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Published: Tue, 25 Apr 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Tue, 25 Apr 2017 17:55:45 -0400

 



Zara Pulls Not-Pepe Dress After People Complain That All Frogs Are Now Hate Symbols

Thu, 20 Apr 2017 12:02:00 -0400

I've found it—the stupidest "social justice" controversy of the week. That's a high bar, of course, but I believe this saga of retail #resistance clears it. Ready? Keyboard warriors have convinced international clothing company Zara to pull a limited-edition denim dress designed by Spanish pop artist Mario de Santiago, who goes by the name Yime. His sin? The dress featured two frogs. According to the London-based artist—whose work is full of whimsical, cartoonish animals and figures—the idea for the frog dress "came from a wall painting I drew with friends four years ago." It was part of a collection of "Oil on Denim" design collaborations between Zara and independent artists, featuring images including four-eyed Japanese women, dying birds, smiley faces, panthers, skulls...and the ill-fated amphibians. It seems that to folks on social media, the pair looked a little too much like Pepe, the innocent cartoon turned all-purpose meme turned alt-right mascot. During the 2016 election, Pepe earned the ire of no less than Hillary Clinton herself, as well as denunciation as a hate-group symbol by the quacks at the Southern Poverty Law Center. It would be weird for a moderately high-end fashion brand to carry Pepe-themed womenswear, sure, but not necessarily an endorsement of anything (perhaps the designer's intention is to skewer the alt-right, reclaim Pepe, or simply use relevant pop-cultural images in their work). There are all sorts of ways once can read the appearance of Pepe in a decidedly non-Trump or non-alt-right-related context, and to those other than professional grievancemongers this should be apparent. In any event, those who find the shirt distasteful are free to ignore it, thereby not heaping more attention on the offensive artist/company nor clogging up people's limited outrage capacity with things that make no goddamn material difference in the world. The frogs on the Yime/Zara dress aren't even intended to portray Pepe, however. They don't look much like the alt-right icon in the first place, aside from general frogginess, and the artist has explicitly stated that "there is absolutely no link to the suggested theme." Nevertheless, the social-media outrage persisted—prompting Zara to pull the skirt. While the rest of the Oil on Denim collection remains intact on the Zara website, the denim dress featuring frogs is nowhere to be found. Good job, internet liberals, you got huge clothing conglomerate to stop selling one of its few works benefiting indie creators! But at least you all got some Twitter faves, right? Uhh, is that Pepe The Frog (now a designated hate symbol by the ADL) on a Zara skirt?? https://t.co/DAyrSRzS94 pic.twitter.com/A8N3754ffk — NYLON (@NylonMag) April 18, 2017 Normalizing a hate symbol? Just nope. @ZARA #NotBuyingIt https://t.co/HIXmYsjQ0s via @TeenVogue @AveryEliz — Miss Representation (@RepresentPledge) April 18, 2017 Zara is selling a skirt featuring a powerful hate symbol—and it's not OK: https://t.co/rJ7dlk88QW pic.twitter.com/7qUeSrngBV — Glamour (@glamourmag) April 18, 2017 [...]



Denmark Proves We Don't Need the FCC

Tue, 04 Apr 2017 08:30:00 -0400

Americans often look to Scandinavian countries for examples of successful policy and governance. It's easy to see why: These countries boast some of the best quality-of-life rankings in the world. Denmark in particular is praised for its stellar telecommunications services. The country has topped the International Telecommunications Union's ranking of global information and communication technology (ICT) provision for years due to its expansive broadband and wireless penetration, fast Internet speeds, and ample provider competition. The Danish reputation got a boost among the American left in last year's presidential election, when none other than Bernie Sanders himself plugged the country as a model for the United States to emulate. But admirers of the popular democratic socialist politician may be surprised to learn exactly how Denmark was able to become an international leader in ICT delivery. It wasn't super-charged regulation, top-down "net neutrality" rules, or major government subsidies that did the trick. So how did Denmark do it? Deregulation. By virtually eliminating their equivalent of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Danes now enjoy some of the best ICT service on the planet. A new Mercatus Center working paper by Roslyn Layton and Joseph Kane describes precisely how Danish telecommunications officials undertook successful deregulatory reforms. It starts with Danish regulators who quickly understood the promise of digital technology and realized that government policies could quash innovative applications that would benefit consumers and businesses alike. From there, they developed a plan to prioritize competition and development instead of central control. This hands off-approach was so successful that eventually the country's National IT and Telecom Agency (NITA) was disbanded altogether. Committed to Competition In 1994, when most governments hadn't even started to consider the impending digital revolution, Danish authorities had already laid out a clear path for simple telecommunications policy. Their plan emphasized facilitating interactions between the public and private sectors instead of rushing to regulate. The Danish government also undertook early efforts to modernize their own services by digitizing government records, thereby becoming a key buyer of ICT services. Government services became more efficient, and the infant ICT sector got an enthusiastic and large client. Policymakers clearly stated their opposition to subsidy-driven "growth" and heavy-handed regulation. The country's state-owned telecommunications provider, Tele Danmark (TDC), was completely privatized in 1998 through the efforts of Social Democrat Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen. The next year, a consortium of Danish political parties formed a "Teleforlig," or telecommunications agreement, that outlined their goals. It stated: It is important to ensure that regulation does not create a barrier for the possibility of new converged products… Regulation must be technologically neutral, and technology choices are to be handled by the market. The goal is to move away from sector-specific regulation toward competition-oriented regulation. And Danish regulators kept this promise. For example, following the privatization of TDC, NITA levied special regulations on the provider so that it would not abuse its previous monopoly to prevent new competition in wireless. TDC was therefore subject to controls on its access to mobile networks and call origins. But NITA discovered that the wireless industry was sufficiently competitive by 2006, with four active providers in the market. Remarkably, NITA then dissolved the TDC regulations. As one official stated, "We are obliged to remove the regulation when the competitive situation demands it. There is no need to regulate something that market forces can take care of." By 2011, Danish ICT provision had become so competitive and responsive to market needs that NITA closed up shop all together. Interestingly, this major deregulation was not the undertakin[...]



Proposed Tweak to Internet Law Could Spur Seismic Shifts in Web as We Know It

Sun, 02 Apr 2017 10:32:00 -0400

A draft bill in the House of Representatives would add sex trafficking to the list of crimes excluded from the protection of the Communication Decency Act (CDA), a Geocities-era law with an important provision on internet publishing. That provision—Section 230—would prove crucial to the development of the "World Wide Web" as we know it, allowing for a world in which social networks and participatory media could thrive. The new House proposal is portrayed as a mere tweak to Section 230, one which would make it easier to catch bad guys while having little effect on online communication. Don't believe it. Simply put, Section 230 protects web publishers and platforms—from Facebook and Reddit to The New York Times to Petfinder.com—from being legally culpable for things that third parties post or upload, at least when it comes to state crimes and civil lawsuits. (Federal criminal offenses are not afforded Section 230 protection.) If you're found to be criminally harassing someone via Twitter, the company can't be prosecuted for it. If a magazine commenter makes libelous statements, the publication can't be sued for libel. If a 16-year-old meets a 19-year-old on Facebook and they begin a sexual relationship, Facebook can't be charged for statuatory rape. And so on. "It's the reason I can't sue [Snapchat CEO] Evan Spiegel for harassment if a dude sends me unsolicited pictures of his dick on Snapchat," writes Kate Knibbs in this excellent and detailed piece about adult-advertising and Section 230. "This protection has been absolutely essential to the development of the internet in this country and really around the world," the Center for Democracy & Technology's Emma Llansó told Knibbs. Without it, web providers would "be in court all the time. And they'd run up inordinately high legal bills, even if they were ultimately successful in defending a case." The new House measure, sponsored by Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Missouri) and dubbed the "No Immunity for Sex Traffickers Online Act," would carve out an exception to Section 230 for sex-trafficking offenses involving minors. Supporters portray it as a way to "hold sex traffickers accountable," but we already have sufficient penalties—at the state and federal level—for people who force, decieve, or coerce others into prostitution, as well as for anyone directly involved in the prostitution (forced or not) of a minor. And nothing in Section 230 of the CDA, nor in this new proposal, affects the way we treat folks found to be sexually exploiting others. What the change would do is make it possible for states to indict any app, website, or platform that introduces an underage person to a possible sex buyer as a conspirator in sex trafficking. And it would allow any underage person who was paid for sex to subsequently sue any website or web service remotely involved in the transaction. To be very clear, the change would not merely apply to classified-ad sites like Backpage, or to sites and services specializing in escort advertising. Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and similar social platforms have all helped introduce underage sex-trafficking victims to perpetrators in recent U.S. cases. Victims often use use popular email providers, messaging apps, and text messaging to communicate with clients (police have been fond of late with charging sex workers with cell phones or laptops for felony possession of the instruments of a crime). Perhaps prosecutors won't go after these sites and services (I have my doubts), but regardless, victims can. With the proposed change, victims will have the right to sue any third-party web service that enabled their participation or exploitation in the sex trade. And in this case, victim means anyone under 18 whom someone paid for sex, regardless of whether any force, fraud, coercion, or middlemen and women were involved. You can see how this might cause problems. The Section 230 bill deals not a wit with the people actually causing sexual exploitation; it simply opens up a new category of defendant[...]



Brickbat: Fishing Expedition

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) A judge in Minnesota has signed a warrant demanding that Google turn over information on everyone who searched for the name of an Edina resident or any variation of that person's name between Dec. 1 and Jan. 7. Police say they believe someone might have used Google to find a photo of that Edina resident and forge a passport used to steal money from the resident's credit union account.




‘Right to Be Forgotten’ Legislation Attempts Foothold in New York

Wed, 15 Mar 2017 13:09:00 -0400

The state of New York wants to tell you what's appropriate to post online and what should be removed. The concept behind the European Union's "right to be forgotten" has crossed the Atlantic, and two state lawmakers in New York want to attempt to institute it here. The "right to be forgotten" in the European Union originated from a court ruling demanding Google and search engines remove links to a story that embarrassed a Spanish man because it detailed a previous home repossession. The story was not factually inaccurate. He insisted it was no longer relevant and that it embarrassed him, and the court agreed he had the right to have the information censored from search engines. Since 2014, search engines like Google have received hundreds of thousands of requests to have links to news reports removed and not because there's anything factually incorrect about them, but because the people within them are embarrassed by having the information public. Now, in New York, Assemblyman David Weprin and State Sen. Tony Avella (both Democrats) are attempting to implement such a law in the United States. The bill (readable here) appears remarkably far-reaching. It would allow people to demand that identifying information and articles about them to be removed from search engines or publishers if the content is "inaccurate," "irrelevant," inadequate," or "excessive." And yes, there are potentially fines involved ($250 dollars a day plus attorney's fees) for those who don't comply. Here's how the legislation defines the rather vague justifications for removal: [C]ontent, which after a significant lapse in time from its first publication, is no longer material to current public debate or discourse, especially when considered in the light of the financial, reputational and/or demonstrable other harm that the information, article or other content is causing to the requester's professional, financial, reputational or other interest, with the exception of content related to convicted felonies, legal matters relating to violence, or a matter that is of significant current public interest, and as to which the requester's role in regard to the matter is central and substantial. This would put the courts in the position of having the authority to declare what is or isn't relevant for the public to know. Reason asked First Amendment attorney Ken White of Brown, White & Osborn (and also of Popehat fame) for his analysis of the bill. He did not hold back in an emailed statement: This bill is a constitutional and policy disaster that shows no sign that the drafters made any attempt whatsoever to conform to the requirements of the constitution. It purports to punish both speakers and search engines for publishing—or indexing—truthful information protected by the First Amendment. There's no First Amendment exception for speech deemed "irrelevant" or "inadequate" or "excessive," and the rules for punishing "inaccurate" speech are already well-established and not followed by this bill. The bill is hopelessly vague, requiring speakers to guess at what some fact-finder will decide is "irrelevant" or "no longer material to current public debate," or how a fact-finder will balance (in defiance of the First Amendment) the harm of the speech and its relevance. The exceptions are haphazard and poorly defined, and the role of the New York Secretary of State in administering the law is unclear. This would be a bonanza for anyone who wanted to harass reporters, bloggers, search engines, and web sites to take down negative information, and would incentivize such harassment and inflict massive legal costs on anyone who wanted to stand up to a vexatious litigant. Also of relevance: The law extends the statute of limitations for defamation complains for online content in a way that pretty much all but removes them. The clock for the statute of limitations for defamation claims wouldn't start ticking until the defamatory statement has been removed fro[...]



U.S. Government Websites 'Fail to Meet Basic Standards,' New Report Says

Thu, 09 Mar 2017 12:45:00 -0500

(image) The U.S. government's most-used websites almost universally "fail to meet basic standards for security, speed, mobile friendliness, or accessibility," according to a new report issued by the nonprofit public policy organization Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) — a group which the University of Pennsylvania ranks as the top science and technology think tank in the United States (and second in the world).

ITIF's report is built on thorough analysis of 297 of the federal governement's most popular websites (out of the more than 6,000 sites currently operated by the feds).

The report's lead author Alan McQuinn said in a statement, "Despite years of progress in digital government, a striking number of federal websites do not even meet many of the U.S. government's own requirements, let alone private-sector best practices." McQuinn added, "Considering that many constituents rely on federal websites to interact with government, it is incumbent upon the new administration, supported by Congress, to make websites more convenient, accessible, and secure."

The report makes a number of recommendations of action for the Trump administration, including that government agencies be required to maintain websites which — at the very least — meet the government's own "standards and best practices;" for the Office of Budget Management (OMB) to "launch a website consolidation initiative" to get rid of "duplicative or unnecessary websites;" and for the White House to "launch a series of website modernization 'sprints' to fix known problems with the most popular government websites."

Read ITIF's entire report here, and check out Ira Stoll's great Reason column, "Why Government Websites Cost More and Perform Worse Than Private Sector Websites."




SCOTUS Seems Likely to Overturn Law Banning Sex Offenders From Social Media

Tue, 28 Feb 2017 08:00:00 -0500

Judging from yesterday's oral arguments in Packingham v. North Carolina, the Supreme Court seems inclined to overturn that state's law banning sex offenders from Facebook, Twitter, and other "commercial social networking Web sites." Robert Montgomery, a lawyer from the North Carolina Attorney General's Office, had a hard time persuading the justices that the law—which covers a wide range of sites accessible to minors and applies to all registered sex offenders, whether or not their crimes involved children or the internet—passes muster under the First Amendment. The case was brought by Lester Packingham, who in 2002, at the age of 21, pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with a minor. A first-time offender, he received a sentence of 10 to 12 months, after which he served two years of probation and was required to register as a sex offender for 10 years. Six years after Packingham's conviction, the North Carolina legislature passed a law that made it a Class I felony, punishable by up to a year in jail, for a registered sex offender to "access" any commercial website open to minors that facilitates social introductions, allows users to create web pages or profiles that include personal information, and enables users to communicate with each other. Packingham was caught violating the law in 2010, when he beat a traffic ticket and celebrated the event with an exultant Facebook post: Man God is Good! How about I got so much favor they dismiss the ticket before court even started. No fine, No court costs, no nothing spent….Praise be to GOD, WOW! Thanks JESUS! Trying to explain how punishing such innocent (and religious!) speech can be consistent with the First Amendment, Montgomery likened North Carolina's law to state bans on politicking within 100 feet of a polling place, which the Court upheld in the 1992 case Burson v. Freeman. "I think that does not help you at all," Justice Anthony Kennedy said, provoking laughter from the audience. "If you cite Burson, I think you lose." Justice Elena Kagan briefly seemed to be helping Montgomery, only to drive Kennedy's point home. "I agree with you," she told Montgomery. "That's your closest case....It's the only case that I know of where we've permitted a prophylactic rule where we've said not all conduct will have these dangerous effects, but we don't exactly know how to separate out the dangerous speech from the not-dangerous speech....That is like one out of a zillion First Amendment cases that we've decided in our history. And as Justice Kennedy says, there are many reasons to think it's distinguishable from this one." Justice Stephen Breyer was equally discouraging. "The State has a reason?" he said. "Yeah, it does. Does it limit free speech? Dramatically. Are there other, less restrictive ways of doing it? We're not sure, but we think probably, as you've mentioned some. OK. End of case, right?" Kagan emphasized the extent of the law's interference with political speech, noting that it prevents sex offenders from following the president, members of Congress, and other elected officials on Twitter or Facebook. "This has become a crucially important channel of political communication," she said. "And a person couldn't go onto those sites and find out what these members of our government are thinking or saying or doing....These sites have become embedded in our culture as ways to communicate and ways to exercise our constitutional rights." The law clearly covers social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and it arguably applies even to ubiquitous services such as Google and Amazon, which are not primarily social networking sites but seem to meet the statutory definition. Although Montgomery claimed news sources such as nytimes.com are not covered, they might be if they let readers register and create profiles for commenting. "Even if The New York Times is not included," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsbu[...]



Does Digital Literacy Require More Gatekeepers?

Thu, 09 Feb 2017 17:20:00 -0500

(image) "A deep political divide is starting to open up in digital literacy discussions," argues Bryan Alexander, an academic turned consultant who writes frequently about education and technology. This division doesn't separate left from right or Red from Blue. "It's a split between those who think people should assume the power to make decisions about information and media, and those who prefer to build up authorities to help us cope with the digital world. On the one side, lower-case-d democrats; on the others, neo-gatekeepers."

For an example, think of the "fake news" debate. If you think the best response to the plague of viral Facebook hoaxes is to give power to a committee charged with sorting true stories from false, you're with the gatekeepers. A democrat wouldn't be opposed to organized factchecking, but he would see such efforts as part of a larger system of mutual peer review where everyone is fallible and no one is the final authority.

The first lower-case-d democrat that Alexander cites is me, so there's not much mystery about where I fall on this spectrum. By the end of the post, Alexander has confessed his bias toward the democratic tribe too. But his chief interest, he writes, is

how this political divide plays out for educators, from K-12 teachers to colleges faculty and staff, to museum and library professionals. How will we and our institutions stake out positions on this continuum, from democrats to neo-gatekeepers?

I can see incentives and professional reasons for hewing to either pole. Institutions and professions often function as gatekeepers, after all. At the same time each of these fields also has an ethos of empowering their students/users/patrons. Some of these institutions are closely tied up to authorities, such as active churches or states, while others see themselves as independent spaces. Each has taken up a related range of positions on previous digital issues, such as web sites, open education resources, and social media.

And then there's the elephant in the room, or rather the donkey: "Many of these professionals tack Democratic in terms of party politics." That's Democratic with a big D, and not necessarily a small one. The Dems are out of power right now, and so in some cases they may feel more suspicious than usual about gatekeepers. But "#resistance can also mean the recreation of authority sapped by the November electoral disaster."

Anyway, the post does a nice job of laying out a spectrum of positions, and I'm not just saying that because it quotes me liberally. To read the whole thing, go here.




Will Your Old Emails Finally Get Fourth Amendment Protections?

Tue, 07 Feb 2017 14:05:00 -0500

Once again, legislation that would give American citizens better privacy protections for their emails has passed the House of Representatives, but we're going to have to see what happens in the Senate. The Email Privacy Act aims to correct a flaw in federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. Passed in the relatively early days of home computer use, it established a policy that private electronic communications held by third parties that were more than 180 days old could be accessed by law enforcement and government investigators without the need for a warrant. A subpoena delivered to the communication provider was enough. A law this old obviously preceded the arrival and dominance of private email communications, and tech privacy activists and tech companies have been pushing for reform. The way the system stands now can result in people having their old private communications searched and read by authorities without the citizen's knowledge. The Email Privacy Act fixes some of these problems, though it doesn't fully resolve the controversy Under the act, officials will need to get actual warrants to access emails and online communications, which provides at least a little more judicial oversight. But the warrants are to the providers, not to the actual people who wrote and sent the communications. It will be up to companies to decide whether to pass along the news of the warrant to customers. Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, says that this is a flaw with the legislation. The original version of the bill required that government provide notice. Without that rule, the third-party provider can resist the warrant if they choose to, but the actual customer probably might not even know. "If you don't have notice, you really can't effectively [challenge the warrant]," Singh Guliani said. The bill does permit third-party providers to let customers know about the administration of warrants, but also allows for the government to delay this information for 180 days under a handful of exceptions—if the target is a flight risk or may destroy evidence or otherwise compromise the investigation. And while some major tech and communication companies have fought back against orders to pass along data or to keep searches secret, Singh Guliani says we shouldn't have to be "reliant on the business practices of providers that can change over time to make sure people get the full protection of the Fourth Amendment." Still, the compromise bill is better than the current rules. No representative voted against it last session of Congress, and it passed again yesterday by a voice vote. But while the bill enjoys popular bipartisan support in the House, the last attempt to get it passed hit disaster in the Senate. Senators attempted to meddle with the wording of the bill to weaken it or add other unrelated regulations. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) attempted to add an amendment to expand the surveillance reach of secretive National Security Letters. Sponsoring senators ended up yanking the legislation from consideration. The Senate sponsors last session were Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont). A representative from Sen. Lee's office said that he intends to co-sponsor the Senate version of the bill again this year, but it has not yet been introduced. This could be the first legislative test of whether increased privacy protections can make its way to and through a presidential administration openly hostile to limits on any sort of investigative or law enforcement authority (as we saw earlier today). President Donald Trump is hardly alone and he's not responsible for its previous problems, but it's nevertheless legislation that should not be struggling at all. And a little bit of self-promotion: I'll be leading a panel discussion on the Fourth Amendment, tech privac[...]



Fake News Freakout

Sun, 05 Feb 2017 06:00:00 -0500

Anyone with a Facebook account this year likely witnessed a barrage of false, conspiracy-laden headlines. My news feed informed me that Hillary Clinton was gravely ill, was already dead, had a body double, and murdered dozens of people. (It's amazing what you can learn when you have the right friends.) I also found out that President Barack Obama had worked his way through college as a gay prostitute. (Who could blame him? Columbia is very expensive!) Reeling after November's unexpected loss to Donald Trump, Democrats have taken to blaming such "fake news" for that outcome. Trump won, the argument goes, because Americans were exposed to inaccurate information; if only they'd had the right info from the right people, voters would have made better choices. A Washington Post piece took the idea further, claiming that fake news stems from a "sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy." In response to such heated calls, Facebook has started looking for ways to rid itself of the fakeries. Whether or not it's to blame for Trump's victory, fake news can be a problem. People who absorb inaccuracies will sometimes believe them and, worse, act on them. And once an inaccuracy gets lodged in a person's head, it can be difficult to dislodge. The political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler have shown that even when presented with authoritative facts, people will not merely refuse to change their incorrect beliefs; in some instances they'll double down on them. This is called the "backfire" effect. But it is far from clear that fake news has the sweeping effects that its critics charge. People have always put stock in dubious ideas, and the latest deluge of suspect headlines traversing the Internet smells more of continuity than it does of change. I have been studying political communication for more than a decade. Much of that time has been spent looking at conspiracy theories, why people believe them, and how they spread. What we know about how people interact with information—and misinformation—suggests that fake political news doesn't affect people's opinions nearly as much as is being insinuated. Where Political Beliefs Come From In the 1940s, the sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld and his colleagues explored how the media affects political views by comparing people's opinions (as measured by surveys) to the news and advertisements they were exposed to. The investigators expected to find evidence that media messages had immediate, powerful, and intuitive effects on people's political views. Instead, they found that opinions were largely stable and invariant to media messages. You could face a barrage of the Madison Avenue pitches proclaiming the virtues of either President Franklin Roosevelt or his Republican challenger, but if six months in advance you were inclined to vote for one of those men, in November that was who you'd probably vote for. Very few people changed their preferences over the course of the campaign. The same finding held throughout the broadcast era: There was very little relationship between people's intended choices and the messaging they encountered. Whatever change did occur usually took the form of people aligning their candidate preferences with their underlying party affiliation. External events and economic conditions mattered, of course, but they tended to make their impact regardless of messaging. This is not to say that news, advertisements, and campaigns have no effects. But those effects tend to be less direct and of lower magnitude than people assume. Over the last few decades, as media markets segmented, the ratings for the three traditional broadcast news programs have decl[...]



Director of Anti-Sex Trafficking Doc I Am Jane Doe Doesn't Understand the Laws She's Trying to Reform

Thu, 26 Jan 2017 13:30:00 -0500

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/gYdoDBt3DQs" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> I had the opportunity to go on Al Jazeera English show The Stream Tuesday to discuss online sex-trafficking, U.S. laws, and—especially—the website Backpage, whose executives were subject to a Congressional inquiry earlier this month. My fellow guests on the live, interactive show—hosted by Femi Oke and Malika Bilal—were three women with very personal and political connections to sex trafficking, all advocating for changes to federal law that would allow web publishers and platforms to be held liable for content that users post. This, they submitted, would help protect children and teens from being sexually exploited by giving government the tools to go after Backpage—and, if need be, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and hundreds of other websites next. My fellow guests were Brooke Axtell, Mary Mazzio, and Kubiiki Pride. Pride is identified by The Stream as the "mother of 'M.A.', sex trafficking survivor," and Axtell as a sex-trafficking survivor and founder of Survivor Healing. Axtell is also the communications director for Austin, Texas-based Allies Against Slavery, and Pride, whose daughter is now in her early 20s, has been championing various legislative causes in her family's name for a few years, most recently before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations inquiry into Backpage. Mazzio is an Academy Award winning documentary filmmaker who most recently directed I am Jane Doe. Narrated by Jessica Chastain, I am Jane Doe has been getting attention from places like the New Yorker, the Daily Mail, and the McCain Institute. The underlying premise of the film, out in February, is that Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act—the statute more or less responsible for keeping the social, user-driven, free-press-oriented internet as we know it afloat—is an outdated protection that "provides a safe haven for website publishers to advertise underage girls for sex." At the beginning of the program, I assured the other guests that our fundamental goals were aligned—I, too, want to help prevent and stop sexual exploitation and violence, even though we disagree about the best way to do so. I wasn't there to advocate for the company Backpage or talk about the First Amendment in some abstract way, I said, but rather to argue against policies that will cause even more harms to children, women, and people of all genders involved, voluntarily or not, in prostitution. All constitutional issues aside, being sympathetic to the suffering of those sexually exploited can't mean settling for symbolic victories while ignoring how our policies will materially affect the lives of those we're purporting to help. Alas, it wasn't just potential solutions I found myself arguing with the other guests about. On several occassions, I was met with accusations of lying simply for stating plain facts about U.S. law. I was also met with skepticism when bringing up information that comes directly from the U.S. Senate's recent investigation into Backpage. So what follows is an attempt to set the record straight about a few of these things. Yes, the U.S. Has a Law Against Advertising Minors for Sex: Mazzio kept lamenting that it was legal in America to advertise kids for sex. I objected, noting that not only is sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion illegal under federal law, it's also considered sex trafficking to promote the prostitution of a minor in any way, even absent force or threats or personal profit, and regardless of whether the victim's age is known. In addition, anyone soliciting paid sex from someone under age 18 can be charged as a child sex trafficker under federal law. And the same statute explicitly says tha[...]



Lavabit, Snowden’s Favorite Encrypted Email Service, Returns from the Dead

Tue, 24 Jan 2017 17:20:00 -0500

(image) Email service provider Lavabit famously (in tech security circles anyway) shut its doors and turned itself off back in 2013. Its owner, Ladar Levison, explained that he was doing so to keep from having to comply with federal government orders to hand over the encryption key that would give the feds access to the contents of emails by domestic surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Now, as a new administration takes control of the White House, Levison and Lavabit are returning. Lavabit is relaunching its services, now that Levison has worked to make it even harder for the federal government to attempt to gain access to emails sent by its users. On his announcement, timed to launch with Donald Trump's inauguration, Levison explained that he had developed an end-to-end encryption system that would minimize the ability to for outsiders to access users info, once it's all fully implemented.

Kim Zetter over at The Intercept has more details directly from Lavabit:

With the new architecture, Lavabit will no longer be able to hand over its SSL key, because the key is now stored in a hardware security module — a tamper-resistant device that provides a secure enclave for storing keys and performing sensitive functions, like encryption and decryption. Lavabit generates a long passphrase blindly so the company doesn't know what it is; Lavabit then inserts the key into the device and destroys the passphrase.

"Once it's in there we cannot pull that SSL key back out," says Sean, a Lavabit developer who asked to be identified only by his first name. (Many of Lavabit's coders and engineers are volunteers who work for employers who might not like them helping build a system that thwarts government surveillance.)

If anyone does try to extract the key, it will trigger a mechanism that causes the key to self-destruct.

The hardware security module is a temporary solution, however, until end-to-end encryption is available, which will encrypt email on the user's device and make the SSL encryption less critical.

The site is for Lavabit is active, and for those who want to subscribe, the price currently ranges from $15 to $30 annually depending on storage limits. And they accept bitcoins!

Reason TV has previously interviewed Levison about the importance of encryption in protecting liberty and privacy (and warnings about those who simply use vague encryption and security claims for marketing purposes). Watch below:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/OhiTL4W5VMg" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">




Brickbat: State Secrets

Thu, 19 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Federal prosecutors have asked a judge to order an Oregon man to take down blog posts he made that contain information about informants the feds had in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge when part of it was occupied by a group led by Ammon Bundy. They say Gary Hunt is illegally in possession of sensitive documents that could threaten investigations.




Brickbat: Weak Links

Mon, 16 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) The Russian government has ordered Apple and Google to remove Linkedin from app stores for Android and iPhones. The move came after a Russian court banned Linkedin for violating a law that says any data on Russian citizens must be be stored in Russia.




Backpage Backed Into Corner Over Adult Ads. Is Government's Goal a Goodbye to Sex Trafficking, or Free Speech?

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 07:15:00 -0500

"After consultation with counsel, I decline to answer your question based on the rights provided by the 5th and 1st Amendments." Again and again, these words rang out through the crowded Congressional inquiry into "Backpage.com's Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking" Tuesday. A function of the U.S. Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations—literal heir to the Joseph McCarthy-era espionage and subversion investigations—the hearing was ostensibly organized to shed light on the business practices of online classified-ad forum Backpage. Led by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), the bipartisan effort represented the culmination of a 20-month long investigation and accompanied a lengthy report on the findings. The point of the hearing, said McCaskill, was "understanding how criminals systematically use online platforms to transform normal American teenagers into sex slaves." But if so, it was as much a look at the laws governing online publishing, user-generated content, and sex work in America. And those in the hot seat—Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer, Chief Operations Officer Andrew Padilla, General Counsel Elizabeth McDougall, and former owners Michael Lacey and James Larkin—refused to answer any of the subcommittee's questions with more than a nod to the 5th Amendment. Launched around 10 a.m., the portion of the hearing featuring Backpage leadership was concluded, with nothing conceded, in under an hour. As the Backpage witnesses filed out, a swarm of reporters followed, trailing a silent Ferrer and his handlers until the third-floor door of Dirksen Building elevator closed in front of them. Lacey hung back, but mostly to say that he had said all he would say for now. "I guess you don't know what will happen next?" I asked him. "Right now," he said, "a drink." Backpage Background Portman and McCaskill's inquiry into Backpage began in 2015. After the site's execs refused to appear for questioning or turn over private business documents, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations filed a civil contempt action against them—the first authorized by the Senate in more than 20 years—and was rewarded with a federal court order compelling Backpage to turn over subpoenaed documents. The resulting report on these documents "conclusively shows that Backpage has been more deeply complicit in online sex trafficking than anyone imagined," Portman said Tuesday. In both the report and live testimony, the subcommittee moved seamlessly between allegations that Backpage intentionally profited from the prostitution of children and statements from Backpage representatives with regard to prostitution more broadly, leaving the unmistakable impression that Backpage leadership admitted—at least internally—to the horrible things alleged by the government. But the inquiry actually ascertained no such thing. The most significant policies the inquiry uncovered were a) moderators employed by Backpage would sometimes edit user-generated ads to remove direct references to sex for money before allowing them to post and b) between 2010 and 2012, the site employed an automatic filter to remove some blacklisted words from ads before they were posted. Subcommittee summaries of these editing and filtering processes suggest that Backpage moderators deliberately stripped words like "teen," "young," "daddy's girl," and "barely legal," from ads before allowing them to post, and this indicates that they knew about and encouraged underage ad-posting. But, of course, none of these words necessarily signals anything nefarious. Eighteen- and 19-year-olds are both "barely legal" and "teens," yet still legally adults. "Young" is a term someo[...]