The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks began releasing documents last week related to what it calls the “mass surveillance industry,” a little-known but expansive underworld of contractors offering tools for governments — from brutal dictatorships to more moderate Western states — to monitor citizens and hunt down dissidents. Furious activists reacted to the revelations by calling for stricter controls and measures to hold the firms accountable as “accomplices” to mass murder.
The information released so far covers over 150 companies spanning more than two dozen nations. The documents highlight the nature and growth of a multi-billion-dollar industry that, in addition to supplying espionage assistance to the most murderous regimes on earth, has been quietly turned against citizens in supposedly “free” countries as well.
“Who here has an iPhone? Who here has a Blackberry? Who here uses Gmail? Well you are all screwed,” WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange told a press conference in London announcing the new project. “The reality is intelligence contractors are selling right now, to countries across the world, mass surveillance systems for all of those products."
Facebook is in trouble once again over possible privacy breaches. According to government officials, Facebook has misled over 800 million users regarding the safety of their personal information.
The FTC released a 19-page complaint against Facebook addressing how the company has been approaching its users’ rights and privacy. The complaint focused on the changes to privacy control that Facebook made in 2009, which resulted in the automatic sharing of personal information and pictures of Facebook users, even if those users had previously set their profiles to private settings.
Likewise, Facebook was charged with purposely sharing user information. Fox News reports, "The unflattering portrait of Facebook’s privacy practices emerged Tuesday in a Federal Trade Commission complaint alleging that Facebook exposed details about users’ lives without getting legally required consent. In some cases, the FTC charged, Facebook allowed potentially sensitive details to be passed along to advertisers and software developers prowling for customers."
Because this is not the first time Facebook has been scrutinized for issues of privacy, the company has now agreed to government audits of their privacy practices every other year for the next 20 years. Additionally, any privacy violation on Facebook will result in a fine of $16,000 each day for each violation. While the FTC commissioners have all approved of the agreement struck with Facebook, the FTC is open to public comments through December 30 before ultimately finalizing the agreement.
The European Court of Justice issued an important decision on November 24, ruling that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) operating on the continent cannot be legally compelled to monitor the online activity of their customers.
The complainant, SABAM (a Brussels-based consortium of artists, authors, composers, and publishers), was asking the court to force ISPs to aid its mission to fight file sharing of material copyrighted by its members.
The ruling is a significant victory for ISPs who rely on the ability to promise anonymity to their subscribers.
According to the text of the European court’s decision, copyright holders can still request that service providers take down websites that provide links to copyrighted content, but ISPs are not required to proactively search out and block pirated material offered by any of the various sites they host.
The case came to the ECJ on appeal from a lower court ruling that an Internet service provider, Scarlet, prevent its users from trading files on a peer-to-peer (P2P) network. The files at issue were songs and videos owned by SABAM members.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) would impose government censorship on the Internet.
In a move that has already been dubbed a “game changer,” Internet behemoth Google has launched a digital music service, a frontline challenge to the market dominance of Apple’s ubiquitous iTunes store.
Google’s catalog of music will be available on the Android Market, the storefront it maintains for users of Android smartphones to download apps, books, and movies. The service is being rolled out this week to consumers in the United States with plans to offer the product to the estimated 200 million Android users worldwide.
The long-awaited announcement was made at an event in Los Angeles on November 16. The California-based company’s senior product manager, Michael Siliski, hyped the new music store with a demonstration worthy of the company whose name has become a verb.
There are similarities to the iTunes distribution scheme. There is a segment of the catalog being offered for free download, while most of the tracks available carry a by now-familiar price tag of around $1.00 (69 cents to $1.29, to be exact). The initial cache of songs includes work by chart toppers Adele, Jay-Z, and Pearl Jam.
The erosion of our freedoms continues as the Department of Justice is criminalizing activities that it deems may be detrimental to public security. Among those activities are “lying on the Internet” and “uploading videos that break YouTube’s terms of service,” as well as any other action determined to “contravene a website’s usage policy.”
“In a statement obtained by CNET that’s scheduled to be delivered tomorrow, the Justice Department argues that it must be able to prosecute violations of Web sites’ often-ignored, always-unintelligible “terms of service” policies,” writes Declan McCullagh.
The DOJ has expanded its Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) to indicate that an agreement with a website’s terms of service would be identical to signing a contract with an employer, and as such, any such violation should provoke the same sort of punishment.
Passed by Congress in 1986, CFAA was originally intended to stop hackers from breaking into computer systems and to address all federal computer-related offenses. The Department of Justice now seeks to greatly expand the use of CFAA to target a number of different “violations.”
The first hearing on Rep. Lamar Smith’s (R-Texas) bill HR 3261, known as the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA), was held Wednesday in Washington by the House Judiciary Committee, which Smith chairs. The bill was offered back in October by Smith along with 12 cosponsors, including Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) who stated:
Intellectual property is one of America’s chief job creators and competitive advantages in the global marketplace, yet American inventors, authors, and entrepreneurs have been forced to stand by and watch as their works are stolen by foreign infringers beyond the reach of current U.S. laws. This legislation will update the laws to ensure that the economic incentives our Framers enshrined in the Constitution over 220 years ago — to encourage new writings, research, products and services — remain effective in the 21st Century’s global marketplace, which will create more American jobs. The bill will also protect consumers from dangerous counterfeit products, such as fake drugs, automobile parts and infant formula.
The bill represents a modification of the Senate bill, the PROTECT IP Act, which was reported out of committee last spring but hasn’t yet reached the floor of the Senate for debate.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is backing a controversial component of an existing computer fraud law that makes it a crime to use a fake name on Facebook or embellish your weight on an online dating profile such as eHarmony. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), a 25-year-old law that mainly addresses hacking, password trafficking, and computer viruses, should enforce criminal penalties for users who violate websites’ terms of service agreements, alleges the Justice Department.
In a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security, federal officials deliberated over cyber threats to the country’s infrastructure and a perplexing interpretation of the law that makes lying on the Internet a crime. During the hearing, titled "Cyber Security: Protecting America’s New Frontier," the DOJ’s deputy computer crime chief Richard Downing addressed Congress, asserting that the CFAA law must allow "prosecutions based upon a violation of terms of service or similar contractual agreement with an employer or provide[r]."
"Businesses should have confidence that they can allow customers to access certain information on the business's servers, such as information about their own orders and customer information, but that customers who intentionally exceed those limitations and obtain access to the business's proprietary information and the information of other customers can be prosecuted," said Downing’s prepared remarks.
The Federal Trade Commission reportedly forwarded a settlement offer last week to social media behemoth Facebook. The FTC began investigating Facebook over claims that the latter was violating the privacy of millions of users by changing the default value of several privacy settings without providing prior notice to subscribers.
According to published accounts of the content of the proposed settlement agreement, Facebook would agree to obtain advance, express consent from users before sharing any material that was posted prior to the new guidelines.
UPDATE: The resolution to undo the FCC's "Net Neutrality" Internet power grab was rejected in the Senate by 52-46 on November 10.