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Published: Thu, 22 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Thu, 22 Jun 2017 13:49:38 -0400

 



Princeton-Trained Computer Scientists Are Building a New Internet That Brings Privacy and Property Rights to Cyberspace

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 13:13:00 -0400

Muneeb Ali and Ryan Shea are the co-founders of Blockstack, an project to rebuild the internet using blockchain technology so that individuals can reclaim direct control over their own identities, contacts, and data. The goal is to bring the property rights we enjoy in the physical world to cyberspace. These two Princeton-trained computer scientists—Ali completed his Ph.D. last month with a speciality in distributed systems—believe that today's internet is fundamentally broken. Users are forced to trust companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook to maintain our online identities and personal information. They store our files in giant data centers that are increasingly vulnerable to hackers. And the Snowden leaks revealed that the National Security Agency has strong armed these tech giants into handing over users' personal data without bothering to obtain court-issued warrants. "Google has this saying, 'don't be evil,'" says Ali. "Maybe a company shouldn't be powerful enough that they're sitting there thinking, 'should I be evil or not?'" So how does Blockstack propose to alter cloud computing, which has bought enormous efficiencies to the tech sector? Ali and Shea say they've worked out a way to break up internet data centers into virtual storage lockers that are fully encrypted, so individual users are the only ones who hold the keys to their own data. "If you're a Dropbox engineer, you can go through my files today," says Ali. "But if I use Dropbox through Blockstack, they have no visibility into the data at all." This new decentralized architecture is possible thanks to the invention of a new type of distributed database called a "blockchain," which was introduced to the world in 2008 as a component of the peer-to-peer digital currency bitcoin. The blockchain was designed as a decentralized system for keeping track of who owns what bitcoin, but in the last nine years an entire industry has emerged that all about integrating the blockchain into everything from real estate markets to driverless car technology. Shea describes the blockchain as a virtual "whitepages the community maintains together," which "anyone can add to" but "nobody controls"—a record that doesn't require a central entity to guarantee its veracity. This shared white pages lists the location of each users' encrypted data lockers. Essential online functions that can be moved to the blockchain include registering unique identities and keeping track of each users' personal contacts. On this new internet, applications like Facebook and Twitter will still exist, but they'll have far less power and responsibility. "At Blockstack, we're enabling small, open-source groups to grow and compete with the large players," says Shea. What will the Blockstack internet mean for Silicon Valley? Shea predicts a new wave of tech firms will emerge. "I believe this will create a much larger economy and a lot more prosperity for everyone." --- Written, shot, produced, and edited by Jim Epstein. Hosted by Nick Gillespie. Additional camera by Kevin Alexander. Common Consensus by The Franks, Creative Commons Attribution license. Mario Bava Sleeps In a Little Later Than He Expected To by Chris Zabriskie, Creative Commons Attribution license. Talvihorros by the Blue Cathedral, Creative Commons Attribution license. What True Self, Feels Bogus, Let's Watch Jason X by Chris Zabriskie, Creative Commons Attribution license. Canon in D Major by Kevin MacLeod, Creative Commons Attribution license. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.[...]



SCOTUS Unanimously Rejects Law Banning Sex Offenders From Social Media

Mon, 19 Jun 2017 12:00:00 -0400

Today the Supreme Court unanimously overturned a North Carolina law that bans registered sex offenders from any "commercial social networking Web site" that is open to minors. With the exception of Neil Gorsuch, who did not participate in the case because he was not on the Court when it was argued, every justice agreed that the law's broad scope cannot be reconciled with the First Amendment. The case was brought by Lester Packingham, who at the age of 21 had sex with a 13-year-old girl and was convicted of taking indecent liberties with a minor. Eight years later, Packingham beat a traffic ticket and expressed his pleasure on Facebook: "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!" That burst of online exultation violated North Carolina's ban on social media use, which covers all registered sex offenders, regardless of whether their crimes involved minors or the internet. Packingham argued that his conviction violated the First Amendment, and a state appeals court agreed. The North Carolina Supreme Court did not. Siding with Packingham today, the U.S. Supreme Court concludes that the law "burden[s] substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government's legitimate interests." Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy emphasizes the internet's vital importance to freedom of speech. "This case is one of the first this Court has taken to address the relationship between the First Amendment and the modern Internet," he says. "As a result, the Court must exercise extreme caution before suggesting that the First Amendment provides scant protection for access to vast networks in that medium." Kennedy says North Carolina's law "enacts a prohibition unprecedented in the scope of First Amendment speech it burdens," applying indiscriminately to many kinds of online activity, even when it has nothing to do with contacting minors. "By prohibiting sex offenders from using those websites, North Carolina with one broad stroke bars access to what for many are the principal sources for knowing current events, checking ads for employment, speaking and listening in the modern public square, and otherwise exploring the vast realms of human thought and knowledge," he writes. "These websites can provide perhaps the most powerful mechanisms available to a private citizen to make his or her voice heard....To foreclose access to social media altogether is to prevent the user from engaging in the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights." In a concurring opinion joined by John Roberts and Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito notes that the law's broad definition of "commercial social networking Web site" covers not only widely used social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter but also shopping sites such as Amazon and news sites such as The Washington Post. Alito says the law's "staggering reach...makes it a felony for a registered sex offender simply to visit a vast array of websites, including many that appear to provide no realistic opportunity for communications that could facilitate the abuse of children." The Court's decision in Packingham v. North Carolina not only vindicates the First Amendment but provides a welcome dose of skepticism about sweeping, indiscriminate laws that are supposedly justified by the need to protect children from sexual predators. In this case, as in many others, the law went far beyond that goal, criminalizing a wide range of innocent actions by people classified as sex offenders, most of whom pose no real threat to children.[...]



Theresa May’s Call for Internet Censorship Isn't Limited to Fighting Terrorism

Mon, 05 Jun 2017 15:25:00 -0400

You'd think Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg himself was the driver of the van that plowed into pedestrians on London Bridge Saturday, the way U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May is talking about the attack. He isn't, but everybody across the world, not just in the United Kingdom, needs to pay close attention to how May wants to respond to the assault. May believes the problem is you and your silly insistence that you be permitted to speak your mind and to look at whatever you want on the internet. And she means to stop you. And her attitude toward government control of internet speech is shared by President Donald Trump (and Hillary Clinton), so what she's trying to sell isn't isolated to her own citizenry. In a speech in the wake of this weekend's attack, May called flat-out for government authority to censor and control what people can see and access on the internet: We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed—yet that is precisely what the internet, and the big companies that provide internet-based services provide. We need to work with allied democratic governments to reach international agreements to regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremist and terrorism planning. Note that May appears to be trying to narrowly pitch a regulatory regime that focuses entirely on censoring speech by terrorists. One might argue that even America's First Amendment would not protect such speech, since such communications involve planning violence against others. But May and the Tories really want to propose much broader censorship of the internet, and they know it. May is using fear of terrorism to sell government control over private online speech. The Tories' manifesto for the upcoming election makes it pretty clear they're looking to control communication on the internet in ways that have absolutely nothing to do with fighting terrorism. BuzzFeed took note: The proposals—dotted around the manifesto document—are varied. There are many measures designed to make it easier to do business online but it's a different, more social conservative approach when it comes to social networks. Legislation would be introduced to protect the public from abuse and offensive material online, while everyone would have the right to wipe material that was posted when they were under 18. Internet companies would also be asked to help promote counter-extremism narratives—potentially echoing the government's Prevent programme. There would be new rules requiring companies to make it ever harder for people to access pornography and violent images, with all content creators forced to justify their policies to the government. The manifesto doesn't seem to acknowledge a difference between speech and activity, Buzzfeed adds: "It should be as unacceptable to bully online as it is in the playground, as difficult to groom a young child on the internet as it is in a community, as hard for children to access violent and degrading pornography online as it is in the high street, and as difficult to commit a crime digitally as it is physically." New laws will be introduced to implement these rules, forcing internet companies such as Facebook to abide by the rulings of a regulator or face sanctions: "We will introduce a sanctions regime to ensure compliance, giving regulators the ability to fine or prosecute those companies that fail in their legal duties, and to order the removal of content where it clearly breaches UK law." The United Kingdom already has some very heavy content-based censorship of pornography that presumes to police what sorts of sexual fantasies are acceptable among its populace. Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown has written repeatedly about the British government's nannying tendencies in trying suppress pornography. In a manner similar to this censorship push, May and the British government sold the Investigatory Powers Act—also known as the Snooper's Charter—to the public as a mechanism to fight terrorism. But the massive legislation, now in place as law,[...]



Everyone Should Be Getting Wikipedia for Free

Sun, 04 Jun 2017 07:00:00 -0400

Internet providers should be able to experiment with giving subscribers free stuff, such as access to Wikipedia and other public information and services on their smartphones. Unfortunately, confusion about whether today's net neutrality regulations allow U.S. providers to make content available without it counting against your data plan—a practice called "zero-rating"—has discouraged many companies from doing so, even though zero-rating experiments are presumptively legal under today's net neutrality regulations. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has already taken steps to clear away the discouragement of such experiments. After Ajit Pai took over as FCC chairman in January, he moved to end the investigations, begun under his predecessor, into companies that have tried to go down that path. And of course Chairman Pai also opened a rulemaking proceeding in April aimed at rolling back those rules, which invited and allowed the FCC's Wireline Bureau to start those investigations. But these steps alone haven't sent the kind of staunch, affirmative encouragement that's really needed. The lack of clarity about zero-rating could change overnight, however, and it wouldn't require any new laws, any new regulations, any new quasi-formal inquiries from the commissioners—or even Pai's proposed rollback of the 2015 regulatory order. All it would take would be for Pai to call openly (in speeches or interviews, say, or other public appearances) and frequently for internet providers to experiment with adding zero-rated public information to their offerings. Zero-rating experiments can be a win-win-win: Customers get access to more useful content for the same price; companies have more options for attracting users and expanding their business; and society at large benefits when greater numbers of people are exposed to valuable resources such as Wikipedia, public-health information, and other non-commercial apps and websites. But the big fear among some net neutrality activists is that commercial zero-rating will favor well-heeled incumbents over lean new innovators. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) put it in 2016, "The most dangerous of these plans, such as the AT&T and Verizon offerings, only offer their users zero-rated data from content providers who pay the carriers money to do so. Such 'pay for play' arrangements favor big content providers who can afford to pay for access to users' eyeballs, and marginalize those who can't, such as nonprofits, startups, and fellow users." Even non-commercial zero-rated offerings may a problem, EFF argued. These include the risk of "distorting" content consumption in favor of already-popular non-subscription services (think Google's search engine or Facebook) or the "walled garden effect"—i.e., that some price-sensitive customers may choose never to venture outside of the zero-rated services sponsored by the internet provider. But what evidence we do have suggests that zero rating enables net new traffic, because people visit destinations that they would not otherwise. Roslyn Layton of Aalborg University has shown that at least 10 million people in developing countries use free data to access pregnancy and AIDS information. The fact is, information sources like Wikipedia regularly drive traffic to the larger internet. A zero-rated, stripped-down, low-bandwidth version of the free online encyclopedia, called Wikipedia Zero, is already offered in dozens of developing countries around the world, which actually makes it easier to find relevant information and services on the non-zero-rated web. For instance, the Wikipedia entry for "Wikipedia Zero" includes links pointing users to both nonprofit sites and for-profit, advertising-supported sites—including many sources that are themselves critical of the Wikipedia Zero platform for being "inconsistent" with certain conceptions of network neutrality. As I've written here before, I favor both net neutrality as a general principle, understood as [...]



House Overwhelmingly Supports Bill Subjecting Teen Sexters to 15 Years in Federal Prison

Wed, 31 May 2017 11:08:00 -0400

Teens who text each other explicit images could be subject to 15 years in federal prison under a new bill that just passed the House of Representatives. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, has called the measure "deadly and counterproductive." "While the bill is well intended, it is overbroad in scope and will punish the very people it indicates it is designed to protect: our children," Lee said during a House floor debate over the bill. The bill would also raise "new constitutional concerns" and "exacerbate overwhelming concerns with the unfair and unjust mandatory minimum sentencing that contributes to the overcriminalization of juveniles and mass incarceration generally." Introduced by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) in March, the "Protecting Against Child Exploitation Act of 2017" passed the House by an overwhelming majority last week. Only two Republicans—Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan and Thomas Massie of Kentucky—voted against the bill, along with 53 Democrats. "The bill prohibits some conduct that the Constitution does not allow Congress to regulate, and Rep. Amash opposes the expansion of mandatory minimums and crimes that are already prosecuted at the state level," a spokesperson from Amash's office explained of his opposition. Most of the opposition centered on the bill's effective expansion of mandatory-minimum prison sentences. One vocal critic was Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia), who called the legislation "particularly appalling" because it would "apply to people who I think we should all agree should not be subject" to long mandatory minimums. "Under this law, teenagers who engage in consensual conduct and send photos of a sexual nature to their friends or even to each other may be prosecuted and the judge must sentence them to at least 15 years in prison," said Scott on the House floor. What's more, "the law explicitly states that the mandatory minimums will apply equally to an attempt or a conspiracy," Scott noted: That means if a teenager attempts to obtain a photo of sexually explicit conduct by requesting it from his teenage girlfriend, the judge must sentence that teenager to prison for at least 15 years for making such an attempt. If a teenager goads a friend to ask a teenager to take a sexually explicit image of herself, just by asking, he could be guilty of conspiracy or attempt, and the judge must sentence that teenager to at least 15 years in prison. But Johnson, a freshman congressman (and vocal Trump supporter), dismissed opponents' concern that the measure would be used in ways he didn't intend it to be used. "In Scripture, Romans 13 refers to the governing authorities as 'God's servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer,'" he said in response to their floor concerns. "I, for one, believe we have a moral obligation, as any just government should, to defend the defenseless." Johnson has repeatedly claimed that his bill will close "loopholes" that allow child pornographers to go free. But in the only "loophole" case he has pinpointed, it's overreaching federal prosecutors who bungled bringing a bad guy to justice, not some fundamental flaw in our criminal code. In that case, 19-year-old Anthony Palomino-Coronado was accused of molesting his 7-year-old neighbor repeatedly over the course of several months. In investigating the case, police discovered one photo of the abuse that had been taken and subsequently deleted from Palomino-Coronado's phone. Combined with the victim's testimony, the photo should have guaranteed state police little trouble in trying to prosecute Palomino-Coronado for sexual abuse of a child. But federal prosecutors preempted such a prosecution by deciding to instead try Palomino-Coronado in federal court for producing child pornography. It was a bad call—the case "could have been brought in state court and the defendant would have been subjected to extremely long, lengthy prison [...]



Are You Ready for the "Intimacy Economy"?

Fri, 26 May 2017 10:00:00 -0400

We've all heard of the "sharing economy" and the "gig economy," app-driven services such as Uber and Airbnb that have radically altered transportation, travel, and an infinite number of other business sectors. But are you ready for the "intimacy economy"? That's economist and media-studies professor Glenn Platt's term for the ways in which the internet and connectivity are shrinking the distance between performer and audience, producer and consumer, and celebrity and fan. "When I talk about the intimacy economy, I'm talking about this growing category of successful business models that are built on one-to-one relationships and experiences that are personal, authentic, and unscripted," explains Platt, the founder and director of the Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies (AIMS) at Miami University of Ohio. He points to an example involving Craig Finn, best-known as the frontman for the indie rock band The Hold Steady. As a way to raise money for his latest album and tour, Finn set up a crowd-funded pledge drive through which fans could sign up to download the album or have it shipped early. The really interesting thing, though, were the higher-level offerings for funders, says Platt. These included paying a couple of hundred dollars to go record shopping with him in New York. "Here you are, a music fan," he says, "and [Finn] is willing to go record-shopping with you. You're getting to do the equivalent of going to church with one of your rock-and-roll heroes....It's different than saying, If you pay extra, you're going to get an autographed picture." In a wide-ranging conversation about technology and disruption, Platt tells Reason's Nick Gillespie how the intimacy economy will revolutionize not only business but also political and cultural practices. In a world where mass personalization and individualization is the new normal, the intimacy economy provides a bold new way of thinking about the future of interactive media. Produced by Ian Keyser. Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/324529279%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-QZ6Aa&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> Don't miss a single Reason podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: Hi, this is Nick Gillespie and this is the Reason podcast. Please Subscribe to us at iTunes and rate and review us while you're there. Today we're talking with Glenn Platt. He's the C. Michael Armstrong professor of interactive media studies and the founding director of the Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies at Miami University. Glenn thanks for joining us. Glenn Platt: Hey Nick. Nick Gillespie: Let's talk about this concept of the intimacy economy that you've talked about. I've actually used it in a couple of articles that I've written at Reason and elsewhere. What do you mean when you talk about the intimacy economy and why is it so important? Glenn Platt: Sure, when I talk about the intimacy economy what I'm talking about is this is a growing category of successful business models that are built on one to one relationships and experiences, that are personal. authentic and unscripted. And so we're starting to see more and more of the non stylized relationships and I say "brands" here because I come from a business perspective. But, really, when I say "brands" we're talking about celebrities, we're talking about if any ... I don't know, institution of the third kind that normally interacts with people in a one to many fashion. Nick Gillespie: Right, or in a bureaucratic way. So, let's put a little flesh on this definition of an i[...]



How Deregulation Gave Us FM Radio, HBO, and the iPhone

Mon, 22 May 2017 14:14:00 -0400

"We've gone to a modern [broadcast] system that has a lot of places where stuff can happen without permission," says Thomas W. Hazlett, who's the FCC's former chief economist, a professor at Clemson University, and author of the new book The Political Spectrum: The Tumultuous Liberation of Wireless Technology, from Herbert Hoover to the Smartphone. "And we have seen that the smartphone revolution and some other great stuff in the wireless space has really burgeoned...That comes from deregulation." So-called net neutrality rules are designed to solve a non-existent problem and threaten to restrict consumer choice, Hazlett tells Reason's Nick Gillespie. "The travesty is there's already a regulatory scheme [to address anti-competitive behavior]—it's called antitrust law." Greater autonomy and consumer freedom led to the development of cable television, the smartphone revolution, and the modern internet. While we've come a long way from the old days of mother-may-I pleading with the FCC to grant licenses for new technology, Hazlett says, "there's a lot farther to go and there's a lot of stuff out there that's being suppressed." He points to the history of radio and television. Herbert Hoover and Lyndon Johnson exercised extraordinary control over spectrum allocation, which they used for their own political and financial gain. With liberalization, we now have hundreds of hours of varied television programming as compared to the big three broadcast networks of the '60s, an abundance of choices in smartphone providers and networks as compared to the Ma Bell monopoly, and more to come. Hazlett also discusses his views on current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, how the FCC delayed the arrival of cable television to protect incumbent broadcasters, and "the most infamous statement ever made by an FCC regulator" in a 1981 Q&A with Reason magazine. Interview by Nick Gillespie. Edited by Justin Monticello. Cameras by Todd Krainin and Mark McDaniel. Music by RW Smith. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: HI. I'm Nick Gillespie for Reason. Today, we're talking with Thomas Winslow Hazlett, an economics professor at Clemson, a long-time Reason contributor, former chief economist at the Federal Communications Commission, and author most recently of the epic new book, The Political Spectrum: The Tumultuous Liberation of Wireless Technology, from Herbert Hoover to the Smartphone. Tom, thanks for talking to us. Thomas Hazlett: Thanks for having me, Nick. Nick Gillespie: Your book is a masterful counterblast, I think, to the intellectual status quo when it comes to broadcasting, cable, Internet, especially related to things like spectrum auctions and net neutrality and whatnot. Your large argument is that government inhibits innovation rather than encourages it. Is that accurate? Thomas Hazlett: Yeah, that's the starting point, but I certainly go farther, a lot farther in this book, because there has been significant liberalization, and we learn a lot from the directions we've gone. We see the suppression through administrative allocations of spectrum, which just means that we have this Mother-may-I system where the government's in charge of who does what in wireless and has to give explicit permission. We've gone from a system like that to a modern system that has a lot of places where stuff can happen without permission. Nick Gillespie: Right. Thomas Hazlett: We have seen that what we call perhaps the smartphone revolution and some other great stuff in the wireless space has really burgeoned. We have these emerging networks and these ecosystems. That comes from deregulation. Nick Gillespie: Is it deregulation or is it government ... I guess and different examples, and we'll talk about those, but sometimes it's explicit der[...]



Government Is the Cause of—Not the Solution to—the Latest Hacking Outbreak

Mon, 15 May 2017 13:20:00 -0400

Privacy and cybersecurity experts and activists have been warning for ages that governments have their priorities all wrong. National security interests (not just in America but other countries as well) comparatively spend much more time and money attempting to breach the security systems of other countries and potential enemies than they do bolstering their own defenses. Reuters determined, with the information from intelligence officials, that the United States spends $9 on cybersurveillance and government hacking for every $1 it sends on defending its network systems. The "WannaCry" Malware attack that spooled out over the end of last week and into the weekend, implicates both sides of this problem. The ransomware, first of all, allegedly originated from vulnerabilities and infiltration tools developed by the National Security Agency (NSA) they had been hoarding and keeping secret from technology companies whose defenses they were breaching. All of this secrecy was to facilitate the NSA's ability to engage in cyberespionage and to prevent technology companies from building defenses that would have inhibited government surveillance. The NSA lost control of these infiltration tools and they were publicly exposed by the hacker group known as the "Shadow Brokers" last month. So this WannaCry attack or something like it (and probably many more) was incoming, and attentive information technology specialists were aware and hopefully prepared. Microsoft had already released a patch to address the vulnerabilities. Except not everybody downloaded it. The non-downloaders included parts of the United Kingdom's National Health Service (NHS), the socialized, taxpayer-funded healthcare system that covers the entire population there. The NHS had been warned that computers using old Microsoft operating systems were vulnerable, but several hundreds of thousands of computers had not been upgraded, according to the BBC. So on the one hand, we have a government agency refusing to disclose cybersecurity vulnerabilities it had discovered in order to take advantage of them, potentially leaving everybody's computers open to attacks. And then, on the other hand, we have a government agency refusing to properly prioritize cybersecurity to protect the data and privacy of its citizens (they blamed it on not having enough money, of course). This poll from Pew from last year shouldn't be a surprise, then. Consumers have less confidence in the federal government to protect their data than cellphone companies, email service providers, and credit card companies: That the government has been terrible on both ends of this problem makes this op-ed response at The New York Times by Zeynep Tufekci all the more confusing: She blames Microsoft and tech companies for apparently wanting to be paid to continue fixing and updating old, outdated operating systems. While she acknowledges that there are costs involved in such behavior, she seems to think that Microsoft should just suck it up and shell out. This is a rather remarkable hot take (and she's most certainly not alone in it): [C]ompanies like Microsoft should discard the idea that they can abandon people using older software. The money they made from these customers hasn't expired; neither has their responsibility to fix defects. Besides, Microsoft is sitting on a cash hoard estimated at more than $100 billion (the result of how little tax modern corporations pay and how profitable it is to sell a dominant operating system under monopolistic dynamics with no liability for defects). Has anybody seen a demand for free goods and services couched in an argument as fundamentally dumb as "The money hasn't expired!" before? Why does The New York Times continue to charge year after year to subscribers? The money readers paid the first time hasn't expired! Note that she also takes aim at those evil corporations and their m[...]



How Washington Lost the War on Muscle

Sun, 14 May 2017 06:00:00 -0400

When Ned decided to try anabolic steroids for the first time, his goal was to "be bigger and look better." He had friends who used, and they seemed no worse for wear. The college sophomore was already training smart and eating right. "I felt like the pieces were in place to accelerate the process," he says looking back. That left the question of acquisition: He knew he could use the internet to illegally buy drugs from overseas, or he could invest some social capital in befriending a muscle-bound gym regular who might be able to hook him up. Still, he hesitated, until a fellow lifter revealed that he could obtain the same drug—testosterone, the paterfamilias of anabolic steroids—legally. If Ned could convince an M.D. that he had low testosterone, he could walk away with script in hand. Then he would be able to pick up clean, accurately labeled "test" from his local pharmacy in broad daylight, instead of braving the black market. He'd avoid the risks of drugs passed hand-to-hand, which might be under-dosed, mislabeled, or dirty. And buying directly from an Indian or Chinese lab (which probably supplied the American gym vendor anyway) poses all those risks plus the additional possibility of criminal charges—including prison time—if U.S. Customs intercepts your package and conducts a "controlled delivery." "I'd estimate the majority of controlled deliveries I've seen have involved quantities that are consistent with personal use," criminal defense attorney Rick Collins writes in Legal Muscle, his 2002 doorstopper on U.S. anabolic steroid laws. "A band of government agents will lie in wait until you make the horrific mistake of accepting your mail. Then, like a plague of locusts, they'll descend upon the sanctity of your home, ransacking it from roof to basement." User surveys say that more than half of men who buy drugs for physique and performance enhancement do so on the internet black market, despite the fact that buying steroids without a prescription is a crime in every state and a federal offense. Yet those same surveys also suggest that the number of recreational steroid users who acquire their drugs legally may have tripled in the last 10 years. What, exactly, are these people chasing? Some men want to look in the mirror and be blown away by their own sheer mass. Other men want to feel as virile and physically capable at 50 as they did at 18. Strength athletes—powerlifters and strongmen, professional and amateur alike—want to amplify their natural abilities. But contrary to popular media, the vast majority of steroid-using men are are not athletes, but regular working stiffs who like how they look and feel on "gear." Ned, who asked me not to share his real name, is one of those people. He's happily married, employed in academia, and as conscientious about his health as he is about his appearance. He represents a growing demographic of people who are using internet message boards, publicly available research data, and licensed doctors to tweak their bodies, take control of their decisions, and build forbidden muscle in a post-prohibition world. EXPERIMENTATION The use of anabolic steroids to build strength and muscle goes back to the middle of the 20th century and a company called Ciba Pharmaceuticals. Ciba conducted much of the early research into testosterone-based drugs, giving its compounds to American doctors and encouraging them to perform informal studies on their patients. The company published these findings in books such as 1948's Refresher Course on Male Hormone Therapy, which contains testosterone case studies for every condition then under the sun, from congenital eunuchoidism to same-sex attraction. (The eunuchs developed facial hair; the gay men thirsted even harder after other dudes.) One of Ciba's doctors was the Maryland physician John Ziegler. According to his personal pa[...]



Plan to Roll Back Internet Regulations a Boon for Business and Innovation

Tue, 02 May 2017 00:30:00 -0400

Libertarians, rejoice—a U.S. regulator took the bold step of deciding that his office simply doesn't have the jurisdiction to control major parts of the internet. Last Wednesday, the free market-friendly Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai unveiled his plan to roll back the FCC's controversial 2015 Open internet Order (OIO), which granted the telecommunication regulator expansive discretionary authority over how internet Service Providers (ISPs) can operate and compete. Pai's plan is a real win for those who believe businesses should not need government permission before innovating. But don't expect the so-called "net neutrality" hardliners to accept this proposal without a major fight. Their reactions last week were predictably apoplectic. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) set the tone on Wednesday, promising a "tsunami of resistance" against Pai's deregulatory move. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) clutched his pearls and warned that rescinding the OIO would "destroy the internet as we know it." A writer at Gizmodo scoffed that Pai's position was one "only the strongest free-market libertarians" could support (is that supposed to be an insult?). The political group Free Press, a dogged OIO supporter, bemoaned that if Pai succeeds, "the internet as we know it will be gone for good." But hysterical critics have a hard time answering exactly how the internet was able to become the engine of innovation that it is today without the expansive FCC controls only granted through the OIO in 2015. Radical Regulation The 2015 Open Interent Order broke from years of established federal policy by reclassifying ISPs as "common carriers" for FCC purposes. In legal terms, the OIO applied Title II of the 1934 Communication Act to ISPs. This meant that web-service providers such as RCN and Time Warner were to be treated less like part of a competitive and cutting-edge industry and more like an arm of the Ma Bell telephone monopoly of Norman Rockwell's America. Specifically, the change would prohibit certain kinds of content-delivery differentiation, placing the FCC in the position of picking winners and losers by being able to determine which service innovations are allowed and which are not. For providers, the imposition of Title II regulations meant uncertainty, new fees and compliance costs, and a major new power center just waiting to be captured by commercial interests. For consumers, it meant less choice, higher prices, and a worrying channel for new government censorship of speech. For libertarians, it was merely more of the same: Yet another government regulator deciding that it should have more power to tell businesses and consumers what they can and cannot do. It is hard to overstate just how radical of a departure the OIO was from the preceding years of light touch regulatory authority over internet activities. For years, U.S. internet policy was guided by a remarkably laissez faire approach encapsulated by the Clinton administration's Framework for Global Electronic Commerce. This extraordinary document instructs the federal government to "encourage industry self-regulation wherever appropriate" and "refrain from imposing new and unnecessary regulations" on commercial internet activities. And if that's not clear enough, Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act states that any "service or system that provides access to the internet" should be "unfettered from Federal or State regulation" like the OIO. Accordingly, America today is home to the world's most successful and competitive technology companies, and consumers have access to a dazzling array of telecommunication services at affordable, competitive prices. (And thanks to Pai's new plan, we can continue to be.) But can you imagine what the internet would now look like if ISPs had been forced to ask the FCC[...]



NSA Ends One Particular Type of Domestic Email Data Collection

Fri, 28 Apr 2017 15:45:00 -0400

Let's hear it for a little bit more communication privacy for Americans! Charlie Savage at The New York Times is reporting via sources that the National Security Agency (NSA) is ending a particular type of intrusive surveillance that scanned the contents of Americans' emails for key words. Specifically, the NSA monitors messages for references of foreign individuals under their surveillance, even when such communications originate here domestically from Americans. This is often referred to in shorthand as "about" searches, meaning they're looking for messages that are "about" people they're watching, not just from or to these people. The NSA argues that this is legal as part of its job to gather intelligence about potential foreign threats. But this happens without warrants and and the implication here is at the very least the scanning of the contents of Americans' communications without evidence of wrongdoing. Furthermore it appears as though NSA employees were not able to confine themselves to collecting just the communications that referenced the foreign target. This technical issue had been raised before in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC): Through this process, the NSA was collecting and potentially getting access to all sorts of communications it wasn't supposed to be looking at, even if one were to accept that the "about" searches were legal. From Savage: The problem stemmed from certain bundled messages that internet companies sometimes packaged together and transmitted as a unit. If even one of them had a foreign target's email address somewhere in it, all were sucked in. After the N.S.A. brought that issue to the court's attention in 2011, a judge ruled that it violated the Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable searches. The agency then proposed putting the bundled messages in a special repository to which analysts, searching through intercepts to write intelligence reports, would generally not have access. The court permitted that type of collection to continue with that restriction. But last year, officials said, the N.S.A. discovered that analysts were querying the bundled messages in a way that did not comply with those rules. The agency brought the matter to the court's attention, resulting in a delay in reauthorizing the broader warrantless surveillance program until the agency proposed ceasing this collection practice. And now it looks like, at least for the time being, they're stopping these searches. This is potentially a significant change because of what's called "backdoor" searches. Once the NSA collects information from this warrantless surveillance, it can be used by other federal agencies to search for information about specific Americans in order to target domestic criminal behavior. And they're allowed to do so even though this private information was collected without warrants. So naturally reducing the amount of communications the NSA is collecting will reduce the potential for backdoor, warrantless searches. It won't eliminate the possibility of these backdoor searches, though, and this decision from the NSA might just be temporary until they figure out a way to resolve the problem of incidental collection of unrelated emails. Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which sets up some of the rules and authorization for this data collection, will sunset this year unless Congress renews it. Privacy and civil rights advocates would like to see reforms to 702 to better protect Americans from unwarranted snooping. This change helps a touch, but there's still going to be a push to try to stop those backdoor searches. More about Section 702 reforms and federal surveillance issues were discussed in a recent South by Southwest panel moderated by yours truly. Listen in on that lively talk he[...]



FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Why He's Rejecting Net Neutrality Rules

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 14:06:00 -0400

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans today to roll back net neutrality rules put in place by the Obama administration in 2015. The FCC currently regulates Internet service providers (ISPs) under Title II regulations that essentially treat the internet as a public utility similar to the old phone monopoly. Proponents of net neutrality and the invocation of Title II regulations say that such oversight is necessary to ensure that the Internet remains "open" and ISPs don't block sites or degrade offerings by rivals. Long a critic of Title II regulations, which were invoked after the FCC lost two court battles to regulate the Internet, Pai describes them as "a panoply of heavy-handed economic regulations that were developed in the Great Depression to handle Ma Bell." Scrapping these rules, Pai told Reason's Nick Gillespie, won't harm consumers or the public interest because there was no reason for them in the first place. The rationales were mere "phantoms that were conjured up by people who wanted the FCC for political reasons to overregulate the internet," Pai told Gillespie. "We were not living in a digital dystopia in the years leading up to 2015." If left in place, however, the Title II rules could harm the commercial internet, which Pai described as "one of the most incredible free market innovations in history." "Companies like Google and Facebook and Netflix became household names precisely because we didn't have the government micromanaging how the internet would operate," said Pai, who noted that the Clinton-era decision not to regulate the Internet like a phone utility or a broadcast network was one of the most important factors in the rise of our new economy. Pai also pushed back against claims that he's a right-wing radical who's "fucking things up." "[I ascribe to] the very radical, right-wing position that the Clinton administration basically got it right when it came to digital infrastructure." During the interview, Pai also shared his views on topics including privacy, Donald Trump, obscenity, universal service, and more. Edited by Mark McDaniel. Cameras by McDaniel and Meredith Bragg. Music by Revolution Void. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: Hi I'm Nick Gillespie with Reason and today we are talking with Ajit Pai. He's the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC, which oversees the licensing of radio and television stations, creates ownership roles for certain types of media companies, polices broadcast radio and television for indecency, and over the past few years has tried to enforce controversial rules that will maintain a free and open internet, sometimes called net neutrality. Ajit, thanks for talking to us. Ajit Pai: Nick, great to be with you again. Nick Gillespie: You are repealing Title II rules, explain what that will do and what you hope to accomplish with that. Ajit Pai: Well, as you pointed out, Title II involves the panoply of heavy-handed economic regulations that were developed in the Great Depression to handle Ma Bell, the telephone monopoly of the 1930s. My previous colleagues imposed those rules on the internet, one of the most dynamic systems we've ever known. Earlier I proposed to my fellow commissioners at the FCC to repeal those Title II regulations. Going forward, my hope is that in a more free market, light touch environment, we can figure out what the right regulatory framework is to preserve those core protections of a free and open internet that have existed prior to 2015 when on a party-line vote, the FCC adopted these net neutrality regulations. Nick Gilles[...]



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 re[...]



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 ca[...]