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Published: Tue, 12 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Tue, 12 Dec 2017 16:42:59 -0500

 



Posting or Hosting Sex Ads Could Mean 25 Years in Federal Prison Under New Republican Proposal

Mon, 11 Dec 2017 15:55:00 -0500

Looking forward to a future when federal agents monitor Tinder? We won't be far off if some folks in Congress get their way. Under a proposal from Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R–Va.), anyone posting or hosting digital content that leads to an act of prostitution could face serious federal prison time as well as civil penalties. This is obviously bad news for sex workers, but it would also leave digital platforms—including dating apps, social media, and classifieds sites such as Craigslist—open to serious legal liability for the things users post. In effect, it would give government agents more incentive and authority to monitor sex-related apps, ads, forums, and sites of all sorts. And it would give digital platforms a huge incentive to track and regulate user speech more closely. Goodlatte's measure was offered as an amendment to another House bill, this one from the Missouri Republican Ann Wagner. The House Judiciary Committee will consider both bills on Tuesday. Wagner's legislation (H.R. 1865) would open digital platforms to criminal and civil liability not just for future sex crimes that result from user posts or interactions but also for past harms brokered by the platforms in some way. So platforms that followed previous federal rules (which encouraged less content moderation in order to avoid liability) would now be especially vulnerable to charges and lawsuits. The bill currently has 171 co-sponsors, including ample numbers of both Republicans and Democrats. Specifically, Wagner's bill would amend Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act, which says that websites and other online platforms should not be treated as the creators of user-posted content. What this means in effect is that these third-party platforms can't be sued or prosecuted for users' and commenters' illegal speech (or illegal actions resulting from speech)—with some major exceptions. Digital platforms do not get a pass for content they actually create "in whole or part," for instance. As it stands, states cannot generally prosecute web services and citizens cannot sue them when user-generated content conflicts with state criminal law. Rep. Wagner's bill—like the similar and more-hyped "Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act" (SESTA)—would end this state and civil immunity for digital platforms in cases of "sex trafficking" or "sexual exploitation of children." But while that may sound like a small concession, it actually opens up a huge range of activity for liability. At the federal level, the above offenses encompass everything from the truly horrific and unconscionable (like sex trafficking by force) to things like sexting between teenagers. And at the state level, definitions can be even more varied and blurry. Wagner's bill doesn't just stop at carving out a new Section 230 exception. It also creates a new crime, "benefitting from participation in a venture engaged in sex trafficking," and makes it easy to hold all sorts of web platforms and publishers in violation. Any "provider of an interactive computer service" who hosts user-posted information "with reckless disregard that the information provided...is in furtherance of [sex trafficking] or an attempt to commit such an offense" could face a fine and up to 20 years in prison, the bill states. And nothing "shall be construed to require the Federal Government in a prosecution, or a plaintiff in a civil action, to prove any intent on the part of the information content provider." So in cases like, say, Hope Zeferjohn, the teen girl convicted of sex trafficking for talking to a younger teen on Facebook about prostitution, Facebook could be facing a federal charge for participating in a sex trafficking venture. Goodlatte's proposal, meanwhile, would work by amending the Mann Act, a century-old prohibition on transporting someone across state lines for prostitution. The new section would declare that "whoever uses or operates a facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce or attempts to do so with the intent to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person shall be[...]



You Don't Lose Your Right to Anonymity Just Because You Lost a Lawsuit

Wed, 06 Dec 2017 16:40:00 -0500

(image) Good news for people who like to write anonymously online: The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has now ruled that losing a lawsuit does not automatically mean you lose your right to anonymity.

The case, Signature Management Team vs. Doe, revolves around Amthrax, a blog that criticizes multi-level marketing schemes. The site's anonymous author posted a training manual that had been copyrighted by Signature Management Team. The trial court concluded that the blogger, referred to in the proceedings as John Doe, was liable for violating the company's intellectual property. But the court rejected the business's request to unmask Doe, ruling instead that it would only order Doe to destroy his copies of the copyrighted material.

Signature Management Team appealed the decision to the Sixth Circuit, which agreed that Doe should not be forced to reveal his identity. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which filed an amicus brief in the case, this is "the first time a federal appellate court has recognized that the First Amendment can protect speakers' ability to remain anonymous even when they have been found liable in a civil lawsuit."

The court did set conditions for when a defendant's identity can be revealed. These standards include, in the EFF's words, "the public's interest in the litigation, the plaintiff's needs to know the defendant's identity to enforce the judgment against them, and the anonymous speakers' ability to show that they engage in substantial protected speech that unmasking will chill."

Anonymous speech has been a cornerstone of American society since the founding—just ask the then-anonymous authors of the Federalist Papers—but it has been an easy target for vilification in the internet era. This decision is a small but welcome step in the right direction.




No, the FCC Isn’t 'Overturning Net Neutrality'

Tue, 05 Dec 2017 09:11:00 -0500

The left is in a veritable state of hysteria as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) moves to vote on Chairman Pai's deregulatory "Restoring Internet Freedom" (RIF) order on Dec. 14. It's gotten so bad that incensed supporters of so-called "net neutrality" have taken to harassing commissioners' children and even threatening to kill a congressman. It's a nasty state of affairs, and it's one unfortunately driven by a lot of false rhetoric and outright fearmongering over how policy is actually changing. Telling people that a policy change will "end the internet as we know it" or "kill the internet" can agitate troubled people into doing crazy things. In truth, the Obama administration-era "Open Internet Order" (OIO) that the FCC is overturning has little to with "net neutrality" at all. In fact, the OIO would still allow internet service providers (ISPs) to block content—to say nothing of the many non-ISP tech companies that can and do openly suppress access to content. Furthermore, repealing the OIO does not mean that the principles of "net neutrality" will not be upheld, nor that ISPs will be "unregulated." Rather, the RIF will rightly transfer oversight of ISPs to other regulatory bodies in an ex post fashion. The OIO allows all kinds of content filtering One of the biggest misconceptions of the OIO saga is that it achieved "net neutrality." It didn't. While proponents like to spin a lot of rhetoric about "treating all traffic equally," the actual implementation of the Obama administration's regulations did nothing of the sort. As my Mercatus Center colleague Brent Skorup has tirelessly pointed out, the OIO did not require all internet actors—ranging from ISPs to content platforms to domain name registrars and everything else—to be content-blind and treat all traffic the same. Rather, it erected an awkward permission-and-control regime within the FCC that only affected a small portion of internet technology companies. Not even ISPs would be truly content-neutral under the OIO. Because of First Amendment concerns, the FCC could not legally prohibit ISPs from engaging in editorial curation. The U.S. Court of Appeals made this very clear in its 2016 decision upholding the OIO. ISPs that explicitly offer "'edited' services" to its customers would be virtually free from OIO obligations. It's a huge loophole, and it massively undercuts any OIO proponent's claims that they are supporting "net neutrality." But importantly, the OIO still allowed the vast majority of internet companies to filter and block away to their heart's content. Indeed, one could argue that content aggregators and search engines, like Facebook and Google, have proven to be much more draconian in their censorship of controversial but legal content than the ISPs over which so many agonize. Consider the recent incident where Twitter decided to block the political speech of a pro-life American politician. Most people are far more worried that social media companies will block their content rather than Comcast or Verizon. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai made this very point last week at an R Street Institute event on the repeal. Major edge service providers like Google, Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter have made their opposition to OIO deregulation loud and clear to their user base. Some have displayed automatic messages on their front pages, urging visitors to take action and encourage others to do the same. Yet at the same time, these services engage in kinds of content blocking that they say broadband providers could possibly do. This hypocrisy is relevant for more than just ideological inconsistency. It's about economic power. By encouraging harsh regulation of ISPs that effectively controls the rates that major tech companies can be charged for bandwidth, these companies are engaging in a kind of regulatory capture. (It should be noted that there is some division within these firms: Google's Eric Schmidt, for instance, famously discouraged the Obama administration from pursuing these regulations in 2014[...]



Online Video Is Better Than Television: Podcast

Sat, 02 Dec 2017 10:15:00 -0500

In the latest episode of the Reason Podcast, Reason TV Editor in Chief Nick Gillespie chats with Managing Editor Meredith Bragg and Deputy Managing Editor Jim Epstein about the 10th anniversary of our video platform, our backgrounds in journalism, what makes our channel unique, its history, and where it's headed in the years to come.

This is Reason's annual webathon week, during which we ask our audience to support our activities with tax-deductible donations. If you like what we do, please consider supporting us. More details here.

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

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Bitcoin Sends Elite Economists Into Glorious Fits of Confusion

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 11:15:00 -0500

If you're looking for another reason to take the plunge and finally buy some bitcoin, check out Nobel Prize-Winning economist Joseph Stigltiz's new interview with Bloomberg, in which he says it should "be outlawed" and warns that the government "could crack down at any moment and then [bitcoin] collapses." Stiglitz is the George Costanza of economists: Every instinct he has, do the opposite. In 2002, he coauthored an infamous paper concluding that "the risk to the government from a potential default on [Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac] debt is effectively zero." And it's almost a decade to the month since he was in Caracas praising Hugo Chavez's economic policies. Speaking of Venezuela, Stiglitz also told Bloomberg that bitcoin "doesn't serve any socially useful function." While it's true that cryptocurrency's world-altering potential won't be fully realized until the technology advances quite a bit, it's already enabling the citizens of that country ravaged by socialism to obtain life-saving food and medicine. Is it that Stiglitz is an advocate of expansive government power in all contexts (he's also urging the U.S. to outlaw cash), or is it that he's too arrogant to bother trying to understand the most successful free-market money system running on the internet? I say both. (Fellow Nobel Laureate Paul The-Internet-Will-Be-About-as-Useful-as-the-Fax-Machine Krugman is also a bitcoin skeptic.) One of the great pleasures of observing bitcoin's rapid rise in price and prominence is that it's sending elite economists into fits of confusion and stoking their insecurity. ("We ought to just go back to what we always have had," Stiglitz told Bloomberg.) What Bitcoin has done for me: Taught me to take lofty titles with a grain of salt (professor, Noble Prize winner, etc). Your title doesn't make you an authority on things you don't bother to understand. https://t.co/PoXTGriqeL — Alan Silbert (@alansilbert) November 29, 2017 In calling for bitcoin to be "outlawed," Stiglitz demonstrated that he doesn't understand that bitcoin is just code, which makes a global ban impossible. Thanks to the recently launched bitcoin satellite service, and a system in development for sending cryptocurrency transactions through radio signals, even shutting down the internet wouldn't stop bitcoin. Stiglitz is also unaware of one of cryptocurrency's most important paradigm shifts: It turned money into speech, thus affording it First Amendment protection. In the most recent episode of Forbes journalist Laura Shin's excellent Unchained podcast (published before Stiglitz' remarks), the prominent venture capitalist Naval Ravikant (arguably the most articulate thinker in the crypto space) expounded on this point: What bitcoin did is it turned code into money. So bitcoin is pure code—there's no paper, there's no guns, there's no federal government. It's just pure code. So to stop bitcoin you've got to stop code, and code is actually just speech. It's just a bunch of numbers and letters that I write down and that the computer interprets. So you have to stop me from writing those numbers or letters down in a certain sequence and conveying them to other people, [and then] to stop them from loading it on a computer somewhere in the world, [and then] to stop someone else from then turning that into money. So you can't control the way money flows unless you can stop the developers from...talking to each other, and thinking. And the regime that could do that would probably be one of the evilest regimes on the planet. Thanks to a landmark 1996 ruling by Judge Marilyn Hall Patel and later affirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court, there's strong legal precedent for the idea that code is speech. Mathematician Daniel Bernstein, with assistance from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, had sued the U.S. government in 1995 for blocking publication of an encryption program he had written. "Computer language is just that, language," Judge Patel wrote in her decision. U[...]



Why Net Neutrality Was Mistaken From the Beginning (AOL Edition)

Sun, 26 Nov 2017 11:05:00 -0500

Current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai memorably told Reason that "net neutrality" rules were "a solution that won't work to a problem that doesn't exist." Yet in 2015, despite a blessed lack of throttling of specific traffic streams, blocking of websites, and other feared behavior by internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile carriers, the FCC issued net neutrality rules that gave the federal government the right to punish business practices under Title II regulations designed for the old state-enabled Bell telephone monopoly. Now that Pai, who became chairman earlier this year, has announced an FCC vote to repeal the Obama-era regulations, he is being pilloried by progressives, liberals, Democrats, and web giants ranging from Google to Netflix to Amazon to Facebook, often in the name of protecting an "open internet" that would let little companies and startups flourish like in the good old days before Google, Netflix, Amazon, and Facebook dominated everything. Even the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which back in 2009 called FCC attempts to claim jurisdiction over the internet a "Trojan Horse" for government control, is squarely against the repeal. Pai is also being targeted by net neutrality activists, who have posted signs naming his children by his house and reportedly ordered pizzas as a nuisance: I have a friend that lives near @AjitPaiFCC. Net neutrality "activists" posted these signs, featuring his children's names, outside his house. Pizzas also reportedly sent to his house every half-hour last night. pic.twitter.com/jWI4gV6Hvc — Brendan Bordelon (@BrendanBordelon) November 25, 2017 Yet the panic over the repeal of net neutrality is misguided for any number of reasons. First and foremost, the repeal simply returns the internet back to pre-2015 rules where there were absolutely no systematic issues related to throttling and blocking of sites (and no, ISPs weren't to blame for Netflix quality issues in 2013). As Pai stressed in an exclusive interview with Reason last week, one major impact of net neutrality regs was a historic decline in investment in internet infrastructure, which would ultimately make things worse for all users. Why bother building out more capacity if there's a strong likelihood that the government will effectively nationalize your pipes? Despite fears, the fact is that in the run-up to government regulation, both the average speed and number of internet connections (especially mobile) continued to climb and the percentage of Americans without "advanced telecommunications capability" dropped from 20 percent to 10 percent between 2012 and 2014, according to the FCC (see table 7 in full report). Nobody likes paying for the internet or for cell service, but the fact is that services have been getting better and options have been growing for most people. Second, as Reason contributor Thomas W. Hazlett, a former chief economist for the FCC, writes in The New York Daily News, even FCC bureaucrats don't know what they're talking about. Hazlett notes that in a recent debate former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who implemented the 2015 net neutrality rules after explicit lobbying by President Obama, said the rise of AOL to dominance during the late 1990s proved the need for the sort of government regulation he imposed. But "AOL's foray only became possible when regulators in the 1980s peeled back 'Title II' mandates, the very regulations that Wheeler's FCC imposed on broadband providers in 2015," writes Hazlett. "AOL's experiment started small and grew huge, discovering progressively better ways to serve consumers. Wheeler's chosen example of innovation demonstrates how dangerous it is to impose one particular platform, freezing business models in place." Deep confusion reigns on this point. In an explainer video posted earlier this year by the Wall Street Journal, net neutrality is analogized to package delivery. The overnight ship[...]



Ajit Pai: ‘We Are Returning to the Original Classification of the Internet’

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 13:55:00 -0500

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chair Ajit Pai announced this morning that he is submitting a proposal to repeal what he characterized as the "heavy-handed, utility-style regulation" of Internet companies adopted by the Obama administration in 2015. Colloquially (if misleadingly) known as "net neutrality" (see Reason's special issue on the topic from 2015) the rules, which included classifying Internet companies as "telecommunications services" under Title II of the 1934 Telecommunications Act instead of as "information services" under Title I, were intended by advocates to be a bulwark against private companies discriminating against disfavored service or content providers. In practice, Pai asserted today in a statement, net neutrality "depressed investment in building and expanding broadband networks and deterred innovation," and amounted to "the federal government...micromanaging the Internet." The measure will be voted on next month. Pai, appointed to the chairmanship by President Donald Trump after serving as a commissioner since 2012, is a longtime opponent of Net Neutrality, memorably describing it in a February 2015 interview with Nick Gillespie as a "solution that won't work to a problem that doesn't exist." The commissioner foreshadowed today's move in an April 2017 interview with Gillespie, arguing that the Title II reclassification amounted to "a panoply of heavy-handed economic regulations that were developed in the Great Depression to handle Ma Bell." Today's move is already being hailed by free-market advocates and slammed by many in the online activist community. Pai came on the latest installment of the Fifth Column podcast to explain and debate the announcement with Kmele Foster and myself. You can listen to the whole conversation here: src="https://www.podbean.com/media/player/am7gb-7caf67?from=site&vjs=1&skin=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0" width="100%" height="315" frameborder="0"> Partial edited transcript, which includes Pai's views on today's free-speech climate and this month's social-media hearings on Capitol Hill, after the jump: Foster: As all of you listeners know, because you're weird stalkers, I have a deep background in telecommunication, so I'm actually happy to be chatting with you today, Ajit. And I think you also are announcing some things, and we should perhaps start with the news that you are making. Pai: Sure, so I'm proposing to my fellow commissioners at the FCC to return to the bipartisan consensus on how to think about the Internet. And so instead of putting the government in control of how it operates and how it's managed, we're going to return to the light-touch framework that was established during the Clinton administration, one that served the Internet economy through the Bush administration and the first six years of the Obama administration. And we'll be voting on this order on December 14th at the FCC's monthly meeting. […] Essentially, we are returning to the original classification of the Internet. So, for many, many years, starting with the commercialization of the Internet in the 1990s all the way until 2015, we thought of Internet access as what's called an "information service." And as boring as the phrase is, it actually had significant import: It meant that the FCC would not micromanage how it developed, how it operated. We would let the market develop, and then take targeted action if necessary to protect consumers. In 2015, that changed, and we switched to calling it a "telecommunication service," essentially treating every Internet Service Provider in the country, from the big ones all the way down to the mom-and-pop fixed wireless providers in Montana, as anti-competitive monopolists to be regulated under 1934 rules that were developed for Ma Bell, the old telephone monopoly. And so we are simply returning that classification back to the information-service one that started under P[...]



Government Protection From Russian Misinformation Would Be 'Cure' Far Worse Than Disease

Sun, 05 Nov 2017 07:00:00 -0500

Is American society so fragile that a few "divisive" ads, news stories, commentaries, and even lies—perhaps emanating from Russia—threaten to plunge it into darkness? The establishment's narrative on "Russian election meddling" would have you believe that. On its face, the alarm over this is so ridiculous that I doubt any of the fearmongers really believe their own words. They're attempting to provoke public hysteria for political, geopolitical, and financial gain. There's no more to it than that. While we the people are not deemed worthy of being shown the evidence that "Russia"—which I take to mean Vladimir Putin—was behind the so-called meddling, even if we grant it just for the sake of argument, what does it amount to? Where's the existential threat to America that justifies the fevered rhetoric and bizarre policy proposals that are the staple of cable news? There is none. All I can say is, if that's the worst the Russians can do, I wouldn't lose any sleep over them. And even if we ignore the fact that the material in question amounted to drops in the vast ocean of information Americans encounter every day, the establishment's narrative and proposals are outrageous. Let's state the obvious: we live in an increasingly borderless world—and that's a good thing (no matter what the demagogue and ignoramus Donald Trump says). Information—and, yes, misinformation—flows more easily and cheaply than ever, making access nearly universal. It can't be controlled. That's a good thing. It does not justify panic. To grow up is to cultivate methods of separating the wheat from the chaff in what we see and hear. Early on we learn to discount—if not disbelieve—the claims we hear in television commercials because we understand the role interest plays in describing goods and services. We also learn (one hopes) to treat the claims of politicians, the traditional targets of American ridicule, the same way. There is no substitute for this sort of skepticism; it's is a sign of maturity. A government effort to protect us from misinformation in the name of preserving "our democratic institutions" would be a contradiction, not to mention a "cure" far worse than the alleged disease. The best protection against one-sided, erroneous, even dishonest assertions is competition, the universal solvent. Most people understand this but in too narrow a way. In every election season we are deluged with questionable, false, and even crazy claims. This didn't start with the internet. It's as old as politics. In fact, most campaigns today are more civil than in the past, when candidates' alleged extramarital affairs and illegitimate children were fair game. We have all heard of—or looked at—fringe websites that traffic in political stories even the National Enquirer might reject. But a call to shut down those sites would be rejected by most people—unless the sites were suspected of being Russian. Why should that make a difference? If a story is true, who cares who tells it? And if it is exaggerated or false, can't the people be trusted to exercise the same skepticism they are expected to exercise when the source is American? If not, why does anyone praise democracy? Isn't it odd for proud small-d democrats to lack that confidence in the people? Knowing the identity of the source doesn't indicate if a story is true. (The New York Times said—falsely—that Iraq had WMD and that all 17 intelligence agencies verified that Russia hacked the DNC.) Virtually all the material supposedly posted by Russians was authentic. (Much of it was redundant. Which bright Russian schemer thought it worthwhile to tell the people of Ferguson, Missouri, about police and racial issues there?) Were voters better or worse off because that material was made available? Was the American political system imperiled by RT's coverage of third-party candidates or fracking? Fans [...]



How Denmark Has Overtaken the U.S. as a Telecom Policy Leader

Tue, 24 Oct 2017 08:30:00 -0400

In the 1990s, the world looked to the United States as a model for deregulatory telecom and tech policy. Not only was the country fortunate enough to house Silicon Valley's pressure cooker of internet innovation, but its policy makers seemed to deeply understand the need for a culture and regulatory approach that truly embraced experimentation and permissiveness. Regulators around the world took notice and strove to emulate the success of the U.S. approach. Denmark in particular styled its own telecommunications regulations on the U.S. model, slashing its chief telecom regulator altogether and assigning small regulatory functions to other departments. It was a smash success. Today, the Danes enjoy some of the highest quality broadband and mobile penetration in the world at affordable prices with little government intervention, explains a recent Mercatus research paper by telecom scholars Roslyn Layton and Joseph Kane. By eliminating a source of regulatory capture and streamlining regulatory obligations, regulators could dedicate resources to working on actual problems, like creating a lean, digital bureaucracy appropriate for the information revolution. Ironically, a decade later, the U.S. has since slid back into a precautionary mindset towards technology policy. Today, it seems that the Danish student has surpassed the American teacher, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) may well be turning to the Danish model to recapture some of our earlier progress. This was the takeaway of a recent event hosted by the Mercatus Center on the topic of Danish telecom deregulation as a model for U.S. policy. The discussion—emceed by yours truly—presented two panels on the respective topics of Denmark as a case study and the concrete lessons that the U.S. can extract from the Danish experience. Such great promise On the first panel, my Mercatus Center colleague Brent Skorup facilitated a dialogue with Layton, former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, and Phoenix Center president and telecom scholar Lawrence Spiwak on the Danish telecom miracle. Deregulation not only spurred a veritable renaissance of broadband investment and deployment, it also cut down on cronyism by eliminating a major target of corporate lobbying. Layton's policy recommendations were clear: "The job of a telecommunications regulator is to put itself out of business." At one point, the U.S. was moving close to that ideal. President Bill Clinton's extraordinary "Framework for Global Electronic Commerce" of 1997 outlined a hands-off posture toward Internet technologies that could have been drafted by Milton Friedman himself. Good riddance to the heavy-handed, precautionary regulation of the past. In its place would be a "market-driven arena" in which government involvement would be limited to ensuring "industry self-regulation and private sector leadership." The FCC started to turn over a new leaf as well. Unlike the booming new native internet industry, the underlying telecom infrastructure that made such developments possible were theretofore unfortunately burdened by antiquated telephone regulations established in the wake of the Great Depression. That government-first mindset changed with the ascendancy of Chairman William Kennard to the FCC in 1997. Kennard fully understood the potential of the internet to revolutionize commerce and daily life. More importantly, he was acutely aware of the potential for bad policy to stifle the amazing opportunities that digital technologies presented. In his view, the best way to promote fast, expansive, affordable telecom access was to "resist the urge to regulate" and allow the market to drive development. So Kennard steered the FCC to peel back bad regulations and leave as much space for innovation for new technologies as possible. The general goal was for the FCC to move "from an industry regulat[...]



Politicians—Unsurprisingly—Want to Regulate Political Ads on Facebook

Thu, 19 Oct 2017 14:40:00 -0400

The obsession with the idea that the Russians are responsible for President Donald Trump's election is now being used to push for more regulation of social media. Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) are being joined by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to make their effort to regulate online political advertising a bipartisan affair. Today they plan to introduce what they're calling the Honest Ads Act, which aims to introduce ad disclosure regulations similar to those for television. The text of the bill is not yet available, but here's a summary of the contents via Quartz: Make public digital copies of any advertisement these groups purchase, including the dates and times published. Include a description of the audience and political ad target, and the number of times it was viewed. Disclose contact information for the ads' purchaser, and how much they paid for the ad. Make "reasonable efforts" to ensure that any political ads or messaging isn't purchased by a foreign national, directly or indirectly. The justification for the bill is the discovery that a Russian company linked to the Kremlin spent $100,000 on Facebook ads, which is chump change when compared to domestic campaign advertising spending. But let's be clear here: Russian meddling is just being used as an excuse to do what politicians and federal agencies have wanted for a long time—to regulate how people campaign online. As The New York Times notes, the Federal Election Commission has been attempting to regulate online political advertising for years, and tech companies have been resisting. As is often the case when lawmakers attempt to regulate campaign advertising, there's very little thought about how these lawmakers are not exactly disinterested parties. I mean, it's not terribly surprising that McCain, in a permanent feud with Trump, might want to find ways to work with the Democrats to control online political ads. Restrictions on campaign advertising pretty much always benefit incumbents and powerful parties, because they already have a significant amount of money, influence, and media access. Challengers have an uphill climb, and anything that controls campaign expenditures and advertising methods makes that climb steeper. And in the end, all that Russian advertising "meddling" was about taking advantage of Americans' dissatisfaction with choices made by established political interests. It's telling how much of the coverage of Russian interference is unwilling to look at the reasons it may have worked, and instead revolves around how to stop it. When the discussion does explore the meaning of the meddling, the coverage almost always announces that Russia is "taking advantage" of cultural divisions. At The Washington Post, Casey Michel breathlessly declares that a Russian-run group on Facebook encouraged Texas to secede from the union, and that Facebook allowing that to happen represents "one of the greatest frauds in recent American history." But the Texas secession movement is absolutely not new, and that fact that this particular effort wasn't a real thing means nothing in terms about how many Texans feel about their relationship to the federal government. Remember, the official report from our national intelligence agencies on Russia's involvement on the presidential election, a summary of which was released back in January, focused heavily on how the country, via RT, was giving voice to Americans who were dissatisfied with the government. One of its examples was that RT brought in third-party political candidates and pointed out that many Americans were unhappy with the two parties. As I noted then: I don't dispute the findings here about RT, but look at those examples and they could apply not just to Reason but to media outlets of varying ideological positions within America. Americans a[...]



Supreme Court to Decide if Data Stored Overseas Can Be Demanded with Warrants

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 12:30:00 -0400

The Supreme Court agreed today to hear and rule whether the federal government can demand access to emails and other data files when they are stored in another country. In United States v. Microsoft Corp., the Department of Justice has been trying since 2013 to get access to emails of a Microsoft customer, looking for evidence this person was involved in drug trafficking. Some of the suspect's data was being stored on a server in Dublin, Ireland. Microsoft has turned over data stored within the United States, but argued, even with probable cause warrants, the feds did not have the authority to make them hand over foreign-stored info. Privacy advocacy groups, tech companies, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are on Microsoft's side here. The Department of Justice and 33 states (and Puerto Rico) are on the other. Several court rulings have upheld Microsoft's argument, but the full 2nd Circuit Court ruling was split 4-4. This split keeps the ruling in Microsoft's favor, but there's a clear disagreement among judges about the limits of the authority of the Stored Communications Act—the 1986 federal law that oversees forced disclosures of data by third parties like tech companies. The Justice Department, of course, went full 9/11, arguing limits to their warrant authorities would jeopardize terror investigations. Microsoft, meanwhile, worries about the reaction if the United States sets a bad example here. Via Reuters: "If U.S. law enforcement can obtain the emails of foreigners stored outside the United States, what's to stop the government of another country from getting your emails even though they are located in the United States?" Brad Smith, Microsoft's president and chief legal officer, said in a blog post on Monday. The Justice Department said in its appeal that the lower court ruling "gravely threatens public safety and national security" because it limits the government's ability to "ward off terrorism and similar national security threats and to investigate and prosecute crimes." Reuters notes that tech companies are also concerned that customers may not trust the privacy cloud-based computing services if governments could seize their data. The Justice Department, on the other hand, worries that companies would be able to deprive the government of access to domestic data and communications simply by storing it all overseas. That outcome, frankly, sounds kind of awesome. This is a highly technical case that will probably produce a fairly specific ruling about Congress' intent with the Stored Communications Act and the limits of what that law authorizes. Do not expect a broad ruling about the either the limits of warrants under the Fourth Amendment nor a revised view of the limits of the Third-Party Doctrine that allows the government to access data about private citizens that is stored by tech companies and private firms. Read the Justice Department's petition here.[...]



Brickbat: See No Evil

Fri, 13 Oct 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) United Kingdom Home Secretary Amber Rudd has called for a law that would criminalize reading "terrorist content" online, including "jihadi websites" and "far right propaganda." Those convicted under the law would face up to 15 years in prison.




Judge Won't Let Feds Have Full Access to Names of People on Anti-Trump Site

Wed, 11 Oct 2017 15:10:00 -0400

(image) A judge has added new limits to a warrant the Justice Department is using to try to track down the anti-Trump activists who disrupted Inauguration Day activities.

As part of an effort to identify any protester who did anything illegal in D.C. the day Donald Trump was sworn in as president, the Department of Justice served a warrant against the web host DreamHost. The warrant was absurdly broad, attempting to get private data on anybody who had so much as visited DisruptJ20.org, a site used to organize anti-Trump protests. According to the company, the warrant as initially submitted would have required it to hand over the IP addresses of more than a million visitors to the site.

DreamHost announced it was resisting the warrant, calling it an overly broad fishing expedition and a threat to free speech. It certainly could cause a chilling effect if the government were able to simply demand the names of anyone who visited a website critical of the president. Just today, Trump was pretty clearly suggesting that he'd like to find some way to retaliate against media outlets whose reporting he dislikes.

The Department of Justice then retreated and said it would refine the request. Superior Court Judge Robert E. Moran approved a more limited warrant and ordered the Justice Department to put protocols in place to limit access to private information that had nothing to do with a criminal investigation.

Yesterday Judge Moran put out a final order that made it clear he's not going to let the Justice Department just wade through personally identifiable private information without any probable cause. DreamHost will be permitted to redact user information, and the Department of Justice won't be able to access it unless it can show that a particular user is suspected of criminal activity.

"While the government has the right to execute its warrant," Moran noted in his order, "it does not have the right to rummage through the information contained on DreamHost's website and discover the identity of, or access communications by, individuals not participating in alleged criminal activity, particularly those persons who were engaging in protected 1st Amendment activities."

Kudos to DreamHost for putting up a fight here. As a third party host, it's not the one being investigated for misconduct, but it's using the revenue it earns from its customers to help protect those customers' privacy from an overreaching government.




Why is YouTube Deleting Bump Stock Videos?

Tue, 10 Oct 2017 14:35:00 -0400

In the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting, both Republicans and Democrats have said they'd support a ban on bump stocks, which allows a semi-automatic rifle to fire more rapidly. Even the National Rifle Association has semi-endorsed "additional regulations" on the devices. Now YouTube is getting in on the action. The video hosting website has been taking down videos depicting the installation or even the mere use of bump stocks. These removals appear to have started on October 6, when a number of prominent firearms channels received notifications from YouTube that their videos featuring bump stocks were a violation of community guidelines on harmful or dangerous content. The channels were also awarded a community standards "strike," which comes with the suspension of features like live streaming. "Three strikes and you're done on YouTube and that's my livelihood," says Tim Harmsen, owner of the YouTube channel Military Arms. For the past three years, Harmsen's main source of income has come from his channel, where he posts demonstrations and reviews of firearms and accessories. Harmsen received a strike for his four-year-old video SSAK-47 Bump Fire Stock for the AK by Slide Fire Solution, which depicts the use of a bump stock. The penalty, he tells Reason, came as a shock. "No warning. Nothing. I logged into YouTube on the 7th after traveling and I'm greeted with a big orange page telling me I'm in violation of community standards and offending videos have been removed." Harmsen learned of the penalty at a gathering of other firearms enthusiasts in Atlanta. Many of the other attendees also maintain YouTube channels, and were likewise penalized for depicting bump stock videos. The gun website TwangNBang reports that the popular firearms channels 22Plinkster and BigShooterist also received strikes for violating community standards. Instragram has also deleted pictures of bump stocks from Harmsen's account. In a statement provided to Reason, a YouTube spokesperson said: "We have long had a policy against harmful and dangerous content. In the wake of the recent tragedy in Las Vegas, we took a closer look at videos that demonstrate how to convert firearms to make them fire more quickly and we expanded our existing policy to prohibit these videos." YouTube is, of course, a private service, and it can moderate its content in whichever way it chooses. That said, it is sad to see the company react this way. As has been pointed out countless times, adding a bump stock to a weapon does not make it inherently more deadly, thanks to the device's sacrifice of accuracy for speed. A few YouTube videos remain that demonstrate this trade-off quite effectively. Removing such clips only inhibits people's ability to learn about the device, something that is particularly important given the nationwide debate about banning them. Meanwhile, YouTube still features plenty of videos of people using actual automatic weapons. Removing videos of bump stocks, much like the calls to ban the device, is clearly more about pandering to a sudden political moment than about actually advancing safety.[...]



Feminist Porn Isn't Free

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 13:35:00 -0400

"Our goal was to undress Pinterest, not dress up Pornhub," the press kit for Bellesa, a Montreal-based web startup, proclaims with lofty feminist ambitions. A recent writeup on Bustle hails the (NSFW) site as "good both for women and for men who want something outside what our patriarchal, heteronormative society dictates they should like." Little of Bellesa's video content, however, distinguishes it from other porn sites; it's Pornhub in a Pinterest wrapper. Nothing wrong with that per se—in fact, a porn platform with serves up a variety of videos (not just the softcore, romantic stuff that's often assumed to appeal more to women) with a less aggressively masculine interface would probably do well. But for a site to live up to its idealistic, feminist branding, it needs to account for the labor and intellectual property of those producing the content—the performers, directors, and others who actually make the adult videos—whether that means making content distribution deals with independent sex workers or ethical-porn production companies; producing content in house; or working out some sort of profit-sharing platform for user-created content. Bellesa—Catalan for beauty—does none of these things. Canadian magazine The Link describes founder Michelle Schnaidman's role as curating or facilitating porn—"she makes it available for those who seek it." It solves what Bustle writer Joanna Weiss described as the "pesky paywall" problem by featuring porn clips cribbed from all around the web, without paying or promoting the people who made them. Bellesa also asks women to upload their own "erotic stories, sexy photos and GIFs, and feminist blog posts" for free, for the fun of it. Apparently all it takes to find feminist pornography is being willing to band together with other feminists and become unpaid porn stars, erotica writers, and digital content producers for the cause! Shnaidman assures women she created this porn clearinghouse for only the best and most feminist reasons. "We need to put an end to slut-shaming and to the antiquated idea that sex is something men do to women," she told Bustle. "Or something women do for men. Because it's not. Once society finally accepts the notion that women like sex (like, really like sex), we can begin shattering the stigma surrounding female sexuality—and of course porn." The Bellesa website decries the "male-dominated paradigms that have defined sex on the internet" so far, and porn that is "derogatory and exclusionary towards women." "The market for services meeting women's sexual needs is often neglected due to the myth that women are less sexual than men," explains Bustle. But on Bellesa, there will be "relatable" bodies, performers expressing "authentic" pleasure, and as many shots of nude men as women. Refinery29 even recommends women against signing up for a non "female-friendly" porn subscription service and instead find "free porn" on Bellessa. Both the women's media and Shnaidman here showcase problems (long) prevalent among mainstream feminists: a willingness to throw certain sorts of women under the bus when it's convenient; an apparent inability to consider how creating some preferable condition for some normative class of women will affect those not in this class; and a tendency to embrace personal liberation on the backs of more marginalized groups. Several adult-film producers have already asked Bellesa to take down their content. Hi, @BellesaCo you have content created by us and the lines we distribute on your site. Please remove it. Thanks. cc: @bustle @suzannahweiss https://t.co/xgDG4KIsQz — Wicked (@WickedPictures) September 21, 2017 Hi, @BellesaCo you call yourself "ethic[...]