier for the government to win this argument in the future.

Congressional passage of the USA Freedom Act with the existing language intact would also probably “ratify” two other intelligence community programs: first, a more recently released decision, a February 2013 opinion in which Judge John Bates ruled that prohibitions on using the Patriot Act to investigate Americans based solely on First Amendment-protected activities – such as political speech or religion — do not apply if associates of the targeted person are engaged in unprotected activities. Bates took language from Congress prohibiting the government from using Patriot authorities against Americans for nothing more than their speech and created a loophole allowing the government to do just that.

As Stanford law professor Jennifer Granick said in a post on this opinion, “Most people, when they cite [the] statutory language [from the Patriot Act], believe it means that Americans won’t be subjects of terrorism investigations for the First Amendment protected things they say or do.” But based on what we can see of Bates’ opinion, Granick continued, “They would be wrong.”

And while the language of the opinion pertains to a terrorism investigation, the novel interpretation of the phrase might now apply in other uses of Patriot authorities, such as counterintelligence investigations, which sometimes includes hacking or leak investigations. Behind a veil of secrecy, Bates and the government appear to have made it OK to investigate Americans for their free speech again.

In addition, the government has revealed the FBI conducts “back door” searches — warrantless searches on U.S. persons’ data collected under FISA Section 702 – even for “assessments” of counterterrorism investigations. The FBI keeps no records of such searches, presumably because it dictated for itself in 2011 it need not keep any records of assessments. As a result, it refuses to tell Congress how many Americans have been subjected to such warrantless searches.

In a letter released Wednesday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper seemed to point to back door searches. He hailed Sen. Leahy’s version of the USA Freedom Act because it ”recognize[s] the technical limitations on our ability to report certain types of information.” The big topic the bill limited was FBI searches of 702 information. That suggests Clapper is pointing to Leahy’s exemption for FBI’s back door searches.

That would be particularly troubling given that back door searches are one area of particularly acute constitutional concern.

And if Congress doesn’t do anything about these issues, in the future the government will argue — more credibly, this time — that Congress signed off on these expansions of Executive authority.

Whether by passing USA Freedom Act this fall or by reauthorizing the Patriot Act next June, Congress is likely to extend the life of the Patriot Act. Given the absurd implications of some of the recently released FISC opinions, Congress would do well to redefine this language to reclaim the plain English meaning, contrary to FISC’s reinterpretations of it.

Thus far, however, they show no sign of doing so.

http://www.salon.com/2014/09/04/patriot_acts_absurd_new_spawn_just_when_/
When the Public Square Is in Cyberspace
07 Sep 2014
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Why Democracy Demands Net Neutrality

BY ZOE SHERMAN | July/August 2014

Net Neutrality


It is sometimes hard to remember how young the Internet really is. Many of the people I know first ventured online (starting with email) around 1995. For the technologically savvy, the Internet was a cool thing to play around with, but it was peripheral to most of the world’s communications, commerce, and governance. Now, in less than one generation, it has become all but impossible to participate fully in many aspects of U.S. society without using the Internet, and this is also true to varying degrees around the world.

The Internet has become a layer of the public square. Because it now mediates our access to the cultural, economic, and political realms, its infrastructure matters. A lot. The structure of the Internet has deep implications for democracy. And that structure is not fixed. New rules being considered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—under a heavy lobbying effort by the giant telecommunications companies—now threaten to change the architecture of the Internet in dangerous ways.

Since the Internet is a component of the public sphere, we should hold it to the ideal of freedom of expression. For this ideal to be fully meaningful, it must include not just the “negative freedom” from interference with the act of speaking, but also the “positive freedom” of access to other listeners and other voices. A democratic ideal of freedom of expression requires the practical ability to participate in public conversation.

The Internet has tremendous democratic potential. Its user-to-user architecture enables people to both speak and listen in ways that one-way-transmission technologies of print and broadcast media do not. Recognizing the role of Internet access in enabling full social participation, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 assigned the FCC the task of monitoring “whether advanced telecommunications capability ... [reaches] all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.” The Act defined a slow connection as a problem that should be remedied. According to the FCC’s most recent progress report, in 2012, 19 million Americans, mostly in rural areas, did not yet have access to broadband service. Of those living where broadband was offered, only 40% subscribed. Those who did not cited a variety of reasons, including inability to afford it. Still, most of us find one way or another to get online.

Now, the big internet service providers (ISPs)—telecom giants like Time-Warner, Comcast, and Verizon—want to change the price and speed structure. Under the current system, all of the data that any subscriber uploads or downloads is treated equally. When traffic is light, it all gets to its destination equally quickly. When traffic strains the capacity of the network, all data is at equal risk of delay. What the telecom companies would like to do, and what the FCC is poised to let them do, is charge a premium for priority service.

The telecom companies are the gatekeepers to the public square of cyberspace. They supply the physical infrastructure through which we make contact with one another. Those wires and fiber optic cables and wifi signals are valuable to us not as things-in-themselves but as conduits to the people on the other side. The telecom companies, standing between users, are positioned to shake us down, in exchange for letting us reach one another. It is a hugely profitable position to hold, and it would be an even more profitable position under the proposed rule changes. (Their proposal makes for strange bedfellows—you and I, and web-content companies like Netflix and Google, would all be subject to the shakedown.)

The position of gatekeeper is, or should be, a public trust. That is, in theory, why we have the FCC setting rules. If we allow differential pricing, we will be increasing the already staggering power of money, amplifying the voices of those who can pay, and further diminishing the democratic meaning of freedom of expression—understood as equal access for all. Indeed, these rule changes are only being considered because money already buys so much influence. Michael Powell is a former chairman of the FCC and a current big-money lobbyist for the cable industry. Tom Wheeler is the current chairman of the FCC and a former big-money lobbyist for the cable industry. Oh, and Wheeler was also a big contributor to Obama’s presidential campaign before the President appointed him to the FCC.

The FCC is still taking comments on the proposed rule changes via their website (www.fcc.gov/comments) and via e-mail at openinternet (at) fcc.gov (the deadline has been extended to Friday, July 18). You may not be able to afford a lobbyist to bend Wheeler’s ear in person, but at least your email will be delivered just as fast as the next person’s—for now.

ZOE SHERMAN is an assistant professor of economics at Merrimack College and a member of the Dollars & Sense collective.

SOURCES: Lawrence Lessig, The Future of Ideas (Random House, 2001); Stephen Breyer, Active Liberty (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005); Federal Communications Commission, Eighth Broadband Progress Report, 2012.




http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2014/0714sherman.html
The FBI Finally Says How It ‘Legally’ Pinpointed Silk Road’s Server
07 Sep 2014
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As the trial of alleged Silk Road drug market creator Ross Ulbricht approaches, the defense has highlighted the mystery of how law enforcement first located the main Silk Road server in an Icelandic data center, despite the computer being hidden by the formidable anonymity software Tor. Was the FBI tipped off to the server’s location by the NSA, who used a secret and possibly illegal Tor-cracking technique?

The answer, according to a new filing by the case’s prosecution, is far more mundane: The FBI claims to have found the server’s location without the NSA’s help, simply by fiddling with the Silk Road’s login page until it leaked its true location.

In a rebuttal filed Friday to a New York court Friday and accompanied by a letter from the FBI, the prosecution in Ulbricht’s case laid out an argument dismissing a series of privacy concerns Ulbricht’s lawyers had expressed in a motion submitted to a New York court last month. That earlier motion had accused the government of illegal searches in violation of the Fourth Amendment, including a warrantless search of the Silk Road server, and argued that those privacy violations could render inadmissible virtually all of the prosecution’s evidence. The defense motion also demanded that the government explain how it tracked down the Silk Road’s server, and reveal whether the NSA had participated in that hunt.

If the judge accepts the prosecution’s explanation, it could represent a major blow to Ulbricht’s chances of beating the seven charges against him.

In the latest filing, however, former FBI agent Christopher Tarbell counters Ulbricht’s defense by describing just how he and another FBI agent located the Silk Road server in June of last year without any sophisticated intrusion: Instead, he says, they found a misconfiguration in an element of the Silk Road login page, which revealed its internet protocol (IP) address and thus its physical location.

As they typed “miscellaneous” strings of characters into the login page’s entry fields, Tarbell writes that they noticed an IP address associated with some data returned by the site didn’t match any known Tor “nodes,” the computers that bounce information through Tor’s anonymity network to obscure its true source. And when they entered that IP address directly into a browser, the Silk Road’s CAPTCHA prompt appeared, the garbled-letter image designed to prevent spam bots from entering the site.

“This indicated that the Subject IP Address was the IP address of the SR Server,” writes Tarbell in his letter, “and that it was ‘leaking’ from the SR Server because the computer code underlying the login interface was not properly configured at the time to work on Tor.”

That discovery by the FBI, the prosecuting attorneys in Ulbricht’s case argue, means that no illegal spying techniques were needed to pinpoint the world’s largest anonymous bazaar for narcotics. In fact, they write, the evidence revealing its physical location was left in plain sight.

“Ulbricht conjures up a bogeyman—the National Security Agency (‘NSA’)—which Ulbricht suspects, without any proof whatsoever, was responsible for locating the Silk Road server, in a manner that he simply assumes somehow violated the Fourth Amendment,” the 58-page motion reads. “The facts are not at all what Ulbricht imagines them to be…The Silk Road server was located not by the NSA but by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), using perfectly lawful means.”

Ulbricht’s defense attorneys didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the prosecution’s brief.

After the initial revelation of the Silk Road server’s location in a data center in Reykjavik, Iceland, the filing explains that Reykjavik police accessed and secretly copied the server’s data. As agents of a foreign government, the prosecution argues, they weren’t required to seek a warrant from any US authority. And the prosecution writes that Ulbricht didn’t himself even own the server: He had allegedly rented it through a third-party service, which in turn rented space in the Icelandic data center. The brief goes on to quote the web host’s terms of service, which warned that “systems may be monitored for all lawful purposes, including to ensure that use is authorized.”

If the judge in Ulbricht’s case accepts the prosecution’s explanation of that breakthrough in the Silk Road investigation, it could represent a major blow to Ulbricht’s chances of beating the seven charges against him, which include conspiracy to traffic in narcotics, money laundering conspiracy, and a “kingpin” charge usually reserved for leaders of drug cartels and mafia organizations. Ulbricht’s lawyers have previously outlined a defense against those charges they refer to as the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine, an argument that an initial illegal search taints the rest of the evidence resulting from that violation. On Friday, Ulbricht appeared in court to plead not guilty to new charges that included selling counterfeit IDs and directly trafficking in narcotics rather than merely leading a conspiracy to do so.

“The Silk Road server was located not by the NSA but by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), using perfectly lawful means.”

But the prosecution’s motion goes on to request that all of Ulbricht’s claims of illegal evidence collection be dismissed. The defense had argued that a surveillance technique known as a pen register applied to Ulbricht’s Comcast internet connection without a warrant had also violated his privacy; the prosecution responds that it merely collected metadata rather than the actual content of his communications, and thus didn’t require proving probable cause to a judge. The defense’s earlier motion argued that when the FBI did get a warrant to seize and search Ulbricht’s Samsung laptop, it used an illegal “general” warrant rather than specifying the data it sought. The prosecution claims that it needed to see all data on the machine to establish Ulbricht’s alleged identity as the so-called “Dread Pirate Roberts” who had created and managed the Silk Road’s billion-dollar drug trade.

“That identification was the fundamental objective of the Government’s investigation,” the prosecution’s argument reads. “The criminality of the conduct of the Silk Road user ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’ was manifest throughout the operation of Silk Road. The mystery was his true identity. And the Government sought to analyze Ulbricht’s writings and his travel patterns in order to confirm that ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’ was indeed Ulbricht.”

In last month’s motion, Ulbricht’s defense hadn’t only addressed issues of privacy and potentially illegal searches. It had also requested that the government strike from its indictment accusations that Ulbricht paid for the murder of six people. Ulbricht’s defense and his family have protested that grisly element of the indictment, which has yet to result in any actual criminal charges, has been used to scare off support for the 30-year-old despite a lack of necessary evidence to press those charges of violence.

But the prosecution counters that the uncharged murder accusations show Ulbricht’s character and motivations. “The use of violence and threatened violence to protect one’s drug empire are relevant to proving the intentional operation of a narcotics conspiracy, and such conduct may be alleged as overt acts in furtherance of such a charge,” the prosecution writes.

Finally, the prosecution dismisses a request from Ulbricht’s defense for more information on a series of facts in the case, including all agencies and contractors involved in the Silk Road investigation, and the names of all software tools used to scan for potential vulnerabilities in its infrastructure.

“There is therefore no basis—especially at this late juncture, six months after discovery was originally produced—for Ulbricht to go on a ‘blind and broad fishing expedition’ for proof of some darker, alternative storyline, somehow involving violations of his Fourth Amendment rights, when there isn’t a shred of evidence that any such violations actually happened,” the motion concludes.

Read the full filing from the prosecution in the Silk Road case below, and at bottom, the letter from Tarbell explaining how the FBI discovered the location of the Silk Road site.

http://www.wired.com/2014/09/the-fbi-finally-says-how-it-legally-pinpoin/