Category Archives: Public Policy

My Story at PandoDaily: “The Internet’s Own Boy”

The Internet's Own Boy

At PandoDaily I reviewed the new documentary “The Internet’s Own Boy.” It’s a new documentary about Aaron Swartz, the 26-year old activist and hacker who hanged himself last year just before he was to stand trial for downloading millions of academic articles.

The government’s case against Swartz involved the download of millions of articles from an academic database called JSTOR. In September 2010, Swartz began using a newly purchased laptop, a Python script, and MIT’s open network—which granted its users free access to JSTOR—to grab the articles. Once MIT and JSTOR administrators realized what was happening, the University installed a hidden camera in the unlocked wiring closet where Swartz had stationed his computer. Days later, Swartz was caught on the surveillance camera swapping a new hard drive. He was then swarmed by police, arrested, and eventually indicted on 13 felony counts.

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Do Not Track

Brian Fung of the Washington Post’s Switch blog writes on the state of privacy in web browsing and the policy proposal known as Do Not Track.

So where do the Do Not Track negotiations go from here? In the wake of Wednesday’s poll, the W3C is not expected to terminate the group. Instead, it might settle for establishing a definition for Do Not Track without laying out steps for compliance. Meanwhile, the Digital Advertising Alliance, an industry organization that recently exited the W3C working group, is developing its own draft standards. So while the W3C’s attempt may have stalled, Do Not Track may still have some life left.

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LinkedIn And The Invisible Employment Screen

My new piece at The New Inquiry:

Far from a buggy nuisance, this kind of openness is LinkedIn’s hallmark feature. As BuzzFeed’s listicles overlord Ben Smith chirped, “LinkedIn’s stalker problem is not totally unrelated to how awesome it is as a reporting tool.” Unlike the more social networks whose overriding ethos is YOLO, the employment site only wants to see the front, business-side of your mullet. By showcasing CVs and work affiliations, LinkedIn operates as a professional safe space. Here, you know for sure prospective employers are looking. As a designated network for the interaction between us and our would-be bosses, LinkedIn ostensibly guards against the rampant and potentially illegal practice of the invisible employment screen.

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Tech Pushes to Keep Its Spoils in Immigration Bill

Somini Sengupta of The New York Times discusses the efforts of Silicon Valley executives to keep their pro-tech, foreign friendly language in the new Senate immigration bill.

Human resource department heads from eight of the country’s largest technology companies popped into the offices of more than a dozen members of Congress. A new group called Engine Advocacy, which has focused on a so-called start-up visa for foreign entrepreneurs, sent its representatives to the Hill and set up a new online platform, called http://www.keepushere.org, to encourage techies to send Twitter posts to members of Congress. And yet another industry-led coalition, called Partnership for a New American Economy, and supported by New York City’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, was rallying supporters to aim at crucial senators, state by state, to support the bill with a “virtual march.”

How To Make War on Patent Trolls

Author Tim Wu argues for policy reform on our patent system in the New Yorker’s Elements blog.

Patent infringement is easy to allege and expensive to disprove. The problem is compounded by the excessive leniency with which patents have been issued over the past two decades, particularly for software and high technology. That creates ripe and lucrative opportunities for blackmail and extortion. One recent study suggests trolling costs the U.S. economy close to thirty billion dollars a year. The mathematics of deterrence suggests that the government needs to make the life of a troll miserable instead of lucrative.

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US Immigration And Technology

Cale Weissman writes at PandoDaily:

“In the long term (and ideally) we would, as a nation, confront our dismal education system, which doesn’t graduate nearly enough computer-literate people. In the short term, our best bet is to do what we do best: Import what we need and get rid of policies that only serve to undermine our economic well being.”

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Zuckerberg’s FWD Raises Criticism

Somini Sengupta and Eric Lipton Report in the New York Times

“Fwd.Us, the new nonprofit advocacy group created by Mr. Zuckerberg and several technology executives and investors to push for an overhaul of immigration law, has bankrolled television ads endorsing the conservative stands taken by three lawmakers, prompting an outcry from liberal groups and a call to withhold advertisements from Facebook.”

The group is engaging in a kind of lobbying that works like this: when senators and congresspeople support FWD’s policies on immigration reform, FWD then promises to help these representatives on other issues, unrelated to immigration. As Sengupta and Lipto go on to say:

The group has faced the most vocal criticism for television advertisements sponsored by its two subsidiaries, which are known as Americans for Conservative Action and Council for American Job Growth. One of those spots takes swipes at President Obama’s health policies. Another lauds the Keystone XL pipeline, fiercely opposed by many environmental groups.

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After Petition Against CISPA, Obama Responds

Responding to a petition signed by over 100,000 people on the White House’s We The People website, the Obama Administration has issued clarifying remarks on its stance towards CISPA. The President does not support the version of CISPA that the House of Representatives passed earlier this month. And as the Senate is expected to put forth its own version of the bill, Obama hopes to provide guidance for any new legislation.

According to Obama’s official response, the Administration will only stand by information-sharing legislation that embody “three key principles.”

1. “minimizing information that can be used to identify specific individuals.” This means erring on the side of discretion regarding the personal information of users/clients especially if that data is irrelevant to a specific cyber attack.

This, of course, is uncomfortably vague. Without the need for warrants, how will government agencies and private companies decide what is relevant information and what is not?

2. “new information should enter the government through a civilian department rather than an intelligence agency.” Here, Obama would like to see that the data collected under the protection of CISPA is gathered not by the NSA or the CIA but through civilian channels, like the Department of Homeland Security.

A longstanding American axiom: the CIA should not be able to spy on US citizens.

3. “Any new legislation ought to provide legal clarity for companies…But it should not provide broad immunity for businesses and organizations.” The Administration is hoping to guard against “unwarranted disclosure of personal information,” as well as practices that would “likely to cause damage to third parties.”

This last principle hopes to rid the legislation of dangerously broad language that would embolden companies to needlessly turn over damning personal data.

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The FBI And Gmail Spying Powers

“It’s no secret that under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the feds can easily obtain archive copies of emails. When it comes to spying on emails or Gchat in real time, however, it’s a different story, writes Ryan Gallagher of Slate.

From the perspective of law enforcement, the data that passes through email, cloud services and chat is difficult to monitor in real time. As Gallagher notes, “That’s because a 1994 surveillance law called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act only allows the government to force Internet providers and phone companies to install surveillance equipment within their networks.” For newer forms of communication, the FBI’s spying power is restricted.

Gallagher summarizes a recent speech by the FBI’s general counsel, Andrew Weissmann, and reports that the agency will push a proposal this year to expand their “Internet spy powers.”

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