Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks


The Data Retention Act vs Protect Our Children from Pornography Act

Posted by KL Tech Muse at 12:38 PM on July 30, 2011

justiceWhat if I told you there was a bill that would make it easier for law enforcement to stop child pornography and protect children, would you be for it. What if I told you that there was a bill that forced ISP to retain their customer names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers and temporary assigned ISP addresses. What would you think of that bill. Well, what you say if I told you it was all the same bill, well it is. The House Judiciary Committee passed HR 1981- The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011. If this bill passes the full House and Senate and becomes law it would require ISPs to keep 12 months worth of personal information. Anyone with access to the information would be able to tell what web sites you visited and what content you posted on-line. Those who support the legislation say it will help law enforcement fight child pornography, because there will be a semi-permit record to follow and the pornographers will not be able to hide their tracks. Those who oppose the legislation including the EFF say it assumes that everyone is guilty and that it erodes the rights of everyone online.

Of course the title of this bill, makes being against it difficult. What nobler cause is there then being against child pornography. The problem with this line of thinking is that it is so easy to give up rights in the name of security or to protect a vulnerable group, it is a path we should only take if absolutely necessary. There are already various laws and technologies that deal the same issue including the 2008 “Protect Our Children Act” which already requires ISP’s to report any time they have actual knowledge of possible transmission of child pornography. If this bill does become law and once the data is collected don’t be surprised if other interest including the RIAA and the MPAA will begin to want access to this same data in their ongoing fight against piracy.

Not only does this bill erode users rights and privacy, but it puts a burden on the ISPs to not only maintain those records, but to protect that information from hackers. Recent history has shown that this is very difficult and costly. Larger ISP can handle the cost, smaller ISPs may not have the means to handle the burden. This may lead to less choice for the consumer in the long run Also the more tech savvy pornographers will find ways around the system by using Tors, open wi-fi, bots and other methods. The question becomes how much privacy and rights of the innocents are we willing to give up to maybe stop the guilty.

Are We All Thieves?

Posted by tomwiles at 5:06 PM on July 17, 2011

The history of advancing technology is long littered with accusations of copyright infringement along with charges of outright thievery.

The problem seems to stem from ever-changing definitions of what comprises a song, a performance, or a book. Back in the days when the player piano was invented, musicians themselves seemed to define a song as a live performance. Hence, the spreading invention of mechanical player pianos and reproduced sheet music would somehow destroy music itself.

Of course, what actually happened was that rather than being destroyed, music was promoted and ultimately became more popular.

Music is not the piano rolls, nor is it vinyl records, audiocassettes, or CD’s. These are simply physical transmission mediums. It could also be equally argued that MP3 or other digital file formats are not the actual music either, though they are heavily intertwined.

Can’t we as consumers be honest? How is it that so many of us can think nothing of illegally downloading media, yet wouldn’t think of stealing a physical object without paying for it?

Those who continue to rationalize that it’s “okay” to illegally download copyrighted music, movies and other copyrighted materials are thieves. Would you enjoy having your stuff stolen? Are excuses popping up in your mind why wrong is right and right is wrong? If so, you failed the test. If you have to make an excuse to yourself or anyone else to justify your behavior, you are wrong. If you find yourself the victim of a thief, how can you then turn around and complain? Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black?

The solution to the problem is easy. Get what you want by legitimately paying for it. If you don’t want to pay for it, don’t be a thief by stealing it.

On the other hand, if you don’t like the less-than-stellar behavior of certain media-production organizations, the solution is equally easy. Don’t consume their products. Turn them off. Pull the plug. The world won’t come to an end. You will survive. The age we live in is filled to the brim with alternative entertainment and information sources that make it possible to reduce or completely eliminate the need to consume copyrighted material, if that is your wish.

Google Acted Illegally in UK

Posted by Andrew at 8:40 AM on November 3, 2010

Google LogoThe UK’s Information Commissioner today confirmed that Google breached UK’s Data Protection Act when the Street View cars captured personal data while collecting wi-fi network information.

As a result of this, Google will be required to sign an undertaking to take steps to ensure that breaches of the Act don’t re-occur.  Google will then be audited in nine month’s time to confirm that the required policies and training has taken place. Finally, once any legal obstacles have been cleared, Google will have to delete the personal data from the UK.

Currently, the Information Commissioner does not intend to fine Google, but will take further action if necessary

Information Commissioner's OfficeThe Commissioner, Christopher Graham said,  “It is my view that the collection of this information was not fair or lawful and constitutes a significant breach of the first principle of the Data Protection Act.  The most appropriate and proportionate regulatory action in these circumstances is to get written legal assurance from Google that this will not happen again – and to follow this up with an ICO audit.”

What’s interesting about this is that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) had previously decided not to take action against Google because the sample data shown to the ICO was considered to be fragmentary and therefore unlikely to constitute personal data.

However, Google’s Alan Eustace admitted on Google’s own blog that, “A number of external regulators have inspected the data as part of their investigations (seven of which have now been concluded). It’s clear from those inspections that whilst most of the data is fragmentary, in some instances entire emails and URLs were captured, as well as passwords.”

The Commissioner then infers that because this happened in other countries, it happened in the UK, even if most of the data was fragmentary.  You can read the Commissioner’s letter to Google Inc here.

Personally, I’m pleased that Google is being held to account.  Far too often it seems that big business gets away with abusing our personal information.

13,000 Named in Adult Film Downloads

Posted by Andrew at 6:29 AM on September 29, 2010

The names of thousands for BT & Sky broadband customers who had allegedly illegally downloaded adult material have been leaked on-line.  The lists appear to have been obtained from servers of a law firm ACS:Law by the notorious 4chan group.

ACS:Law had obtained the lists from ISPs Sky and PlusNet (owned by BT) and had been using the information to send out letters to the alleged copyright infringers demanding money.  Many of those accused have denied downloading any adult material.

Both PlusNet & Sky had been forced to hand over the information by a court order and sent the data by email.  It now transpires that BT failed to encrypt the data files during transmission.  However, it is believed that data was stolen by 4chan members after they accessed ACS:Law’s server and then posted on-line at the Pirate Bay.

In addition to the lists of users, confidential messages regarding the cases, money made and personal correspondence were also posted.  Reports vary in the total number named as the leaks keep coming but it appears to be over 13,000 people so far.

The UK’s Information Commissioner is now investigating ACS:Law for possible breaches of the Data Protection Act.  If found guilty, the Commissioner can fine organisations up to £500,000 ($750,000).  Christopher Graham said, “The question we will be asking is how secure was this information and how it was so easily accessed from outside. We’ll be asking about the adequacy of encryption, the firewall, the training of staff and why that information was so public facing.”

ACS:Law was already under investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority for its role and tactics when sending out the letters to the alleged filesharers.  PlusNet has an FAQ explaining its role in the debacle.

This story has been running for a couple of days, but it just gets worse and worse.

Pick a Name, Any Name

Posted by Andrew at 3:49 PM on August 25, 2010

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal recently, Google’s Eric Schmidt suggested that teens will automatically change their name in order to disassociate themselves from the indiscretions of youth.  While this might seem to be a somewhat extreme action to take, how easy is it to actually change your name?

If you live in the UK, it’s actually very easy.  All you have to do is start using your new name.  As long as there’s no intention to deceive or defraud, that’s it.  Pretty easy.

If you want to make it it a bit more formal so that it’s on your passport and driving licence, you can use a “deed poll” to change your name.  You  fill out a simple form, get it witnessed and that’s it legal.  You then present the deed poll whenever you want to get your old name changed to your new name.  Job done.

One further and final step is to “enrol” your deed poll which then becomes part of the public record.  All of these deed polls are published in the London, Edinburgh or Belfast Gazettes and there is a charge for this service of around £50 ($75).

There’s a guide to changing your name by deed poll and enrolling it on Her Majesty’s Court Service.   If you do a quick Google, you’ll find plenty of websites (a) wanting to charge for the service and (b) testimonies of people who have done it for free.  I liked this one who changed his name legally to “Flash” because he was going to be forced to answer the phone with his real name.

It’s perhaps more common than you think.  I know one couple personally who, instead of the wife adopting the surname of the husband, they created a new surname that combined parts of both of their original surnames.  They took care with how it sounded and it worked out well.

So Eric Schmidt might be onto something if it’s that easy – the difficult part is going to be choosing a new name.

Usual disclaimer – I’m not a lawyer and the above doesn’t constitute legal advice.

Is CNN Calling For Curbs On Free Speech?

Posted by tomwiles at 11:09 PM on July 23, 2010

On July 23, 2010, CNN anchors Kyra Phillips and John Roberts discussed on air the idea that bloggers should be somehow “held accountable” or perhaps regulated in some way. Here’s the video of that exchange.

It’s no secret that CNN and other so-called mainstream media outlets, both broadcast and print, have had for some time now an ongoing loss of viewers and readers. A number of traditional journalists from time to time have had and expressed an almost open hostility towards bloggers and the Internet. They perceive the Internet as a threat to their business models, and their vaunted self-appointed job as information “gatekeepers.”

If you look back over the past few years, almost every major story, particularly scandal stories, originated first on blogs. In many cases the mainstream media were dragged kicking and screaming into reporting stories. The clearly forged National Guard documents that ultimately ended up forcing CBS to fire evening news anchor Dan Rather comes to mind from a few years ago. Bloggers quickly picked up on the fact that the supposed National Guard documents had been typed up in the default template for Microsoft Word and then ran through a fax and/or copy machine a number of times to make the documents look dirty and/or old. The trouble was, Microsoft Word didn’t exist in 1973. If it weren’t for bloggers, this story would have likely never come to public light, and what is clearly a forgery and a made-up story would have passed into the public mind as the truth.

Should free speech be curbed? Should bloggers somehow be licensed or officially regulated in what is purportedly a free country? Should we be forced to get our news from “professional” or even “licensed” journalists?

Secret Trade Agreement To Criminalise Copyright Infringement

Posted by Andrew at 7:49 AM on July 6, 2010

According to La Quadrature du Net and based on both official and  leaked documents, secret trade negotiations for ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) by the EU Presidency includes negotiating criminal penalties for counterfeiters and copyright-infringers, bypassing the normal legislative system and significantly increasing the scope of “trade agreements”.

My understanding is that within the UK counterfeiting goods and copyright infringment are generally considered to be civil offences and imprisonment is not normally an option (cf OiNK).  However, criminal offences can be punished by imprisonment.  Of course, I’m not a lawyer and I’ve no idea what other countries do.

To be fair, the criminal part of the legislation is clearly aimed at large scale copying of goods and films as it mentions “commercial scale” in a number of places (article 2.14).  There’s a certain part of me that says criminal gangs and organisations need to be dealt with by criminal penalties which is arguably a good thing.

However, this isn’t the point.  ACTA is a trade agreement and should not be dictating legal penalties.  The ACTA agreement is negotiated between the US, EU, Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, South Korea and Switzerland, so it’s impact will be widespread and is likely to be adopted into law with little or no debate from countries’ elected representatives.  While we might agree with criminal penalties for criminal gangs, what will it be next time?  Prison for file-sharing teenagers?

Fortunately, the UK Government does appear to have come out against the change in the legislation.  In an interview for ComputerActive, a spokesman for the UK’s Intellectual Property Office said, “These are not appropriate penalties for copyright infringement.  Acta should not introduce new intellectual property laws or offences. Instead, it should provide a framework to better enforce existing laws.  The UK is opposed to the creation of new criminal offences at UK or EU level through Acta.”

The latest round of ACTA negotiation finished last week in Lucerne, Switzerland so further news may be forthcoming.

Broadband Basic Right In Finland

Posted by Andrew at 8:25 AM on July 1, 2010

From the beginning of July, a 1 Mbit/s Internet connection will become a universal service in Finland.  Simply, this means that anyone who wants an Internet connection must be provided with one at a reasonable price by one of the 26 telecom operators.

This makes Finland the first country in the world to make Internet access a basic right and it’s interesting to compare this with the UK and France which have both threatened to cut-off the connections of persistent copyright infringers.

From a technical perspective, it’s not a big deal.  There’s already about 96% connection penetration in the country already and this means that there are only about 4000 properties that would need to be connected to achieve full penetration.

Personally, I think this is great step forwards.  1 Mbit/s isn’t super fast but it’s adequate and over time technology and commercial pressure will up the data rate.  However, the key point is that it’s a universal service or basic right enshrined in law, which means that it can’t easily be taken away.

There’s additional coverage over at the BBC.

Defamation Bill Introduced To UK Parliament

Posted by Andrew at 6:40 AM on June 24, 2010

Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament. Photographed by Deryc Sands.

Lord Lester has introduced a Defamation Bill to the UK Parliament in order to clarify aspects of the the law regarding libel and slander.  One of its intents appears to be to clear up the current gray area for ISPs and forum owners with regard to defamatory postings and their responsibilities.

(This has been brought as a private member’s bill, which means that it’s not officially part of the Government’s legislative programme although it is seen as supportive.  The Bill will receive its second reading on 9th July which strangely is the first opportunity for the Bill to be debated and there’s a long way to go after that. You can read about the British legislative process here.)

Moving onto the geeky stuff, the Bill specifically refers to material stored “by electronic means” although any defence that the existing law didn’t cover the Internet has long been dismissed.

However,  the Bill does propose that there is a defence against defamatory action for “facilitators” provided that they remove the offending material with 14 days of being notified in writing.  A “facilitator” is considered to be someone concerned with “storage or transmission…of the content…and has no other influence or control”.  This is clearly aimed at ISPs, forum owners or any website that invites comments.  I would imagine it would also cover owners of websites that automatically show feeds from other sites.

On the other hand, “primary publishers” are authors or editors.  Interestingly an editor is defined as having “responsibility…for the decision to publish”.  This does raise one interesting question….if you are moderator and you approve a post which turns out to be libellous, it would appear that you may be classed as a primary publisher rather than a facilitator.  Hmm.

Other good points are that it appears that reports on scientific conferences will be protected (providing that they are “fair and accurate”) and the introduction of a “single publication” rule.  This means is that regardless of reprints or republications, the date of first publication is used for actions which can only happen once.  From an IT perspective, this means that ten year-old material downloaded today cannot create a fresh action (which is currently the case, apparently).

There’s some more comment courtesy of The Guardian newspaper, here and here.  And by the way, I’m not a lawyer.

I Hate Rumors, Yet I Hate Thieves Even More

Posted by J Powers at 3:50 PM on April 19, 2010

*NOTE* Upon publishing this piece, another rumor had sprung up that Gizmodo paid $10,000 to gain access to the next generation iPhone.


There is one thing that really gets my goat when I read the news section – The inundation of  “Rumors”. One person says the right words on the right blog and everyone jumps on; Next thing you know, multiple articles on something that no-one has confirmation on.

With this weekend’s speculation took a new level as physical evidence of a certain Apple item was found. Instead of taking a couple pictures and reporting the item found, the device was dismantled and reviewed, then returned. We look at this as if it should be considered a criminal act, that is unless Apple takes full advantage of the rumors that happen…

Let’s review this weekend’s news – Someone was in a bar in California and all of a sudden looks down. They see someone else’s phone in a iPhone 3G phone case. Instead of taking that phone over to the bartender or police officer, they decide to open it up and see if they can rummage through to find a name. What they found was an iPhone that looked a little different than the current models. Could it be the next iPhone?

Well, that person then took the phone and somehow (since we don’t know the actual person that found it) Gizmodo got their hands on it and decided to disassemble the device. So would that be against the law to do?

Most people decide to use the “Finders, keepers – Losers, weepers” analogy. However, California has a statute on lost and unclaimed property. You can read the Civil Code Section 2080-2080.10 at Justica.com. Let’s take a look at the code and see how this applies.

The Civil Code:

Of course, before we move forward, I have to say I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. I can only interpret the codes as best as possible. I have called a few law offices to try and get some clarification, but the understanding is this: a Civil Code is not a law, but can result in legal action of some kind. Now, with that said:

2080. Any person who finds a thing lost is not bound to take charge of it, unless the person is otherwise required to do so by contract or law, but when the person does take charge of it he or she is thenceforward a depositary for the owner, with the rights and obligations of a depositary for hire. Any person or any public or private entity that finds and takes possession of any money, goods, things in action, or other personal property, or saves any domestic animal from harm, neglect, drowning, or starvation, shall, within a reasonable time, inform the owner, if known, and make restitution
without compensation, except a reasonable charge for saving and taking care of the property. Any person who takes possession of a live domestic animal shall provide for humane treatment of the animal.

What does that mean? Well, simply put, you must make an effort to find it’s owner. You should not expect any compensation other than any charges you incur for taking care of the item. For example: If it was a puppy you found, you should be compensated if you bought dog food, a collar or any other item that keeps the dog safe while you look for the owner.

Keep in mind the most likely owner of this device is Apple. Let’s continue:

2080.1. (a) If the owner is unknown or has not claimed the property, the person saving or finding the property shall, if the property is of the value of one hundred dollars ($100) or more, within a reasonable time turn the property over to the police department of the city or city and county, if found therein, or to the sheriff’s department of the county if found outside of city limits, and shall make an affidavit, stating when and where he or she found or saved the property, particularly describing it. If the property was saved, the affidavit shall state:

  1. From what and how it was saved.
  2. Whether the owner of the property is known to the affiant.
  3. That the affiant has not secreted, withheld, or disposed of any part of the property.
    1. The police department or the sheriff’s department shall notify the owner, if his or her identity is reasonably ascertainable, that it possesses the property and where it may be claimed. The police department or sheriff’s department may require payment by the owner of a reasonable charge to defray costs of storage and care of the property.

Well that means if the property is over $100, you need to turn it over to the police within a reasonable amount of time. They will then hold said item for a 90 day period as they find the owner.  If you know who the owner is, you should disclose that.  The police would then begin the search. In 2080.3, it says if the value is over $250, the police would then increase the search by placing an ad in the paper. That is, unless they do know who the item belongs to. That, once again, would be Apple.

Disassembly:

So instead of taking this device to the proper authorities, it was given to Gizmodo, who decided to disassemble and research it. They said so here:

We’re as skeptical—if not more—than all of you. We get false tips all the time. But after playing with it for about a week—the overall quality feels exactly like a finished final Apple phone—and disassembling this unit, there is so much evidence stacked in its favor, that there’s very little possibility that it’s a fake.

They go on to say they have been contacted by Apple and that the company wants the device back. Of course, we don’t know if that happened before or after Gizmodo took the week to disassemble and review the item. I would venture a guess that it was after the fact, otherwise, the phone would be retrieved within a few hours and we would have seen pictures only. Even if  the iPhone was a fake –  That would be for Apple to determine, not Gizmodo.

Profiting by Loss:

While it’s not direct profit, Engadget (who first posted pictures) and Gizmodo are apparently profiting on this device. Not by reward, but by reporting. Ad revenues from users coming on the site to look at the supposed next gen iPhone.

The Rumor Mill as News

Of course, this brought the Apple rumor mill a buzzing once again. Not as bad as the iPad, but still just as annoying. Google news has this article on their top news stories of the day.

Fact: I scan the news everyday looking for items to talk about. I don’t think I’ve seen a day in the last 6 months where an Apple rumor has not been in the top news stories. Why is that? Do we not have good news to talk about?

If you look at the Top stories of the Nation, U.S. or Local, rumors are not present – especially not every day for over 6 months. It seems that the only place the rumor mill really churns is on the Tech side. That is a trend that needs to stop.

Does Apple push the Rumor Mill?

When the iPad rumor really hit in December, Apple stock went up to $209 a share – $6.94 in one day. Today it sits at $243 – Down from Friday’s $251 / share price. This new rumor could push up Apple – and other stocks. For instance, if Gizmodo was to have thrown down a “4G” word in their article (which they did not, but other sites like PCWorld did), I would venture a guess to see Sprint get a big boost in the market.

Let’s speculate for a second. What if, instead of “finding” the new iPhone, an Apple exec sat in a bar with someone and said “Here is the new prototype. Make sure you get this into a reporter’s hands.” They then set the wheels rolling for new anticipation of the next big Apple device.

While that statement cannot be confirmed or denied, the end result is the same – Apple continues to top the Tech news with rumors.

When the Rumors Stop, will Apple come tumbling down?

A very good question to ponder. In the last 5 years, it seems Apple does have advantage when it comes to making rumors become news. We hear of rumors from other tech companies, but no one has had staying power than Apple has. So if Apple cannot spin a good rumor for a product, could we see the company start to take a major dive?

The Good Rumors with the Bad

Some of those rumors in the past never came to fruition. Remember the clamshell iPhone? How about the iPhone mini rumors – They even had a story where China was making mini phone cases in anticipation. I wonder if that company is still in existence…

The iPad rumor actually was around for over a year before Steve Jobs showed it off to the public. It didn’t really ramp up until December of 2009, where more confirmations could be made. However, if January 27 was to have come and gone without an iPad announced, we could have seen a different outcome – One where investors would be really upset.

While my humble opinion is that I don’t care for the rumor mill, it seems to drive the tech industry. Whereas someone can take another’s intellectual property and rip it apart before returning it, then they should face consequences to said actions. Google should stop allowing these rumors in their news feeds (unless they turn into actual news, example: If Gizmodo was charged for dismantling the device they found).

Alas, rumors – Especially Apple rumors – will continue. People will continue to “obtain” not-yet released items and report them. We will read and discuss. Rinse and repeat.